Friday, April 23, 2010

Hangouts On Board

We are crossing the northern Pacific, leaving Russia in the Bering Sea, and passing by the Aleutian Islands.  I am not getting about to take pictures as much as I’d like, but they are very beautiful.  They rise starkly from the water, dark brown in the distance, streaked vertically with the clear white of snow and ice.

Today is the fourth day of the passage, with three more to go.  For the last three days, and tomorrow, we lose the hour between two p.m. and three.  Two days before the passage, we lost two hours, one in the afternoon, one at night.  Everyone is very tired, feeling stretched thin.  I would honestly choose jet lag, changing eight or twelve hours all at once, over this changing the clock gradually.  Every night I get to sleep an hour later.  Last night it was five a.m.  I get up in the late morning, but I’m still always tired.

Usually during the cruise, since I normally go to sleep between one and two a.m., the library is inhabited by very few people.  There are the jigsaw puzzle ladies, and one or two people who are reading or on the Internet.  Recently, though, it is more crowded, because more and more people are finding it difficult to sleep.  The casino, also, is busier late at night.

I like the jigsaw puzzle ladies.  Most people, over a long cruise, find their favorite place to hang out.  It’s a big ship, and there are several sorts of places, which is good.

(I intend to add some pictures to this post, but in case I don’t or they aren’t very good, and you are curious, go to the Holland America website and look at the ship named ms Amsterdam.  Their photos make everything look fabulous and classy, which I suppose it is, but it’s also just the ship I’ve been living on for almost four months.  Kind of like living in a mobile hotel.)

Decks one and two are cabins only.  Below deck one are decks A, B, and C.  These are crew quarters, although some crew are on passenger decks – officers, heads of departments, entertainers who are brought in for one or two performances.

Deck three is the one that has an outside deck running all around the ship.  It’s the promenade deck, since that’s where you go to promenade, but on this ship the deck is called the Lower Promenade.

Near the center of the ship is the atrium, which is a large vaguely round area that rises three storeys.  All the cruise ships I’ve been on have an atrium, and each one has a large piece of art or something rising through the center.  This one has a fancy clock.  Our atrium starts on deck three.  The various heads of departments, hotel manager, cruise director, and others have offices around this space, and in the center are desks that are used mostly by travel agency representatives.  Many guests book through Cruise Specialists International or another agency like that, as they can get good group rates for cabins, and usually organize social events and shore excursions especially for their group.

Deck four, called the Promenade deck, holds the lower level of the large theatre where the evening shows take place, in the bow.  In the stern is the lower level of the main dining room.  In between, in the atrium, is the front desk, which handles just about everything the guests need.  It’s like the front desk in a hotel, which essentially, is what the ship is.  There’s also the smaller theatre, which is where movies are shown, and where classes like mine, and lectures are held.  And the photo gallery.  Every cruise ship has photographers wandering around taking pictures, and also taking formal posed shots on formal nights.  All the photos are set out in the gallery, where you can go and look through a very large number of pictures of people who, like you were when the picture was taken, were leaning on the stern rail on the Lido deck.  If you’re persistent or lucky, and they don’t all start to blur because they all look alike, you’ll find the one of you.  If you like it, you can spend what seems like a large amount of money for a photo, and take it home.  You can also take your own pictures and take a tech class on deck five, to learn how to do marvelous things with them.  Each Holland America ship has a Microsoft trained employee, who teaches people how to use Microsoft software to edit photos.

Deck five, the Upper Promenade deck, is where the library is.  In the bow and stern are the upper levels of the large theatre and dining room.  The Ocean bar is on one side of the atrium, the area in which a band plays dance music starting at four in the afternoon, and continuing as long as there are dancers.  This is one place the dance hosts work.  They are enrichment staff, like me, but work more hours, four or five a day.  They are here to dance with women who don’t have a partner, and as there are more women than men at the age level of most guests, and on board, they keep busy.

There are three shops on deck five, also.  One sells jewelry, and it is larger than both other stores put together.  They constantly bring out new things, so that there is always a reason to go in – to see what’s new.  Oh, I forgot, there is a fourth shop, also a jewelry store.  It is smaller, and sells only very expensive stuff.  It has a curtain across its entrance, which is drawn when someone requests a private viewing of a Faberge egg or something equally valuable.

