We discovered the joys of cruises rather late in life, but at a perfect time, considering the temperament and disposition we have grown old into. We’re just right for the pace, and we feel we’ve earned the delayed gratification.
When we were younger we were in a hurry to arrive at every destination; so we flew—by plane or car. A slow cruise on an ocean liner did not appeal to our young and impatient minds and bodies. There, too, was the cost we could not afford.
Now, almost everybody, young and old, through either the Internet or travel shows, is afforded a range of choices and bargains. Alas, the Internet and those shows are precisely the places people like us avoid. We prefer a travel agent who understands our natural preferences and limitations and for company couples more or less like us.
In truth, a cruise up close is not as expensive as it seems. The ship itself is a high-end hotel, food of all varieties comes free, and moderate tips are already factored in. Expenses incurred beyond that by more demanding passengers are charged on their cruise cards, which also serve as passenger IDs.
Cruises are, indeed, more relaxing. If home is a mere four-hour flight away to and from your ship, you can pack more clothes than you might be tempted to otherwise, because you unpack and repack only once.
On one cruise, we had a 27-sq-m room with a balcony, and a bathroom with tub and shower, complete with amenities. On a much more recent and economical cruise, there were no toothbrushes, no toothpaste, no floss, but these were easily acquired on board or, more cheaply, on land at first docking. We had no balcony, but were fine with a picture window. The food was fine—although the earlier cruise offered excellent cuisine—and so were the stage entertainment.
We had heard of recent ship calamities and also of the Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes. The closest we ever got to any trouble at sea happened on this later cruise, along the coast of Japan and Busan, Korea, in the spring.
We rocked on moderately rough waves one late afternoon, and the captain’s voice came on, calmly but seriously, asking everyone to move toward one side for a prospect of some strong surge. That’s when I realized we were not on terra firma, and I could barely float!
I asked Vergel if I should wear the life jacket, but he thought I was joking. In fact, some slightly older Filipino lady cruisers bet hopefully that the captain was himself joking, and decided to stay in their rooms regardless of where their rooms were situated—good side or bad. It was April Fool’s Day, after all. It was no joke; we were simply in luck that no significant surge came.
So far we’ve been very lucky with fellow travelers, too. A cruise could turn into a nightmare if one found oneself in unpalatable company—although the ship is big enough to lose them.
The few mainland Chinese were hard to miss; they were the ones who jumped the lines and talked loudest. A waiter recounted that once there was a whole shipload of them—an exclusive cruise. The Caucasians among the service crew refused to work; only the Filipinos, Thais, and Indonesians agreed. The ship needed extensive repairs and refurbishing afterward.
The 700-plus Australians made up the biggest group—the capacity was 2,700 and we numbered near that. We Filipinos were about 80. The waiters told us that a political family had led and funded a party of 100, including town and barangay officials, in the cruise before ours. Many if not most of the crew members—electricians, waiters and stateroom valets—were Filipinos. Hardly a surprise that so were the entertainers.
There was a gay waiter in the fine-dining area, named Edmundo, whom I wanted to adopt. Only a gay waiter could shriek inoffensively and ballet-leap perpendicularly as he served. Like a typical gay son, he spoiled us and made us laugh. He punctuated his sentences with “Pak!” Asked ignorantly, he replied, “Tita, that’s for emphasis!”
He was gracefully flitting all over the place, such that I wasn’t surprised when he brought home the trophy—for the nth time, his colleagues attested—at the traditional Latin dance contest on the last night. He told me breathlessly how he and his partner, a pretty younger Filipina passenger, won, despite a rival’s desperate, earth-defying tricks. Shriek, leap, “pak!”
It was easy for us—Filipino crew and passengers—to get along: we were all for Otso Diretso, and we vigorously tried to proselytize the stray ones. Only a few of the crew members, though, could vote in May—only the land-based ones—but they intend to influence friends and family at home.
A cruise is like the relaxed, philosophical approach to life one grows into, effortlessly, naturally, as one matures. It’s no longer about some predictable destination; it’s about the journey itself, and the people in the same boat with you.