Category Archives: Cruising

Cruising the Seven Seas. Eventually, rivers.

Unemployed Pirate

I have decided that I am an unemployed pirate. It is an interesting job. Well, it’s not really a job, if I’m unemployed. I suppose I’m an unemployed chef, as well, because I made fish sticks for lunch.

Unemployed Pirate
Ye Host, The Unemployed Pirate

Jimmy Buffet said, “Yes, I am a pirate … 200 years too late”, and I know the feeling. I want to be a pirate. However, the hours aren’t that good, there’s apparently lots of work, and you might get killed or imprisoned.

It seems much simpler (and safer) to just take a cruise, demand drinks and food from the cheerful staff, and say, “Thank ye, matey!” when your order is delivered. I’m pretty sure most pirate ships didn’t have room service.

Still, it seems like putting “Pirate” on a resume (or a business card) would stand out as a desired position, and then you would also have the advantage of writing off all your vacation cruises as job training. Tax piracy is still piracy, right?

So, take a GPS on your next cruise. There’s probably one built into your phone. Track your coordinates as you travel from port to port. Now, you’re a navigator. Sure, you probably need to know how to read paper charts and use a sextant, but that’s just if you forget to charge your phone.

Tell your mate to go get you a drink. If you get a drink, you’re the Captain. If you’re told to get your own damn drink, you’re probably just the First Mate. Just don’t ever both wear T-shirts with your “ranks.” It’s very non-pirate.

Yes, I am a pirate. I’m simply unemployed, and I would like a pirate job with decent hours, a medical plan more extensive than just an eye patch and a hook, room and board, and a good chance of advancement. I’d also like a retirement plan a bit more extravagant than a stud earring. Oh, and little chance for arrest.

Annus Horribilis

In the Caribbean, this has been a horrible year. I know, because I’m scheduled to go there at Christmas. My wife and I have our annual cruise scheduled, in spite of the fact I’m still looking for a job, because we just need to get out of town for the holidays.

This year, there was a particularly nice cruise available on the Norwegian Jade, a ship we have sailed before and enjoyed. It’s ten days, so a good length of time away. It wasn’t that expensive, compared to other years. It was also calling on a number of ports that we had never visited before. So, with all the stresses of not working, I was looking forward to a cruise.

Then Irma. Then Maria.

Here’s our cruise plan, as of the original booking. All the red ports are currently closed. We should know in a couple of weeks where we’re actually going to sail, but as all the cruise lines have the same problem, and all of them will have a multitude of ships in Florida for the winter, it’s going to get interesting. The scheduling of multiple ships of multiple sizes (which limits which ports can be visited) with random cruise lengths to the same area of the sea will be challenging, to say the least.


This is not a complaint letter about our cruise being changed, although you can find plenty of those around. Our itinerary will change, we know that, whatever. It’s hardly Norwegian’s fault that two of the worst storms in history tracked almost exactly over their planned Christmas cruise.

That said, we learned a couple of bizarre things while watching Mother Nature destroy our vacation plans. One, many people care more about their vacations than other people. When Norwegian announced all their Eastern Caribbean cruises were suddenly sailing Western Caribbean routes until at least the end of November, people complained. Complained.

There are people living in the islands who depend on tourism who now won’t get tourists because the port has been destroyed, and by the way, their house is gone, and you’re whining that your vacation was ruined? Get a grip, people.

It was particularly painful for us, because we’ve been to some of the islands and we know some of the people. I fed birds in St Thomas. I haven’t heard how the resort made out. We made our own perfume at Tijon in Saint Martin. The store remains, the owner’s house is gone.

We support a dog rescue on Saint Martin. We donated what we could to their campaign to build a shelter last year. The shelter is gone now. It took a couple of days for someone to locate the founder of the organization because the power was out, nobody could get to her house, and she had refused to leave the dogs. Even though we haven’t met in person, it was freaking us out that nobody knew if she was OK.

So, having to go to the Western Caribbean instead of the Eastern Caribbean is not really a problem. Trust me.

