Her Story- Cruising Alaska

Her Story- Cruising Alaska

There seem to be more bars on the ship than I can count. I sit here at the one by the pools. The poolside with the hot- baths. One large, one small. I face the touchy-feely couple in the small one: skin wrinkled with the heat of the water, faces an excited red with the icy winds blowing, and bodies extended and relaxed. It’s easy to see they don’t care for much else except how the skin feels soaked in the bubbling warm water. Their own. Each others.

I order a whiskey. The barman looks surprised. “Its not the weather for a whiskey, also not the time. Cruises are about fun drinks and striped towels at the pools.” Smiling, I look up at him, the large collection of liquor of every kind and at fellow-cruisers, comfortably ensconced in chairs that demand relaxation.

So many levels, so many levels of entertainment on each of them. The 9th Deck is the highest and also the coldest, but it’s the one with a celebratory mood. The music plays songs from the 80’s and 90’s and there’s a spontaneous breaking into song and dance.

Smokers have claimed their corner of the deck already, outside of the gusts that will blow the flickering cigarettes out. Do smokers have a hidden code that unites? Does smoking a cigarette amount to smoking a peace pipe? Those cigarettes definitely have special powers; they instantly create homogeneous groups out of total strangers.

Cruisers with pizzas, ice creams and hotdogs walk in and out across a pile of blankets that sit on a counter looking sure, as if to say- Not today perhaps, but you’ll be reaching out for us soon. I’m cold already.

I stretch my legs out, sitting on the silver barstool with whale-tail seats. My thigh-high brown boots are almost new, bought especially for these seven days.

The zipper on the left one has caught a bit of denim in it, right above the infinity tattoo on my thigh. I try pry it loose, but its still there, pretty much the story of my life.

The barman smiles as he throws up a flaming bottle in the air, catching it in time to pour out a golden spirit. He jokes constantly, but as I will discover later, he pays absolute attention to remembering what each guest likes. The service crew is almost all either Indonesian, Balinese or Filipino. Gentle, dedicated and hard working.

Everyone on the way down smiles at each other. A carefully tuxedo’d couple in their fifties hold hands and smile at each other and me, facing the mirrored wall. I think to myself: Mountains of food, drink and deserts of every imaginable variety seem to have softened humanity.

I hurry to three levels below mine and walk rapidly to the aft side of the ship. I’m lost! This is a maze of too big, too beautiful, too much.

Someone gives me directions. I find myself walking across a bar and a piano room, filled with people playing Trivia. Surprise! It would be fun to stop and play.

I bump into the tuxedo’d couple again. The woman is clinging to him, body language almost screaming Stay away, you women of the world. This man is mine!

I think I’m lost again.

This time I read the signs carefully- Aft, Forward, Center. I pass the ballroom where we’ll go for the Captain’s Dinner. I’m going only because I want to wear the saree I’ve carried with me.

And then, suddenly, I see the right numbers- Evens on one side, Odds on the other. There it is, the suite I’ve been searching for.

I knock on the door. It has a guilty tuktuk sound. A click and it is open, one step in, it clicks shut.

We just stand there voiceless- kissing, touching, hugging, clinging, barely making it to the bed. My heart is a desperate wail. This is all we’ve got. Seven days, that’s it. One day almost over. All that we have is six days of anonymity and each other.

This is all we’ve got. Two weeks from today I will be home, wearing the bridal lehnga my fiance’s sister chose for me, marrying a stranger my parents chose for me, living a life my culture chose for me.

Months of planning, and however much we both try to pretend otherwise, we both know this is all we have.

I step over the white sheets, across the toweled creature the housekeeping has created.

The Do Not Disturb sign blinks a bright neon green.

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Cruising Alaska- Of Hunger-pangs, Icy Blue Seas and Pools That Steam You Up.

Cruising Alaska- Of Hunger-pangs, Icy Blue Seas and Pools That Steam You Up.

How do you pack for Alaska when the weatherman predicts 50% chance of rain everyday that you will be there!

This is what I do: Keep the heavies- Rain/ wind/ snow shield. Keep the really heavy insulated boots- Rain/ snow. Keep the thermals- To eliminate at least two layers of clothes. Keep those three dresses and a pair of foot-murdering stilettos that go with all of them- For the Captains Dinner and fine-dining restaurants. Keep two bags. Both small-For the phone and key. That’s it! All cruises have deck-bags on request.

I follow the advice someone shares on YouTube: However tempting, do not carry along the rest of the hundred things you want to, because this is the least formally attired cruise you will sail on, among the big few.

Food? Munchies at least? Everyone laughs at me- “It’s a cruise. A luxe cruise. Cruises are about food.” I agree.

Immigration to go into the cruise ship starts at 12 noon the next day. We’re told it should take an hour or so, but as the day goes by, we see that’s incredibly off the mark.

We’re there at 11.30 am, to discover masses of humanity lined up in front of us. It’s surprising how many people have taken the trouble to do matching outfits.

Getting through the pre-boarding formalities a slow process. Interminable slow.

Exasperation is the expression that best describes the mood of the moment. Men, women, kids, babies. I look around and realize that every nationality under the sun shares the same expression when unexpectedly stonewalled. Some are more dignified than others, but equally share a certain common look when eyes meet. It says, “I feel you.” Or something equally “We’ll get through this, but this is not what we signed up for.”

Exasperation gives way to hunger, but there’s nothing to eat. Absolutely nothing. Folks with kids (and better sense) open packets of goodies they have carried along. I am reminded of someone who would constantly make jokes about the assortment of nuts, seeds, cheese, crackers that I never leave home without. As a believer of ‘the army cannot march on an empty stomach’, I would laugh it off. Replenishing the tuck box has been a daily ritual. Except today.

I try not to stare back at the sesame seed and avocado dip staring at me from the the chair across me. It belongs to a kid in a red panda suit, and this panda is holding it tight. I should be ashamed of myself!

A few hours pass before US immigration officers finally decide to let the party begin, and we are all aboard the beautiful Niew Amsterdam.

The party is already on.

Deck 9 is swarming with revelers. The bars are easily the 2nd most popular location right now, the first being the railings on decks at all levels, overlooking the calm sea and the beautiful Vancouver shoreline around the water.

We move just as I am starting on deserts. I would have missed it entirely (as usual) if it wasn’t for the loud cheer from all the balconies and decks, drowning what the captain says in welcome.

We all stand around and raise a (mostly Vodka lime and orange) toast to sunny weather and calm seas- The weather man has predicted rainy gray skies in our sailing week.

Honestly, I really don’t care right now. All I can see is the indoor heated pools, jacuzzis and hot tubs at every level, a gentle steam rising into the sky, more than enough to ward off the chill of bitterly cold Alaskan winds in the coming days.