I woke up but had trouble opening my eyes. Must have been bad beer I thought, all 26 of them. I looked down, and it seemed a long way to the floor before I realized I was on a top bunk. I looked over, and saw two further sets of bunks, occupied by snoring males. With difficulty, I looked over the edge and found one more male sleeping below me. This was cruising in the 50's - six to a cabin, and all strangers. I had partied the night before to celebrate my 19th birthday and my send off to Canada, and had been in no condition to meet my fellow cabin mates when I finally staggered to my bunk.
My ship was the Orsova, a 29,000 ton P & O ship that made monthly crossings from Sydney to Vancouver and San Francisco, and return. The year was 1957, and to put the year in perspective, this was the year when Ford introduced the Edsel, the baby boom in the U.S. had reached its peak, and only a week before my "cruise," the Russians had launched the first satellite into space (Sputnik I). Elvis was only a year old phenomenon, and looking quite slim. I had ventured forth from Australia to New Zealand at the mature age of 18, and after six months of NZ, I decided to move on. With my usual forward planning, I booked three days before the ship left. I vaguely remember showing my friends over the huge, modern boat the night before. In those days, nobody worried about security, and a good send off meant everybody came on board for the farewell party. The ship was relatively new, probably less than five years old, and having never previously been on anything that floated except an aircraft carrier, the accommodations, even the 6-berth cabin with a bathroom down the hall, looked pretty luxurious to me. (Prior to leaving Australia, I was drafted for six months into the Australian navy, and "cruised" at government expense through the tropics of northern Australia on an un-air-conditioned, porthole-less ship, where fungus grew on various parts of your body - I'm not really complaining, at least I wasn't in a war!)
Down Under to North America was really a "line" cruise, rather than a "cruise" cruise. A real cruise, only affordable by those with large disposable incomes, was starting at, and returning to, the same port, because you simply wanted a holiday on a boat - invariably in a sunny climate; in other words, exactly what we do today! That type of cruise has been around since the turn of the century, but only enjoyed by a very small segment of the population. You went on a line cruise because you had to get from A to B. You could fly - if you had the money and the endurance! A trip from Australia to North America, prior to the jets of the 60's, would have been a 35 hour marathon on a 4 prop plane, no in-flight movie or hot meals, and perhaps four times the cost of the "line" cruise. So if you had the time, or little money, you cruised. And the great part about it, at least for an 18 year-old, was that every other young person did likewise - there was absolutely no shortage of youthful revelers on the Orsova!
The same economies led young travelers to "cruise" from the U.S. to Europe in the 50's and 60's, but it wasn't quite the same. That was a short cruise (5 days on the average), on a ship that didn't cater for warm weather diversions. Even the swimming pool was down in the depths of the ship. By contrast, P & O had built a fleet of ships designed to cruise through equatorial heat, and with appropriate on-deck facilities. Although the Orsova would be small by the standards of today's new ships, it was actually half as large again as the original "love boats," the Island Princess and the Pacific Princess.
There were two "classes" on board, tourist and first. We had separate dining rooms and lounges, but I don't recall any segregation on deck. We tourist class had no interest in "upgrading" ourselves to first class, in fact, just the opposite: the younger first class passengers spent all their time with us peasants, as we were the party people. First class had professional entertainment, and the tourists made their own - with a little help from the cruise staff (the "cruise staff" actually meaning whatever ship's officer was available to organize the passengers).
Our cruise days started with the cabin steward (all the stewards being middle-aged Englishmen) bringing tea and toast (always cold) at 7 a.m., whether you wanted them or not. No doubt the steward hoped he could get all six of us out of our cabin in a reasonable time, so he could clean up. We reluctantly got up most mornings, and enjoyed the dining room breakfast, except for some of the English specialties like smelly kippers. With no ports for four days, we went off hunting for excitement and single ladies who had not yet been "collected" by the officers on board.