One of the other stores sells clothing, most with the Holland America logo on it, and also hats, bags, and other Holland America stuff.  The smallest store sells liquor, but also has some drug store items, such as toothpaste and aspirin.  That is where my books are on sale, along with CDs and DVDs from assorted entertainers.

Further back, there is the piano bar and Explorers Lounge on one side, and the library on the other.  The piano bar, known as the Rembrandt Lounge, is Stryker’s bar.  It isn’t a traditional piano bar, it doesn’t have the piano in the middle and people sit around it and chat with and confide in Stryker.  The piano is on a platform at one end of the room, and people sit in chairs with little tables scattered around, to listen.  As in all the bars on board, there is alcohol available, for a fee, but no one feels uncomfortable if they sit there and don’t drink.

Stryker has become one of Melissa’s closest friends on board.  He’s had an interesting life, working for a time as an actor.  He needed a stage name at one point, and chose Stryker, and that’s what he goes by now.  For those of you who are X-Men movie fans, the Colonel Stryker in those movies is named after him.

He can’t read music, but can play anything.  He is well valued by Holland America, because he is an excellent entertainer, singing as well as playing.  He is good at interacting with his audience, and has introduced Name That Tune games this year which I really enjoy, especially because when I play with Tony, who’s from Calgary, our team usually wins.  After the daily humiliation at the regular trivia game, it’s nice to win, even if the prize is yet another Holland America key chain or luggage tag.

The casino is on this deck, and sitting in the library I hear assorted dings and clangs, as people play the slot machines.  Once in a while I hear a slot machine release a surge of coins, but that doesn’t happen often.  There are tables, too, for poker, roulette, and blackjack, and a cashier who is barricaded behind wood and glass.

There’s also a sports bar, with a flat screen TV tuned to, what else, sports.  There’s usually no one there.

At the front end of the library is a room full of card table-sized tables, usually the haunt of bridge players.  Then there is the library proper, with bookshelves and lots of books.  Along the outside wall are large windows and the leather chairs with footrests that I like so much.  This area is usually crowded, and noisy.  It’s rather odd, but people who want a quiet place to read tend to go across the ship to the Explorers Lounge.  If I can’t get a leather chair, and there are only five of them, I’ve discovered a little area on deck four, where there’s a space about ten feet by ten, which isn’t really useful in any way.  There’s a storage area on one side and a wheelchair washroom on the other.  It’s a very narrow washroom, as I’ve discovered, too narrow to turn a wheelchair around in.  The one time I tried I got wedged between the sink and the garbage bin, which is set in the wall and so can’t be moved.  I wondered how long it would take for someone to discover me, and wished I’d brought a book in with me, but after much wriggling of the chair, I did get out.  Now, I back straight out.

One other wheelchair washroom, while I’m on the subject, on the Lido deck, for some reason has its own speaker and so the canned music playing at a subtle volume out in the restaurant, is ferociously loud it there.  Plus, it’s always freezing in there, too.  But, they do have push buttons to open and close the door, and rails to hold on to, and a sink at a lower, more-reachable-from-a-chair height, so they’re all good.

Anyway, back to this area of deck four.  Someone has thoughtfully placed two green chairs there which, although they aren’t as comfortable as the ones in the library, have footrests.  There’s rarely anyone there, so it’s a good place for me to settle to read or write or do email.

Just aft of the book part of the library, is an area with two large tables.  This is jigsaw puzzle territory, and as such, it is well guarded from anyone who might want to do something else with the tables.  Puzzles are worked on by groups, and at assorted times, but every night, beginning around midnight, three or four of them arrive, and they are often still at it when I leave at two a.m.

They are older ladies, and they get quite rowdy as they put pieces in place.  The ship has a lot of puzzles on hand, and the librarian even kept one hidden, so that they’d have something new to work on during this crossing.  Rose is the puzzle lady I know best, although I first met her when I was sitting out on the promenade deck (which also has deck chairs) and she approached me out of the blue and wanted to show me some photographs she’d taken.  I was happy enough to look, and although she was a little uncertain of how to bring up the pictures she wanted to show, or how to zoom in to the part she wanted, she was so enthusiastic about them, and told me about assorted people in some of them, it was all interesting.  She showed a lot of concern when I broke my ankle, and always stops to chat when she arrives in the library.  She’s a widow, still misses her husband a great deal, but is determined to continue traveling and have new experiences whenever she can.  She wears large glasses of a type that distort the eyes, so she often looks vague, but she’s not.

