Misadventure on the high seas

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By NICK THOMAS

When the disabled Triumph cruise ship finally limped into the Port of Mobile on Valentine’s Day, few of its 3,100 stranded passengers had much love for the Carnival Cruise Line. Many were fuming – with real fumes, after four days at sea without hot water for bathing.

“This cruise stinks,” ranted one irate passenger, sprinting to the nearest Motel 6 shower.

The sea adventure turned into misadventure three days after departure from Galveston, and was surely traumatic with reports of overflowing toilets, food shortages, and failure of cabin staff to leave folded animal towels on passengers’ beds. That deprivation alone would have provoked me to abandon ship.

I can’t recall the exact agreement that I signed when I took my first cruise (to Alaska) in 2009. But it was something along these lines:

“You, the passenger, forgo all rights to refunds or compensation should any of the following occur during the cruise: catastrophic vending machine failure, parrot attack from boarding pirates, coffee stained dinner jacket during tsunami, falling overboard while tap-dancing on deck railing, groin injury from airborne shuffleboard puck, botulism lingering in the Salmon Whizz, or any other unforeseen incident causing this vessel to shift, tilt, roll, stall, run aground, or otherwise sink.”

In other words, I think they were trying to tell me: “Stuff happens, sail at your own risk.”

Fortunately, my trip to Alaska aboard the Veendam operated by Holland America Line was a delightful experience. The service was outstanding and the crew couldn’t have been more pleasant or helpful. In fact, I got the impression that had my hat blown overboard, our cabin boy would have dived in to retrieve it.

Watching the recent media interviews with returning Triumph passengers, it was interesting to learn how people handled the experience differently. Many just took it in their stride, with a sense of acceptance and humor (by most reports, the Carnival crew were exemplary).  Others were calling lawyers at the first sign the buffet pot-roast was running low.

Honestly, I don’t think Mr. Grumpy would have survived the Triumph ordeal.

Mr. Grumpy, as my family privately labeled him, was a passenger aboard our Alaska cruise. We first noticed him while boarding in Vancouver – he was mumbling to himself and seemed irritated and confused about the boarding process, so we pointed him in the right direction: “Head towards the ship, pal!”

At first we felt sorry for him, cruising as a single, elderly gentleman. But after several encounters during the voyage, we soon realized why he was traveling alone. We began avoiding him like the Norovirus.

Nevertheless, our paths seemed destined to cross on several occasions. And yes, in every case, he was arguing with someone about something.  One lunch, he even cut right in front of me at the buffet line without so much as a “Get out of my way, punk.”

At a formal dinner one evening, he was seated at an adjacent table and complained loudly throughout the meal: the braised beef short ribs were too short; the Waldorf salad had no Waldorfs; and the baby artichokes were way past puberty.

Well, you know the type.

We even passed him in a corridor one evening, where he was engaged in heated conversation with a flustered cabin steward whose grasp of English, on a scale of one to ten, was fractional. The frustrated attendant had that wishful look on his face which all cruise staff reserve for difficult passengers: keelhauling.

I’m certain Mr. Grumpy would have fared poorly aboard the ill-fated Triumph—a traumatic experience for even the most patient of passengers. But if they were fated to travel on a vessel destined for engine failure, they were surely grateful it was a cruise ship on the gulf rather than a 737 flying over it.

Even Mr. Grumpy could have agreed with that.

(Nick Thomas can be reached at his blog: http://getnickt.blogspot.com.)

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