Traveling by seaPosted: July 26, 2011
It wasn’t so much a 3-hour tour, our most recent traveling excursion, as it was a 6-day, 7-night stint aboard the impressive Carnival Conquest. The trip to Jamaica, Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Mexico was my first go at cruising (courtesy of the wildly generous Stateson family) and it was an experience rich in 1) foods so delightfully delectable and neverending you’d rather take on the extra 10 pounds than utter ‘no’ to the offer of a second cup of lobster bisque or chocolate melting cake, 2) entertainment, both of the magic show and stand up comedian ilk, 3) water so blue you can make out not only the number of fish that lurk below but also their colors, patterns and number of scales, and 4) obese, sun burned drunkards.
Rookies to the sport of cruising–an activity I’m told you improve at maneuvering over time–we departed as ignorant novices, capable of comparing the experience only to that of an all-inclusive resort, sans the free booze, (see honeymoon) in terms or service, edibles and luxuries.
At it’s conclusion:
*We found the service, primarily at the nightly formal dinners, to be quick, accurate and readily available while simultaneously being personal and intellectually enlightening. We immediately befriended Indonesian born Ida and Teguh and Turkey native Ozan and learned to thank each of them for their service in their native language, “terima kasih” and “teşekkür ederim” respectively. There was also the exchange of riddles and puzzles which we enjoyed sharing with one another throughout the duration of the cruise. How, pray tell, can you put a price on eternal party tricks?
*The options were seemingly endless. When it comes to finding a way to successfully distract/entertain more than 3,000 people during long, tedious days at sea, Carnival does not come up short. Admittedly, we did not partake in many of the options presented to us but sports trivia, gambling, karaoke, hairy man competitions, newlywed games and mini golf were all on the agenda. During nights at sea, the ship really comes alive. Old and young put on their most elegant attire (be it a monkey suit, prom dress, Hawaiian shirt or something in between) and parade the decks of the Conquest. Some come to gamble, others to scrupulously browse through and select among the incredibly misplaced, inappropriate, phony photo backdrops (which invade the decks by the dozens) capable of hosting their family portraits (the awkward head-tilts, ridiculous backdrop scenarios and tedious body positioning by the photographers beg for many of the photos to one day wind up on on awkward family photos). But most come to enjoy the gut-busting comedians, visually stunning magic shows and cheesy, if not catchy, dance numbers performed nightly.
* Excursions are a must. It’s tempting to take advantage of the luxuries presented by a virtually empty cruise ship during days at port (no lines for the buffet, empty swimming pools, etc.) but taking a step off the ship in order to understand and familiarize yourself with the flora, fauna, architecture and culture of an island nation is a worthwhile endeavor. Snorkeling, castle building, photographing, and brisk walks through town can all be accomplished at the low price of $0. And kayaking, zip lining and other treks are also readily available for slightly more cash upfront (but consider booking via other outlets than the cruise ship for better rates).
*The people can wear on you. In the essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” David Foster Wallace compares the massive quantities of people on a cruise, moving in complete synchronization through buffet lines and off and on the ship during docking, to cows being herded across the plains. Bovinophobia becomes an ever present theme in the eyes of DFW. I didn’t so much compare the masses of people aboard the Conquest to cows as I did to 1) pigs and 2) koi. After day 3 of cruising, I grew wary of observing ubiquitous obese masses sunning themselves on the deck of the ship. Oiled up and increasingly pink in color, cruisers continued to return to the top of the ship’s decks to “tan” in the equatorial sun while consuming sinfully over-priced booze. Additionally, I watched in horror as 50-year-old women screeched and grasped, like famished victims of a starved country, for 50-cent Mardi Gras beads hurled from a balcony by Fun Ship employees…eerily similar to pond koi reacting to promises from above of fish-flake nuggets. After a week of hearing crowds bellow “whoo” more than one would think is humanly possible (and I was a cheerleader) and watching the ship’s dedicated service staff be abused by red necks, I was disenchanted with my American heritage. On cruises, you come for the service but not for the fellow guests.
Shameful guests or no, I relish the experience afforded to me. In toto, the cruise was incredibly enriching and I am lucky to have been a part of it.