We recently splashed the cash and booked a five-day Mediterranean cruise between Spain and Italy. As it was our wedding anniversary and we had never been on a cruise, I made sure we had one of the top packages to make it a memorable experience. And so it proved!
Being virgin cruisers, our idea of these excursions is based on romantic movies from a bygone era rather than hard facts. Innocently, we packed enough clothing to take care of any formal occasion from a wedding to an accidental meeting with Queen Elizabeth II. 90% of our luggage could have been left behind at the Barcelona Docks without it making a blind bit of difference to our ability to meld with the crowd. And what a crowd!
Oasis of the Seas turned out to be a monstrosity of a cruiser with capacity for 5,400 passengers plus a few more thousand staff to take care of all those sea-goers. As we climbed the gangway the height of a 10-story building we had the first alarm bells of “Oh hell, this is not good!” when two stewards delightedly yoohooed to us to come on board and have fun! I have a factory default setting of: “Organised Fun: NO” so, being urged to have fun on cue is a sure way of setting my teeth to grind.
We negotiated our way round the stewards on “happy drugs” and found ourselves in a gigantic food hall the likes of which neither of us had ever seen, even in a Dubai shopping mall. It was populated by a couple of thousand people who must have just come out of an International Convention For the Morbidly Obese & Excessively Tattooed. The second alarm bell sounded: “oh bugger, this is going to be a nightmare”.
As instructed on our cabin cardkeys, we made our way from Deck 5 to Deck 11 to find our luxury cabin. The cabin was fine, clean and relatively spacious; for a ship. There was a knock on the door; I opened it and before me stood a large Philippine man in his thirties with a friendly face declaring his name to be Jack. He did not look like Leonardo Di Caprio.
Jack: I will be looking abter you for the next bibe days, whateber you need, you can ask me.
Me: Thank you
Her: When will our luggage be delivered?
Jack: Bery soon ma’am
Me: OK, thank you
Jack: You must go back to Deck Bibe in halb an hour bor a sabety drill
Jack: at six, eberyone must go down to Deck bibe to listen to the Captain explain the security on the ship.
Her: Ah okay, we will be down shortly.
Jack: Anything else I can do bor you?
Her & Me: No thank you; see you later Jack.
We made our way down to Deck Five and the place was heaving with humanity. We found the specific part of the deck which corresponded to the code on our cabin cardkeys. A steward with a hand-held device clocked us in to the system and ordered us to join the end of line number three facing the front. On and on people turned up and a total of 8 lines were formed in our section with each line having at least 50 people in it. My second factory default setting is: “Attitude Amongst Large Crowd: NEGATIVE”.
Suddenly, the fifty or so giant screens came alive and a short cartoon was played urging us to “wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands”. After what seemed like 36 hours of this ditty urging us to wash our hands, a self-important looking person came on and with a Scandinavian accent similar to Chef from the Muppets declared: Zis is your captain, I velcome you on board Oasis of the Seas.
I didn’t know I had a captain but it was okay with me to have one, as long as I didn’t have to take him home at the end of the cruise.
My Captain went on about the importance of the emergency procedure and that it was designed for our vellbeing and safety, etc. Finally he said: “Ve vill now run a short film to explain to you the emergency procedures zo, you must not engage in idle talk and chit chat while the film is running. Goodbye!” My third factory default setting is: “Pompous Authority Figures: HATE”.
So, with an environment set up against ALL of my factory default settings, my operating system was primed for: SLASH WRISTS.
Being married for so many years, she knew I was now in a “bad place” and it brought a glint to her eyes as she anticipated “interesting 5 days ahead”. In any case, she was only marginally more tolerant of such situations than me.
As the six short hoots followed by a long hoot signalled the end of the drill, we were both ready to have something to eat and we randomly selected one of the many eateries on Deck 5 and queued up to get a snack. She sat at a small table while I went to get free food from the counter. Food was largely given away on the basis that the money you paid for your package included most of your food and drink needs, unless you wanted alcohol or a la carte menu from a couple of restaurants on a different deck. That explained the high percentage of obese people I picked a couple of sandwiches and some drinks to find her fuming: People are just passing by and leaving their empty cups and plates on the table I am sitting on!
This last remark from her kind of summed the type of people we were going to share our next five days with. We ate in silence; watched people pass by; left back to our cabin to find our luggage waiting for us. We busied ourselves unpacking. Separately, we knew we were in for a long and unpleasant five days ahead but hoped we were wrong. We had been on board for less than 3 hours, leaving 109 to go.