Cruises are enormously popular today. And why shouldn’t they be? In contrast to our typical, mundane lives filled with struggles, challenges and disappointments, a cruise ship experience offers a brief respite and a glimpse of something else: call it the way life should be. When you pass through inspection and are awarded your boarding card, it is like entering a magic kingdom of make believe. You are greeted by a smiling, uniformed staff member, usually a gorgeous Asian woman, offered a warm, wet mini-towel to freshen up with along with a cold, bubbly glass of Champaign. And that is just the beginning. When your room is available, your bags will be waiting for you, and you are ready to embark on a week or two or three of living in the lap of luxury.
Delicious, gourmet meals are only a few minutes stroll away in one of many superb dining venues. All free—or more aptly, included in the price of admission. And to quench your thirst? A bar at every turn. To assure you never get bored, there is always an activity of some sort going on– a lecture, art class, concert, piano bar or a visit to the spa or gym or one of the swimming pools or hot tubs. A puzzle to work on, a game to play, a movie to watch, a great book to read as you lounge on deck and watch the waves to by.
Miraculously, your room is cleaned every day and at night someone turns down your bed, leaving a wrapped piece of chocolate on your pillow.
Welcome to the Garden of Eden.
And all around you is a vast sea with dazzling blue waters, with cloudless skies and the endless rolling waves that are timeless and eternal. At night if you are lucky and the sky is clear, you can gawk when seeing the Milky Way and thousands and thousands of twinkling celestial bodies, all providing a reminder of how vast and mysterious our universe is.
And what about the people on this vessel? You are not alone in this alternate “ocean cruise universe” where almost everyone is friendly and courteous. If you are lucky like me, you will be with your spouse or significant other; but even if you are not, there are gatherings for singles groups and chances for romance. The people you meet casually tend to be from towns and cities all across the U.S. and beyond, people who have led interesting lives and have been successful—or at least have made enough money to afford the experience. No one talks politics. I do not believe I have heard Trump’s name mentioned once. No one ventures into controversial subjects. Everyone seems mellowed out. Everyone seems happy.
You wonder: why can’t all life be like this? Isn’t this the way life was really supposed to be. You know the story. Everything was fine before Eve ate the apple and then look where we ended up.
Sounds too good to be true? Pollyannaish? Escapist? Self indulgent? Irresponsible?
Yes, to all of the above, but still. There is something going on here that makes an experience like this special.
Lest you misunderstand me, I do acknowledge that there is another lens to use when trying to understand the cruise mystique. It takes a “village” to make this experience so enjoyable. The “Orion” carries 900 passengers. Over 500 crew do the heavy lifting to make it happen. Most of these people are in their 20s and 30s, and come from developing countries where there is also great poverty—like the Philippines, Indonesia, Eastern Europe, Vietnam, South Africa, and even China. It is very hard work and requires being away from family for long periods. They do not make a whole lot of money but are hopeful, upbeat, and optimistic and see this as their ticket to a better life. They are a reminder, however, of the inequities of the real world. Also cruise guests are rich by world standards. It is an experience open only to those with the money to afford it, which is a fairly small percentage of even the U.S. population and a much smaller percentage of all people living on this planet. Furthermore, on this cruise we have seen only a small handful of guests with black or brown skin. We are (sadly) part of an exclusive club. Life is not just.
But let’s take closer look: who really are the people who take these cruises anyway? In the case of this Viking Cruise, they are people just like Embry and me–old, white codgers, trying to squeeze the last drops out of the lemon. I do not have the actual numbers but am willing to bet that fewer than 10 percent are still working. My guess as to median age would be early 70s. We are a de facto, retirement community! In short, we old folks have the demographic profile that makes us prime targets for cruise ship marketing. We are among the few who have both the time and the money. We are the lucky ones.
At our age most of us, however, also know deep down that there may not be a whole lot of additional cruises beyond this one. Not a lot more water left in this bucket. You look around and see a lot of gray hair but not that many 80-year olds, and no walkers or wheel chairs. Yes, there is a limit as to how long we humans can keep going. Do the arithmetic, as they say: average life expectancy less your actual age equals estimate of time left. Not a lot of years left for the average passenger on this vessel. But that is ok. That is life on the planet Earth. We are still going strong. That is what counts. We are the lucky ones.