Today we met my parents and my sister’s family, and headed for the harbor. This year my Dad decided to take me and my sister’s tribes to Alaska on a family trip aboard the S.S. Smorgasbord. So between 3 cabins we have (literally) a boatload of people.
In the terminal my father had paid extra to have “priority check-in” on the cruise, and was told there was a special waiting area for this. I think he was under the impression this was a separate area of plush chairs, quiet fountains, a classical music quartet, and stunning, nubile serving girls catering to your every whim.
He was clearly disappointed to find it was simply a section of standard airport-style row seats, in the center of all the other waiting people, surrounded by a bunch of those rope barriers they use in movie theater lines. The provided entertainment was yesterday’s newspaper (with the sports section missing). The closest thing to a serving girl was an overweight guy named Harvey who kept yelling at people not to lean on the ropes. It’s my parents’ first cruise, and it clearly wasn’t starting the way he wanted it to.
My initial Alaskan cruise was several years ago, with a company I’ll call Non-Consumable food Lines. Mrs. Grumpy and I went without the kids. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that trip would become a noteworthy experience for me and my blog followers.
There was a talent show on the last full day of that cruise, and Mrs. Grumpy asked me to enter it, doing comedy based on my practice. Since it also fell on her birthday, I couldn’t refuse.
So I got some of the material I’d been saving together, and did a 3 minute stand-up routine. For better or worse I was beaten by an 88 year-old clog-dancer. But that experience eventually contributed to the creation of this blog (and who’s gonna read a blog called grumpy88yearoldclogdancer.com anyway?). I think she got the sympathy vote, just in case she didn't make it through the cruise.
Back to 2010.
When we found our cabin it was hot as hell, in spite of the AC being on cold. So I called to complain. The lady who answered the phone assured me that an “air-conditioner fixer specialty person” would come soon, and so he did. The guy walked into our cabin, pulled the plastic cover off the AC control, blew dust out of it, whacked it with the side of his hand, and left. It worked fine after that.
While Mrs. Grumpy unpacked, she told me to either get the kids out of her hair, or kill them. So I dragged them upstairs. They made me stop for ice cream, apparently out of fear that they would go into a hypoglycemic coma so soon after lunch. After getting there Marie decided she also desperately needed a grilled cheese sandwich, as it had been nearly 30 minutes since lunch. So she made friends with Ajay, master of the S.S. Smorgasbord’s grill.
Then we went off to golf. Marie, picking up right where she’d left off on our last cruise, started by knocking over a lady’s daiquiri and shattering the glass (I guess it’s hard to play when you’re trying to hold a club and ice cream cone in one hand and a grilled cheese in the other). When someone came over to clean it up, she began wailing that it was Craig’s fault for talking to her while she was teeing off.
To prepare for this cruise, I read a great book called Cruise Confidential, by Brian Bruns. He wrote the book while working as a waiter for Carnival, and it gives a remarkable view into the lives of the ship’s service crew.
Basically they work hard and party hard. In fact, from reading the book you get the impression that when they’re not working the crew are either sleeping, drinking, or screwing (they also have to guard their silverware from other waiters). It notes that Mr. Bruns is the only American (as of the time of the writing) to have survived a Carnival tour-of-duty. I’m surprised that the book hasn’t recruited more American college-aged guys to the field, as it sounds like the lifestyle of mindless labor, alcohol, and frequent sex would be quite attractive at some point. Carnival even provides condoms to the employees.
After reading the book it’s impossible to walk around the ship looking at crew members and not wonder who’s banging who.
I also became aware that, like everyone else out there, the crew has to put up with some remarkably stupid questions. An example from the book is “What do you do with the ice sculptures after they melt?”
And that's it from the S.S. Smorgasboard.