I am looking out the window of our cabin aboard the brand new “Viking Orion,” a 750 foot, “mini” cruise ship in port at Auckland, New Zealand, accommodating 900 passengers served by 3,000 eager crew members always at your beck and call. Ok, there are probably not that many eager crew, but it seems like it. The lap of luxury. The life style of royalty. At last, I confess to myself, we’ve earned it. We deserve it.
Well, not exactly. In fact for a life-long, committed Presbyterian, cum-vestry member at All Souls Episcopal Church, (Embry), luxury is a negative rather than a positive term. Not so much, however, for us cradle Episcopalians.
(For those who followed us around the world, you may recall our only two other ocean cruises, the first on a Holland America ship from Ft. Lauderdale to Spain, and the second on a Hanjin container ship from Shanghai to Seattle.)
In any event we are here on this splendid, state of the art vessel because Embry could not resist a half price deal if you signed up in a year in advance, and she took the bait. New Zealand had long been on our bucket list, and what could be a better way to see this astonishing country–with Australia and Tasmania thrown in as a bonus– than aboard a cruise ship? No need to pack and repack your bags every day, and you get free room and board for over two weeks. Now I realize that room and board are not exactly free, but once you finally clear the arduous boarding procedure, you get a plastic card and that is it. Your ticket to paradise. Cash is not allowed, and at the end of the voyage, you settle up. But, hey, that is two weeks away. It sure feels free now.
Of course, the challenge with going to New Zealand is that you can’t get there. Well, you can now, thanks to jets that speed along at 500 miles an hour, but it still takes at least 20 hours including layovers and usually involves changing planes. If your goal is to go to the farthest place from Washington, DC (we actually departed from Newark) where there are permanent settlements of homo sapiens, New Zealand is your destination. If you are going to blow a fortune (even at half price) on a cruise ship, you might as well blow the blow the whole shebang and fly business class. So that is what we did, realizing that our chances of surviving 18 hours in steerage would be at best 50-50 .
The two flights (plane change in San Francisco) were fine. The airlines have now really figured out how to do business class with seats that fold down into beds, which allows for the exhausted passenger to get two or three hours of sleep instead of zero. When we stumbled out of the plane in Auckland at 5:00 am, we had crossed six time zones and it was already the day after tomorrow. One day had just disappeared. Poof! I am told we will get it back on the return trip, but it does feel a bit weird watching a live NFL football game on TV on a Monday morning rather than a Sunday afternoon.
The only glitch at the airport was due to Lynn Johnson. When I grabbed my bag off the luggage conveyor belt, I did the unusual act (for me) of actually checking the name tag, which turned out not to be me but “Lynn Johnson.” No problem, I said, as I strained to lug the suitcase back onto the belt. I will be patient until mine comes around. Twenty minutes later I was still waiting, and there was only one bag left: Linda Johnson’s. Now I will admit that the bags were identical. It could have easily been me who took her bag. The kind and courteous baggage lady told me that this is called a “bag switch,” and happens on average nine times a day at their airport. Welcome to the club! Two hours later the issue was resolved, and several hours after that in our hotel, I received an identical suitcase, this time with my name on it. (The luggage police were able to get Lynn her bag before she left the airport.) I later received a contrite message on hotel voice mail from Lynn’s husband, Victor, apologizing profusely. If I happen to bump into them on the cruise, I will insist on their buying me a drink, which is not such an outlandish request since all drinks are free.
More to follow on my first impressions of this green jewel, far, far away, down under….