APHC at Sea

This entry is part 21 of 25 in the series Cruising With the Mothers

I adjusted the showerhead to produce a concentrated spray and positioned myself so that the blast of steaming water hit me right between the eyes. The hot water provided a welcome distraction, but no relief from the pain.

I sat there for perhaps half an hour, with increasingly morbid thoughts racing through my head. When I emerged from the shower, the bathroom was thick with mist and condensation dripped down the walls. I dried off, wrapped myself in a robe and headed for the verandah.

It was a lot like the bathroom out there—foggy and wet, but 30 degrees cooler. It was an ethereal atmosphere—the sound of the rushing water below, swirling fog illuminated by the lights on the aft deck—the low moan of the ship’s horn rumbling through the night twice a minute. I held on to the railing, closed my eyes and swayed with the ship, trying to imagine what it would be like if my head didn’t feel like it was being crushed in a vice.

After a while my bathrobe became uncomfortably heavy with moisture, so I returned to the cabin and traded it for Kris’s dry one. I tried the television—anything to steal my attention away from what was happening—but there was nothing on. Reading was impossible, so I turned off the light and writhed in agony on the sofa.

An eternity seemed to pass before I realized that the pain had stopped as suddenly as it had started—it was almost as though nothing had happened. The clock read 3:30 a.m., meaning that the episode had lasted a hair under two hours, exactly as it had the previous night.

Kris slept through the whole thing, and didn’t stir when I climbed back into bed. I felt like I’d run a marathon, exhausted but too pumped-up to sleep. By the time the alarm went off at 7:00, I was almost asleep.

“You shower first,” said Kris.

“I already did,” I said.

“When?” she asked.

“At 2:00.” I went on to describe my night.

“That’s bizarre. What do you think it is?”

“Feels like sinuses to me,” I answered.

“Maybe you should see a doctor.”

“Maybe,” I said. “I’m going to skip breakfast and see if I can pick up a couple hours sleep.”

“Did you have a plan for today?” asked Kris.

“I want to do the kitchen tour—I think it’s at 10:30. Otherwise, the writing seminar is this afternoon—if I can get in…”

“OK, I’ll have breakfast with the moms and we’ll find something to do. Why don’t meet back here around noon for lunch?”

“Sure. We’ll try the dining room.”

Kris got ready and left, and I dozed for a couple of hours. When I got up, I checked the TV for the weather report: Thick fog, temperature 57.2F, seas moderate at 4-7.5 ft, winds force 6 (strong breeze) from the south west and the barometer steady at 29.7 inHG. Not exactly pool weather. At about 10:00, I left the cabin and headed up to the lido. I felt like a ton of bricks, and had about the same mental capacity. Entering on the port side, I reached for a tray.

“Hello, Mr. Chester. Where is your beautiful wife Kris and her lovely mother Pat and your charming mother Laura?”

I looked at the speaker of the words and felt not an inkling of recognition. “I don’t know,” I said. Brilliant conversationalist…

The man held a tray, which he offered to me. “I didn’t see them this morning. Tell them to come to my side for breakfast,” the man said. “I will take care of them.”

I squinted at the man’s name tag and it finally registered. “I’m sorry, Shy. I am so tired I can’t think straight—I didn’t recognize you at first.”

“Oh, you stay up too late at the party! All night, sing and dance,” he said while taking a little dance step. “Party all night!”

“Something like that,” I said.

“You have some coffee,” said Shy. “Make you feel better.”

“Good idea,” I said. “See you at dinner.”

“Okey dokey!”

Armed with my tray, I walked down the serving line and picked up a carton of orange juice as the main course. I stopped and got two cups of coffee before settling at a table. There were very few people having breakfast at this late hour—it was pretty much me and the musicians. Andy Stein (Grammy winning violinist and saxophonist) sat a couple of tables away, looking like he’d been up way too late—but then again, that’s how he often looks. A real character…

Andy Stein

Andy Stein

The caffeine and sugar did little to clear my personal haze, so I stepped outside onto the lido terrace for some fresh air. It was raining lightly, and the temperature was still struggling to reach 60. Down below, in the aft pool, a solitary figure floated in the water. Garrison Keillor had managed to find a moment of solitude…

The kitchen tour group met in the Pinnacle restaurant. As some may already know, an interest in kitchens is one of my quirks. In exchange for an exemption from dishwashing duties, I do all the shopping and cooking in our household.

