In Cape Town we lose probably the most popular passenger on the ship, Lily. Lily was 14 months old when we set sail from Ft. Lauderdale and very unsteady on her feet, especially on a moving deck. Now she runs around with abandon. I commented to her mom that she has really grown and is much more competent as a biped. Mom replied “Don’t I know it.”
Lily’s dad is Staff Captain, the second in command, and is rotating off in Cape Town with his wife and daughter. Everyone knows Lily, you might say she has a thousand grandparents on this ship.
On the other end is Dolly, she is an older, tiny white haired woman, quite spry. She holds forth from her table on the upper level of the dining room. She practically lives on the ship. She spends a lot of time here, knows all the waiters, stewards and crew, and when some of the crew rotated out in Hong Kong she greeted many of the replacements by name.
I suppose we all have preconceived notions of who would go on a world cruise. There is a line on the ship that there are three types of world cruisers, those who have had a windfall, golden parachute, buyout, inheritance, those celebrating milestones, Suzi and I who are celebrating 50 years together, and the repeat cruisers.
Before this trip my thoughts, looking at the costs of world cruises, were that the repeat world cruisers must be very well off people retired from business, banking or professions like doctor or attorney. I thought of people who can spend lavishly. There are a few of those, of course, but many of our cruise mates are retired teachers, principals, nurses, librarians, professors, social workers, people in the helping professions. Others are retired civil servants, production line workers, someone from Boeing, someone from Douglas, someone from IBM, and military, and not just officers. The President of Holland America said when he took over the line 4 years ago its image was old people. While that is still true he is shifting the emphasis, he says, from demographics to psycho-graphics. He says the target for Holland America is people who have collected enough things and now want to collect experiences and connections. That seems to fit much of this ship.
This is a solidly middle class clientele. They are curious and smart. Many earned their livings helping instill curiosity in kids through their work as teachers and librarians. Many of them live frugally on board, do not buy wine or soft drinks, they carefully plan what tours they take, some take inside or obstructed view cabins to cut costs. But the point is they are here and enjoying themselves after, in many cases, dedicating their lives to serving others. And most shipmates I’ve spoken with feel incredibly Lucky and grateful and do not take it for granted. “We have the health, resources and time to do this, we should never forget that or take it for granted” says a retired teacher from Canada.
Resources health and time: First health, increasingly people with mobility problems are cruising, at least on Holland America. It is a way to keep active within their limits. There are lines of wheel chairs, electric scooters and walkers outside many venues. It does create a problem for elevators because one electric scooter takes up about the space of three people, a wheel chair 2 and a walker one and a half. It makes getting up and down slower but I am glad they are still traveling, exploring ports as they can, and engaging in the lectures and entertainment that provide insight to the world we are traveling. (We took on South African musicians in Reunion who are with us for a week.)
Then resources: I was in a conversation about shore activities and someone made the comment “Oh come on, what’s a hundred bucks extra when you can afford to take this cruise.” The point is that people can afford to take this cruise because they do treat a hundred bucks as a lot of money. Several people I know are not getting off in Mozambique and Gambia because the extra cost of the visa ($75 and $125 respectively) makes any shore excursion too dear. Too much money for 8 hours. Suzi and I are not yet in that category, we enjoy wine with meals, are taking a few expensive shore tours to get to places we want to go and are definitely getting off the ship at every new country. Then again, we do not intend for this to be an annual event, although seeing the itinerary, which was previewed today, it’s tempting.
And finally time: Several of my cruise mates are technically homeless, at least according to government statistics. They live in RVs during much of the year, traveling between children and grandchildren during the late spring and fall. Summertime they take on the job of caretakers at some RV park, still living in their rigs. In the winter they park their rigs in Ft. Lauderdale and take a long cruise. They’ve sold houses, most of their possessions (or in one case given the house to one of their kids) and live peripatetically on pensions and social security and the proceeds of selling their worldly goods.
And many of my cruise mates can afford to take these cruises because they have good pensions, often negotiated by strong unions. This gives them an amount of security that many people in the same occupations do not have today. Current state workers and teachers in many jurisdictions do not have guaranteed income pension plans. Many people working today (and some retired folks) pensions are in danger. Today’s New York Times Digest (we get it every day on the ship) talks about bankruptcy filings by a couple of mid-sized grocery chains who cannot compete with Wal*Mart and Amazon. One of the things in jeopardy in these filings is the pensions of workers.
I wonder if in 20 years today’s teachers, librarians, nurses, civil servants and production line workers will be able to do this when they retire?
(Top shot is sail out in the South Pacific.)