My diary entries are of marginal help to this story. Most entries are limited to when I got up (late), when I went to bed (late), how many drinks I had (many), and how many girls I met (not so many). Despite the youthful age of most of the tourist class passengers, we males were not living in the "free love" days, and most of our improper advances to the young ladies were met with quotes about what their mothers, ministers or priests had told them about saving "it" until they got married.
If you could be time-warped back to those days, and suddenly found yourself on the top deck of the Orsova, what differences would you find? You might think the pool was modest in size. You might notice a few bikinis, but you certainly wouldn't see a swimsuit on a woman that showed all her upper thighs, nor the swimsuit style where the rear is narrower than a man's tie. You also wouldn't see the European-style men's swimsuit that looks like his fanny pack is stuffed inside. You could order a drink, and be happy that you paid only 25 cents. Your mixer or pop could be a problem: "diet" and "caffeine-free" hadn't been invented, and a request for a 7-up (instead of lemonade) would have been met with a blank stare ("coke" and "pepsi," by contrast, were already universal names). You might notice that pop and beer only came in bottles, as cans had yet to be introduced anywhere except the U.S. Brandy and gin were common drinks, and vodka was virtually unheard of. Nobody drank wine, except with meals. But the sky, the sun, the ocean and the breeze were still the same, and it was a glorious existence.
Dinner was also not too much different from today. We only had one sitting, but that was because first class had its own private dining room. I remember the menus as colorful, and I certainly enjoyed the food. A 19 year old's appetite is hard to satisfy, particularly when the 19 year old doesn't have to worry about "seconds" being pasted directly to the hips or the belly. So if we enjoyed something, we simply ordered a "second helping" (as you can still do today, but with a certain embarrassment!).
I recall we found it intriguing for these grown men, i.e., our English dining room stewards, to wait on us hand and foot, when many of us had hardly been in a fancy restaurant on land in our lives. We did wear a tie to dinner each time, but there was no formal night (but there may well have been in first class). We certainly didn't have all of the agony of figuring out what "elegantly casual" meant.
Being an English ship and being the late 50's, menus were heavily skewered to beef, lamb, pork and fish, with absolutely no pasta dishes. Chicken was rarely seen, as England (and Australia), had yet to follow down the U.S. path of fried chicken, or most of the other ways of preparing chicken. Dessert was a big dinner item, and not many refused it (anorexia had yet to be invented).
Dessert was most likely some type of English "pudding," and, fortunately, baked Alaska was unheard of!! All meals were in the dining room - no buffets, room service or midnight madness.
When we left our dinner table, there were no ship's photographers to take our pictures standing next to somebody in a fake pirate costume - in fact, there were no ship's photographers! There was also no casino, and no "show.". We had heard that first class had some kind of professional entertainment, but we were not particularly curious about it. (Whatever it was, it was, at most, a pale imitation of the shows that are now presented on cruise ships, even those that were presented on board 20 years ago).
Instead, we had "dances" or "sing-a-longs" or something special. Our "sing-a-longs" consisted of some ship's officer leading us in some community song singing - I guess an early form of karaoke with more emphasis on the group than the individual. We likely sang old favorites like "Galway Bay," or perhaps one of the novelty songs of the 1950's like "I've Got A Loverly Bunch Of Coconuts." We certainly didn't sneer at this form of "entertainment," which I expect would happen nowadays.
On alternate nights, we would have a ship's dance with a live orchestra. "Disco" had yet to be invented, and if the ship's staff had played "records," we would have thought them to be "cheap," and not have a budget for a band. Our dances, at least in the early part of the evening, would have been waltzes, quicksteps, barn dances, polkas, and perhaps something outrageous like a cha cha, tango or ball 'n the jack. Only at the end of the evening would the band play something that us younger ones were in to: "rock 'n roll," which had only hit the world the previous year. So, if we were lucky, the band might play something by Bill Haley, Fats Domino, the Platters, or even Elvis! Whatever the music, we had a good time without the help of flashing lights, video screens, or high decibel music (but I might miss them today!).
My first port of call was Suva, Fiji (for others it would have been Auckland, for the cruise originated in Australia). My knowledge of Fiji was limited to what I had read in the National Geographic about the headhunters of Fiji ("fuzzy-wuzzys" we used to call them because of their Afro hairdos). And when we docked, there they were on the dock to greet us!! Of course, we knew that they were no longer headhunters, but what we failed to appreciate was that almost 50% of the inhabitants of Fiji were Indians ("East" Indians) who had originally been indentured labor, in the sugar cane days. The simmering rivalry between the native Fijians (the landowners) and the Indians (the controllers of commerce) immediately became apparent to us. The Indians seem to be an unhappy lot, so my diary says. (A number of years later the antagonism between the original inhabitants and the newer immigrants ended up with a coup d'etat).
My initial reaction to Suva was to describe it as a "hole." This was the first third world country I had seen, and no doubt I had failed to understand then, that garbage and disrepair seem to go hand-in-hand with general poverty. My time in Suva was, however, enhanced because one of my cabin mates had previously worked in Suva, so a few of us joined him in visiting his old landlady, a friendly, talkative native Fijian. I'm sure that most people would agree that meeting a resident and visiting their home gives you much more insight into a travel destination than all the city tours you could possibly take. Subsequently, we explored the outskirts of Suva, and enjoyed the natural surroundings and the view back across the harbor. There were no "shore excursions" organized by the ship, either here nor anywhere else. That source of income for the cruise lines had yet to be invented.
According to my diary:
"A large crowd of Fijians and Indians were on the wharf to see the Orsova pull out. The naturally-happy Fijians - especially the children - catching coins thrown by the passengers, and playfully throwing things back at us - contrasted to the sullen, but obviously interested Indians. There was a great cheering from the crowd as we pulled out, and after passing between a twosome of attractive tropical isles, we were on our way to Honolulu."
Prior to Hawaii, there were two interesting "lines" to cross. The first was the international date line (a concept that eludes me to this day). One day it was Tuesday October 15, and so was the next day! The captain's cocktail party was on the first of the Tuesdays, but there was no repeat the next day! By contrast, one of our table members had his birthday on the 15th, and we celebrated it and got drunk on both of the Tuesdays. I thought for the longest time that I had an extra day in my life because of the dateline, but as you will see (if you read that far) that I subsequently lost a whole day returning to Australia many years later.
On the second of our double days, I noted in my diary that I had won 18 pence at the horse races (about 40 cents in those days), and I thought I was a hero. You paid cash on board for everything, there being no "cruise cards". Whatever the inconvenience, there was no nasty surprise at end of the cruise when you received your final bill.
The next day we crossed the equator, and I was exhilarated (according to my notes), to be in the northern hemisphere for the first time. There was a "crossing the line" ceremony on deck, but it was fairly low key compared to the modern activities. In case you haven't been on a cruise which crosses the equator, watch out! Several passengers (and usually an officer as well), are selected by the cruise staff for "Captain Neptune" ceremonies on deck in which the luckless passenger or officer is accused of "crimes," found guilty, and then punished by being covered in "slime" (usually colored meringue), and thrown into the pool. I know, because it's happened to me twice in the last ten years!
As there was no cruise director, and the captain wasn't a comedian, nobody announced that we passengers should look for the equator on the horizon, and to watch out for a small bump as we crossed it (you would probably hear those lines on a modern cruise which changes hemispheres).
Other familiar activities on board included playing table tennis (we called it "ping pong"), and bingo (we called it "housie-housie" for weird etymological reasons that I've never discovered). We had the occasional movie in the main lounge, but nothing to look at in our cabin as TV's in the cabin, and videotape had yet to be invented. I'm glad to say that aerobics also hadn't been invented.
The highlight of entertainment on the cruise was the "fancy dress party" (or masquerade party, as we would more likely call it nowadays). Two of my cabin mates and I went as a horse "with jockey," and, fittingly, I was the rear end of the horse. We won the prize for the best group because of, or in spite of, our performance when we were on stage. We had taken leftover dinner rolls and colored them brown with shoe polish. At the appropriate time on stage, I had let them drop from the rear end of the horse. Our group effort won us a one pound gift certificate at the ship's "shop" (about $3.00). Note the word "shop" in the singular - no shopping arcade on board in those days (another money-maker yet to be discovered by the cruise lines!)
Hawaii and Honolulu were exciting to us, notwithstanding that we all had to attend a "medical" inspection at 6.30 a.m., and didn't get ashore until 9 a.m. Like all modern tourists, we (a group of eight of us), immediately headed for Waikiki (but on a bus after trying to work out the American 5-10-25-50 coins, versus the English (or Australian) 3-6-12-24). The Waikiki beaches didn't over-awe us - we had plenty of great ones in Australia - but we were impressed with the stores, the "skyscrapers," and the bars (especially the canned beer which we had never seen before). At last we were in the "America" we had seen in movies and magazines (although Hawaii was not yet one of the 50 states).
We spent the day surfing, sunbaking (suntanning), and telling each other how lucky we were to be there. After drinks at "Don the Beachcomber," we hit a nightclub where you could eat as much as you liked for $1.49!! We also tried out the "zombies," a multi-layer rum drink, and naturally ignored the menu warning "limit of one per customer!" We nearly wiped out when crossing at a traffic light because of our instinctive looking to the right instead of the left when crossing the road. Any North American who is traveling in a country where they drive on the left will know the converse of that problem. Even the famous Winston Churchill managed to get hit by a taxi in New York while looking the wrong way crossing a street.
We returned to the ship just in time for its midnight departure, and as we left, everyone threw their leis into the water. The legend is, that if your lei drifts to the shore, you will return some day. Mine did, and I did.
The last five days to Vancouver were spent more inside the ship than out, as we approached the North American fall (it was late October). We created our own diversions - particularly playing cards - with games like Euchre, 500 and Canasta. One night we had a "Mad Hatter's Parade," a sort of fancy dress party limited to hats. I did not record anything I did that night which exceeded my fame with the "brown bread rolls.". Most other nights, we had dances and sing-a-longs, and my red jeans got a good work out from "jiving."
Our Vancouver arrival was at 7 p.m. I remember passing under Lions Gate bridge which, to me, looked exactly like the legendary Golden Gate bridge which I had seen many photos of, and for a fleeting moment, I thought I had drunk enough not to remember that we were going to San Francisco before Vancouver. Vancouver looked spectacularly alive with lights as we arrived - but I discovered later that almost all cities look that way at night from the water. I can't imagine now what I could have been looking at, as all the waterfront hi-rises in Vancouver, except one, were built in the years following my arrival.
We docked at what is now the modern cruise ship terminal of Canada Place, but in those days it looked like one of those docks we still see in third world countries. We weren't allowed off the ship until the next day, so disembarkation was the "pits" in those days as well. So I landed in Vancouver (in the middle of a deep recessionary time, looking for fame and fortune (and I'm still looking!)
1959 - The Queen MaryAfter a couple of years in Vancouver, I decided to resume my around the world journey by traveling to England (at that time still considered to be "home" by many Australians). I arranged to meet with a buddy in New York, and in the meantime, I took six weeks to hitchhike around the U.S. (at that time, I had only seen a little of the west coast of the U.S.). I managed also to get a side trip in to the Bahamas, but my geography was weak because my diary notes that I was enjoying "Bermuda!"
1959 - Alan & "Friends" in the Bahamas.
Dig those white shades!
When I met up with my friend in New York, he had already managed to book himself on the Queen Mary, but I tried without success. We discussed whether I could stow away with his assistance, and like all beginners in that business, we thought it would be easy. Luck was finally with me, and I managed to get the benefit of a last minute cancellation, and ended up (at a cost of $191.00), in another 6-berth cabin. As it turned out, one of my friend's cabin mates was a strange, elderly gentleman, who apparently had a "stowaway" fetish, and spent the entire trip looking for stowaways in his cabin and elsewhere, and reporting his findings to the ship's officers. Good thing I didn't try for the free trip!
