Text and photos by Robert W. Bone
"It's 9:25. Going to Garden Cafe for b'fst. Don't forget ship's tour at 10 -- meeting at Reception."
After more than two dozen cruises together, we are aware that life on the high seas is a world away from what it is at home. Day-to-day routines are so different that we have had to establish special procedures so that we can enjoy ourselves on board.
On such a large vessel we would run across each other more by accident than by design if we didn't rely on written messages.
Phone calls help, too. You can dial your cabin from many points on the ship to see if your companion has come back from some activity to take a nap.
But you may simply get no answer if he or she is out taking tea in the lounge or addressing a tee in the golf simulator. Now many stateroom phones have voice mail, which is a big help.
1. UNPACK TOGETHER. There are so many shelves, drawers and cubby holes tucked into in a stateroom, even a small one, that you may never find some things you need on the voyage until it's over and it's time to go home.
The most common phrases heard after checking into a cabin always begin: "Hey, where's my..." If the two of you unpacked your luggage together, there's a good chance the other party will have an idea where to look for that elusive tie clip or cummerbund. Then put your suitcases under the bed for maximum room.
2. THE IMPORTANCE OF ROUTINES. Immediately set up some routines in your cabin. Accommodations probably will be smaller than you're used to, so you might arrange slightly different times for getting ready for dinner or other activities which involve stumbling over each other during the preparation stage.
And, as indicated above, leave notes for your cabin companion in a pre-selected place in your quarters. We like the bright pink or yellow pads with the stickem on the back, which we leave in a conspicuous place. We sometimes take small two-way radios (walkie-talkies) for use on board or even on shore during port calls.
3. ON-DECK NAVIGATION. Learn the layout of the ship as soon as possible after boarding. If a ship's tour is offered, by all means take it. If not, take a deck plan in hand and then explore on the first day to find the bars, restaurants, night clubs, shops, swimming pools, theater, card room, library, spa, gym, internet café, etc., and the best stairways and elevators to reach them.
When your companion wants to meet you at the lap pool, or there's a lecture you want to catch in the Starlight Lounge, you'll know exactly where to go and how long it will take to get there.
4. DINNER FOR EIGHT? In the dining room, eschew the table for two. On the first day ask the head waiter to assign you to a round table seating six or perhaps eight. That way, you'll get to know some other folks on the cruise right away.
And then if there are two sittings, choose the second so you can talk late without being hustled off to make room for the next gang.
5. THE SMOKING QUESTION. If cigarettes bother you, be sure to tell the head waiter so he can assign you a table with other non-smokers. Usually cruise ship dining rooms, show rooms, etc., are either non-smoking or divided into separate areas for smokers and non-smokers. However this is less true on some small or foreign vessels and others that do not cater as much to health-conscious Americans.
6. BE FRIENDLY AND EXPECT OTHERS TO BE TOO. Veteran cruisers know that half the fun is meeting new friends. You'll find plenty in common besides the weather. You can talk about the shows, the ports, the waiters, the stewards, the fitness coach or the captain. First thing you know, you'll be comparing pictures of your families.
7. THE FIRST NIGHTER. Avoid staying up late the first night out. You may be exhausted from last-minute packing, flying to meet the ship, etc., and you may not quite realize it yet. It's much better to go to bed soon after dinner and then face the first morning at sea fully refreshed.
8. SHORE EXCURSIONS. If you're going to go on shore excursions during the cruise, choose them as soon as possible and make reservations. Sometimes these can be done on-line before arriving on board. Tours sometimes fill up quickly, and you may be so busy later with friends and on-board activities that you forget to make arrangements in time.
9. A BUMPY RIDE? If the weather is rough, or if you think you may be prone to the effects of mal de mer, don't be ashamed to take a pill -- Dramamine, Marezine, Phenergan or whatever. We used to say we were never adversely affected -- until that miserable day when we were unpleasantly surprised. Follow directions on the box or bottle.
10. NOW HEAR THIS. Listen for interesting announcements from the bridge -- often the captain talking about course headings, temperatures, etc., perhaps in an amusing foreign accent. These are not always broadcast directly into the cabin unless you set a control correctly on the wall or tune in to a certain channel on the television – usually the same one that shows the view from the bridge.
12. DON'T OVEREAT. And do exercise as much as possible. On Crystal Cruises we discovered that in addition to the dual-seating dining room, there were three other restaurants, at least one of which always seemed to be open. Meals are generally included on a cruise, of course – except those in a specialty restaurant, which levy a surcharge. But unless you're used to having four and five-course dinners every night, it's very easy to gain pounds even on a one week cruise.
Thankfully, most cruise ships now offer well-equipped gymnasiums and strenuous workout programs which, if used, will help alleviate this problem. And, of course, there is often an outdoor promenade deck, where a given number of turns around the ship will add up to a mile. Use tricks like these to chart a course on the sea of healthy living.
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