Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cruise '09 B

We begin with a couple days at sea, so thoughts run to the general.


We're traveling over a small portion of the world's oceans, but one quickly realizes how vastly overmatched we are by expanses on this scale. We are hours and hours--whole days in a stretch--without sight of any dry land (though the Caribbean Sea is not a large one as they go), and there is the morbidly fascinating sense of the hopelessness with which a person would go over the side out here. If you were not seen going over, your death would be certain, though with the grisly twist that you would remain quite healthy and viable for however long you were able to maintain a struggle (Half an hour? Two hours?). Always I think of how we love the sea and the seafaring life and the beach, but these open water passages remind us that the sea us utterly hostile to us, as hostile as outer space except that exposure to space would take its toll without the sea's brief delay.

And then there is the whole "sea legs" business. Even with a thousand foot long ship, the big hull is in constant movement. There are wing-like stabilizers which control the rolling of the hull to a degree, but there's always a bit of it. And even along the the long fore-aft axis of the ship there is movement, a pitching up and down of both ends (which intuitively one does not expect). So after a day or so you get accustomed to the floor beneath your feet being in a constant state of motion to some degree. This becomes especially apparent when walking down the very long interior hallways. You can see a couple hundred feet ahead of you, and your inner ear registers that, like some kind of kiddie park funhouse, the apparently stationary hallway is in fact moving. People in front of you all sway gently to one side and back en masse, everyone's sense of equilibrium registering like a democratic vote that the hallway is, in fact, in motion despite no visual cues to the fact. At first this movement takes adjustment; it can be off-putting for those prone to motion sickness. But after a couple days it just becomes the way of the world, and unless there's a particularly choppy day one simply ceases to notice.

The odd thing then becomes how your body carries on the fight even when you return to dry land. You find yourself walking in a zig-zag, correcting for movement that is not there. Even standing still on a street corner, you feel convinced that there is SOME subtle motion under your feet. A week later, the sensation is gone.


I've spoken of this before, I know, and also in the context of airplanes; but I'm amazed at how self-contained the cruise ship is. It doesn't grow its own food or produce its own raw materials, but after that it seems to need little help apart from an ungodly amount of fuel oil to make it all happen. When we departed the harbor in Fort Lauderdale, we were number five or six in big ships departing, and we could see the other ships fanning out toward the horizon, Eastward away from the setting sun. Our own ship gave one the impression of walking around a shopping mall / hotel complex, with live music and food everywhere and everything lit up like noontime. Though the departing ships looked like smaller and smaller specks of light, one knew that people on those ships were experiencing every comfort as we were on ours. Just the production of electricity--something made mundane in principle to anyone who ever used a portable Honda generator--takes on a meaningful proportion here. Various voltages must be produced, some in staggering quantities, and everything routed to the proper place, from the big and obvious things like cookstoves and ovens and outside lighting, to more obscure things. Think of televisions: there are nearly a thousand guest cabins, each of which has a TV, plus there is a TV in every crew cabin (though much of the crew shares cabins with other crewmembers). There are also numerous big screen TVs in all the bars and lounges, plus a bunch for public address purposes. Our cabin has maybe 20 lights in it, plus a small refrigerator and several power outlets for computers / shavers, etc, each with selectable 115 / 230V service.

(The Lido restaurant, port side, at 5:am.)

I know this is not rocket science, multiplying typical usage by typical users and adding in a buffer and figuring out supply. But this is one system of a bunch that the ship sports. I've written elsewhere about the fresh water and sewer systems (the little signs in your bathroom say "water is precious; please conserve" but the shower crushes you like a fire hose, spewing out water like it's a commodity they're dying to get rid of--and all of it is produced on board), and about the stunning food service which, on a ship this size, amounts to 11,000 meals per day. There is HVAC for each room and public space, and internet wired about the ship (with wifi now in most rooms, albeit a service so costly that one suspects we are paying for Holland America's own dedicated satellite). There is a telephone system on the ship connecting all the regular places, plus it can call off-ship if one desires. The front desk of the hotel has all the usual features, and is connected to all the other offices aboard the ship and ashore that a hotel (or a ship) would need to function. There are full laundry facilities on board, plus all manner of dry cleaning--they'll happily take care of any laundering you need, to say nothing of all their own needs. There is a tailor aboard, who actually physically crafts all the workers' clothing. On board.

(The midship elevator lobby.)

Anyway, I'm led to think about all this every time I see a ship like this one out on the open water lit up like a christmas tree. The ship has several radars and spotlights which will boil the water directly in front of them, the pools are all toasty warm, and the indoor pool has a many-ton retractable roof; the power for any and all these things seems always ready to hand. Amazing.

(A Deck lobby and bar. The atrium extends up three floors.)


I go for a walk at night after dinner, three laps around the Promenade deck for each mile. This deck--closer to the water line than the top levels of the ship--is mostly covered, but open at the sides to the water rushing by in the darkness some three or four stories below. But the Promenade deck itself is lit up like city street at prime shopping season. A few people come and go during my hour long walk, standing at the rail and looking out at the featureless black.

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