I was very pleased to see multiple cruise lines donate ships, crew and time to get supplies to the islands and get stranded people off of them. I was horrified by some of the comments of passengers diverted by a hurricane to Cozumel. (“It’s humid here!”) Honestly, I would be freaking out if I was working (and paying a dog sitter) and suddenly had my vacation extended by an unknown amount of time, but I would like to think I could handle it more gracefully. It’s a freaking hurricane. It’s not really under the cruise line’s control. Have a margarita. Chill out.

We also learned that the islands don’t seem to exist in much of the US media’s eyes. At best, they’re flyover country – a large number of independent entities that are all just lumped together. Storms generate in the Atlantic, pass over the Lesser Antilles and then go towards Miami. There are over thirty islands. It’s not one clump. Some were hit, some were grazed, some were missed. The distinctions are important and it is newsworthy for each individual island. The Weather Channel seems to dwell mostly on what might or will happen instead of what has just happened.  CNN did a better job of reporting results, but if you’re all about weather, why aren’t you covering where the weather just occurred? Personally, I don’t really care right now if Miami is going to get hit in four days if someone I care about is getting hit at the moment.

(I also learned that you can find information, you just need to find the official channels or newspapers on the web. However, when their power goes out, the news gets spotty.)

Also, the US Virgin Islands are part of the US. The name should be a major clue. Newspeople don’t seem to know this. These people are your fellow citizens. (Here’s where to donate.) The same applies for Puerto Rico. I’m really appalled by the lack of coverage or concern because everyone was looking down the calendar at Florida.

I’m actually appalled by the media not covering more of the islands at all, even the ones not directly tied to the US. The Caribbean is a major tourist destination. There are expats living all over them. There are cruise ships steaming towards them, filled with drunk Americans. There are people spending their vacation money, planning to visit in the next few months. It does matter.

The Caribbean should be more important to us.

The islands will rebuild. They always do. However, a lot of what they need is imported (expensive), so it will take time. Months. Maybe years. Support them. If the ports aren’t open, I’m pretty sure you can still transfer funds. Donate, people.

I personally don’t mind visiting an island that’s half recovered, just to spend some money there and help the recovery by having some fun. I hope more people think that way. From what I’ve seen online, there are some who agree with me.

“It’s not like at home” is one of the great reasons to travel. I hope we all remember that.

Oh, and if you’ve been thinking about adopting a dog, I can help set you up. You just have to wait until they can arrange the flights, assuming the airport is open.

Falling Off A Cruise Ship

Another tragic story this week – a Texas man fell off a cruise ship. A search is underway. I’m sure all of us send our thoughts to his family.

Here’s the issue: I’m pretty sure nobody ever falls off a cruise ship. I just finished my twelfth cruise last week, and they’ve all been on Norwegian and the missing passenger was on a Royal Caribbean ship, but I’m pretty sure I can say he didn’t fall.

It’s easy to say someone fell off a ship, but it also moves the implied blame to the cruise line. Apparently, Royal Caribbean has ships that passengers can fall from. We have spent too much of the past few years moving blame to innocent parties.

Why don’t people fall off cruise ships? Mainly, because cruise ships are designed to keep people on board. There are railings everywhere along the outside decks, and it takes work to get over them. There are partitions underneath, so you can’t just slide under. Some decks don’t have any open areas at all.  It’s not like you can just walk up to the edge of the ship, trip and fall overboard. You can climb up and try to balance on the railings because your idiot friends bet you that you couldn’t, and fall off the railing, but that’s stupidity or drunkeness, not a fall. You can climb over and jump off the railing, but that’s suicide (and there are probably easier ways to commit suicide.)

In this case, I just looked at the deck plans, and deck ten on The Navigator of the Seas is all cabins – private rooms – and the outside cabins have balconies. Balconies have railings. I’ve been in a balcony cabin. You can’t fall off a balcony without some work.

So, this is tragic, as it always is when a life is potentially lost, and it is also sloppy reporting or at least an extremely poor choice of words. (It’s also sloppy to say Royal Caribbean built the ship. Cruise lines purchase and operate ships. Shipyards build them for the cruise lines. Does American build their own airplanes?)

