At Sea: a relaxing break for all

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 – AT SEA DAY

The kids had already decided ahead of time that they wanted to sleep in as late as possible, so we put the Do Not Disturb sign on their door, bolted it (we had direct access to their room through our shared balcony), roused the 13-year-old to let her know we were ducking out for breakfast, and headed to the DaVinci diningroom.

For the first time all cruise, we had an opportunity to share a table with our fellow passengers, since it was just the two of us. We were seated right by an oceanview window with a very nice couple, Ed and Colleen from Southern California. We shared our impressions of the cruise thus far, and agreed that we were all ready for a relaxing day at sea.

Then again, there WAS the laundry to deal with.

I finally got my quarters from the Purser’s Office, so I gathered up a bag of socks and underwear and headed for the Laundromat on my floor. No surprise, it was jam-packed, with no available machines. I headed to a few other floors, and it was the same scenario. Some of the machines were broken, too. It was clear that everybody had the same idea (At Sea Day = Laundry Day), so I decided to do a little old-fashioned hand washing in the sink back at our stateroom.

Fortunately, I have a bit of experience in this department, after last year’s Mediterranean cruise on the Celebrity Millenium, a 12-day trip with NO washers or dryers at all. The trick to successfully washing and drying your clothes on a ship without machines is very simple: you must have those little individual Tide detergent packets (they contain just the right amount of soap for a sink wash) and you need some extra bath towels (not something that’s a problem on a cruise ship—just ask your room steward).

Once you wash out your things, it’s important to wring them as thoroughly as possible, especially the socks. Then, once they’re only slightly damp, lay them out flat in one single layer on a big bath towel. Roll up the bath towel with the clothes inside (like you would a jelly roll or a roll of sushi), pushing down as you go. You’ll end up with a big rolled cylinder. Then, roll it AGAIN the other way, like you’re trying to make a Cinnabon roll (sorry for all the food references…my brain is just hard-wired for carbs). Press down on your little rolled circle as hard you can: this will squeeze out nearly all of the dampness from the clothes. After a few minutes, unroll it, and hang the clothes up to dry the rest of the way (best method, if you have an “outside” cabin: lay them on a dry towel across the chairs or windowsill, facing the sun.) Note: trying to dry stuff on the balcony is NOT a good idea, particularly for this cruise of the British Isles. Not only do you run the risk of having your stuff blow away into the sea, but the weather is so damp, the stuff actually gets wetter being out on the balcony than it does inside. There’s a clothesline located in the shower in the bathroom, and draping things on the towel racks will also speed things along.

This is not a method I’d use on something heavy, like jeans, but it works well for smaller items and lightweight fabrics, like t-shirts. Keep in mind also that the ship has irons and ironing boards available in the laundry rooms free of charge, so you can dry your stuff the rest of the way just by running a hot iron over it (and the entire time I was onboard, I never saw any lines for the irons/ironing boards).

After my laundry trick, I bought us a few more days of clean clothes—at least enough to get us to the next port day, when the machines would be far less busy.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I made a very smart purchase before leaving for this cruise. In addition to the Tide sink packets, I picked up a travel-sized bottle of Tide laundry detergent, which I found in my local discount pharmacy (it was either CVS or Walgreen’s, I forget which). I packed it in a suitcase in a plastic Ziploc baggie, and it didn’t leak at all. Bringing it was a smart move, because many of the passengers I spoke with in the laundry rooms complained that the soap dispensing machines DID NOT WORK half the time. They jammed frequently, and folks were stuck without detergent to wash their clothing. If you think you might want to do some laundry on the ship, bring your own travel-sized detergent, just in case. And don’t forget those quarters! The soap machines are $1 in US quarters per one load box, the washing machines are $1 per load, and the dryers cost 50 cents per cycle (but it took at least two cycles for everything to dry fully). So, figure on at least $3 in quarters for each load, start to finish.

While I was doing the laundry in the stateroom, Rich took the kids up to the Horizon Court for the buffet breakfast. Afterwards, we consulted the Princess Patter for the list of the day’s activities, and planned out our day: Jackpot Bingo at 11:15 (didn’t win, but we did see actor Jack Klugman there), Close-up Magic with Bernard Reid (great sleight of hand work, right in front of your eyes) at 12:15, then lunch in the diningroom followed by a Scrapbooking at Sea class at 2:15.

A few words about the Scrapbooking class: we had a great time, but it was only because I have scrapbooked before and knew what I was doing. The gal from the Social Staff who was supposed to be leading the class confessed at the outset that she had absolutely no clue how to scrapbook, and had never done it before. The real purpose of the “class” was to get people to order the “Souvenir Scrapbook Kit” from the Photoshop area. For $21.95, you get a bunch of stock photos of the Grand Princess and the ports she stops in, along with an album to put them in. They also provided access to die cut machines and colored card stock, regardless of whether or not you purchased the kit.

Since Rich had already taken a zillion pictures of the ship and the ports, and I have enough scrapbooking supplies to open my own store back home, I didn’t see any need to purchase the kit. However, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the die cut machine! I spent the entire session making free cruise-related die cuts for me, my girls, and the other lady who sat with us at our table (hello, Barbara from Texas!). My younger two girls busied themselves by laying out a page, using the one free stock photo of the ship that was provided to each passenger, while my eldest daughter saved the diecuts in a plastic baggie to take home with us, and Barbara helped me work the machine. By the end of the class, we had tons of cruise-related die cuts for our scrapbooks. Score!

I felt a little guilty afterwards, so I pulled aside the photographer guy and told him that next time, he really ought to have some sample pages for folks to copy, or better yet, expand his offerings to increase the chance of a sale. For example, I told him that if made some of the die cuts ahead of time and arranged in the frames they had for sale, they could pitch them as “ready made souvenirs”…all you’d need to do is drop in a 4×6 picture, glue on the die cuts, and you’ve got an instant memento of your trip. He nodded enthusiastically at the idea, but nothing ever came of it. Other passengers asked the girl from the Social Staff if there would be another class on the next sea day, and she said, “Well, I don’t know, we’ll see” in the same tone of voice that I use when my kids ask if we’ll ever get a puppy anytime soon. I later offered to help her whip up some samples that she could use with the next class, but she wasn’t interested. Oh well…I tried.

Next up was Afternoon Tea at 3:30. They sat us at a big table, which we shared with a very nice couple from Arkansas. The woman was a middle school principal, so she was very friendly and comfortable with the kids, and went out of her way to make conversation with them.

We tried our luck at Bingo again at 4:15 (fun, but we still didn’t win), then browsed the boutiques. My daughters were fascinated by the “fashion rings” they had for sale, because they were so sparkly and impressive-looking (even though they’re faker than a $3 bill). I let them each buy one to wear to formal night—unfortunately for my 7-year-old, the smallest size they carry is a 4, so she couldn’t get one. I was able to appease her by getting her some flavored lip gloss in the cosmetics boutique, where we also bought some perfume (Vera Wang “Princess” for the teenager and Vera Wang “Sheer Veil” for me). The prices on the perfume were about 20% less than we pay at home, so I thought those were a good deal. The Seiko watches they sold in the atrium, however, were sold at the full manufacturer’s suggested retail price—no discounts at all.

Note: The Art Auctions seemed to be a really popular activity with our fellow passengers, but we didn’t partake. I’m not sure how the prices compared with galleries back home, but lots of people did seem to be purchasing the art.

We popped into the library for a bit (they have puzzles out on a table that everyone is invited to help solve—another great way to meet new people and mingle with your fellow passengers) then headed back to the room to get ready for Formal Night.

Wouldn’t you know it, on the first Formal Night, I saw another woman in the 2nd dinner seating who was wearing the same exact black & cream-colored dress that I was. And, since I didn’t know there would be THREE formal nights, it was the only dress I had with me. The high-end boutiques on the ship carry some nice dresses and separates for those who want to get a new outfit, but I honestly couldn’t see spending $78 for a beaded top just because another gal was wearing the same outfit. At the last minute, I took out a silk flower scarf I’d brought along and wrapped it around the top of the dress, securing it with an antique pin I had in my jewelry box. The scarf covered up the cream-colored bodice, making it look like a completely different outfit. I praised myself on my ingenuity, and we headed down for more pictures before dinner.

A NOTE FOR THOSE WHO ARE READING THIS AND GOING ON A CRUISE WITH PRINCESS IN THE NEAR FUTURE: I know that many of you don’t enjoy hearing negative things about a cruise ship you’re about to take a trip on (no one does, really), but as a journalist, I feel that I have a responsibility to report the facts as they happened. There are no shortage of sanitized travel articles released by the cruise line publicity machines and port tourism bureaus that will paint a 100% rosy picture, but we all know that’s impossible to achieve. Things go wrong, nobody is perfect, and you have to expect some glitches along the way. This blog aims to provide an honest account of MY experience, which is almost certain to be different than yours, given all the variables from cruise to cruise. When I mention my encounters with clueless or less-than-accommodating staff members, it is not meant to scare you or make you feel nervous about your upcoming journey. I’m told they actually do read those passenger comment cards after each voyage. If that is the case, then trust me, they got an earful from several passengers on my cruise, including me, so with any luck, things can only improve for future sailings.

That being said, here’s what I saw in the dining room at dinner:

From where I was sitting, I could see the station where the head waiter hung out. He was behind a half wall that shielded him from the view of most of the other diners, but from my vantage point, I could see him clearly. Over the past several evenings, I started noticing the other wait staff going up to him periodically, whispering and gesturing over towards the passengers at their table, complaining about them. I could not hear much of what they were saying, but there was enough derisive laughter and eye-rolling for me to figure out that they weren’t exactly trading scone recipes. I know that some passengers can be a real pain in the tush, and that these staff members work long hours for very little pay, but I was surprised at how openly they showed their dislike, knowing that at least a few of us could see what they were doing (I made eye-contact with them several times during these exchanges. Rather than stop their gossiping, however, they simply turned their backs to me or raised up a menu in front of their mouths so that we couldn’t read their lips.). I don’t mind them letting off steam about the passengers—and I’m not saying their frustrations were without merit—but a little decorum would have been appreciated. It didn’t surprise me that the staff was making comments about this passenger complaining that she was cold or that passenger not liking the way his steak was prepared, but to see it happening so openly was disconcerting. Can’t they wait until we leave the diningroom to trash us?

After dinner, we went to the evening show at the Princess Theater, which was a night of comedy starring British comedian Rikki Jay. He was HILARIOUS! Even the kids enjoyed the show, although most of the double-entrendre jokes went right over their heads. They said that he’d be back again to do another show later in the cruise, and we all agreed that it was not-to-be-missed.

Refreshed after a laid-back day at sea, were ready for our next stop: the northernmost port on our trip, Kirkwall, Scotland.

Coming up: Touring a 5,000 year old village, visiting an ancient Stone Circle, and making some new and interesting friends in the laundry room.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *