#SoldOut Raising Funds and Awareness

I recall many years ago standing on the terraces at Hampden Park, Glasgow with 145,000 other rabid fans, waiting for the teams to come out of the tunnel to begin the annual Scotland v England ‘Home International’ football,(soccer), game. There would always be 140,000 Scots and about 5,000 English fans in attendance. As a Scot, born and bred, I was brought up, just like the majority of others who were standing around me, to ‘hate’ the English with a vengeance. It was just part of our parochial culture at that time, and probably still is today, although I have not lived in Scotland for 40 years and with the demise of Scottish football and an awareness that political correctness is now the order of the day, perhaps the ferocity of that hatred has mellowed. The two teams, now standing in the center of the field, would face the main stand, where all the dignitaries were seated, and the British national anthem would begin, God Save the Queen. This was before the Scots were allowed to sing their own anthem, a change in protocol that occurred some years later. The band, yes, a real brass or bagpipe band, would strike up the first chord and immediately there would be a wall of noise emanating from the Scottish support just booing as loud as possible at the UK anthem. It completely drowned out the band and any semblance they had in mind of being heard as a unit. We hated that anthem, supposedly, and we all gave it little or indeed no respect. Within seconds, our vocal distaste of everything that the British Monarchy stood for was demonstrated by this blasphemous howling and booing which seemed to last an eternity, but which in fact lasted only about 120 seconds, the length of the British national anthem being quite short. Once over, the game began and the fact that 140,000 Scottish football fanatics had remonstrated vocally against our forced inclusion under the monarchy we all loved, or at least some of us loved, was soon forgotten as the football took over and blood and guts was then spilled on the field of play rather than on the streets of Glasgow. It should also be noted that while the anthem was sung by the players on the field from the England team, all the Scottish team just stood in silence, some smiling, some not, but to a tee, not one of the Scottish team would sing along. It was an unwritten rule, followed religiously. Silent protests against supposed oppression, acceptable and respected throughout the world. No harm done, no one to cry foul. Until now!

When Colin Kaepernick knelt down for the Star Spangled Banner whilst playing for the San Francisco 49rs some two years ago, the whole world, at least the world that surrounded American Football and Donald Trump, went berserk, and for what reason? Well as far as I can tell, the National Anthem was never played at any sporting event before the end of the second world war. And even after that, there were sports events in the USA where the anthem remained just a figment of everyone’s imagination, laying silent as battle commenced on the field of play. So why, all of a sudden, after Kaepernick and some of his fellow Pro’s decided to protest, quite justifiably in silence to make what has turned out to be a very relevant point on an issue that has haunted this country for generations, has the President of the United States and the owners of some of the football teams where protests have been continual and well publicized, lost the plot by telling players they will be fired if they continue to ‘abuse their privilege’? There is not one reason on earth why anyone should be forced to alter their beliefs, especially those who feel threatened or abused and more especially inside a country that not only preaches pure democracy and a right to free speech to the whole planet, but a country that encourages its populous to be vocal in the form of protest when under threat of unjustifiable racism. Racism is rife in America. You can smell it in the streets, it’s a pollution that has become silent in its poisoning of its population. Racism cannot be tolerated, hatred of anyone, any race, any creed and any color has to be kicked out, but, unfortunately, and in the opinion of this author, it’s just being swept under an already filthy carpet, where, when the dust is uncovered, it becomes a mountain of trash that is becoming ever worse and unstoppable, fueled by a President and government that just turns a blind eye and looks the other way whilst telling us all, quite disingenuously that there is absolutely nothing wrong! Well, not much!

My guitar teacher Tony, remember him from the first article I wrote last week, inspired me to make the lapel pins you see in the image above. The players protesting and following in the footsteps of Kaepernick, have a right to do so. It’s not disrespectful, it’s poignant, it’s their human right, it’s peaceful and most importantly, it’s something they believe in. However, it seems if these protests carry on players will be fired or, and I say this with the utmost respect, the President will have to intervene personally, something not one of us would like to see happen.