Coincidentally, before I heard about the accident, I had attended a Q&A session with the senior officers on the Norwegian Jade, and someone asked the Captain about what happens in a man overboard situation. The question actually was “Has anyone fallen off the ship?” One of his first statements was “Nobody falls off a ship.”

In a man overboard situation, the ship’s crew will drop flares to mark the approximate spot, turn the ship around (which may take some time – it can take a mile or more to stop a cruise ship) and launch a life boat or tender to do a search. In cases where the ship is within range, the crew can ask the Coast Guard for help – helicopters and planes search a wide area faster.

The Captain of the Jade made it clear that the sooner it’s reported, the better the chances of finding and saving the missing person. This should be obvious to almost anyone, but apparently, some people on cruises are idiots.  That is the real reason you can have a man overboard.

A Royal Caribbean ship has a man overboard. The Coast Guard is assisting in the search for him. I know it’s hard on his loved ones, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t fall.

Dancing With The Old Farts, or Tourists on Parade

I’m in Barcelona, briefly recovering from an eleven-day Transatlantic cruise from Miami. I heard the average age on the ship was fifty-nine. Therefore, I was a youngster on the cruise. This frightens me. (I also had my Mom with me. That will be the indulgence I claim to get away with the rest of this post.)

So after the cruise and today, I would like to apologize to the entire world for Old American Farts on package tours. I may have done this before, but I need to do it again.

Yes, the French always sound annoyed, Germans always sound angry, and Australians often sound drunk, but Americans can sound ignorant and arrogant at the same time, and that is worse.

First, I really must apologize to the Universe for all the assholes who have money and no sense of decorum. Being rich does not make you right. (I’m looking at you, Jerry Jones.) In fact, this behavior should just be called the Jerry Jones Syndrome.

For example, no matter how much you paid for your cruise, demanding a dish from one (surcharged) restaurant while dining in another (free) restaurant on the other side of the ship is a bit much. Yes, I saw this onboard.

When you are seated at a table, and the restaurant manager immediately arrives to see what’s wrong today, before the waitress even takes your order, you are assholes. Chill out. You may be rich, but that is not the same as privileged.

Now, it’s possible that the couple I’m considering spent all their remaining money for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise before one of them died of a rare disease, but bitching about absolutely everything will not make it a perfect vacation. Also, wearing an obvious wig that looks like a helmet is not a disease, unless bad taste has been upgraded while I was away.

I almost started a new non-profit this week. It’s tentatively called “Take a shot, Chill the fuck out.” (The name may need work.) It provides free drinks for people who desperately need an attitude adjustment immediately, before someone kills them, as a mercy killing, just to save the crew. I’ll post when the website is ready for donations.

Actually, it may be faster to just print some business cards that say “If everything were perfect here, it would be Heaven. Keep acting like you do, and you will never know. Tell Satan “Hello!” for me.” Well, “Congratulations. You’re an asshole.” would be cheaper to print, and easier to understand. I could have handed a few out this week.

I have to say that the staff and crew of the Norwegian Epic were cheerful, friendly and worked tirelessly for eleven days across the Atlantic to make sure all of the passengers had a good time. I just hope they were spitting in some food, just to save their sanity.

Back on dry land, I had the questionable joy of sharing a breakfast buffet with some different Old Farts in Barcelona this morning. The level of amazement expressed at simple things (“Clark! They have BREAD here! Ohmigod! EGGS!”) is really vastly annoying to me – mainly because I had not had enough coffee. After the coffee kicked in, I was just horrified.

People, the world is not all the same as at home, that’s why you travel, but in some places, they do have better food than your local Hampton Inn buffet. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I’ve been there. it’s called France, and Spain and Germany, just to name a few. Stop being shocked every time you leave the USA.

By the way, yes, the ham here in Spain tastes funny, it’s Iberian ham, and they don’t have it at Shop-Rite. They have it in Michelin-starred restaurants, and Spanish hotel buffets.

