I had thought my cruising days were o’er, so I was flabbergasted when my wife booked a short “family vacation” on the Queen Mary to New England and Nova Scotia.
There was the usual debate: to lug along the tuxedo or not.
“You’ll need it for the black and white ball,” she insisted.
The Queen Mary is a pretty big ship with 2,600 passengers, plus a crew of 1,300 representing seemingly every nationality except American. Most were attractive young people who sign on for nine months at sea followed by three months at home.
Our stateroom attendant was looking forward to July 13 when he’d spend three months with his wife and baby in the Philippines.
Most speak fluent English, but there can be occasional communication problems. For example, a Bangladesh waiter seemed puzzled by my breakfast order.
A problem with eggs
“Two eggs, fried over well, but not too well. I don’t want the yolks runny, but certainly not baked,” I directed.
When they arrived, the eggs looked as if they had bypassed the skillet entirely.
“You not like?” he said, sensing my disappointment. Moments later, he appeared with two complete breakfasts, one with eggs fried to perfection.
One morning, our son-in-law’s mom, Betsy Smith, asked a waiter, “Where are we today?”
Unhesitatingly, he innocently replied, “You’re at sea, ma’am.”
You’ve heard of shipboard romances. I almost became part of one. Briefly.
I was checking email in the communication center when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to be greeted by a woman who said softly, “Hi. How are you doing this morning?”
We chatted about one inane thing after another. She told me she was from New York and alone on the cruise.
“I lost my husband in 2011. And I’m so very lonely...,” she sighed.
After 53 years of marriage to the same woman, I was perplexed about how to deal with the situation. I reasoned that she was seeking sympathy rather than romance.
When I left the computer center, she was chatting up a man in the coffee shop next door.
The encounter reminded me of my older brother’s reaction when, after his wife’s death, a widow he’d never met kept inviting him to dinner. In his 80’s, he finally told her, “I thank you for your invitation, Mrs. Baxley, but to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t be interested in a woman who’s interested in a man as old as I am.”
Speaking of shipboard romances, Betsy shared the ultimate tale of trans-Atlantic romancing. It involved her late uncle.
He and his ailing wife were on a world cruise when she died on the way home. Choosing not to interrupt his cruise by flying to Chicago for a funeral, her husband had her remains cremated during a stopover in Singapore. When the ship docked in New York weeks later, Uncle Herbert walked down the gangplank with the urn containing his wife’s ashes in one hand and the other hand grasping the hand of his new fiance.
“Our family never forgave him,” Betsy said.
No place for dieters
There is plenty to do aboard: a good library (I re-read Reynolds Price’s “A Long and Happy Life”), dancing, movies, stage shows, and every kind of classes imaginable. (I passed up the napkin folding class.)
A cruise may be the best form of vacation, especially for wives. They are totally liberated from the unceasing demands of running a household. There are no beds to make, dishes to wash or laundry to attend to. (My wife luxuriated in having breakfast in the stateroom every morning, while I roamed the deck or lingered in the dining room.)
A cruise ship is no place for dieters. In addition to the lavish meals, there is always afternoon tea, with cucumber and other finger sandwiches. The British scones, with clotted cream and strawberry jam, are irresistible.
I had to wear the tux only one night. As I left the dining room, I glanced into a mirror and thought I looked rather dashing.
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