On Day 4 of our journey to Eclipse '06, we finally headed toward the cruise ship that would take us to Libya. The cruise was a compromise, as are all things in married life, I suppose. My husband likes to take trips in the "It's Wednesday, so this must be Argentina" mode, but I hate all the packing, unpacking and shlepping that goes along with ten countries in ten days. So, cruises seem to be the way to go for us--your stuff stays in one place, while you can get off and see different places at the break-neck speed that my husband so enjoys.
On our way to the ship, we lucked into a delightful taxi driver who spoke some English and wanted to engage in conversation. He pointed out some of the sights of Genoa to us and gave us a little history of the place. Had he not shared this insight, I would have thought we were in Cleveland. Genoa is an industrial port, and looks a lot like Cleveland back in the seventies when it was called "the mistake by the lake" before it was turned into the "North Coast" by the Clean Air Act and some smart marketing campaign.
I had only heard of Genoa prior to the trip as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, and as the home of some killer salami. Giuseppe, our driver, delighted in telling us details about the buildings we passed and telling us about his family. At one point, Alex piped up and said, "This place sure could use a bath." I put my hand over his mouth to keep him from insulting this man's hometown further, but silently, I had to agree.
We arrived at the docks at the appointed time and were met by some of the ship's baggage handlers who tagged our bags and were not shy about asking for tips by saying, "How about a leetle something for my friend?" and pointing to the guy next to him. It was done in a friendly, jesting manner and not in the "Hey tourists, give us money or your bags will never make it onto the ship" kind of way. So, Frank tipped them and we hoped for the best.
In the entry hall, there was a huge mob of people trying to check in for two boats. We had been informed that there would be about 1500 people aboard the ship, and it looked as if everyone showed up at exactly the same time. At first, it was like a cattle herd making its way slowly across the prairie, but I think herds of cattle actually move a lot faster than this. This was more like standing still for 5 minutes, then inching up by shifting your weight from side to side, with no real sign of movement. We finally weight-shifted our way up to a desk and were given a number and told to wait in the line behind the number issuers. We then entered a long queue leading up to eight check-in desks. This line moved a bit faster than the herd.
One thing I noticed immediately was that the people in the herd/line were, for the most part: (a) Americans; (b) older; and (c) white. During the hour or so we spent in the line, I counted two people who looked to be under the age of 12 (one girl in a stroller and one boy about 10); one African-American man; and maybe 20 people under that age of 60. This did not bode well for our boy, who wanted to ride on Daddy's shoulders to scope out where all the kids were. Unfortunately, none of us saw any kindergarten-ish types who might make the trip worthwhile for our son. He came down to ground level dejected and saying, "This won't be any fun at all. Where are all the boys? What about some girls?"
We finally made it to the check-in counter, where the uniformed cruise line employees checked our tickets and passports and took a photo of each of us using one on of the computer cameras that looks like a giant eyeball. Alex did not stand still long enough to take the photo, so his computer ID photo is a picture of the floor tiles. Frank and I both look like shadowy, pissed off, underworld figures, which I attribute to poor lighting, jetlag and generally being annoyed at standing in line for 2 hours. They issued each of us a plastic card that would be used to open our cabin door, and as a credit card onboard the ship for any purchases we wanted to make. We were told that we did not need cash for anything, and to carry this card with us at all times. It was also used to debarkations so that they could keep track of who was on or off the ship at any given time, so no one would get left behind. Seriously, we did not want to get left behind in Libya.
About a hundred people were milling around the departure lounge, waiting for their numbers to be called. Some of the cruise ship employees were in the departure lounge signing people up for excursions, so we signed up for a trip to Syracuse in Sicily that was not already on our itinerary. We were given the day's activity guide for the ship, and told to go to the Welcome Buffet in the La Terrazza dining room after we found our room.
After about fifteen minutes of milling around, our number was called and we were able to walk across the gangplank and onto the ship, the Sinfonia, run by the MSC Crociere cruise line. The crew onboard were lined up to greet us and show us to the elevator that would take us up to the reception area. When the doors to the elevator opened and we stepped out, I felt as though we stepped into some kind of fantasy world of gleaming polished brass, tasteful carpeting and lovely decor. It's like the butter commercial where the guy is sitting in coach class on a routine airflight, but asks for some butter and gets escorted into a lavish world in first class that he never knew existed. We've taken a couple of cruises before, one on Carnival and the other a Lindblad Expeditions trip to the Galapagos. The Carnival Cruise really tried to be tasteful and elegant, but came off as tacky. The Carnival Cruise really wants to be this cruise line when it grows up.