This five day trip from New York to Cherbourg to Southampton didn't seem like a cruise today - no deck activities, no warmth or sunshine, and most everybody on board was simply getting from A to B (flying was still more expensive). I expected to be impressed by the Queen Mary. I already knew that it was one of the two largest cruise ships in the world at 82,000 tons (bigger than almost all cruise ships today), but I wasn't impressed. Its size was masked by cranes and other gear when at dock, and the on-board division into first and tourist classes hid the real size of the inside of the ship.
Once again, fellow tourist class passengers were mostly younger and an instant party atmosphere prevailed. I have no recollection of the food, although I do remember bribing my cabin steward with the beer I had brought on board, with the result that there were snacks awaiting me when I returned to the cabin from the ship's dances at 4 and 5 a.m. Several times, late at night, and with a few drinks in us, we tried to explore first class (by climbing over partitions), but as often as we tried, we were repelled by first class stewards, (so-to-speak).
We made major use of the indoor swimming pool, even when it was closed! One night in the wee small hours, the pool was closed not only because of the hour, but because we were in a minor storm. The motion of the ship caused all the water to empty from one end of the pool to the other, and to avoid destruction, my friend and I had to dive through the wall of water that approached us from either end. The stupidity of a 20 year old!
I can't remember the dining facilities, although I have a menu from those days which shows the appearance of chicken, but no sign of pasta. Only in the last year did I have a first class meal on the Queen Mary - at Long Beach, of course. Whether or not you've ever cruised on that ship, it's a fascinating tour. You get to see the bridge, radio room, engine room and one of the huge propellers by way of an underwater viewing area added to the ship. You see much more than if you had been a passenger. Unfortunately, the highlight of any tour of the Queen Mary, seeing where my cabin was, is not possible, as decks below the waterline are closed to public inspection.
Before we knew it, we had docked in Cherbourg and had sampled the bistro, the dubonnet and the baguette that our French teacher had told us about many years before. And one more day and we were in Southampton, ready to enjoy England to its fullest.
1959 - The Liberte
While I was enjoying England - at least London - to the fullest, I did note that I was earning seven pounds per week, but spending ten pounds a week in the pub alone (so-to-speak). I yearned for my comfortable standard of living in Canada, and I was starting to think of Vancouver as "home," rather than Australia. And then I received a wedding invitation in the mail from by best friend in Vancouver, who was about to marry a lovely New Zealand girl whom I had introduced him to. The wedding was only eight days hence, and I was sure my friend had only sent me the invitation as a matter of courtesy (I could tell, because he had modified the invitation so that instead of saying "The honor of your presence is requested....," it said "The horror of your presence is requested...." I decided to pay back his insult by attending the wedding.
So with two hours notice, I left my job and looked for a ship to get back to North America. I still couldn't afford to fly, but I found a fare within my budget on the French Line ship, the Liberte. It sailed the next day from Southampton, but there was a "boat" train from London that day, for the exclusive use of passengers boarding the ship. Once on board the train, I then found out that, because of bad weather, the Liberte was docked at the Isle of Wight, not Southampton.
I was relieved to be on board the Liberte after the stormy ferry crossing to the Isle of Wight from Southampton. But perhaps I would have been less comfortable if I had known the history of the cruise ship I was about to sail on.
The Liberte was originally the Europa, a 50,000 ton ship built in Germany in 1930. It could carry over 2,000 passengers, and cruise at 27 knots. After launching but before cruising, a fire destroyed most of its interior, and it took a year to repair all the damage.
In 1945, the American forces captured the Europa in Germany, but found it was in bad shape after six years of rusting at anchor. Large holes had been cut in the side of the ship, in preparation for the aborted invasion of England. It was still a great prize, being the third biggest cruise ship in the world at that time (only the "Queens" were bigger - the Normandie having been scrapped). The Europa was sailed to New York for a basic refitting, but it was damaged by fires several times during and after refitting.
Subsequently, France took ownership of the Europa as one of the spoils of war, and proceeded to do a major re-fit at Le Havre. This unlucky ship then tore loose from her moorings in a gale, and sank after hitting a partly-submerged wreck nearby. Fortunately, the ship settled down in shallow water, with the top half still exposed. The cabin that I was subsequently to occupy was fully underwater! Eventually, it was salvaged, re-fitted, and once again became a trans-Atlantic liner, now named the Liberte, arriving in New York in 1950 as part of the "French Line."
