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DaCruzNut

A SEA OF MEMORIES - Part 7

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7 – A LOVE AFFAIR AT SEA…

(Copyright © 2004-Jeffrey R. Stern

All Rights Reserved.)

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In the early days of cruising, the gangway from the terminal did not lead directly into a grand atrium. You stepped off the boardwalk onto the deck of the ship, where you were greeted by a row of white-jacketed Cabin Stewards and a young woman, in a stiff, blue, jacket.

This was how I met her; That ship that was to become a very special part of me.

A young lady, a member of the Cruise Director’s staff, handed me the usual daily program, and diagram of the ship, and told me that they were serving a buffet lunch on some deck, somewhere. She then asked to see my ticket, and took note of the cabin number. Simultaneously, the first Cabin Steward in line stepped forward, smiled and took my carry-ons. The young lady told him the cabin number, and (I think) he said, in

one of the few English phrases he knew, "Follow me, please.â€Â

As I walked along the deck, I took note of the ship, for the first time. Teak floorboards! The decks were actually made of real wood, genuine teak. The handrails were mahogany, newly varnished and highly polished, and layers and layers of white paint covered everything else. I think that there were some parts of the ship that were actually held together by the paint.

I arrived at the cabin, and stepped inside, and I let out a, barely, audible, “Wow…..†Facing me were two portholes; not a big picture window, but those little round things that you saw in the movies. The furnishings were only slightly frayed, but not annoyingly so. One thought kept running through my head, “This is a real ship!â€Â

The moment you boarded her, you felt as if she had a soul… A ship that was more of a living being, than an object. If you speak with anyone who has sailed on her, whether as apassenger or member of the crew, they will tell you that you could “sense†her.

She was built in 1932, only a short twenty years after the Titanic! She was already thirty-years old when the Norway entered service, as the France. An all American, built in the Bethlehem Shipyards; she served her Country well, in World War Two, and even shot down an enemy plane! A true war hero! Yet, once she retired from active service, and was refurbished, she became a Lady, once again, and remained that way until the very end.

The Britanis was born as the Monterey, designed and built for South Pacific sailing. She cruised from California to Hawaii, and the South Pacific. Sporting a classic liner shape, with two funnels, she was a beautiful ship.

Although she was re-named, refurbished and refurnished, several times, parts of the ship retained a South Seas influence. From the Monterey, to the Matsonia, to the Lurline; finally, she spent her last four decades as the Britanis, sailing the Caribbean and South America.

At the very stern of the Main Deck, just below the pool deck, was the “Quiet Deck.†Protected from the elements, by the pool deck, and open to the sea on three sides, it housed a cluster of brass instruments, including a compass and wheel, that could act as an auxiliary bridge.

The décor was Polynesian Tacky; rattan furniture and a “garden†of fake tropical foliage.

Very few first-time passengers learned of its existence, due to the fact that it had to be entered from either the library or gym. Even a number of “regulars†took several voyages before realizing it was there! It was usually deserted, or close to it.

I enjoyed many hours on the Quiet Deck, not really worrying about having to truly be quiet. A book, a small “boom box,†and the sea…. On one trip, several of my sons brought guitars along. They found that the spot was perfect. Deserted, surrounded by the sea, a perfect place to play their music.

One deck up, on either side of the ship was a covered deck, open to the sea. This is where the welcome-aboard buffet was set up. Anyone who has sailed on her will tell you about the unbelievable Elephant Ear Cookies on the welcome-aboard buffet…

The remainder of the buffet was far less bountiful than today’s feasts. The usual fare was hot dogs, hamburgers, salads, sandwiches and cookies/cakes/pies/pastries…..

Despite the fact that she has been refurbished several times, a few of the original decorations, from her days in the South Seas, remained. The Polynesian décor of the Quiet Deck was only one example.

Tiki gods guarded the rear entrance of the dining room. They were, apparently, very effective in keeping the bad spirits out of the dining room, and galley.

The pool was at the stern of the ship, as was traditional, then, and was open on all sides, from horizon-to-horizon-to-horizon… This was the “center†of the ship’s activity. It bega with the Bon Voyage Sail-Away Party. Almost all of the passenders gathered at the Lido Deck, along with the Cruise Director and his/her staff. The band was in high gear, and passengers were dancing in ever corner. Others stood at the rail and threw streamers and confetti of the stern of the ship. It was a scene out of “Love Boat.â€Â

The show lounge was a tiny affair, with a small stage. Performers stood in the Smoker’s Bar, just outside the ballroom, waiting to make their entrances. Yet, the shows were, surprisingly, fairly large-scale, “scaled-down†productions. Chinese dragons dancing across the stage; showgirls in Las Vegas costumes, with high feather crowns that nearly touched the low ceiling; dancers constantly keeping an eye on the edge of the tiny stage; it was the talent of the performers that made the show.

