Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Tonite's gonna be a good night...""

This appears in the latest edition of Conde Nast Traveller.

                         “ Tonite’s gonna be a good nite....I can feel it”
 “Tonite’s gonna be a good night....” Promise? I heard a group called “Five Chicks and a Dude’ were up next. And I promptly held my breath .It was our first night on board the  16-year-old, 70,000 tons  heavy, Grand Old Lady ‘Splendour of the Seas’’, and  a full- on Karaoke session was in progress. Our majestic if slightly run down cruise liner had sailed out of the calm waters surrounding Venice a few hours earlier and was heading towards the small Italian port of Bari. The old fashioned (red velvet, Art Deco chandeliers) Cocktail Lounge- cum- theatre, aptly called ‘Top Hat’ was filling up slowly. Enzo, the alarmingly energetic crew member, was urging people to sign up. The bar tender was busy mixing lethal cocktails and the mood was expectant.  First time  cruisers were easy enough to spot. They were the people wearing far too many clothes and street shoes. Some were fastidiously attired in what is loosely termed  ‘cruise gear’ by  fashion designers. Our gang of three ( my daughters Arundhati and Anandita, plus moi) being veterans, knew better! Smug in our flip flops and mu-mus – we’d mastered the drill. And had figured it was okay to be really casually dressed on the first night, yes, even for the lavish four course dinner in the main dining area, which, on this Royal Caribbean liner, was quaintly called ‘The King and I’( never did discover why, considering there wasn’t any real connection to either the musical or the cuisine from old Siam). No matter... we were all set to get into the swing of things with 1800 other passengers enjoying an Adriatic voyage which would touch three Greek ports ( Athens, Corfu and Mykonos) before a short halt ( much too short!) in the historic town of  Dubrovnik in Croatia, and the long  sail back  to Venice.As on earlier trips, this one had also started on a high note. There’s no better ice breaker for so many strangers in the night, than enthusiastic bathroom singers belting out their favourite songs ( off-key, of course) for an audience of  ummm...  non-believers? Sure enough, the hooting started as the ‘Five Chicks...” ( the ‘Dude’was a gangly , awkward teen whose voice had yet to crack) finished  murdering the popular Club track (“Tonite’s gonna be a good nite...”). Oh-Oh. So, this was going to be that sort of  a cruise! What fun. We’d been on earlier cruises where the average age had coasted around 70 and everybody had been disappointingly well-mannered. We’d obviously lucked out on this one, with several young, energetic and good looking shipmates. For me, as a mother, I could have wept with gratitude to note that. At least the girls would not roll their eyes  accusingly each time theirs met mine over the breakfast table and groan, “”Why aren’t there any people of our age on this ship?”Not only were there enough passengers from their age group, but the crew was delightfully young and incredibly talented, especially the Croats in charge of keeping everybody engaged and upbeat on board. What do you know, one of these chaps was dubbed ‘Happy’ thanks to his cheerful salutation ‘Happy, Happy,Happy!” as he went from deck to deck performing a wide assortment of roles, switching wigs and costumes on what appeared to be an hourly basis.
 Since we have been called ‘Serial cruisers’ by envious friends, we went on this one pretty well prepared.For one, we had seriously pruned our wardrobe out of sheer necessity.It is important to remember that even if one occupies a Stateroom with a balcony attached (this is key, and don’t settle for a cabin with just port holes), space is at a serious premium. The bathroom is functional but no bigger than a cubicle. The bedroom isn’t much larger either, and there is just no space for bulky suitcases, unless you park them in the balcony. Less is more and how wonderful is that realization when all you really need are three or four super hot swimsuits, a couple of sarongs, four flirty cocktail outfits, one pair of killer heels, a funky collection of  look-at-me accessories besides.... how can I forget -  sherbet eyes! Of course, these tips are meant for the ladies. But, hey, nothing stops you guys from experimenting!  Especially since most nights on a cruise  are themed and you’d better work that toga as Enzo and DJ Ved urge the crowd to ‘Show me that body...” and get grooving by the pool.
The key to make the most of your cruise vacation is to fall in love on the ship ( it happened with one of my daughters in the Caribbean, it almost happened with another one this time!). Moms may need to go into vigilante mode ( pack your Spidey mask, just in case) since there is  a chapel on the ship and the captain is authorised to marry consenting adults ( too many Cosmos at the Schooner Bar is a poor excuse). You are also warned about recreating the Titanic moment on your own. On ‘Splendour....”it was possible to bid for just such a photo-op (supervised and safe). Guess who won? Not a deliriously in love honeymoon couple but a Tam- Brahm jodi from Mumbai celebrating their 25th Wedding Anniversary! The enthusiastic gentleman also participated in the Elvis Presley competition, an undertaking that involved aggressive pelvic thrusts and wild moves to “Ýou ain’t nothing but a hound dog...” Well, if you’re gasping, wait till you hear about the ‘Sexiest Man in the World’contest by the  pool, judged by five curvaceous bikini clad passengers.Who bagged this ridiculous title? Not our Tam Brahm, not even one of the pumped up Spaniards, or the buff American stud, but a sporting grandpa who had gamely stripped and shaken his booty to that old favourite, “I’m too sexy for my body...”’