With all of this in mind, I have this idea, not only to raise the awareness to a very great cause, but to raise money for charities associated with racism and the profound effect that racism still holds on our society. The #SOLDOUT will soon display the pins pictured above for sale, to make people aware that there is genuine suffering out there, whether it be in the murdering of Jews in Pittsburgh, or the simplicity of daily senseless traffic stops on innocent African Americans, it matters not. We have a right to protest, so by wearing this pin, our protests shall be seen, and by the money we raise, out protests shall be heard.

Keep reading this blog for more updates and check out our Instagram #soldout to get your pin.

If there are any athletes, well known or otherwise and or charities, who would like to be considered as spokes people for this idea, please get in touch. Colin Kaepernick, if you read this please know that I have tried in many different ways to contact you because I believe you should lead this movement, but to date, no response.

Thank you everyone.

Cruise Blues The Final Chapter.

IMG_3936How much does the US government spend when a US cruise ship enters another US port? Is the continual paranoia which has engulfed this country since 9/11 become so intense, so overblown that when a ship enters a port the Coast Guard is called out in a gun boat? Obviously the answer is a resounding YES, as you can see from the enclosed picture. When I stood on my balcony, cases packed and ready to go downstairs to finally get off this claustrophobic can, I was dumbfounded when a gun boat pulled up alongside us, with its machine guns manned and pointed directly at our starboard side. ‘ We are American citizens!!’ I shouted at the top of my lungs, whilst waving my white handkerchief. This was all received with much amusement from our neighbors in the room next door. The coast guard followed us for at least thirty minutes, moving back and forth alongside and then behind the ship. Why they did this, I would never find out, but it completed its task with one final swing past our room and then just vanished. It was as if the war had ended and our victory was confirmed. Perhaps this was standard procedure, perhaps not, but in any event, in my humble opinion, it was an unwarranted show of force and complete waste of tax payers money! I dislike guns at the best of times, but as you can see, this was a gun armed and probably ready to shoot in the event of trouble. The only trouble I could foresee was going to be getting 3000 overly fat people down a very long narrow gangway and onto dry land. The ropes were being tied and the ship was being prepared for just this purpose, when I received a call that it was time to descend that dreaded staircase one last time to deck 7, with bags in hand and hope in heart.

“Was that show of force all for me Erickson?” I asked in my usual sarcastic manner. He had no idea what I was talking about or perhaps he just didn’t want to discuss it, but when I asked him again, he really had no idea why we’d been followed and made a point of telling me he’d never seen such a boat on any of his previous cruises, either to Alaska or indeed any place else he’d traveled. Lying bastard!

Escorted down a further 2 flights of stairs, we found ourselves in the dining area of one of the ‘posh’ restaurants we hadn’t had the pleasure of frequenting. It was distinctly purple and drab. We sat. We sat some more. We watched, (our window seat had a bird’s eye view of proceedings),as 3000 people tried to exit the boat. It was a laborious process, but even more laborious was the small talk coming from Erickson. He wanted to get off the boat as much as we did, he had a trip planned with some of his colleagues and he kept a close eye out for the customs officer that was supposed to come on and interview us and the time on his watch, in order that as soon as she showed, he could GTF as quickly as possible.

His phone rang. “I need you to email your hotel and air reservation to my superior on the 7th deck” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“The company needs confirmation you are going to go home”

“Where else would I be going Erickson??” I was puzzled and confused as to why anyone would really care where I was going, but, with all the info on my iPhone and readily available, I pushed a few buttons and sent the schedule to whoever was demanding to see it. What I didn’t realize as I pushed the ‘send’ button, was that not only was my plane reservation for two days hence on that email but also that I had failed to delete the conversation with my business partner Lisa stating clearly and in black and white that I had made up an excuse just to get off the boat. There was NO emergency. “Fuck” I thought, ‘what if the customs officer reads that email?” I shit my pants. I could only imagine the conversation.

“Well Mr Z, we understand you have a family emergency?”

“Yep”

“Take a look at this email. Is this an email you sent? Does this email clearly state you think this cruise is a waste of your time, that it’s filled with fat ugly morons and that you think US law is a fraud?” This was just some of the terminology I’d used when, in desperation, I’d emailed Lisa to make all the arrangements that would get me out of this mess. And now, unwittingly, I’d passed them on to US customs. Shit!

