Tuesday, February 14, 2012

We're All Having Fun Now

So, yes, I went on a cruise. As noted in yesterday's post. See Ambiguous Adventure. Here are some positives and negatives about the experience. 

Three things I didn't like about being on a cruise:

1. The noise. It was hard to find any public spot on the boat where one could hang out and relax and run into a few friends without loud, unpleasant music filling the air almost constantly.

2. The hype. The food was fancy, but not actually tasty. The shows and live music were enthusiastic without being excellent, the service was was more attentive than responsive.

3. The waste. Tons of food thrown away; towels, plates, or cups changed after every use; no recycling or conservation that I could discern.

Imagine the scene in the dining room, the first night, as nearly a hundred wait staff were introduced by name, position, and country of origin, with applause demanded, and then required to belt out a poor version of mmmm, something Italian (it was "Italian night."). They were from dozens of countries but confessed there was not a single Italian among them. Yeah, not very authentic. If I'm going to travel I think I'd rather have the experience be genuine and local and possibly scary or uncomfortable rather than some populist thing designed to please "everybody." Does that make any sense?

Well, OK, I am not a party girl, and this cruise was one big non-stop party. I don't drink, dance, gamble, or care for loud pop music and all-you-can eat buffets. Maybe it's that "everybody is supposed to like this" ethos that troubles me. What if we are not all alike? I had a hard time getting past that. It was a relief to leave and feel more like myself.

And yet, I'm fascinated by some of the social dynamics wrapped up in this. Like this idea of happiness being something you can engineer, cajole, produce, or mandate. The crew, for example, had to be nonstop chipper. Their job, right? Being able to fold the towels into fancy shapes is not enough, you have to do it with a smile or you might get reassigned to work in the engine room or something. And for the passengers, we were always being told how happy we were, too. At the shows and things, the emcee types told us again and again that this was the "cruise vacation of a lifetime" ("...every time" the promotional brochures added, glossing over the logical fallacy).

The funny thing is how often it works, especially with crowds. Event announcers and emcees get everyone fired up. The "color" reporters on TV report that an event is so so exciting and everyone is having a fabulous time, and the program producers tell us all about the hype surrounding their stars, or brand-new episodes, or season closers. Advertisers tell us how happy we are because of a product or service. Birthdays and holidays require us to tell each other how happy we are about our relationships with one another and we join in, instructing each other to be happy.

And with such encouragement, happy we are, more often than I might expect. People smile and laugh and clap, express appreciation or gratitude, and they feel better. I mean, there is something about just choosing to be happy, isn't there, and if the social pressure moves us to make that choice, well, it does seem to work much of the time. You have to be pretty determined - or traumatized, or carrying a very heavy load like depression - to stay consistently Scroogy.

And, shoot, I may be ornery but I'm too lazy to fight the tide. It gets me.

Three things I liked about being on a cruise:

1. The convenience. The chance to experience a variety of things without the bother of traveling between destinations was nice. It was kind of cool to wake up and be in a different place. Physically, this was a very pleasant way to travel. And even if you didn't get off the boat, you could read or lounge around or hear live music or learn something or eat (of course) or get some exercise.

2. No unpacking and packing! A corollary of #1. Love it. Didn't have to carry stuff around and get all tired and hot and sweaty.

I think if I had a busy household, the chance to lay down cooking, cleaning, etc. would be nice. Not the case for me, really. I rather like cooking, don't want to eat out that much, and find tidying up rather therapeutic. But again, if I was more of a family person and had more house and kitchen work than I do, it might be different - I might love to have someone else cook and clean rather than wishing I could do it myself.

3. The guidance. I did not really know what to expect in advance - there was just so much information out there and it was hard to wade through it to find what I might really care about. I like to have a lot of information about something I'm experiencing but prefer to get it on a just-in-time basis. Well, that worked out fairly well. A daily activity guide was placed in each room, organized "excursions" of various sorts were offered even to those without previous reservations, and once I could figure out what I wanted the ship community made it easy to find.

That's how I got to go snorkeling for the first time. The half-day excursion was $65, but that included all equipment, transportation to the other side of the island and back, and being taken by a snorkeler-friendly boat - with a friend, two dozen other tourists, and a couple of guides - to some rather nice places to swim with the fishes. Including, on the last stop (and with some extra security measures in place), sharks.

I joked with friends that I wasn't going snorkeling for pleasure but that it was a research project. I wanted to see if I could give my fiance the green light to book the snorkel expedition he's so enthusiastic about for our honeymoon trip to Maui this summer. I knew I might gag on the snorkel or be too blind without my contacts - which I removed - or might simply not enjoy it. But none of those things proved to be the case. I had a good time. Maui here we come.

Chris instructs me that I am NOT to blog about our honeymoon. :-)


a life without walls said...

I think I'd probably have the same likes and dislikes...well done for trying snorkling! Good idea to get familiar with it!!

Matt Green said...

Marti, your post reminded me of an essay by David Foster Wallace (RIP) on his experience cruising. Some naughty language, but a hilarious and philosophically rich view of this American phenomenon of cruising. I really resonated with his experience: http://harpers.org/media/pdf/dfw/HarpersMagazine-1996-01-0007859.pdf

Dean Smith said...

At least you weren't visited by a norovirus.

Marti said...

Walls: thanks for the encouragement.

Matt: I appreciate the link; great article!

Dad: Sharks, yes, norovirus, no. Thankful for that.

shantjoy2 said...

This reminds me of my feelings toward Disney.
I don't find crowded & impersonal to be the happiest place on earth.

I'm intrigued by the convenience on visiting multiple places without checking in/out of hotels, buses, planes, & trains.

Marti said...

Well, Disney does have similarities. Same mandatory happiness. The article Matt recommended sums it up well in its description of the ship brochures: "You are, here, excused from even the work of constructing
the fantasy, because the ads do it for you."