idol friends and rivals | week 18 | 1230 words
Many people think traveling by cruise ship is some kind of luxury vacation. My dad loved cruises—he and my mother seemed to go on three to four of them a year at one point in their retirement.
I think of cruise ships as being more like some kind of floating prison. Yes, you're moving from one port to another, and yes—you can get off the ship once it docks. But in the meantime, you're trapped. If you want to go for a long walk, you'll be doing your four to six miles in the form of 10-20 laps around the deck, depending on the size of the ship. You might as well just set up a hamster wheel in your room. All meals and other events will take place with a gazillion other people because they're trapped on board too.
It doesn't matter whether you actually need to go anywhere. You'll be hit with the random urge to bolt just because you can't. I had a coworker who felt the same way about cruise ships as I do, so it's not just me. Admittedly, I'm not great with car trips either. Yes, you can get out and move around every few hours, but in the end, you still have to get back in that car.
When my husband and I were planning our honeymoon in Greece, we decided to take a short four-day cruise to see some of the islands that would otherwise have been too expensive to visit. Neither of us much liked the idea of cruises, but we'd never done one, so why not?
Our ship was a beauty, neither huge nor tiny.
Many of the other passengers were Australians traveling for a pharmacists' convention, which was a bonus. Australians are delightful! The room was nice enough, the food was good. We soon found out why there were handles all through the bathroom (including the shower), and it would have been nice to have a rim around the edge of the bed—or seatbelts. The ship covered most of its distance at night, so sometimes you risked being tossed out of bed!
I'm a light sleeper, so I can testify that trying to sleep through all that heaving and yawing is a lot like trying to sleep on a train—worthless.
The first port was Mykonos, a pretty, sunny little town of blue and white houses. Many pictures in the "Cats of Greece" calendars seem to be photographed there (featuring cats that frequently appear to belong to whole neighborhoods rather than just one person). Mykonos is a lovely place to walk.
The next day was Rhodes, which was unbelievably beautiful. We visited Lindos and the Acropolis in the morning, and had the afternoon free in the old Medieval city of Rhodes, where we wandered for hours…
Wandered with one eye always on our watches, because you always worry the boat will leave without you.
Then we went to Ephesus, an ancient Greek city situated in what is now Turkey. The tour guide announced that we had two hours to look around (which is like giving someone two hours to see the entire Taj Mahal). The ruins were amazing (especially the library and theater), and the time passed all too quickly. We rushed to the bus and rode back down the mountainside.
Along the way, we spotted something unbelievable by the side of the road—one of those "Am I actually seeing this?" moments. There was a man outside with a dancing bear! He probably hoped the bus would stop, which it didn't—but it slowed enough for us to get a good look. I took a picture through the dirty bus window, which didn't come out very well but confirms that I didn't imagine it all:
It turned out that the bus was in a hurry to get back to the main port city, so we could all be given a demonstration and "opportunity" to buy Turkish rugs. Argh! Neither of us goes on vacation to shop, and we would rather have spent that time at the ruins! Little did we know that this was common for cruise-ship tours. I think there was a jewelry "opportunity" at another port.
As for the ship itself, there was one aspect my husband never got used to. The lower decks that hold the passengers' rooms all have metal "lips" around the hall doorways, so the doors can be sealed against water. My husband is very tall. He spent the first day tripping over the bottoms of those doorways and the next few days trying so hard not to trip that he hit his head on the tops instead. One time, he smacked into the surface so hard he saw stars and swore in front of a group of nuns! That doorway design was obviously needed for safety, but it was pure aggravation for him.
After a final stop at Patmos, the ship returned to Athens and our cruise was over. It was actually a pretty good experience overall (short is probably better), and we saw several gorgeous places in just those few days. Sometimes I even consider taking a cruise to Alaska, if only for the view of Glacier Bay from the sea.
A couple of years after our honeymoon, I was looking through a magazine and came upon pictures of a ship that looked really familiar. The name was visible in one picture, and it was definitely the ship we'd been on—the Oceanos.
In the magazine photos, however, the boat was sinking.
All these years later, I can still remember the basic summary of that article: the ship started to take on water and multiple systems failed, and when help came the captain took one of the first helicopters out, leaving more than 200 passengers to fend for themselves. Those passengers were instead safely organized into lifeboats and helicopters by the tour's in-house musicians.
Reading the extended details now, it appears that much of the crew—including senior officers—evacuated into lifeboats and abandoned ship without informing passengers of any danger, even when it was clear that the ship was doomed. The captain denied problems for hours, and refused to participate in the rescue. Later, he claimed he left on that early helicopter to "direct the rescue efforts from the air"—despite his disgraceful inaction while onboard. The South African Navy and Air Force accomplished the work on their own, with the diligent and extensive aid of the musicians and cruise director who were already guiding the onboard efforts.
The lead musical entertainer Moss Hills, who was lauded as a hero for his efforts, was also onboard the Achille Lauro three years later when it sank off the coast of Somalia…
So, now our fondly-remembered honeymoon ship is a monument to infamy forever buried at the bottom of the ocean. Poor little ship! It's hard not to take that personally, somehow, and to think that the universe might be sending a message about cruise vacations.
Fortunately, Moss Hills has surely retired by now. So, if we ever decide to venture out on another cruise in the future, we can at least be certain of one thing:
Whatever personal ship-sinking voodoo he holds will finally be out of the picture.
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