The other trick to have the best time on a cruise is to sign up for shore excursions and as many on board activities as your energy levels can accommodate. I’m not into rock climbing, putting on an 18-hole mini golf course, playing  table tennis, or gymming. But both Arundhati and Anandita started off their days with a jog around the track on the 11th deck, and a complete work out at the Gym on the 10th. All that activity made them feel less guilty while attacking the breakfast buffet, which is extensive and varied. They made up for their guilt pangs (come on, if you can’t wallop a few waffles on a vacation, what’s the point of the vacation?) by opting for healthier options at lunch, ordering fresh salads at the cafe next to the Spa. As for me, I ate and drank recklessly ( I  mean, there are 10 inviting  bars and lounges for  the desperate and the thirsty), didn’t enter the gym but indulged myself at the calming salon. Getting a blow dry while resting ones eyes on the azure Ionian sea shimmering tantalisingly through floor- to- wall glass panes, was quite an experience.Another, equally pleasurable first was taking a Salsa and Cha cha cha class, conducted by expert ballroom dancers ( part of the Royal Caribbean Entertainment Troupe). The Filipino band playing nightly at the Centrum had wisely figured only those belonging to a certain vintage ( mine!) would want to shake a leg, pre- and post- dinner. I ignored the glares of my daughters and bullied them into partnering me as we swung to ‘Sway’and other oldie-goldie hits. Gosh! Does nobody jive anymore?
Well, our waiters and servers certainly did! Jive ... and sing, as a part of the very endearing ritual during which they temporarily abandon their service stations to croon and dance for diners. ‘Ó sole Mio’ remains an old favourite,  and sentimental diners are often seen wiping tears as their favourite waiters bid them goodbye on the last night of the cruise. Ours was named Austin.He is a good Goan lad, and had been sailing for seven years. There were several Indian waiters on the ship ( “The Mazgaon Gang”), which was terrific in a way – they made sure we were exceedingly well looked after, frequently serving us choice bon bons as special treats. Did these boys miss home? Yes, they all chorused. But the money was good. And even if there were no Sundays or days off, they enjoyed their work. And hard work it is! As Gregorios (from Nicaragua) , our State Room attendant told us, “We feel sad on Saturday morning to see everybody leaving.” He looked like he meant it. A certain fuzzy relationship does get established with these dedicated men and women who are on call 24x7, and keep the place sparklingly clean. Some of them are expert towel sculptors, and one looks forward to staggering back after a late night at the disco or watching the Euro Cup Semi Finals on a gigantic screen by the pool, to find an elephant or monkey ingeniously crafted out of  towels, parked on the bed (“Am I really that shattered or is that really a gorilla swinging in my room?). It is these little touches that enhance the experience.
It is said a family that cruises together, stays together. It is a theory I have ardently subscribed to . Ensuring passengers never forget their cruise , there are daily photography sessions in the evenings, which encourage two and sometimes three generations to pose for a highly competent set of professional photographers who set up temporary studios at different locations on the ship. For most people, it is the very first time in their lives they are being photographed in formal settings. The results are superb – and there is no obligation to buy the prints which are displayed within a few hours. But ( and I have frequently succumbed!) the temptation to buy at least half-a-dozen great shots that freeze the exuberant moments on board, is too hard to resist. Equally hard, is to stay away from the  6,500 square feet, Las Vegas style Casino Royale, especially if you enjoy your Blackjack or Roulette.Since our family’s combined vices are of a different kind, we preferred to check out the nightly shopping in the Arcade, which features interesting sales, depending on the port of call earlier in the day. I was on the verge of buying traditional Athenian gold jewellery ( stunning!), when Arundhati determinedly dragged me away with a reminder that I would be missing the Jacqui Scott show. Jacqui, a former Broadway / Westend singer  brought the house down in the main theatre with her rendition of ‘Évita’’... and, thanks to my daughter’s timely intervention, I saved a lot of money! That night, high on the music and wine, we dined at ‘’Izumi’ the speciality restaurant ( Pan-Asian) on the 11th deck, right next to the Crown and Anchor nightclub where the dishy DJ Ved was spinning great tracks. Blame it on the Sake, but emboldened and in the mood, I mentioned to Ved that Anandita had trained as a DJ herself. He immediately set it up for her to make a playlist and do her DJ thing! It was a thrilling moment when Ved announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, DJ Ana from India is in the house....” That’s when I concluded, it is not just the great food, not just the cocktails, not just the comfy beds ( so comfy, you can order them online) and not even the many adventures during shore excursions that make a cruise holiday memorable. It is really the smiles, warmth and exceptional service that do the trick. It is also the personality of the Captain. Ours was a darling, and when he jauntily declared he was  ‘írreplaceable”                                                    
 -  nobody disagreed! Especially after he expertly navigated this _ tonne liner through head winds hitting 60 knots, and made it safely to Mykonos. Ours was the only cruise ship to dock at this top-rated destination  (Psarou Beach! Nammos!!) in three days – all the other Captains sailing on the same troubled waters, had chickened out, citing hazardous weather conditions.
Cruise holidays are better than superglue when it comes to family bonding. Yes, we fought. Lots! Me and my girls. We argued, cried, sulked and made up. We also chatted and laughed more than  our ghastly Mumbai avatars allow us to. Sifting through the countless shots we took , there are magical moments that I’m sure we will relive years from now while exclaiming, “ God! Wasn’t that holiday amazing?When are we booking our next cruise?” 


jean said...

wow!!! u girls had fun!!!please let us know the travel agent who recommended this cruise to you..

goodluck said...

Cruises are fun until the ship starts to shake violently.First timers must go with the experienced to enjoy and explore. There is nothing in the world like a cruise holiday which will take you away from the real world literally. A dream experience which everyone must savour atleast once in a lifetime. Ahoy.

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Shirish Subramanian said...

Seriously! Absolute, absolute brilliance. Thanks Shobhaa ji. You may have just unwittingly added 'Venice Cruise with Gang of Three, To Boot' on my bucket list!

Keep up the bedazzling you, not to mention the other two!

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