Cruisin' on a Sunday Afternoon
Bill Long 5/2/06
The Celebrity Millennium in the Caribbean
I just returned from a seven-day Caribbean Cruise, the first I have ever taken. Cruising has become big business, and recently the announcement was made of the imminent launching of the first 5,000 person cruise ship (I think this number is the sum of crew and passengers). Persistent fears about safety remain, however, as critical articles point to the fact that it would be nearly impossible to evacuate such a floating city in the case of serious problems. And then, stories stalk the media regarding occasional deaths or food-related illnesses that break out in the cruise ships. Nevertheless, all these issues were far from my mind as I, along with 2200 other passengers, stepped onto the (free, thanks to the generosity of a friend) Millennium in the Intracoastal Waterway at Fort Lauderdale on April 23. This essay describes a few thoughts from that experience.
A Philosophy of Cruising
For some reason (probably related to childish fears), I approach many new life experiences with a mixture of anticipation and hostility. So it was with this cruise. As we were driven to the ship from our hotel, I recall reading the passenger contract which we were supposed to sign and turn in before boarding the ship. Instead of blithely signing on the line, I decided to pore over every word. Then, I decided I had objections to numerous paragraphs--especially to one which stated that the company makes no warranty regarding the shipworthiness of the vesssel--and so I signed the contract "with reservations," and then I detailed the reservations in several long paragraphs. As it turned out, they never collected my contract, and so I felt a little slighted. We all missed the opportunity for a possible confrontation, even before the trip had begun.
But then we boarded and discovered that the noon buffet was waiting for us until our staterooms were ready. It was then that I learned one of the truths of a cruise--that the food is so good and so plentiful that you almost must eat far more than you need to eat. The long lines of more than your average number of obese people made the rush to the dining room look like scenes out of "March of the Penguins." Indeed, while we were taking the cruise, I learned from an Internet story (they charge you $.70 per minute to use the ship's Internet dial up connection, and make it nearly impossible for you to bring your laptop aboard) that the obesity rate in America has been significantly underrated in news stories. I think the rise from 20-28 percent of the population being obese, in fact, resulted because they had finally decided to count the passengers on my ship.
The abundant availability of food and the 1 1/2 days at sea before landing at our first Port of Call (Casa de Campos, Dominican Republic) got me into a bad pattern, however. I felt I had to eat in the big dining room, to eat when food was available, and to wait upon the ship and its crew for my entertainment. In fact, it was not until I decided that I would do as I pleased, on the shore excursions as well as with respect to the meals and the exercise room, that the cruise truly became my own. I gradually integrated study and reading into my cruise, and I truly began to enjoy it when I only minimally connected with most of the activities on board. By Tuesday, then, I had begun to establish my way of looking at the cruise, though it took me until Thursday to strike out on my own when we landed on shore (St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands; Nassau, Bahamas).
The "Upside" of the Trip
The truly amazing things about the trip were the courtesy of the staff, the opportunities to visit Ports of Call and the food and accommodations. Though our stateroom was only 170 sq. feet, it also had a 35 sq. ft. balcony, thus allowing private enjoyment of sea or land while also seeming to enlarge the space available for living. The plenitude of staff (i.e., more than a multitude), combined with their courtesy and readiness to help in every task from bringing you water to taking your dirty clothes to be washed, really was quite staggering. Representing more than 50 nationalities (with the US being the exception rather than the rule for staff members), the staff/crew was uniformly deferential and cooperative. While I will say more about various Ports of Call in other essays, the stops afforded multiple opportunities to do everything from snorkle to visit historic sites to take trips to tropical rain forests. And, with respect to food, time would fail me to describe the various opportunities for fine and simple dining, available almost all day and most of the night.
I Wish There Was More....
Intellectual stimulation. Yep, you got it. Just because people go on a cruise doesn't mean that they want their brains to turn to mush. The only intellectual fare available, however, were two helpful, but simple, presentations on the Caribbean area and pirate legends/facts by Florida State Univ. Latin Americanist Professor Kevin Witherspoon. The so-called review of The DaVinci Code proved to be no review after all, and the other "lectures" or presentations focused on things like acupuncture or ridding the body of various kinds of "toxins" (the 'evil' word of our age). The following are four or so practical ideas for a richer intellectual diet which I think can be implemented without tremendous difficulty. My principle is this: if you can get smashed by noon and gamble away all your money by 4:00 p.m., you ought to be able to get some stimulation for the mind by dinner time.
1. A Natural History series, in which a scholar can bring in pictures or samples of several kinds of flora, trees, fish and other life forms that we will be meeting up with in the various Ports of Call.
2. A Map room or series of detailed maps, which might be combined with the availability of a person from the captain's staff to explain where we were, which islands were where and what some of the navigational issues are on the cruise.
3. An Astronomer ought to be on board--someone who could take us outside much like God did to Abram when he told him to look toward heaven and number the stars if he had the ability to do so. We, too, should have had the chance to number the stars, and see how different patterns were characteristic of the night skies in the Caribbean.
4. Daily history presentations, where a more detailed exposition of the history of the island of the next Port of Call would be presented. I managed to piece some of this together as I took guided and self-guided tours, but an orientation before the trips ashore would have aided the process.
5. More inexpensive and rapid Internet access. Certainly I didn't go on the cruise to work, but there seems little reason why a ship should still have dial-up service in our "high-speed" age. Then, a charge of $.70 per minute to use the Internet is all out of proportion to costs. It is as if the Internet is to the ship in general as drinking is to a restaurant--a huge profit center. This shouldn't be, especially since use of the Internet encourages families and friends to keep in touch with each other.
All in all, however, the trip was a wonderful and enriching experience. Especially the last bingo game...
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long