Don’t Interrupt the Lounge Act

No matter where we cruised, nothing got guests as excited as the brunch buffet.  Ok, maybe the Mayan ruins or watching humpbacks rocket out of Alaskan waters.  But those events didn’t come with a side of hash browns and the most perfectly runny eggs benedict this side of Denny’s.

Brunch was reserved on days when the ship required time at sea to get to our next destination.  Along with lectures from our naturalists, we’d use gluttonous amounts of potatoes, eggs, fruit, waffles, and anything else we could possibly fit in the dining room to capture the guest’s attention.  For a small adventure ship, this was the closest we ever got to behaving like the floating hotels.

The morning began with pre-brunch mimosas and smoked salmon in the upstairs lounge as the crew prepared the dining room for the carnage that would ensue.  I’d keep the guests entertained in the lounge the best way I knew how — by rocking out. 

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A No Clothes Cruise to Remember

Today’s story comes in from Jay Herring, author of The Truth About Cruise Ships. You can read the first chapter at: www.TheTruthAboutCruiseShips.com.

My wife, Mirka, was a crewmember during a nude cruise that happened on the Ecstasy. From the casino cage, she had a great vantage point, and this story comes from her.

The passenger rules were simple. They had to be over eighteen and clothes had to be worn when the ship was docked and during the captain’s party. If they weren’t wearing bottoms, then they had to carry a towel and sit on it instead of directly on the chairs. Other than that, clothing was optional for the entire cruise. Boobs, butt, and schlong could be hanging and dangling all day long.

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Promotions, Commotions and Sweet Opportunity

(This post comes in from Donny and I love it. So true of the job and the sudden shocks that come when you least expect them. Thanks for contributing!)

When my boss asked me if I would fill in as cruise director for a few trips, I was hesitant to say yes. At the time, I had been working on cruise ships for over four years and had moved up to the role of purser. If you’re not sure what the purser does, suffice to say it’s the best job onboard the ship. You don’t really report to anyone other than the captain, and no one reports to you, at least on the small ships I worked on. You can spend as much time with the passengers as you want, but when you’ve had enough, it’s easy to say that you have some paperwork to attend to and retreat to your office, where you can kick back and turn on some music. I loved my job, but the cruise director gig had some advantages. The pay was higher, as was the prestige, and it could lead to more opportunities to work on other ships around the world. I said yes.

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What do you mean by partially cloudy?

If there is one thing that people worry about on vacation, it’s the weather. With so much time, energy and money invested in a “once in a lifetime” experience, the last thing they want is for the weather to ruin everything, at least what they’d envisioned when looking at the bright and cheery brochure. People want to be in control of their vacation.  They go on advisory sites and read reviews. They call the company.   Although there’s always an exception (some didn’t know where they were going between the first and last port), most guests felt confident in every part of the experience except the weather.  Weather doesn’t care.

It was imperative that I mention the temperature during each morning’s wake up call. Blame it on the long days, the head-spinning responsibilities, the booze — I’d forget to look at the thermometer all the time.   I’d get to that all-important point in my spiel and freeze.  How did I forget again?  No matter how hard I tried to recall all I saw on my walk to the office the scene ended often with a blank thermometer.  To combat this forgetfulness, I decided that in the Caribbean every morning was 72 degrees no matter what.  Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras – 77. Alaska – 43. Southern United States in the springtime – 68.  I’m not sure if I ever really deviated from those numbers. God knows what the temperatures really were.

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Day 1 – Welcome to Alaska

My plane touched down in Juneau, surrounded by endless water to the west and soaring snow-capped peaks to the north, south and east.  I have to say, it felt like I should have embarked on a climbing expedition rather than a cruise.  And, something about the mountains called to me, saying, “wouldn’t everything look so much cooler from up here?  Forget about that dark, flat water.  This is what Alaska is all about!”

A captain friend would later say that Alaska is like “God flooded the Rockies,” and I’ve yet to come up with a better description.  It was the first week in September and the weather was high forties and overcast.  Cold and overcast seems to be the norm in Alaska except for the height of the summer season, which lasts from the second Thursday in July until about 2 o’clock the next day.

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When is a person old?

My friend likes to tell a story of a 103 year-old man she traveled with aboard a riverboat on the Danube.  She was helping the passengers pick out bicycles to ride along the river’s winding banks when the man, Mr. Graham, got up on two squeaky wheels and peddled along the water, leaving his fellow passengers in the European dust.  With each turn of the wheels, Mr. Graham shattered everyone’s preconceived notions of what it meant to be elderly.

When he returned, the group asked Mr. Graham when he felt a person was “old.”  At first, he didn’t have an answer.  He scratched his head and stared at his dusty shoes, thinking.  His fellow travelers probably expected a number like 80 or 90, or even 100 (100 is the new 90, by the way) but Mr. Graham thought otherwise.  Eventually, he raised his head to the group.

“I guess when you can’t ride a bike anymore,” he said, with a boyish grin running from hearing aid to hearing aid.

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Postcards Home

I sleepily rolled from the thin mattress of my single bed and stood in the darkness of my cabin – my 70 square-foot home in the hull. The polo shirt I’d worn the day before, a pair of khaki shorts and my boat shoes – my uniform – were in a pile at the foot of the bed, just two feet from the door Jared the deckhand was rapping with his fist.

“Sorry man,” he said, “I know it’s super early, but some lady in the lounge wants to talk to you.”

I put on the wrinkled duds, pinned on the Cruise Director name tag, and trudged up the stairwell to meet her. As I looked out the porthole to the dim Caribbean dawn I thought about how surreal my life had become. The day before I’d worked 15 hours, but from 1 to 2 in the afternoon snorkeled the most beautiful reef I’d ever seen. Queen angelfish nibbled on coral spires as a school of blue tang surrounded me. The day before a seasick guest threw up on my shoe. A month earlier we hiked the mythical Mayan ruins of Guatemala. An eighty year-old guest was with me every step of the way. Then, upon hearing that only 3% of the Mayan empire had been discovered, another guest asked where all the undiscovered ruins were. A few months before that I sat with a thousand classmates in white plastic chairs and listened to the Governor of Virginia talk about the future and potential. Some speech.

I wiped my eyelashes loose from the night and laid a hand on the top of my desk for support.

“Good morning ma’am, how can I help you?”

She moved like a bird, twitchy and alert.

“Are stamps still 37 cents?”

“Yup. Still 37 cents.” I reached into the desk drawer for the stamps we kept on hand for letters and postcards and asked how many she wanted.

“Oh, I don’t want any,” she said. “I was just wondering.”

She turned and walked back to her cabin.

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