Cruise 2011
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Diary of a Caribbean Cruise – Part One


Going Down to the Sea in Ships



Monday, January 17, 2011

The ocean is vast, deep, and dangerous.  There are giant waves, powerful currents, and creatures below the surface that can swallow a human in one bite.  And, once you are out of sight of land, how can you tell either where you are, or where you are going?

No, the ocean is not to be trifled with.  “Those who go down to the sea in ships,” it says in the Bible, 1 see God’s “wonders in the deep.”  The waves carry them “up to the heavens” and “back to the depths,” so that sailors “reel and stagger” and are “at their wits end.”

Five hundred years ago, when Christopher Columbus first sailed across the Atlantic in the Santa Maria, his adventure was the equivalent of today’s journey into space, and he and his sailors were the equivalent of astronauts – engaged in the most sophisticated and dangerous undertaking ever to have been attempted by humans.

Today, Heather and I have boarded a ship that is 150 times bigger than the Santa Maria, and we are sailing across the vast and dangerous deep with only a faint tremor to indicate that the vessel is even in motion.  We sit at a table with elegant waiters pouring champagne into slender flutes and there is not the slightest suggestion that anything will be dumped into our laps!
cruise ship lobby
Lobby of the Grand Princess cruise ship
Our first view of the ship’s interior when we came aboard

The whole ship is mind-boggling.  It’s like living in a luxury hotel in the middle of an upscale shopping and dining district.  And there is so much!  My friend Werner and I walked several of the levels – visiting spas, exercise room, boutiques, theatres, a casino, a library, several swimming pools and hot tubs, and any number of dining areas – but even so we didn’t see it all.

The Grand Princess was the largest passenger ship in the world when it was built in 1998. 2  It accommodates more than 2,500 guests, and is served by a staff of at least 1,600.  For the next two weeks our home will be a stateroom that is about the same size as our summer cottage.  I feel as though I don’t even have to visit any of the ports of call to which this ship is headed; I could just stay in this stateroom, have room service, read a book, write this blog, and occasionally go out on the balcony to see the vast, deep, and dangerous sea.  Maybe I’ll even spot a whale! 3

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When all you can say is, “Oops!”

No story of mine, these days, is complete without an account of something forgotton, or, some event involving our daughter Rachael.  In this trip, it’s both.

When we left home on Saturday morning, Heather brought along the spare set of keys to our apartment.  She intended to give them to Rachael while we were in Toronto, so that when Rachael goes to Winnipeg next week to visit friends, she can stay at our place.

Now these are not ordinary keys.  They are a high-security design and illegal to copy at key retailers.  I had to pay our landlord a $50 deposit in order to have this spare set.

Well, we arrived in Toronto on Saturday, and had a lovely overnight family visit, but the keys sat forgotten in Heather’s purse, and we didn’t realize that we had not given them to Rachael until we were through U.S. security at the Toronto airport and were waiting for our plane.

Incidentally, the plane was three hours late.  Weather has played havoc this winter with flights all over North America, and our plane was seriously delayed by snow in Halifax.  Heather and I were so glad that we had planned to go to Ft. Lauderdale a day early, because if this plane had been delayed on the day of our sailing, we would have missed our ship!

Of course, I could be somewhat irritated with Westjet, because they didn’t post the flight delay anywhere, and we only found out about it after rushing to the airport in the morning and getting all the way through U.S. Customs.

So we were compelled to sit on our behinds for three hours in the secure area of Pearson airport.  Therefore, when the keys were discovered in Heather’s purse, I figured that there would be plenty of time for our flight attendant daughter to just run up to the airport and – using her staff privileges – come to the place where we were and pick up the keys.  But no.  When I reached Rachael and put this plan forward, she told me that her staff privileges are not that good.  Because we had already cleared U.S. security, there was no way on God’s green earth that she could blithely walk in, and say “Hi!  I’m picking up a little package from my parents!” and walk away without hundreds of armed guards frog-marching her into some kind of rat-infested jail cell.  Okay, so I exaggerate – but in short, she would not be permitted to get the keys that we had so kindly brought to Toronto for her.

I resolved to try to courier them to Rachael from Ft. Lauderdale.

And that’s what has been done.  Yesterday I asked our hotel concierge if he could arrange such a thing, and he brought me a FedEx package, which I promptly addressed to my daughter in Toronto, then popped the keys into it, sealed it, and told the Concierge to put the cost of it on my room bill.  There!  Smooth as silk.  Although I am a little nervous about my key running around loose and unsupervised, in a package that has my home address on it... but what villan would try to catch a plane from Ft. Lauderdale, or even from Toronto, in order to enter an unknown apartment in Winnipeg???  We should be fine. 4

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Who’s in charge here?

Our cruise company (Princess Cruises) is exceedingly anxious that everything go smoothly for us, their clients.  Their motto is “escape completely,” and that means no worries, no confusion, no mixups... right?  Nothing but calm and comfort.

Well, although the ship itself is extraordinary, getting to it had some bumps and lumps.  When we arrived from Toronto at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, we were met by a uniformed cruise representative (excellent!) and she soon had quite a little group of people who needed to be transported to their hotels.  However, she couldn’t get hold of a bus!  Indeed, she seemed to be having quite a little struggle with dispatchers.  But eventually we were shepherded out of the terminal (Heather said, “Look, Tony!  Palm trees!!”), on to a bus, and in due course were settled into our hotel.

