"At the Captain's Table" is Cruise Critic's original series of stories penned by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis. Joyce knows the ins and outs of life onboard -- both as a cruise ship staff member and as the wife of Celebrity Cruises' venerable Captain Adamidis -- and offers a behind-the-scenes perspective on issues facing cruisers and the cruise industry.
A Sea of Friendships
Whether you cruise occasionally or often, creating lasting friendships while at sea is one of life's biggest joys. And a voyage is one of the easiest ways to make a new friend.
That's due to a combination of factors. You're confined to a limited amount of space (that's generally a good thing) for a set amount of time. There are ample opportunities to meet and greet -- whether by participating in onboard activities or in on-shore tours. And, ultimately, there's something incredibly soothing about the ambience at sea. It's a setting with an otherworldly influence that encourages people to let guards drop. In this case I'm thinking more of the social constraints we often face in daily life (than, er, other kinds).
Some of my most cherished friendships began at sea and grew from there. Indeed, in some cases, they are friendships that might never have taken seed on land. Onboard, though, the ship and the sea brought us together. There's Ana from Argentina, who returned to her homeland; after nine years she continues to welcome us with chimichurri sauce when we dock near her home there. Kathy married a Swedish crew member, returned with him to Canada and had two kids -- and after 10 years, we still share our ups and downs. I have been maid (or matron) of honor for a number of ship-met friends, like Tabitha, a Canadian who married Steve, a Brit; they wed in St. Thomas. And who can forget Captain Zisis from Greece and is wife Anca, a Romanian; I was privileged to serve as maid of honor for their wedding too, and together we all continue our post-sea life in Greece.
Once, I was playing a practical joke on my husband by standing in his reception line for a photograph. A lovely British couple was talking with excitement about getting to know the captain. It was hard to keep my son quiet in not telling them who we were! But I struck up a conversation and was able to get their cabin number. The next day, I wrangled permission to invite them to the bridge. When I arrived, the British couple -- they told me this later -- though "how great it is that Joyce is invited, too!" not knowing, of course, why.
And when the captain arrived, I reintroduced myself (pointing to my husband) as his wife. Oh goodness, how Linn and Bill screamed with laughter. Our friendship is five years growing.
Another was a guy named Heimlich. He boarded our ship and said, "Hi Joyce." I replied, "Hi Bill." But here's the thing: Neither of us wore name tags. And my name is Joyce and his -- you guessed it -- was Bill! How eerie is that? Eighteen years later, through snail-mail, we write to each other exactly at the same time.
One factor in making friends onboard -- whether for the short or long term -- is to possess a positive, inclusive mindset, as noted by Ray and Joann Claxton (long-time passengers who've become members of the family). "No expectations are necessary from anyone," says Ray, "We're open to all backgrounds and all ages. Some people drink and smoke, others don't. Some are married, others -- not. There are those who will have common interests. But that's not always necessary. What really matters is that for a moment in time you are moving across the sea together just being good friends who like to cruise and socialize as a group."
As well as travelers bonding with travelers, just as often we'll see passengers bonding with crew and staffers. One of the sweetest stories I've heard recently came from Jana Jones, a contributor to Cruise Critic, who wrote about a friend she'd made onboard Carnival Paradise. "One of our waiter team from Paradise has left the cruise industry and is pursuing a Masters degree in hotel and tourism management in Prague," she writes. Before departing for a Prague to Berlin river cruise last month, "we had arranged to meet, and she had invited me to attend a concert with her and her mother at one of the 'important' theatres on Sunday night. Iva comes from a small town about 50 miles east of Prague. Her mother was really nervous about my coming and was really anxious that I'd like the concert. It turns out that I am the very first American that she has ever met. Her first American! I was quite moved by that, and I do think I passed the test as an ambassador of our country's good will."
I'll impart this proposal: Right from the get-go, if you are experiencing any bleak home or work situation, leave it behind at the embarkation gangway. It isn't going to change because you are on a cruise. And there is no sense in it ruining your time or your character to enjoy this journey.
Another great way to make connections on your next journey is to attend Cruise Critic's roll calls! Sign up and see who else is on your same trip -- and attend the gathering onboard. Some will show up, others may be too shy. Some people you will like, and others not. Still, it is a chance to meet face-to-face. Furthermore, attend the various functions that interest you, such as wine tasting, cooking demonstrations, seminars, dance lessons, computer wizardry and more. You will find those with the same interests, maybe different personas; definitely anticipate an interesting conversation.
And yet don't worry that you will need to mesh with every other person at your dining table. There is no insult with conflicting personalities. Who cares? They may not like you! Or vice versa! Or both! One of my favorite stories in this regard concerns a cruise onboard Celebrity's Horizon, in which a stiff, fashion-conscious and erudite traveler was seated at dinner with a guy with tattoos. When the dapper dandy reported to the maitre d' the next morning to request a new table, the former reported, crushingly, "Sir, your tablemate has beaten you to it."
Move on as your cruise, not to mention your life, is too short.
My absolute favorite story about a foundling friendship is meeting the then-Chinese Attache to the U.S. After a lovely dinner, we invited him and his wife for a bridge visit. While there, he proceeded with a propagation of flatulent mishaps. Could I keep a straight face? No. The Captain? Speechless. The man was completely oblivious. Are we friends? After 19 years, yes. We share silly laughter over his dare to be himself in his delightful desire to observe people's reactions.
I hope that all of you have at least one story of a sea-bound friendship that turned your day to gold -- and continues to do so.