Behind the puzzle room is another room with some computers and comfortable chairs.  At the back is a large table whose top is all inlaid in different colours of stone.  There are a couple of electric plugs back there, and so laptop users tend to congregate there.

In the evening, while Stryker is playing, there is a violinist and pianist in the Explorer’s Lounge, and I can hear them play when I sit in the library.  They are very good, and play a wide variety of music.  There’s also usually a small chocolate buffet set up there at night, but I pretend I don’t know that.

During the day, the bars and lounges are used for assorted events.  There is a kind of Olympics going on, in which people hit small balls with large hockey sticks through traffic cones, or toss rings into hula hoops.  All participants win Dam Dollars, which can be exchanged for assorted Holland America clothing and cups and things.  These games sometimes take place in the Ocean Bar, which is where I teach my off-program but regular writing classes.  The book club is in Stryker’s bar.  My on-program writing classes are in the movie theatre.  Most spaces are busy most of the day.

Deck six, the Verandah deck, is where the verandah cabins are, cabins that the same size as most, but have a small balcony.  Deck seven, the Navigation deck, has the suites, double-sized cabins with bigger balconies.  That deck has its own lounge, which has its own concierge as well as other staff.  There’s also a business center there, with Internet hook ups.  I guess for what those people pay, they deserve a few extra perks. The bridge is near the bow of deck seven.

Deck eight, called the Lido deck, has one swimming pool near the bow.  It has a retractable roof and deck chairs all around it, and is a popular place.  I’m not sure why, as it tends to be stuffy and smell like chlorine, but especially when we were in warmer places, it was filled with bodies, most of which overflowed their bathing suits by a considerable amount, lying in the sun if the roof was open, and in the humidity if it wasn’t.  (Speaking of bathing suits, one of comedian performers did a hilarious bit about how guys above a certain age should not be allowed to wear Speedos.)

Deck eight also has the cafeteria style restaurant, and then there’s an outside deck at the back, which also has a pool.  It’s a nice place to sit, as there is shade if you want it, and lots of tables for people who want to eat outside, as well as lots of deck chairs.

Deck eight has the gym, where the treadmills are right along the front, in front of tall windows, and the spa, where you can get everything – waxings, massages, facials, mud wraps, acupuncture, and so on.

Deck nine only exists in the front third of so of the ship.  It’s called the Sports Deck, and as a volleyball court, a basketball court, (both with netting as walls and ceiling so balls don’t end up in the ocean), and a short running track.  When we’re moving, it tends to be very windy, so runners tend to go very slowly for half the lap, and very fast for the rest.  There’s also an area for teens to hang out, and a day care area, where little kids, who are very rare on long cruises, can paint and play.  The ship has a childcare person.  She spent the first three months with one five-year old, but currently I think there are three or four little kids.  She does many other jobs, too, helping out as needed.

Also on deck nine, right in the front, is another bar called the Crow’s Nest.  This is the party place.  While the music there for much of the evening is dance music for ballroom style, like the Ocean Bar, and this is the other place the dance hosts keep busy, after about eleven or so there’s a DJ who, when he gets tired, lets people plug in their iPods to the sound system to they can dance to rock and roll or whatever the current popular music is called.  He plays this style of music, too.

Each formal night there’s a party up there, and as the formal nights on this ship are all themed, there are appropriate decorations and drinks, and people come dressed appropriately.  Most recently we had a Prohibition theme, and everyone who went to dinner in the dining room was given either a fedora hat or a feather boa.  Bullet hole stickers and signs saying things like “Bathtub Gin Joint” were common.  Other themes have included pirates, garden gnomes, and the tropics.

The Crow’s Nest is the favorite place with the few younger people on board who find each other there.  Some older folks hang out with them, too.  I find it amazing how comfortable people are these days with people much older or younger than themselves.  I would no more have sat around with one of my parents’ friends than I would have agreed to go to a high school class wearing a beanie cap.  And I never called any of them by their first names.  It’s different now, and better, I think.  (OMG, I sound so old!)

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