I missed two Saturday columns in this corner because of our annual family holiday. With your kind indulgence, I'd like to share some of the highlights of our two-week holiday cruise.
Because it was a reunion of sorts with our US-based brother Ed and his whole family, a cruise seemed to be the perfect choice for our family group of fifteen. We took the9-day Scandinavian cruise on board the Norwegian Get-Away, a huge 16-level luxury ship that looked more like a building spanning two blocks. The embarkation point was Copenhagen and the itinerary included Berlin, Germany; Tallinn, Estonia; St. Petersburg, Russia; Helsinki, Finland ; and Stockholm, Sweden. Setting foot in six countries at a very leisurely pace was interesting enough, especially since my family and I have not been to any of these countries save for Germany. Estonia sounded very interesting and novel, so the cruise was a good choice for my small group consisting of my wife Baby, daughter Tin (DJ Suzy to her friends), Baby's sister, Linda from the US and myself. My brother and fellow Star columnist, Rey, wife Evelyn and daughter Ina; my US-based brother, Ed, wife Racquel, daughters Michelle andPamy and their husbands Tyro and Vans and children completed the fifteen.
As can be expected, about 70% of the crew of ourNorwegian vessel was Filipino, friendly, accommodating, and always ready to serve. For the 4,500 passengers, there was a crew of 1,400 so service was impeccable. And with all cruises, food was always overwhelming in choices and quality. Breakfast, lunch and dinner themed buffets (Japanese, Indian, American, Asian, Mediterranean) were served in the main dining room, but several other more private outlets were available for free dining. Dine all you want, but wining is at a rather hefty cost. Other specialty dining outlets like the French, Italian and Japanese restaurants as well as the Steak Grill charged reasonably. Tired after nearly a week of buffets, we inevitably gravitated to the Italian and the French restaurants for a change.
The ship also had a full-packed array of entertainment options. On our first night, there was a Welcome Aboard Show and a Welcome Dance Party. Every day, from morning to late evening, there were various activities lined up for children, teenagers and adults: from creative play to sports to painting and dance classes, game shows, music (we enjoyed those), fun contests, raffles, karaoke, piano duels-you name it, they have it. In the small card room, we shared a table where we played domino with the family while others around us enjoyed mah-jong, bridge, monopoly. While in past cruises we saw quite a lot of Pinoy travellers, we noticed only a small percentage of kababayans on board, perhaps because Scandinavia is not yet a popular destination for many of us.
The spring weather was crisp and cold, and there was a bit of bad weather while en route to Estonia so the Captain decided to dock safely in Germany and wait for clearer weather. Unfortunately, that cost us our shore excursion to Estonia which we were eagerly looking forward to. And all we got was a "Sorry" announced throughout the ship by the Captain. One country scrapped from the itinerary, simply charged to force majeure, and nothing to offer by way of appeasement or goodwill. Actually, that was the only bad note in the entire cruise. Otherwise, service was perfect, and we particularly appreciated the nice gesture of the friendly Filipina Assistant Maitre D' Nelfa Sy who sent trays of big fat strawberries dipped in chocolate and a bottle of good champagne to our state room. That was a nice touch. Our housekeeping steward, Gerald, was also Filipino and kept our bed and linens in perfect order.
Gratuities are always part of any cruise, though they have gone steeper since our first cruise ten years ago. For this one, mandatory gratuity was US$13.99 per day per guest which was shared evenly by all the staff. At the end of the cruise, we still felt that our housekeeping steward deserved more than his fair share of the gratuities because of his dedicated service and we gladly gave.
Our first stop was Germany. We didn't sign up for the shore excursion to Berlin because we have had past trips to this country. Instead, we disembarked on our own at the maritime district of Warnemunde and walked to a quaint town where we sat outdoors, drank our German beer leisurely to add to the local color and drank in the rustic scenery before taking the very long walk back to the ship. This prepared us for another big dinner awaiting us at the ship.
The next day we had a full day at sea, but there lies the beauty of cruising with a big group. With such a huge vessel and a calm sea, it always felt like we were on land. We spent lazy afternoons playing domino and sipping cool lemonades and iced teas, which were the only free drinks to be had. We sometimes played at the O'Sheehan Grill where there was always a show or a movie going on in the open Atrium area nearby. After dinner, it could be a night of Abba or Motown or Jazz or blues, or an exciting show of Deal or No Deal where cash prizes can be won. Everyone seemed just too eager to participate. One night we dined at the Tropicana where there was live Latin music. The guests gamely took to the dance floor and some surprised us with scintillating samba and coordinated moves. We had quite a show while enjoying a good dinner. We noticed that all the Americans and Europeans dressed up really well come dinner time, but most of the Asians tended to dress down even for dinner at the more formal outlets. The casino on this ship was not too small, and when at sea it was open 24 hours and many guests spent their nights (and fortunes) there.
It was late spring going into summer, so the days were very long and the nights too short. On certain days, sunset (a sight to behold!) was as late as 10:45 p.m., which meant that up to midnight we still had a bit of the dying sun to light up the sky. Then, as early as 4:00 to 5:00 a.m., the sun starts to rise again.
Next week, the shore excursions.
Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.
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