Up the gangplank. Find my cabin. Throw the bags in. Lock it up. Elevator to the virtual golf room, where I grab a driver and bang OK, shank a drive...
VANCOUVER, B.C. Up the gangplank. Find my cabin. Throw the bags in. Lock it up.
Elevator to the virtual golf room, where I grab a driver and bang OK, shank a drive 150 yards into pixilated rough.
I could play 18 imaginary holes if I had the time. But I don’t have the time. I’m on a repositioning cruise a “repo” for short. In 42 hours, we’ll be in San Francisco, done with our job of taking the Island Princess on the first leg of a seasonal migration from its summer home here to its winter port in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Forty-two hours. Less than two days. All the stuff that comes with the usual four- or six- or 12-day cruise crammed into two nights and one fleeting day.
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Barely enough time to indulge in the three pillars of cruising: eating, drinking and gambling. Let alone the fashion jewelry fair, champagne art auction, slot-machine tournament, pottery-making class, Pilates workout, Ionithermie detoxifying treatment, Broadway musical review, Web-page-design symposium, shuffleboard shootout, basketball free-throw bout, pingpong face-off, ballroom dancing lesson, or flat-tummy seminar.
The ship is on a mission, and so am I. I’m going to be the Repo Man, bent on maxing out my cruise experience. I may be paying only $281 for a cruise that would normally cost up to $1,000, but I’m going to get every nickel’s worth.
“Welcome aboard the newest, the best, the Island Princess,” the loudspeakers blare as I schlep my bags up the gangplank at Canada Place cruise center on the Saturday afternoon of my departure.
I step onto the big white-and-blue ship, joining the throngs seeking their quarters. Most of my fellow passengers fit into what niche marketers might call “Prosperous 50s” visibly stressed middle-age folks with more money than time, taking a short cruise for what ails them.
But active seniors, young couples with their hands all over each other, and a smattering of families in matching floral Hawaiian shirts also fill my Aloha Deck corridor.
Soon the loudspeakers are barking out a NASA-style countdown until our departure. As the ship slips away, a pair of bikini-clad teenage girls in the stern mini-pool repeatedly screech “GOODBYE, CANADA!” loud enough to be heard over our recorded departure tune, “Islands in the Stream.”
I’m stirred from my stupor by the sound of a shuffleboard game clacking on the deck above. I remember. The clock is ticking. Time to get moving.
The ship is abuzz. I’m not the only one trying to make the most of the short trip. “Let’s go, girls we’ve got a little more than a day!” a woman shouts to the three others in their Baja Deck stateroom.
I head up to the Sports Deck, where a large-scale chess set is laid out. I heft the King’s Pawn forward. Would someone answer the challenge? Maybe with the Pirc Defense or the Alekhine Gambit? Four hours later, my move is still sitting there.
Next stop on my checklist: Churchill’s Lounge, the smokers haven. I don’t usually inhale, but I purchased a couple of Cuban cigars in Vancouver that need to be incinerated before we land in San Francisco, where U.S. Customs officials look unkindly on Fidel’s big smokes.
Time to eat. Actually, on a cruise, it’s always time to eat. The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” is playing in the lunchroom, where hordes pile extra-large plates high with boiled shrimp, brie triangles, spicy buffalo wings and hefty chocolate-cake squares.
I take my plate out to the pool, but nearly every deck chair is taken. Waitresses scurry around carrying trays piled edge to edge with tall, cold piña coladas and tequila sunrises. Passengers loll in loungers, some in swimsuits, some in tracksuits covered in blankets, all trying to soak up the tepid rays of the fog-blocked sun.
The Dixie Chicks play from the loudspeakers.
Music seems to be a kind of thematic demarcation of various parts of the ship. The outdoor pool is supposed to be party central, so it’s nonstop country-Western. The atrium is supposed to be cool and classy, so a pianist alternates between tinkling Beethoven sonatas and Elton John ditties. The buffet needs soothing sounds to allow us to chow down, so saccharine mid-1980s James Taylor is on the menu.
By evening, I am falling behind on my list. It’s becoming clear: There are many choices on the Island Princess. Perhaps too many choices. I need a drink. But even here I slam into overload.
At Crooners, the menu is named Tee Many Martoonies, an inebriated way of saying the selections are endless.
After my gin and vermouth refreshment, I’m in high gear. Shopping for fleece jackets. Pricing wristwatches. A dinner of red-peppered lobster at the Bayou Restaurant. Getting tips on how to throw a clay pot. Winning $99 in craps.
It’s all a bit much. I’m too tired to play night owl. I settle for the Comedy Central channel’s “Dexter’s Laboratory” on my cabin television as I peruse the long list of the next day’s events posted in the ship’s bulletin.
I wake up to the sun squeezing between the drapes. It’s 8:30 a.m. The electronic map on the ship’s television shows us off the coast of Seaside, Ore. We’ll be passing the California border by afternoon. Time slipping by.
A quick free-weight workout at the gym. A morning buffet of eggs and bacon. A stop in the Internet cafe to check e-mails from home (“Love ya, kids.”). A paddle in the pool, a dip in the whirlpool, sharing diet colas with Caroline Kaspark of San Francisco, who regales me with tales of her post-World War II cruise on the Queen Mary from Calais, France, to New York. She gives our short cruise on a big ship the thumbs up.
“It’s a chance to take a cruise on a brand-new ship for a fraction of what it would cost to take it to Alaska or the Panama Canal,” Kaspark says.
I’m practically hyperventilating as I move around the ship and proud of it. I change into pleated shorts and a collared shirt “crisp casual” by cruise-ship standards and go exploring.
On Level 7, the Promenade Deck, I make a discovery I’m on a ship at sea.
I knew it, somewhere in my head, but had pushed it to the back in my drive to rake in all the Island Princess’ attractions.
Yet here it is, framed by the long, open spaces of the most traditional of the modern ship’s otherwise hip spaces: a wood floor wrapping unimpeded around the length of the ship, with low railings offering vistas of the ocean.
At the front of the ship, rolling, blue-black swells crash into the prow, turning the sea into a white froth. There is something emptying in the sea, clearing my head of all the usual noise. Just the sea. Mile after mile. Hour after hour. Silence except for the lapping of the waves. Solitude except for an occasional jogger.
A row of 20 lounge chairs lies empty. I lie down on one, and for a few hours watch the waves peak and swirl, following the sun on its slow-motion dive in the west.
As we cross below the Golden Gate Bridge early the next morning, I don’t regret that I never had a massage or played basketball or danced in the disco. Only that, I hadn’t spent enough time with the sea.