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New At sea: rambling impressions
Last year some friends pestered us to join them on a “cruise,” a prospect I regarded with a vast want of enthusiasm, but the spousette was sold on it, and because the voyage was a modest one (San Francisco to Ensenada and back, with southbound stops in Santa Barbara, Long Beach and San Diego) and involved a fairly modest outlay, I grumblingly consented. We departed Saturday 4/7; returned a week later.

I’d seen the same (or an identical) ship moored at the San Francisco cruise terminal several times, and regarded it with contempt. “You will never get me aboard a floating mall with five thousand suburbanites,” I thought, until I didn’t. The boarding process at the cruise terminal seemed more hectic and disorganized than the airport equivalent, but matters thereafter were handled more smoothly. So:

Our thrifty companions opted for a windowless interior cabin, but L laid out a couple of C-notes for a stateroom with a veranda, which strikes me in retrospect as money well spent. The space was well-appointed and the sleeping surface quite comfortable. I might have preferred a greater abundance of electrical outlets and a few more options for interior lighting, but these are mere cavils. I quite liked stepping onto our veranda each morning to watch the sea rolling by before heading up two decks for breakfast, the life’s companion remaining abed yet for a few hours (L’s morning routine is similar to that she practices in hotels: if there is a force in nature that can get her to leave an inn before checkout time, I've yet to discover it, and most physicists now believe, based on the latest numbers from CERN, that such a force does not, indeed, cannot exist in the Standard Model).

The Grand Princess features half a dozen more-or-less conventional restaurants with perfectly serviceable fare, but during the daylight hours it was the “Horizon” buffet that attracted the most custom. The arrangement is “all you can eat,” which many of my fellow passengers took to mean “you can eat it all.” At every meal there was some impressive want of portion control going on. I wondered whether they ate like this at home, and concluded, by the looks of many of them, that they probably did.

The passengers: mainly white American suburbanites; mainly the far side of fifty-five; mainly overweight. A blessed paucity of children—I had feared the craft would be overrun with families of shrieking incontinent urchins. We ran into a number of foreign tourists (mainly from Canada and Auld Blighty) and observed several large contingents of Chinese. Most passengers appeared to congregate in the large public areas around the swimming pools, which meant that there were several parts of the ship where one could recline peacefully and in relative solitude with a book and an adult beverage.

The first morning at sea, one of our friends persuaded me to accompany him to an “art history” lecture, billed as “Forty Thousand Years of Art in Forty Minutes.” The title alone had set my bullshit detector chiming, so I can’t say I was disappointed in the event, but if the smarmy young character who delivered the talk has been the beneficiary of even forty minutes of training in the subject, I’ll eat van Gogh’s other ear. Hell, give me half an hour online to prod the memories of my undergraduate courses and I could have given a far better account of the subject (example: “The Egyptians invented two-dimensional art.” Really, asshole? I have a gentleman on the line from Lascaux. Will you accept the charges?). The entire thing was just a pitch for a “fine art auction” to which we were all invited, and at which we would have the opportunity to purchase original works by “our greatest living artist”—I’m guessing that few of you knew that this is Peter Max—and by the celebrated (presumably our greatest non-living artist) painter Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Blight” as he’s affectionately known here at The Crumbling Manse™.

That was the low point. Later we attended an evening song-and-dance performance, “The British Invasion,” in which a young troupe performed covers of period artists (all of them active before our ensemble were any of them born) from Petula Clark to Freddie Mercury, which was entertaining enough, although possibly because I’ve heard so many tales from L’s own days as an itinerant musician, I was sensitive at all times to the amount of work the entertainers were putting into appearing spontaneous and carefree. On a couple of evenings we ambled down to a “lounge” to listen to a singer/guitarist—technically able on both counts, saith the spousette—as he entertained a bunch of old farts with Sixties standards. The old farts, swaying blissfully to the tunes of their salad days, were all of them older than my parents were when these songs, which they utterly deplored, were getting airplay.

I did not myself sway blissfully.

At the end of the set I asked the singer whether Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” was included in his repertoire. It was not, which did not particularly surprise me, and he was unfamiliar with the song, which did: I thought that Cohen had enjoyed a late-in-life revival of interest among the young hipsters. But this guy looked to be maybe twenty-three, so perhaps he missed it.

