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Category: Travel Date: 15 Apr 01


Ira Mathur concludes a series on her experiences on board a Grand Princess cruise

 

Tuesday March 13

We were spread out on our balcony in that rare state of just ‘being’, mindless, mesmerised by the fluid sameness view of the ocean, now a deep, moving blue, out of which a dolphin would occasionally leap in a spray of silver froth.

 

If I didn’t hurry, I was going to be late for the tour of the navigational bridge. In five minutes we were tearing through corridors and lifts to meet the officer who was to escort us up into a wide circular room that looked more like a glass-encased computer suite than a ship’s bridge. One of the officers there was talking to a party of passengers.

 

What if computers crashed? Where was the wheel, the officer looking out to sea? My husband read my mind and pleaded with his eyes for me not to ask embarrassing questions about icebergs and the Titanic, but out popped the inevitable.

 

If the Titanic was built like the Princess, could she have survived that iceberg? The answer was a smug “yes”.  The officer informed us the bridge was equipped with state-of-the-art electronic navigational systems operated around the clock by a team of four watch-keepers; that its security surveillance and safety management system continually watched 15,000 sensors around the ship, that even if the computers broke down, it would sail.

 

That evening, the Princess Patter informed us, was a formal night. I got dolled up in the spa, and Hector had laid out my evening dress so I was ready for the Captain’s Circle cocktail party, where the Commodore acknowledged passengers who had done up to 40 cruises.

 

Wednesday March 14

Crown Bay, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands, the “American Paradise.”

Felt strange. No movement beneath us. After being wracked by several hurricanes, St Thomas depends on mainland America and the cruise ships to keep going. It’s all charm, a Mecca to tourists from the shivering north:  bougainvillea, heavy foliage, beaches. Island voices and faces. American twangs. A touch of home for us.

Passengers from colder climes went off snorkeling, sight-seeing, sailing, but we were more interested in our appointment with our quintessential chef Antonio Cereda, rotund, gesticulating, more artist than chef.

 

How did he cook gourmet food for 2,700 passengers and nearly 1,500 crew, for eight separate eating places and 24-hour buffet and room service, I asked him in a sparkling, never-ending galley, which was one of five. He pointed at various areas of the galley like a policemen. “Thoonith I coook a thouuusand lorbsters, 500 pheasants, meelions of escargot. I have five chefs, and 210 staff,” he said, stirring soup in an enormous barrel.

 

I told him I missed spicy food. At dinner that night I was served a gourmet North Indian dish with mango pickle.

 

Thursday March 15

St Maarten.

Great for the wealthy traveller, because it was lined with diamond shops, and sun-starved travellers who headed straight to the beach and water sports. Since we are neither, we turned back and read in the library, and meandered into silver afternoon teas and siestas, like lazy fish.

 

Friday March 16

Gianfranco Sampiero, the ship’s bursar, showed us the area where reverse osmosis creates water for the ship, the generator that was big enough to power St Thomas, the sewage plant, the extensive staff rooms.

 

He said there were no West Indian staff on board because it’s simpler to hire staff from countries whose per capita income quarter ours, (Philippines, Romania, Thailand) and all of them have worked in five-star hotels at home for at least five years. Why are they all unwaveringly genial? No basic salary. They earn about US$2,000 in tips.

 

Saturday March 16

The ship was deserted because everyone got off to go to Princess Cays, the Princess’ private island in the Bahamas for a barbeque and frolic in the sea.

 

We chilled. In the evening at dinner we waved napkins in applause to kitchen staff parading live fire puddings, and afterwards, leaned over winding balconies in more confetti to watch an officer make a champagne fountain. Then we poured until it flowed over.

Sybaritic end to the cruise.

 

Sunday March 17

Driving away from the ship, thinking with warm feeling of the friends we made of a luminous sun softly falling into the ocean, of a floating world away from it all that made people fall in love all over again.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur