Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cruise Control: Day 1

It wasn’t easy getting on the ship this time. But it is best that I experience cruising from more than one perspective, I imagine, especially if I plan on taking all of you along with me.

You know all that talk about budget cuts in Washington these days? Most of us yawn and turn down the volume since all the politicizing is posturing anyway, designed to get the other side of the aisle in Congress to buckle under the weight of all their obstructionism. But in this case, I came face to face with the results of the cut-backs. Or I should say, there weren't many faces to face at all at the US Customs desks as over 3000 travelers tried to get off the ship I was waiting to board. (We experienced the same lack of assistance at the other end of our trip, but more on that later.)

My previous embarkations were as smooth as the Caribbean’s aquamarine surface that would soon surround this huge floating party boat. No waiting, no glitches, nothing standing in the way of all the fun to come. The port personnel in this case did the best they could to process the incoming 3000 in a little over three hours, but the line I had to stand in stretched off into the distance—I literally could not see the end of it—and then it folded back over itself and wended its way back to where I started. But in the meantime, I chatted with the people standing around me and made some new friends. The time passed quickly. (I never saw any of those people again once we boarded, which is a testimony to how large these vessels actually are.)

Once inside the terminal, things happened fast, too, and soon there it was—the gangway leading up to the ship and a host of welcoming crew members. It is astounding to me that these folks can get that many people off the ship, clean and reset everything, and then take on another 3000+ to sail out of port so quickly. They dock at around 7 AM and the ship then heads back out to do it all over again at 4 PM. Amazing. Plus they all keep smiling.

I think this is what is so enticing about spending time on board a cruise ship: the level of service is extraordinary. You need extra towels in your cabin? No need to ask—your cabin steward (who I am convinced must hide in the wall directly outside my door to watch our comings and goings) will notice how many you use and will add extras until you finally reach the perfect number for you. Want all your meals served in your cabin? Just pick up the phone and ask—you’ll never have to leave the comfort of your (admittedly very small) cabin. You don’t feel like walking from your table in the dining room to get another glass of water? Just look up—you can be sure that a server is watching for your signal. He will hustle off to get what you need.

They smile, they agree, they are present without being pressing.

It’s important that the neophytes at cruising among you understand that, although these service professionals are superb at their jobs, there is a price attached to it. At the end of your journey, you will settle up your tab with the purser, part of which includes about $12 a day in tips for the staff. But I’ve always believed that we get what we pay for—and I am more than willing to pay these people to pamper me a few times a year. The ridiculously low price of the cruise includes food, cabin, ports of call, and a beautiful vacation, too. These tips still don’t push the cost of the entire trip off the fiscal cliff.


It’s a steal and heaven knows we don’t generally experience this level of service at home.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about food. Just make sure you’re hungry.

Year by year we are learning that in this restless, strenuous American life 
of ours vacations are essential.

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