Monday, November 06, 2006

Considering A Cruise?

I grew up taking vacations, one almost every year, but I’d never taken a cruise and not until this week did I comprehend the difference. Flying somewhere, maybe staying in a condo or hotel, going to the nearest beach or resort means seclusion and autonomy; you’re one of fifty people enjoying the waves and the wind blowing across the sand, but that’s it. I have no more connection to the other guests at Disneyland than I do to the other shoppers waiting in line at the check-out stand at Fred Meyers.

The first thing I noticed when we arrived at pier 6 in Tampa and made our way up the gangway of the M.S. Veendam was that Andrew and I were traveling with the same group of people. We’d all been through the check-in process, filed onto the ship and headed to the same deck for our staterooms, some of them had followed us across the country as our flights connected from Anchorage to Tampa. Instead of independently moving through the Caribbean, I found myself in a collective experience with 1284 fellow travelers. Where else would I dine with strangers seven days in a row, run into the same people by the pool every afternoon for a week? Move from place to place, attraction to attraction with the same unit—sharing the same experiences but refraining from any more intimacy than “Where are you from?”

After three days I came to “know” these strangers in a pseudo-relationship, like the tall, older couple who were the only ones dancing as Danny and the HALcats played “Hot Hot Hot” at the Sail-away Party. They were thin and about the same height and go everywhere hand in hand.

There were two enormously large men traveling together. One of them I swear is the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons: ponytail? Check. T-shirt? Check. Beer belly? Check. But they don’t speak to each other, not a smile, not a chuckle, they just move along the same horizontal plane traveling in the same direction. There must be more story there because why would you choose to take a cruise with someone to whom you had nothing to say? Are they friends? Brothers? Partners? Game show contestants? The only time I heard them interact for any sustainable time was when Comic Book Guy accidentally stepped on Large Man #2’s foot on board a catamaran in Belize. LM #2 cursed and yelled at the offender while the rest of us were embarrassed.

Then there were the grandparents. My guess is they’d brought their son, his wife and their granddaughter along with them for a family cruise. The young wife dressed very stylishly—I admired her pink and green trimmed capris with the rhinestone buttons and matching pink-and-rhinestone flip flops--but she seemed uncomfortable around her in-laws and I often saw her alone. The grandmother couldn’t get enough of the baby, bouncing her around in exaggerated, swelling motions, cooing and talking in a high pitched voiced, emoting in great amounts. I wondered how fun this cruise was for the young wife, if she liked her in-laws or if she was merely tolerating them because they paid for her vacation.

There was a spry old man with his round grumpy wife who followed us ever since our connection in Salt Lake City. Thin and always wearing a baseball cap, he rolled his Levis at the cuffs—a great deal because he was so short and wiry—and wore a zippered sweat shirt with the words Old Navy across the chest. Never were truer words recorded. He seemed the type who’d easily fall victim to a heart attack from his take-no-prisoners personality but once released from the hospital, where he gave the doctors plenty of trouble, he would bounce right back to live another thirty years.

And Bono. Did I tell you Bono is on the ship? Or rather a man who is Bono at 65. Chin-length graying dark hair, pointed chin and square jaw with a rather tight cheeky grin, buggy sunglasses and a black beret. It’s him I tell you—or rather it’s a glimpse into the future for my favorite Irish rocker. The only thing that gave the imposter away was his companion for I imagine Bono wouldn’t be cruising with an aging flower child, one whose long gray hair flowed freely down the back of her pink muumuu while her flip flops made smacking sucky sound on her chubby feet as she walked.

And there I sat with my husband on the teak deck in vintage deck chairs of the quaintest distressed variety with the Caribbean waters flowing to the right and the sky clearing after a misty shower that made no dent in the ocean’s undulations beneath the stern. People walked the deck in a counter-clockwise direction, often in pairs, and occasionally glanced at Andrew and I as they passed. They might have wondered who would bring a laptop along on a cruise, typing without looking at the tiny birds swirling around the boat. They might have wondered if Andrew and I were on our honeymoon. Would they be surprised to know we had four children?

Each of the 1285 passengers on this ship will consider this week one of the highlights of their life, something to photograph and savor. For one week each of us traveled to the same places, ate the same foods and experienced the same beautiful sensations yet we’re still strangers. Of all the 96 billion people that have lived on the earth, on Monday October 30, 2006 I was at 19 degrees, 48.56’ north, 86 degrees, 18.04’west bearing due south toward Belize with 1285 other souls whom I’ll never see again but who will be in the silent figures in the backgrounds of my photographs forever.

Yes, if you’re a people hater, a cruise may not be the vacation for you because wherever you go, there is another one of your 1284 closest friends. But if, like me, you could sit for hours watching the world’s population go by and never tire of looking for the details, consider a cruise. It’s a fascinating way to travel.

My caption for this photo would be: "Where pirates go when they retire." (check out his glasses).


J said...

I love people watching, and your descriptions gave me a vicarious thrill. Thanks for that. :)

Allysha said...

So, I'm assuming that you had a good time, yes? Hope so!

Loralee Choate said...

Why does it seem that spry, old men are always married to grumpy, old women???

I call it the "Harriet and Nells Olson Syndrome".

You remember? The couple who owned the Mercantile on Little House on the Prarie?

Am I the only dork here who watched/watches that show?


Anonymous said...

I have never been on a cruise but hopefully sometime in my lifetime. Sounds like you guys had a wonderful time!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you enjoyed your cruise. You did hit the people watching right on the head. The two large guys cracked me up.

Julie Q. said...

Okay, when are you going to write that novel of yours? You are very gifted at describing people. These would all make great character portraits. What a writer. (I think the line about Old Navy is my favorite).

Anonymous said...

People watching is great. You should try traffic counting. It allows you to sit at an intersection and watch everyone go by while getting paid!

Lara said...

You described it perfectly. I wanted to bring some of the people we met on our cruise home with me. After 7 days of bonding, it was tough leaving them behind!

DigitalRich said...

Great observations and commentary. Thanks for the peek into the cruise, and your brain.

Well done.


Anonymous said...

I love this post and the photos..very funny! The photo with the "enormously large men" - a view of their backsides no less - well, that photo spoke more than a thousand words, that's for sure.

I love your site design, too.