Miss Rowntree walked into the room at that precise moment. She was representing US customs and Immigration. She was really pleasant, asking us if we had a hotel for the night in Juneau, or did we need assistance. She then asked us if we had any fresh fruit in our bags, and after answering no to both questions, she proceeded to place a little piece of green sticky tape on all our bags. That was it! We were free to go. I couldn’t believe it. She didn’t ask anything else, didn’t care what my email had read and more importantly, didn’t even explain to us the process of the Jones Act. It was Christmas, Hanukkah and my birthday, all rolled into one! Freedom!

We were escorted off the ship and driven to out hotel, about a 6 minute drive or 10 minute walk, as we later found out.

It was over.

On reflection, there are many things I would have done differently. The first of which was NEVER to have booked that damn cruise in the first place. We spent two brilliant days in Juneau, escorted by an incredible tour guide we’d found called Dennis. He took us where we wanted to go, when WE wanted to go. We weren’t tied in to eating with undesirables, WE were the undesirables! This was the vacation I had imagined. I saw eagles, bears, salmon, glaciers and waterfalls. We ate good fresh food, and slept in peace without 3000 people annoying the crap out of us every minute of every day. I now knew how I would come back to Alaska next time and how to tour it the correct way. I now knew that Alaska was indeed somewhere I wanted to return, and finally, I definitely knew that I was the lucky one, because these other 3000 poor bastards were stuck on that boat another 5 days, and that was something I could never have done.

I filled out the survey from NCL, you know, the one you get in your email from every company you speak to nowadays. When I filled it in, I asked for someone from NCL to call me so that I could explain to them in person my misgivings and thoughts on how they as a company could improve the whole experience. As of today, I have not hear a peep, nor do I expect to. And so, my sea sickness pills still sit unopened in my drawer. My fears of puking up all across Alaska never materialized, but now I have the experience to tell all of my friends that unless you are a complete lazy bastard who likes to eat all day, and sit around while the world passes you by at the speed of impudence, then stay off the boats and stick to dry land. Alaska had me hooked from the moment my feet got off that boat, and I can almost guarantee it will do the same for you.

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Cruise Blues – Part 6- Penultimate Chapter

IMG_3911The thing that will leave an everlasting impression in my mind from this cruise, my first and last cruise, was when the scenery seemed magical, and it was on this particular morning, when the sun was shining, when the water was calm, and when there was peace all around, it never really felt that way. There always seemed to be something going on, either on board the ship, or outside in the calm serenity that really never was. The other thing that I found completely disconcerting was that the scenery took many hours to change. We would creep up on a stretch of incredible snow-covered mountains, on our left, then one hour later they’s be directly in front of us and then one hour more to find them on our right. It was sight-seeing in slow motion. After taking one picture, it was an eternity before another and different view came into focus. When I finally gave up and decided 50 shots of one hill were enough, there was still 8 and a half hours to Juneau. “Let’s eat!” I joked, and after a quick breakfast, an even faster shower, some soul-searching (just in case getting off this boat was a mistake), it was time to go to level 7 and make use of the free internet that Erickson had promised.

I was by now, famous. Everyone of the crew knew of my plight. They were all wonderfully compassionate, and I was finding it hard to keep up this facade. Entering the crew office, I was ushered to an empty desk and told to take as much time as I liked to make my arrangements. I was so grateful to be back in touch with the real world without having to spend $1 a minute for the pleasure of doing do. Surrounded by caring souls, each one interested in learning what my emergency was, I started to Google Juneau and its history, along with hotels, flights back to San Jose and all of this while opening a separate window on the browser to double-check my email. I decided in the end to shoot an email to by business partner Lisa, explaining what I needed, saving me time and guaranteeing that she knew me well enough to book me into accommodations that would be acceptable and flights that would make my homeward journey simple and cost efficient. Deciding to do this allowed me to get out of the crew office and contemplate my final 7 hours on the boat. I told Lisa that I would check back in using my own email in about 5 hours, giving her enough time to sort everything out.

“Mr. Zoltie?” said a voice from behind me as I was leaving to go back to my room. I turned round and was confronted by a middle-aged lady holding some paperwork that had to be completed. “Ah yes,” I said, “the Jones Act!”  Where would the United States of America be without never-ending mountains of paper work? I signed it all and ran back upstairs to struggle with the remaining 6 plus hours before we docked. We watched a movie, looked at more slow-moving scenery and then watched some TV.

