I’m back on terra firma again after a week on a cruise vacation with Spouse and Spouse’s Parents. Not quite home yet, so still somewhat limited in terms of my internet connection, but I’m in the process of getting caught up. I also have some reflections on cruising, since this was my first cruise vacation, which I present for your amusement below the fold.

Cruising is actually quite strange, compared to most of the traveling I’ve done. Cruising is designed to ensure that people aren’t actually challenged by the experiences of their travels, which is rather missing the point, especially of international travel, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, I want it to be a vacation, but by the end of the week I had a strange nagging discontent because I hadn’t learned much of anything and hadn’t talked to many people who weren’t also on the cruise or employed by the cruise. In fact, one of my treasured memories from this cruise is breaking away from the planned off-ship activity when it got boring and finding a local beach bar playing reggae and serving Carib, talking at least a little with folks with an accent thick enough to float the cruise ship and enjoying something not so contrived.

A couple of times, I had to look down to make sure I wasn’t turning into one of the boneless blobbly lumps in a floaty chair from WALL-E. I was stunned at how accurately the movie captured the cruise environment taken to its logical conclusions. The whole time, scenes from WALL-E were playing through my mind like a faint background counterpoint of irony.

We, though, didn’t have robots at our beck and call. We had people. I found out that many of the employees work 10-12 hour days, seven days a week, for months on end, some of them separated from their families to do so. I don’t know if they think they make enough, and I don’t know if any amount of money is worth that – and these people are certainly not getting rich doing this. And for a lot of the time, these people are treated with about as much respect and consideration as the robots were in the movie, before the robot taught people how to be people again…which leads to some interesting speculation.

So in a way, this experience did challenge me and make me learn new things and have a new perspective. I’m still sorting it all out, so in the meantime I’ll share a few other odds and ends of thoughts from the week:

The US Virgin Islands used to be pirate havens, and since the original peg-leg variety went away, the modern jewelry store variety has set up shop instead. I wasn’t sure before that it was actually possible to be tired of looking at jewelry. Now I am. Ooh! shiny! turns into Aah! I’m blind! remarkably quickly in the Caribbean sun.

The jewelers have gone from loss-leaders to outright free gifts just to get traffic into the stores, and I had such a proliferation of flyers and coupons and offers that I felt like I was doing a scavenger hunt or doing a treasure hunt using a map made by a very forgetful and rather cheap pirate. (Perhaps the two attributes were related?) A couple of the free gifts were nice, though, and the rest will make assorted related children very happy the next time they play dress-up.

Spouse observed that the only thing that moves more slowly than an Army brigade is a brigade-worth of civilians. The procedures for embarkation and disembarkation do have a remarkable similarity to military set-ups, although the people on a cruise are more colorfully dressed and generally told that it’s part of their job to be cheerful, with varying degrees of success on both fronts. The other major dissimilarity was the employees handing out rum drinks as you get on deck, which especially in the warm weather functions as a passenger tranquilizer so the crew can go on about the business of getting the ship away from the dock.

This was the first time I’d ever been on a ship out of sight of land, and it was a more impressive sight than I had imagined. I had little difficulty understanding how truly terrifying that could have been for explorers without GPS and especially without an engine; I spent quite a bit of time watching the ocean and thinking about that, actually.

The seas were pretty calm for us, but the last couple days, cruising at a full 18 knots, there was more motion, and the thrum of the engines was quite impressive and all-pervasive. There are two ways to cope with the motion of the ship: one is to get “sea legs,” which feels a lot like having an inner-ear infection all the time until your brain learns to take into account the motion of the deck while one foot is in the air so that it knows where to put the foot down by the time it finishes the step, a lot like learning to walk all over again. The other is to drink until you sway at roughly the same frequency as the ship, at which point you don’t notice it any more. Both strategies leave one feeling rather queasy on the morning of disembarkation.

Speaking of food and drink – mostly drink – I was struck by the way the ocean is a lot like a desert, except in reverse. The ocean and desert are both highly unforgiving places where a traveler has to take absolutely everything she’ll need, right down to drinking water, with her. There are some people who live in close proximity to the harsh environments and have highly adapted coping strategies and cultures heavily shaped by the physical requirements, and everyone else thinks those people are weird (and everyone else is right, but so are the sailors and nomads).

