Not many people get to celebrate their birthday on a cruise ship. Of course not many people on this earth get to take a cruise even once in their lives, so we really know how privileged we are, and we are trying to take full advantage while also being conscious, and hopefully not as oblivious as some people.
My birthday wasn’t necessarily much different from other days at sea. The boat rocks and rolls around a bit but we are trying to take care of ourselves so that we don’t fall over. The hardest part seems to be the stairs, though taking our walk around the deck can feel a bit precarious at times. The best part of the day was when I came out of the shower and Angie had decorated the room with happy birthday streamers. I felt very loved.
We started the day in the gym with a quick workout on the ellipticals. Several people have commented on how busy the gym has been so far. Since Holland America is considered by many as the old people’s cruise, I think they don’t expect a full house in the gym, but it seems to me there are quite a few folks our age or younger. Anyway, we started the day in the gym, which fortunately is on the same deck as one of the breakfast options. The Lido is the ship’s buffet style choice, and for breakfast, they offer a ton of stuff (probably literally): cold cereal, hot cereal, waffles and pancakes, yoghurt, breakfast sandwiches, hot breakfast staples (including turkey bacon and turkey sausage) and custom omelets. Very tasty. By the way, they also offer matzah at the moment, though sadly it’s a bit stale!
As Angie’s mentioned, the cruise crew tries to offer something for everyone to do on the sea days. The event that was most appealing to me on Thursday was the Sip, Savor, Sail event in the culinary arts center. Angie told me that since it’s my birthday I get to pick what we do, but I know she wanted to attend this event also. The event was a cook off between the guest chef, whose demo we saw on Wednesday, and the ship’s executive chef.
So Natacha faced off with Walter, aided by chef Sanders and hotel director Kees, respectively. The objective was to be presented with mystery ingredients and for them to produce a dish in a short period of time, though we think that Shannon, the host at the Culinary Arts Center, was pretty permissive about this. I was surprised that they each didn’t have the same ingredients. On the TV shows like this, the contestants get the same thing, so the fun is seeing what they each come up with. Though both teams are pretty creative, I think it would have been more fun the other way. Both teams made shellfish-related dishes, and my vote went to team Natacha, but it was chef Walter who won, by audience acclaim, though don’t think Natacha needed to cook as fast as she did.
What was most fun about the show was the banter and the Q&A. The chefs talked about some of their influences, favorite books and so on. Walter, the executive chef, says he has about 500 cookbooks and that he’s been cooking since he was about four years old. Sanders in particular was very funny. The whole audience clearly enjoyed the show. I got to talk briefly with Walter afterwards. Related to a comment about famous ancient Roman cookery books, I told of the story I had just read in the Ruth Reichl book I am reading, about a thanksgiving dinner she went to that was promoting a medieval turkey recipe. But it took so long to cook that in the end it was too tough to carve! We also chatted briefly about how, if you love to cook, you can cook anywhere. Even if my tiny galley on Poplar Street hasn’t shown me that, the range of kitchens we’ve had to work with in the past 8 months would have, with differing levels of equipment, knife sharpness, and so on.
After the show, we grabbed some food from the taco bar on the Lido deck (sans tortillas for me since it’s still Passover).
I’m not sure either of us were previously aware that there was self-service laundry on the ship, but there are actually several. This seemed like a good afternoon to get a load done, since it wasn’t too crowded. We hung out in the Atrium while the wash was in, and then I took the stuff that was going to line-dry back to the stateroom, whereupon I promptly fell asleep for a while, waking up shortly before Angie came back with the rest of the laundry.
There was another appetizer and drink special going on during the late afternoon, so Angie and I went to check it out. The apps are free, and were just little Chinese-style samplers, but quite decent. The drink special, which is actually a good price, was a mai tai, which was quite good. While we ate and drank, we chatted with another couple who do most of the food offerings. They were booked for the brunch on Friday with the guest chef, which we decided not to do because it was too much seafood and coconut for me. We did enjoy talking with them and exchanging notes about traveling and eating.
For dinner, we decided to eat in the main dining room, which is often our first choice. We also had decided that it would be nice on my birthday to have dinner with other people, even if we didn’t know them. It’s a roll of the dice of course but it worked out ok. We were seated with an older woman of Swedish extraction (Chris), an older man who has over 900 days of cruising since 1998 (Paul), and a young woman traveling alone who is in the travel business and used to work for Holland America (Sara). The conversation was relatively smooth and of course was mainly about travel and cruising. The gentleman, as I said, has cruised a LOT, but he said his funniest experience just happened, when he sent out a pair of pants to launder, and got back a pair two sizes too big!
If you dine in the main dining room on your birthday there is usually some level of fuss made over you, some of the service team may sing to you. In my case, and I’m not sure this piece always happens, one of the stewards has a guitar and another some bongos, and four or so of them come and sing what I assume is a Filipino or Indonesian song, followed by the birthday song. It was really nice though I did feel a tad embarrassed. They also provided a little cake, which I shared with the rest of the table. Paul, said he hadn’t had birthday cake in a long time, which felt a little sad, but if you are cruising alone and you do a ton of days of cruising every year, you may not have friends with whom you can celebrate birthdays very often, so I was kind of happy to be able to share that. I figured out that Paul averages about 53 days of cruising a year, which is quite a lot, and of course he may have done less in the early days. Who knows?
After dinner we went and sat in one of the bars to listen to the ship’s piano player for a while, before heading down to the Showroom at Sea to hear a piano concert. Several people had told us this guy was really worth seeing, so we stayed up late enough to go and see the 10:00 show of this fellow named Hyperion Knight. He was apparently given that name by his parents who lived in the people’s republic of Berkeley, as it’s known. He was a very good entertainer. His program was focused on four rhapsodies that sort of provided a history of classical music, so it included works by Liszt, Gershwin, and Freddie Mercury. As Angie said, one of the things that makes Hyperion really good is his ability to relate to and play contemporary music, some of which he believes will come to be seen as classical in the future. It was a very entertaining show as he talked about the backstory of the greats, and we were glad we stayed up for it.
Even though it’s the first time I’ve been at sea for more than one day, it’s been a really great couple of days and Angie helped make my day very special.