Sunday, January 16, 2011

Theme of the Week: Indulge

Although Steph and I created a food blog, I'm often confused as to whether or not I want to frame my posts with an emphasis on food or travel. Travel experiences inevitably come with food -- everyone's gotta eat -- but food doesn't necessarily involve traveling.

Now that I've returned from a gargantuan, floating apparatus marketed as a utopian paradise for food lovers (a cruise ship) where 24-hour food service is practically expected, the line between traveling for the sake of exploring unfamiliar ground and traveling for the sake of expanding my waistline have become very blurred indeed.

A staple of successful cruise experiences, in my experience, are the cruise staff. My family often remarked, "This trip is fun for us, but it's no fun working on a cruise ship."

On a somewhat low note, I feel ambivalent about cruising for reasons that are unrelated to this blog. This was not my first cruise, and it will not be my last. I'm glad I have been on enough ships to see the staff more as people and not invisible hands like I did as a child.

I come from a family that indulges by cruising. Travelers can book a hotel, restaurants, excursions, and entertainment for a reasonable price and not have to worry about where to stay, what to eat, where to eat, what to do. Whereas each restaurant, each excursion, and each entertainment venue would charge separate fees in other places, cruise ships compile them. Gratuities for the fine dining Head Waiter and Assistant Waiter, and the room-cleaning staff are not included until the very end of the trip.

What does this rant have to do with food? In my opinion: everything.

Let me rewind a bit. Pre-cruise, many travelers are stressed out, overworked, and in dire need of a vacation where they can get away from it all.

On a ship, phones are OFF. Communication with people other than fellow passengers, cruise staff, tour guides, and locals at ports-of-call can be limited. Whatever people want to do, they can. Feel like ice skating? Strap on a pair of skates. Want to try surfing? That's what the simulated surfing platform is for. Go zip-lining across the ship. Go rock climbing and glance out at the ocean when you reach the pinnacle. There's so much to do on the ship that the experience can, ironically, be overwhelming. For one week, cruise-goers can do also relax by the poolside, melt away their worries in the hot tub, temporarily forget they have children by schlepping them off to cruise-run activities programs onboard, and remember what it was like to be children, themselves.

What does this imply? It means not having to make the bed in the morning because the friendly cleaning personnel does it instead. Not only do the workers make the beds and clean those tiny bathrooms every day and night, they make charming animals out of pristine, white towels and place milk chocolates wrapped in the company insignia next to them every night before bed.

To me, the luxury of cruising also means having food available at all times whenever and wherever passengers desire. Fine dining and casual dining are popular options. In addition, cruise ships have specialty restaurants like steakhouses and Johnny Rocket's, ice cream stands and poolside bars, "sidewalk cafes" and pizza joints, to name a few. Depending on the size of the ship, the size of the staff varies. The employees cater to the passenger's every need from serving food to collecting dishes, and they do it all with a smile on their faces week after week, group after group, and months after months.

Perhaps they're the ones who are exhausted. It's hard to say.

An integral part of the cruise ship experience is the Head Waiter and Assistant Waiter because the passengers see them every night for dinner. To them, my family could have been simply another group at their table passing through for one week of culinary decadence. To me, I really liked this team in particular. They got along really well together, and when they mesh well together, it appears as if the job seems to be less of a chore. When this happens, the formal and professional cheerfulness they display may transform into genuine smiles instead. I kid you not, the cute-but-slightly-nervous Assistant Waiter cracked a joke on my last night. Maybe he finally felt comfortable enough to let my family see how funny he could be.

I'm really impressed with how the waiters can remember our names. They even remember exactly what drinks we ordered on the first night and to consistently have it on the table before we arrive every night. Case in point, the Assistant Waiter switched an iced tea and an iced tea lemonade on our table because he remembered that my aunt preferred one while my grandmother preferred the other. Don't ask me which one, because it's a mystery to me. They look exactly the same. This begs the question, would have known the difference in taste, anyway???

Pictures of food to follow. It's 3 AM, and I still feel like I'm on a rocking ship about to drift into a deep slumber. Good night!

-- Michelle

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