Fifty-Seven Days on a Cruise Ship
Michael and I once spent two months on a cruise ship. I learned a hell of a lot — about cruising, about American politics, and even about myself.
Michael and I sometimes use cruise ships to travel between continents.
For one thing, it saves us money. Since we’re digital nomads — with no regular rent or mortgage — we can apply the money we would otherwise spend on lodging to the cruise itself. Then when we throw in the cost of food and entertainment for the length of the cruise, and also add the cost of the airfare we’d otherwise be buying, we always come out ahead.
We also think traveling by cruise ship is the greener option. Yes, a cruise ship emits more greenhouse gasses than a plane, based on kilometers traveled, but we think the only fair comparison is to compare the total carbon footprint of someone on a cruise ship to that same person for the entire period of time when they would have otherwise been on the cruise.
In this case, we think the planet comes out ahead.
Finally, well, we kind of like cruising. We don’t do a lot of luxury travel, and it’s nice to indulge now and then.
A few years ago, pre-Covid, Michael and I took the longest cruise we’ve ever done. We were traveling from Europe back to our former home in Seattle for Christmas. The plan was to start in Barcelona, sail around the Mediterranean a bit, then head across the Atlantic and down through the Panama Canal, before finally heading up again to San Diego, where we’d catch a short flight back to Seattle.
It was a total of fifty-seven days, or two full months, at sea.
We'd taken cruises before, but we'd never been on a ship for two months straight. And honestly, that made us a little nervous.
In the end, I learned a surprising amount — about cruising, about American politics, and even about myself.
Here's how things went down:
I'd forgotten how hectic it is to board a cruise ship. But it makes sense. Somehow the cruise line needs to get two thousand passengers on board in a single three-hour window. For comparison purposes, that's about the same length of time it took for the Titanic to sink, and that crew was only trying to get passengers off the boat, and we all know how well that turned out.
And the passengers leaving the Titanic weren't carrying their luggage. Jesus, these people pack like they're emigrating. I almost expect to see frying pans and chickens in cages. We're the ones who are going to be on a cruise ship for two months: shouldn't we be the ones with five suitcases each?
But eventually we make it on board the boat, which is nice, if very gaudy. Cruise ships are always gaudy, because that's a middle-class American's idea of class. I realize that makes me sound like a snob, but, well, blame my mother, because she had very specific ideas about what is and isn’t tacky.
We finally find our cabin, at the far reaches of a dead-end hallway.
It's an interior room, pretty basic, which was the only way we could make the financial numbers work on this particular two-month cruise. And it's small — the smallest room we've lived in since we started nomading.
After we've unpacked, I flop down on the bed and — whoa! This thing is amazing! It's the smallest room we’ve had since we started nomading but the best bed. I also like that it will be very dark while sleeping, so I won’t need to wear my eye-mask.
The whole room is pretty nice. A big screen TV with a ton of first-run movies queued up. Lots of big, fluffy towels.
What will it be like, spending the next two months in this little room with a fantastic bed?
There’s only one way to find out!
We've set sail. We're at sea! It's really great, standing on the open deck, looking out at the sweep of the sparkling blue Mediterranean, enjoying the ocean breeze.
So far, I'm impressed. The cabins have twice-daily housekeeping (which we both feel really guilty about, but not so guilty that we've requested they stop).
And the ship includes lots of great amenities, like a state-of-the-art gym, and different spas and pools, and first-run movies in a theater, and live entertainment.
Then there's the food: twenty-four-hour room service, and all-you-can-eat buffets all day long. Every night, there's a four or five-course dinner in the dining room, on a table with a white tablecloth. The food is never great, but it's usually surprisingly good.
Unfortunately, since Wi-Fi onboard a cruise ship is usually both dodgy and expensive, we’ve decided to go without. It feels weird to be so disconnected, but we can at least check in on land, whenever we’re in the different ports of call.
By now, we've taken stock of our fellow passengers and chatted with a few of them. Even though we're in Europe, it's a mostly American crowd.
A very white, very Middle American, very old crowd.
And they seem… how do I put this without sounding cruel? Some of them are kind of clueless. As in, you're walking behind them, and then they just stop, looking around in a daze, like they're completely unaware there's anyone else nearby. They especially love doing this in doorways and on stairways.
I wonder, as I often do whenever I’m out in the world, how these people are able to balance a checking account.
I've also seen a lot of FOX News playing on the TVs on the different exercise machines in the gym. I occasionally try to watch FOX to see how they’re reporting things, but it's always so stupid it makes my head hurt. Michael and I have long wondered who FOX viewers are, but now we’ve found a floating nest of them.