The open invitation for a kitchen tour on Maasdam was something of a surprise to me. On Celebrity, one has to be an advanced member of Captain’s Club to be treated to such a thrill. On our Millennium cruise, I pulled some strings and got a special invitation in spite of our junior Captain’s Club status. Kris came along on that tour somewhat reluctantly, but the experience was redeemed when the head chef served champagne and petit fours.

The crowd waiting for Maasdam’s kitchen tour numbered close to a hundred, which is probably a good argument for Celebrity’s approach to limiting the number of culinary tourists. Too many people for champagne… I tried to stay close to the front of the group as we were shepherded into the dining room, down a flight of stairs and into the galley.

First stop was the wine “cellar,” which was all business. Next was the lido prep area, where all the cold dishes for the lido restaurant are prepared—in a space not much bigger than my own kitchen.

Two rooms are devoted to dishwashing. In one, two crewmembers toil 11 hours a day to wash more than 5,000 glasses. In the other, seven people wash 12,000 plates of various dimensions—every single day. I’m not sure who got stuck with the silverware.

The cold kitchen and the bakery sit side-by-side deep inside the galley. The bakery cranks out 240 loaves of bread, 4000 dinner rolls and 800 Danish rolls every day, and then they get busy making the good stuff like cookies, pies and cakes. The bakers do get a little break, though. Bread used for breakfast toast isn’t made on board…

Rounding a corner, we passed a closet-sized room devoted to fish preparation and similarly sized room designed for pot washing, and then we entered “Grand Central.”

The hot kitchen is where the action is during meal time. Here, the hot entrees, soups and appetizers are prepared by the chefs and picked up by the wait staff. Cold items are prepared in advance and stored in a line of refrigerators along one wall, ready for pick up. There were a few people working in this area, preparing little treats for us visitors. I can only imagine what a zoo this place must be in the evening.

As we exited the galley we passed the soup kitchen, then a mini-kitchen devoted to the Pinnacle Grill and another strictly for breakfast foods and coffee, and finally the ice cream “parlor.”

Unseen on the decks below there are 5 dry-storage rooms, 3 giant refrigerators, 4 freezer rooms and 3 thawing rooms. The butcher shop and vegetable prep areas are located next to the garbage facilities, minimizing the transportation of waste from the upper galley—imagine the scraps from peeling 3,000 pounds of potatoes and 6,500 pounds of vegetables every week. I suppose they do end up schlepping the 22,000 egg shells (44,000 halves) down the elevator from the main galley—if they have an egg-cracking room on the lower level, it wasn’t mentioned.

All told, 81 people staff the food operation, and another 4 handle the trash. Maasdam’s kitchen appeared no more than a quarter the size of the one on Millennium, and it seems miraculous to me that so much goodness can emanate from so small a space. Efficiency at the extreme…

As I exited the kitchen, the tail end of the tour group was still waiting to enter. I had some time to blow, so I went upstairs to the library. The place was mobbed. I picked up one of the daily news digests and got a brief dose of reality.

A woman approached the librarian. “Don’t you have the New York Times?” she asked.

“We have a digest version, ma’am” he said.

“I mean the real paper—not that little thing.”

“No, I’m sorry,” said the librarian.

The woman was very upset, and continued to hound the librarian—who seemed unable to come up with a satisfactory explanation as to why the paper wasn’t available. I was tempted to butt in and explain that the morning helicopter newspaper drop was cancelled due to the thick fog—either that, or the newsboy tossed the paper from his skiff and missed the ship altogether as it sailed by at 18 knots. Life at sea is hard…

I found the cabin empty when I returned at noon, so I busied myself by doing a little more reading. I was most of the way through the room service menu when the door opened and three familiar-looking women marched in.

“Ready for lunch?” asked Kris.

“Just a minute,” I said. “I’m reading the best part.”

“How was the kitchen?”

“Shiny,” I said. “What did you guys do?”

“We just got out of Fred Newman’s show—the sound effects guy?”

I nodded to indicate that I was with her…

“He is soooo funny,” continued Kris. “You’ve got to go see him.”

“I’ll say,” said Pat. “I didn’t even want to go, but Kris said we could leave if we didn’t like it. I never expected him to be so funny.”

