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Camaraderie at Sea: A Different Take on the

Carnival Splendor Incident

Like many, I was transfixed by the saga of Carnival Splendor last month, the ship that lost power due to an engine room fire and had to be towed to San Diego to disembark passengers. And, like many, I eagerly awaited to hear the experiences of her passengers and crew. Those stories exemplified the bravery and coordination of many: Captain Claudio Cupisti, cruise director John Heald, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, the Carnival Splendor crew (who, among other things, formed a human conveyer belt for food and luggage delivery), and the camaraderie among passengers, all of which combined to keep a bad situation from getting worse.


Still, in reading the many news feeds during this time, I was struck by the words of one passenger, reported by USA Today on November 10:


"It's nothing like anyone expected," said passenger David Zambrano, a technical operations employee of Denver's KUSA-TV, in a report filed to the station. "You stand in line for two hours just to get your food because everybody goes to the same place to pick up their food. Then once you get your food, you look for something to do. People are playing cards. People are standing around, just kind of talking. They're getting to socialize."


“They’re getting to socialize.”


These are the words that jumped out at me. As a long-time cruiser, I recall when socialization amongst passengers was the norm. Over the years, the proliferation of private balconies, buffets, specialty restaurants, independent shore excursions, and other aspects of the evolution of modern cruise ships and cruising have contributed to the decline of passenger interaction. I’m not saying these are bad developments. Yet, despite ships that regularly exceed 3,000 passengers, there appears to be more isolation than ever.


Our early cruising days are filled with impromptu conversations with our fellow passengers. Many of these took place in the ships’ dining rooms during breakfast, as buffet offerings at this time were minimal. Upon entering the dining room, we were led to large tables, where we would share experiences with other travelers. Some of these were, admittedly, mundane (such as, “where do you live?”), others were more rewarding (“what are you planning to do today?”, “have you been to this port before?”), and others downright comical. In any case, starting the day with this group of people, combined with the smaller passenger loads of the time, enabled us to have some familiar faces on the ship for the duration of the voyage.


Among my fondest recollections is a conversation I had in 1993 with the magician hired to work a couple of the evening shows. We were sitting in adjacent deck chairs on the outdoor promenade, and discussed world affairs. Although I was on vacation, it was nice to have a friendly, intellectual discussion with someone from another part of the world, even if our opinions were similar.


Of course, not all interactions are comfortable. Just a couple of years ago, we had lunch companions who quizzed us on every topic imaginable. They were University professors and asked where we went to school (which was fine), yet then proceeded to challenge my husband on the president of his alma mater. When they asked about my profession, it was the last time I got to speak, as they rambled on about their pension plans and their opinions of them, which are not fit for publication.


Yet, we don’t let these rare instances dissuade us from meeting fellow passengers. We’re not aiming to build lifelong friendships (although some have definitely been established and maintained), just to have some familiar faces during our travels and to learn more about our fellow travelers and how they live. (Without quizzing them, of course.) Sure, there’s nothing wrong with alone time—I know I don’t go on vacation to meet 2,000 new people. Yet, some of my most cherished memories have been meeting other passengers, even for a few minutes.


Despite the challenges of today’s shipboard life, there are still ways of “getting to socialize,” although it takes some more work than in the past. Enjoy your private balcony, yet take a few hours to strike up a conversation on the communal promenade deck. Stop by the library and spend a few minutes working on a jigsaw puzzle that is often set up for passengers to solve a few pieces at a time. Offer an adjacent chair by the pool to someone you don’t know. During open seating dining times, ask to sit at a large table with other diners.


“They’re getting to socialize.” While the Carnival Splendor passengers of the November 7, 2010 cruise were brought together by trying circumstances, we can learn something from their experiences. Bring a deck of cards. You never know who you might meet.