Packed and ready to go, 2 hours left in our quest to be dropped off on terra firma, we went to the upper deck to watch first hand, our arrival into Juneau. It was 75 degrees and extremely calm and we could see Juneau in the distance. In fact, it looked like you could just run to Juneau quicker than this boat was going to take to reach the harbor side. It’s amazing how long it takes these ships to slow down and stop. My cell phone suddenly burst into action, my heart skipped a beat and without warning it felt like life was about to be normalized once again.

My hotel had been booked, my flights confirmed, my business partner had come through big time. We were all set. The scenery suddenly seemed nicer, the people on the boat standing next to us, more acceptable, and we were about to partake of our final visit to a buffet that I will never forget and never want to remember. Heading back down to have a quick bite to eat around 12 30, we were greeted by the now customary crew member standing at the entrance to the dinning room. “Washy Washy!” she cried out, as she squirted hand sanitizer onto our palms. This had become a ritual for everyone on board, and one that was carried out continuously at every eating place on the ship. Her ‘washy washy’ was followed up with a ‘Happy Happy!” and of course a fake smile. The system was brilliant and created some kind of environmentally friendly atmosphere on board. All the kids were running around saying ‘washy washy, happy happy’ and although it started to grate on me, it made sense what the crew were trying to do in their effort to stop the spread of any disease. My cold was already in full swing, so for me, it mattered not! What did matter was to eat, as quickly as possible, get our bags and head to deck 7, where Erickson waited patiently to escort us into an anti-room for our customs interview. Before that happened it was back to our room, and onto our balcony, where Juneau was within our grasp. Or was it?

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.

Cruise Blues – Part 4

IMG_3899Sometimes in life a little solitude does one good. A cruise seemed like an ideal place to spend time together, rest up, admire the scenery, read a little and have some fun while seeing a little bit of the country that, until now, had remained illusive. Inside our cabin, state-room to be exact, we sat, turned on our mini TV set, looked at the map and coordinates the captain had projected onto the screen and then tuned into ESPN to watch the baseball highlights. This was excruciating. Next door, they were still fighting. The kids were unhappy about something and their balcony door was being slammed open and closed at regular intervals and with some gusto to boot. It was still light outside and my suggestion of ‘let’s go for another walk’ seemed to fall on deaf ears. By now my throat was on fire and my cold advancing faster than the speed this boat was moving. And so, with the clock ticking along to 8.23 PM, I rested my head on the pillow and the next thing I knew, it was 5.40AM!

The sun wasn’t up, although it was supposed to be. It was thick fog outside. We couldn’t see anything off the starboard side of the boat where we were situated. I looked over to Wendy and in the most sarcastic of tones said, “only 36 hours until we can get off, hopefully for good!’ She smiled, and as we stood outside in the freezing cold, looking into a solid grey mist, we realized this was not for us. We had contracted a severe dose of cruise blues.

The gym, situated on the 12th deck, forward of everything except the SPA, was delightful. On the evening we had boarded, a South African crew member called Garry had told us to come around 6 AM to work out or we wouldn’t get it. I thought he was joking, and I asked him, “with all these large people on board, does anyone actually work out?” He was adamant. Arriving at 6, there was even a line, all be it a short one, ready and waiting to get their out of shape bodies into some sort of shape to allow them all to eat all day! With a certain cold in the works, I was lackadaisical in my efforts to sweat and get my heart rate up into a frenzy, and after 45 mins, I was done. By the time we left, the gym was full to bursting. Garry had been right. It wasn’t even 7 AM and this place was claustrophobic. There was no place to hide, unless you fancied a shag in a lifeboat. But even they were locked up!