And finally, a random observation: Sadly, some people’s unexplored depths, once plumbed, turn out to make you just a little damp around the ankles.

10 thoughts on “Reflections on cruising

  1. I know a guy who used to work on cruise ships doing lighting for shows. He said the way they cope is by drinking a TON. Apparently alcohol is dirt cheap on cruise ships, at least for the staff. He likes his rum–he can down a 40-ounce bottle in one night, keep it all down, and remember everything the next day, and he’s not a big guy–but he quit the cruise ships after a couple of years because the drinking was getting crazy even for him. He does lights for a club now, and now that he’s got a wife and baby I think he’ll stick with that.

  2. I’m not surprised to hear that. That’s what a lot of the passengers spend their time doing, too, although it costs rather more for them. I had a friend who did childcare on a Disney ship for a while straight out of college, and it was high-stress for her, too, although it was also financially rewarding. I wonder how much the employee demographics have changed in the last few years with the declining economy, though.

  3. The only time I was on a ship out of sight of land, it was a ferry, and I *loved* it – there can never be too much ocean, as far as I’m concerned, and there were squid snacks – but I, too, had this twist of anxiety as the land slid out of sight. I probably couldn’t have swum to shore if we’d foundered within sight, but there’s an extra disorienting feeling about being totally unable to orient yourself. We could have been anywhere.

    Do cruise ships move much? I’ve always wondered how much of the wave motion you felt on a ship like that.

  4. How much motion we could feel varied significantly, and was also very different in different parts of the ship. As a rule, when we were docked, there was practically no motion. When we got under way, I was amazed at how much I was constantly aware of the forward motion of the ship, much as you are in a car that’s accelerating, but I adapted to that very quickly, and it was lessened once we reached cruising speed.

    The times I really started to feel the motion were when we were going at speed over deeper waters on the way back to port, and it was the worst on the higher decks, fore and aft. Since they put the casual dining room on deck 11 aft, there was one time that I simply had to leave lunch halfway through. I took the rest back to my cabin, though, and was able to eat a little while later. The least motion was on the lower decks amidships, and looking out at the horizon helped as well.

    They clearly don’t get major motion most of the time, because they use regular stemmed wine glasses and have plenty of movable furniture, so it’s not significant enough to shake the stuff, just the people from time to time. I wonder how much leeway they have in their schedule in order to make them able to cruise around bad weather to minimize things like that.

    The other odd thing about orientation was that as a Witch, I’m more aware than most people of the sun and moon positions; I could tell very roughly when we were changing course, or what our general heading was, by where the sun was, for example, and could figure out ahead of time which side of the deck would be in sun or in shade. I laughed to myself when they had an image of the full moon up on the jumbo screen over the pool area at night, since we were sailing during the new moon.

    1. Hee!

      I was just realizing the other day how much I’m *not* aware of moon phase and position. I was trying to remember what the moon arc looked like – if it’s overhead, or south like the sun, and just could not come up with it at all. Sort of embarrassing, really.

  5. Oh, and the initially hard part about being aware of the moon is the connection between phase and rise/set times. I love my VelaClock widget that shows moon rise/set in comparison to the rest of the day and finally let me get the hang of those connections. (I think of those by remembering that the full moon is up all night, the new moon is up during the day, and the rest of the time, the moon runs later and later each day.) There’s also a saying that might help you remember:

    A New Moon rises with the Sun,
    Her waxing half at midday shows,
    The Full Moon climbs at sunset hour,
    And the waning half the midnight knows.

    The Witches’ Almanac 2000

    1. Thanks for the link! That makes me feel a little better – at my position, the moon is pretty much everywhere except a narrow sliver to the north.

      The timing bit I sort of kind of knew – it came up as part of my research, and clicked as something I already almost knew subconsciously. The running later bit is a neat way to think about it, though.

  6. So, do spouse’s parent’s know you are a witch yet? Bet that would have offered up a bit of distraction from the motion sickness, no?

  7. No, they don’t. I have settled on a sort of compromise, or a religious Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. If I ever heard them say something negative about Paganism or Wicca, I would “out” myself then and there and stand up for it. In the meantime, they’re not trying to push their religion on me, so I’m not going to push mine on them. It’s a way to maintain peace in the family without denying who and what I am.

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