Now, I’m sure with the weakened eyesight many of them have, it must seem like the buffet goes on forever, but the one this morning wasn’t really that abundant, compared to some I’m seen in Europe. I’m not complaining, it was very nice, and I love this hotel’s staff, but I really don’t think I would swoon in joy over it, or loudly name each item to my companion. Unless she was really blind.

My beloved Spousal Unit told me I was overreacting (well, she told me to shut the Hell up), but I don’t understand how someone can live to that age, have enough expendable income to take a trip to Europe, and then be totally confused by a buffet, even if English is the third language on each sign. If you can’t recognize pastries without a sign, you’ve got issues.

Oh, a bonus observation – almost any European coffee beats the crap out of Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Just sayin’.

Maybe it’s me.

My real issue this morning was the Old Fart Shuffle – the famous dance step where some one stops short, looks in confusion at a common item as if seeing it for the very first time (“Clark! Butter here is mantequilla!”), then staggers forward and doubles back to look at the item next to it. This is only dangerous when the person in question is between me and my coffee, in a hotel where there is no coffee in the room.

The Old Fart Shuffle is not to be confused with the Salmon Waltz, which is when one person (say, for example, my Spousal Unit) wanders to the buffet, glances at the bountiful items – not the massive number of people already in line – and promptly swims upstream against a herd of tourists, because the one item she wants is near the end of the buffet.

It was much the same later today at La Sagrada Familia, although it’s a church, so people are supposed to shut the Hell up, and for the most part, they did.

As an aside, it’s interesting to me that the staff remind you it’s a church, and tell people to remove their hats and pipe down, while they also charge admission, have two gift shops and give guided tours. I guess “Eighteen Towers of Jesus” didn’t test-market well, so they named it La Sagrada Familia. They’ve been building it since 1882. This is before most of us were born, but significantly after most churches in Europe were completed.

Since most of the famous churches I’ve seen in Europe are surrounded by scaffolding, I give the Spanish points for actually admitting they’re not done yet. They could tell most Americans it was damaged in the Greek Rabies War of 1673, and the tourists would just nod, so kudos for telling the truth.

At the church, and most famous sites, tourists do the Fashionista Strut, where they blindly walk into everyone else’s photos. Granted, an iPhone is not known for its ability to capture architecture, but still, take a look around you when you walk. Unlike photo-bombing, which is cruel but funny, the Fashionista Strut is just people not paying any attention to their surroundings. If you see someone with a camera that doesn’t fit in a pocket or receive texts, and he is staring through a little hole in the back of it while twisting a long thingie on the front, he may be composing a shot. If you wander directly in front of him, and then stop just briefly to check Facebook, you will be in his shot. Often, you will completely block his shot. Beware. This is the same crime as getting between a man and his coffee at the buffet. Perhaps worse.

All these tourists, wandering around, completely oblivious. Then, they wonder why Barcelona has pick-pockets.

Back at the hotel, a guy just had a five-minute argument with the bartender because he had never heard of a gin martini. Dude, first of all, she’s a great bartender, she’s my bartender who runs a tab for me, so don’t mess with her, and if you don’t know the proper way to make a martini, just get a damn beer. (He finally did.)

After all that, I’m pretty sure, in spite all that I’ve done, when I am finally sent to Hades, the reason will be the number of times I thought “Jesus Christ! Get out of my goddam photo!” while in a basilica.

I just hope God remembers that I took my Mom along on the trip and I didn’t make her read this.

So it goes.

Will It Go Round In Circles?

I almost remember the first time I heard the term “FAQ”, and it was a long time ago. It’s a TLA (a three-letter acronym) and it means “Frequently Asked Question”.

After I learned what a FAQ was, I actually had a job where I was supposed to generate them. Technically, I was supposed to generate answers to questions that we had not necessarily received, but we called them FAQs, anyway, because we assumed we would receive them frequently, eventually. Assuming people didn’t read the FAQs first.

I always thought it was strange to predict what questions would be asked frequently and answer them before they were asked. I suppose it’s the one time we could have used a psychic on an IT project, other than predicting completion dates for development projects.

