My first sea voyage was in the early ’50s, with cousins, on a rusty old tub called General Malvar, and it was a most memorable experience.
We saw dolphins—we called them lumba-lumba— playfully swimming alongside our ship, and flying silver fishes springing from the dark-blue water and flashing in the light. We didn’t worry that none of us could swim; we were not even supplied life jackets.
We slept in the captain’s cabin, on narrow beds secured to the floor; the rest of the passengers lay on army cots. We never wondered where the captain would sleep—or was he supposed to at all?
It was an overnight trip, and there was a full moon. The scene was too good to miss for a night’s sleep. But, at some point, we must have slept all the same, because we woke up ready to drop anchor in Coron, Palawan, where my uncles and aunts were waiting for us to spend part of an unforgettable summer there.
I remember it took me a while to snap out of the rocking rhythm of the ocean, even after a few days back on terra firma. I decided then that I wasn’t a good sailor.
‘But where’s the boat?’
That was my fear when Vergel and I boarded the liner Marina for a 10-day cruise on the Baltic last year. There were 1,200 passengers, and 800 crew members.
The Marina was like a sailing high-rise, so I easily understood, when a grandmother related a grandson’s reaction as soon as he got lost in the interior of the ship. “Lola,” she recalled him saying, “but where’s the boat?”
The interior looked elegant, indeed, quite an upgrade from the General Malvar, I must say. The anticipated seasickness never set in, although in the narrow confines of the shower, which I preferred to the bathtub, any movement was more noticeable, no matter how quickly I showered.
All the time I thought, What a waste to have a balcony! We hardly spent time there, especially after I heard the story of a girl who had too much to drink and fell overboard. The captain had to turn the boat around to rescue her. On the next cruise, we will save money and be safer looking out to sea through a big picture glass window.
I’m still finding ways of getting value for money. What I know is a cruise is well worth the price if you can get a promo flight on a Middle Eastern airline to where the journey begins. I don’t advise anyone to wait until their late 70s as I did. Maybe that’s why I seem to be booking ourselves on cruises as though they were going out of style. There’ll come a time we won’t even want to leave the comforts of home—or room.
There’s a time for everything, indeed. Me, I just discovered cruising. I’m still getting the hang of it, but I already know my limit, and it’s 10 days and 10 pounds. Despite the more than 10,000 steps a day I take on land tours, weight gain is inevitable, especially on Oceania Cruises, best known for its service and cuisine. The big treat on the Princess Cruises around Japan and Korea was the entertainment, but if I may add, some unexpected excitement, too.
Many of our co-passengers were veteran cruisers, but it was still, in a sense, a first for them. The voice of the captain came on the PA, asking passengers, “as a precautionary measure,” to move quickly to midship, just as we had practiced in case of an emergency. He was anticipating a rogue wave; it somehow missed us. Aside from that, the cruise was uneventful, except for some brief rough waves and heavy rain.
From that incident, the hazards of cruises are slowly coming to my attention. To be sure, the sinking of the Titanic happened a long time ago, and since then ships have become safer. But there’s no such thing as an unsinkable ship. One sure thing that will do it is the mysterious rogue wave. I’m just glad I didn’t know about it then.
In March 2019, there was a cruise liner that developed engine trouble in a severe storm, stranding 1,400 passengers and crew off Norway’s North Sea Coast. Photos and videos showed the ship tilting 45 degrees in icy choppy waters, and one can only imagine the chaos that must have ensued. It required an intricate rescue operation that involved picking up 480 passengers by helicopter; the others remained on the ship until it was towed to port.
I imagine myself hanging onto a rope dangling from a helicopter, my sweaty hands slowly losing their grip, and falling! These are fears that, I suppose, never enter a young person’s mind.
As if I needed more dampeners—aside from spurs on my left ankle aggravated by walking tours—on June 2, 2019, a cruise liner crashed into a tourist boat in a busy canal in Venice. It must have been the last straw for the Venetians. Their activists are demanding a total ban on huge cruise ships from their ports. On top of the overcrowding and the accidents, cruise ships dump their garbage at ports, or, as some scandal sheets have reported, in the middle of the ocean.
We booked our July cruise a year ago, and it starts from Venice. If there’s anything the Venetians hate more than tourists, it’s cruisers.