Monday, May 27, 2013

Back in port: Cruise control

I had never thought about it. Why would I?

How do over 3000 people on a cruise ship all get off at once? The logistics are astounding when you do stop to consider it.

Embarking at the other end of the cruise is a bit different. Not everyone arrives at the same time, all giddy to walk that gangway to start the fun. Your travel or cruise agent informs you that there is a window of time for boarding, several hours long, that travelers can use to plan their journey from home to port, so boarding is spread out over that time.

But getting off? That's a different proposition altogether. Crew members have to get rid of all of us--PLUS our collective luggage--in order to clean and restock that floating paradise for all those other passengers arriving. That same ship will pull out of port to do it all over again just a few short hours after we leave, a new group of over 3000 just starting their bit of heaven for a week or so.  How do they pull that off?

At the end of my first cruise, I felt highly inconvenienced the last night at sea when I got a message from my cabin steward--the one who waits on me hand and foot, remember?--directing me to pack up my luggage that night and have it out in the passageway by midnight. What?? What was I supposed to do without all my stuff from then until I got off this floating city? I learned that I could keep a small bag with me (whew!), but everything else needed to be collected by the crew the night before we even sailed into port.

When you stop and think about it, how else would they get it all gathered up and off the ship without starting early? Imagine how much luggage 3000 people can accumulate. I had two large suitcases myself for a 7 day cruise. (I know, I know, but there were TWO formal nights and that's two complete dressy outfits with different shoes and accessories, PLUS all those cute sundresses I got for the trip. Yes, they all had to come along, because you never know what shows you're going to want to see, and.....never mind. Every woman reading this understands what I mean.)

So, at midnight the night before you arrive back in port, the passageways are lined with every kind of suitcase you can imagine, waiting to be picked up. You sleep in undies (or nothing at all, because after all, you're still on vacation, and what happens on a cruise ship, stays on the ship, but we won't go there....) a small bag with toiletries, and the next morning it's time to rejoin reality as the ship majestically slides into port before dawn.

And then all those thousands of people have to get off with some planned exit strategy, another amazing feat of logistics. Each traveler is given a window of time and a location of the ship at which you gather with other bleary-eyed cruisers who don't want to go home yet, either, and you wait until your group is called. This has always gone well before--but not on this cruise, I must say. If you recall, the government's furloughs had begun and there was one--count him, the poor guy, ONE--customs agent waiting to chat amiably with all 3000 of us.

It took a while.

And remember all that luggage? All 6000+ pieces were waiting in one room to be claimed.

Welcome home!

Seven days worth....

Floating paradise!

In line for customs at the end of the cruise.....

One small area of luggage....good luck!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Collective psychosis in action......

It's been four days now. I guess I thought if I waited long enough, the words would magically disappear from the news article, or I would wake up from the bizarre dream that I was caught up in. 

Didn't happen, though. 

I even went and dug the newspaper out of the recycling bin so I could show someone else. Was it just me that was so startled by what happened in Arizona the day the Arias verdict was read? I hope not....that would make it even worse, I think.

The AP ( article that appeared in my local newspaper, the Florida Times-Union ( on May 9th, reported the scene from the courthouse steps as the verdict in this lurid murder trial was announced last week. 

Before we go there, though, a reminder: in order to protect my sanity, a few years ago I gave up watching the news in any form: local, national, world, it didn't matter, I decided they could carry on the craziness without me from that point on. And I must say that I've been happier because of that decision.

But I do read the newspaper every day. There is something about the process of holding newsprint in my hands and scanning the world view presented there that I can't seem to forgo. My dad instilled that habit in me. Maybe it's because my eyes can be averted quickly when I start to read something offensive or scary, whereas the news on TV is so overwhelming, so intrusive, that I can't avoid it as easily or quickly enough. Plus, so much of it is just plain ratings-grabbing, with no real connection to fulfilling an informational agenda at all ("A new strain of virus is attacking the city! Find out how to protect yourself before it's too late! Story at 11." If it's that deadly shouldn't we be talking about it right now?? Either it's important or it's just about ratings, right?)

My reflexes failed me on this occasion, though. I read the darn article. If anyone out there can explain this to me, please message me. If I had to go through it, so do you.

Here goes: "Outside, a huge crowd that had gathered on the courthouse steps screamed, whistled and cheered the news in a case that has attracted fans from across the country who traveled to Phoenix to be close to the proceedings. Some chanted, 'USA, USA, USA!'"

Fans?? Traveled to Phoenix to be close.....? And the most disturbing of all, chanted "USA, USA, USA!"?? 

I know nothing about this case; remember I don't watch the news. I have no idea, nor do I care, whether this young woman was guilty or not. Either way, this is a tragedy: for everyone involved, including (of course) the man who was killed, the woman found guilty, and their families. But to travel across the country to "be close" to all this misery, and then to chant USA! is beyond comprehension.  Such chanting speaks to nation pride, doesn't it? 

I'm speechless. Even after four days, carrying the article around with me, talking to others about it....I still have no grasp of this at all. I can't reconcile pride in one's country with this situation no matter how long I think about it. Believe me, I've tried.

I'll throw the article away now. It  has sullied my briefcase long enough. 

But I just had to share. It's what I do.

Insanity in individuals is something rare--but in groups, parties,
nations and epochs, it is the rule.
Frederick Nietzsche

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cruise Control: Day 6

Roller skates, anyone?

This time we asked for a cabin in the middle. 

Meaning mid-ship, instead of all the way forward in the misty recesses of the longest corridor I have ever seen in my life. Ever.

On our cruise before this one, I almost started stashing my clothes in a restroom near the Atrium so that I wouldn't have to walk that corridor again.  Of course, my stuff would have disappeared almost instantly, due to the uber-efficiency of the housekeeping staff on board, just like every other department we had contact with on these ships. But I did think about it.

We'd open that passageway door leading to our cabin, look helplessly at each other, and begin the long trek. The other end wasn't even visible, as outrageous as that sounds.We walked and puffed and stopped to rest, and then we walked some more.

These ships are immense. I'm thinking that they build them that way in order to board literally thousands of people who pay a tiny fraction of the value they are going to experience while cruising. This way, the cruise lines maximize the concept of quantity, without sacrificing quality at all. It's a thing of beauty. Just about any other industry could learn a great deal from these companies.

The ship we were on for this cruise shakes out like this:

Year Built 2008
Refurbished 2011
Tonnage 113,000 tons
Length 950 feet
Beam 118 feet
Passenger Capacity 3,080

 3000 plus folks contained in a floating city. And that 950 feet is a long way from stem to stern, especially when you're sunburned and hungry, believe me. (I still think they need a buffet on each end of the ship, because no matter where I was starting from, that sucker was on the opposite end. I never did figure that one out.)

One day I walked the entire length of the ship--twice--trying to find the adult swimming pool. I didn't realize that there were TWO of them on board, and I was calling the one I wanted by the wrong name. I never found either one on that particular trek: the one I didn't know existed in the first place or the one I had been looking for when I set out from my cabin. (I think part of it was that "no window in my cabin" thing that I found so disorienting this time; I never knew which way the front--or back--of the ship was when I left my cabin, because I couldn't see which way the the ocean was flowing by. Very confusing.) I finally fell into a deck chair at one of the family pools out of sheer exhaustion. 

Of course, this won't stop me from cruising again, and we did do better with our cabin location this time. We also decided maybe it's in our best interests in the future to focus on smaller ships with fewer people. 

And only one adult pool.