In an online conversation, I happened to mention that we were heading back to New York City from Bermuda in a “boat” amid 10-foot seas.
My correspondent was amazed. I quickly clarified that we were on a cruise ship not a sailboat. The reply was, “My idea of hell, stay upwind of the COVID-breathers.”
Well, there is that point of view and it seems the world is split in half on the whole notion of cruises and cruise ships. We have come to like them and have sallied forth several times in the Western Hemisphere with stops as various as Istanbul and Tierra Del Fuego.
We steer clear of the mega-cruise ships that hold 7,000 passengers and seek vessels that hold “only” 1,500 or so. Our Bermuda ship packed in 650 souls, making it a “medium-size” cruise ship. (It had 400 crew members.)
The main reason we chose to go to Bermuda was the ship’s departure location: an Uber ride away at Pier 90 on the west side of Manhattan. We haven’t flown since the plague seized the world and didn’t feel like going through the airport rigmarole quite yet.
We were met by a covey of beefy guys who take care of the luggage, led by an outgoing fellow with a 10-dollar bill displayed prominently in his right hand. So I gave him one and he called out my Red Sox hat, eliciting a comment from one of his colleagues: “Which bag is yours? I’ll make sure to give it special attention,” suggesting it just might get ripped open in the loading process. There was much giggling among the beefy guys.
We found our stateroom on deck 4, the second lowest of the passenger decks, in the forward-most stateroom on the port side. As is standard procedure, a particular attendant is assigned to each stateroom.
Ours appeared out of nowhere and called me Mr. James, which was pleasantly disarming. I scanned her name-tag and saw only an incomprehensible jumble of letters. She raised her leg slightly and pointed to her knee, and sure enough that was her name — Ni — who turned out to be a marvelous human being and a hell of an attendant.
Our experience aboard these cruise ships probably aligns with 99 percent of other passengers: The crew members are manifestly perfect in every way, helpful, polite and impossibly handsome. They mostly come from the Philippines, India and Asia. One of our waiters came from Bali, we learned.
Other than Ni, it’s the wait staff in the restaurants with whom you interact the most, but there are dozens so you rarely see the same one twice, other than the sommeliers who take the drink orders. We did, ahem, get to know these guys pretty well.
The food is quite good on these ships. On this trip there was only one real stinker: my piece of wahoo, a favorite Bermudian fish, arrived solid as a rock to the point where chewing it was a chore. I didn’t complain, however, because our waitress was so charming.
The night before I ordered the rack of lamb. It arrived and it was the smallest rack of lamb I have ever seen. I had ordered it medium rare and it was well done. The hostess happened to glide past just as I cut into it and I showed it to her.
She immediately took my plate away and brought back another rack from the kitchen. It too, was well done, but tasted great. The next morning the room phone rang. It was some guy apologizing for the rack of lamb incident. I told him that it tasted great and that the pieces of lamb were so small that it was impossible to cook them medium rare. I gave the meal an A plus and the guy seemed genuinely relieved. Who knew such a call was in the offing? Cruise ships, go figure.
We are reasonably social people. I actually enjoy meeting strangers. But we draw the line on sharing a table at a shipboard restaurant. We’ve learned the hard way that if the pairing is off-kilter, it can be really painful. We insisted a table for two at one of the so-called specialty restaurants (a steak house) and had to wait two nights to attain our solitude. It was worth the wait.
Speaking of socializing, usually we almost inadvertently make pals with another couple, but not this time. With one exception. We were milling about on deck 9 getting some breakfast as the ship was getting reattached to Pier 90 after the two-day trip at sea to Manhattan.
I made eye contact with a guy and somehow we wound up shaking hands. “I’ve been looking for you,” he said in a friendly tone. I was wearing my Red Sox hat as usual. He was wearing a navy blue shirt with a Yankees logo on the front. A moment passed and a silent conversation was completed. We parted.
The Yankees are the best team in baseball this year. The Red Sox had a great June but now are playing some of the worst baseball I’ve ever seen. Last year, they eliminated the Yankees from the post-season and came up two games short of the World Series.
I think the conversation was about these generalities and a million other baseball nuances surrounding these long-time rivals. The Yankees are cruising, pardon the phrase, to a World Series appearance and perhaps a championship. A few nights ago the Sox lost to the Blue Jays 28-5.
Thank heaven it was a silent conversation.