With satellite television and over 100 channels to watch or listen to tonight, I found myself clicking the clicker to channel 106 - aka TV Land. It's 8pm on the East Coast and it's time for a twenty-year-old rerun of the Love Boat. And to show you how far TV has come (or perhaps how far detached I am from network television), the reality show Survivor 3 is having it's final show tonight - but not on my set.
The gang is headed to Alaska with their first stop in Vancouver, British Columbia tonight - and they're all wearing their black uniforms - which means this is a 'special cruise!' I believe that the black uniforms only came out on their international trips - like Australia, Europe and Asia. Captain Stubing should have worn black more often!
The Love Boat's first scene of every show had Gopher, Doc, Julie, Isaac and the Captain welcoming the passengers on board. Hello Mr. and Mrs. Leach - so glad to have you sailing with us! Has this ever happened to you? Perhaps a few crew members knew my name after a cruise, but never before.
Ship Tip: Don't expect a personal welcome!
After the warm greetings and everyone making it safely to their cabins, the passengers gleefully adorned the railing on the Lido deck, frantically waving to loved ones and crowds of people as streamers flew silently in the air. It was a reminder that cruising was for the elite - as those on board looked down on those who could not afford to cruise.
But with the onslaught of a new fleet of ships being built in the 80s and continuing till the 00's, environmentalists, for good reason, put a kabash on the streamers. Of course today you can still wave to people as your ship pulls out of port, but usually the only ones catching those waves are a few dockworkers.
Ship Tip: Sorry Charlie, no streamers!
One of the first scenes taking place tonight is in one of the Love Boat's standard rooms - you know, the 600 square feet-of-luxury cabin that would cost about four grand each with double occupancy on a seven day cruise today.
Ship Tip: Cabin Sizes may appear to be larger on TV.
If I hear one complaint on ships more than any other, it is that the size of the cabins don't come close to the first cruisers expectations. Why? Because EVERYONE has seen Love Boat - either 20 years ago or today on reruns!!
Today's ships, while they may have gross tonnage seven times that of the Pacific Princess, have replaced the luxurious cabins as seen on TV with standard sized cabins ranging from 125 - 260 square feet. They're not big - but they are practical, and after all, most cruisers today are not filming a weekly show in their cabin.
Julie, Doc, Gopher, Isaac, Vicky and the Captain were part of our family. Each week we invited them into our living rooms with open arms and prayed they had a lively, sappy story with a happy ending. They became part of our culture as we often called anyone who mixed a drink "Isaac" and, anyone who was captain of their own boat "Captain Stubing".
Ship Tip: Don't expect to see Captain Stubing and the gang on your ship.
The Pacific Princess in real life is about 20,000 gross tons and carries approximately 600 passengers. On a ship that size or smaller, seeing the ship's crew leaders during the day or night is a possibility, but don't expect to see them if you sail one of today's behemoths' of the sea. Each ship only has one Captain and having a cocktail by the pool with your Captain Stubing would be near impossible with 3,000 other guests to please. Unlike television, real captains must oversee to the rigors of managing a floating city.
On most cruises I don't see the cruise director - primarily because I no longer participate in the evening shows or poolside activities. But, I do hear them on the PA system - and often, too often. Bartenders? Yup - the ship has plenty and while I will meet several, none get to know my name or my favorite drink. The Pursers office may find me getting change or excursion information, but seldom do I run into the chief purser.
The Doctor is fortunately someone I have never had to visit with and have seldom seen - albeit I did summon him on the last day of my most recent cruise when my traveling friend Debbie came down with food poisoning. (And sorry ladies, unless you like 300 lb. Italian men, you may not be throwing yourself at the feet of your ships doctor!) And as for the Captain, aside from the couple of opportunities to dine at his table and being invited to his private quarters, I may never even see a captain on some cruises.
The closest you get to "Captain and the gang" on a ship nowadays is your headwaiter, busboy, room steward, Maitre d' and Wine Steward. The ships have cleverly hired hard working people who have an incentive to make you happy - namely that tip at the end of the cruise. But they are the ones who get to know you and who at least try to care about your well being.
The pool on the Pacific Princess is about the only thing that has not changed. Ships are often criticized for not having larger pools, but what passengers fail to sometimes understand is the sheer weight of water and what it takes to support it. Plus, the larger it is the more dangerous it may become in rough seas.
Ship Tip: Pools are still pretty small.
But while the pools have remained about the same size, the number of them has increased - as well as the deck space. The original pool deck on the Love Boat held about 15 chairs and a few small tables - which seemed to be constantly occupied by the suave Doctor, Isaac, Gopher and women in small bikinis.
Other amenities have gone through a major change. Remember the stage? Four performers just about filled it up, and on today's stages, you can fit 50 kicking Rockettes across it. The dining rooms have gone to two or more floors and encompass about as much square footage as did all of the deck space on the Love Boat. And remember the little Pirates Cove Bar that Isaac tended bar at? Well, some ships have up to 18 different bars & lounges to choose from - and the variety ranges from piano lounges to pulsating video-lined discos, to quiet wine bars.
On my second cruise aboard the then newly launched Norway, we had Martin Mull as our entertainer. Martin was doing a late night TV show at the time and to date is the only prominent entertainer I have ever seen on a ship. On tonight's Love Boat special show, they have the likes of Sonny Bono, Tom Bosley, Ted Knight, Jacquelyn Smith and a few other notables.
Ship Tip: Don't expect to see famous people on your ship!
Sure it would be nice to have top name entertainment on a ship, but that might cause more of a problem than one might think. The shipboard entertainment today has no or very few headliners, music is mostly lip-sync, and yet has standing room only for most shows. Imagine the havoc a famous person would cause? And think about the cost too - some lines have up to 14 ships in the water at one time.
So although much about cruising today is different from our beloved show Love Boat, there is one similarity that stands out: Unless you encounter some unforeseeable events, you will depart your ship smiling, swapping phone numbers with your new friends, and asking yourself "how soon can I cruise again?"
Doug Terhune is quite the experienced solo cruiser and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. His Ship Tips columns are very popular with our readers.
Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including interviews with the Tropicale's head chef, the Inspiration's Chief Engineer, and the Grandeur of the Sea's Captain. To find all of Doug's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, visit our SeaLetter COLUMNISTS Index.
Doug is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Doug@sealetter.com.
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