Life At Sea

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Holland American Lines photos

Holland America Lines is one of the more upscale cruise lines in author Ken Brooks’ opinion. In addition to Holland America, Brooks includes Celebrity and Princess Cruises as slightly more upscale. Higher quality cruises are those offered by Oceania, Azamara, Silversea, Crystal and Seven Seas Cruises, Brooks says.

Since my Navy service years I have had a love for the sea and the ships that sail the world. It has been my pleasure to have cruised on many passenger ships and enjoyed at least 80 cruises to date. I began the cruise experience sometime in the 1960s. From New York City I spent a week on the Greek Lines Olympia to Bermuda then, Home Lines Homeric for about 10 days in the Caribbean. These two cruises began my real interest. I would always get the New York Times Sunday newspaper and spend a lot of time with the large travel section each week. This is how I would decide what cruise I would enjoy next.

Let’s now skip ahead a couple decades to 1988 when I was between positions and someone told me that a major cruise line was hiring port lecturers. I had loved ships so much that I thought it just might be great to go to sea for awhile and experience what is really another world.

My port lecture duties involved giving a talk to the passengers before the ship tied up at each port informing them of the do’s and don’ts when they went ashore — and, more importantly, pitching the various stores and shops that paid the cruise line to advertise their services. I used some of the chorus girls to demonstrate merchandise as they walked around the audience in the main lounge. The talks were also videotaped and played several times on the ships closed circuit television system that feeds into the staterooms. After the ship docked I would stand at the gangway and hand out town maps with the advertiser shops clearly marked so the passenger could find the stores we talked about.

I was assigned to work on a 1,250-passenger ship that was only 5 years old when I came aboard and it was simply a pleasure to work in. I lived in a junior officer’s cabin that was probably 165-square-foot in size and had a double bed, desk, couch and coffee table. I also had a TV set and VCR. That was home for seven-and-a-half months.

My duties not only included the port lecture position, but also working two days a week in the shore excursion office selling tour tickets to the passengers. I was also assigned to attend the singles party at the beginning of each cruise and hosting a table in the dining room twice during the seven-day cruise. The ship, during my employ, was based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and we sailed at 5 p.m. every Saturday afternoon for San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, then to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and finally Nassau in the Bahamas. We did this itinerary every week with the exception of a Christmas and New Year’s cruise, which took us to South America.

I wore a staff uniform with a name badge most times when leaving my cabin, and many of the passengers thought I was the cruise director. He was always busy with administrative duties and stuck in his office most of the sea days. I was more visible as I made the rounds about the ship and my talks in the main lounge several times each cruise. The cruise director made all the officer and staff introductions the first night out as well as announcing each nightly show in the theater.

The experience was interesting for me in many ways. I got to meet many of the passengers who were from all sections of our great country. The ship performed all services so well that I heard very few complaints in all the time I was onboard.

Some of the more unusual experiences would include a lady who boarded early and sat by a window in her large, deluxe stateroom most of the afternoon watching the dockside activity of the boarding process, luggage handling, and cargo being loaded and so on. I happened to walk by her open cabin door and she hailed me to say that she wanted to be escorted to the “front office” to see the chief purser. Her complaint was that she wanted her room to be changed because she did not want to spend a week on the ship looking at the dock. We explained that the ship would be sailing soon and the views from her cabin window would change for the balance of the week.

She responded with a grateful thank you and I escorted her back to her stateroom.

One day while the ship was at sea I stood by the main stairwell between two public decks and a lady inquired “does this stairway go up or down”? I looked at her for a few seconds to see if she was kidding or serious. She was serious! I asked, “Do you want to go up or down?” She said up! I then said “It will be an up stairway for the next 30 seconds.” She smiled and proceeded up the stairs. This happened not once, but twice while I worked onboard.

One first morning at sea I was standing in line at the breakfast buffet and a young couple that was waiting in front of me saw that I was one of the staff and inquired how the ship got its power. I found it difficult that they did not realize a ship had an engine room that fed off fuel to power it. I looked out the wide windows of the room and saw a large Bahamas Island in the near distance and said, “See that island? At night, when passengers are asleep, our engineers roll out a very long power cable, plug it into a system that provides electricity we store until the next night when we plug into another nearby island.” I expected a big laugh! But no, they looked at each other and said, “Thank you, we wondered how it worked.” The rest of the cruise I kept looking for them to stop and tell me that I hadn’t told the truth and they would complain to a higher authority. I never saw them again!

One late afternoon I was spending some time near the aft outdoor swimming pool and I heard some commotion at the rail on the port side. I gazed out at sea and saw a large waterspout about a quarter of a mile away. We were going through a tropical storm which I enjoyed watching from a sheltered deck chair in my bathing suit. Most knew I was part of the staff and inquired if the waterspout would harm the ship. I responded with, “No, they do not hit passenger ships.” The crowd seemed relieved and I departed the area.

On the South America cruise I took a shore excursion at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which included a visit to a major museum. One lady complained that she did not understand why the tour had stopped there. I said, “To enjoy all the great artifacts the museum contains.” She responded with, “It’s just a bunch of old junk!” Well, you can’t please them all!

On the two nights each week that I hosted a table for eight in the dining room the drill was: I would arrive dressed in a tux, be escorted to the table where the section dining room captain introduced me to each person at the table. With that out of the way I began small talk about the cruise ports of call and quickly got them to talk about themselves. This usually flowed well and the experience was rather enjoyable. I would host a different table each of the two nights. Two officers were also assigned the same duties each cruise. One night, my table mates were all Korean from Canada. They spoke hardly any English and one man kept videotaping me while I ate. A few days later I found out they all thought I was the owner of the ship and were excited to be dining with me.

The officers and crew were the best and I was proud to be serving aboard a great ship with them. Today’s ships are extremely comfortable, safe and loaded with pleasure. Why not try one soon? Your travel professional will give you brochures, good advice and do the booking for you. Bon Voyage!

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