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Published: January 11th 2016
Friday, Jan.8, 2016 Sea Gypsys
We have been at sea three days, and we are beginning to find our way around the ship. She is big, but not one of the monsters; she carries 1500 passengers max (right now we have “a bit over a thousand” aboard) and she fits through the Gatun locks with a good foot to spare on each side. The biggest new ones carry 5000 passengers and don’t even come close to fitting through the canal. Obviously, it is a profitable business; even now Holland-America has several new ships of the “dam” series on order: MS Rotterdam, MS Amsterdam, MS Koningsdam, etc.
First, about sea-sickness. It doesn’t seem likely. Sometimes we feel a little side-to-side roll, and in certain places you can feel the engines, but mostly it is glassy smooth. We have been running at about 18 knots (a shade under 18 miles per hour); the max is about 22. We came around the Western end of Cuba yesterday and are now past the Yucatan, heading for Panama. We have many nice views of the sea, but there is nothing out there but low waves running past us, and a clear horizon. It may be different in rough weather, but none is predicted.
We are meeting people. We have discovered an unexpected sub-culture: people who cruise almost continuously, several times a year. We talked to a man who was taking the whole world cruise, back to Ft. Lauderdale from the Atlantic side. He said it was his fourth round-the-world cruise. I asked him if he enjoyed getting off at the ports of call. Oh no, he said, we don’t care where we go, we just like the ship. After Florida, they are cruising up into the fjords of Norway, around the North Cape, and along the Arctic coast of Russia. You may remember, if you ever had to study Old English, that a “whael fisher” named Ocht-heire was brought into the court of Alfred the Great to report on the first such cruise. He told Alfred, who had it written down for posterity, that after rounding the North Cape, he went a short distance up a river that empties into the Polar Sea. There he saw beautiful blond women washing their hair, who fled when they saw rough old Ocht-heire. I don’t think the cruise ships are allowed up those rivers any more.
But I digress. This is not the biggest nor the most luxurious of cruise ships, but it is impressive enough. Every night you get a long list of meetings, lectures, games, and entertainments for the next day, left on your turned-down bed, along with two chocolate pieces and a towel, peculiarly folded to look like some animal. There are orchids on the table every day at breakfast, and lots of other flowers in the other restaurants. The food is overwhelmingly plentiful and very good. We have been served excellent rare roast beef and rack of lamb; caviar and champagne the night we cast off. Drinks are always available, but they are not free, and they are very vigilant about private liquor stashes in the staterooms. I can see why, but that was a little surprising.
We have on board a passenger named Dolly, 93 years old, tiny and spritely. We have met her, but not chatted her up yet. She is a little cantankerous. I offered to buy her a drink, and listen to her stories, but she turned us down. Last year, the ship had a special gala party (tuxes and evening dress) to honor her 4000th day at sea. Apparently she is their champion customer; 4000 days is more than 11 years before the mast. I think we have discovered what some of the 1% do with their money. Well, I’m sure it beats assisted living, if you are healthy enough to do without the frequent doctor visits. Of course, there is a ship’s doctor and a little infirmary, with long lines of semi-ailing passengers twice a day. That is on deck 1, otherwise known as the bilge. So far we have not needed him.
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