Everyone must by this time know that the Diamond Princess has been ravaged by the Kung Flu and forced to dock and quarantine more than 3,600 passengers and crew in Yokohama, Japan.
Based on the constant drumbeat of the nightly news and hysterical headlines on CNN, I assumed that every damn person aboard the ship had been stricken with the virus.
But that’s not the case.
Despite living in close proximity to each other for several weeks and despite breathing the same recycled air day after day after day, only 712 of those 3600+ passengers and crew were infected. And only ten of them have died.
Any death is sad, of course, but those seem like pretty good odds to me.
So the good news is that only a small percentage of the passengers got sick and an even smaller percentage of them succumbed to the virus. The bad news is that they were on a cruise ship to begin with.
We know people who’ve taken dozens of cruises. We’ve been invited to join them on occasion, but we’ve always declined. We have absolutely no interest in taking a cruise. Paying to see Titanic is about as close as we’ve ever come, or as close as we ever want to come, to cruising.
Well, that’s not strictly true. We’ve actually taken three cruises, but none of them were the kind of luxurious excursions that come to mind when you hear the word “cruise.”
Cruise #1: San Pedro to San Pedro via San Pedro.
One of my friends, the infamous Godfather, was handling public relations for a major international cruise line and they wanted to take Southern California travel writers on a cruise.
Well, no, that’s an exaggeration. A considerable exaggeration. What they really wanted to do was give those writers the feel of going on a cruise without expending the time and money and effort that a cruise would would obviously entail.
Their solution was to invite a gaggle of them to spend the night aboard an ocean liner that never left the dock in San Pedro. They could drink. They could gamble. They could stuff their faces at countless buffets. They could see floor shows. The cruise line’s theory, apparently, was that if they plied the scribes with enough of those previously mentioned drinks they might begin to believe they actually took said cruise.
The Godfather’s unenviable assignment was to make sure that the ship’s suites and cabins and berths were overflowing with excited travel writers.
Unfortunately, very few legitimate ones were interested in spending the night bobbing around at the dock in San Pedro, so The Godfather started calling friends and begging them to fill the rooms to make it appear that floating fiasco was actually a success. Our last name begins with “d” so our invitation came relatively early in the journey through his Rolodex.
We agreed to help The Godfather and spent the night aboard the cruise ship. The food was adequate but plentiful. The music was far too loud. The casino was even louder. The only saving grace is that I learned how to do the Macarena, a skill I’m confident will surely come in handy at some point in my life.
Cruise #2: Stockholm to Helsinki aboard a former Russian troop ship.
Just adding the world “Russian” to any other word or phrase makes the accompanying syllables sound shabbier. Much like Mother Russia herself, this cruise ship had seen better days. Unfortunately, the best of them were back during World War II when it was built to be a troop transport.
The first people we met aboard the ship was a pair of skinny, toothless Russians who were lurking in an empty hallway right outside the entrance to the ship’s restaurant. If they had been Americans I would have guessed “meth addicts,” but since they were Russians I inferred nothing from their skinny and toothless appearances other than “Russians.”
“Everyone goes for the lobster platter,” the advised us, ”so make sure you get here early before it’s all gone.”
Dinner service was not scheduled to begin for two more hours. So we thanked them for their kind advice and continued our exploratory tour around the ship, and later returned to the still empty hallway just as the restaurant’s doors reluctantly screeched open.
The Russian couple swooped into the restaurant like vultures eying roadkill and quickly dashed to the buffet as if they had never before experienced piscatorian pleasures. They stacked their plates as high as gravity would allow—crab, caviar, salmon, trout, herring and cod all stacked atop each other, all accompanied by potatoes boiled, fried and sautéed. Throw in a little koryushka and a finger bowl or two of sour cream or smetana and mmm-mmm-mmm. They engorged themselves as if they were trying to pate their own livers.
Jamie and I ordered chicken salads and watched the skinny, toothless Russians attempt to devour all the food on their heaping platters. It was far more entertaining than the floor show on the ship tied up in San Pedro.
Cruise #3: Straight across Cook Strait in the dark.
Help me out here: Does a three hour ferry ride in the dark really qualify as a cruise? If so, I guess this trip from New Zealand’s North Island to its South Island was indeed a cruise.
We had spent the prior night at a motel north of Wellington, New Zealand. When its owner found out we were going to take the ferry from the country’s North Island to its South Island, a distant look came across her face and she drifted off into her memories. “It’s not just a ship,” she enthused, “it’s a vacation in itself.”
Well, I don’t mind telling you that her comments set our expectations pretty damn high. Unrealistically high, as it turned out. We expected fine food and even finer wine. We assumed we’d have a luxurious suite, or at least a comfortable room, where we could rest up from our previous adventures while the nighttime ferry crossed the pitch black channel known as Cook Strait.
Instead of fine food we were offered stale meat pies, paltry bags of peanuts, and greasy chips. Instead of fine wine we got overpriced beer and bottled water. Instead of a luxurious suite, we got shabby, communal airline seating that reclined not the slightest.
I don’t mean to be completely negative about cruises because now that I’ve given it a little more thought I realize that there is one cruise I’ve taken many times and it never disappoints.
I’m referring to the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. The guide’s witty patter hasn’t changed much since my first trip to the Magic Kingdom in 1956, but it still makes me laugh. I love the part where he frantically spins the wheel to avoid a collision with the elephants and I can’t wait until he fires his pistol at the rampaging hippo. I’m always amazed at how Walt Disney was able to transform an ordinary orange grove in Anaheim into a little piece of African jungle.
But there’s one other thing that makes Disney’s Jungle Cruise far superior to any other cruise in the world:
It lasts only eight minutes.