Family vacations are the rage these days.
Parents rent beach houses or mountain hideaways, or golf hotels for “family togetherness.”
Some emerge from the experience still speaking to each other and saying, “Can’t wait ’til next summer and we’ll do it again.”
Our family of seven, including three grandchildren, 12, 16 and 18, have recently returned from a six-day cruise on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 from New York to Nova Scotia to Boston and back to New York.
Boarding the biggest cruise ship afloat is like being let out in a new town. The Queen Mary’s passenger population of 2,600 is bigger than that of my home town. In addition, it is home to 1, 240 crew and staff.
I recall an anecdote about a mother whale on an outing with her baby whale.
Suddenly, a huge shadow passed over them, darkening the water.
“Mommy, what was that?” the baby whale cried with alarm.
“Don’t worry, Dear,” his mom replied. “It’s just the Queen Mary’s bottom.”
“God save the King!” exclaimed the young whale in awe.
You might think of a cruise vacation as just a time for reading books on deck, catching your breath, or catching up on sleep during an escape from the “real world” of hectic day-in, day-out push and shove.
Not so. The daily itinerary is crowded with activities such as classes on bridge, water coloring, ballroom dancing, bingo, lectures, movies, and live performances by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts such as excerpts from “Pride and Prejudice.”
Also, when in port, the ship offers a variety of shore excursions. One of these spawned a human interest drama.
My son-in-law and I were sitting on a couch outside a dining room.
Directly across from us, a staff member was trying to comfort an elderly distraught passenger. We could hear enough to ascertain that the man’s wife had gone on a shore excursion and had not returned.
The staffer took notes as the husband described his wife.
“She weighs around 17 stones and walks with a cane,” he said.
Later in the evening, Adam encountered the staff member at the purser’s desk and asked if the missing wife had been found.
The staffer, surprised that he knew of the incident, declined to give details, but said, “Everything turned out well.”
I thought of the song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and was glad there would be no sequel, “I Left My Wife in Boston, Mass.”
There is, of course, the daily ritual of afternoon tea and I was reminded of an incident that occurred years ago during tea on a trans-Atlantic crossing on Queen Elizabeth 2.
I was chatting with my wife and two traveling companions when I felt someone gently scratching my back. I turned to confront an elderly woman. I learned that the friendly stranger was Beatrice Muller, a New Jersey widow, who lived year-round on the ship for more than 14 years. She explained that at $5,400 per month, it was cheaper to live at sea than in a retirement home.
“And one meets such interesting people,” she added.
I read not long ago that Mrs. Mueller had died at 89, at sea.
One night at the Royal Court theatre, I sat next to a retired insurance salesman who was traveling alone. He had been on 70 such cruises. I wondered if loneliness had prompted his desperate search for diversion.
At breakfast on the morning of our departure I glanced out at the sparkling blue waves and for a few moments I wistfully wished that the unreal interlude weren’t ending.
But my spirits lifted as I remembered that I had left my heart, not in Boston or Halifax or Brooklyn, but in Raleigh. The prospect of returning to the “real world” didn’t seem bad at all.