Lina ships out – Cruising on the Crystal Symphony
I’ve dressed up for this.
I know how it goes – I’ve seen Titanic, and although I am not wearing a large hat and didn’t arrive by chaffeur-driven car (well, the Banker drove us but she’s a mate, not staff), I thought there was a chance they would take our photo as we go up the gangway, so I thought it best to be prepared. Hence new navy blazer over my arm (it is, of course, far too hot to actually put it on) and I am wearing a skirt.
I note my fellow passengers haven’t. Either they’ve done this many times before and know there ain’t no photographer, or they are the über-rich you see travelling the world, ironically dressed far more scruffily than those of us for whom a five-night, all-expenses-paid cruise in a massive Finnish ship is the most exciting thing we’ll do all year. And it’s only January.
The cruise brochure states that our Deluxe Stateroom with Verandah provides bathrobe, slippers, kimono, toiletries, and an umbrella. The latter looks to be pretty surplus to requirements, since Auckland has been sporting sensational sunny weather for what feels like months now, and the forecast till Sunday (even in Wellington) looks great.
Check in isn’t much like it was on Titanic, as it turns out. Though I did hand my ridiculously large suitcase (six dresses for a five-night stay! Well, you never know what’s going to be called for) over to a lady with a trustworthy face, and it was delivered, in due course, to my cabin by one of the countless crew who are evidently here to ensure we needn’t lift our own finger for the next week.
Deluxe Stateroom turns out to be Penthouse (with Verandah) on the next floor up. (Wait – is it a “floor” on a ship? The Banker keeps calling the cabin our “room” but I correct her.) Anyway, so overawed are we at our enormous good fortune (like a free cruise isn’t lucky enough), it takes several minutes before she exclaims “Oh my God, there’s champagne!” – and sure enough, there is a bottle of Billecart-Salmon on ice. I know instantly that this is proper champers (it must have been in a movie somewhere) but before we can think about when to open it, our staff arrive for introductions.
First off, our maids. (Is it alright to call them maids?? One feels terribly Downton, and this doesn’t sit very well with one’s socialist principles, last seen somewhere in my flat as I shut the front door.) Yelena is from Croatia; Joanna from Poland. They have upgraded our cabin but forgotten to ensure we have twin beds, so Y and J will return while we’re at dinner, to split the one into two, replete with down pillows and crisp-yet-cloud-like cotton sheets. The bathroom (a basin each, and more toiletries than one can fit into an already overstuffed suitcase) is poshness personified, the fittings gleaming and the lighting Just Right so you look ravishing at all times of the day and night.
Before the Billecart makes its way from bottle to flute, our butler arrives for his orientation. Sebastian is from Alicante, but thoughtfully spent most of his childhood in the Midi in France, so speaks French with that heavy accent, and Italian too. We chat away, the Banker most tolerant of my overexcited efforts to tell him about the cruise I did when I was younger (more about that in another post). Sebastian is quite literally at our beck and call, which doesn’t sit very well with one’s socialist principles, but what can you do – when he has departed and we finally settle on the verandah with champagne glasses clinking, we decide what we really need is a cheese platter, and so I call him up. A short while later he arrives with five different cheeses and an assortment of crackers. I feel bad for taking him away from whatever else he was doing, but I am sure these qualms will abate over the next few days.
Pre-dinner drinks cannot be more delightful than from a tall ship, overlooking the Auckland ferry terminal and watching the wee boats flit in and out. Somewhere, on one of them, my friend is making her way home from work. We wave at a few travellers who gamely return our wave, no doubt assuming we are rich Americans. That’s OK with me. I’m living a whole other life and I think I could get used to this.