Buffet time again! You’re getting the picture now I presume? If not, look at the one posted above. We were at the rear of the ship, sitting outside, the sun was up, if only briefly, and there were hundreds of breakfast addicts munching endlessly on bacon, bacon and more bacon. The gentleman in this shot sat for at least three hours that morning just eating, and he wasn’t the only one. The sun soon vanished, sadly for the rest of the day, and after an hour session at 9 AM in the Spa with an acupuncturist, (arranged by choice to try to alleviate and old shoulder and foot injury and to pass some time), we sat back down in our room $394 poorer, and planned our escape. There was now 34 hours left until our arrival in Juneau Alaska and to freedom. We’d made our decision, we were off! The only issue now was how to get off and how to get a refund. The refund part wasn’t really an issue. We realized that we might just have to forfeit the money spent, which would be a complete waste and a tough lesson learned, although at this point, neither of us cared. The only thing that mattered was our escape. We felt like criminals, caged up for life but ready to do a runner after the lights were turned off. The only difference was, we would make haste for land at 2 PM the following day with the sun at its highest point in the sky and no place to hide.

Five and a half laps round the deck equals one mile, or so the sign states. They only thing it doesn’t say is that when it’s blowing 40 MPH outside, one side of that lap is impossible, the other side, well let’s just say you don’t need to try too hard to accomplish your goal. We walked a mile. We walked another mile and then, out of nowhere, the fog lifted, the sun, still hidden, refused to come out, but I could have sworn out of the corner of my right eye on the port side, the easy side, with the wind behind up, I spotted a whale funnel.  I looked again and then stopped. By now there were two, perhaps more, and then it happened. An Orca appeared!! If you look closely at the picture below, this is exactly how it occurred.

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I was really in heaven. I’d come to see whales, eagles, and bears, and here was my first whale. There were lots of them passing by, all moving with grace and at speed. All Orcas. Before we knew it, everyone was watching, and after about ten minutes, the crowd just dissipated, in favor of? You guessed it, more food. This was wonderful. To be positioned in the middle of the ocean with land at least a full day from where we now sailed and to be surrounded by whales, well, just maybe this cruise wouldn’t be so bad after all? Perhaps we were being hasty with our decision to leave? Perhaps the first sighting is the best and then after that it becomes boring? Maybe that’s why the majority of guests just retreated back into the buffet? No matter what, we stood mesmerized and momentarily happy. This experience was certainly different, it was cold, windy and it was desolate, but I was completely warm inside, and so was my feeling of accomplishment.

Another mile round the deck and then lunch. The whales had gone, the fog was back and we still had 26 hours until landfall. Perhaps it was time to check emails or perhaps it was just time to reflect on what had been a close encounter of the whale kind. I decided email it was, and so, armed with the thought of paying a fortune to get on-line (we had been warned in advance) I returned to my state-room, turned on my Ipad and hooked up to the internet at $1 per minute plus connection charges. It wasn’t too long before the temptation to book a hotel in Juneau and a flight back to San Jose, took center stage once again, and robbed me of any idea I had of remaining transfixed to the study of Alaskan whale behavior for any longer that I had to. Land was calling, and land it would be. Time to execute our exit strategy.

Cruise Blues – Part 3

IMG_3832With so many people on board, I was surprised that when I reached the 12th deck the line for the BBQ was small and orderly, the pool, extremely small and already filled up with kids and the band? Well the band was actually a DJ on an Apple Mac, surrounded by crew members all dressed up like Pan’s People. If you don’t know who Pan’s People are, you are either very young, or you’ve lived in America all your life and in both cases, you have missed out! The party was in full swing, the food was nice, cooked fresh in front of us and the atmosphere, for those who wanted to get down and dirty, was definitely party like. Time to grab a cheeseburger, some fresh BBQ corn, eat, then explore the ship. It was 4 15 PM on Sunday July 28th. Our next port of call was Juneau Alaska ETA Tuesday August 30th at 2 PM.

By 4.45 PM I was done. I’d eaten, I’d looked around the ship, had my hair blown in all directions by a sea breeze which was now at 20 knots, and was ready to relax in my room and read for a while before taking the time to further explore our vessel’s night life. I’d also discovered that there was a water dispenser in every corner of every restaurant, which were open 24 hours a day, and I was beginning to believe that the little Filipino man selling Aquafina to everyone who was interested, was actually a total con. I’d also figure out that the ‘soda plan’ $6.95 a day for all you can drink/per person, was another con. With soda priced at $2 a pop, you would need to drink at least 4 a day to get your money’s worth. Who does that?? Oh yes, I forgot, all the extremely fat and unhealthy people who just boarded this boat!

