On the one hand, holy moly this trip is so much different than I expected.
There are SO MANY PEOPLE. I don’t even know how to adequately express this to you. There are people everywhere. There is never not a person. Think you’ve found some secluded wine bar that is the ship’s best-kept secret? Just wait 24 hours – it will be standing room only. Wanting to have a quiet moment on the railing of a deck in some far corner of the ship? Expect there to be 2-3 couples looking for a quiet moment themselves. Think you’re alone ascending a remote staircase at 2am? Surprise! There’s another person ascending it with you. This ship weighs 86,700 tons – 20,000 tons more than the titanic – so it seems like we should have some measure of breathing room. And yet the sheer density of humans is almost overwhelming.
Plus, my stateroom is the mother effing pits. It is six floors down, aft (that’s nautical speak for in the rear) and in the middle of the ship with no windows. Not even a porthole to look out of, because I do not belong to the upper echelon of cruisers who can afford such luxuries (read: I am poor, and just barely scraped by with enough credit card points to book this trip to begin with). I never notice the movements of the ship when I’m up on deck, but in my stateroom I feel every turn, every acceleration, every shift in direction to the most minute degree. If I’m standing up straight, staying upright and perpendicular to the floor requires a complex, choreographed clenching of different muscle groups in my feet – from my toes, to my arches, to my ankles and back again. If I’m sitting down, the most readily available indicator that we’re on a boat is the sound. The engine whirrs, water glasses rattle on my nightstand, and (worst of all) hangers clank into each other in the closet. I didn’t make it one hour into my first night before getting up to put the hangers on the floor. All of this makes me queasy. I have vowed to spend as little time in my room as humanly possible.
Also, not to beat a dead horse here but going north is such a stinkin’ bummer. Not only is San Francisco not my destination-of-choice, the travel to San Francisco is proving to be a disappointment as well. When I look out over the railing the waves are choppy and the sky is gray. I cannot wear 90% of the clothes in my suitcase because it’s just too darn cold. It is (naturally) the only viable topic of conversation among strangers on this boat – so my disappointment is multiplied whenever I engage with any fellow passenger. Nobody is swimming in the pools, although the hot tub is always full to the brim. There certainly isn’t any tanning to be done. And these last two facts are exceptionally depressing considering that I bought not one, not two, but FOUR new bathing suits for this trip.
But on the other hand, holy moly this trip is so much different than I expected!
It’s true that there are SO MANY people. So many more than I could have possibly anticipated. But the caliber of people is also noteworthy. Shortly after writing my last post, I dined in the main dining room with six delightful other passengers – all of whom were old enough to be my parents, if not grandparents. Incidentally one couple did have a daughter my age who just got married last year, and is now expecting a little girl. (She was quick to assure me that everyone’s path is different, though, and that I shouldn’t be concerned about being 29 with no children or marriage prospects.) Another couple hailed from Liverpool, England, and their accents were so charming that I found myself asking questions just to listen to their voices. The third pair were sisters, Betty and Bernice. The older sister, Bernice, struggled to follow our conversation over the cacophony of tinkling silverware, but just smiled across the table at us in wide-eyed contentment. Occasionally we would lock eyes and she would grin warmly at me; I liked Bernice a lot.
Afterward, my table mates led me to the BB King’s Lounge – where a seven-person jazz band absolutely ignited the room with funky tunes from the 60s and 70s. I had a blast watching some surprisingly talented fellow passengers on the dance floor, and singing along to Barry White and the Temptations.
After some time at the jazz lounge, I decided on a whim that I wanted to walk around the entire perimeter of the boat at least once – so I brought a glass of wine with me and headed to the deck. And let me tell you – I got a whole new nighttime perspective, both on the ship and on the watery world around me.
For starters, as it turns out the ship is only densely populated at the times and places where, well, you’d expect it to be densely populated. Late at night on a freezing deck, walking around the perimeter of the boat? I might as well have had the ship to myself.
I also came to appreciate the surroundings of the ship a bit better: At nighttime the sky, for instance, isn’t blue – it’s black. The sea also isn’t blue but black. Just pure, heavy darkness and black as pitch in every direction. There is no horizon – no distinction between earth and sky or water and air. If it weren’t for the sound of the crashing waves and the wind on my face, I’d think we were sailing into nothingness, into nonbeing – like we were swallowed into a black hole and this ship is the only little oasis of light and life in the universe. This train of thought – and its subsequent image – actually made me pause in my tracks and sit down on a deck chair nearby to collect myself. I took a deep breath and tried to respect the vast darkness around me without giving it credence enough to cause me fear.
Then I went to bed. And you guys, I take back everything I ever said about my room. That back and forth motion I absolutely hate standing up? It turns my bed into a giant personal cradle laying down. And the lack of windows? Screw windows – who needs ‘em? My room gets as blackout dark as the sky outside. Speaking as a chronic insomniac, it’s like this ship was built to put me to sleep.
And the itinerary change? Well, I guess that still stinks. But I’m trying desperately to make the best of things, because it is in my nature, and optimism the song of my people.
So, all in all I’d say “different than expected” is the theme of the trip so far – but different doesn’t have to mean bad, and anyway it’s all part of the adventure, right?
In any case, off to San Francisco I go!