Then, I found Cruise Critic, and I was enlightened. Cruise Critic is designed for people to review cruises they’ve been on, ask questions of other people on cruises, and discuss cruising in general. So, like most hobby bulletin boards (yes, I remember computer-based bulletin boards), you get a mix of newbies and old farts. These groups do not mix well.

Here’s the major issue – there are no FAQs there, other than metadata about using the website. So, while there are many frequently asked questions, there are no answers easily found. So, the same questions come up over and over.

Part of this is that people are ignorant. Not in the pejorative sense, they really don’t know yet. This is why you have a book on cruising called “What Time Is The Midnight Buffet?” You don’t know something because you’ve never done it before. The truly ignorant don’t even know what questions to ask. This group is blissfully silent.

Part of this is that people are lazy. If you do a basic search through the forums, you can find an endless number of previous entries and responses about almost any topic. However, even without search, you can look at the subject lines and find pretty much any of the frequent questions within a couple of pages. They’re that frequent.

Part of this is that people are ignorant (again)  – they don’t understand how bulletin boards and mailing lists actually work. They’re public. You see everything, not just your stuff. (I’ve had people on my digital photography mailing list [5000+ users] complain that they’re getting all sorts of conversation and not just the specific answer to their question.)

So, a lot of the usefulness of these sites are compromised by not only the same questions, but by the same complaints when the question is asked. Repetition scares off the people that know the answer, and then the new people can’t get any replies.

Meet some of people that ask the questions.

First of all, is the clueless newbie:

  • “What time can I get on the ship?”
  • “It depends, but it is probably printed on your cruise documents, the cruise lines’ website or both.”
  • “You’re mean. Can’t you just tell me the exact time?”

This basic conversation will repeat almost daily.

Then, there is the helpful newbie who doesn’t grasp the whole picture:

  • “Since this is the Report The Senior Staff board, I can tell you we had Captain Stubing on our trip.”
  • “WHAT (*(#$*)( SHIP? WHEN?”

Apparently, someone did not know that a cruise line may have more than one ship. I’ve lost count of how many posts are in the current year’s crew discussion board don’t mention the ship or the sailing date.

Some newbies require reassurance:

  • “I just booked a ten-day cruise from Miami and I’m in the corner cabin. My family will be with me. Is this a good idea?”

What are you going to say? If your family is prone to seasickness, no. If you can’t afford it, no. f you can’t get to Miami, this might be a bad idea. How many people are in your family? How many will fit in the cabin?

Then, you have the inadvertent war starters. For example, in the Norwegian Cruise Line section, somebody will ask about removing or changing the automatic tipping (a hot-button subject) every other day, and the same firefight will break out. I know it’s the same firefight, because someone actually said “Here we go again.”

The interesting question becomes – who’s fault is this? The people who don’t do any research and ask the same question somebody else asked three hours earlier, or the people who take the bait over and over?

I’ve actually considered whether some of the “newbies” are actually just old farts laying down flamebait to watch the other old farts rise up in fury. If so, well-played. I’m sure you’re laughing hysterically somewhere.

On the answering side, you also have the usual band of suspects:

Then, we have the Admittedly Ignorant, Yet Opinionated:

  • <any question known to man about <some cruise line>
  • “I don’t know about your question because I’ve never been on <cruise line>, but I think that Carnival’s scones are the best at sea.”

Seriously, if you don’t know, shut up. I know you have an unlimited data plan, but that doesn’t mean you need to post all the time.

Next, are the Search fanatics.

  • <any question known to man>
  • “Haven’t you searched?”

If someone is asking a question, I would like to think that they searched and didn’t find an answer. It’s possible (probable for newcomers) they haven’t. However, answering a question with a question is pointless, and starts the usual ranting for answering a question with a question. (These people should be paired with in Hell are the people who start questions with, “I didn’t have time to search, so …“)

Finally, are the Scolding Moms.

  • <any question known to man>
  • “We discussed this at length LAST WEEK. Scroll back and find it.”

Isn’t it faster to just cut and paste a summary? You might remember it, since you remember when it was discussed. That may actually help the person asking the question.