My room, my sanctuary, all the damn noise coming from left and right and above. This was no vacation, this was a survival course for sure! The family to my right were arguing, the chairs and feet above me were being continually dragged across the 12th deck, and without warning, while I lay on my bed, book open and ready to read, it actually started to vibrate, throwing me into total confusion and bringing on thoughts of a cheap Chinese brothels I’d heard about, you know, the one with the happy endings! I was shocked. Having no idea what was causing this, I stood up. Nothing. Complete calm. Back to the bed. Vibration! It would take me several hours to get used to this and it only happened now and again, but I never did figure out what was causing it. If any of you ‘cruise buffs’ out there have any idea, I’d be delighted to hear from you. No sarcastic comments please!

It was now 5 30PM. Time to eat? Oh no, wait, we just did that, right?? Well this is a cruise, are you not supposed to eat ALL the time? We headed upstairs, or was it down? In any event, the stairs were becoming a habit. It was the only way to bypass the girth on all the fat cruise people who hogged the elevators. With our evening about to become a drag, time passing as slow as possible on board this draconian form of transportation, we found ourselves in a seedy looking lounge towards the aft of deck 8. Are you impressed with my nautical lingo? As were entered, Sarah, an English-born lady with a scowl on her face that looked as if it had been permanently etched into her skin, was in the middle of announcing that evening’s movie tune trivia quiz. Whoo hoo! I cried. Entertainment!! We decided to sit down, and take part. What a mistake!

With 10 out of a possible 20 wrong, we came second. It was now 7 PM. Should we eat? It was still very light outside and the weather was excellent, so we decided to entertain a trip to the buffet whilst popping into the casino for a quick look round. Mistake number 2. Never enter a casino on a moving ship. The putrid smell of cigarette smoke along with and overwhelming desire to escape the continual ka-ching of the slot machine, leads to nausea and headache, in that order and all at once. After a quick exit, we decided, it must be time to eat! (Do you see a pattern evolving here?) Buffet time!

When I booked the cruise they told me on the phone that NCL is famous for its ‘Freestyle’ cruising. Just exactly what did that entail? Well, for those of you who don’t know, it means that you never have to dress up. You can go out to dine looking like you just came home from work or the beach or a jog. No tank tops, no open sandals and no swim gear, but other than that, anything goes! Also on the menu was free food, in all but 5 of the restaurants. The speciality restaurants charged extra to eat there, and I was soon to find out why. Well, as we entered the buffet there was an overwhelming desire to plunder, as shown by the many ignorant, overstuffed, carefree buffet goers who’d laid out the path in front of us. They were leading by example, the only question was, should we follow? Plate after plate was piling up in front of me, some vacationers taking three plates at a time and struggling to make it back to their tables without adding even more food to their stash. Remember folks, this was eat what you want when you want for the next 7 days. There wasn’t ever going to be any shortage of anything, but most of these people had obviously never received the memo.

Standing still for just a moment, it was hard to calculate where all this food was coming from, but it was east to determine where it was all going. I was looking at animals, hungry at that, walking back and forth again and again with mountains of food piled sky high into next week, all ready to devour and then return. It was frightening. I took some Indian food, some veg and a wee bit of chicken and made my way to a seat at the very rear of this buffet restaurant, closely followed by Wendy, my better half. We just looked at one another, puzzled, and together, we smiled with that knowing confirmation that THIS was not for us! It was now 7 45 PM, and as we didn’t drink, didn’t gamble and had no intention of eating anything else for at least 12 hours, we sat back and contemplated why on earth we’d actually booked this cruise and more to the point, how the heck we were going to get off ASAP?? Both questions resonated through the onset of the cold I was rapidly developing and both questions remained unanswered as the weather deteriorated, the noise increased and the thought of one whole week on board this tin can filled with obnoxious, tacky and self centered cruise junkies, festered deep into a soul that just craved privacy and calm!

