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DaCruzNut

A SEA OF MEMORIES - Part 1

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A recent post by Mebert, and some of the replies, got me to thinking about my little writing endeavor. So, for those of you who haven't read this, if you care to, here we go, again....

A SEA OF MEMORIES

Copyright © 2004-Jeffrey R. Stern

All Rights Reserved.

DEDICATION:

To my two Lisa’s, who encouraged me to put pen to paper (or, fingers to keys….) and write about my cruise memories….

And, to www.CruiseCrazies.com, whose message boards, and the wonderful friends I made on them, helped me through some tough times.

PROLOGUE

In May, 2001, I posted a message, on a cruise-related Message Board, about the s/s Britanis. A very short post. One of the replies, from Lisa63, simply said, “Jeff, I’d love to hear more about Britanis.†I wrote back, with the following:

Lisa63: She was built in 1932 and was what you think of when you think of a "ship." She was showing her age, and could have used a refurbishing, but had a special feel to her. If you meet almost any one who ever sailed on her, passenger or crew, they get a little dreamy-eyed and sigh... After our first few sailings, we'd run into passengers we'd sailed with before on her. She had a very loyal following of people who sailed on her several times a year. She did a week-end cruise from Miami that was very inexpensive. Food was great (same caterer as Celebrity, Apollo). Could write a book about her.....but, above explains why so many of has had a tear in our eye when she sank last year, as the Belofin I.

And, so, I took the first step of a journey that would lead me down a new path. I was not, however, aware of the fact that the trek had begun.

Then, on a rainy Saturday, in February, 2002, I was in a nostalgic mood, and wrote a post, once again, about the Britanis. This one was a bit more detailed, than the one above, and filled a full page.

About a month later, Lisa63 entered a post, directed to me, asking if I had any more cruise reminiscences. Well, having, as all men do, an enormous ego, and lots of memories, this prompted me to write about the s/s Dolphin IV, another favorite.

I was, completely, amazed at the number of posts, and e-mails, I received, from people who, apparently, enjoyed my memories. After all, I was the one that had the fun of reliving those moments, by recalling them, and writing them down; so much fun, in fact, that I seem to have gotten carried away.

And, so, what follows, is just a small part of the memories which and I have pull together.

INTRODUCTION

It wasn’t TOO long ago, on September 16, 1989, I took my first cruise. However, it could have been a lifetime ago. An industry that had changed very little, in over three decades, was about to undergo, a sudden, drastic transformation.

Up until the early nineties, almost all of the cruise ships were converted ocean liners. They were refurbished, reconfigured, and remodeled. All first, second and steerage class distinctions disappeared, and they became one-class. Pools were inserted, usually on the stern of the upper deck; casinos were inserted and other minor changes made.

However, most of the wood, mahogany, everywhere; teak decks; remained. As did the, polished, brass handrails; brass portholes, in the outside cabins (no picture windows on these ladies!), bras, bras, brass. Also retained were the original fixtures, such as chandeliers, wall lights, and such. When you boarded one of these marvelous old ladies-of-the-sea, you felt as if you were entering the glamorous world of make-believe.

Of course, there were some drawbacks…. Because the ships had originally been designed to transport three classes of passenger, the First Class areas were not, always, accessible to the Second Class sections. Likewise, Third Class was completely cut off from the rest of the ship. When the ship was reconfigured to be a one-class craft, all of the areas had to be available to all of the passengers. Unfortunately, this, sometimes, made it difficult to navigate around the ship. To get from one place to another, you might have to walk up a flight of stairs, towards the stern, go forward to another stairway and go up two flights, and go back to the stern and go down a flight. This didn’t occur often, but it did happen.

Carnival was the first to devise, and build, a ship designed solely for cruising. It was the beginning of the “Cruise Era.†But, the basic design continued to follow that of the classic ocean liners. The hulls retained their sleek, pointed, shape, and the general configuration was similar. The major differences were that they were built as single-class ships, so you had easy access to all of the public areas. Pool decks were larger, to accommodate more people. While they were all “cruise ship,†they still maintained a part of the sense of the old ‘ladies.’

The cruise experience was pretty traditional, also. You had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the main, or late, seating. You could have breakfast and lunch at a buffet area, but most people didn’t. Dinner was dinner; no options.

Formal night was something that almost all of the passengers observed, and tuxedos or dark business suits, for the men, gowns for the ladies, were the norm. And, you kept them on all evening….

Daytime entertainment consisted of bingo, horse racing, and ice carving demonstrations.

There was also fruit & vegetable carving, trivia and napkin folding.

Let’s not forget the pool games! Ah, the memories of stuffing pineapples, and other assorted fruit, into my Speedo…. Or, guzzling a bottle of beer, eating a cracker and trying to whistle, “Dixie!†They’re right; travel is broadening.

Of course, you could always choose to just sit by the pool and read a good book.

Then, the explosion happened! New ships, holding twice as many passengers, and designed specifically for Caribbean cruising began to appear. Bigger and bigger they got! A mega-liner at 45,000 grt soon became small, compared to the 70,000 grt super-liners. Finally, the floating cities, at 100,000 grt+, came on the scene.

Cruising was changed forever! I’m not going to take a side as to whether it has changed for the better, or worse. I could probably argue either side, effectively. In fact, as I relate my stories, you will see that I have had wonderful experiences on the tiny Caribe I as well as the Triumph and Grand Princess.

I have equal, but very different reasons, for enjoying a cruise on a small ship and doing so on a large ship. Each offers a different, but still great, experience.

In the same vein, I’m not going to rate the ships, or cruise lines, or describe the ships in any great detail. If that is what you need, I highly recommend the Berlitz Guide To Cruises. It’s probably the best of all of the many I have read.

