“Who the heck is Paul Anka?” I wondered aloud after having my rear end handed to me during trivia on Holland America’s Volendam last week. The voyage, which I had been anticipating for months, was full of firsts for me: first time in Alaska, first time cruising with Holland America and first time sailing with my first-time-cruiser boyfriend, Matt. (He didn’t know who Paul Anka was, either.)
A late-twentysomething who had prior experience with only Carnival and Royal Caribbean, I found that my biggest pre-cruise concern was traveling on a 14-year-old ship with, ahem, people of a certain age. Although we met a lovely young couple on the first day (shout out to Michelle and Oliver) and spotted a surprising number of young families, it was apparent that there would be some generational gaps.
Take, for example, the night Matt was selected to be one-third of the men’s team during Battle of the Sexes. When asked to name a male celebrity who makes women swoon, his teammates chose John Wayne and Rock Hudson. Matt went with The Rock (my favorite piece of eye candy), prompting many confused mumbles among the audience. What I wasn’t expecting was the candid — and often racy — nature of many of my onboard elders: “The Inside Passage!” answered one member of the women’s team when asked to name a body part that never gets washed.
Everyone we met had a story. Percy told us about his many years as a physics professor, and his wife, Ellie, lamented that she and her husband hadn’t started travelling the world sooner. We chatted with Elaine, who underwent two triple bypasses and has an artificial valve, as she set the pace for us lap after lap around the promenade deck to raise money for cancer research. (Her sister-in-law died recently from the disease, she explained.) Dennis and Betsy told us about the bald eagles they saw on their pre-cruise land tour as we glided through Glacier Bay, and another couple, whose names we didn’t catch, saw a Bloomsburg University sweatshirt I was wearing on a shore excursion in Skagway and gushed that their granddaughter played field hockey there.
On the last night of the sailing, we decided to check out the Marriage Game, thinking we’d test our knowledge about one another, sans rings. What we came away with was admiration for Bill and Edith, who still stare at each other with stars in their eyes after 56 years. Of course there were some giggles along the way: “He snores!” Edith told us, when asked about Bill’s worst habit. “They come in sizes?” Bill said, amazed, when asked his wife’s bra size for the fourth time because he’s a bit hard of hearing.
Overall, I found that coexisting for a week on a ship full of seniors wasn’t just tolerable. It was downright inspiring, humbling and enlightening. (And, I finally know who Paul Anka is.)