Antarctica cruise notes 5 – Demographics and cheerfulness

I was wondering why it seems that cruise passengers are for the most part from the US. Google reveals that about 59% of cruisers are from North America, and 26% from Europe. Celebrity is English-language centric, with occasional translations to Spanish and German. From some audience participation after a theater presentation, it seems that there are passengers from at least the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, China, Argentina, Japan, but primarily from the US.

Celebrity markets its approach to high-quality service, food and beverages. All crew who meet passengers are unflaggingly cheerful, with full eye contact greetings, and usually a humorous retort to any light conversation. Do non-Americans find this cheerfulness so very American? Is it attractive, part of the cruise experience, or do they roll their eyes?
While I am fully American, dedicated to being positive and cheery myself, being surrounded by people paid to be cheery to me — all the time and everywhere — gives me pause. Where else but the designed and contained world of a cruise ship (and some resorts) do you pay for a fully enveloping fabricated experience? The experience includes the activities and services, like in a city: food, beverages, spa, theater, shopping, casino, trivia games, library and much more. But it includes all the connective tissue between the activities and services too. You leave your wallet in the room safe, carrying only your ship card for ID and virtual payment. Menus (for the most part) don’t have prices on them because you can choose anything you want. You flow into the theater to see what is going on, perhaps with a designer martini in hand (no prohibitions of walking the streets with alcohol). You flow out again if you change your mind; you didn’t specifically pay $105 per seat, which in the conventional world would motivate you to stay from start to finish. (Is this what the world of Star Trek: The Next Generation would be like: no money, all your needs available at request?) Everything is designed to provide you with diversion and pleasure — and to make the cruise line some money as well.

There are naturally 1000 complex and specific reasons why the 1000 or so crew members work on this cruise ship. They come from all over the world, but seem mostly to come from the Philippines, Indonesia, Latin American and Eastern Europe — areas of low wages. Our experience of them so far is that they are remarkably well spoken, and flawlessly polite and positive. The cruise-line hiring process must be very well thought out and deliberate. These people seem predisposed to be both present and of service. I hope that this is good employment for them, and that they take some pleasure in their role in this service industry.

Our role is consumer and experiencer. We have saved our money and chosen to spend it for this enveloping, positive experience to and from Antarctica. I’m delighted that we have the great fortune to be able to travel so far to see such (hopefully) stunning interesting places. But are we a gentler version of the elite in The Hunger Games or any other distopian divided-class story? Everyone here is a willing participant. This have-more / have-less tension fuels most everything in the modern world. We are less fortunate than some; we are more fortunate than many — at least related to ability to travel and live in the world, and enjoy some economic security.

We get to enjoy a couple weeks of pampering and great travel, with the opportunity to be kind to everyone around us, and hope that they all increase their own good fortune as they wish.

Antarctica cruise notes 4 – Theater presentations

I come to all this with prejudice from who knows where that the theatrical productions on cruises are entertaining but cringe-worthy like suburban community theater. All targeting nostalgic boomers. But we are they, we are here, and let’s jump into all the cruise distractions. The production on the first night was a song and dance mélange fueled by 1970’s disco songs. Young enthusiastic cast in all shapes and sizes; one female lead had to sport a tight 70’s onesie that showcased her full middle, while one of the male dancers seemed to be 7 feet tall. Oh well, go with the flow, celebrate diversity. I wondered so much about all the performers’ stories: Is this a great résumé builder? Do you have to be pretty good to land this gig, or is this a way station to nowhere? What is it like to be a tiny ensemble of theater people, away from home, hidden behind the scenes except at show time, performing for an older crowd lulled by massages, cocktails and buffets — at least does it seem that way to them? In fact, the audience is delighted to be here, relaxed, old enough to have shed inhibitions, and probably really supportive of these talented young people.

The songs were all lively and expected (Disco Inferno, Boogie Wonderland…). The plot was appropriately loose: Aspiring singer torn between his high school sweetheart and the flashy established singer (sweetheart wins!). As the numbers rolled along, full of energy and tight choreography, with excellent cruise band backup, the rambunctiousness and joy took over. The performers were very good: great voices, impeccable dancing, endless energy. I hope that this cruise engagement is good for their careers and bank accounts, because they delivered such an enthusiastic and quality performance. (When and where did they rehearse to be so tuned?) Is there something in the water turning me into a cruiser?

Antarctica cruise notes 3 – Trivia games

60s Music Trivia: 20 song snippets from the 60s: Martha Rae and Vandellas, Hermin’s Hermits, The Archies, Build Me Up Buttercup, Bully Wooly… I realize in my music fog that my formative days missed these by a few years, although Mike and all our friends were right in there (sorry about being the “young” one here!). For them, within a few intro bars, snappy recognition, jumping in the seats. Even obscure titles. I’m more like, that sounds familiar; no idea who is singing (except the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash, artists who never go away in popular culture). At one point, the emcee tempts us by offering an extra point for all teams who come up and dance; in light speed, the dance floor is full of enthusiastic baby boomers, moving really well. I’m not that fast or motivated, but: Oh, that’s me too.