What I do want to do, is to convey some of my experiences, with cruising, and to share some memories of the old time, traditional ships, and cruises, of, oh, so long, ago…

That “..oh, so long ago…,†for us, began on September 16, 1989. That was when I first sailed, and began the odyssey that has led me to fifty-five cruises, on sixteen cruise lines; all to the Caribbean, eastern, western and southern. All, with one exception, sailing from the Port of Miami, or Port Everglades. The single exception was the time I left from San Juan.

My story, however, starts many years before “distant past†of 1989……

1 – THE SEED IS PLANTED

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the seeds of my love of ships, the sea and cruising were planted in my early childhood.

I lived in a community, at the tip of Coney Island, called Sea Gate, which jutted out into Gravesend Bay and Upper New York Harbor. My room was on the upper floor of a house that was directly across the street from the Norton’s Point Lighthouse; the beacon that guides ships in and out of New York Harbor, to this day. For years, I didn’t know that it was not everyone’s bedroom that glowed red…then, white…then, red…then…well, you get the idea.

What I did know was that I never tired of sitting at my window and watching the classic liners come into, and, then, leave the harbor. And, what an amazing list of ships it was; the United States and America; the Queen(s) Elizabeth and Mary; Cristoforo Colombo; Isle de France, and later the France; the Independence and Constitution; and, oh, so many more.

When we watched the floating palaces leave for Europe, from the beach, there was no problem. However, when they returned, they threw a wake to the port (right) side of the ship that would take about ten, or fifteen, minutes to make its way to shore; just enough time for the lifeguards to clear everyone out of the water and direct them to the rear of the beach. Then the wave would hit, and work its way up the beach. Then three, or four, more. It wasn’t the wave that was a large problem, but the undertow it created. Quite a feat for something a mile, or so, away…. Power, to match the beauty.

Then, there were the Sunday drives, to visit relatives in the Bronx, or New Jersey, when my dad would drive up the West Side Highway, and past the New York Piers. Driving above the streets of Manhattan, on the elevated grandstand, with a clear view of the classic liners, close up. So close, that they each filled your entire field of view, as you passed. Giant buildings; part of the New York skyline; but, these floated and moved….

After having spent the better part of my life on the beach, I reached a point where the beach, itself, held no special allure for me. For many years, now, I have seen no reason to go to the beach, put on suntan oil, have sand blow all over you, and wind up looking, and feeling, like a baked breaded veal cutlet.

On the other hand, I have to live close enough to the ocean so that I can see it any time I want to. Never, under any circumstances, more than a half-hour drive away….

This held true, many years later, when we moved to Miami. Only now I had, not only ocean, but palm trees, and all the things that make this a tropical paradise.

I worked on Miami Beach and had to take the McArthur Causeway to work every day. For those of you who don’t know, and that’s close to everybody, the McArthur Causeway is the roadway that parallels the Port of Miami and connects downtown to Star Island, Palm Island, Hibiscus Island and, ultimately, South Beach.

It is obvious that, as clearly as you can see the causeway from the ships, you can watch the ships from the causeway.

Ships, and the sea, have always been a part of my life. Like so many things, they were so close that I didn’t, really, see them.

Times and circumstances changed. Cruising had, suddenly, reached the point where it was probable to think that, someday, It would be me, on the deck of a ship, sitting on a lounge chair and drinking a frozen thingee. Of course, I didn’t know they were called “frozen thingees, at the time.

(Y’know, ‘spell-check’ can be a real pain in the butt; It never heard of a “thingee….â€Â)

I would drive to-and-from work, passing a line-up of one ship after another… My heart would beat just a little bit faster, as I thought, “Someday, I will be looking down at the causeway, from the deck of one of those ships, and be waving to the poor guy driving to, or from, work.â€Â

And so, the stage was set. I was about to break down and take the plunge, not figuratively (hopefully).

For years, my travel agent had tried to talk me into taking a cruise. Living in Miami, I thought that was a stupid idea. After all, if I wanted to spend my whole vacation lying by a pool, feeling trapped and confined, I could stay home, lie next to my pool and not leave the house.

Fate, however, had other plans for me. A “super special deal,†from Carnival, for a September sailing, in 1989, and I had no choice. With the travel agent in one ear, and Jacki in the other, I found myself booked on the Holiday, for a seven-day cruise to the Western Caribbean.

Great! A week, trapped on a tiny ship, in the middle of the Caribbean. Nothing to do, but listen to some island “locals†beat on old steel oil cans…. And, dress up, every night, for dinner, and then go to some stuffy lounge and see some crappy show, with off-key singers and clumsy dancers. Worst of all, I had to pay or this!

And, so, it began….

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Dear Jeff,

I always love reading your Sea of Memories. I especially love the part about the Concord- where Wayne and I met. I'm looking forward to reading the rest. Thanks so much for reposting it. Hugs, Cheryl :kiss:

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DaCruzNut,

Thanks for sharing your memories of your introduction to cruising. Believe it or not your excuses for not cruising were the same as mine. Boy, was it wrong.

My introduction to crusing was in 2003 also on Carnival, the Destiny to the Southern Caribbean (I'm beginning to feel Carnival Destiny has one of Carnival's best itineraries and wish I had worked my way up to it). My next cruise was to do the some other islands of the Southern Caribbean on the Carnival Jubilee but Carnival cancelled that trip. However, I am still totally hooked on the numerous adventures that the cruise line offers out in the open sea and to distant shores.

Listening to your stories don't help. They only make me more addicted and pine to hear more stories. You are absolutely no help if one is trying to withdraw from such a wonderful addiction.

Thanks for being on the board.

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