Sunday, July 29, 2012

Crazy Cruising (Oceans, Not Bars)

Continuing my thoughts on cruising, some of the cultural issues of the ship were really notable: they have a staff of more than 900 people for about 2,200 guests. Of those 900 crew members, 15 were American. I am convinced that the cruising industry is the only thing (barely) keeping the Greek economy on this side of solvency, because they seem to employ a huge number of Greeks. Truthfully, most employees are Indian and Malaysian, with many Filipinos as well. What was obvious to me was the great stratification of nationalities: all of the officers are white/European. All of the top dining personnel were also white and European, yet I didn't see a single white waiter. The same stratification exists in the hotel side of the ship as well; I didn't see any white stateroom attendants, the people who clean your room twice a day, make sure everything is in working order and to your liking, and turn down your bed at night, yes, with chocolates included. I asked a lot of employees about this, and they told me the separation exists socially as well, with people of most nationalities exclusively hanging out with others from their country. Please keep in mind, many of these employees work 13 hour days, and all ship employees work seven days a week, so there isn't a tremendous amount of social time if they want to sleep at all.

The thing I didn't grok about cruising is that it is its own culture, though I should've figured this out by the fact that there are two formal nights on board the ship, when people dress in black tie clothing. There are standards and rituals that seem to be unique to this form of transportation, and many of them are just freaking weird. The most notable example is the parade in the main dining room with all of the restaurant staff at the end of the cruise. They shut the drapes in the dining room to block out other distractions, blast music, flash lights, and literally have the dining and kitchen staff walk around the dining room while diners cheer and twirl their napkins in the air. It was honestly the strangest thing I've ever seen, yet allegedly it happens on every cruise ship and goes way back in history (though probably without the light and sound spectacle). It lasted about five minutes, at the end of which I asked David, "So, now do we kill them and eat their young?" It was truly bizarre, then the shades went back up and everyone acted normally.

As far as I can tell, everything that happens on a cruise ship happens for one reason: to separate you from your money. There is no limit to the amount you can spend on a ship. Coca colas start at $2.50, and all of the entertainment takes place in locations where it is desirable to have a drink, and would even be awkward not to. There is a whole floor of shops where they sell mundane tourist shlock, but also Faberge eggs and luxury watches and luggage. The Celebrity Millenium even had an authorized Apple reseller, so there were people buying iPads and MacBooks. The formal night plays into this: you dress up and then get your photos made for free. We bought a package at an exorbitant cost, and we never dressed in black tie.

There is no end of amusement on a cruise ship, and you can literally spend your whole vacation on the boat if you desire. There is some kind of performance every night on board. There is a house cast, which is quite good. I had to resist the urge to pull the cruise director aside and tell her that it is very ironic that a performance that includes "You Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray didn't have a single black cast member in it! There were various other acts, including a comedian and a very good magician named Adam Trent. My favorite performers were North By Northwest, an a capella group formed for the ship. They were really special, and we went to hear them a few times. I also really enjoyed the naturalist on board, who gave lectures on topics like glaciers and whales. He also narrated certain points of the journey. There are different games on board, like karoke, trivia, and a newly-wed/not-so- newly-wed game. They host daily fitness and dance classes, too. There are also daily AA meetings, those these are always inconveniently timed if you're actually off the ship for an excursion. The programming on the ship was so good, I always found myself trying to balance my energy between going and doing things off the ship, and doing things on the ship, too, that I wouldn't get the chance to do in my everyday life.

I have to admit I could get used to life on board. I enjoyed the hot tubs and pools, where we met a lot of fun people (and, admittedly, quirky couples). I loved having someone to tend to my room, and the ability to have cottage cheese, fruit, and hot tea delivered to my room 24 hours a day for free. However, it was also very awkward for me to feel "waited" on all the time, by people who depend heavily on passengers for their livelihood. I went back and forth between feeling like it was awesome they had a job where they earned such good money, to wondering if they were being exploited, and sad that they leave their infants for six months at a time to earn a living.

I would consider cruising again. It worked well with my energy/physical limitations, in that I always had the ability to get back on board if I was run down, and I got to see a lot of places without re-packing my things. What is sacrificed is any kind of depth, so I would prefer a cruise that docks for two days at some ports so you could explore the port city more thoroughly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a lot of awkwardness around folks waiting on me: my DIY, self-reliant streak is very very strong. I think that was the hardest aspect for me. Well, that, and eating without having to was dishes leads to eating more than I normally would...