Building Civil Society on a Cruise Ship

At times I feel like I’m crashing someone else’s party.  Many of the people here have been on the world cruise before, perhaps most.  Coming onboard is like being the spouse at a high school union, except both of us are spouses.  Friendship groups have already formed and are tight.  The announcement by the cruise director says it.  “Welcome back everyone, to this world cruise family, oh and welcome to you first timers too.” However, we do know some people, folks we have met on Prinsendam.  And most of the veteran cruisers are open to world cruise newbies although there was a bit of one-upmanship in the conversation about travel, until Suzi mentioned being evacuated from Egypt during the Arab Spring.  Some of the stories are poignant.  One man who lost his wife 9 years ago is carrying her ashes with him.  She had wanted to visit 100 countries and he is keeping his promise to her.  That promise will be met by the end of this cruise.  On the other end of life, a toddler is trying to learn to walk on a rocking ship.

Many frequent world cruisers (and there are more than 800 “elite level” cruisers out of the 1146 passengers on board) report that Grand Voyages are a little less “Grand” these days.  The company has cut back on some activities and perks.  There are two ways to approach this.  One is to be unhappy and complain.  Approaching the front desk I heard the threats: “I’m a 5 star cruiser and this will be my last trip on Holland America,” (This, before we even left the pier), “I want off now and I want a full refund.” or “If I don’t get want I will sell all my stock in Carnival Corporation.”  I don’t think these people will really get off and I don’t think they are going to have much fun.  All I wanted from the front desk was a power strip and a map of the ship.  The desk guy I spoke with has an orange-ish Donald Trump type comb over.  I wanted to take his picture but did not have the nerve to ask.

The better approach is to organize your own fun.  At 11 AM first day out a group of about 250 people, who initially met on-line, gathered in one of the lounges and started organizing.  Now there’s a mahjong group, and two aquatics aerobic groups, a pickle ball league, a knitting group, a sewing circle, and a slots tournament (I think it’s creating a risk pool to share any net profits or, or more likely, net losses).  This is a textbook case on how civil society is gets started.  Americans are good at this.  I could use this as a teaching example overseas except I don’t think most of the people we work with could get their heads around complaining about being on a World Cruise;  First World problems.  Since we are on our first world cruise we don’t know what we may be missing, we’re happy.

Suzi and I showed up at the organizing meeting a bit bleary eyed.  Our in-room smoke detector went off at 2 AM with a piercing shriek.  The battery had gone low and it was telling us about it.  I called the front desk because I wasn’t sure if it was a battery issue or a potential real issue, and I have a history of reporting on ship fires.   A maintenance guy confirmed it was a low battery, and pulled it.  In the morning we had a new battery.

We settled in on the first sea day.  All our bags made it.  We explored the ship.  Our room is on the lower promenade deck.  If I walk 6 meters down the hall to the left and out the door I can take three and a half laps around the deck to walk one mile.)  But mostly I’m fascinated by the three story tall astrolabe in the main foyer.


9 thoughts on “Building Civil Society on a Cruise Ship

  1. Rich and Suzi, I am so happy you are on a world cruise as I am there with you vicariously. I love all the detail and your observations are fascinating. I know you are having a wonderful time as you are together. Stay safe.

  2. Nice to get an upgrade. Interesting to hear about the new society you are living with, or in.

  3. I enjoy reading your informative, interesting and insightful blogs. I look for a new one each day and hope you have time to write more blogs during your eight days at sea.

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