Frequent Floaters

My wife just took me on another cruise. This, our second, was a late-November Viking Rhine River cruise that carried us from Amsterdam to Basel, with well-chosen stops along the way.

First, let me make clear that whatever you’ve heard about the Viking junkets is probably an understatement. They treat you like pashas, with scores of staff coddling every whim, while the multi-starred menu would fatten the Mahatma himself.cruise-mancropped

And their ports of call and excursions not only proceed with a “no-worries” precision but are actually interesting.

I say that my wife “took” me because she planned, gathered, and confirmed every detail of the trip. She chose this time and place because of a long-held hankering by both of us to see northern Europe during the Christmas season.

We weren’t disappointed. Big cities, like Cologne, Heidelberg and Strasbourg, offered dazzling holiday lights and displays; and the Christmas markets succored us with warm wine, hot schnitzel, and contagious bonhomie. My wife bought ornaments. I bought a wool hat. It was all grand.

Although this was only our second cruise, I had already detected a shared quirk among our shipmates. I describe it as a reorienting of life to coincide with, and be mere intervals between, the next cruise. I call it Frequent Floater Syndrome.

I met this almost immediately on our first cruise when, around the shared table, one or more of the group would giddily inquire, “So, which one is this for you”?

“Which one what”? says I, confused. “Cruise,” say they. “What number cruise is this for you?”

“First…”

“Oh, how sweet,” they reply in a way that makes me feel like I’m being congratulated for tying my first big-boy shoes. And even though it may have only been the first day or first hours of sailing, the follow-up question: “Will you do it again?”

We learn soon that most of the folks we’re meeting are pros, with dozens, maybe hundreds, of cruises under their life vests. On rivers. On oceans. In North and South America and Europe and Asia. We even meet a couple who’ve cruised to Antartica! (“Look honey… another penguin sitting on some more ice.”)

They are a special breed of fellow travelers, these Cruisistas. No hard-scrabble Woody Guthrie rambling for them; they relish the care and attention that the luxury lines provide, and can share and compare almost inexhaustible place-dropping from years of pampered boating.

On mounting that gangway, these gentle folk leave the humdrummery of ordinary shore life, assuming the role of sea-going epicures and promiscuous port-callers.

A passing moral vanity makes me question the indulgence and escapism. Words like “sybarite” and names like “Caligula” dance at the edges of my inner tsk-tsking. Then I remember how much fun I’m having joining fully in the bread and circuses.

What puzzled me though is how my wifea dedicated bean-counter, recycler and leftover saver—quickly surrendered to every luxury, service, and hors d’oeuvres tray. Much like a fourth Gabor sister.

And since we’ve been home, at least twice I’ve caught her wistfully murmuring, “I want to be back onboard.”

So, for better or worse, it seems the plague has crossed our humble threshold and incubated. My dear mate is already consulting travel sites and making notes. This means that, wherever they may take us, here’s to all the future floats!

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