Cruise Blues – Part 2

IMG_3815I’ve stayed in some crappy hotel rooms in my time, especially when traveling to New York. Most of the rooms that have given me issues have come from reviews that looked great but upon arrival have turned sour the second the key is slotted into the door to unlock nothing but a box like impression of this gorgeous room you thought you’d booked on line. This room on the ship wasn’t the worst, far from it, it seemed quite spacious. It had two beds pushed together to make a kind of king size alternative. It had a miniature TV set, a nice closet, some drawers and the bathroom was a reasonable size, if you like to shit and shower simultaneously! The balcony was great, with two comfy chairs outside, and we had a couch and safe and refrigerator too. We looked at one another, decided this wasn’t going to be too bad and then without warning God came into our room via the loud-speaker system that appeared to be anchored into the ceiling. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a mandatory evacuation drill commencing in 15 minutes. Look on your key cards to identify the area where you are required to meet the crew member assigned to your muster section.” “Bloody Hell!” I exclaimed, “that scared the shit out of me. Where’s my pills!!” Without hesitation, we abandoned the cabin in favor of unpacking later and attending out life saving lecture, just in case! And so, back down on deck 7, of course by using the stairs, we congregated, along with the 200 other people assigned to our station, waiting patiently to be shown how to put on a life jacket. This process took 60 seconds, but the waiting time to finally see it happen was more like 25 minutes, accompanied by three further God-like announcements on the tannoy and one alarmingly loud blast from the ships foghorn. Drill over, and we were back up 5 flights of stairs, this time to unpack. It was now 3.50 PM and we were about to set sail. Panic over. My life was about to have another item crossed off its to do list, and it wasn’t too long before I realized that this was definitely not going to be one to write home about, more like one to write to everyone about!

Party Time!

The boat was moving, I was feeling nothing other than the urge to do something. The announcement was crystal clear.

“It’s time to party like a Norwegian!” exclaimed Pedro, out cruise ship entertainment director. “How does a Norwegian party?” I asked myself. The one’s I’d met in my lifetime had been incredibly boring, pleasant, but boring, and nothing like the ‘party animals’ Pedro was insinuating in his loud boisterous tannoy tone. Before I could say sea sickness, there was a stampede. Although I was in my cabin, I could hear it. It seemed to be resonating from right above my head, but to be sure, all I had to do was open my door and watch the herd, motivated by Pedro’s offer of free booze and BBQ, rush onwards and upwards towards deck 12, where all hell was about to break loose.

Now, let me digress. When I booked this cruise, this was the phone conversation I had with the lady at NCL. This is almost word for word, remembering I had this discussion in February of this year. Time is a great leveler, but I’ll do my best to relate it as accurately as possible.

NCL “Good morning Alan how can we help you book your cruise?”

Alan “Well, I’ve been on your web site and as I’m a first time cruiser who gets seasick getting into a bath, I wondered what advice you could give me if I booked an Alaskan cruise?”

NCL “You picked the right company to make your maiden voyage with.” ‘Duh!’ I thought! “Alaska is a good choice and on our boats you will not feel any movement and won’t be sick. I promise.”

Alan “We are thinking of going in July”

NCL “Best month to go”

Alan “OK here is my criteria before I book. I would like a room that is located in a QUIET part of the ship. My sister went on a cruise and all she heard for 7 days were seats being scraped across the deck right above her. I would also like to be in a part of the ship where movement of any kind is at a minimum, should it get choppy.”

And that, my friends is how I ended up on the 11th deck in room 050. Personally guaranteed by that NCL lady, not to be noisy and to be fairly steady in case of a squall. Those words and choice of room were now resonating, as 3000 people headed out to party like a Norwegian, and all of them, bar none, were banging chairs, glasses, feet and anything else they could party with, right above my room. I was not impressed, my heart sank and my whole demeanor changed in moments. On top of that, a family of 4 had moved in next door and while standing on my balcony introducing myself to the mother, the two kids were complaining that they would have to share a bed or sleep on the floor. “It’s a lot smaller that we anticipated.” she told me. “Fucking right!” I had no idea how 4 people would fit into this room. It was tight enough with 2. On the other side of me was Keith. Keith had his wife and his sister in the same room. Kinky! I prayed to my God, no not the one implanted in my ceiling, that this was going to work out, then we decided, “it’s time to party like a Norwegian!” and made a B line to join the herd, the BBQ and the on board entertainment. We were sailing into the Puget Sound and I was about to confront Hell on the high seas!