A Cruise Guide for Beginners

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Every cruise is a new experience and our recent one was no exception. On the first day, before sailing, there is always a lifeboat drill – just in case! The whistle sounds and the instructions are, “Please go to your cabins, collect your life vest, DO NOT put it on, grab a toolkit, then proceed to your assembly station!” It’s amazing how such precise instructions can quickly result in complete and utter chaos, but that’s a story for later. Personally, I was okay with the life vest instructions but I did wonder about the toolkit!

Meanwhile, on our second cruise day the ship’s whistle sounded the alarm so loudly that I nearly fell off my chair and some elderly folk had to adjust their hearing aids. “This is an emergency drill for crew only. Please DO NOT go to your cabin and get your life vest.” Needless to say, enough people missed the vital words “DO NOT”! We were actually in our cabin at the time and about to leave, but since our lifeboat was directly outside the window I thought it would be instructive to watch it being deployed. After all, it would only take a few minutes… or so I thought.

The whole process was most enlightening. I now know exactly how many crew members it takes to launch one lifeboat and why a toolkit might be needed. One person on the left winds the winch whilst another stands on the right. Then there’s the important looking guy wandering around with an intercom and the even more important guy offstage who is summoned when something goes wrong – which of course, it did! The winch got stuck and the lifeboat became crooked. More manoeuvring made it even more crooked. Then there was lots of telephoning, shouting, shrugging, gesticulating – just like in an Italian restaurant. Well, after all, it was an Italian ship! Time is of the essence when the ship is going down. In this case fortunately it was only the lifeboat – going down the side of the ship. I believe it was the hammer which finally unlocked the winch and with a sudden lurch the lifeboat began its descent – after a really long time. I took a photo through the window, which didn’t impress the crew members. Subsequently, I felt it was prudent not to hang around and observe the reverse process.

One highlight of cruising is the wide choice of dining options. On this ship we decided to first visit the main cafeteria. It was very busy, lots of people milling around but not many waiters in sight. I saw one waiter in the distance so I waved to him and he waved back as he disappeared. (The staff are always so friendly on these cruise ships). Finally I spotted one staff member standing in the corner, so I approached him and asked, “Can you serve us?” to which he replied, “No I can’t! I’m new here. They said they were too busy for me, so I should just go to the restaurant and wait!”

It’s well known that crew members on board a cruise ship work very hard and some of them even have multiple jobs. You might recognise your server in various outfits at different locations. You may even see him/her on stage sometimes in a particular feature show. Crew members are very versatile indeed, which leads me to the next episode.

If you’re a lucky passenger you will get invited to the captain’s champagne reception. Nobody is quite sure what the selection criteria are but we received an invitation which we gratefully accepted. At the reception there was a food buffet but once again no waiters anywhere, only self-service. I said to the captain, “This is a nice ship” and he said, “Thank you. Welcome onboard – do you have any questions or concerns?” I said, “Well there is one thing which bothers me. While you’re here meeting with us, who is steering the ship?” He replied, “Why do you think this buffet is self-service?”

After the first two days I felt really comfortable aboard our ship – especially when we were in port! For me it’s a bit like flying – I always feel most comfortable when I’m at the airport. Still, there is never a shortage of things to see or do and it’s hard to get bored so if you’ve never tried cruising before it’s something to consider. We recommended cruising to some friends of ours and if I ever see them again I will ask them how they are enjoying it. If you’re curious and want more detailed information about cruising then “Cruise Critic” is one example of the many online sources available. I mention this website only because I have nothing whatsoever to do with it, but it works for me. Happy cruising! This blog comes to you from a lifeboat somewhere in the Caribbean!