Mollie and I have just returned from a treat in celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary (which was actually last December). It was a week’s long Caribbean cruise aboard Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam, still in her inaugural season. I thought our collection of impressions and facts might be of interest on several levels, including the evolution of cruising as recreation and as a business.
Hollywood entertainment is ubiquitous around the world, so I don’t have to describe to you how cruising was designed in the day of the Titanic. When I revealed my submariner past to our Indonesian wine steward he was eager to comment on having seen not only “Titanic”, but the movies “Hunt for Red October” and “Crimson Tide” Such is the sweeping power of American media to homogenize culture! I find that significant. I wonder how many of the young demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have seen those movies, and many others too? With democracy and first-world life-style on full display, is it any wonder that dictatorships are falling? The wonder is that it has taken this long.
The Nieuw Amsterdam is Holland America’s newest and biggest so far, but we have been on their ships before and it is clear that the design and the business have evolved to a standard. Other than sheer size and the obvious newness of the furnishings, the layout and operation were, with tiny exceptions, the same as before. The artwork displayed was of course different, but still of very high quality. Two large dining areas on decks 2 and 3 in the stern, and a large buffet amidships on deck 9. Two swimming pools, the larger with sliding covers amidships. The buffet appeared to operate pretty much around the clock, sometimes full-service and sometimes limited. The food quality was superb all around.
If a sociologist or psychologist needed a laboratory in which to study modern human behavior I would suggest a cruise ship as an ideal setting. For example, there is anxiety apparent in some cruisers, probably first-timers, when the cruise starts. They crowd the buffet and load plates heavily, but soon the portions are diminished as satiety is achieved. Similarly, the dining room is more popular on the first night, but some clearly prefer the larger food portions of the buffet to the dining rooms’, which are designed to fit activity. (One can pretty-much distinguish the two types by their distinctive profiles.) Another predictable phenomenon is swimming-pool behavior, in that people “stake-out” lounge chairs early with towels and possessions and then leave them largely unoccupied during the day.
Passenger pastimes should also be of interest to behavioral analysts in how idle time is used. There are games such as trivia, the Marriage Game, and lectures on things such as shopping and getting more out of your digital camera, but this is pretty thin gruel if you ask me. The casino, open only while at sea, was always crowded, and the ship’s store attracted a good number of lookers if not buyers. The main items were over-priced high-end leisure clothing and jewelry. I, having forgotten our toothpaste, invested $5.99 in a small tube of Colgate.
You might (or might not) be glad to know that despite the Great Recession, the cruise business appears to be booming. When we arrived at the port of Ft. Lauderdale there were eight huge cruise ships in port, including the largest in the world, the Allure of the Seas. This behemoth displaces about 100,000 tons, is 154 feet in beam at the waterline (way too large for the Panama Canal), and has a capacity of 6,300 passengers! I understand its center court is much like an American mall. (I don’t know what the designers are smoking, but people are buying tickets anyway. “There’s a sucker born . . .” ) Like the others it is diesel-electric powered, just like the submarines of my youth. They are designed for their purpose – the diesels provide the AC power which in turn powers everything else, including fore and aft side thrusters which make pier-side maneuvering a snap and tugs virtually obsolete.
Here is an interesting factoid. A tour of the ship “behind the scenes” was offered for $150 per person, only twelve tickets available. I assume this would be a glimpse of the working innards beneath the glamor: engineering, kitchens, crew’s quarters. Thanks but
no thanks, I prefer to keep the fantasy. Actually, I got that kind of “glimpse” for “free”. I still have visions of “rigging for dive” when as a junior officer on a submarine it would be my turn for the duty of physically checking against a formal check-list the proper position of every critical valve from forward to aft in the entire boat as it was putting out to sea. I know that kind of machinery and plumbing all too well.
Cruising does not make financial sense. I figure our 7-day venture cost us something over $5,000, or something over $700 a day. Why would it be worth that? I have puzzled over the answer. It was exotic, a total change of pace from our normal life, a whirlwind of having a large cabin, a nice veranda on the stern out of the wind, and being catered to by
well-trained professionals who did a really good job of “liking” us the whole time. And then there was this one time. It was about 6:30 PM, in the “crow’s nest”, the observation lounge at the top, forward. Magnificent sunset, brilliant orange through twin lines of clouds on the horizon, sea state low. A single vodka martini, straight-up, extra olives. A few salted peanuts. Guitar player playing softly for us and only about four others. Priceless. I told Mollie, “Let’s do this every 50 years.”