May 1 – May 16 Aboard Mariner of the Seas to Rome

“Oh my God – it’s enormous,” I whispered as we caught our first glimpse of the Mariner of the Seas, the 1000-foot ship that would take us from Miami to Rome.  Tim and I were so nervous and excited when we reached the  port terminal that we barely said “Goodbye and thank you,”  to  daughter Amandah, who had put up with our jittery behavior, entertained us royally,  and lent us her car to run between her house and our apartment in Hollywood, Florida.

We were finally at that Butch and Sundance moment.  Holding hands tightly we jumped off the cliff into our permanent home free life on the road.  We were senior gypsies flying without a net in Europe, Great Britain, Ireland, Turkey and Morocco for seven months.

We had no idea what to expect of a 16-day transatlantic cruise. Tim had never sailed on a big ship and my one experience in the 90’s was a seven day Mexican fiasco.  That vessel had been full of people who looked as if some benevolent stranger had plucked them from their garden chores and plunked them on B Deck.  The passengers were loutish and unattractive, and the experience of watching huge crowds lining up to ingest mountains of mediocre food had made me leery of repeating a mistake.

Tim convinced me to give it another try because it suited our purposes.  Many cruise lines reposition their vessels twice a year to be in the right climate and they offer great prices to passengers who travel off season.  This was the way for us to get to Europe comfortably and be fed and housed for sixteen days, which is important for home free people.  Arriving in Europe without jet lag was a bonus.

We chose Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Sea sailing May 1, docking in Rome May 16.  As veteran victims of airport mishaps, we were delighted with the efficient, courteous boarding procedure.  Everyone was in a good mood.  This was going to be fun!  Within minutes we found our stateroom and  gleefully inspected its features.  Our room had a porthole on the starboard (right) bow (front).  It was in the curve of the ship, so we had a short private hallway, and it was quiet and exclusive, just our style!

Our exploration of the floating hotel revealed the promised pools, bars, restaurants, fabulous sea-view gym complete with yoga, spinning, sauna, and jacuzzi, library, computer room, spa, complete beauty salon, and a “main street” with shops, cafes and bars with a string trio or sometimes a jazz group providing background music.  We adjusted to our new life immediately!

Enjoying an evening stroll on an ocean liner bound of  Europe was right up there thrill-wise with seeing the lights of the Eiffel Tower at night for the first time.  The majesty of the sea was accentuated by the notion of being afloat hundreds of miles from land and usually we had it all to ourselves.

We were mad for the sound of waves hitting the ship and the sight of the moon reflecting on an ocean with no boundaries.  The ghosts of Deborah Kerr, Cary Grant, William Powell and their glamorous contemporaries were traveling with us.

In 2012 the deck chairs aren’t teak but plastic, the chandeliers have been replaced by energy-saving bulbs, and the restaurants offer low-fat items that would make Jane Fonda smile.

People on cruise ships today behave exactly as people do everywhere.  Within hours the do-se-do of social climbing was in full swing.  We, of course, chose our own favorite friends and enjoyed their company for drinks and some meals during the ride,  but we resisted joining a gang once we figured out how that worked.  Two sisters plucked us up and tried to shanghai us into their fold right away and we accepted their invitation to join a group they had invited to sit together for dinner.  We were having a pretty good time, but when we discovered that a loud-mouthed racist former New Jersey police captain was at the table, we politely declined further advances.   A vessel with 3,000 guests aboard has  small town dynamics and by the end of the trip people had pretty much figured out who was whom.

We discovered that there all kinds of gangs on a big cruise and for the most part they’re respectful of one another.  There are the gay guys who have better haircuts, hipper clothes and more fun than everyone else; the professional cruisers who enjoy one-upping each other about the number of times they’ve sailed and vying for most-exotic status; the exercise bunch who hang out in the gym, and the exhibitionist crowd who wear Speedos and micro-kinis and bounce around the jogging path.  I was treated to an intimate view of one middle-aged fellow in his teeny suit as he made about 25 passes past the window where I sat having a manicure.  The technician and I giggled every time he jiggled by.  Then there are the gambling geezers who spend a lot of time in the casino with machines that don’t talk back, and the fancy crowd, who brought (or rented onboard) tuxes and gowns and participated the fancy-dress evenings. Those nights we ate in one of the several specialty restaurants since our long itinerary didn’t allow us to pack high heels and cummerbunds.  We did enjoy watching the parade of sparkling, coifed passengers on their way to the parties from our perch in the main street bar and perhaps one day we’ll get to dress up, too.

There was another very exclusive group, the chairman of which was Valentine (pronounced “Valenteeen”), a tall, slender handsome Romanian young man with an accent right out of Gene Wilder’s “Dracula”.  He presided over the Connoisseur Lounge, in which we spent too much time chatting and puffing cigars.  He wore black pants, a grey striped vest, a white shirt, grey tie, and a smile,  all immaculate.  The place was beautifully paneled, dark, quiet, intimate, and a relief from the larger, lighter spaces on the ship.  One had a clandestine feeling there and sipping a brandy while discussing world matters with Valentine was great fun.   My little crush on Valentine deepened each time he brushed my hand with his lips upon our departure.  I’m a sucker for theater!

And yes, there was a live theater, a movie theater, an ice rink, a miniature golf course, and a putting green, but from our viewpoint, the star was the ship itself.  Gliding into Tenerife, sailing away from Majorca,  arriving in Barcelona were memorable moments I’ll share with you soon.  But right now you’ll have to excuse me.  We are in Paris and it’s time for dinner, something no rational person would delay in this gorgeous city bursting with glorious food!  Bon appétit.