We went to bed on Sunday night and woke up on Tuesday morning. For us Monday, January 29, did not exist. We crossed the date line and are now through a quarter of the world’s time zones. On Niue a woman wished that the sea be kind to us. Until now it has. Now we are running between two tropical depressions, one, between Australia and New Zealand, is Cyclone Fihi. The other is forming near the Cook Islands. It’s blowing 40 and a bit rough, although we’ve sailed through much worse on other voyages. The strangest part is to stand in the elevator lobby listening to the elevators banging against the sides of their shafts and the sound echoing up and down 9 decks. Rather than trying to walk a mile on a rocking and wet deck I’m writing. Here are some sea day thoughts that have been gathering in my brain over the last few days.
Not so full a dining room
The latest controversy on the ship concerns Holland America banning all door decorations. They were pretty common on past cruises and had become increasingly elaborate. On past cruises I daily passed the door of guy who drew a cartoon about the cruise each day and posted it. He’s on this cruise and I miss the chuckle. Now all door decorations are taken down by the stewards and put on the bed. The big issue is the Jewish Mezuzah. It’s the little container with a parchment scroll that some observant Jews put on their door post. I don’t think of these as decorations but they’re gone. I’m taking a course in Jewish History on Sea Days with the Rabbi and I talk with many members of the ship’s Jewish community daily. At one of our sessions someone complained about having her Mezuzah taken down. The Rabbi told her that the Miszuzah is a tradition, not a law. But he smiled and said: “For Jews sometimes tradition is more important than law” chanting a line from Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof. I like this Rabbi, he opened his study of Genesis saying “The book of Genesis is all about baseball, it opens ‘In the big inning.’”
A big issue is the use of tenders to get us to shore. So far 8 of the 10 ports we’ve visited required them. Starting at 7 AM staff hand out tender tickets on the Lido Deck, where most people get breakfast. Usually tenders start loading between 8 and 8:30, although we’ve had several issues that have significantly delayed the process. Normally 4 or 5 star cruisers (people who have been on Holland America ships for more than 200 days) get the lowest numbers. On this cruise most people are 4 or 5 star so they dumped that system (otherwise folks like us would never get off.) As a result some passengers are gaming the system. They got extra tickets on the first few tender days and hoarded them for later days. Before arriving at the Cook Islands Everyone got a letter in their room that diplomatically said”
During the last few days we have issued a plethora of tender tickets… We’ve… noticed that a good few of you are progressively creative in trying to outsmart this well-intended process, or, that you are so caught up in the joys of this process that you might have forgotten to return the remaining spare tickets in your possession?
Should that be you, then we would highly appreciate for you to return those to the drop box at the Front Office…”
And to make the point, at the Cook Islands staff handed out and called the highest ticket numbers first, starting with 40. Those hording low number tickets were stuck on board for a while. Apparently this did not completely solve the problem, as we got a note in our staterooms on the next day.
“Cutting in line or saving spaces for any more persons other than ones self is not allowed and no tender tickets will be issued to anyone doing so.”
I think I know an incident this may refer to. At tender ports the elevator stops at deck one and everyone had to walk down to A deck. Those with “mobility devices” also get out at deck one and a crew member with an elevator key takes them down to A deck. At one port a lady with a walker got out of the elevator at A deck and immediately used her walker as a ram to get to the front of the line. A crew member asked her to take a seat near the end of the line and she would be sure to get her on this tender. The woman said “No!” The staff member explained that she needed to get on last because the crew moves people forward and aft first. If she were the last one on she would be in the middle and have less far to walk on a bobbing tender. Her walker could be stowed near the door and not be in the way of other people. “NO” the lady said. The crew member said, “But is you get on last you are the first off.” The woman looked at her scornfully and said. “I go FIRST!” and she rammed her walker into my leg.
The next day there was yet another new rule. People are not supposed to get tickets until everyone in their party is ready to go ashore. However some folks got their tickets at the beginning of breakfast. If their number were called they could always go down later, showing the earlier number and still get on a tender. St the crew instituted yet another rule. If your numbered tender has left and you are not on it you need to go back to the lido deck to get a new ticket. Fortunately we have only two more tender ports on this cruise.
Some folks get new T shirts in every port. How can people use that many t shirts when they get home? I asked someone. They wear them on the ship, get them washed, and then take them home and make quilts as a memento of their journey. They fondly remember the cruise when making the quilt and again whenever they look at it.
For our memories Suzi and I pick up some item each segment to put on our Christmas tree. One of the earliest is a key fob from the Mandarin Hotel in Taipei from 1969. It’s an elaborate gold colored heavy chunk of metal. I didn’t steal it, I asked for one and they were kind enough to give me a “blank” that did not have the room number stamped on it. We have straw reindeer from Sweden, whistles from the protests in Serbia, assorted key chains and charms, small Chinese lanterns, and wooden dolphins from Montenegro. Suzi does not wear earrings so when I saw her pick up some big dangly craft quality black pearl earrings in Polynesia I knew what they were for.
Death is a regular topic of discussion on this cruise. On a four month journey full of old people it happens. We’ve had dinner with two widows whose husbands took fatally ill on long cruises, one on this ship. Both got off the ship at an intermediate port and both husbands died before getting to the States.
Knowledgeable cruisers have told me that if I see an ambulance parked near the pier with no lights flashing it’s a sign that someone had died. They wait until most of the passengers have gotten off and then take off the deceased.
The first rumors of death on board came just a few days into the cruise. Some said it was a 56 year old woman traveling by herself, some said it was a 66 year old man traveling with his wife. It’s like a big game of “Telephone.” But the main comment was “so young, and so soon into the cruise.” (The median age on the ship is high 70s.) The death was on my deck. Most people felt that if they have to go, dying on a cruise is the way to do it, but at the end of the cruise please.
I don’t like rumors so I asked the front desk what happened. They said they don’t release that information but confirmed that there is a morgue on the ship, and while they don’t carry coffins they do have body bags. The desk lady also said that while she can’t talk about this cruise she can confirm that there were deaths on this ship this summer in Alaska.
I do know one source to go to for reliable information. The Rabbi said on his first world cruise there were 8 deaths on the ship. Fortunately he only had to perform his duties as consoler with one of his flock. Another person said that on his last world cruise there were 10 deaths.
The first death on the cruise prompted a lot of discussion. I’ve learned that several people have requested burials at sea if they die on the ship. Holland America has declined those requests in advance. Others have initiated the paperwork and gotten bracelets authorizing the line to give the body to a hospital at the nearest port of call if they pass on the cruise so their organs can be used.
Whenever there’s an announcement asking for a medical team to repot to a certain deck the rumors start. I am doubly happy that I declined not to have medical staff called to the Lido Deck when I had my fall.