The Blue Lady

Many years ago, when I was just a dusty kneed kid, my parents decided that we might try something new for one of our family vacations. We had done the Disney thing, and even the Hawaii thing and many other places, far and near. We had truly enjoyed our selves on all these trips but there was one kid of travel that piqued my parent’s interest that we had never done. Cruising.

Living in western New Hampshire, my exposure to cruise ships had been mostly limited to “The Poseidon Adventure”, “A Night to Remember” and “The Love Boat”. The lesson that my young brain had extrapolated from all this dubious infotainment was that if the icebergs or rogue waves didn’t get you, Gopher would. I had my doubts. Actually, I didn’t want anything to do with them. The whole prospect of swimming for the life boats or meeting Carol Channing, frankly scared the hell out of me.

I stood as firm as an eight year old kid can to his parents. Basically, I implored them not to do it. Then one year on vacation, we found ourselves with easy access to an actual cruise ship. We were in St. Thomas and from a high mountain road, you could see right into the port and down on to the docked ships. My Father spotted a likely looking one and drove us down just to “take a look”. Dad always likes to “take a look”, with varying amounts of hilarity and/or upset armed guards involved. His personal best was wandering off into “no go” territory in Yalta during the days of Reganomics and the old Soviet Union… but I digress.

So, we drove down to the embarkation center and much to my amazement Dad asked an official there if we could go aboard and look around. I would have been worried but the request was obviously so ludicrous that even I knew the answer before the guard had time to react. I started to turn back to the car.

“Sure. Just be off before we leave port.”

WHAT?!? I did my best to keep my eyeballs from falling out of my skull.

Very, very pensively, I accompanied my Dad up the gang way and on board. We were going to get lost on the ship and it would leave with us.. I knew it. I have rather vague memories of being on the ship and I can’t recall what line it belonged to but I do remember being impressed. The lounges were plush, the air conditioning, cool and on the whole, the place looked like a lot of fun. I definitely felt like an interloper and was too anxious about being on board too long to really enjoy the novelty of it. My Father made a point of showing me the life boats and how sturdy they were. I had to admit, they did look rugged.

We did get off with out incident and my perception of cruise ships changed a bit. Perhaps it wouldn’t be to bad. I hadn’t even spotted Carol or Gopher lurking about.

The next year, the itinerary had been set and we were going to do it. By now, I was actually excited at the prospect. We had gotten to pick out our berth from a glossy brochure and the places the ship would go sounded like fun. What I didn’t expect was that the ship would become far more special to me than the places we’d go on her. The departure port was Miami and when our taxi pulled up to the docks, our ship stood out boldly. There were three other ships there, one gate per ship… except ours. She had two. She was the S/S Norway and to say that she was big would be an Olympic sized understatement. She was vast. Not only that, she was the biggest there was. She was number one in the world as far as passenger ships went. Her baby blue hull looked like an unending wall of steel and little doors could be seen all along her length, letting cargo and crew move back and forth. I was awed.

Once aboard, you tended to loose the sense of her size. She felt more like just a big hotel and our berth looked far smaller in real life than it did in the brochure. The one thing that really impressed me though were the portholes. We had PORTHOLES! How cool was THAT?! Once we were mostly unpacked, it was time for the cast off. This, I had been waiting for this! I had watched about a thousand hours of the “Love Boat” and couldn’t wait for the part with the streamers and waving well wishers and such. It looked like such a party on the TV!

Cruise reality tip number one: That doesn’t actually happen in real life. It’s a big, fat lie.

I can vividly recall feeling cheated. Seriously… What the heck? After getting over my disappointment and watching Miami float away to our stern, it was time to reassure the passengers before everyone got drunk. It was time… for the life boat drill.

I had been warned about this so it didn’t catch me off guard. We were instructed via the P.A. to go to our rooms and get our life vests. After that, we had an assigned lifeboat station that we were to go to. Dutifully, we all seemed to do as instructed and soon enough, the majority of the passengers were standing at their allotted places listening to the “How to get into a life boat with out getting killed” talk. As I stood there in my orange life vest, paying strict attention to the guy with the megaphone, my father tapped me on my shoulder. “Look over there!” he whispered as he surreptitiously pointed into the crowd of our would be lifeboat mates. “It’s Marla Gibbs! You know, from The Jeffersons! She’d be in out life boat!”

I secretly wondered to my self how old you had to be to get a drink on this thing?

More later…

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