Cruise Blues – Part 5

IMG_3886Taking advantage of people trapped on board a ship with no possibility of escape seemed to be a recurring theme on this cruise. As we marched back down to deck 7, at 11 AM on Monday morning, or perhaps it was nearer to noon, (time flies when you’re not having a blast!) a group of jewelry vendors had set up shop in the Atrium lounge. They were offering half price jewelry to everyone who purchased something, anything,  before 2 PM. What an offer!! On closer inspection, and just before a cooking demonstration, which was about to begin right behind them, we found the product to be no more than cheap crap. Losing interest and again trying to avoid the lines that were gathering around these vendors, we made our way to the cheap seats, enabling us with a good view of 6 top chefs taking on recipes to die for. We were all given a recipe card, which I read and an instant thought came into my head, ‘where the heck was this great food when I wanted to eat it?’ My question was soon to be answered, although not in the manner I quite expected. The recipes looked amazing, at least the pictures did, and now these 6 incredible chefs were about to prepare them, live, right in front of us.

Tossing ready-made salad and adding tinned crab, then encapsulating it inside an oval bottomless tin band, made for interesting viewing, until the chef started to get it wrong and began describing everything as ‘fresh’, which it wasn’t. His efforts, followed by a round of applause, led us to an early exit and dress rehearsal for the speech I was about to give to guest services, which, we hoped, would get us off the boat some 24 hours from now. That cooking demo had proven to both of us that everything on this boat came out of a can or freezer. I suppose if you think about it, there’s not really any other way to serve up food to 3000 people all day every day. But in the end, my impression was that quantity and not quality was the sole aim of the kitchen staff. Frequent visits to the buffet would prove that theory beyond a shadow of a doubt.

“I have a family emergency and have to get off the boat!”

Erickson, Filipino by birth, Scandinavian by name, looked at me, bemused, and devoid of any retort whatsoever.

“I will disembark in Juneau if that’s OK with you Erickson?”

He stood there, if only for a moment and then looked at me with his sad eyes, “you will miss the rest of the cruise?” A question, not a statement of fact.

“Yes Erickson” I said with a glum expression spread across a hidden smile. Our conversation ended as Erickson made way for his superior, who in turn made way for her boss, who in turn made way for a reading of the law!

The Jones Act.

Now, let me tell you, getting off a ship, even if it sailed out of one US port and was approaching another US port, is nigh on impossible. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be if you boarded in the US and asked to get off in a foreign country! I was going to summarize the Jones Act for you, but to save me the trouble and you the pain in reading it all, here is a link. If you are interested, please go ahead and take a look.

http://www.cruiseco.com/Resources/jones_act.htm  Copy and paste this into your browser to be amazed and amused!

The Jones Act prohibits any cruise ship passenger from disembarking at any port other than from the port where that passenger originally boarded the vessel. Unless, and there always has to be an unless, unless you pay $300 to the government. See any sense in that one??? Nope, me neither! In other words, if you get on in Seattle, and even though the ship hasn’t been to any other port of call, AND it’s 1st port of call is another US port, you are fucked and have to pay. As far as I was concerned, $300 was worth every penny. Heck I would have paid them double just to disembark! Erickson was back, and he was startlingly reassuring with his sympathetic solace. After about half an hour, we were all set. Instructions had been radioed ahead, the cruise company had very nicely offered to book me a hotel and arrange a flight too. There was no way on earth I was going to allow this to happen because we’d already decided that we would spend at least two more days in Juneau, and I wanted to make all the arrangements myself in order that I didn’t get lumbered with a shitty hotel and an early flight home. I told Erickson to do nothing until the following morning when I would confirm my exit plans.

Back in the room, it was time to access the daily entertainment guide, just in case there might be something, anything, to take our minds of this tedious experience. There was nothing. Nothing other than a singles get together for the under 20’s, followed by another one for the over 40’s, followed by yet more trivia, a scavenger hunt and oh yes, another trip to the buffet. I went to sleep.

Monday afternoon dragged by. It was perhaps the longest day I had ever lived! Evening came, and we wandered out on deck, still foggy, and walked yet another mile or so, after which we walked into the funniest scene I think I’d ever witnessed. In the Atrium bar, there happened to be a duet performing. One was a 70-year-old Filipino on guitar, the other, an even older African-American with an Apple Mac, and a sax. These guys were singing, half asleep, reading the words, which were sung in a manner that sounded like both of them were drunk or stoned or both, from the Mac, as some of the old folk on the boat were dozing off on the comfy chairs provided. In the other corner, there was a line of people all dressed up, waiting patiently to get a photo opportunity with the ship’s captain. It was as if we’d wound the clock back 100 years. They were dressed in tuxedo’s, long dresses, short skirts, jewelry, scarves and many other fashion accessories one could imagine. I looked around and wondered what had happened to ‘party like a Norwegian?” and where was ‘Freestyle Cruising?” This was OTT and by far the best comedy show we’d seen since we boarded. People were taking it so seriously, and in the end I had to make a quick exit before my sides burst with laughter.  My cold, now in full swing, was becoming miserable, and so soup, yes from the buffet, and an early night were the order of that particular moment.

With all our plans made, and an offer of free internet from Erickson, and unlimited access to the ships satellite telephone system if required, we went back upstairs to plan all the details of our ‘great escape’. The noise from the ocean, as we steamed at 20 knots, made for a very soothing and comforting alternative to the fight that the kids next door were having and after taking a night-time cold remedy, I was out in moments and managed to sleep for about 6 hours, only to be rudely awoken by the nightmare I was having about spending 5 more days on this boat.

Morning was soon to arrive, with dawn at 4.14 AM, and our clocks having been put back an hour to adjust to Alaska time. The sun was up, the fog was gone and the scenery breathtaking. We were ready to depart this Hell on water, but we still had 9 hours to Juneau. Time to make all our arrangements and more.

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