Once again, I was in a multi-berth cabin, not knowing that I was occupying space that had previously been gutted by fire, and underwater. It was Friday, the 13th. I thought that the ship was old (and I guess it was at 29 years), and I remember noticing that the engine vibrations would make glasses on the bar "chatter," and move alarmingly along the bar. For reasons that appear in a moment, I was not sitting at the bar.
The Liberte, was a two-class ship, and if you've read this far, you'll know I wasn't in first class. I joined my seven other dinner companions (all older) on the first night, and discovered that they were all French (although fluently bilingual). When they found out that my high school French was inadequate for real conversation, they ignored me, not only for the rest of the dinner, but for the whole of the five day cruise! I could have been upset, but I was busy, as you will see.
I arrived on board with only $20, and no credit cards (because they hadn't been invented). I knew I needed my $20 when I arrived in New York. A 21-year old male finds it hard to be a Don Juan without some alcoholic lubrication, and in my penniless condition, I was looking at a dry and dull trip - but I was saved by the fact that it was a French ship: free wine at dinner every night! I know my French table companions commented on my remarkable intake of Bourgogne Blanc and Bordeaux Rouge during dinner, and much fortified, I would leave the table as quickly as possible, and get myself and my belly full of wine to the dance floor as soon as possible. As best I can recall, the system worked pretty well for me (although my diary records some type of embarrassing experience trying a drunken cha-cha).
While I have no recollection of the food on board, no doubt for the reasons noted above, I do have a dinner menu from those days showing the main courses as Sea Bass, Roast Lamb, Broiled Rumpsteak and "Macaroni al' Italienne" (pasta!). I suspect that the menu was catering more to the American and British passengers on board, not the French.
Like the Queen Mary, the cruise seemed more of a journey than a "cruise" cruise - always inside during gray, turbulent weather, but again, plenty of young passengers because of the economics.
Arriving in New York, I experienced the "disembarkation from hell," being in customs and immigration from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.! In those days, people were still bringing their steamer trunks with them, and it seemed like the U.S. customs wanted to examine the contents of every one of them. Nowadays, when I get fussed about disembarkation day, I think of my eight hours in New York, and then I settle down.
With my friend's wedding just two days away, I caught a bus from New York to Toronto, and was very agitated (and cold! - it was December) when the bus broke down between Syracuse and Buffalo. But I finally arrived in Toronto the next morning, only to find that my Toronto friends (whom I had been counting on for a loan), had moved out of town (perhaps they knew that I was coming!).
Frustrated, and not having a penny to treat myself to a drink in the local bar, I eventually went and visited a branch of the local bank I had previously been dealing with in Vancouver, and asked for a loan of .....$110, being a little over the cost of the airfare to Vancouver. Times have certainly changed, because the bank manager loaned this 21-year old, unemployed Australian, of no fixed address, with the full amount.
Elated, I proceeded to the Toronto airport, only to find that there were no flights available to Vancouver. With the wedding the next day, I thought I was beaten. But then I found a flight to Chicago, and thought that my chances of a cross-country flight would be better there. In Chicago, I stood around on standby, and eventually caught an overnight flight to Salt Lake City (first I had to check a map to find out where it was!). Then another successful standby flight to Seattle. Only 150 miles from Vancouver, but no available flights! I had learned enough by then to be resourceful, and I ended up catching a flight north-west to Victoria (on Vancouver Island), and then a flight north-east to Vancouver.
I arrived at the church two minutes after the ceremony had started, and I hid in the back pew, quite embarrassed by my disheveled appearance. When my friends, the bride and groom, walked down the aisle and saw me, their mouths dropped (and this is captured on photos), possibly because they were surprised at my unexpected appearance, but possibly just because of my appearance!
