Cruise ships and the millions of people who travel on them are a grand mixture of personalities, international foods, A-to-Z activities, and fun. But to those joyful accounts, fear and disappointment must be added.
Today is a prime example that it is not always smooth sailing when you sign up and pay thousands of dollars for your dream trip.
Dring my trip, the captain alerted, via loudspeaker throughout the ship, including private cabins, that tropical storm Phillip had the Crown Princess in its sights. He said it was nothing to worry about because he and his highly knowledgeable staff were on top of it.
Just don’t leave anything sitting that could topple over in case of rough waters, he warned. Don’t venture on to your balconies, and be sure to hang tight to the railings when you must move around the ship were other cautions.
We went to bed, gently rocked to sleep by the tremor of the sea, only to be awakened he next morning by the captain’s voice with not one, but two messages.
The first message was that Phillip had picked up speed and was heading for our ship. The second message was that the medical clinic had received so many calls from passengers with flu symptoms, he begged us to use every precaution to prevent sickness.
And, those passengers who hadn’t already reported to the clinic should do so immediately if they were suffering vomiting or/and diarrhea.
BLADE PHOTO/LORI KING
Who wants to hear either of those messages on a Monday morning when you have plans for the day, including a wonderful breakfast, hearty lunch, and haute cuisine dinner?
But the fear and worry lessened considerably when the captain announced the decisions he and his staff had made for the well being of the 3,000 people on board.
Because of Phillip’s fast-moving encroachment, the ship would not anchor in St. John’s Nova Scotia but stay overnight in Halifax, giving the passengers two days there instead of the scheduled one.
Like it or not, that’s the way it would be. There is no refund if things aren’t exactly as planned when you bought the ticket. Personally, I was delighted with the schedule change, because Halifax and the surrounding region, including Peggy’s Cove, are among my favorite travel stops. I was not disappointed that the captain scratched Saint John, even though it is on the Bay of Fundy. You just have to be optimistic and believe there will be another time.
Once, on a Mediterranean cruise, the scheduled stop in Portugal was erased because of bad weather, and on a New England cruise a few years ago, the plans to anchor at Newport, R.I., and tour Doris Duke’s mansion were canceled because the waves were too high off the coast, we were told.
But that’s the way it is on a cruise, and passengers should realize it’s not all perfect when they are dealing with weather on the high seas and with thousands of people from all over the world who may not adhere to the rules of sanitization.
The noro flu epidemic spread quickly on the Princess, but according to frequent messages by the captain over the loud speaker, was abated in a few days because of strict sanitation practices put into motion. You have to wonder why those practices aren’t always in use.
The flu announcement was not as alarming to me as it was to some people. I came aboard armed with a disinfectant spray because of a lesson learned on a cruise. On an Alaskan cruise several years ago, I missed most of the scenery because of contracting Hong Kong flu to an extent the ship considered taking me to shore by helicopter.
In the first announcement on the Princess cruise, we were told 36 passengers were confined to their staterooms because of the flu. The next day’s announcement boosted the count to 80.
The captain pleaded for passengers to be sure to wash their hands with soap, saying it was one of the best preventatives, and please wash them for at least 20 seconds, he urged.
The handling of food was also a main focus during the flu outbreak. To reduce passengers handling of food and utensils, salt and pepper shakers were eliminated from the tables, and we could no longer reach for a hard roll at the table but instead had to point to the one we wanted and the waiter would deliver it with tongs.
The morning I reached for the pitcher of warm milk for my oatmeal, the waiter forbid it, nicely but emphatically. He poured the milk, and I told him how much I wanted.
Yes, even on a cruise with every imaginable choice of food, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I like to begin the day with oatmeal. The only exception was the morning Jim Beard’s french toast was listed on the menu. It supposedly was made as he had made it for the Santa Fe railroad, with a coating of corn flakes. But, somehow the chefs on the ship missed the instructions, because all but one man at our table of eight were disappointed. But his wife said that he will eat almost anything.
It is very common to share tables in the dining rooms with other guests and strike up conversations with people who you may never see again. The maitre d’ asks, “Share?” And of course you say yes rather than be a snob who prefers to eat alone.
You can learn a lot about cruising at a shared table. You may think that six cruises is a lot of travel to your credit, but you soon learn that many people surpass that number by far. My neighbors in the next cabin say they just can’t plan enough cruises because they enjoy them so much. In December, they will take a Disney World cruise with their grandchildren.
One of my most memorable conversations was with a widow from Germany who has no qualms about traveling alone and has taken many cruises all over the world. She finds it disgusting when women are afraid to venture outside their communities because they have lost their mate.
While it is enjoyable to meet new people from distant places, it is also a treat to meet people from “back home.” Mary Pat Connolly of Oak Harbor, Ohio, and Kathleen Palker of Vermillion, Ohio, were on board. Mary Pat is a veteran cruiser, but it was Kathleen’s first time.
To qualify for work on a cruise ship, staffers must have a college degree, and most have four-year degrees. Richard, my cabin steward, has worked on the ship 15 years. His wife works on another ship, and they have five children. Alfredo asked us to write a recommendation for him so that he can advance from assistant waiter to full-time waiter.
The 14-day cruise that began in Quebec City and weaved its way down the East Coast from Bar Harbor, Maine; Boston; Newport; New York City, and Norfolk to the final port in Fort Lauderdale. I got to know the young people, who were mostly from the Philippines, but I also met several from Ukraine. Many would leave the ship at the Florida port and return to their homes to be with their families until January.
They will, understandably, be happier to be off the ship and return to their homes than we will be.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.