Over the past few days,

by francine Hardaway on September 26, 2006

Over the past few days, I�ve seen the best and the worst of cruising, a sport at which I am fabulously unsuccessful. Make no mistake, I love to travel. But this is like having a series of one-night stands in which you don�t remember the different partners.

Yesterday I went to sleep in Barcelona, and this morning we were in Cartagena, a sunny port city in Spain with picturesque cobblestone streets and Eurotrash clothing stores ( I love them). Got off the boat, took a walk, spent some money, felt good about the world.

At the gym, I met a wonderful trainer named Willie from New Zealand, who is desperate to help anyone who shows up. I showed up for a Pilates class at 8 AM, little knowing that no one else would, nor would they show for Spinning at 9, either. That gave him quite a bit of time to teach me new exercises. I think the gym is largely ornamental, as is the jogging track and the Spa Caf� with its miniscule portions of poached salmon supported by two lone pieces of asparagus. At any given time, about 6 out of 2200 passengers are on the equipment. One of the men in our party said that this was a cruise for senior citizens and their parents.

But I love all gyms, and when I caught my breath again after paying $250 for 500 Internet minutes, I loved the Internet caf�. I love how technology can accompany me everywhere. Even at sea, I am accompanied by my companion, the Internet. Often we even have cellular phone reception. Some parts of a cruise � the ones that are like being at home � are wonderful.

But everything else is like a floating Wal-Mart without the everyday low prices.. A bottle of water costs $2.50, as does a Diet Coke. $5.50 to have a pair of pants washed. To go anywhere, you pass through entire streets of shops, where they try to sell you jewelry, art, clothing, anything to make certain the base cost of the cruise to the cruiser is doubled by the time he gets home. And your fellow passengers do not look like anyone you really know, but a lot like the people to whom you try to be polite at church. We say greet each other heartily as we pass each other in the corridors.

In the restaurants and cafes (too numerous to mention), they ply you with buffet choices mercilessly, until you�re in a constant food coma. In case you miss a meal or a snack, they also bring food to your stateroom, where you don�t want it because you don�t even have a place to put it down. If there�s a plate on the desk, there�s no room for the shampoo, hand lotion, and hairbrushes you are keeping there because there�s no room for them in the bathroom. The ends of the beds are rounded, so you can pass between them and the rest of the furniture to get to the balcony.

The corridors are full of dueling canes and the elevators bursting with mobility carts and wheel chairs In the afternoon, the swimming pool may be empty, but the deck chairs are full of elderly women in bikinis, protruding everywhere. They occupy those chairs like chickens on a spit, slowly roasting and reading, Their husbands are in the three hot tubs at one end of the pool. The Below Average White Band plays Bar Mitzvah music in the background (no, it�s the foreground), trying to create a with-it ambience. It ain�t working.

Many passengers pass the time of day being massaged with hot rocks or having their faces exfoliated, just waiting for it to be time to drink. Then they will overrun the Martini bar until it�s time for the five course dinner, and perhaps the straight-to-cruise-ships movie or the casino.

Our recently renovated ship is a big, big boat. Where do they all come from, all these doddering party animals who have paid for every single room on the Centennial? This is not the Love Boat. They all say they are here to decompress. Well, I�m not compressed! Who needs to sit around the pool, eating buffet-fuls of ice cream for two weeks?

Tonight during dinner we abandoned Cartagena, a town I saw about half a mile of, for Corsica, an island I have to keep reminding myself is in France. I didn�t see us leave, because I was too busy drinking and eating. No doubt I won�t see us arrive, either.

Tomorrow we spend the day at sea. I can�t afford to hang out on the Internet all day, so what to do? Perhaps I will pass the time by going to a lecture on �The Serious Side of Stealing,� or I could also enter the �Spot the Fake Amber� competition, or play �Scattergories.� Or Texas Hold �Em in the Casino.

No, I�m not making it up. I am one of them for the next ten days.

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