It was my first cruise and I lucked out because we had a port-side cabin on the ninth floor with a balcony and the entire trip went smoothly. (Found out the origin of the Brit word POSH--Port Out Starboard Home)
The ship's name was Norwegian Sun, belongs to Norwegian Cruise Lines, and they pride themselves in being different in the cruise line market in that they offer a concept called Freestyle Cruising. What this translates to is that, instead of being placed at one of the two de rigueur daily lunch and dinner sittings at the same table with the same people--which can be awkward if they're just not your type of people and/or Southern bible thumpers and/or homophobes--throughout the cruise as is typical of other cruise lines, NCL permits its guests to dine wherever and whenever they please. They have a number of restaurants that are free--except for the vino and other alcoholic sundries of course--and a number of 'specialty' restaurants that include French, Italian, Sushi and a steakhouse. We were traveling with Bob and Adrian, the friends we'd stayed with in New Orleans, and ate twice in the French Restaurant--excellent--once in the Steakhouse--average--and once in the Italian, which was good but not very Italian and the area was rather cramped in my judgment. The rest of the time we dine in the 'free' restaurants, which were pretty good. One problem was that NCL have a really good concept in Freestyle Cruising, but at an additional charge of $20.00 per head, they should vary the menus throughout the cruise. Also, I think they're being a wee bit greedy and should charge $10.00 a head for dining in these 'specialty' restaurants--an opinion borne out by the fact that I noticed the vast majority of the passengers used the 'free' restaurants.
Only on our second night did we encounter any overt curiosity and hostility toward the fact we were four men dining together--there were many other sightings of exclusively male or female clutches--when a most rude (and potato-faced) woman with tight hair perm kept peering at us from the security of her adjacent table where she was ensconced with her husband and another couple. My blood began to boil because she watched our every sip and bite so that I had the weirdest feeling I knew exactly how the highly intelligent, cognizant mountain gorillas must feel at the Washington DC zoo.
At some point during our main course, she leaned over and said, "Four generations! Are you gentlemen four generations?"
Her question was idiotic as Bob and Adrian look the same age.
"No," Bob said.
"Fathers and sons on a vacation?"
A pregnant pause as the rusty cogs in her mind continued to turn.
She pursed her lips so that deep furrows appeared above her upper lip.
I'm always amenable to chatting with new people, but I could see her disdain and the stony looks from the others.
"Well, if you're done," I said, "I'm sure you'll extend the courtesy and allow us to grill you about your background. Where are you from?"
Larry peered at me and chuckled.
It took a while for the four of them to grasp my rebuke. Uneasy laughter emitted from the woman's husband, then from the other woman whose nose reminded me of the Concorde's as it used to appear on landing.
"We're plain folks from Idaho," the woman's husband said. She kept her eyes fixed on her dinner plate, which I noticed contained the shell of a lobster tail (It was lobster evening on-board) and uneaten asparagus.
Bob (being the gentleman he is) wished to alleviate there discomfort and tendered he and Adrian were from New Orleans and the conversation moved quickly to the safe topic of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation she'd brought. Just then, the waiter arrived with the woman's second entree which was Beef Wellington loaded atop mashed potatoes and accompanied with more asparagus--after all, it was one of the free restaurants and they were just plain-eatin' Idaho folk--and all conversation thankfully ended as her dinner guests turned to admire its presentation.
Our presence elicited the opposite response--it must be admitted--every time we dined at the French restaurant where the urbane maitre'd (a married Turkish man of about fifty who was also responsible for the breakfasts at the restaurant where we went and where I went to town on the deliciously creamy muesli) and the waiters and waitresses (European or Filipino) lavished attention on us that was not superficial and caused the other diners to look quizzically and wonder if we were perhaps celebrities they'd never heard of. I say it wasn't superficial because tips were not given to the staff as the cruise line deducted $10.00 per day from each guest that was then put in a pool to be divided by all the staff and non-officers after the cruise ended.
In any event, I realized loaded cruise ships are but microcosms of general society. One encounters those rigidly determined to embrace their ignorance and prejudice even while at sea and one encounters those who are enlightened and pleasant no matter where they are. The experience did make me consider if I'd have thrown an orange lifeline to Ms. Idaho if I'd noticed her falling overboard (we had two rough-ish nights) and then alert the Captain with the words 'Man overboard' as protocol required or would I have let the ship slide on, safe in the knowledge that the sharks would take care of their own. I decided finally that my question was academic because she and her companions would not have spent the extra dollars to upgrade to a cabin with a tiny balcony anyway.