Active Days at Sea

| November 15, 2004

First-time cruisers who see an itinerary with three full days at sea – like the Caribbean Princess' current seven-day schedule – might wonder what they would do with all that free time.

It used to be that a day at sea meant frittering your time away by reading, taking a swim and maybe a constitutional around the promenade deck, eating, napping, eating again and seeing a show. But on my recent Caribbean Princess sailing, I quickly learned that on today's modern mega-ship, the list of optional activities is quite extensive throughout the day -- from a 7 a.m. stretch in the Aerobic Studio high up on Deck 16 all the way through the late-night Tropical Deck Party that gets underway at 10:30 p.m. and a comedy act that starts after midnight.

Caribbean Princess
So instead of taking a back seat, I decided to play at being uncommonly active, one day at a time. The Caribbean Princess measures a great big 113,000 tons, and the passengers on my cruise numbered 3,293, so we are talking about a whole boatload of souls who share a floating island and need to be kept happily occupied.

To plan my inaugural whirlwind day, it seemed wise to start with a peaceful breakfast on the balcony. My companion, a longtime friend from university, and I had left our wives at home, so we could have a boys' week away.

Neptune Pool
After some croissants and a quick reading of the daily schedule in the Princess Patter, we were ready to go by 8 a.m. I decided to begin with an hour's fast walk counterclockwise on Promenade Deck 7. My friend, a daily runner around the Central Park Reservoir, says it is easier to meet walkers face to face than try to overtake them, as they tend to wander in his way, so he went in one direction and I the other.

Cafe Fusion Games
We wound up our exercise by 9 a.m. so we could attend an important and complimentary computer class. After 15 years and several PCs, I just had experienced my first worm attack back home, and it took my wife and me hours on the phone to India and Bangladesh, plus credit card charges, to get the problem fixed. Becky, the ship's computer teacher, was excellent; I now feel much more confident about handling the next virus, and I learned that a solution need not cost a single Indian rupee, let alone $49.95. She offered additional classes throughout the day and the next, most of them with a fee.

An hour later, I walked forward on Deck 7 to join the cruise staff for a backstage tour of the Princess Theater, where the main production shows take place. I was amazed at the answer when I asked about how the technology of this stage compared with a Broadway house. Jason, the stage manager, replied without hesitation that his venue outshone nearly the whole of theater row -- and he proved it by raising and lowering sections of the stage, performing amazing effects with the lighting, and rolling out all sorts of sets that could then be transformed into different backdrops for the full week of varied shows.

Promenade - Deck 7
Then it was a quick sprint up to Deck 15 and aft to the pizza counter for a light snack of two pepperoni slices and an iced tea in preparation for a multi-multi-course meal scheduled for 7 p.m. Passengers can make reservations through the concierge 24 hours a day, a new service for the Caribbean Princess and a few others in the fleet. At 1:15 p.m., on the recommendation of my wife, I took in the film Calendar Girls, a delightful story about a group of creative Yorkshire women who pull off a female parallel to The Full Monty.

Paddle Tennis
Next on the docket was the Cooking Show – yes, a show and not a demonstration; it turned out to be a hilariously competitive repartee between the executive chef and the maitre d'hotel, both amateur Italian comics. A complete kitchen was rolled onto the stage, and in spite of the antics, the two managed to pull off a four-course meal. My stomach became achingly sore from laughing, and at the end, the packed house gave the pair a well-deserved standing ovation and then filed aft for a galley tour.

At 5.p.m. it was back up to the cabin to get dressed for the Captain's Circle Party -- for me a seersucker suit, rep tie and white shirt, while others wore somber dark suits and dinner jackets. To assure you that I am not showing off, the captain announced that more than 900 repeat passengers were traveling on this cruise.

Paddle Tennis
The party wound down at 6 p.m., so we had an hour before dinner. We decided to engage in a bit of table tennis forward on Deck 17. With ties loosened and jackets off, we still worked up a bit of a tropical sweat even at this mildly active game. The paddle tennis court was for another day when the dress code was casual.

Looking a bit disheveled, we primped before taking in a quick beer at Churchill's and watching a tennis match on the surrounding TV monitors. Then we went for our dinner at Trattoria Sabatini, arriving ravenously hungry. The meal is a lengthy if delicious exercise in overeating, with eight antipasti tidbits, pizza, soup, pasta, secondi piatti and tiramisu, not to mention breadsticks dipped in pure olive oil.

The orgy of eating required a good stiff walk about the deck before settling down to watch a cabaret act performed by a highly energetic and creative woman and her fall guy musician husband. By 11:30 p.m. we had had a pretty active day at sea, but we quickly looked in on the deck party and took a minute out on deck to locate the Big Dipper in the clear night sky. I did not even glance at the next day's program until the next morning. But I sure slept soundly.

Putting Green
By 10 a.m., I was ready to dip into the spa's swim-against-the-current pool, soak in the Jacuzzi, do a round of miniature golf, watch a carver create an Indian out of a solid block of ice, enjoy lunch looking aft over the stern wake, drop in on a trivia quiz, meet some other passengers at line dancing, win nothing at bingo in Café Fusion, wind down listening to a chapter of a presidential biography in the library, make next-night reservations for the Sterling Steakhouse, change clothes for an Oktoberfest German-style meal with a couple of cold Beck's beers, and end the day with an outdoor movie (Shrek 2) under the stars, ensconced in a deck chair as I munched on popcorn.

As no one can do everything offered, I missed out on aerobics classes, some wild pool games, shipboard-style horseracing, playing a notable course on the golf simulator, wine tasting, bridge instruction, snorkeling or taking a scuba diving lesson in the pool, enjoying formal afternoon tea on this British-registered ship and joining a ceramics class to take something creative home to my working wife.

Had she been aboard, I am sure she would have wanted get me on the dance floor, take part in some TV-style game show, have dinner with champagne on the balcony and then at a romantic moment suggest we renew our vows in the wedding chapel -- where she could show off a nice piece of new jewelry I just might pick up after the tanzanite gem seminar.

All in a day's play aboard the Caribbean Princess.

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