March 13, 2015
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
The cruise is over and we are back in Fort Lauderdale. I will probably have one more post after this one to sum things up. I guess I have been working on USAID projects too long because I always have to write my “lessons learned, best practices” memo. Right now I am still processing the lessons I’ve learned and what it all means. But right now I am looking out over a very green Atlantic and getting ready to leave for the airport.
The “closing campfire” was on the penultimate evening. Captain Jeroen Schuchmann had a receiving line with some of his officers but also in the line were representatives of the departments. So as I shook hands with the officers I also shook hands with the man who cleans my toilet, the person who delivers my laundry, the guy who paints the scuppers and one of the folks who wait on my table. It was a class act. The captain, in his final toast, saluted the the staff, who he had invited on stage and led a round of applause. The last time I sailed on a cruise, which was with my mom in the 1990s, there was not this type of staff recognition. Recognition is good but no substitute for decent working conditions and pay. I understand that since Holland America is now again flying the Dutch flag (for a while their ships flew a flag of convenience) the ship comes under EU labor laws, good for the crew.
I’ve been carrying a book around on this cruise “Burning Cold” by H. Paul Jeffers. It’s the story of the burning and sinking of the first Prinsendam in the Gulf of Alaska in 1980. More importantly it’s the story of the Coast Guard rescue of all the passengers and crew in 25 foot October seas. I loaned it around the ship, one person would see someone reading it and ask if they could borrow it. Through this book I’ve met several retired Coasties. I also met the Canadian dispatcher from Victoria who made the decision to dispatch Canadian helicopters to aid in the rescue. The captain holds parties for frequent cruisers. Near the end of the voyage the AMEX representative had the book with her and the captain asked if he could borrow it. I made it a gift to the captain who replied with a very nice letter and a Prinsendam baseball cap. He said it was a topic that held great interest for him. He was 2 or 3 years old when the original ship went down. In the receiving line he told me that he had scanned it and was looking forward to the full read. This is his first command but he has been staff captain, second in command, on Prinsendam for a couple of years. He took over in Lima. His style is a contrast to the original captain who would start announcements “Hello everyone, this is Tim, your captain.” The current captain starts announcements with “Good Afternoon, the Captain” or often just “The Captain.”
I was surprised at how accessible the officers are. They eat in the Lido, which is the cafeteria where most of us take breakfast and lunch, and not at some “Officer’s mess.” They stand on line with us, chat and we get to know them. The Chief Engineer is always particularly willing in talking about “his” ship.
The ship had stuffed penguins as mascots for this cruise. They were dressed in different outfits for different ports or theme nights. For our tours of working areas of the ship they were dressed as appropriate crew members. For the final lunch the penguins wore different national costumes. As a gift Holland America gave each passenger a stuffed penguin. We received several other “pillow gifts” along the way including a plate commemorating the voyage, chargers for mobile phones, brief cases, tote bags, ponchos, gloves and stocking hats for Antarctica, wallets, coasters, vanity kits, bottles of hand sanitizer and, fortunately, sturdy canvas duffel for each of us to carry it all. Trying to determine the value of these “pillow gifts” for the customs declaration was one of the challenges of disembarkation.
The last two sea days were about packing, and saying goodbye, but there were also lectures. Most of the lectures throughout the cruise were about where we were going and what was happening there. The last two days concentrated on continent wide issues to put what we experienced in context, human rights, democratic and economic trends, the status of women, the growth of evangelical and Pentecostal Protestantism and a Latin American Pope. They were a good capstone to the excellent lectures we’ve had. And the final lecture was just fun, a history of the race for speed of the Trans-Atlantic liners, Lusitania, Mauretania, Rex, Normandie, Queen Mary and, of course, the SS United States. I was raised with my Grandfather’s tales of these ships. He was so proud when an American ship took the title in 1952. He promised me that one day we would ride on her, and nine years later we did.
The final night most people were packing. Bags had to be out to the hallways by midnight. After packing people gathered in the Crow’s Nest, an observation lounge at the top of the ship. Most nights Andy holds the floor. He plays piano and sings, doing requests and sing alongs. He keeps the party going. There’s a regular crowd and Suzi and I are often part of it. The crowd includes many of the ship’s officers and the entertainers who drop by after their shows. Andy knows lots of songs and can pick up on more. He has a tablet computer with lyrics and chords. From the chords he can improvise piano accompaniment. He’s an entertainers’ entertainer and many of the requests came from the singers or band members who often sing along. On the last night all the regulars and most if the entertainers and younger officers were there. It was a cruise cast party with singing, dancing and conversation, a great way to end the cruise.
On Thursday morning we were supposed to begin disembarkment at 7:15 AM. Because of traffic in the harbor it didn’t start until about 8:30. Our time to disembark was scheduled at 9:00, we got off at about 10:30, which meant time for a leisurely breakfast and a chance to watch the sun rise across the barrier Island that protects the port from the Atlantic.
We took this cruise assuming it would be the trip of a lifetime, a one off, and we assumed that it would be that way for most of the others. But almost everyone else on this cruise is an experienced cruiser. For one couple at our table this was their 80th cruise. For many of our cruise mates the annual winter cruise is a substitute for a lake cabin or Florida condo. They take a long cruise every winter. A few take the same long cruise each year. At the breakfast table next to ours couples were saying goodbye with hugs and handshakes and “See you next year, same time, same ship.”