American politics is suddenly making a lot more sense.
The truth is cruising is just another form of coliving, which Michael and I have often done as nomads: everyone has a small personal space, and then there's a large, public, shared space.
Unfortunately, the space is shared with old, white Republicans.
I confess to being concerned.
Michael and I have started working out in the ship gym. Every day. We've also cut back to five meals a day — considered great self-control on a cruise ship, which is a kind of a floating palace of Caligula.
And we've started spending time in the ship library, plugging in our laptops and working on our different writing projects.
We've noticed another gay couple on board about our age. We want to introduce ourselves, but so far we haven't had a chance.
A lot of our nomad friends look down their noses at cruise ships. They say this kind of travel is too "easy." And that you can’t see anything interesting while on a cruise, because any place where cruise ships make land is ruined by overtourism. By definition.
They're right that it's easy. On the other hand, why should travel always be hard? It really is nice to live in a little luxury for a while. And, frankly, it’s awesome to unpack once and still see dozens of different destinations.
As for the destinations, well, sure, cruise ships do need a certain amount of infrastructure. The crowds do suck. But is Rome still worth seeing? Or Athens?
Take the Greek island of Santorini, where we arrived today. I've been hearing about the Greek islands my whole life, how lovely they are, but I never expected anything like this.
The entire island is the ring at the top of a mostly-undersea volcano. The crater is open to the ocean on two sides, and it's now filled with seawater, so our ship is able to sail inside the caldera.
Those gaps in the crater where the ocean flows in? They're from one of the largest recorded eruptions in history, back around 1500 B.C., an event so extreme it probably destroyed the Minoan civilization. It's possible this eruption even spawned the legend of Atlantis since it basically blew Santorini — then known as Thera — apart.
Sunlight hits the black volcanic rock of the island, making it shine like polished obsidian. The white buildings perched at the top of the island blaze like a string of gleaming pearls. Stunning! Many of the roofs are a vivid turquoise blue, making everything look so distinctively Greek Island-y.
Later, after the ship makes port, Michael and I take a tender over to the island, then ride the cable car up the steep sides of the crater to Fira, the most populated of the island's towns. It bustles with tourists and locals alike.
Granted, Santorini is an active volcano, which means the people living in these stunning white buildings are looking down into the crater of a volcano that will one day blow them all to smithereens
So there's that.
Later, Michael and I take the local bus to Oia, a village at the very far end of the island.
The entire village, which is pedestrian-only, clings to the side of the island, spilling down all the way to the water.
I wouldn’t want to be here when that volcano finally blows, but in the meantime, I can’t help but be dazzled.
We finally manage to introduce ourselves to the other gay couple on board, Jeffrey and Jacob. We've made plans for dinner.
Michael and I are also definitely getting into the zone. We're doing killer workouts, and we've discovered that we don't actually like stuffing our faces day after day, so we've started eating more fresh veggies and choosing the vegetarian options.
We’re now halfway across the Atlantic. It’s a little unsettling looking out at the water and knowing that if something goes wrong, we’re thousands of miles from land.
God help us if they run out of bacon.
We've really hit it off with Jeffrey and Jacob.
As nomads, we've met some lesbians, and plenty of bisexual women. Seriously, is every woman under the age of thirty bisexual now? But to our surprise, we've only met a handful of gay or bisexual men, and no couples.
It's nice to be around another same-sex couple. They're in the process of retiring early, and they plan to sell their house and drive around the U.S. in an RV for a couple of years. It's not exactly what we're doing, but it's close enough that they feel like kindred spirits.
And, frankly, it's also kind of nice to be around people near to our own age. As much as we've loved meeting all our new nomad friends, most of them are younger than we are. It's been interesting sharing life experiences with Jeffrey and Jacob on what it's like to have been gay over the last forty-five years, the incredible changes we’ve seen.
I confess I was worried about going without the internet for so long, but it turns out I’m absolutely loving it. I feel so much more focused! And, frankly, so much less anxious and negative in general.
And checking in on social media only every week or so at the different ports of call has resulted in a very weird epiphany: the thing we call “news” in America is very interchangeable — and disposable.
Every different news cycle, there are basically only two stories — a “political” one about some scandal involving a politician who did or said something stupid, and a “lifestyle” one about some celebrity who did or said something stupid.
But both stories are really about America’s never-ending culture wars, because the stories are presented completely without nuance and framed in such a way to piss everyone off. Naturally, everyone immediately takes a side and begins screaming at or berating the people on the other side, and the whole country acts like it’s the most important issue ever.
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