And another thing…

Well it’s been a blast! We’ve seen a few sights, burned ourselves to crisps, eaten ridiculous quantities of ice cream and danced to an excessive amount of post World War II music. 

But before we go ashore for the last time, I’d like to leave you with a few final thoughts.

This ship is definitely on an economy kick. Since travelling on her last year there have been some rather harsh cut backs that, quite frankly, have not gone unnoticed. The pleasantly scented hand cream has vanished from the restrooms, as has the supply of fresh fruit to each cabin, and the circulated daily programme is such poor quality that it may as well have been printed on bog paper.

But it really comes to something when the towel animals are no longer furnished with eyes.

I mean, they don’t have to be particularly fancy, just a couple of stickers, bits of felt or even black beads would suffice. But take away the eyes, and all you’re left with is an empty space where the soul should be.

Making cut backs in the eye department is definitely a false economy. People build relationships with those animals, they become friends, travel companions, fellow sea farers. But who will confide in a seal that you can’t look straight in the eyes? Who really wants to tell their troubles to a visually impaired orangutan? 

Messing with the on-board creatures really is a slippery slope. It may be eyes today, but where will it all end? What other body parts will they economise on? As I’m sure you are aware, the towel animal genus has for some time been on the endangered species list, only surviving in the specialist zoos on board cruise ships. It’s just a matter of time before this magnificent species becomes totally extinct. Action is needed before it’s too late! Let’s start a campaign, crowd funding, an online petition. Yes, that’s it, Extinction Rebellion, I need a word.

I was once called a wysiwyg, and I was really rather pleased. In case you haven’t come across the term before, it’s pronounced whizzeewig and is an abbreviation for ‘what you see is what you get’. 

I suppose I am a fairly straight forward kind of individual, and I do like to call a spade a spade.  But I also like to pride myself on having a modicum of sensitivity too. 

This ship isn’t short of wysiwygs, and generally they fall into two categories. There are the kind of passengers that are naturally plain-spoken, and there are the people from the USA, who have taken directness, as they say ‘to a whole new level’. 

To be fair, it’s not just people from the USA who are practicing the fine art of ‘downright bloody rudeness’, it’s just that in my experience, on this ship, they are leading the way. 

A couple of days ago Paul and I wandered out onto deck 10 where there are some tables, chairs and sun loungers that overlook the pool. It’s a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by, and waste another hour or two scanning the ocean for dolphins and whales that only ever seem to appear on the opposite side of the ship. But as we stepped through the automatic doors from the Lido café onto the deck, we were treated to a view that we couldn’t possibly have anticipated. To our left, there was a man, standing close to the railings. And it took me a moment, but as he came into focus I realized that he wasn’t just standing at the railings, he was actually peeing over the edge. And I don’t mind telling you that I was shocked! It’s not as if there aren’t toilet facilities all over the ship, in fact there is one such facility within 10 yards of where we were standing!

By the time I had fully processed the situation and come to my senses it was already too late, he had disappeared back into the Lido. But if I hadn’t been so completely taken aback I would have taken a photo, made a huge print and posted it on the notice board in the café!

Last week, sitting in the Crows Nest, about three metres away from Paul and I were a group of US citizens (yep again, sorry!) They had collared Kay, the Cruise Director and were getting one or two things off their chests. After a little while I heard the word photography mentioned and so turned my attention to the conversation. Fully aware of our presence and in direct earshot, one of the group announced, ‘I know that you have er… photo stuff on the ship’, and she turned towards us with a dismissive wave, ‘but what Holland America needs to know, and what 90% of passengers REALLY want is lessons on how to use their iPhone!’ 

It’s reassuring to know that standards in the US haven’t slipped at all, how on earth could they?

There’s a buzz around the ship this evening. Trios of Studio lights are appearing at designated points on deck 8, each teamed with portable backdrops in mottled patterns of orange and blue, the kind that were popular in school photographs in the 1980’s. Throughout the evening couples will pose for the ship photographers, and later buy a print as a memento of their wonderful evening on board the Maasdam. 

The dining room has prepared a special menu, and the sign at the entrance has been updated from ‘This evening’s dress is smart casual’, to ‘This evening’s dress is Gala’. 

And guests (read passengers) who like to dress up, parade between the Casino, Ocean Bar and the Crows Nest, for maximum visibility. 

This circus (AKA Gala Night), occurs every two weeks or so, usually towards the beginning and end of each cruise. And the point of it? So far as I can see is to provide the guests with an opportunity to outdo each other in the bygone fashions of the mid 20th C. 

The dining room is popular this evening and Paul and I join the fairly short queue at the entrance. Surrounded by glitzy guests we chatted as we waited, until a woman on my left leaned over to me, looked me straight up and down, and said with an air of disgust: ‘It’s Gala night’! With the emphasis very firmly on the word Gala. It took me a moment to piece together the meaning of her comment, and while I was inwardly turning purple Paul took the lead. ‘What are you trying to say’? he retorted. Completely ignoring him and looking directly at me she repeated her insult, but this time even more slowly, mouthing the words in an exaggerated fashion, the way that some people talk to the elderly or the deaf.  ‘It’s GALA night’! she scoffed. 

Just to be clear, I wasn’t exactly looking like a bag lady. In fact, for me, I had really made and effort.  Smart red trousers, my best flamingo shirt and freshly polished leather sneakers.

I have to admit though, that somewhat taken aback by the unexpected arrival of the US Fashion Police, I completely failed to come up with any kind of witty or even sarcastic retort. All I could manage was a rather pathetic ‘Actually this is me dressed up, I don’t do sparkles’. But I did spit out the word ‘sparkles’, and stared disdainfully at the glittery frock that she was squeezed into.

Now, given that I am here in an official capacity, it’s extremely unlikely that Holland America would be at all sympathetic to my point of view if, say, for instance, I started a fight with a guest. So, it was rather fortuitous (for all involved), that the queue suddenly shuffled forward and the sparkly super-gob and her associates were escorted to their table. 

I remained purple, both inwardly and outwardly for some considerable time. 

On the other hand ….

Naturally, the best stories are often the things that don’t go according to plan. So just to even things up a little I’d like to finish with a few lovely things that we’ve experienced over the past six weeks.

We were reunited with some extraordinary people from last year’s cruise and have made friends for life.

We’ve been blown away by the really wonderful comments made about our presentations and workshops.

We’ve seen dolphins, three whales’ backs and one whale fin. Sadly we didn’t get a picture of any of them!

We did get a rather nice picture of a performing sea bird though!

Being rocked to sleep by the ocean is a magical thing.

Snorkelling in the South Pacific was an absolute privilege, even if we did fry to a crisp.

Free ice cream every day!

THE best coffee in New Zealand by Bee Keeper and honey makers – Hislops Cafe in Kaikoura.

The line dancing was hilarious.

And the guests always entertaining!

Farewell Maasdam.

Bon voyage!

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