January 6, 2006

Life on a Cruise Ship

The Carnival Glory cruise ship docked at St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Winter 2005

We are recently returned from our first trip aboard a cruise ship. We sailed on the Carnival Glory, a ship that is 1,000 feet, 110,000 tons, and $500 million worth of floating Vegas. The architecture and design was incredibly ornate, with everything done up in chrome and such, and the attention to detail in decorating the ship was absolutely staggering.

On the Glory every room is color-coordinated, with such names and styles as the Club Crimson, the Golden Restaurant, and the Bar Blue. The Amber Palace was a theater that spanned three decks and featured a giant chandelier. My six-month-old nephew had such a grand time looking at all the chromed surfaces and the ceilings that changed color, that he’s probably bored to tears now that he’s back home. No mirrored ceilings? What a drag!

One of my early fears of the cruise was that I was going to be out-classed by the other patrons. I have my own tuxedo, but I consider myself far from a classy person. My hair is too long and I spend my summers growing wild beards and getting dirt under my nails and in my mouth. When you see an ad for a cruise, the patrons aboard seem to be a strange breed of superpeople, who have skin crafted from precious metal and teeth carved from ivory. I looked at these images in dismay, fearing that I would be clapped in irons and sent to the engine room for the duration of the cruise, lest my hideous visage disturb the beautiful people aboard.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. People on cruise ships are ugly. Like, professionally ugly. Between martinis we were frequently bored, and we entertained ourselves by watching people on the uppermost deck of the ship. Sometimes we would count the number of men wearing muscle shirts and wife-beaters, using tattoos as a reference to avoid inadvertently counting the same person twice. Other times we’d count Harley Davidson shirts, or hold contests for who could find the best mustache.

One particular specimen held our attention for nearly an hour. This was a overweight middle-aged man, crammed into a bright blue Speedo, with more hair on his back than on his head. He was sporting a different watch on each wrist, one of which was the size of a squirrel and had an antenna. We found him lounging in a deck chair, sunning himself and reading a book about estate planning.

At one point the man got up to visit the buffet, his estate sufficiently planned, and he produced a yellow fanny pack that he strapped to his waist. We damn near lost it as he fiddled with the pack for a couple minutes, trying to find the best way to wear it. "Should it ride in the back, in the front, or shall I cock it rakishly to the side?" In the end, he went rakish. As he turned away from us and toward the buffet, we shuddered in anticipation of what we were about to see. Fortunately, the tag from his Speedo was sticking straight up, covering up his crack. Every single person on our side of the ship heaved a sigh of relief. It nearly blew us off course.

Here’s something you probably know. Cruise ships move. All told our seven-day trip covered 2,400 miles, burning approximately 50 gallons of diesel a mile. To cover those vast distances our ship sailed day in and day out, to the tune of modest rocking and rolling for those of us aboard. The motion is subtle but is still quite noticeable, especially when you’re out in the deep waters. My father could tell you all about the swell frequencies, how the wave period was approximately seven seconds, which is the same as that for a skyscraper moving in the wind, but his lousy son chose a life of music and liberal arts and has a better grasp of verbiage than physics.

Sometimes you will have one too many martinis and you will ask yourself, "Is that me or the boat?" Sometimes you will ask other people too, who will tell you it’s just the boat and buy you another drink. Some people on the ship get seasick, either from the ship or from the martinis, and you can identify these people by the tiny patches they wear behind their ears.

Everyone aboard the ship, however, adjusts their walking patterns to compensate for the rocking of the ship. Again, the movement is subtle and you get used to it, and pretty soon you wonder what you would do if the ground wasn’t moving and lurching all the time. What would you do then?

Fortunately for you, the ground is always moving and lurching. Even when you go ashore and are traipsing about the island of St. Maarten, the ground moves. The ground even moves when your cruise is over and you have checked into the airport and are walking to your terminal. I spent a moment in the airport bookstore in Orlando, and actually had to leave because the shop was swaying so much.

Even in Minnesota, a place one would think is far from the influence of rolling oceans and cruise ships, you stumble as you walk. The only cure for this is more time or more martinis, the latter being less of a cure and more of an excuse.

The service aboard the Glory was absolutely incredible. The staff would make up your stateroom multiple times a day, and fold your towels into elaborate animals like elephants and pigs and spider monkeys. Even if they were angry with you for some reason they would still make you a snake. Everywhere you would go on the ship, someone was sweeping, polishing or cleaning something.

The legends of the midnight buffet and the 24-hour pizzeria are all true. Aboard a cruise ship, there is never a moment when you can’t be eating, and since all food is already included in your fare, there is no reason you shouldn’t be eating. Plus, there’s even a gym and spa and such, so if you feel guilty you can go ahead and kick your own ass, you little masochist, you. Running on a treadmill on a moving ship is an incredibly disorienting experience, and one that I heartily recommend at least once.

The staff comes from all over the world, and they work long hours and long months away from their families. One of our servers was from Myanmar, the other was from the Philippines. Our bartender was from Estonia. Our karaoke hostess was beautiful. Everyone working aboard the ship had an accent, and even the American staff members spoke in strange, indiscernible tongues. This I can only attribute to something I call The Hook Effect.

When I worked for my windsurfing shop I was a gear tech for our lessons department, and I helped out with rigs and equipment at our windsurfing school down on the Hook in Hood River. At the Hook we had a diverse staff from all over the place, including British Columbia, Sweden, Florida, Oregon, Minnesota, and of course, the Yooper.

After a summer of listening to ourselves talk we had adopted each other’s accents and speech mannerisms, such that we had invented a completely new dialect specific to our crew. Other people could barely understand us, and certainly couldn’t place our region or country of origin. I assume that the very same thing happens on a cruise ship, only on a far grander scale.

It was nice to see that Carnival made every attempt to point out that if the cruise was enjoyable, it was entirely due to the efforts of these hardworking folk. Their service was spectacular, and they totally deserve mad props.

Yo, love the new look! It’s nice to see that your creative side hasn’t completely gone away. And backhanded compliments are my favorite too.

Nice, Dane! And absolutely right – props to the five million people who worked their buns off to make our vacation enjoyable.

While Carnival may deserve some backhanded treatment for some of their decisions (piping top-40 pop thru the entire ship, keeping bizarre hours for child care, etc.) the people who worked on Glory were pure gold.
I totally miss our servers, Philip from the Philippines and Min from Myanmar, who told us they worked from 6am to 11pm, seven days a week. Those guys were so kind. They even signed my poster.
What I find incredible, too, is that as soon as we step off the boat in the morning, they’re already preparing for the next 3,000 guests who arrive that afternoon.
Geez. What amazing folk.

Dane, your description of the cruise ship is damn hilarious, as is The Hook Effect. Do you mind if I still poke around a little bit into the BW layout?
I worked out the Hawthorne hall site with the new rounded corners thing you sent me, plus i messed around with it and now it validates as XHTML 1.1!
check it out:

Heh. Thanks, Alex! Feel free to poke around the Big Winds site, and thanks for all your help last spring.
Nice work implementing the rounded corners on the Hawthorne site. The next step would be to replace the images with something of your own devising, and tinker with wrapping the navigation in a rounded corner style as well.
I’m diggin’ your hidden hover-state text, too. Nicely coded, man.