Our world cruise will soon be over. We have spent three months in the company of the most elderly crowd we have ever been part of. Our ship is a floating Old Folks Home, no less! But remembering the Costa Concordia-disaster we are of course happy it is exactly that: floating!
We are getting on a bit ourselves, we have to admit. At 62, we have actually never been this old before in our entire lives. Still, in the company of most of our fellow passengers, we feel like juniors.
There is an explanation for this, of course. We are on a cruise of more than three months, and it is not easy to take that much time off work. Therefore, it is no surprise that almost all the passengers are in the retirement age of 60 plus. The crew, on the other hand, are all young people of 40 minus. So when we look around us, scanning the 1800 passengers and the 900 crew we see every day, there is an entire age group of 20 years almost totally missing.
We got the first hint already on the bus from Bern to the Italian port of Savona, where we embarked. A lady was telling a friend about her first world cruise, where no less than four people died on the way! Soon we found out why. It takes all kinds to make a crowd. The strong and the frail, the walking, the rolling and the wheel chair bound! We have those who stand in timid silence, with a frame so frail it looks like they should hardly have been allowed out of bed. We also have those who do not think twice about using their heavy elbows to get to the front of the line when the shore passes are distributed. We have tons of aging, male beer bellies, and we have our share of ladies with pink hair and earrings who look like die-hard Sex Pistols-fans from the 1970ties.
We see quite a few of those who look a bit over confident also in their grey years, maybe after a working career where they have been used to telling other people what to do. After all, this cruise cost a bit, and a managing director’s pension is no doubt a big help. We also see those who probably should not have been on board in the first place, whatever their income might be. From our excellent dinner table, right in front of the panoramic windows at the very back of the huge restaurant, we once saw a guy who mistook the window for the door to the hallway and tried to open it. He thought he was heading for the toilet, but in fact he was doing his best to break the glass that kept him from tumbling into the currents of the Atlantic!
The clientele is of all nationalities, but the dominating races among the passengers of the Costa Luminosa are the Italians (it is, after all, an Italian ship) the Germans (the biggest crowd in Europe) and the Swiss (probably the wealthiest). Among the crew, the largest nationality group are the Filipinos. As a general rule, those who do the work are Filipino, Indian or Brazilian, and those who walk around in white operetta-uniforms watching them work are Italian supervisors and officers.
Most of the gossip around our dinner table is about the Germans, for a very good reason. With the exception of DHH everybody at the table speaks fluent German, and there are so many Germans around us that the good stories never stop filtering thru. We hear about the Germans who complained to the cruise manager because there is not enough burger and würst for dinner (the menus are mostly Italian cuisine, as said before it is an Italian ship). For the same reason, the DJ at the disco speaks better Italian then German, which also resulted in somebody sending a formal complaint. We hear about the Germans who wrote a letter to the captain complaining that we continued our voyage south of Australia even though the waves were 8 metres high (peanuts for a ship our size, built for sailing outdoors thru hurricanes and tornados). We hear about the German who ditched his wife mid-cruise in favour of the attractive widow next door, and the other German who bullied his way to the front of the food line, shuffling pork chops into his hands because he had forgotten to bring a plate.
We assume that there are Italians, French or maybe even Norwegians who behave just as bad, but these stories never reach us at table 75. They are, we presume, lost in translation. Thank God we also have a bunch of Finns on the ship, who live up to all stereotypes by drinking 24/7 and ripping the bras of the bodies of their female companions at the back row of the theatre hall in the middle of the show. Recently, while having our coffee, we watched one of them fall stone drunk off his barstool at nine thirty in the morning. To laugh at the resident Finns we do not need to understand any language.
And speaking of table 75, we are very happy with it. The before mentioned location in front of one of the huge back windows is just gold. We sit on deck 2, close to the water. We have great views of harbours when we leave them and of other ships when we pass them, and we see our trail of white foam float endlessly on the dark blue ocean.