We made our way down the impeccable hallway to our cabin on the 8th floor, and our luggage was waiting right outside the door. The room itself was small, but had light beechwood walls, a small desk, a tv and a closet. It was about the same size as the rooms we'd had on other cruises, if not a bit larger. There were two twin beds across from each other, and two fold-up bunk bends above those. We paid extra for an outside cabin, so we had a lovely view of the harbor and the city, which looked quite beautiful from a distance. That may have been because I was so enamoured of the ship that everything seemed to look better, cast in its rosy glow. All three of us were much less grumpy and more enthusiastic once we were onboard.
We made our way up to the eleventh floor to find the lunch buffet. There was a short line, but when we arrived at buffet, we were not disappointed. The plates were actually giant serving platters, which seemed a bit excessive until we actually saw all that was being offered. There were large platters of coldcuts, cheeses, and breads, along with about 10 different cold salad options, plus about 10 different hot entrees, from soup, pasta, meats, fish, vegetables, and a meat carving station. Around the corner was a dessert line with cakes, puddings, fruit, and cookies galore. This was, what my dad would call "Hog Heaven." We loaded up our platters and found a table and started sampling these culinary delights, all of which were fresh, tasty and best of all, free.
Two very nice older ladies came and joined us, and told us they were from Michigan, my husband's home state. One of them told us how delighted she was to see our son, since she missed her own grandkids back home. I told her that I hoped that others on the trip shared her sentiment, since older people either take our son as cute-and-charming imp or annoying pain-in-the-butt. It can go either way.
After this feast, we walked around the ship a bit and found the Pinnochio Kids Club on Deck 11, near the spa. We walked in and were eagerly greeted by two young, attractive women with Italian accents and wearing official ship polo-shirts. One of them, Mary Beth, explained the rules to us about the club's hours of operation, sign-in policy, and what to do in an emergency, which was basically, how to find our kid if the ship starts sinking. The room was filled with brightly colored, soft-padded climbing equipment with a ball pit, a foosball table, a big-screen tv, and some small tables for arts and crafts. Alex jumped on the play equipment immediately and did not give us a second glance when we left. Frank and I went to the spa center to make some appointments, and passed the Kids Club after we were finished. We peeked in the room to see how our boy was faring. He was the only child there, and at this point a young man (also in official ship polo shirt) and Marybeth were chasing him around the room in a lively game of tag. He was laughing and having the time of his life, so we slinked off to find some adult beverages and a lounge chair.
We picked up Alex a few hours later, after some lounging, exploring, and unpacking. We had to do a lifeboat drill that required all of us to don life jackets and head toward Muster Station C. There was a lot of milling around and jovial conversation, and the drill lasted about 40 minutes. It would have been shorter, but the crew insisted on repeating all of the instructions in English, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Portugese.
After the drill, it was time for dinner, so we changed and went to the formal dining room, Il Galeone. We were assigned to table 32, a table for six, but we were the only ones at the table throughout dinner. Frank wondered aloud if they seated us there by ourselves to keep the kid away from other adults. We passed one other family with young kids on our way to our seats, and they were also seated alone. I just wondered if our tablemates were so stuffed from lunch they decided to skip dinner. That would have been prudent, but we threw caution and calorie counters to the wind and had dinner anyway. I ordered the "Chef's selections" for each of the 6 courses, and everything was delicious. I'm not entirely sure what all of it was, but every course was fabulous.
After a two and a half hour dinner service, we retired to our cabin to find that one of the bunkbeds had been brought down and made up for us. Alex begged to sleep in the top bunk, but we were concerned that he might fall out, since he is a pretty wild and restless sleeper. I told him if he didn't fall out of the lower bunk that night, we'd let him try to top bunk the next night. Frank managed to crawl up there and fold his 6'4" frame into a fairly small space, taking one for the team, and making him the World's Greatest Dad. Finally, we fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the waves.