Some friends are crazy about cruising, so we tried it
“Hel-lo!” was bellowed in a singsong manner over and over again. As we approached the ship’s dining room, we found ourselves in a lineup, waiting to meet the Maître D’ to find out where to sit. He kept calling out, “Hel-lo!” What’s going on here?
My husband and I were on a January 2017 cruise from Los Angeles, USA to Sydney, Australia and about to enjoy our first onboard dinner. We soon understood that Italian-born Oscar was a beloved fixture on the Pacific Princess. Many hugs and kisses were bestowed as he greeted senior citizens who’d previously cruised with him. He showed off the tie a guest had given him last year.
As we met the other three couples at Table 25, welearned all had enjoyed multiple cruises and this is their preferred way to vacation. One couple would be disembarking in Sydney, and then sailing another ship around New Zealand, which seemed excessive to us newbies.
That night the dining room hummed with old friends greeting waiters and catching up with each other. It dawned on us that cruising is a lifestyle choice for this group of rich, white, spoiled, retired people – principally American.
Circumventing the Earth
The ship takes 111 days to cruise around the world, starting and ending in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The majority of the 600 passengers stay on for the whole trip, and many do it annually. We were only doing one segment because we had chosen to sail to Australia, to avoid the 16 hours of jet lag imposed by flying. Some evenings, a note appeared on our pillows reminding us to change our watches back by one hour. Our bodies appreciated this gradual pace.
Hmmm…let’s weigh the benefits…22 days in mid-winter Toronto versus 21 days sailing across the South Pacific during the southern hemisphere’s summer…no contest. This was our first cruise, and being of 22 days’ duration, we had jumped into the cruising culture headfirst.
A few days later, Oscar showed us the needlepoint project he’s working on, a tapestry of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” All our tablemates were thrilled. Once a week there was a formal dinner. The ladies wore ball gowns or cocktail dresses; the men wore tuxedos or dark suits. Somehow, we felt like kids playing dress-up.
We received an invitation to the Captain’s Reception before one such dinner, and it was basically a sales pitch about the joys of belonging to the Gold, Elite, or some such level of the Princess Loyalty
Rewards program. The more cruises you take, the higher level you achieve, with fancier privileges (free WiFi, free laundry, access to a snappy lounge).
The winning couple was introduced to everyone because they have cruised for a total of 1,569 days. Isn’t that marvelous? They looked wizened and grumpy to me.
Features of Cruising
In exchanging travel stories, I realized many passengers were risk-averse or lazy. The feature they love best about cruising? Everything is planned and administered by staff. They only have to decide which activity to choose at sea (bridge, Trivial Pursuit, ballroom dancing, exercising, drinking, reading, sunbathing, gambling, etc.). And which shore excursion to select when in port: bus tour, snorkeling, shopping, sea kayaking, to list a few.
Trips ashore are expensive and tightly controlled.One lines up to disembark, meets the tour operator, and is shepherded around for a few hours. Don’t get me wrong. We had some memorable experiences on land and water. The cruise line vets these operators carefully, so one always feels safe, but there are no surprises, and few opportunities to explore a new environment at leisure.
On the first sea day that fell on a Sunday a brunch was served at 10:30 am. I have never seen such an over-the-top display of food: omelets, meats, salads, fish, desserts, breads, pastries. Buffet tables groaned with fancy displays, and it felt like a food orgy. We were told in advance we could wear our pajamas, but didn’t. Oscar wore his and carried an enormous stuffed dog. Hel-lo!
After a few days on board, we felt like children at a summer camp, minus the chances to push boundaries and venture beyond our comfort zones. Anyone celebrating a birthday or anniversary while on board found a poster and balloons decorating their stateroom door that day. Ours appeared on February 5th markingour 3rd anniversary and remained until we disembarked.
The staff is well-trained and friendly, but rarely given a chance to go ashore. The repetitiveness of their tasks must be numbing to anyone with any smarts, and they live in cramped quarters on the lowest
That said, on our first excursion in Bora Bora, we toured the pale turquoise lagoon in a speedboat with six others. As we slowly approached the spot where we would snorkel, we heard, “Hel-lo!” and there was Oscar – with several waiters in another boat preparing to snorkel too.
On a cruise, it is all about getting passengers to spend it up. Professionals photograph every destination, formal dinner, and onboard event (choir concert, hula dance, ukulele concert) and post them for purchase. WiFi must be paid for - $99.00 for 200 minutes. It is forbidden to take water
ashore at many ports, in case of contamination, yet you are charged $2.00 for a little bottle of water.
The dessert Baked Alaska is made of ice cream slathered with meringue, then baked until golden. The last night before we reached Sydney, a parade of 30 wait staff carried 30 Baked Alaskas around the dining room, to music. Apparently, this tradition occurs on the final night of every segment.
The next segment would end in Hong Kong. Thank God, we would not be witnessing that parade. When old age or physical infirmities affect our ability to travel, we’ll probably try again.
Cruising is certainly preferable to sitting around in one’s retirement residence waiting for the next meal.