Progressive Trivia: 20 questions from all over the trivia spectrum. Our team of 5 is Hawaii France. The room is filled with competing teams. This is the second day; Mike and I missed the first when the team did pretty well: 15 / 20. Now we need to see if we can contribute a little to the team. Luckily, three French related questions: What is the flavor in Cointreau? What is the literal translation of crème brûlée? How do you spell turquoise? (orange, burnt cream, turquoise!). But: How old was Jimmy Hendrix when he died? (Jim knew it: 27.) How many of Santa’s reindeer have names that start with D? (We found only 2, but there are 3: Dasher, Dancer, Donner). Apparently there had been comments the previous day that the questions were too US-centric, so they included this: What is the name of the street on which the neighbors live in the TV show Neighbors? Neighbors, what is that? Turns out to be a popular Australian show, and the street is Ramsay. Oh well. What is the only year that can be expressed in Roman numerals in descending order? My trivial analytical mind, or analytical trivial mind, jumped at it: 1000, 500, 100, 50, 10, 5, 1: MDCLXVI or 1666. Useful knowledge? While I zoned out and felt culturally dumb during the music trivia, this one was great fun because it took our entire team to answer the questions; we balanced each other very well. One question was, On what classic movie was the animated movie Chicken Run loosely based? I remembered having seen Chicken Run, a claymation about chickens that are plotting escape from their coop (what motivated me to see this one?) but had no idea about its inspiration. Jim listened to my spare plot description and said, That sounds like The Great Escape. Correct! 15 / 20. Addicted; more tomorrow.

Antarctica cruise notes 2 – Germs

Berta and Jim had warned us that it is best to be careful in the ship because of the concentration of people and ability for bugs and viruses to spread quickly. Don’t touch the handrails if you can avoid them; wash your hands frequently; use the hand sanitizers that are positioned throughout the ship. This reminded me of warnings I had received once when in Beijing: Touch nothing, never touch your own face and eyes. Disease everywhere!

Among the documents we find in our room is a full page that explains that on the last cruise for this ship, there was an outbreak of something gastrointestinal, perhaps norovirus. The ship has been scrubbed and disinfected top to bottom. But be careful. As we start to explore the ship, we find crew members at the entrances to the food venues, holding sanitizer dispensers, offering every passerby a squirt of cleanliness, and a cheery greeting.

After a couple of days, I can climb multiple flights of stairs, and float independent of the handrails.

Antarctica cruise notes 1 – Embarkation

How to process 200 people onto the ship? Like 10 big planes all at once. The cruise terminal in Buenos Aires was well-organized. We were given numbers, and as groups were called into the check in and immigration zone. Because of a computer problem at immigration, the process from arrival at the terminal until first step on the ship took about 2 hours.

Walking up the gang plank to the ship is a pleasure: at last, we are on our way to Antarctica! Then squeezed through a small opening, into the relative dark, photographed and given ID cards, people everywhere and every direction, closely packed, glasses of champagne in many hands. It suddenly felt claustrophobic, buffeted. I pushed to the other side of the knot of people, at the base of an illuminated stair in a double volume. Caught my breath, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

Continuing the tales of international cats

Badoit seems to have looked around and decided that she likes this new place. She is completely at ease. The two large doors that open onto the south-facing terrace let in a lot of sunlight. But the bottom two feet is solid, which means that a cat can’t sit and look out. So we moved a chair over there. Badoit instantly jumped up, surveyed her new territory, curled up and went to sleep. We bought a seat cushion for her, and now this is her place. At this very moment, she is sitting in the full sun, in the midst of a full cat bath.

On the other hand, Pelegrina can’t seem to get comfortable with all these changes. She spends the days under the covers in our bed. She joins us at meal times (she is a cat, after all). When we are sitting in the big chairs in the living room, she sometimes will come to sit on top of one of us. And she sleeps on the bed at night with us. But she is skittish about any new noise, and tends to cough up her food if startled. She does seem to take comfort when we are here, but when we aren’t, she is back under the bedcovers. Hopefully this is just a slower process for here to acclimate. Nonetheless, we have an appointment with a recommended local vet for early next week.

Mike’s wound

We had a little medical emergency, with a surprise nice resolution. We had bought some inexpensive drinking glasses to tie us over until our belongings arrive in a couple months. Mike was washing one of them by hand, and it suddenly snapped into pieces, slicing across is right-hand little finger. Lots of blood! It was obviously more than just a small cut, but it wasn’t deep either. He held his hand up above his heart for a while; the bleeding slowed, but didn’t quite stop. We were wondering what we should do in this new town and in French.

All this happened just before we were scheduled to go over to our landlord’s house so he could help with a call to the internet/TV company. Mike stayed at home, with hand raised high, and I went to the appointment. I explained what had happened, hoping that Georges and Michèle would have a recommendation for where we should go to get the cut inspected. Surprise: Georges said (in French): “But I am a doctor! I would like to see the cut.” We didn’t know that he was a doctor! So I went back home and brought Mike back to their house. Out came a little supply case of tools and medicines. From the way Michèle behaved, instantly supportive at Georges’ side, I think she must have been a nurse. Or: They do have 3 children, so lots of parent training as well. George agreed that it was a cut above average, but quickly applied a tight butterfly suture to hold the skin together, and wrapped it all up in a bandage. He even gave Mike a tiny finger condom to protect the wound when he showers.

We think we have landlords with super powers! I’m writing this a few days after the day of the wound. George emailed last night, insisting that we stop by today so that he can see how it is healing. We have great good fortune with such nice helpful people here.