Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Cruise control

At the risk of offending a large group of people I'm going to go out on a limb and say that people who regularly holiday on cruiseships are, shall we say, cut from a different cloth. Hawaiian print cotton, usually.

There's something about the type of person who goes in for that whole culture - parking oneself on a ship and watching the world gliding by from a deckchair – that I just don't get. I don't understand those cruisers who don't even bother to go ashore, ignoring any local sights in favour of a 24/7 view of the all-you-can-eat buffet. Why don't you just book a hotel room somewhere and lock yourself in? It's cheaper.

Maybe it's because they get to be kings and queens of a giant vessel for a month that many cruisers also seem to have an enlarged sense of entitlement.

"I bet all the people on that boat are jerks."

A friend who recently went on a cruise scheduled to take in Japan said some passengers had angrily demanded their money back because the March tsunami had forced a cancellation of the stop. How very dare those Japanese!

I had my own run-in with crazy cruisers from the first day of my cruise holiday in Italy. We were being taken by bus from Rome to the port of Civitavecchia to board the ship when suddenly, drama struck.

“Hey, the driver is nodding off!” shrieked a woman up the front.

He WAS driving slowly, but his eyes were open and he certainly wasn't veering over the road. A well-groomed American man sprung from the back row to investigate.

In his shiny white sneakers, Nike sports socks, neatly ironed cargo shorts and polo shirt, this guy could have stepped out of an ad for “Wealthy American Traveller” magazine. He was the type of guy that touts hone in on the second they step off the bus. A typical cruiser.

“Excuse me sir, are you FEELING OK? Are you FALLING ASLEEP?” he shouted slowly, in that way people do when they don't speak a foreign language, as if increasing the volume somehow makes them easier to understand.

This elicited a series of annoyed grunts from the driver, accompanied by a dismissive wave of the hand and a swift increase in volume of the Europop on the radio.

“Does anyone speak Italian? How do you say 'go faster'?” Nike socks yelled down the bus.

Various passengers started chirping out “Rapido? Rapido! Moo-ey rapido?”- even after we passed a horrific accident in which a sports car had hurtled off the road and into a tree, presumably because its driver was travelling “rapido” at the time.

Unfortunately for Nike socks, who had by now appointed himself boss of the bus, the driver was a fat, balding Italian man who was not interested in discussing his driving abilities with American tourists.

He also had a very respectable handlebar moustache, a toy stuffed rabbit nailed to his dashboard and was clearly not falling asleep. I secretly hoped he'd roll up his sleeve to expose a swathe of dirty Italian tattoos before headbutting the guy.

After about 20 minutes of various passengers chanting “rapido” at random times, and the driver continuing to ignore them, we passed a sign saying “Civitavecchia – 3km”.

“Well, I think we made it!” announced Nike socks, as if he'd personally guided us through a war zone unharmed and now deserved a medal.

“Now let's STEP ON THE GAS!” he thundered.

Considering we had more than two hours to board our ship which was currently 3km away this seemed unnecessary.

Suddenly, a woman declared she had seen the ship in the harbour, and we'd passed it.

These people, who couldn't read Italian road signs and had probably never been to this town in their life, were now concerned the driver had missed the turn off.

“He's missed the turn off! We've passed the town! I can see the boat back there!” they all started shrieking.

“ALRIGHT, LET'S GO, RAPIDO!” exploded Nike socks, who had just about reached the end of his tether, unlike the driver who was nonchalantly trying to tune the radio.

“We passed Chi-veckia! WE PASSED CHI-VECKIA!”

A quick glance at a road sign revealed we had indeed passed the town – to access the roadway for large vehicles. Five minutes later we pulled into port.

Job done, Nike socks returned to his seat at the back of the bus to boast about his achievement in navigating us all safely to the port he couldn't pronounce and didn't actually know how to get to. Just in time for the buffet.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on May 15, 2011.


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