Saturday, December 5, 2009

On the High Seas

The first leg of my trip is a cruise in the Caribbean. Why a cruise you ask? And why on earth would I consider doing it alone? (I am sure you are thinking). I admit, I would have preferred to have a companion on this leg of the trip (especially as the single supplement is almost as much as the cost for a second person). But I was quite keen to explore a significant part of the Caribbean, given that pretty soon I will be living a considerable distance from it. And as there are so many islands, and flights between them are not cheap, I thought this would be a great way to see a bunch of islands; this cruise stops in 5 of them. And, I have always been quite intrigued with the concept of cruising, so I booked it.
So, a little background on my ship. It’s one of the Celebrity line of cruise ships, and is the newest in its fleet, named Equinox. The ship is not even a year old, and it shows. The fit out on this ship is really superb - modern and luxurious. It houses 2500 guests and the cruise is fully booked. It’s a 10 day cruise, and I’m stopping in 5 ports on 5 separate days: St.Maarten, St.Kitts, Barbados, St.Lucia and St.Thomas.
Ok, let’s address one of the concerns that I had and everyone has about cruises. That it is full of the geriatric set. Going in to this I knew there would be a large contingent of them, so I did my research and looked for a Cruise line that is more supposedly more geared to a younger crowd. And when I booked, I was told that I would have set seating at dinner, at a table of 10 people aged 25-45. I thought I had it covered. It would give me a way to meet others around my age, and then I would have some people to hang with for 10 days.
But when I boarded the ship, I found it rather difficult to identify even a handful of people under the age of 45, quite a switch from my time in NY, where it is difficult to come across someone over the age of 55. I was holding out until dinner when I was to meet fellow passengers closer to my age.
The importance of having the right tablemates was emphasised to me as I entered the ship and was talking to some experienced cruisers and getting their advice. They said that how much they enjoyed prior cruises had little to do with the ship and everything to do with your dining partners. So, I was truly banking on having a good set of tablemates.
So here’s what happened. When I arrived at the dining room, I was shown to a table of 4, where 2 people were already sitting. 2 - not 10! And let’s just say that their age was at least double that of my own, and their weight individually was at least 3 times that of mine. Not ideal. I quickly told the Maitre D’ that it would not do and I was promised a table of 10 people 25-45 people! He said he didn’t have people in that age group! OMG!! I was freaking out – was I destined to have an awful cruise? I explained that I was travelling alone and that my table assignment would make or break my cruise! So, he temporarily assigned me to a table of 6 where there were a couple people born within 2 decades of me. That’s as close as I could get. He promised to reassign me tomorrow.
So I was shown to my temporary table, it was a table of 6, and I was the last to be seated. Let me just segue here and tell you that the dining room was absolutely gorgeous! OK, back to my tablemates. There were two guys dressed in suits, whom I was to learn were from Washington D.C. The remaining 3 people were a couple in their 60s and their 30 something son, all from Stuttgart in Germany.
I had an instant connection with the suited guy on my right, who was from D.C. A political reporter in his late 30s who has previously lived in NY, we had much to talk about. He and his friend were on the cruise together, his friend a few years older, was in public relations. Now, having lived in Chelsea for the last 2 and a half years I was used to seeing a different type of gay man, which was why I was surprised when the conversation revealed that they were a couple (not just a couple of guys).
My other tablemates, English not being their first language, had difficulties in keeping up with our conversation, so whilst we had a few interactions, their side of the table was considerable much quieter than ours.
After dinner, the guy on my right, Doug, and I went to see the show of the evening. We didn’t last long there. The entertainment was distinctly geared towards the silver set, with show tunes like “Singing in the Rain” and a singing quartet.
Doug and I then went in search of the Maitre D’ to see if the three of us could be moved to a different table. He was rather gruff with us but accepted our request nonetheless.
The next morning (after breakfast) I went to find a lounge chair by the pool. I found one next to two Israeli brothers around my age, who were on the cruise with their parents. We became friends and I suddenly had a couple more people who were very keen to move off their assigned dinner seating. Off to the Maitre D’ once again. By now he knew me very well. “I have 3 requests from you now, one by yourself, one with two other guests and now one with 4 other guests, which one do you want?” Well I would have thought that it would be obvious – the most recent one of course, but knowing that my fate was still somewhat in his hands, I politely told him “the latest one”.
So that night, we had a very nice dinner, the 5 of us, plus a couple from the UK. Mission accomplished.
The next day, another full day at sea, was rather a lazy day, with one noticeable event. OK, a little more than noticeable – HUGE! I don’t quite know why I bothered to enter the competition for the penthouse suite on the ship, after all I was actually very happy with the amenities of my inside cabin. It wasn’t much smaller than my Manhattan apartment, so I was quite used to living in quarters that were not altogether spacious. And as the ship is brand new, everything was modern and very comfortable.
Nevertheless, I felt compelled to join the bingo, having an eerie feeling that I was destined to do so and dare I say it, destined to win. This was, however, coupled with the nonchalance of my practical side, telling me that I shouldn’t get any hopes up, as there were literally hundreds of people who were also going to be playing bingo. There were four rounds of competition; the first 3 rounds were for cash prizes of $400, $500 and $600 respectively. Nothing to balk at. The final round was for the penthouse suite on the ship, the real prize that had drawn the hundreds of people to this bingo game. I struck out on the first three games, but in the final game, I was getting very close to completing my bingo card, my heart started to beat very fast. And just as I said “Bingo!” so did someone else! As only one person could win this prize, we went to a playoff. I was given four bingo cards to choose from. I chose one of them, and then we proceeded. And…what do you know – I won!
I felt that rush of adrenalin and endorphins in my brain as you might imagine occurs when you win a huge prize and you feel like you are in a surreal dream. Being one of the only solo travelers on this cruise, there were many people that expressed congratulations, but it was also coupled with shock that I was travelling alone and I dare say a bit of bitterness that someone like me, and that I was only one person, would be enjoying the suite that they all coveted so badly.
I arrived to my suite where champagne and fruit and a number of canap├ęs was awaiting me, as well as my butler! Ahh… the good life!

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