The problem with this system  is that the newbies are scared away from discussions because the old farts tend to get high blood pressure and yell at them. It’s not really yelling, but it seems like it if it is your first innocent question and you just haven’t realized yet that  it’s everyone’s first innocent question.

I’m an old fart on cruising. I have my seventh and eighth cruises scheduled this year – which is no Captain Stubing, but it’s a lot more than a first-timer. I do my best to be helpful, but it does get old. Quite old.

Hopefully, someday soon, Cruise Critic will learn to post realistic guidelines on the use of the site. Here’s some I considered: 

  • The first source for information on your cruise is your cruise line’s website. If you can find this website, you can probably find theirs.
  • The more definitive the answer, the more likely it is an opinion.
  • If you have a question, you are probably not the first one. Look around first or put on your asbestos underwear.
  • Please remember this is a world-wide site, with differences in experience, culture and language. Think before you hit “send”.
  • Religious wars happen in all hobbies (Carnival vs Norwegian, Ford vs. Chevy, Democrat vs. Republican.) If you have an opinion on a specific question, please join in. If you’re just going to point someone to “your brand”, please don’t bother, it’s not helpful.

If they can have a post that you reminds you that you can’t link to Facebook always show up at the top of the topics  list, you think they could add something like this.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell someone what time he can board the ship.

Class Warfare on the High Seas

Where to begin?

Cruise Critic asked yesterday on their Facebook page for opinions about the “ship within a ship” concept, such as The Haven by Norwegian. This is a private area of the ship with suites, a private restaurant, and higher service levels. It is more expensive than the rest of the ship, so it is more exclusive. I expected a few people who have stayed there to say, “It’s nice”,  a few to say, “Don’t care, can’t afford it”,  and all the Carnival fanboys to say, “Norwegian sucks. I would never travel with them.”

That wasn’t the case.

Apparently, a lot of people are really, really upset that there are suites on a ship. There were howls of protest, and calls of class warfare and elitism. Seriously?

I’m still trying to wrap my head around “It’s not fair.” I’ve flown over a million miles in First, Business and coach, and I’ve never sat in coach, looked at the front of the plane and thought, “The fact that First Class exists isn’t fair.”

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I stayed in the Haven on the Norwegian Breakaway last year. It was really nice. I liked having a butler, even though I really don’t have any idea what he can do for me. The concierge was great for getting seats for the shows and solving problems. The private restaurant makes it easy to get breakfast in the mornings. It’s pricey, but we got a last-minute upgrade offer on our Transatlantic cruise, and I figured since it was all sea days, that would be a good time to have some extra services. So, we spent the extra money.

We’re in the Haven this year on our Transatlantic sailing, as well – mainly because my Mom is going with us, so we needed a cabin that holds three people. We thought about just getting two cabins, but it was more cost-effective to just get one large suite with two bedrooms than two balconies next to each other.

According to some people, if we’re in the Haven, we shouldn’t be on a Norwegian ship at all, we should be on a luxury cruise line. Wow.

I’m going to tell my butler I expect him to check the door to the Haven every day for people with pitchforks and torches.

This has nothing to do with class. It has to do with the personal allocation of money.

People today associate money with class (the upper classes have money and the lower classes don’t – and it’s not fair), and the two do not necessarily go together in all cases. There are people who have money and will only sail in an inside cabin, because it’s the cheapest way to go and then they can take more trips. (I don’t have the time to take a lot of trips, so I tend to spend more on the ones I take.) If you go to South Dallas, there are people who live in shacks that could probably be condemned and there is an Escalade parked out front. Some people like driving expensive Cadillacs. It’s their prerogative. It has nothing to do with class. It has to do with how people decide to allocate their money, and what is important to them. Cars are more important than housing to some people.

I am going to spend more on my cruise than some of the other people on the ship. It’s my prerogative. It has nothing to do with my social status. I am not going to look down on the others on the ship and think, “I’m better than you.” I may think, “Wow, I know how to dress better than you”, but that’s a different discussion altogether.

I might be able to afford a luxury cruise line (where some of the complainers think I belong), but I choose not to do so – because it costs more than I’m willing to pay. It’s my prerogative.

