I couldn’t, for example, find a single item in the stores I would consider buying, with the possible exception of the Oosterdam mug which Mary had already preordered for me. They had some collapsible carry on bags with Holland America branding, but they were far more expensive then the identical bags on Norwegian. They had one shirt I might have considered were it not twice what I usually pay, and part of a line apparently tailored for the elderly predead. Women’s clothing was the sort worn by wealthy older women – somehow I can’t picture Mary wearing any of those stereotypical garments even when she finally grows that ancient, because she will want her clothes to say something about personal style, not just wealth and age. Nothing at all for kids except two pathetic stuffies whose only possible sales potential would be to the absent-minded elderly who are suddenly reminded that they have to grab something for the grandchildren as they are about to go ashore. As a current parent of an 8 year old, I can tell you those overpriced scruffy specimens were a ‘no sale’. Everything else was expensive watches and jewelry, but nothing remotely interesting. (This contrast sharply with, say, the Disney line where almost everything is at least mildly tempting.)
Bingo and casinos are plagues common to all cruise ships, but there is almost nothing else on this one. I pass the lounge featuring a string quartet, the Adagio Strings, which sounds like a fine idea until I actually hear their off-key playing. I appreciate that it must be difficult to play stringed instruments when the floor is moving under you, but surely they could adapt enough to hit some of the notes. I assume it some sort of sampling error, that I just came in at the wrong moment, but when I try again later, they are still off key and out of sync. I find myself actively wincing, and have to leave. I can’t understand why no one else seems to be noticing, until I remember that once you hit 80 you can only hear about half the frequencies…. I concede that the Adagio Strings look quite elegant.
Another seemingly promising opportunity is the Digital workshop: the Oosterdam has a room full of PCs and a perky young instructor to help you master Windows 7. Okay, I think, here’s a chance to tackle some of my PC questions. What are the workshop topics? Well, turns out the first one of the day is “Camera Basics: Bring your digital camera and we’ll show you how to use it”. Really? So many of the people on the ship don’t know how to use their own cameras, you can fill a room with them? These are the same people who in the ‘80s were the first ones on their block to buy a programmable VCR, and then spent the next two decades watching it’s clock blink on and off.
Similarly, the comedian last night kept his audience in stiches with jokes older than god; I felt like I was attending a performance in the Catskills. Everywhere I went were small clusters of old guys telling fart and retirement jokes: “The trouble with being retired is I don’t get weekends any more!” one guy about my age proclaims to his fellow elevator passengers, and while he waits for a reaction that doesn’t come, his wife kindly says, “Perhaps they’ve heard you tell that one before, dear. You have used it quite a bit this trip.” Another announces “I have to take a short but quite urgent break from you all” to which his colleague shouts back across the store, “Number 1 or Number 2?” If my mind ever starts to fail so far that I begin to consider this witty banter, someone please shoot me.
The worst is watching these old comedians “joking” with the staff. Oh, but it’s painful to witness. Some of the passengers are clearly regulars, addressed by name by smiling waiters and falsely cheerful porters. “Get to work, you lazy bum” seems to be a common motif among the jesters, playfully harassing men who’ve already put in a 10 hour shift when the passengers came on board, and who have been away from home without a break for 18 months or more. Hilarious! I witness one elderly gentleman pretend to box with a worker a third his height. Hoho! A ship full of aging white alpha males, past their prime and paying for the privilege of having a sea of ‘lesser’ men defer to them. I can’t help but wonder when they got too old to go to hookers.
Given my fascinating dinners with folks on the train, I had been looking forward to sharing a table and stories with my fellow passengers on Holland America. After watching such performances in every hallway and function space, I request a table alone. This is essentially the same crowd as the louts on Carnival’s drunken weekend cruises to Mexico, only now grown too old to drink and party. They remain entitled brats, however, and although I know some of them at least must have a story to tell, I’m not sure I want to hear it.