The Cruise Experience Summary: A Supposedly Fun Thing We’ll Probably Not Do Again (Mike)
We decided to move to Europe by way of cruise ship for the simple reason that it cost way less than a flight. So we figured, why not? It also sounded fun to spend two weeks getting to the Old World the Old-Fashioned way: crossing the Atlantic in a ship. I’ve been fighting my natural urge to call it a “boat” which turns out to be almost a swear word around here. “Ship” is the preferred usage.
After 9 days, we feel the same way about cruising as we did after our Caribbean cruise in 2008: it’s pretty fun, but there are way better ways to travel.
Instead of offering a chronological account of our time on board, I’ll just provide you with a spattering of some of the sensory impressions we’ve had over the last week or so at sea (our first port, the Island of Madeira, wasn’t until day 8, so we had a full week at sea with no stops).
The entire ship’s crew, which numbers approximately 830 souls, is remarkably friendly and hospitable. From the Captain to the guys in masks scrubbing the stairs after somebody barfs (we’ve had a few rough days), everyone looks you in the eye, says hello, smiles, and asks you how you are doing. Somehow, these interactions come off as genuine.
The Captain is a dark-featured Greek guy in his late 30’s or early 40’s and is, we have to believe, the most charismatic ship captain of all time. A few nights ago, the late-night entertainment featured a panel consisting of the Captain, the ship’s entertainment director, and a comedian all essentially playing a game of Balderdash where they were given a word and two of them gave a fake definition and one gave the real definition and the audience had to try to guess which was real. The Captain was the funniest of the three by far. They got words like “Fullfart,” “Rectric,” “Dickphobia,” (which the MC awkwardly referred to as “Dyke-phobia multiple times – a poor choice considering the high number of LGBT people on our ship), and “Hashehole,” which left plenty of room for amusing innuendo.
Each time it was his turn, the Captain, completely deadpan, would pick up the microphone and say in his thick Greek accent: “Good Evening Ladies and Gentleman. This word is of course derived from the Greek” (regardless of what the word actually sounded like). For “Hashehole” he explained that the H is silent and refers to a ship’s two highest-ranking officers. “So, as you know, every ship has two asheholes and I am recently promoted to top ashehole. In fact, today I am one of Celebrity’s biggest asheholes.” He was killing it and everyone loves the guy. Laura spotted him the very first day with his might-as-well-be-an-underwear-model girlfriend/wife. With all the joking and schmoozing, it doesn’t seem like he spends any time actually running the ship. It’s good to be the Captain.
We should explain that, as we predicted, we are the youngest people on the ship by about 40 years. There is one other couple in their 20’s…out of more than 2,500 guests. We almost bought walkers just so we could fit in a little better. By the end of the second night, we were getting a little worried.
You eat dinner each night at 8:30 in the main dining room and your seating is assigned. We found ourselves the first night sitting with Hans and Pat, a really nice couple from Charlotte, South Carolina. Hans, who was the couple’s appointed spokesman, knew a lot about ships and the first night, we found this charming. However, it was soon obvious that this was all he was going to talk about and any other topics, like what we do or why we are moving to Europe for a year, were not worth discussing. Yet the miracles of dry-dock ship repair could be dwelled upon for huge chunks of time.
How were we going to get out of this social pickle? With 15 more night’s worth of dinners with the reserved Pat and ship-obsessed Hans in front of us, we were a little panicked.
Fortunately for us, we were saved by the miracle that is Zumba. That’s right, you read that correctly, Zumba. By way of back story, the first day on the ship we decided to use the gym. Given the average age of the guests on board (70), I figured we would find one or two people in the gym at most. Wrong. Turns out that old people love to work out. They love it. There was only one treadmill open, which Laura took. So I made my way up to the pool deck where an elevated track encircles two pools, two hot tubs, and rows of sun worshipers (at least for the two days of fifteen that it was actually sunny). The track is pretty small though, and this meant having to do hundreds of laps to run even a few miles. To make matters more complicated, older people ALSO love to walk on the track and they are anything but steady on their feet. They also enjoy walking diagonally, which made running on the track more of a stop-and-go experience. As I “ran,” a Zumba class started below me on the pool deck and I watched them go as I passed. As catchy Latin and African beats filled the air, it was soon apparent that the people doing Zumba were having way more fun than I was having huffing it around the track and trying desperately not to break the hips of the octogenarians scuffling around me.
So I resolved to give Zumba a try the next day. Laura, myself, and about 30 women aged 55-75 stood on the pool deck at 9am and salsa danced, grapevined, and booty-shook our way through 45 minutes of heart-pumping cardio Zumba led by a spunky blond British girl named Valentina. I’m sure it looked even more ridiculous than you are imagining. However, the 45 minutes went by in a flash and my shirt was soaked through with sweat as evidence that I had actually gotten in something resembling a workout. After smiling and high-fiving the gray-haired grannies panting all around me, I was hooked. We’ve done Zumba almost every day since and it’s catching on all over the ship. Now no fewer than four other dudes bashfully participate and our group has swelled to probably 60 people. Zumba fever is spreading all through the ship and there is no vaccine.
It was through Zumba that we met Lindsay and Mitch, who have the distinction of being the only other young couple on the Celebrity Constellation. Lindsay was at one of the first Zumba’s and after stalking her a little bit to make sure she and her husband were cool, we approached them at the breakfast buffet and introduced ourselves. They seemed like really nice people, but we had no idea just how awesome they would turn out to be.
On the third night, we approached the dinning room host and asked if we could get our own table. As he looked around for us, we noticed Lindsay and Mitch sitting at a table for two. We struck up a conversation and while we were talking, the host asked if the four of us wanted to sit together. We did. After our two previous snore-fest dinners, Laura and I were like kids in a candy store.
Lindsay and Mitch are totally outgoing and immediately peppered us with questions about our lives and our plans to live in Spain. It was like a breath of fresh air and we knew that the social aspect of the trip would be salvaged. Over the last week we’ve let couples crush unfurl over games of Cribbage, 31, and a new game they taught us, Euchre, which is a fantastic game. We’ve also spent lots of time at the craps table. After the first epic night, where Laura pegged the pit boss with dice no fewer than three times in a row, we’ve mostly lost our huge winnings back to the Casino, but we’ve had fun doing it.
Unfortunately, after the first three days, which were largely sunny and warm, we hit some overcast and rough sees that lasted the remainder of the first week. When you can’t lay by the pool, this really limits the options that are available during the day, so we spend most of our days in the café on Deck 4, listening to live guitar and piano performances every now and then while we watch the rolling whitecaps go by out the window. We booked tickets to see the Ann Frank house when we arrive in Amsterdam next week, so Laura read the Diary of Ann Frank and I am reading it now so that the experience is more meaningful. I remember reading it in high school, but wow, it is really a powerful book and is all the more devastating because she is so likeable and you know how the story will ultimately end. Interesting though that she wanted to become a renowned writer and ended up as the author of one of the most well-recognized books of our time, so at least there was some justice in that sense. Mostly though it just makes you feel like we have to do everything in our power to never repeat the nightmare tragedy of the Holocaust.
As you would expect, the ship is beautiful and paying a little extra for the balcony off our room was completely worthy every penny. We can hear the waves hitting the ship at night which makes it sound like we are sleeping next to the beach. Laura and I love napping anyway, but when you combine this relaxing ambient noise with the fact that Laura is hopped up on every type of seasickness medication (patches, pills, etc, all of which make you drowsy as a side effect), sleeping is probably our number one activity at this point in terms of total hours. The Gatsby schedule that we drew up before we left has remained in our bags, completely neglected. Oh well.