Monday, May 3, 2010

Cruise Week 1

Bon Voyage / At Sea
April 19, 2010

Today began with drizzle and cloudy skies in West Palm Beach and ended with the Equinox headed out to sea under mostly sunny skies: first stop, Ponta Delgada in the Azores Islands, next Monday. Meanwhile, 6 full days at open sea.

After my hostess from the B&B kindly delivered me to the WPB Tri-Rail station, I was fortunate to strike up a conversation with a Peruvian woman, in the States visiting family, who was also taking the train to Ft Lauderdale. She had made the journey before and knew how to get from the train station to the bus terminal: a great help to me. We talked while awaiting the train and while riding south. She has visited so many countries, not simply in South America, but also in Europe. Interestingly, she doesn't mind flying at all, but doesn't like travel by boat.

From the downtown terminal of the Broward County bus system, I took the bus to a stop near Port Everglades and had my lunch at Einstein Bros Bagels: tea and a bagel from the restaurant; applesauce, V8 and some Fritos from my backpack. After lunch I made a few photocopies of the main page of my passport, which I had forgotten to do earlier, then took a cab to Pier (or Terminal 18) where the Equinox was docked. Though I was earlier than my scheduled arrival time, I was checked in quickly and was soon in my stateroom. The woman who took care of my documentation told me that there had been a number of last-minute cancellations for this cruise because passengers were unable to reach Ft Lauderdale from Europe because of the Icelandic volcano's eruption. Likewise many who were intending to fly to Europe snatched up these newly-available staterooms as an alternative to waiting till they could make a flight.

The Equinox is a newer ship (at least it looks newer [NOTE: Yep, it's been in operation less than a year]) than the Grand Princess on which I crossed the Atlantic in 2007. On that crossing I was on the 12th deck, just under one of the entertainment (pools, food, outdoor movies, etc.) decks: a handy place to be. On this voyage I am on the 3rd deck (just under the Casino!), a 9- or 10-flight climb to the two main outdoor and casual dining decks. Since I usually avoid the elevators, this lower location will mean I probably won't need to do much exercise walking on this cruise! I don't know how many flights I have walked this afternoon and evening--80 to 100 maybe?

After putting my clothes and luggage away and changing into shorts, I began to explore the ship. Of course I found the library and a copy of Marjane Satrapi's memoir-in-graphic-novel format The Complete Persepolis, which my friend Lou Ann has recommended, so I carried it back to the room. I also called my mother and three sisters to bid them farewell for a while and received a call from Tsipi in West Palm Beach, checking to see how my day was going. She was surprised, I think, to find me already aboard.

A couple of other ships in Port Everglades

I had both a mid-afternoon semi-supper and a mid-evening semi-supper in the Oceanview Cafe, the ship's buffet restaurant, open something like 17 hours a day. We pulled away from the pier about 6 p.m. Eastern time and the cruise began. I've been already to the 'fitness room' for a little exercise and into one of the whirlpools on deck 12. I've drunk four (or five?) cups of tea and begun book two of Dickens' Little Dorrit, which I certainly hope to finish before reaching the Azores.

One thing I find very interesting about being on a cruise ship again is how closely it loops me back to my first cruise three years ago. Those of you who know me well know that 3 years is, to me, practically a lifetime: last summer as I began thinking seriously about the contours of a return trip to Malta, I couldn't believe that it would be 3 years before I returned to it. Couldn't believe it will still be 8 or 9 months before I arrived. But once I got checked into my room and began to move around the ship, it seemed like such a fresh part of my past: it seemed so natural to be on a ship again, and even so familiar, though I am not on the same boat. I suppose that means my first cruise made quite an impression on me.

The Equinox seems swanker in some ways than the Grand Princess, but I haven't decided yet if that necessarily means that I like it better. I will have to see, for example, if the Equinox offers as many movies as the Grand Princess did, a feature of my first cruise which I quite enjoyed. My stateroom is, I think, longer on the Equinox, but not as wide. On the Grand Princess I had a larger desk area, and maybe a larger closet, but here I have a couch as well as my bed. Whether I actually spend enough time in the room to make use of it is another question!

