Cruising, for those who've never traveled by oceangoing liner before, is an exciting and entirely different style of getting from Point A to Point B - usually with a few exotic ports-of-call in between.
What my wife and I found during our first cruise is that it's sort of like being in a time warp. Not a "Twilight Zone" time warp - more of a "Gee, I wish this would last forever" time warp. For one totally relaxing week we put the calendar on hold. No TV. No phones (except for room service). No stress. We didn't even get seasick . . . or homesick.Activities on board run literally from A to Z: from "anything" (and/or everything) to zilch (for those who want to just be totally lazy).
Here's my own, personal "Lincoln's Log" of seven days at sea. For some other pointers, see the related story below.
DAY ONE - My wife, LuAnn, and I fly from Salt Lake City to L.A. International Airport via Delta Air Lines. We had a bad experience at the Salt Lake airport but hoped this wasn't a harbinger of things to come.
After we arrived in L.A., my nephew drove us to the sprawling World Cruise Center on San Pedro Bay in Long Beach, where several berths handle a constantly changing array of cruise liners. Most of them are either heading north to Alaska or south along the Mexican Riviera, depending on the season, with others going into the South Pacific or sailing on through the Panama Canal.
Since our cabin had been pre-assigned, we unloaded our luggage, with promises that it would be delivered directly to our room, then we got in line to go through other embarkation procedures. Nothing complicated, just some simple paperwork to make sure you're all pres-ent and accounted for.
(Before we left, my children made me promise I would do at least two things on board the ship - play shuffleboard, which I did, and try my very unskilled hand at skeet-shooting. But we discovered that, just like the airport, ship passengers also have to go through metal detectors to prove that they're not carrying any arms on board. I don't even own a gun anyway, so this was no problem.)
Once on board, we went right to our room. We were reassigned to another cabin, so our luggage was slightly delayed. We got acquainted with our room steward, Wally Sibaja, a friendly, energetic young man from Costa Rica who went out of his way to make our weeklong stay aboard the Princess very pleasant, then we ventured out onto the boat deck.
We were still a little unsure about the layout of the ship, but we found a good vantage point for waving to all the well-wishers congregated alongside the dock who were bidding "bon voyage" to friends and relatives. One of the ship's employees broke out a case of serpentine and, as the ship prepared to pull away from the dock and out into the Pacific, we got involved in the party atmosphere that accompanies every sailing.
Back in our cabin, a "class A" suite just a few steps away from the large Meridian Dining Room, we unpacked our bags and settled in for what would be one of the most satisfying weeks of travel we'd ever experienced.
A high-priority advantage to cruising: you have to unpack only once. There are those who say that cruise ships are like floating hotels - but that's not entirely correct. Actually, they are more like oceangoing cities, complete with their own water and sewage treatment facilities, shopping arcades, bank (purser's office), athletic facilities, even a couple of "honor system" libraries.
We spent the rest of our first evening at sea watching the California coastline recede from view, then got acquainted with our surroundings - and rest of our group - in the Topsail Lounge, the ship's intimate piano bar.
There were 11 of us assigned to two adjoining tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the main restaurant, including five travel writers and Cunard's public relations representative, Mary "Missy" Farren of New York City.
For the next seven days, beginning on Saturday afternoon and concluding the following Saturday morning, we'd get a firsthand look at the joys of cruising, with time to browse around three Mexican ports of call.
At our first evening meal we discovered that starvation was definitely one thing we would not have to fret about. The food is plentiful - probably too plentiful. (I'll go into more detail on typical cruise food in a Deseret News Food Section within the next few weeks.)
Suffice it to say, you won't go hungry. In addition to the three main meals, all passengers also have free access to daily "light buffets" for breakfast and lunch, afternoon tea and lavish midnight buffets. If that's not enough, you can order juice and sandwiches in your cabin via room service.
DAY TWO - Sunday, en route from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the Baja peninsula, was spent at sea. Every evening we received a copy of the next day's "Daily Programme," listing the activities available. There were plenty of options: bridge parties, arts-and-crafts sessions, five or six different movies, aerobics, shuffleboard, paddle tennis and a net-enclosed putting green.
Sunday's activities included two church services in the ship's theater - one a Mass for Catholics and the other a non-denominational service for Protestants. A Jewish service was scheduled later in the week, as were gatherings for those who were members of service clubs and/or the Masons.
One of the first major activities was the lifeboat drill. We all donned our lifejackets (not particularly attractive, but in the unlikely event you really needed them, how fashionable you look would be the least of your problems) and were summoned to our assigned sections of the ship for instructions.