I think you could have subtracted the entertainment, the cultural improvement (if we are to take the “lecture” as representative), the ports of call—Santa Barbara, Long Beach, San Diego, all of which I have visited many times; at all of which L had slotted us in to see her friends and/or relatives, and even the terminus, Ensenada, where we had drinks at “Hussong’s Cantina,” of which I had, for reasons that elude me, somehow heard, and I could have enjoyed being at sea the entire time with comfy quarters, decent meals, the vast ocean beneath me. I saw a shark pass us northbound, to starboard, as we steamed to Santa Barbara. At points on the voyage the sea became quite lively: I am fortunately resistant myself to motion sickness, but L sensibly gulped some Dramamine. The contrast to overnight travel on the train was interesting: greater frequency, lesser amplitude by rail; the opposite by ship. On the homeward leg, the motion of the vessel was sufficiently frisky that the swimming pools were roped off as their contents sloshed back and forth with enough force that they sounded like crashing surf on a beach. L was relaxing in an adjacent heated “Jacuzzi” when a volume of cold water from the swimming pool poured into her environment, appreciably harshing her mellow.

The crew—I here refer to the service personnel rather than to the actual mariners—were uniformly courteous, accommodating, professional. They were an international lot, and L says that she counted over two dozen countries of origin on their name badges. We were certainly well taken care of (as the son of a waitress I tend to be undemanding with service personnel; L not so much).

I cannot fail to mention the “Cruise Director,” a loathsome and—you will forgive me—“flamboyantly” faggy South African one could elude only with difficulty, as he showed up on large screens throughout the vessel, mincing and prancing (he could have been as butch as John Wayne and I still would have regarded him as overexposed. That he was doing the gay thing irritated me the more, unavoidably: I’m from a generation where, had this guy shown up in high school, as soon as the jocks got through beating him up, the Honor Society would have kicked the shit out of him).

It was not so much an issue for me, since I usually headed for more secluded sections of the ship.

Would I do it again? Possibly. I have the impression that the “Carnival” line is more down-market, more “family” oriented, more screaming children. No thanks. Friends, more prosperous than I, speak well of the “Viking” river cruises, and I am attracted both by the notion of a passenger complement of about one-twentieth what the Grand Princess carried, and also of a more upscale demographic (“Rand, you are a terrible snob,” said one of my traveling companions, who has been a millionaire for his entire adult life. “I know I am,” I replied, “because I come from these people”). We’ll have to see. Maybe L will win another big case.

Expand Edited by rcareaga April 17, 2018, 07:32:18 PM EDT
New Nice.
A colleague has said that one has to take a ship when one goes to Alaska, to see the glaciers and such. And the VRC TV commercials look wonderful, but they always show Budapest and I would hate to go (back) there and not be able to spend a lot of time walking around. I'd probably feel that way about any other European river travels.

But maybe something like Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. That might be a great way to get an introduction and see the sights of a place like that...

A very nice tale. Thanks for sharing it.

New I had a chance to visit Vietnam back in the day
…free transportation, lodging, clothing allowance, medical care, burial insurance. I turned it down.

New I understand it's much nicer now.

Some recent pictures from a Balloon-Juicer's vacation:

Ho Chi Minh City

New It could scarcely be less nice…
than when we were hitting them with more ordnance than we’d dropped on the Third Reich.

New Yup.
Though most of the bombs were dropped on Laos and Cambodia.


New Interesting.
I've concluded that ships of that size and that consider themselves a destination are not for me. Unless you've made arrangements, you won't meet anyone more than once! :)

The wife and I did Central America on the Viking Sky the weeks before and after this past New Years. They carry about 900 passengers and all cabins have verandas. The main attraction was to see the Panama Canal, a bucket list item. The lectures were mostly by university professors, either US or UK, and were excellent.

Visiting Cartagena, Columbia short a stop as it was, was also pretty interesting. It was the Spanish gateway to South America. Lots of history there that was barely mentioned in school.

Viking managed to mess up the Cayman Islands stop, not securing a spot to tender us to shore. So, we wound up skipping it. Not a big deal because we had been there before, but disappointing. We also stopped in Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Jamaica.

The passengers on Viking are for the most part different from typical cruise passengers.

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

-- Isaac Asimov
New You can't drop that last line without an explanation

New It's the tourist vs. traveller distinction.
They want to understand the place they visit as opposed to say enjoy their beach because it's winter at home.

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

-- Isaac Asimov
New sounds like a good time was had
When I used to work in Florida, one of my co-workers cruised standby. He would packup and show up on the docks at the last minute and got unbeleivable discounts on cruises. He didnt always get his best choice of destinations but cruises were his tonic. Since you have some time on your hands, you might want to look into that
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts" – Richard Feynman
     At sea: rambling impressions - (rcareaga) - (9)
         Nice. - (Another Scott) - (4)
             I had a chance to visit Vietnam back in the day - (rcareaga) - (3)
                 I understand it's much nicer now. - (Another Scott) - (2)
                     It could scarcely be less nice… - (rcareaga) - (1)
                         Yup. - (Another Scott)
         Interesting. - (a6l6e6x) - (2)
             You can't drop that last line without an explanation -NT - (drook) - (1)
                 It's the tourist vs. traveller distinction. - (a6l6e6x)
         sounds like a good time was had - (boxley)

Where did you want to go yesterday?
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