This is the second in a series of essays.

The day before embarkment on our first-ever cruise, we toured the Ann Frank house, which had been recently surrounded by a contemporary glass structure to accommodate the lines of tourists. Our tickets were assigned by times and every half hour, a new group was allowed to enter. Since I was sleep deprived and a visual learner, I should have abandoned the listening devices and taken in the stark realities of the black and white photos, the hiding places, and the written narrative on the walls. Even in my tired state, though, I felt the horror of the Holocaust and the stupidity of its deniers.

Then, it was on to the Van Gogh Museum, which was, to this huge admirer and copier of his work, a disappointment. Granted it showcased his early works as a realist and his evolving into his unique impressionist style, but I wandered around looking for the familiar and only found the Yellow House and some sunflowers. His major works are all over the world and I’ve been fortunate to have seen some of them in Chicago and Paris and have my own knockoffs hanging near my wine bar at home. Thinking now, about this museum of the Netherlands’ native son, however, it felt like Amsterdam – tiny but important, innovative but quaint – and strangely beautiful.

After a lovely dinner cruise on a canal that evening, we taxied back to our boutique hotel for a night cap and much needed sleep. Unfortunately, I forgot to set an alarm so when the phone rang that our taxi to the cruise ship was here, I panicked. One car went ahead and the other kind driver waited for us and our oversized luggage, wrapped with neon green belts shouting Trendy Travel. Yes, we had become cruise nerds. I cringed.

At the glass entrance to the check-in area of the ship, our luggage was silently and efficiently whisked away to a holding area with the belongings of twenty-five hundred (yes, two thousand five hundred!) other travelers. And then, on to another area where we waited in one of at least 15 lines to check in with our boarding passes and have our photo taken which would automatically pop up on a screen whenever we used them. (We discovered, later, that it would also stop someone from using our all inclusive drink package – horrors.)

Our seasoned companions guided us over the gangplank and smack into one of the ubiquitous photo ops. They insisted we pose for this, our first, and we acquiesced. Viewing my frizzy-from-my-five-minute-shower hair in the photo gallery, however, I refused to purchase it. (And I had a feeling there would be more ops later with better coifs and outfits)

From there we boarded one of a dozen glass enclosed elevators to the eleventh floor to the Windjammer Cafe, a buffet that was open nearly 24/7 with anything our hearts desired, including soft serve ice cream! It was obvious the cruise industry had checking us in and feeding us down to a science. I didn’t realize til much later that the ship only had a couple hours between massive groups leaving and arriving to ready things. Besides grazing on foods from at least 10 stations, we had time to tour the nearly 1,000-foot-long ship from the gym and climbing wall on the 12th level to the casino on the sixth and the shops on the fifth. At some point in the early afternoon, our luggage magically appeared outside our room, on the eighth, still wrapped in our nerdy neon straps and we opened the door to a pristine king bed adorned with our first towel animal. (I kid you not.)

It took us most of the afternoon to figure out where to put our stuff. There was a remarkable amount of storage space, so it was just a matter of doling out drawers and hangers and then remembering where things were stashed. After a few pushes, we managed to shove my oversized and now empty suitcase under the bed. I just had to remember not to stub my toe navigating around the bed to sleep or to step on to our little balcony. Only then did I realize from the gentle rocking that we were, at last, at sea!

Yvonne Ransel lives in Bristol and occasionally writes essays for The Elkhart Truth.

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