Cruising through the travelogue quagmire

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut

Travelogues and home movies were frequent fodder for 1950s sitcoms. The plots usually involved children and fathers trying all manner of shenanigans to get out of an invite to a friend’s house for a look at “our vacation slides.”

I think the truth is that vacation photographs, videos and especially “slides,” if anyone even does those, are only interesting if they are yours.

This trip my husband and I are currently enjoying is amazing. We have learned much, played a lot and been enthralled at the world around us. Still, I fear that columns showcasing “our vacation slides” may have readers clicking through to the next story.

What you may find more interesting is life aboard a cruise ship for 23 days and tidbits of fun things we have learned – or overheard – from the 3,000-plus guests and 1,200-plus Royal Caribbean staff with whom we are sharing space.

  • “Frequent cruisers” does not begin to describe some of our fellow passengers. At an event for “Loyal to Royal” members, one gentleman was enjoying his 138th cruise. “And that doesn’t count the 25 cruises I took on another carrier when I briefly strayed from Royal Caribbean ,” he said.
  • Staff on our ship, Explorer of the Sea, are from more than 54 countries. The majority are from the Philippines, with India and Indonesia coming in second and third.
  • The majority of the guests cruising on this voyage from Seattle to Sydney, Australia, are from the U.S., with Australia in second place. Third greatest number are from Canada and the Netherlands is fourth. In all, there are 47 countries represented.
  • Dan-Dan, our ever-cheerful cruise director, just celebrated his 27th year on Royal Caribbean. His wife and daughter are with him on this cruise and will stay on board until mid-November when he gets time off to go home for a couple of months. They live in Florida and were without power, according to his neighbors, for several days after Hurricane Irma. “We aren’t looking forward to opening the refrigerator,” he quipped.

    Santa is cruising the South Pacific, but Sherri Gardner Howell is keeping an eye on his schedule.

  • Santa is on board. I found him sitting in one of the lounges, all decked out in his red and white. “You do know that it is October, don’t you?” I chided him. “Shouldn’t you be home directing elf-traffic?” Turns out “Santa” is from Wisconsin. He went to Santa school in Michigan years ago, “just because I wanted to,” and worked and volunteered for years in department stores, malls and for charity events. “There was always a lot of work, and I just got tired of working almost every day for two months straight,” he said. “I decided to work for smiles, so I bring my suit when we cruise.” Royal Caribbean doesn’t pay him or give him any special perks, but they do let him sit around in his Santa suit where he happily poses for photos with guests of all ages.
  • Games in the Library/Card Room can get heated. From dominoes to Shanghai Rummy to canasta to hearts, there are nightly games that fill the room. I think the bridge players have their own space, because I haven’t seen them in the card room. If the poor woman next to me playing hearts last night didn’t start passing her opponent “a damn low heart,” I feared we might have to call medical for her husband.
  • Speaking of medical, we skipped a port call at a remote island called Mystery Island yesterday because of a medical emergency for one of the passengers. He was in critical condition and needed a helicopter evacuation, and we were too far out for the chopper to come. At 7 a.m., we were cruising lazily at 10 knots toward Mystery Island, due to arrive around 7:30. By 8 a.m. we were hauling it toward New Caledonia at 21 knots, which is probably top speed for this ship.
  • We have had fascinating conversations with our tablemates, who are from Spokane, Seattle (by way of New York), and Perth, Australia. We met two translators from the Netherlands who each spoke six languages. I enjoyed a snack in Café Promenade with author Bruce Caplan of Redmond, Washington, who wrote “The Sinking of the Titanic.” He was the guest of Mary Kellogg Joslyn and John Joslyn in 2010 when the Titanic attraction in Pigeon Forge opened.
  • Our first week of cruising I met a family on board from Crossville, and the daughter was proudly sporting a University of Tennessee hat. Haven’t seen it since then.
  • There is a baker on board whose only job is to make cookies. He makes more than 2.000 cookies every day. This week alone, the cruisers and staff have consumed 3,500 pounds of lobster and 75,000 fresh eggs.

There are so many more stories to tell. For a writer-journalist, a cruise ship is like falling into a treasure chest of human interest stories.

But the captain just dropped anchor on Lifou Island in New Caledonia, and we have excursion tickets to visit a beach and see the chief’s house in the village of Luecila. There are photographs begging to be taken. They will, of course, be included in the travelogue my family and friends will be too polite to refuse to watch when I get home.

 

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