Dedicated to Roam About Dad
Conceptually, I just can’t get behind cruises. Maybe it’s because I was morbidly obsessed with Titanic (the actual ship) before Kate Winslet’s nips (no disrespect, I love me some Winsnips) graced the big screen. Maybe I’ve seen one-too-many Walmart x-mas riots to know a modern, expedited exodus off a hulking cruise ship with 4,000 + people is a logistical, frenzied nightmare.
It’s not traveling; it’s simply a floating Disneyworld/Vegas flavored shopping mall, with a casino and sleeping quarters, with Capt. RJ McDrunkensadd at the helm.
I’m the person I am today mostly because of all the awesome journeys, and organic travel experiences I’m humbled to have been on. Massive Cruise Lines basically strip that opportunity from people, and leave a vacation bereft of authenticity.
Even if you’re bouncing port-to-port in some exotic, equator straddling locale, you’re shuffled off with 4,000+ other people to see areas set-up as tourist traps. Remember, in Blazing Saddles, when they built the fake replica town to trick Hedley Lamarr and his crew? Think about it; same damn thing as tourist traps, but all the tourists are Hedleys.
It was really hard for me to conjure sympathy during the recent Poo-filled Carnival Cruise fiasco, when people—heaven forbid—didn’t have air-conditioning, couldn’t shower, slept on deck, wave-simulator turned off, and passengers had to wait in line for the buffet for an hour. Ahhhh! NOOOOO!
It’s called camping, people. But the lawyers will convince them otherwise….
That’s my rant, now here’s a heaping bowl of hypocrisy.
Knowing the above, I had quite the conundrum in 2010, when Roam About Parents offered to take the family AND significant others on a Viking River Cruise down the Rhine, from Amsterdam to Basel Switzerland.
HUGE deal as:
1. R.A. Parents had never been outside of the US.
2. They are the most generous, caring, thoughtful (and fun) humans on the planet, and needed a brave Ambassador of Culture/unexceptional French translator. Oui, Moi.
3. It’s a river cruise through EUROPE!
My doubt lasted 5 seconds – you don’t say ‘No’ to a fucking gift trip to Europe. Ever.
After two days adventuring in AMSTERDAM, hung-over, possibly stoned, trepidatiously boarding the watercraft, I’m relieved to find the ship isn’t a super-sized American Ocean liner combo, but a wee cruiser, shown above. Barely 100 rooms, 1 hallway per level @ 3 levels, a massive rooftop, with an iron flat pathway down the Rhine.
The windows? Easily kicked out underwater, and one could swim to shore in case of a massive explosion, or a sudden zombie outbreak; or Buffet exhaustion.
If you’re familiar with Viking River Cruise, you know they advertise to Centrum Silver regimented outcasts from the movie Cocoon.
I don’t mean this derogatively or in a cynical manner; it is what it is – Viking markets to an older, wealthier crowd, and they are very, very successful at it. Roam About Dad read some good reviews in Conde Nast, so he booked the trip without knowing the extent of the geriatrics.
To give an age median here, Roam About Parents are mid-fifties (you’re welcome), they are the youngest ‘elders’ of the boat by at least twenty years. One positive: Because of the twilight age of the passengers, survival is highly probable in case of a fire.
Opening night, shaky start. The six of us have drunk a bit of wine, laughing/having fun at the bar and the rooftop, getting friendly pours from the awesome Viking staff. The crew start playing ‘name that tune’ with the older folks, starting things off with ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie.
After the song is halfway finished, an old woman yells, ‘Elton John!’
Another one queries, ‘Johnny Mathis?’
An ancient British gent says, ‘That one guy. Oh, you know, the queer one!’
I laugh because it’s sad, slightly cute, and what are you going to do, reprimand a guy who fought in WWI for calling David Bowie ‘the queer one’?
We drink until 4am; the next afternoon is rough, as we chug down the Rhine. We all take a nap on the upper deck. One of the elder ladies walks by and says, “Oh these young kids can’t keep up with us older folks,” garnering cheers and laughter from her dentured peers. My sister, through a wicked hangover, and grit, original teeth, subtly threatens to throw her off the boat.
Kinderdjik – Cologne – Koblenz – Rudesheim – Heidelberg – Speyer – Strasbourg – Colmar – Basel in 8 Days.
(Promise I won’t detail each city).
I’m not of the ‘tour group’ mentality, due to hand-me-down impatient genetics from Roam About parents. At each stop above, the staff was to herd us passengers to a bus, where we’d be driven into town, then shepherded to points-of-interest, following the hoisted Viking sign at an excruciatingly slow pace. After falling in line with the molasses pace, I immediately throw in the wildcard – we mutiny, and wing it.
I researched the cities before our trip, so I knew the general ‘must sees’ spots. The fam becomes a rogue faction; a more agile and tactile unit than our elder counterparts…and waaaaay more fun, like, oh I don’t know, crashing a wedding to use the bathroom, then stealing a flower from the centerpiece to use as an accessory.
Schedule in hand, we spend the days exploring each beautiful towns, running into the older people at various locales hearing ‘Hey, can we join them?’
The tour guides seem irked at first, but then grow privy to our plan-of-action. They tell us departure times, and just let us run free. Apparently this is a common thing on the boat, but we pretend we’re pioneers.
This was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on vacation. Sure, we were married to a boat for 8 days, but damn if we didn’t make the best of it. We were adventurers—anti-tourists, and still made friends with the staff and passengers onboard. We explored each town in our own way at our own pace, using the ship as our cab in the morning, and designated driver at night.
Yes, I admit, I had a blast on a River cruise ship, surrounded by old people. But it’ll be a cold day in hell before you see me in the buffet line on an Ocean Liner, and that’s all I have to say about that. – Mike