Last week, using the excuse of slow wifi, I reposted from FindingNYC Why? Because I am on a cruise. Yep, I packed up Al (The Hub), some Dramamine, and my best flesh-covering burkini and boarded The Norwegian Gem at Pier 86, right next to the Intrepid. It’s 3 days south from Manhattan, 4 islands in 12 hours, then 2 days outrunning a nor’easter up the coast.
I’ve never been on a cruise before, and frankly, it didn’t sound like the kind of thing I’d like. You know, napkin folding and flower arranging, sitting in the sun baking like a chicken, and putting on some cha-cha heels at night to fox trot with “Ray Pinski and his amazing accordion band”. But you know what? Times change. I’m having fun. Mind you, this is the kind of fun I can only handle every decade or so. Still, it’s a great deal. You’re in a floating hotel, with 3 meals a day, lubricated by as much booze as you can drink (if you get the “unlimited booze” package), for less than you could do it at a real hotel.
In case you want to try it too, here are some tips.
DO remember you are the cash cow. There’s only one reason you’re on this cruise, and that’s to pay up. Spending opportunities abound, even if you get the “everything is included, wink, wink” package. Local economies depend on tourism, and milking you is part of the global economic picture. Your cruise ship will only dock for 8 or 9 hours, max, at any one port so as to avoid docking fees. Local planners make sure the shopping is close to the pier. Who cares if it’s all made in China? Just buy the damn T-shirt.
DO remember that the spa doubles as a snake-oil emporium. Go ahead and sign up for the discounted message and “consultation” in which your “therapist” will “recommend” you purchase “Elixir Magique pour la Vache Cashola”, a truly amazing concoction of purest serpentine lubricant guaranteed to cut your belly fat, eliminate neck wrinkles, and give your face the consistency of a baby’s bottom for only $500 an ounce. I never did find out if you’re supposed to drink it or rub it under your armpits.
DO spring for a stateroom with a balcony. It’s worth it.
DON’T heave off the balcony in your stateroom if you hit rough seas. That’s what those little baggies are for.
DO bring enough clothes for the whole trip. That way, you won’t have to do laundry in the bathroom sink each night since the original price of your clothes is less than the cost of washing them once on a cruise ship.
DO learn about the local flora and fauna. It’s a “frigate bird”, not a “frickin’ bird”. We were seeing flying fish off the coast of Florida, and not “diving sea sparrows”, as I incorrectly maintained for several days.
DO drink up! If you got the “ultimate drink package”, you will soon find that it includes wine, beer, mixed drinks, and soda, but not espresso or water. Water will cost you an extra $50 per day. But who cares, when you can have a shot of Kahlua instead of coffee in the morning, a shot of vodka in your ginger ale, and a shot of rum in …wait, what was I saying?
DO be ready to meet an international crowd. Not necessarily a sophisticated international crowd (not at these prices, anyway), but an international crowd all the same. The crew comes from every continent (no, not Antarctica and yes I know it is a continent), and your fellow passengers will run the gamut. Expect to meet the young and old, families and singles, people from your hometown and people from far away. You’ll see the impeccably dressed couple on their way to dinner, and you’ll see those for whom cloth napkins are something of a novelty.
My favorites so far are the British Pepper Pot who has honed the art of complaining to a lustrous shine: “oooo, they’re not punctual at all here, are they? Being on time is good manners, I say. I saw a woman last night with her plate piled so high it put me right off my appetite. In London, we saw Phantom of the Opera for 65 Pounds (that’s Pounds Sterling!) it was twice that in New York…”; the fashionable ladies from China who wear socks with every outfit, including flip flops; and last but not least, Russian Party Guy. Russian Party Guy sports a full mustache, captain’s hat, hibiscus-covered matching shirt and shorts, and a twinkle in his eye for every young lady who can reply “nyet!” to his amorous mutterings in his native tongue. Then there’s that New York woman who swims in the pool wearing a full burkini and shows up for dinner in some cheap-ass Walmart clothes. Unlaundered, cheap-ass Walmart clothes.
DON’T tell anyone it is your birthday or anniversary. Since this was our anniversary (a big round number), and I had indicated as much at the time of booking, we were handed a special card on boarding. It said “Happy anniversary! please give this card to your waiter when you celebrate your special day.” We speculated about the delights that would come our way. “I bet we get a whole surf and turf dinner comped”, said Al. “I doubt it. I’m guessing it will be a bottle of champagne and free dessert.”
Turns out, I was partly right. On our special day, we had dinner at the “it’s not included in your package Steak House”. What was our surprise when the waiters filed out singing “Let me call you sweetheart” instead of handing us a dessert menu?
Al hates this sort of thing. He will go to any length to stay out of the public eye. On our first night, we made the mistake of sitting too close to the magician during showtime in the Stardust theater. Part of the act was to finger 10 or 20 audience members to come on stage and help with the show (by being mocked). Mr. Magician walked right up to where we were unwisely sitting, and pointed at Al, who immediately said “Sorry! I can’t walk!” This was quick thinking on Al’s part, since he clearly could walk: he was seated in the center of the second row with no wheelchair in sight and a wife looking askance at him with eyebrows raised in surprise. The magician was a bit taken aback, but that’s not the sort of thing you can question someone about in public. It got Al off the hook that time.
No such luck with the singing waiters. When singing waiters show up at your table, you’re trapped. Al eyed the exits, but they had him surrounded. He immediately pulled a comical “Bugs Bunny does Munch’s Scream” face, placing both hands on his checks, and forming his mouth into a small round “O” while hissing “Did you tell them to do this?” at me. “Of course not! I thought we’d get a bottle of champagne, remember?” Other diners laughed merrily at his distress (as did I), and when the song was over we got a lovely piece of cake with “happy anniversary” in edible cardboard on top. The cake itself seemed to have been baked on our wedding day itself, and saved for decades against our arrival. My theory is that the magician was doing some payback.
DO bring some alternate entertainment. The best thing I did was to bring along a cheap DVD player with some 99-cent DVDs from half.com. When Al got bored with pool-side fun, magic shows and singing waiters, he could retire to our cabin and watch season 2 of “Curb your Enthusiasm” where his happy chuckles would disturb no one.
DO ignore the minor whiff of sewage in your bathroom. This is something they don’t tell you about in the flier.
DO book early and with a cut-rate reseller. We used CruiseSheet.com, and they got us a great deal.
We may just try it again in 10 years.