Most people we meet are of course very happy and positive about where they are and what they do. They are not all old grumps, far from it. We are very happy with our dinner companions. They are The Dutch couple Lady Y & Mr D, (Swiss nationals since a long time, but it is easier for us to refer to them as The Dutch), two Swiss single travellers (Lady B and Lady E), and finally Professor D. The latter often sports his Italian Napapjira-shirt with the Norwegian flag logo when he comes to dinner, but he is in fact German. We force him to laugh at all the German jokes we tell, and after a few weeks of torment he started to pretend that he actually found them funny.
Including DHH and ES this makes seven around a table with space for eight. To bring us food and drink we have The Waiter and The Assistant Waiter, two young Filipinos who provide good food, excellent service, cold beer and loads of great humour. The beer is even free. Alcohol is rather expensive at the bars on board, but we get both beer and wine for no extra cost during lunch and dinner. DHH has made himself a 2+4-schedule to not end up like the Finns, he gives himself two days of unlimited beer consumption for every 4 days of sober dinnertime water torture.
The one thing we are a little tired of after three months at sea, is having to search up and down 150 metres of Deck 9 for a good table at the buffet room. This we do twice a day – for breakfast and lunch. The food is very good, but there is always a crowd, and when you see a free table by the window there is always a sprint to get there first. If you lose a good seat because you get stuck behind a slow, wide and waggling person you cannot pass, then you really curse the wrinkled old farts who inhabit the Costa Geriatrica together with us.
On the other hand, you win some and you lose some in this life. When we do the trip again at the age of 80 there will probably be some young idiots of 62 also cursing behind our backs. As a matter of fact the ship is rather well equipped for people with physical difficulties, and quite a few cabins are designed for guests in wheelchairs.
The 99 day cruise we signed up for actually consists of only 98, because of the day we lost crossing the date line from east to west. 34 of those days we spend in port, but we joined the cruise more because of the ship than because of the ports. Some places we have been to before and know quite well, like Guatemala, Sydney, Auckland, Singapore and San Francisco. Others have been very good new acquaintances that we will go back to, like Fremantle, Honolulu, Grenada and Muscat. But there have also been ports we have simply skipped; we have felt more like staying on the ship than crawling around on buses with tons of other Costa tourists.
On the ship we have our swimming pool and our bubble bath, our favourite outdoor bar on deck nine and above all our personal trainer. We have been going to the gym regularly throughout the whole trip. We may not have lost so much weight, but we are both in better shape than we have been in for a very long time, and we have no doubt replaced some fat with some muscle!
We also have loads of options for entertainment we have not taken. We could have taken dancing lessons and singing lessons, we could have taken part in bridge-, chess- and quiz-tournaments and we could have joined the «Luminosa got talent»-show. Or shall we say «got-no-talent»-show. We have seen parts of it on internal TV, and believe you us: When old people cannot sing, they really cannot sing big time!
Apart from the quality of some passengers’ voices, Costa is very good with entertainment. The shows and the musicians are of high professional quality. The «animation team» who do darts competitions and step dancing and aerobics accompanied by loud music on the sundeck in daytime are a bit like kindergarten-teachers for grownups, but they are obviously of good value to their devoted crowd of faithful followers.
Overall Costa does a very good job. The people are nice, the ship looks good and everything that is supposed to work – works. We made a couple of complaints to the tour management over one unprofessional tourist guide (external) and one troublesome neighbour in the corridor (German), and both were dealt with professionally and to our satisfaction.
The one thing Costa is not so good at is information. Part of it is incomplete; other parts contradict each other in different languages. The English language in the daily bulletin we get every night is horrendously bad, like a drunk using Google Translate has done it word for word from Italian. For people like us, who have worked with information and journalism our entire lives, some of it hurts to read!
But generally we are very happy, and first and foremost we are happy with our home sweet home in the shape of the 17 square metres in cabin no 5395. We live at the very back of the ship, pretty much on top of our dinner table three decks down, but with a window to the starboard side.
Did we say window? Well, we should say balcony. When we first booked the cruise we considered an inside cabin. Then we considered a room with «ocean view», that is a window on a lower deck. But thank heavens; we decided to spend the extra money to have a private balcony a bit further up. That was a blessing, no less. We have spent endless hours knitting (ES), reading or drinking beer (DHH), or watching the stars (both) on the balcony. It gives us a lot of freedom also when we sit inside; just knowing we can go out there when we feel like gives our home a totally different dimension. Because this very much is our home. We have sold our house as you all know, and throughout our 11 months of travelling (so far) cabin 5395 is our home no 61. There will be more to come, but since we quit our jobs we have never spent so much time in one place as we have here.
