Original posted in London to New York blog, May 13, 2010
International Date Line, South Bering Sea
ON board the Diamond Princess as we plough relentlessly on towards the Alaskan coast are around 3,000 passengers.
All but 19 of them are cruising very much out of choice, having saved their hard-earned (or easily-inherited) for the trip of a lifetime. In the case of many hardened regulars, this is the latest in a long line of cruises.
One couple, whose smiling faces beamed out of the daily newsletter which arrives at our cabin each night to detail what’s going on the next day, have now logged up 995 days on cruises.
For those of us using the Diamond Princess as a means to an end and struggling to complete 15 days, it all prompts one simple question. Why?
We have had our moments on board and you can certain elements of the whole experience would attract people, but this is a long time to be cooped up in a relatively small area, particularly since we last left land in Japan and the weather has dipped to the point where the word minus plays a fairly significant role.
That has meant outdoor activities – our regular basketball sessions, all the outdoor pools and even large chunks of the walkways – have been off limits.
The outcome is that passengers have spent an awful lot of money to spend two weeks or more (word is of one couple on board for 90-odd days from Sydney to Vancouver) in a hotel they never leave. Would anybody do that on land?
There is plenty to do on the boat – particularly for those closer to the target age (and expected bank balance) of the cruise company.
Each day the Princess Patter (which always ends up as toilet reading in our cabin) lists a full programme of the events laid on by the cruise staff. We did, briefly, consider spending today joining in with as many of the activities as possible.
A possible day would have been:
9am – Beginners Bridge with Barbara
10am – Special Interest Lecture (‘Seven Financial Mistakes Seniors Make’) or Ballroom Dance Class for Beginners (Join Kay and Amy for the secrets of ‘Cha-Cha-Cha)
11.30am – Snowball Jackpot Bingo
12.30pm – Martini Madness Demonstration (actually, that might have been worth going to)
1.30pm – Line Dancing with John
2pm – Art Auction
3pm – Golf Chipping into the Pool (really annoying as it means we can’t go for a swim for a couple of hours – they also use plastic balls so the danger element has been reduced) or Classic Cars Get-Together (yet to see any classic cars on board, so attendance may be sparse).
3.30pm – Afternoon Tea
And then it all winds down to let people head off to get into their best bib and tucker for the final formal night.
Having scanned the Patter when it arrived last night, we scrapped my initial plan and, although I have seen very few of the party yet today, the average day of our little group is likely to have gone something like this.
8am – Wake briefly. Consider getting up early and going for breakfast. Remember you lost another hour last night, only got to bed at 3am and need at least another hour. Go back to sleep for a short while.
Noon – Wake up
1pm – Finally stumble out of your room and head off to find whatever free food is being served in enormous piles somewhere on the ship.
1.30pm – Sit down on sun lounger near pool, plug in iPod.
1.35pm – Fall asleep
3pm – Get woken by a giant Kiwi eating an ice cream
3.15pm – Get a cup of tea
3.20pm – Return to a sun lounger to drink tea
4pm – Return to room for nap or to write blog
And that’s where you find me. Others have not been quite so lazy (there were reports of a brief game of basketball this afternoon), while others have not reached the getting up stage.
Plenty of us have made use of the activities. There’s been a few takers for the lectures, Pam has tried her hand (or should that be feet?) at ballroom dancing, Freddie has taken up residence in the Spa and Julie and Gerda came back raving about the towel-folding demonstration.
And there has been a lot of activity on the basketball court, the gym (where Marlo has spent more time than most of the staff paid to be there), the pool and the hot tubs, while the yoga and the abs sessions have proved particularly popular.
The films have also been an attraction – never expected to be queuing to watch a George Clooney comedy (Up In The Air) on a Monday afternoon – and a bit of research confirms the plot of Avatar is so straightforward that you can watch the second half of the film without having to sit through the first.
The shows have been a bit more hit and miss (among tonight’s offerings: Songs From The Shows by assistant cruise director Simon) and the two which we stumbled across were both by ‘mentalist and illusionist’ Wayne Hoffman.
The first was passable, the second – billed as ‘Adult Comedy’, but more akin to stuff you might have seen on Crackerjack – drew most of our crew and assorted hangers-on and was, putting it politely, absolutely awful.
All this, of course, is purely opinion – there were those who chortled throughout, lapped up the ballroom dancing and are, as we speak, folding their towels into the shape of a baby echidna.
We are, by a long chalk, outside the average target market and while a significant number of us are climbing the walls desperate to get off this boat, the vast majority here are having a wonderful time.