After the drill, we explored the ship.
For just taking it easy and relaxing (our favorite shipboard activity), the hot tubs on the pool deck and the lounge chairs up on the sports deck, overlooking the pools, were ideal. There was also a jogging track, where we went almost every morning to walk for several laps - in an attempt to counteract the ravages of what seemed to be a marathon for eaters.
Other activities available included daily contests (prizes for those who completed the fill-in-the-blanks and crossword puzzles), a contest to guess how far the ship had traveled in the previous 24 hours, even a table with a picture puzzle (an adjoining sign invited passengers to sit and put in a piece or two), plus daily health and fitness sessions, and rounds of "British Bingo."
One pleasant surprise: the duty-free shops on board with their incredible bargains.
If you're bored and/or hungry while cruising, there's no one to blame but yourself.
DAY THREE (Monday) - This morning, we had a private tour of the bridge. We're not talking Golden Gate. In navigational jargon, the bridge is where they drive the boat. No, they don't have "automatic pilot," but they do have their own version of "cruise control." The most comfortable cruising speed is about 18.5 knots per hour.
A plaque hanging on the wall was inscribed: "A collision at sea can ruin your entire day." But with all of today's state-of-the-art navigational equipment, such an incident would be highly unlikely.
Most ships also schedule public tours of the bridge while they're anchored in port.
About noon, we watched the coast of Baja Sur come into view.
The port at Cabo San Lucas isn't deep enough to allow large cruise ships to pull right into the dock, so we anchored out in the bay and took 130-passenger launches into shore. It was, I might say, a "swell" experience. Because of the extremely high swells, the launches bobbed up and down alongside the ship's gangway, so the loading and unloading process took a little longer than anticipated.
The one disadvantage we found in cruising was that there's not enough time in port. We had only about three hours to explore Cabo San Lucas.
DAY FOUR (Tuesday) - After an overnight trip from Cabo, we pulled into the harbor at Mazatlan. Here, we were able to drop anchor right next to the dock and walk directly from the ship onto terra firma. Mexico is certainly a land of free enterprise. The peddlers were out en masse right on the dock.
We opted, instead, to grab a taxi and shop in town - both in the Zona Dorada ("Golden Zone" hotel/boutique area) and in the public market near the cathedral downtown, where the natives do their shopping.
We returned to the ship in time to eat in the "light lunch" buffet in the Outrigger Cafe.
DAY FIVE (Wednesday) - This was pretty much a carbon copy of Day Four, except the port was Puerto Vallarta, and - like Cabo San Lucas - we had to dock at anchor out in the bay and take the tenders into the shore.
DAY SIX (Thursday) - Today and tomorrow are a little less hectic. They're both "at sea" en route back to Los Angeles. We took the time to avail ourselves of some of the many shipboard activities, including the lavish "gala midnight buffet," in which the chefs and cooks pulled all the stops and hauled out the ice sculptures, the roast pig (yes, it had an apple in its mouth), and the fancier-than-usual appetizers and marzipan desserts.
The writers took a guided tour of the galley and the ship's medical center. In the process, we missed the afternoon's masquerade party and passenger talent show in the Showboat lounge, the ship's cabaret-style nightclub.
We also had a private interview with the captain and his wife. Capt. Burton-Hall mentioned that they had recently spent some time traveling through Bryce Canyon and southern Utah in a Winnebago . . . a little different experience than steering a ship.
This evening, after picking our way lightly through the gala buffet, we spent some time in the disco, with its flashing lights and indoor-outdoor dance floor.
DAY SEVEN (Friday) - We're winding down. Our last chance to spend some more time in the hot tub and/or the sauna. I tried the larger swimming pool but discovered that it's filled with saltwater. That's OK if you're used to swimming in the California surf, but to a landlubber like me, I like my pools filled with regular, out-of-the-ground water. We spent the evening getting packed. All the bags except our carry-on luggage had to be left out in the corridor that night, so it could be transferred to Customs the next morning.
DAY EIGHT (Saturday) - This was disembarkation day. It's best not to take the old Army style "hurry up and wait" attitude. Instead of everyone crowding the gangplank at once, just have a leisurely breakfast, then disembark when it's convenient. We were assured that everyone would be off the ship by no later than 10 a.m.
It took only a minute or two to go through customs, then we had our luggage transferred to a shuttle bus for the trip back to Los Angeles International Airport.
And it was, suddenly, back to reality.
Noise. Pollution. Traffic. Gridlock.
We agreed that cruising sure beats driving to a different Motel 6 every night and packing and unpacking and foraging for meals at McDonald's or Denny's.