Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mike and Carolyn Take to the High Seas

Mike and Carolyn aboard the Titanic

Actually our home-away-from-home on the water was the Holland America Liner the ms Maasdam. 

After seven days of big fun, followed by one day of airline travel Hell, we’re back from our vacation: a cruise through New England, the Maritime Provinces and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Ports of call included Bar Harbor, Maine, Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Montreal.

Still trying to get used to terrain that doesn’t roll and shift under our feet, we’re also trying to sort out the experiences, sights, sounds and impressions we gained from our shipboard and excursion experience. Here are a few.

  • A cruise is the perfect way to unwind and withdraw from the stress of work-a-day or even day-to-day life. There are no chores to perform, no critical decisions to make and no real obligation to do anything besides gratify your immediate needs. In my thirty plus years with Carolyn, I’ve never seen her so relaxed and content. Which brings me to:

  • Food.  Creative, flavorful and abundant. Holy Gorgeioski is there a lot of it. I saw people with plates piled high from the mind-boggling buffet at the Lido restaurant who will probably move up two pant sizes upon their return home. If you’re predisposed to gluttony, this is Nirvana. We tried to control ourselves but still probably put on a pound or two. Back to the gym and a diet of cereal and celery for a while.
Pastry sculpture from the shipboard chefs.                               

  • The shore excursions were fun and interesting. From seeing humpback whales up close to a scenic bus tour of Prince Edward Island’s lighthouses, they made the “away” time from our stateroom fun and educational

Puffin on his way to an important engagement 



  • We met a lot of great people from all over the planet; some were experienced “cruisers” and others, like us were experiencing life on the open water for the first time. Of course, there were also the boors, who rarely smiled, pushed their way to the front of the buffet line and verbally abused the hard-working service people who continued to smile and try to be helpful no matter what the ugly Americans, Canadians, Aussies, Germans or Japanese subjected them to. The lesson learned is that there are whiners, complainers and self-centered sociopaths no matter where you are. The trick is learning to ignore them and not allow them to spoil your fun.

We can’t say enough about the mostly Indonesian and Filipino crew who made our time on the Maasdam unforgettable. They work insanely long hours, for minimal pay and are highly attuned to anticipating your needs. They smile constantly, remember your name despite the fact there are 1200 plus guests on the ship and never complain. Suli, who bussed tables and brought refills of coffee, iced tea and water to our table had an infectious giggle that seemed to reflect genuine joy. Asep and Frevian who spiffed up our stateroom twice a day left us creative gifts such as the towel-art you see here: 

The colorful towel peacock

Sting-Ray ala towel

 Our waiter in the Ocean Lounge (whose name, unfortunately escapes what’s left of my mind) always had a smile, a laugh and shipboard news to share with us. The lovely Filipino lady who made my morning white chocolate mocha started my brew before I even got to the counter. It’s impossible to overstate how important these people are to making your cruise a treasured memory. If you take a cruise, be sure to thank them and tip a little extra beyond the obligatory service charge that’s a part of your shipboard bill. They earn it and many of them are sending money home to support family in their part of the world.

Finally, a word about the last day. Part of it is my own fault for trying to save a buck on air travel. I booked a trip with too many stops, too many possibilities for aggravation and too many tight connections. Next time I’ll pay the extra bucks for a non-stop flight. We were tired, got consistently wrong information from the airline personnel we encountered, had to endure people carrying on loud conversations in French over the top of us and a flood of airline announcements in a language we couldn’t comprehend. Too often we found ourselves jogging through airport terminals. Plus, the airline lost our suitcase. It’s expected back sometime in the next couple of days.  Midway through the ordeal, I feared that if one more airline clerk greeted Carolyn with a sullen “Bonjour” they’d find themselves on the tiles with her forearm at their throat. She was, as the Queen is known to say, “not amused.” It took fifteen minutes of face licking from her faithful dogs and a good night’s sleep in her own bed to return her to her old cheerful self.

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