Cruising’s Most Splendid Day
As our regular readers will know, Treadwell and Tenny are currently landbound, denied their usual ocean-going habitat by capricious circumstances that have confined us to T&T Towers for the immediate future, bereft of the whiff of ozone, marooned.
We are therefore taking an alternative view of our favourite maritime status, looking backwards rather than forwards, delving into the kaleidoscope of nostalgia for our weekly commentary on all things nautical.
And it has us contemplating some of the aspects of the cruise world that we enjoy most. Simple things. Like embarkation day. In fact, is there anything better than the day of embarkation?
As a quick aside, is there anything stranger than the word ‘embarkation’? To our (semi-trained) ear, it sounds like some kind of dog-training. Of course, that would mean that disembarkation is where the naughty canines are sent, the ones that are far too vocal and need to be, ahem, disem-barked.
(PS: Yes, we know, the word is French, from embarquer, or literally “to go into a ship.” Our dictionary insists it is a 16th century term, which was – slightly – before our time)
But seriously, can you beat that delicious moment of anticipation when you transfer from shore to ship, via the gangway, going from traditional terra firma to that floating eyrie of cosseted opulence?
Unlike the procedure for checking in for a flight, which is usually the precursor to several hours of seated torture in a long, pressurised tube, the preliminaries for cruise check-in are far more meaningful and enjoyable. You may be with friends or with soon-to-be friends, and the whole process is far more restrained and urbane than the undignified scrimmage of aeroplane boarding.
You can see your home for the next week or so clearly in the background, and the admin staff are all keen to get you fully acquainted as quickly as possible and with the least fuss. That first full indicator of what’s to come – your boarding pass – is a vital part of the embarkation formula, and having that precious piece of plastic in hand is always a major signpost to the greater excitement in store.
And, while the circumstances of the process can vary greatly – there is a world of difference from, say, the humble proportions of embarking at Tilbury to the massive cruise terminals of Miami and Fort Lauderdale – the basic idea is almost always identical, with the paperwork providing the gateway to that heady walk along the gangway.
As your steps progress from dockside to ship’s atrium, that frisson of expectation wells up into a palpable sense of eagerness for what’s in store, an unadulterated moment of holiday-going heaven –nautical Zen, if you prefer.
If you have been aboard the vessel before, there is that instant ‘welcome home’ moment of knowing there is genuine appreciation in store; if you haven’t, there is a similar feeling that this moment is the harbinger of something special, you just haven’t discovered it yet.
And, if it’s your first cruise, well, what on earth kept you? How did you get to this age in life without realising the ocean-going life is simply the best there is in vacation terms?
The reception you receive will, of course, vary according to the preferences of the cruise line. We have experienced both the booming theatrical style of Disney Cruise Line and the oh-so-subtle touch of Silversea; the genteel traditions of Cunard and the hail-fellow-well-met friendliness of UnCruise. Different in their own way and yet each one the forerunner of real cruise hospitality.
The one common denominator you can usually be sure of at this stage is that the embarkation timing will usually be situated around the lunch hour (or a late lunch, in our case; it seldom pays to be early). And, seeing as how no main meal can be entrusted to a dry stomach, this means a visit to the most important establishment aboard any maritime wanderer, the Bar.
This will undoubtedly set the scene for many a happy Cocktail Hour to come as you make your acquaintance with the Custodian of the Cocktail Shaker, the Gin-and-Tonic Purveyor-In-Chief. This is always your BFF for any voyage, and it pays to make an early impression by checking out their mixology skills at the earliest opportunity and getting your own tipple tendencies firmly established with said custodian.
Some cruise novices waste time at this juncture by insisting on heading for their cabin to check out the one area aboard that does not require any early investigation; the public areas are far more interesting, and it usually pays to give them a thorough once-over before the majority are aboard. Knowing the quickest way to your favourite bar stool is far more useful than knowing how to get to your lifeboat station (and infinitely more enjoyable).
Once you have suitably spliced the mainbrace, you are free to investigate the culinary possibilities on offer but not, we should add with a finger-wag of admonition, anything of the buffet persuasion. Oh no. You are not here to serve yourself but to be waited on in the best possible fashion. That means finding the main dining room – or one of the full-service alternatives – that can ensure your first meal aboard is in the fashion to which you expect to be fully accustomed by the time disembarkation rolls around.
And roll around it jolly well will, unfortunately. Like all of life’s most enjoyable experiences, there is an end to every beginning, and even the best cruise has a disembark-by date. However, if you follow our advice for Embarkation Day, you can rest assured you will be well on the way to the kind of cruise experience that gets us coming back time and again – a thoroughly convivial one.