This was going to be my post on Day 3, when the weather brightened and the ship stabilized and all was well with the world. I thought: time for a cruise-neutral post. An apology of sorts for the last one.
However, since I am writing this entry 1 week post-cruise and 30,000 feet over
Day 4: Sea legs!
Once the raging wind had died down and the top deck was no longer being thrashed with mist from morning till night (and one could jog on the track without lurching around like a drunken sailor), life on board settled into a routine.
The daily drip
For many people, my brother Achim among them, the day started invariably with coffee. At first it was the buffet brew, made ever-so-delicately from syrup. This bitter, sour, watery caffeine drink was given but one charitable second chance. By Day 2 it had already become clear that this was not merely a chance encounter with the dregs from the bottom of the tap but rather the coffee was made this way – how shall I put this? – intentionally. Freshly brewed stuff – lattes, mochas and the like - was soon discovered (for a fee) in a specialty café at midships on the 5th floor. And then there was the regular drip coffee, nearly free, and not bad at all. Especially compared to the stuff on tap at the buffet.
After that first cuppa, it was time to go upstairs to the breakfast buffet on Deck 12 and join whichever family members one could find. At times, because the café was huge and U-shaped, several of us would end up scattered at different tables around the room, not knowing that the others were just around the corner in the parallel universe that was the other side of the U. We learned to scan the area first and eat second (unless solitude was the goal, in which case we ate at a very small table in a corner). Then, in a nice transition to lunch, and at tables still littered with the remains of bagels and lox, toast, muffins, cereal, fruit, milk cartons and juice cups, ham and bacon and sausage and bologna (!), the cruisers commenced to play relaxed games of scrabble or poker. Once in a while, the waiters would ask a card player or idle shmoozer to vacate the premises so that the table could be used for someone who was planning to actually eat. This was unpleasant. But most of the time, breakfast just melted into lunch, which melted into dessert and then tea at 3:30 (more on that to come), and then – voila – it was 5:45 and time for dinner in the main dining room.
If one managed to detach oneself from food, one could spend the day sunning by the pool on Deck 12 or running outdoors or working out in the underwater and windowless gym. And there was the odd entertaining PrinCESS activity, such as the competition to build a boat that would sail 24 cans of beer across the pool and back (the Lyon sisters won 2nd place) and the on-deck ice carving show. At night, there were several empty bars to hang out in. And a theater filled with an audience watching a show that was much like an overacted high school play.
See? Lots to do on a ship.
My favorite part of the day was tea, the best-kept secret of the cruise. For one hour, the main dining room was filled with tea napkins and dainty dishes; small sandwiches and bite-sized cookies; Lipton tea and – of course – tiny delicious currant scones with a side of jam and cream. We happily managed many hushed and polite yes pleases and no thankyous, despite the caffeine that was flowing into our system as more tea kept arriving with our scones.
We couldn’t get enough of the little scones, which were perfectly crunchy on the outside and good and sconey on the inside. And we weren’t the only ones. The international dining staff loved the word and couldn’t stop repeating it. “Scones?” they would offer frequently, singing to themselves “scone, scone, scone, scone, stone scone, rolling scone” as they held their trays high and navigated the rocking aisles with ease.
Cruise survival kit
Tea gave us an opportunity to sit and talk in a quiet environment. On deck and in the bars and lounges there was almost always music, often played to audiences of zero (except when Dancing Hannah was around). we were hard-pressed to find a quiet moment outside of the stateroom. The ship had several grand pianos; at tea, however, there was only a man playing keyboard music (poor thing), which could be escaped at the other end of the room. Headphones went a long way toward cutting out the noise; there are two other items that were not in our packing guide and should have been:
1 Walkie talkies. It’s a big ship with no cell reception. Either bring a pair of walkie talkies or spend countless hours wandering around looking for someone who might be right there in the next room.
2 Power strip. There is one outlet per room. One camera can be charged, or one computer plugged in, at a time. One. Bring along a power strip and you’ll notice a marked improvement in your lifestyle.
The great outdoors
Finally – after five days at sea, we were back on land! And yet, somehow, all our adventures still involved water.
In Hilo, a small picturesque town on the island of Hawaii, Achim, Deb, Ronit and I rented a car (by a fluke, we ended up with the overly luxurious Chrysler 300 instead of the Dodge Neon we had reserved) and headed up the coast to Akaka Falls State Park. Along the way, we stopped in a tiny town for victuals (local beer and sandwiches) and the post office. The drive was beautiful and so was the short hike through the rainforest to the waterfall lookout. We saw many Banyan trees and tropical flowers and plants, including bananas. A little disappointed that the waterfall itself was so far away, we headed for a small beach park, whose turnoff we missed twice due to the car’s inability to make quick, comfortable turns. Big laughs. At the park, a river rushed to the sea in a scenic rocky area surrounded by forest. Children swung over the river on a rope swing, but our desire to join them was overcome by rumors of an infectious bacteria in the river. We had lunch, rested, and, overflowing with mirth at our fancy Chrysler 300 tooling around in the rainforest, made an impromptu Borat-style commercial promoting it.
A few days later, we landed in
The book may have been old; the trail, unmarked, may have changed. After 10 minutes of hiking by the book (and one crazy rainshower), we were lost. The directions read something like this: Begin at the water tower at the end of
We returned to the ship wet, muddy and ridden with mosquito bites. It was great.