When I was a kid, my father’s best mate, Monty, took me fishing on the river Clyde. We caught two cod, but I puked up everywhere, not just once, but three times. It wasn’t a memorable day for me, but it was the day that I realized in an instant that I preferred to remain on solid ground than out at sea. My focus remained that way for many years, vowing often that I would never ever go on a cruise of any kind. Indeed, my last memories of boarding a decent sized boat came in the 1990’s when I decided to go to France for the day from Dover in England to Calais. That trip, smooth as glass on the English channel, gave me yet another opportunity to clear my stomach in front of a host of laughing seagulls, and in the end, my car, which was parked up inside the boat, laden with beer, wine and all things French, became a refuge until we docked back at the port of Dover and exited back onto terra firma to huge relief and a three-day course on how to recover from a dose of acute sea sickness. I swore, with my hand placed on every bible, that I would never ever board another ship, never go out fishing and NEVER go on a cruise, no matter what anyone else told me and no matter how persuasive they might be. I was done, finished, and with no inclination other than to spend the rest of my days, here on earth.
July 28 2013.
Alaska had always held a certain mystique for me, and here we were, arriving at Seattle International airport, with our cruise to ‘The Last Frontier” on the Norwegian Pearl, but only a few hours away. Trepidation? Nope, not me. I had booked this vacation 6 months prior to this date, in the knowledge that I had never actually been on a ‘large’ cruise ship, and with everyone I knew on the planet telling me I would never get sea-sick on such a huge vessel, I was actually very excited about the prospect of visiting a State that I had never been to. My visit to Dr. Rashkis, my GP, 3 months prior to the departure date, had armed me with my back-up plan in case things got a wee bitty rough. I had a bottle full of pills that, as he described, “would put pay to any inclination I might have of emptying my breakfast, lunch, or dinner on any unsuspecting soul”. I was confident, brave and ready. This was it, and this was going to be fun. The sun was shining, the sea was calm and the lines were huge, as we arrived in our taxi in front of what I thought to be the largest ship I’d ever seen. It was just before 1 PM and sailing time was 3 hours away, but there were already people on board and even more people waiting to check in and join yet another huge line to show their documents and begin their cruise experience in style. The ship held over 3000 passengers and 1500 crew, so you can imagine the log jam that this number of bodies can create, and yet, the port staff of NCL kept it all moving at a terrific rate, clearing us for boarding in no time at all. There was just this nagging doubt in my head that said, “what would I do on board for the next 3 hours?’ I was going to spend a week on this ship, so why board so early? Holding that thought for less than 60 seconds, we were off into Seattle (just a short walk from the pier) to experience the delights that are Pike Place market. Rainier Cherries (fodder for our proposed cherry-stone spitting contest from our cruise ship balcony), Beechers mac’n cheese (an excellent elixir should the seas become rough and my stomach needing to be quickly emptied), along with some other goodies which filled up our bellies and an hour and a half of time that would have been completely wasted standing on board our ship waiting for the ropes to be let go and our journey to begin. Once we arrived back at the dock, bellies filled to bursting, the queues had vanished and we were ushered promptly on to deck 5, where, before we knew it, our dreams of cruising Alaska were about to become a reality.
The atrium was the center of this particular vessel, situated on deck 7, mid-ship, (I know, I learnt all the seafaring terminology!) and we were ushered straight into this particular section of the boat as soon as we boarded. On one side they had their ‘tour and excursion desk, and on the other, Guest Services and Dining. In the center, underneath a tacky chandelier, were many empty seat, a sea of bodies, all vying for position in a line to order a weeks supply of soda and water and on the far wall, a projector was shooting images of the incredible Alaskan wilderness, which seemed only to be a matter of moments away. Oh, how wrong can one man be?? Behind a desk, just off the center of this room sat a Filipino man, his aim, to sell you something that no man has ever sold you before. His sign read, ‘Unlimited Soda. $6.99 a day” His other sign read, “Bottled Water. 3 bottles $10. 10 Bottles $25” His face read, SUCKER! I asked him one simple question. “Sir?” I offered. He looked up and was about to open his mouth, but I beat him to it. “If I want water at dinner, are you telling me that I have to buy it now and take it with me from my room to the dining hall each meal? Also,….” I made sure he couldn’t get a word in edgeways, …”how much is one soda if I order it during a meal?” The verbiage that came out of his mouth in response, made little sense. The gist was as follows. There seemed to be water available at dinner and at other meals, but I was unsure what kind of water that might happen to be. He was simply agonizing to listen to and his version of ‘don’t drink the water in your room’ poured scorn on any song or political speech I had ever heard. He was rambling. The outcome of his response? I made a B line for my deck and my own cabin, just to make sure I had a balcony, one which I’d paid for, and that it was safe to stand on without charge. There was two ways to get to deck 11. The stairs, and the elevator. This brings me to my next issue. How do you fit 12 extremely fat people in an elevator without suffocating the thin people? I wasn’t about to find out. I took the stairs!
The long hallway that led to my cabin, 11050, sorry, wait just a minute. I should say State Room, though why it is called a state-room, I have no idea. It’s probably because when you sit, waiting for time to flash past on a boat, and it never does when you are cruising at 20 knots, you get yourself into a complete state! Anyway, this hallway was littered with unclaimed luggage sitting outside the doors to their recipients cabins, (read state rooms), and as we dodges past these bags and the crew who were attempting to place the bags outside the correct rooms, we eventually stumbled upon room 11050. With our bags just sitting and waiting to be collected and placed inside our room, I took the key card I’d been given at check in, out of my pocket and prepared myself to view complete luxury. After all, the brochure has described my accommodation with adjectives such as ‘spacious, luxurious and substantial’ The door opened and in we walked. My first impression? Surprisingly good. My initial reaction? “This won’t be too bad at all”. My gut feeling? “Oh Fuck, one week in this cage? I am truly fucked!”
To be continued.