“He must have the same genes as Robin Williams,” said my mother. “Just too much…”

The three of them went on and on about the show. I learned that Fred is from Georgia, has done voices and effects for a slew of movies (including Cocoon, Gremlins, Gremlins II, Solar Babies, Far & Away, Bright Lights, Big City, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, For Love or Money, Practical Magic, Wolf and Radio Days), did a stint with Jim Henson and the Muppets, and hosted the Mickey Mouse Club for 6 years. Busy guy…

“I had no idea,” I said.

“And you know what the strangest thing is?” asked Kris.

I shook my head.

“He graduated from Harvard Business School.”

We left the cabin and headed for the dining room, where we were seated at a table for four right next to the table we had occupied on the first night of the cruise.

“So, what else did you do?” I asked.

“Well, after breakfast, I took mom to the spa,” said Kris.

“It was lovely,” said Pat. “I’ve never been so pampered.”

“We had facials,” said Kris.

“And a head and neck massage,” said Pat.

“And a blow dry,” said Kris, continuing the volley.

Pat finished the list. “And pedicures!”

Sounds expensive, I thought. “You didn’t go, ma?”

“No, not me…I’m beautiful enough already,” she said, batting her eyes. “If they had to blow dry my hair, I’d still be there.” My mother’s hair, always worn up, is floor length.

“So what did you do?” I asked.

“Mostly, I walked around and got lost,” she said.

I described my unusual nocturnal experience. “I’ve never, ever had a headache like that,” I said. “Except the night before…”

“You need some saline spray,” said Pat. “If it’s sinuses, that’s what everybody says is best.”

“You just had too much to drink, Chester,” said my mother.

Mothers are supposed to be right all the time, but I politely disagreed with her assessment. Secretly, I decided to go without today—just in case she was right.

We had a lovely and leisurely lunch. After all the talk about Fred Newman, I decided to attend his 2:00 session on 3D photography in the library.

“After that, I’m going to try to get in to the writing workshop,” I said as we parted ways again. “I doubt I’ll get in, though—unless Jim arranged something.”

“OK,” said Kris. “Good luck. We’ll keep busy and see you whenever.”

The library was packed. I claimed a couple of square feet of space, and then assumed a cross-legged seating position on the floor. I couldn’t remember the last time I sat for any extended period like that—30 years ago, at least—nor could I imagine how long it was going to take me to get back up again.

Fred Newman appeared on schedule, and treated the group to a session on 3D photography techniques and comedy. The subject is fairly dry, but Fred attacked it with intense passion and good humor. 3D photography involves taking two pictures of an object or scene—one slightly offset from the other—and then looking at them through a special viewer. This technique was used in the Viewmaster, the pinnacle of cool high-tech equipment (along with Etch-a-Sketch) during my childhood years. The technique is ancient, and according to Newman, there is a brisk market for antique viewers on eBay. Fred brought many samples and props to pass around the room.

The session lasted until almost 3:00, which gave me just a couple of minutes to get to the writer’s workshop. Luckily, it was being held right next door in the Card Room. All around the room people struggled to get up off the floor while attempting to preserve some modicum of dignity. This gave me some cover as I pitched forward onto my hands and knees and scooted to a standing position. I had lost all contact with my right leg, and nearly collapsed in a heap when I took a step. Carefully, I made my way to the corridor.

What luck, I thought when I looked into the Card Room and saw only a handful of people. I hobbled in and immediately deduced that something was wrong.

“Is this the writer’s workshop?” I asked a man who was setting up a projector.

“No, this is the natural history slideshow,” he said. “The workshop was moved to the theater—too many people. You’re welcome to stay here with us…”

I decline the generous offer, thanked him and hobbled all the way forward to the Rembrandt Theater. It was completely empty. I vaguely recalled that there was a smaller theater somewhere on board, so I went back to the atrium and took the stairs down to the front desk area to ask for help.

“The Wajang Theater is right around the corner,” said the helpful woman at the special APHC desk.

I rounded the corner seconds later and encountered the end of a long line of people. It was now a couple of minutes past 3:00, and I immediately began thinking of alternative activities. First on the list of possibilities was a nap. In fact, the top three choices all involved sleep, differing only in location—bed, a lounge chair by the pool or a comfy chair in the library…

A couple rounded the bend and walked right past the line. Near the door to the theater, they were met and questioned by a staffer who rifled through a stack of paper before waving the couple into the room. On a hunch, I broke rank and approached the staffer.

“May I help you?” she asked.

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