We have our books, our DVDs and our hobbies with us, and we enjoy every minute spent at home. When we feel like company, there are 2700 other people just outside the door, we will always meet somebody to talk to. And we have The Cabin Steward, the girl who does our room every day and brings us everything from fresh linens on the bed to fresh coke in the freezer. We chat with her every day, and after three months she feels more like a friend than a servant.
In the big picture, we do not consider it mentally healthy to live a life where somebody else does all your work for you, serving us food and doing our laundry. We live in a bubble that is not real life, but we sure will enjoy it to the last day of the journey!
And as it stands, even with this aging crowd, most people seem to be getting off the cruise alive. The coughing in the corridors suggests sometimes otherwise, we have a stowaway in the shape of a virus that has been doing the rounds of most cabins since late September. Still, we have only had one death on board that we know of, a lady who fell over with heart failure in her seat in the theatre. Rumours however, tell us of at least two more. There have also been rumours of a passenger jumping off mid ocean, but we do not know if this is true or not. And then there was the guy whose girlfriend (they were both 80) broke her leg and had to be flown home from American Samoa on a stretcher. He was asked to go home with her, but refused. The cruise company had to force him, insisting that she was in no shape to travel alone. He was Swiss, we are sorry to say, so we cannot blame the Germans for that one.
As for the age, the span of the entire population is 103 years. We have come to know a young German couple in their thirties (all societies have their minorities) who are travelling with their daughter Lilly, just over 1. At the other end of the scale we have a jolly looking Italian lady of no less then 104. She walks with a stick, but she is by far not the slowest mover. She always smiles, and she travels in the company of a son who by the looks of him is a raw youth of barely 85.
When we publish this post we are not very far from coming back to Europe. We have had a great experience. The ship, the crew and the atmosphere on board are excellent, and a trip like this can only be recommended!
Still, the fact is that such a long cruise is not for everyone. If you are not at peace with yourself, your partner or whomever else you wish to travel with, don’t go. If you are the restless type who cannot enjoy doing nothing for days on end, don’t go. If you have a problem with any of this, you are stuck. You have nowhere else to go, nowhere to hide. But if you like watching the ocean for hours, if you have a writing project or a knitting project you can work on, if you enjoy spending your evenings catching up on the books you never had the time to read or watching season upon season of old TV-crime series on DVD, then this is the trip for you!
And one more warning: Do not go on a world cruise believing you will get to know the world. You will visit a lot of countries and a lot of cities, but you will just get some short glimpses. A lot of the stops we make are from 9 am to 6 pm only, so there are limits to what you can do and see. And what you do see, you often see lined up with 45 other passengers on the same bus tour. We would actually wish for the cruise to have fewer stops – but longer. The difference between a one-day and a two-day stop is very big. A two day stop lets you go ashore for the evening without having to watch the clock all the time, and that is a blessing when it happens.
We went to Honolulu, for instance, a typical 9 to 6, and we spent the day at the Pearl Harbour museum. DHH thought it was great; he has always wanted to see Pearl Harbour. But apart from that, what have we actually seen of Hawaii? The answer is easy. Nothing.
But we have seen the ocean and we have experienced the ship. For us, being on board is our greatest pleasure. We have experienced the sunsets of the Atlantic, the storms south of Australia and the stars twinkling over the islands of the Caribbean. We have seen diving whales from or seat at the dinner table and we have seen birds flying parallel to our balcony so close we could have touched them. We have sat on the exercise bike in the gym watching hordes of flying fish and schools of playful dolphins.
Does it sound like a once in a life time experience? It sure is not. We are very much capable of doing this once again. Or twice, for that matter. We have already booked a week on the same ship in September 2017, a compensation cruise given us by Costa because we lost some land time in New Zealand and Singapore because of bad weather and a minor technical failure! We already have our reservation in a new cabin, no 5396. You just watch us go!