Only two hours later, clean shaven, in a borrowed suit, and fortified by many "doubles", I gave the best man's speech (having quickly been assigned that job by the original best man). The bride and groom still talk to me, 38 years later.
By way of a postscript, the Oronsay, 1974
Although this is not a cruise of the 50's, I thought my limited audience might be interested in what subsequently happened on my next cruise.
Although I can say I was "on" the P & O Oriana in the 60's, it was only to say farewell to my mother, after she had visited her wayward son in Vancouver. In my case, it was some 15 years after my Liberte, experience before I was to take another cruise.
In the meantime, after having had a number of mortgages and marriages, I was now ready to take my Canadian family on a cruise to Australia, followed by a year-long "working holiday" in my home-towm of Canberra (which the ex- P & O ship is named after).
"My family" at this time, consisted of one wife, two children, and four step-children. Unrealistically, I thought that this three week cruise would re-capture all of the excitement I had had on the Orsova, some 17 years before.....but some things had changed.
My first lesson on change, was when we were advised at the last minute that the Oronsay couldn't "afford" to pick up passengers in Vancouver, because of fuel prices resulting from the 1973 oil crisis. Instead, P & O proposed to fly all of the Vancouver passengers to San Francisco, to join the Oronsay on its Honolulu, Fiji, Auckland, Sydney trip.
My next lesson was about baggage. At the Vancouver airport, a bored ticket clerk, without even looking up, asked me how many bags I was checking in, and when I replied "33," I immediately had his attention. When the bags were finally checked for my party of eight, I thought the worst was over. It was not. The dockworkers were on strike in San Francisco, and with only the most modest help from the rest of the extended family, I carried the 33 bags from the dock, down four decks on the elevator-less Oronsay.
The Oronsay, at 28,000 tons, was marginally smaller than my original Orsova, but in most ways it was a sister ship. It must have been refurbished, as it would have been 20 or more years old by then, but I don't remember it looking "tired." I didn't know it then, but "line" cruising was definitely sailing into the sunset, and Princess and Sitmar were already well established doing "real" cruises.
There were still multi-berth cabins without washrooms, but now instead of strangers, I had two boys in my cabin with my wife and four girls in the next door cabin. There was no chance of meeting new people at dinner, as the eight of us occupied a full table, just by ourselves!
As we left the dock in San Francisco, I particularly wanted to watch Golden Gate bridge passing overhead, but then duty called. One of our girls had fallen over one of the raised doorways, and I had to take her to the ship's doctor for treatment. By the time that was finished and I got up on deck, the Golden Gate bridge was many miles astern. "This is not turning out to be a nostalgic re-visiting of my wild days on the Orsova," I thought to myself.
Some things had changed on board in 17 years. There were slot machines (but no casinos as such), but for some strange reason, the slot machines were on the outside decks (although under cover). Most of the time I was busy telling the kids not to play around with the machines.
Another change was the evening dance (there was still no professional entertainment). "Disco" had finally arrived, and there were flashing lights and loud crazy music. Looking back, the "crazy music" was probably nothing more wild than Elton John, Rod Stewart, Chicago or Pink Floyd. A very pronounced smell of pot emanated from the dance lounge - another reminder that the "young" people on board were definitely younger than I was.
The rest of the cruise is mainly a blur - I was too busy being a parent to re-live my exploits on my cruises of the 50's. I remember the kids rushing to McDonalds in Honolulu (so much for the ship's fancy food!). There were still no organized shore excursions, but we rented cars in each port, and with eight of us packed in, we managed to see the countryside in Oahu, Fiji (Nandi), and Auckland.
The five hour disembarkation in Sydney with all the bags, passports and dependants, is something I'd rather forget. A year later we flew back from Australia to North America.
Nine years later I was into modern cruising, this time without children or stepchildren. Now that was reminiscent of the old days, but you'll be delighted to know that this is the end of my cruise nostalgia!
Alan Walker, still in Vancouver, February 1998.
Originally from Australia, Alan has for some time been permanently settled in Vancouver where he is a practicing Attorney. He has been a SeaLetter columnist, reviewer and our resident humorist for some time now.
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