I don’t understand people who think just because they can’t afford something, it shouldn’t be allowed. These people are pissed about suites on ships, and First Class on airlines. If you don’t want to spend the money, you don’t have to spend it. If you’re in an inside cabin or a balcony or a suite, the ship is going to the same places. You still get room and board included in your fare. You still get free entertainment. What is the issue?

If you persist in feeling bad about yourself, because you’re not in some exclusive area of the ship (or the plane, or the train), that’s between you and your shrink. It’s not my fault. You can’t deny people services they are willing to pay extra to receive just because you can’t (or won’t) pay the same amount.

As far as I know, virtually all cruise ships have different types of cabins at different price rates. Should ships be built with only one type of cabin so nobody feels bad? Suck it up, Buttercup. This isn’t fourth grade soccer where everyone gets a trophy. This is real life. In real life, companies cater to different people by having different price points.

An interesting question – how many of those complainers would turn down a free upgrade to a suite, because, after all, the suites should be eliminated? 

If you are going to complain that people in the suites are trying to get away from the riff-raff, you are probably admitting you think that you are the riff-raff. That is just sad. Really, you should have a higher opinion of yourself. Even if you can’t afford to stay in the Haven.

Inaugural Crossing

I must have been on a different ship than the people complaining about the Norwegian Breakaway Transatlantic crossing. I suppose part of the issue is the level of expectations.

Technically, she wasn’t even the Norwegian Breakaway until yesterday when she was christened (I know, it’s a real technicality, but nonetheless.)

The inaugural crossing was not even the “first cruise” (which I found hilarious when I discovered this.) The “first cruise” is the first trip from New York City to Bermuda with paying passengers, even though there have been two cruises with paying passengers previously.

I did not realize when I convinced my wife to switch from a Panama crossing to the Transatlantic crossing, but the inaugural cruise is a 3400-mile test drive. They knew she floats and she survived the overnight from Rotterdam to Southampton, but the Atlantic crossing was the first “real” test.

I think she passed. The staff was wonderful, after a couple of days, the weather almost cooperated and everything (for the most part) seemed functional.

It’s difficult to enjoy all the outdoor activities and amenities when it’s cold. This would have required a bit of pre-planning. It’s the North Atlantic. In April. It’s not going to be Caribbean weather. So, there were a lot of people indoors. (I went on the deck, just because I don’t mind the weather much.)

I didn’t visit the Garden Cafe because I’m too lazy to get my own food (especially when it’s probably food some other passenger picked up, sniffed and put back.) So, can’t review the buffet, but the restaurants were good.

We ate at almost all of the speciality restaurants, so many will consider us elitist. I just happen to like Le Bistro, my wife loves Italian and who could pass up Ocean Blue? It’s from an Iron Chef, who answers his Tweets.

The food service was slow, but this was the first time the staff was trying to produce the quantity of food required for a 3/4 full ship. Expectations, people.

I do think a lot of people take inaugural cruises just so they can bitch about everything that isn’t working yet (see the Norwegian Epic on her crossing or the Carnival <whatever> that had her first sailing this week.)

My wife and I were on this cruise because we wanted to cross the Atlantic like our ancestors did (well, my Grandfather didn’t have a balcony, but still.) When we saw the ship was arriving at 8am, we assumed we would be in port much earlier – based on earlier cruises. We were correct. We sailed under the Verrazano at about 3am. We were on the deck, taking photos. It was cold, the photos are a bit blurry, but it was an experience.

When we saw the level of hoopla scheduled for NYC after arrival, we assumed we wouldn’t be considered “the first” even though we were the first ones on the ship. Expectations, people.

She’s a beautiful ship. The staff was amazing. You can actually go outside on any number of decks – unlike the Norwegian Epic, which we sailed last Christmas.

Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s CEO,  is a very nice person (we kept running into him), and one of the better speakers I’ve heard.

We made more friends on this journey than on any of our other cruises (this was number five.) All the people we met seemed to understand the concept of “inaugural.” Maybe we were just lucky.

I was concerned about the number of staff it was going to take to pull my wife off the ship, but she was sleepy, so it wasn’t as difficult as feared.

