Cruise Control How to stay above the ahoy polloi

March 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

This special issue of H Texas touts great escapes both near and far. As an international traveler (Nuevo Laredo counts, doesn’t it?), I shall now give you a few pointers on the most important vacation: the cruise.

Oh yes, I do know cruises. There is the temperature (about 110 degrees), the ocean spray (swamping my landing craft), the food (one gets used to powdered eggs), and the suites (a metal deck made more comfortable by my pillow—a helmet, one size fits all). These cruises were formed and furnished by the U.S. Marine Corps, and the price was right (I got $85 a month plus health benefits).

But you may wish to partake in something a little more leisurely—say, a cruise aboard an ocean liner with great food, fun in the sun, stops at enchanted ports, night life, and hourly maid service. Then again, you may have been a good friend of Bernie Madoff. But let’s assume you got your bonus from Lehman Brothers just before the SEC shut down the party, and you want to take a cruise.

Good news! Houstonians no longer have to fly to Miami or Fort Lauderdale or Dallas to board a cruise ship. The Port of Houston spent $81 million to build a 96,000 square-foot cruise departure terminal right here at Bayport. Unfortunately, the authorities neglected to build a cruise arrival facility. We have a terminal illness. But somehow, some way, you’ll take that cruise, and here are a few very important pointers before you go. First, let’s learn the nomenclature, so you’ll appear to be a real salty dog.

Ship: That is your home for the next few days, or longer if Somali pirates want the ransom paid in pieces of eight. The ship is not a “boat.” A “boat” is a lifeboat, and there should be several tied up on each side of the “ship.” If there are no “boats” on your “ship,” you might inquire.

The deck: You and I would call it the “floor,” often made of wood. On some ships during long voyages, or if the navigator is dyslexic and gets lost, part of the deck may be used to feed the boilers, which makes shuffleboard difficult. From this practice we have the old nautical term, “not playing with a full deck.”

Walk the plank: This is not like “walk the dog.” Trust me. “Walk the gangplank” is when your whole gang is dumped overboard.

The captain: The most important person aboard, he can easily be spotted because everyone calls him “Captain.” It is considered very chi-chi if the captain asks you to sit at his table for dinner. That tells everyone else you are on the A list. If, however, the captain asks to sit at your table, you are either very, very in, or your ship has an extremely insecure captain. If the captain is also your waiter, get off at the next port of call and fly home.

The crew: Your ship should have a crew. Members of the crew run the ship, cater to your every need, and eat tips. Crew members include:

* The lookout: Stays up top watching the horizon to make sure the ship does not fall off the edge of the Earth.
* The engineer: Makes the ship run, either by keeping an eye on the boiler or by slowly and rhythmically beating a large drum.
* The purser: Carries a large purse.
* The steward: Carries a large stew.
* The bo’sun: (pronounced BOAT-swain): Wanders around the deck yelling such orders as, “Splice the swizzle stick! Stow the frog sail! You there, look lively and marinate the gropstop!” No one pays any attention to the bo’sun, but he adds local color to the cruise. You may ignore his various orders except for two: “Stand by to repel boarders!” and, “Bail!”

Cruises are more than simply travelling from point A to point C (having missed point B due to the aforementioned navigator). These voyages are also a social experience, thus oneupmanship is important. You must be very careful about the company you are seen with.

Here is a list of fellow voyagers to suck up to:

* Any passenger who has the same name as the ship.
* Anyone at your table who, when handed the wine list, says, “Yes.”
* Passengers who get off the ship to go jogging—and you’re still out at sea.
* And for men, any young, beautiful female passenger who, when asked why she is wearing a life preserver in the swimming pool, replies, “But I’m not wearing a life preserver.”

Conversely, here are some fellow passengers to avoid. Anyone:

* Wearing an albatross around his neck.
* Named “Blind Pew.”
* Accompanied by a friend named “Friday.”
* Who doesn’t fully understand the term “poop deck.”

Other people and things to avoid include Little Dutch boys, coin-operated lifeboats, lobster-with-chili during rough seas, a steerage class holding actual steers, sitting in a deck chair if your cruise ship has a periscope and torpedo tubes.

Do not take a cruise on a ship:

* Named the Unsinkable III.
* That advertises, “Your Own Oar!”
* Captained by someone named Ahab or Bligh, or who has a pet cat named Nine-Tails, or who keeps saying, “Arrr, Matie.”
* That makes its final port call at Ellis Island.
* With a restaurant named the Scurvy Scullery.

Theme cruises are all the rage these days, but avoid the Hollywood Cruise, which features panel discussions on “Titanic,” “Jaws,” and “Poseidon the Musical.” Also, don’t book passage on the Tom Cruise. All staterooms come with a sofa to jump on while proclaiming your love for Katie Holmes and the Church of Scientology. Finally among voyages to avoid, the Cruise Missile. (That one is self-explanatory.)

So there you have all you need to know, Matie.

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