And all around the ship, portholes……. Although I was excited by the portholes (it doesn’t take much to please me…), my favorite cabin was an inside, number 108. Due to the odd configuration of cabins, a small number of cabins, numbers 102 to 109, were outrageously large. They were holdovers from her earlier days, when she had several ‘Classes.†These particular cabins were the equivalent of “steerage.†We once had a group of 14 people in our cabin! It was just a little tight, but not claustrophobic… We always tried to book cabin 108 for the week-end cruises, but took an outside for the five-nighters.

When I boarded her for the third time, my Cabin Steward recognized me, immediately, stepped out of the middle of the line, and walked over to me; “Good afternoon sir.†And, without another word, lead me to one-oh-eight!

The last time I sailed her, it was shortly before she was taken out of service. All of us aboard her, that trip, knew that this was, most probably, our last voyage on this lady of the sea… One night, I ‘borrowed’ a knife from the buffet, went back to the cabin and began to unscrew the small metal plate, with the “108,†from above the door. BUSTED! As I was committing this major felony, the Cabin Steward came around the corner. He passed behind me, without slowing; “That’s OK, sir, you deserve it….â€Â

Once you’ve sailed on the same ship a number of times, you get to know a number of crew members, and they get to know you.

We have always had the Late Seating, on all of our cruises. On one sailing of the Britanis, we decided to try the Early Seating. During the first evening’s dinner, we decided we really didn’t like the Early Seating and would change back to Late. As we were leaving the dining room, I walked over to the maitre d’, my buddy from Jamaica, and said, to him, “Ivan, we have a minor problem….†“No problem, mon….†he replied, as he reached into his pocket, and pulled out a Late Seating card, with our name on it, “I knew you wouldn’t like the Early Bird…â€Â

A little tip from the Wine Steward has saved me a lot of money on my cruises. Wine must be kept in a cool, dry, motionless place. If this is not done, even the most expensive wines suffer a loss of quality. For some unexplained reason, less expensive wines tend to hold up better if these conditions are not perfectly maintained. Even if a ship keeps its wines in a cool, dry, place, which not all do, there is nothing they can do about the movement, which disturbs the sediment. Therefore, according to the Sommelier, it is a waste of money to buy an expensive wine and you are far better off enjoying the ‘bargain’ brands.

After a number of visits to the Casino, I was “comped†by the Casino Manager, Raj. This is the only ship I’ve ever had this honor on. Of course, when Raj comped me he didn’t realize that all I drink, while gambling, is club soda, with a twist. However, I always grabbed a freebeie on the way out of the Casino.

But, above everything else, was the food. Although this was a budget cruise, Chef Michelle Roux, yes, the one from Celebrity, did not stint on the food… In fact, the food deserves a chapter of its own, which follows…………

................................................................................

.......................................

(If you missed any of the preceding chapters, and wish to “catch up,†you can click on the links below….)

Part 1 – Introduction;

http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4349

Part 2 – Onto The Ship; Out To Sea

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4443]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4443

Part 3 – First, there’s The Food

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4395]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4395

Part 4 – Shooting The Dice

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4443]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4443

Part 5 – Places To Visit; People To See

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4459]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4459

Part 6 – Catching Cruise Fever

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4534]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4534

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What a great installment!!! I really enjoy reading these sea of memories. It's amazing to think you have followed the likes of Michelle Roux through their careers as the ships have changed and grown.

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Jeff, I particularly love this instalment. I wish I could have sailed on Britanis, but thanks to you, I feel as if I was there. A special lady, indeed.

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Thanks so much for sharing your great memories with us, Jeff! They bring back a lot of memories for me, too! Thanks, again!!!!

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Hey DaCruzNut,

As always, thanks for your memories. I really envy your having the opportunity to sail one of the majestic ocean liners. I'm still looking forward to finding time for the Regal Empress.

Your "lady" sounds like quite a catch.

Thanks for the tip regarding the inexpensive wine.

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There's a terrific article about the Regal Empress in this month's Cruise Travel Magazine. She's the last of the old 'liners' in active service.....

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Jeff...I just got my Cruise Travel today, and I was thinking about you when I saw the Regal Empress. I haven't read the article yet, but I'm looking forward to it!

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