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
“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.