This morning another uniformed cruise representative came to the hotel.  The lobby was jammed with people awaiting transport to one of two ships due to depart today.  She sat down, checked everyone’s names off on a list, gave us brightly coloured numbers indicating which bus we were to board, and told us to keep an eye on our luggage.

It was hard to locate my luggage, actually, because a cruise representative had come to the hotel room earlier and taken it away somewhere.  Eventually, I found it on the back parking lot, with hundreds of other bags, near to five or six huge buses.
Tony watching luggage by a bus
I knew where my duty lay: keep track of that luggage!

The drivers were preparing to load the bags into the luggage bays.  “Are these for Grand Princess?” one of them inquired.

“The ones for Emerald Princess should go over there!” called another driver.

It was beginning to rain.  The bags were getting wet.  It would be good to get them into the buses.

I said, “These are my bags, and I was told to find them and stand by them.”
“Are you on Grand or Emerald?” asked a driver.
Grand,” I replied.
“Good.  You just git on my bus, den!”
“Are you bus number five?  I have a number five in my hand here.”
“Numbers?  Who needs numbers?!  I been driving dese buses for twenty five year, and I know how to get people to de Grand Princess widout no numbers!”

“Okay,” I said.  I watched my luggage being put into this man’s bus, then I went to fetch Heather.  Werner and Mary’s luggage was in another pile somewhere, and I knew where my duty lay: keep track of my luggage, and keep track of my wife.  There were hundreds of people now milling about the parking lot in the increasing drizzle.

Heather’s legs were hurting, but we managed to get her up into the bus.  Secure in the knowledge that we were headed towards the Grand Princess we took a seat.  Other people began to get aboard our bus, but most were in confusion, with a variety of bus numbers in hand.  They knew that the Princess representative was adamant about bus numbers, but the drivers were telling us to ignore them.

The capper came when the Princess rep., having had a major dust-up with the drivers, got into our bus and told everyone to disembark.  Oh my, the muttering and the grumbling and the chorus of unanswered questions!!!  But we got off, and were sorted into buses by numbers.  I carefully watched a disgruntled driver haul my baggage out into the rain once more, and shift it over to the bus that I was supposed to be on!

But I can write this in the comfort of my stateroom with all our luggage here and unpacked and everything put away in the room’s commodious cupboards!  But I wouldn’t like to be a bus company manager when Princess gets hold of them!

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011
At sea...

Scholarship? At sea?

One of the things that I had looked forward to on this cruise was what the brochures call, “Scholarship at Sea.”  I love to learn stuff, and am quite open to attending lectures on a variety of subjects (I had in my mind such topics as local history, geography, meteorology, regional politics, literature).  However, the first Scholarship at Sea lecture, when it was announced in the daily shipboard broadsheet, did not quite resemble any of my pre-imagined topics.  It was called, “The Wonders of Aruba and Curaçao.”  The word “Wonders” doesn’t suggest a very high level of scholarship.  Still, I hoped for the best, and, despite being unaccountably tired this morning, and not in the best of moods, at the appropriate time I left my pleasant stateroom and headed for the theatre.

I shouldn’t have.  Basically the session consisted of a few scattered thoughts by a plump retired Canadian school teacher who had been on this cruise several times and was thus familiar with a little bit of the local colour on the islands in question.  But, frankly, I had read more information in the cruise booklet about the two islands than this lady was able to give.  Her presentation was made even worse by the fact that her PowerPoint slides were out of focus.  I would have walked out, but felt that would have been far too rude (even though my thoughts were about as rude as walking out could ever imply).

As soon as the lecture was over, I quickly returned to our cabin.  Shortly thereafter I was sprawled out on the stateroom sofa, sound asleep.

I was awakened by Heather coming in.  She, too, had gone to the lecture (but had not spotted me in that huge theatre) and disliked it as much as I had.  She, too, required a nap.  Immediately.  Although she wasn’t feeling the degree of grumpiness that I was, nonetheless she was totally wiped out.  She suggested – facetiously – that the cruise line must have put exhaustion pills into the coffee!

I think it was simply the strain of getting here, and the deliciousness of living in this comfortable moving hotel.  Soon Heather was sound asleep on the bed, and I continued dozing on the couch.

The next thing we both knew, Manuel, our cabin steward, had come to make up the room for the day.  We got up and sat on the balcony, enjoying the tropical air, the bright sun, and the splash of the waves far below.  We resolved that we would never never leave the ship, and just have four naps a day.

Heather eventually went off to join Mary in one of the hot tubs.  I myself am feeling far more rested, and am quite content just sitting here and typing this record.  All is well.

Heather and Tony on cruise ship balcony
Heather and Tony with Room Service coffee on the balcony

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Next: Disaster Averted... and our first ports of call.


FOOTNOTES:

1  Psalm 107:23-32.  I’m quoting loosely from the version of the Psalms that is found in Anglican and Episcopalian service books.
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2  In 2011, thirteen years after it was built, the cruising industry is so universally successful that there are now 38 ships that are even larger than the Grand Princess!
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3  “There is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.” Psalm 104:26, KJV.
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4  But... keep reading!  Or click over to February 5, 2011: “What happened to those keys?”  The matter of the keys is by no means over.
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