Can’t speak for all the clan (we’ve barely seen some of them since we got on board), but several would have sacrificed the ideal of doing the whole trip on land to have got off the ship and spent time in South Korea or Japan before catching a plane to Alaska.*
This way of travelling is not without its charms (others have enjoyed it greatly), it’s just so far removed from the rest of the trip and has split the group asunder. Instead of being together for the bulk of the day, you can actually reach late afternoon having seen next to none of the group. And for the first time on this trip, we are having to find ways to fill the time.
But on this ship we are and, despite the grumbles – which are more to do with the sheer amount of time we have been at sea now than anything else – we have managed to create our own entertainment.
None more so than the Pirate Party, held to coincide with Marlo’s birthday.
Since the idea was first mooted (sometime in Eastern Europe), raiding parties have been storming pretty much every market we have come across in search of pirate gear – hence us staggering aboard the boat with toy swords, bandanas, jewellery and whatever came to hand.
And so, as the rest of the ship got dressed up to the nines for a formal night, we descended on the Calypso Bar and Horizon Food Court in full pirate gear – complete with stuffed parrot and, ahem, squid – to be met with a mixture of surprise and amusement. With the odd bit of disgust thrown in, some of it from people we know.
From there it was off to Skywalkers for a night of debauchery – well, drinking and a bit of dancing really – as, for the first time, the full ranks of the 19-strong crew (briefly) gathered together in one place, other than to be transported somewhere.
Our numbers were augmented by the ragtag bunch of misfits who have shared our usual drinking holes this week (basically, nearly all the other cruisers between 21 and 50), so thanks to Mat, Lynsey and Ramsey, Nottingham Mike, Shane (go to bed earlier next time), Brad, Shannon and the random punters and even members of staff who stumbled in and opted to join in the carnage.
The night careered on (and on) into the early hours and by the time I finally stumbled to bed just after 7am, there was somebody from another room asleep in my bed and I had to hoist myself onto the top bunk.
Details must remain hidden (for reasons well beyond the normal protocol), but suffice to say there were casualties and the aftermath is still being felt.
Phil and I now have competition from Fran as the tour’s official carrying people to bed duo (although, not for the first time, my services were needed to hoist the victim off the toilet floor), Freddie was left on clean-up duties in his cabin and there was a repair bill.
Thankfully, considering it was such a write off as we slept off the night before, we got two cracks at Monday, May 10, courtesy of crossing the International Date Line (for which we now all have shiny certificates) and which sent us from 11 hours ahead of the UK to 11 hours behind in the space of an hour.
The second version of Monday was heading the same way until we shrugged off the lethargy and stumbled our way to the theatre to watch Up In The Air.
Any expectations of more sleep were ended by an interruption from Happy Captain Bob, whose intermittent broadcasts are met by great anticipation to see what level of misery he has reached today.
But this was no normal broadcast. Sounding unusually chipper, Cap’n Bob informed us of an outbreak of Norovirus on board and proceeded to issue a lecture on how, when, where and why to wash our hands.
No sooner had we digested this information (more than the 150 or so reported sufferers have managed no doubt) than we had another interruption for a ‘Code Alpha’ on Emerald deck.
Sadly, unlike the reportedly-contained virus, this appears not to have such a happy ending with unconfirmed reports of our first death on the ship.
We were unaware of the details as Phil, Phoebe and I shook off the cobwebs of the previous two days and took full advantage of the affects a rolling ship has on a swimming pool before relocating – complete with Duncan – to dinner in the Santa Fe restaurant.
The Limoncello shots offer – $4.95 for a shot glass and endless refills – may have been a good idea on most diners, sadly it backfired with us as we polished off the first decanter they produced, did the same with the second and offered to finish up the last one they had left.
Admittedly, the shots had an impact, meaning the decision not to join in the outbreak of dancing to the sound of Phoenix Rising in the Wheelhouse Bar was as much to do with concern about another Great Wall moment as complete lack of dancing ability.
We eventually stumbled up to Skywalkers for a late-night session which ended, sometime around 4am, with Phil, Phoebe and I hiding in the ladies loo from one of the ship’s more ‘colourful’ characters.
No wonder we missed the towel folding the next morning…
* Scrap that thought. Was a bit lost at sea when writing that. Looking back, many of us remember this leg of the trip with a fair bit of affection and are glad we stuck to the surface route.
NB When this post appeared in the original version of this blog in May 2010, my reference to mentalist Wayne Hoffman prompted several some less than favourable comments from people who enjoyed his show – most of which had to be moderated due to the particularly forthright way in which they were expressed.