I could have if I wanted to, but I didn’t. There were plenty of opportunities for me to take a sneak preview of the ship we would be sailing on, the Costa Diadema. Plenty of on-line promotional material from the company: all about the ship, how big it is, how many decks, how many people can it fit, where it sails to, and the like. Plus…..in this day and age in which you can post anything (except undressed people) on YouTube, there are any number of videos taken by folks on the ship. So I could have done that, check out what a typical cabin looks like, the restaurants, the casino, the spa. But I asked myself the existential question: What good would it do me to know two weeks in advance? The answer I came up with was None At All. The promotional material from the AACI to entice us to sign up had a picture of the enormous vessel with more amenities than I would ever find the time or reason to use. The rest would wait until we arrived at the dock in Barcelona, which we finally did after the cable car ride, which I wrote about in a previous post – in the unlikely event that you don’t remember!
Even in a port filled with large ships, the Diadema looked pretty big. And getting on board meant going through the same tedious security procedures as you would have at any airport. In fact, the place where the ship docked looked like an airport (now that I think about it, it was about the same size as the one in Manipour), with the same conveyor belts on which you put your luggage, the same employees looking at you suspiciously. At least when you’re flying, you can put some wine or other spirits in your non-carry-on suitcases. According to the ship’s regulations, however, you weren’t supposed to bring any liquid on board no way, no how. Otherwise, we would have each packed a few bottles of wine, and I would have filled some kind of flask with the hard stuff. But why take chances and mess with Security? So we were facing a week without any kosher wine. I guess we would have to rough it.
We made it through Security and we’re ready to board the ship, right? First we had to go up an escalator and get past all the folks wanting to sign you up for spa treatments, massages, and the like. Can I just get on board first? Then we had to go along an open walkway where we could at least see the gangplank onto the ship. One more obstacle. We had to, had to, have our picture taken – the first of several times when a ship photographer insisted on taking our picture. Why? What do you think. The ship hopes to sell you a copy for an exorbitant price. That’s why. This first time, I was willing to go along and smile. (less interested as the days went by). And then the glorious moment when we were able to walk on board and figure out where our cabin was.
As we were to discover, the Costa Diadema is an extremely well-run operation, with over 1000 crew members – mostly young men and some young women, eager to get away from the small villages in the dozens of countries they were born in, eager to see some other parts of the world, eager to do well in positions that require lots of care and enthusiasm but not a lot of education. We were to be well taken care of on board this ship!
Our luggage had arrived by the time we got to our cabin, our on-board cards were there along with the package of information and instructions; we even had a balcony outside our cabin – even better, we weren’t supposed to have one and therefore we hadn’t paid for it! Yes!!
Lots of stuff to do before the ship sails. Start unpacking. Take your on-board cards to a machine and get them linked to a credit card. (It would be your don’t- leave-home-without-it card for the next week. You want to get into your cabin; put the card in the slot. You want to keep the lights on in your cabin; put the card in the slot inside the door. You want to order anything onboard; give them the card. You want to leave the ship – obviously when it’s in port! – flash the card. You want to get back on the ship; show ‘em the card.) There would be an AACI orientation meeting for the 100 plus people in our group, at which time we would realize how annoying it was to listen to the ship’s announcements repeated in five languages over dozens of loudspeakers.
Speaking of annoying……I’m sure everyone has had to sit through the safety announcements every time you’re on a plane. Nothing in comparison to the drill on board a ship. They do not kid around. You just got on board? At 5PM, put on the life jackets, the ones that were sitting on your bed when you first entered your cabin, and go to your designated area where all will be revealed. Hundreds of crew members were swarming all over the ship to make certain you complied and found your way to where you’re supposed to be. That wasn’t so easy: finding out where we were going on this very big ship – deck five is the length of five American-style football fields. We were assigned to go to a certain restaurant, but the ship is overflowing with restaurants, bars, not to mention the enormous casino, through which we went back and forth several times before we got to out where we were supposed to be. They didn’t keep us long, but they did want to make sure we understood where we would have to be and what we would have to do in case of an emergency (so of course they repeated the instructions in at least three languages). A Costa ship had foundered several years before when the captain had for some reason decided to be a wise guy and do something stupid – and then fled the ship at the first sign of trouble. Needless to say, he is safely out of harm’s way, and when he gets out he will be placed on a wait list to navigate a toy boat in the Central Park pond. Oh, and the ship we were on, the Diadema, was built as a replacement for the one that foundered.
When’s dinner? (You knew I was going to get around to that sooner or later!) After our safety drill was over, we had just enough time to get back to our cabin, dress for dinner (which in my case meant putting on a decent shirt over my Rutgers t-shirt) and head off to reconnoiter with The Levines.
Unlike the Israeli ship the Golden Iris (the ship we sailed on to Greece), the Diadema does not normally have kosher food. What do you do? Hire a caterer who would kasher one part of a kitchen. Our group was assigned a separate area in one of the large restaurants, where we would eat all our meals. Breakfast and the few lunches we ate onboard were informal. Sit wherever you want. Dinner? That’s different. The first evening, figure out whom you want to sit with, because that’s your table for the rest of the voyage. We were, of course, going to sit with The Levines, plus any other couple willing to engage in the witty repartee for which we are justly celebrated. Even we, however, were briefly stunned into silence when the wait staff handed each of us a five course menu with three choices for each course. The service the first night was a little ragged, although it did improve night by night. And each evening meal took about two hours, which was a little longer than we would have wanted.
But here is the best part. As we were sitting, staring intently at our menus, the boat began to leave the Barcelona harbor on its way to Mallorca. We had chosen a table by the window, so we could watch the clouds form and the sun set as the ship plied the calm waters of the Mediterranean. Our waiter would take our orders: salads, soup, pasta dish, meat or chicken, dessert. A floating restaurant. All we needed was some wine!
(We could have been on a plane, squeezed into seats that seems to get smaller and smaller every time you fly, trying to balance the barely edible airline food they serve you on the fold down tray, trying to open the cellophane wrapper with any implement you have around, undoing the plastic utensils with your teeth – all this to get to the reheated slop inside. We could have been forced to watch a movie on a dimly lit screen. We could have…. Oh what’s the use, you’ve all been through this yourselves.)
One of the features of the Diadema is an enormous theater, three decks high, that accommodates some 1500 people. The entertainment is supposed to be top-notch, although I wouldn’t know because I never went. After evening prayers, I would be just as happy to go back to our cabin and chill out. Of course, Victor would always be there before us. He had tidied up our cabin and got our room all ready for us. Take a shower, put on my ‘jammies, sit on the balcony and read for a while, look out at the waters of the Mediterranean rushing by. Get into a very comfortable bed. Lights out. By the time, we would wake up the next morning, the Costa Diadema would be in port at the island of Mallorca. Another day, another episode.