And a nice gift greeted my arrival in my stateroom too: my travel agent Donna sent me a Destinations journal to use on the trip and a Celebrity pen. Thank you, Donna! Who knows? I may draw more pictures than write words in the journal.

Note to Lou Ann: Free ice cream on the Equinox.

My stateroom in B&W

April 20, 2010

Mostly sunny today; swells moderate a good part of the day; temperatures in the upper 60s with a lot of wind. Kind of chilly on the deck. I went to an intro to acupuncture lecture today (there are two licensed acupuncturists on board ship) and part of another lecture on important inventions of the last several hundred years. I also worked on Disbelief, continued reading Little Dorrit, went up and down a lot of stairs, and ate. Pretty relaxing, no?

April 21, 2010

Another mostly sunny day, quite windy, temperatures still in the 60s. Chillier than my 2007 crossing, which began not quite 2 weeks later in the year. Is this just another sign that the winter of 2009-10 hasn't given up yet, or do two weeks make so much difference?

A couple of really unusual finds on the fiction shelves of the library today. Mostly one expects former bestsellers, classics, genre titles, and mostly that's what one gets. But I had the serendipity of finding two distinctly oddball acquisitions: the 1974 Ecco Press poetry bookThe Breathers by James Reiss and Katschen & The Book of Joseph, a 1998 New Directions volume pairing two novellas by Israeli author Yoel Hoffmann, whom I'd never heard of. I'd seen the Reiss collection long ago, and probably even read a bit of it, but how odd of it to show up here, on the "fiction" shelves. I read the book today and began work on a review of it which may be the heart of my next "In Dissent" column at Web Del Sol.

The Equinox library is much larger than the Grand Princess's was, but it has the disadvantage of being part of the central open-air shaft of the ship, which goes from the 3rd floor all the way up. A wall of windows lets in a great deal of light from above the library--a plus--but the location on the shaft also means that the electrified band playing (loudly) several floors below at various times of the day can be easily heard. At those times, one sitting in the library to read really does need ear plugs (which I have, and used in the library yesterday). On the Grand Princess, the library was small, but had its own room with windows looking out to sea.

Tonight's performance in the Equinox Theater was by Doug Cameron, a violinist I have not previously heard of. Accomplished, but distinctly middle-brow (at least for this performance).

April 23, 2010

I'm curious about crossing the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, as I was last time, and one of the advantages of the Equinox is an enormous globe on deck 7, based on satellite photos, which shows the ocean floor as well as the continents. What you can clearly see on this globe is that the Azores are a part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge--I suppose you would say that the islands are mountain peaks from the ridge--and that some of the ocean floor in the vicinity is relatively shallow, less than 1000 meters deep. Since we are scheduled to reach Sao Miguel on Monday, we will be crossing the ridge on Sunday. Cool to know.

This afternoon Shirley Jones ("Mrs Partridge") gave a lecture (the first of three scheduled for the voyage) in which she talked principally about her career. I really hadn't known how successful she was, pre-Partridge, and it was interesting to hear her discuss co-stars and her astonishingly quick and easy rise into prominent roles on stage and screen. Tonight ventriloquist Ronn Lucas performed--an amusing and sometimes offbeat show. I'd like to stumble across him sometime on deck and ask him about his childhood because he mentioned growing up in--get ready--El Paso!

On my way back to my room after supper, I stopped by the library and saw David Small's memoir Stitches, written in graphic-novel format. It's a very interesting (and quick) read, both traumatic and triumphant. Small is a cartoonist and illustrator who has won the Caldecott Award for children's books.

April 24, 2010

Today was our roughest, choppiest day. At ten this morning, the captain told us the waves were about 12 feet high and had been 15-20 feet earlier. For the first time, white 'sick-sacks' were placed on the staircases for easy snagging, if required. But we had a southerly (or southwesterly) wind coming up behind us, rather than a head wind, and so for the first time on this cruise one could walk and sit on the sundecks without feeling that one was likely to lifted off the deck and hurled to sea. Perhaps because of this the temperature also felt better, though I don't think it was actually any warmer. Later in the afternoon the seas calmed somewhat, but most of us did a lot of lurching (instead of walking) for a good part of the day.

This afternoon Doug Cameron performed again with the house musicians, a much more strictly jazz offering and certainly more musically pleasing than the sort of theme-park-jazz show he delivered as the headliner a few nights ago. My guess would be that this show is probably closer to what he would choose to do, given his druthers. Tonight's headliner was British magician and comic Martin Lewis, who really shone with variations on classic small-scale magic: card tricks, scarves, steel rings.

I finally finished Dickens's Little Dorrit, which I've been reading for about three weeks. Although the pieces of the plot do finally pretty well fit together, the book feels, as one reads, far too sprawling and formless for its own good. There is a great deal of fine work in it, and a characterization such as Mr Pancks is absolutely priceless, but one certainly gets the sense of something not quite wrong: Dickens unsure where he was headed, or expanding for expansion's sake (or commercial reasons?), or perhaps so involved in his theme that he let the narrative sag. Dickens's heart is certainly in the right place, and a satiric look at financial speculators and unwarranted exuberance could hardly be more appropriate in 2010, but the book needs work.

April 25, 2010

Today is our last sea day before reaching the Azores. At some point today we crossed the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Cool. But it's been an ugly day. The wind has been high, the sky has been almost totally cloudy, and it's rained at times. Not at all a pleasant day to be on deck. In fact, so far, only yesterday was really pleasant on deck--and that with the higher seas and more rolling in the waves.

Today I also did some drawings of the all-female Bel Canto String Quartet which plays several times a day. I have already given the first two to two of the musicians and have shown 2 others a third drawing, which I promised to them after getting it photographed for my files. They seemed to like them.

Although this is not quite the midpoint of the cruise, and although there will be two more sea days (Tuesday and Friday), today does mark the end of the long sea crossing and thus a convenient point at which to compare this to my 2007 crossing.

1. Weather

No contest. 2007 wins hands down. We had only one wettish, chilly day on that crossing. Whether it's the weather itself or the design of the Equinox, I don't know, but it was much easier and more comfortable to spend time outside in 2007.

2. Entertainment

Both cruises have been good, given the age range of the passengers, at the live evening shows, but the Grand Princess presented more films in a theatre-like setting, which I enjoyed. The Equinox has a great variety of films-on-demand, and a much larger television set, in my room, but I don't really want to sit for 2 hours at a go in my room. I'd rather go 'out' to the movies. 2007 wins.

3. Elegance

This one goes to 2010. The Equinox is newer and more chic than the Grand Princess. Of course in 10 more years, it may look old-fashioned.

4. Practical design

2007 wins again. The Equinox doesn't have a promenade deck, though on deck 5 there is an open area on each side where one can walk back and forth. But on the GP one could circle the entire ship on deck 7, with a short jump up to 8 at the prow, for a nice long walk. And of course one could do likewise, using decks 14 and 15, the sun and exercise decks. On the EQ one can only circle the whole ship by using decks 14 and 15, some of which is kind of an obstacle course. The official jogging track is only 1/8 of a mile and can get quite crowded.

There's also the problem of the central shaft, which I've already mentioned. While quite lovely and often useful in orientation, it becomes an annoyance when one of the house bands is playing overly loud amplified music on deck 3: that music travels all the way up the shaft, disturbing readers in the library and games players in the game room, both of which open onto the shaft.

5. Food

The food is more elegant and maybe a little more diverse on the EQ than the GP, which probably suits most of the passengers just fine. For me, it's a drawback, making it harder for me to get enough to eat without getting a bit further off my normal diet than I'm completely comfortable with. I preferred the offerings on the GP.

Tomorrow the Azores! Unfortunately the weather prediction is 64 degrees and 70% chance of rain. Let's hope it's sunnier than that!

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