I would take another Transatlantic crossing any time. I don’t think I can make the Getaway since we’re going on the Jewel just before Christmas, otherwise, I would have booked by now.

We will be going to Bermuda at some point, just to get back on the Breakaway.

New Year’s Cruise

Just back from a week’s cruise on the NCL Pearl, a Christmas to New Year’s cruise. We visited Great Stirrup Cay, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. The Spousal Unit discovered she loves snorkeling. I discovered a Nikon CoolPix AW100 is a kick-ass point’n’shoot camera. Nobody got sunburned. We took my son and daughter-in-law, and we’re all still speaking to each other.

We were told this cruise is one of the most expensive cruises of the year – not because of Christmas but because of New Year’s Eve. People apparently really like to sail on New Year’s Eve.

Strangely, every New Year’s Eve, I’m reminded how arbitrary the choice of the date is. December used to be the tenth month (“decem”, a distant memory from my Latin class), not the end of the year, and there is no seasonal, solar or lunar reason for January first to start a new year, as far as I know.

However, January first does start the year, for whatever reason. Suddenly, at midnight last night, a ship full of people who had ranged from isolationist to surly became friendly. Every bloody one of them said “Happy New Year!”, even the ones who wouldn’t say “Hello” as they passed you in the hall an hour earlier.

Maybe it was the turning of the clock. Maybe it was the hope of a new beginning, no matter how arbitrary. Perhaps, it was just the accomplishment of getting free booze from a cruise line (and the champagne was nice). For a few short moments, we were all friends.

New Year’s Eve celebrations always seemed rather silly to me – you get as drunk as possible up to the actual minute, but that’s all there is – when the clock rolls from 11:59pm to midnight, you’re done. Plus, since it’s purely a timing issue, you can’t move to another part of the ship for a better view.

So, the Captain counted down the seconds, the previous year ended, and that was that. Then, the realization that it was after midnight, you were drunk, and your bags had to be packed and outside your stateroom by 1:00am kicked in. After that, the truly unlucky realized their spouse had decided 7:45am was a reasonable time to disembark.

People did not look as haggard as I expected this morning, as they left the ship with six hours or less of sleep, but Lord, they didn’t look pleased.

I really feel sorry for the crew who got to manage a midnight mob of merriment, herd people back to cabins, and then spend the morning preparing for the passengers due to start boarding by noon. I have a feeling there was more puke to clean than usual.

I’m glad we wanted a cruise to get out of the house for Christmas and to visit ports we hadn’t seen yet, because I don’t understand paying that much money specifically to hear ten seconds counted down in a Norwegian accent.

I much prefer a cruise where all the  people are out-going all week, and not just storing all their happiness for a ten-second countdown on the last night.

It was a strange trip. People were very insular. Part of that may have been an “English as a Second Language” issue, as there seemed to be a higher percentage of passengers from outside the US than on previous cruises. Also, there were huge family  groups onboard – not just Mom, Dad and the kids, but Mom, Dad, kids, grandparents, cousins and more. Those two conditions gave the trip a completely different vibe than previous “mostly American, small families, couples, singles” cruises we’ve had before.

Fourteen people signed up for a Cruise Critic Meet ‘n’ Greet, which was a pretty low number. Two showed up, besides us and the kids. As the officers arrived, I was beginning to fear they would out-number us. So, there was no real passenger participation, which was a change from last year, where we were above 50% attendance or more, and had forty sign up. It was sad, because we made friends at the meeting last year and hung out with them the rest of the cruise. This was a ship full of individual groups, where in the past, we had made some friends relatively quickly. On this cruise, people had so many built-in friends, they either refused to make new ones, or just didn’t feel the need.

A bad cruise is still better than a week at work, and this was not a bad cruise. It was just disconcerting that it was so different from the previous ones.

If you check the calendar, I think it will be a while until Christmas falls on Sunday, the day many cruises from Miami begin. So, maybe next year, people won’t wait until the last night to acknowledge there are other families onboard.

If nothing else, 2011 has been defeated. Happy New Year!