A u g u s t   2 0 0 4

Aural Report

A cruise will make you think like that
Living in the lap of luxury liners (part 2)
by Kurt Dahlke

ife on a cruise ship is all wine and roses until you wake up at 4:30 in the morning, about to suddenly roll out of bed on heaving seas.

Glacial action: Cruisers beware!

That's a slight exaggeration, but when one's orientation to the horizon changes a scant degree or three, one feels it.

One wakes up and can't get back to sleep. One eventually tries showering, holding on to the wall to keep from falling.

One starts sweating profusely, draining of color and goes back to bed because being flat is the best possible orientation.

The helpful cruise-TV channel (of which there are actually several) advises us that the seas are "rough," which constitutes paltry 7- to 12-foot swells. Imagine being on the 10th floor of an office building that has not a first floor but a tall spring upon which the building is bobbing. You get the idea. Worse, the Queen Mary 2 recently experienced 30-foot seas on its maiden voyage. Cruisers beware!

Our eventual harbor in Yakutat Bay provides stunning respite from wall hugging, with views of a glacier calving as if a new McDonald's were on the horizon. The flat, sheltered water is only a temporary balm as we've reached our northern apogee, and it's back out onto the briny. I down a motion-sickness tablet before dinner, but three-fourths of the way through an ill-advised, ill-timed glass of champagne I'm warned the drink will spoil my medication. D'oh!

Blower's-eye view: yeah, everyone knows why.

Not so curiously, the fabulous dining room is half empty tonight. Even my stepsister (who seems made of stronger stuff) in turn staggers from the table. Here come the sweats.

Taking some advice I muster my dignity, marching in suit and tie to my room. Yeah, everyone knows why. Even the wine steward, who (with an oddly wistful look in his eye) is heard to say that those suffering seasickness need to eat, and then they can just "blow and blow …"

I don't blow and blow, for which I'm grateful, and I'm grateful that among the TV channels broadcasting videotape of things people on our very ship did a scant few hours earlier, that they have ESPN, because watching the Detroit Pistons approach their eventual dismantling of the Lakers is surely a palliative for what ails me. Lord knows the Lakers have made me want to vomit enough in the past.

Once recovered, we squander most of our music-listening time scampering about sundry Alaskan cities, sating our renewed appetites or simply relaxing. Cruising is a dichotomy, balancing hyper-scheduled activities with total freedom, even as the evenings involve rushing from one event to another.

Alaskan jazz: between stage shows, gambling and drinking, there's barely time for the Southeast Asian cover band.

Instead of listening to Piano Man Steven Frank in the Piano Bar (well, duh!) or Monarchia Strings in the Explorer's Lounge or the Marquis Trio in the Ocean Bar, we scope the stage shows, gamble or drink with Jazzy (see Neo-Colonialism part 1).

We don't even make it to see the stupefying Eureka (a Southeast Asian cover band) playing the hits in the Crow's Nest until the last night of our trip.

Following each wine-laden dinner seating we're found either enjoying an old-school comedian slinging cheap jokes so quickly you miss half and laugh over every other, or at a staff-performed Indonesian floor show that defies description. My presumption that many of the crew (other than the musicians) are really frustrated artists of some sort proves frighteningly wrong. And though it's hard to stay awake or coherent enough to appreciate their effort, it is nicely hypnotic how they gently sway back and forth to the beat of the tides.

Terra firma: time to scamper about sundry Alaskan cities.

Brother-in-law Christopher falls prey to the lure of fame, entering the ship's American Idol-style singing competition, in which the karaoke-addicted and those with actual professional music experience vie for merchandise featuring the ship's logo.

While Christopher is clearly the best, he picks some tunes that don't engage the crowd quickly enough, and he totally fails in the "regular schmo" department – a clear necessity for shipboard superstar status.

After such a crushing blow the rest of our cruise is tinged with bitterness and gnashing of teeth. Bitterness and drinking of Grolsch. Bitterness and eating of pizza and lox at 12:30 a.m. Bitterness and marveling at Eureka, the band which gamely plunks through – not the advertised hits, but the standards – "New York, New York," "Mack the Knife" and suchlike.

In the dim, wood-and-leather radiance of the cosmopolitan Crow's Nest – a high-rise view-bar on a floating high-rise – this Polynesian pop band filters 20th-century American sentiment: "I wanna wek up in za city dat neva slips ..."

The wistful Alaskan closing shot: Do such things invite themselves?

The drunken blonde that haunts our every move (she volunteers for the silly magician, runs up onstage to play the Indonesian instrument, sloppily kisses her husband, a superstar contestant, and is generally appearing virtually everywhere) enters the bar. Eureka welcomes two other drunken blondes from the audience to sing onstage. Or do they invite themselves?

I turn to watch the dark sea slip by, wondering macro-style about the cruise, the contestants and life: Do they invite themselves? Our choices, accomplishments, failures, circumstances. Do they invite themselves?

A cruise will make you think like that. Or maybe it's the Grolsch.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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