The social high spot of a cruising holiday is the captain’s cocktail party – an event at which every passenger is introduced to, and photographed with, the ship’s master and his senior officers. It is the ideal moment for a quick quip – but you must forgive the skipper if his smile is a little forced sometimes.
“I reckon that whenever I walk around the decks, or meet passengers more formally at my cocktail party, there is always someone who asks: ‘If you are down here talking to me, who’s driving the ship?’ sighs the impressively-bearded captain of one famous British cruise liner. “I must have heard the same joke literally thousands of times.”
But if intentional witticisms can fall flat, passengers often say the funniest things when they don’t mean to.
Staff in the purser’s office bear the brunt of seagoing silliness. “We are often asked if the inside cabins have balconies,” says one receptionist, “and I have even had one sporty type come and tell me he’d like to water-ski off the back of the ship.”
Sailing in the Mediterranean a couple of years ago, I followed a fellow passenger into the gift shop on the first evening at sea and listened in amazement as he inquired what time they expected the newspapers to be delivered the next morning.
Meanwhile, over at the excursions desk, another passenger was inquiring whether a “rambling” tour around the countryside at the next port of call was likely to involve much walking.
The excursions manager was unfazed, though. After all, the previous week – when the ship was sailing the Norwegian fjords – a worried woman passenger had expressed the hope that the ship would not be going too close to Angola as she had heard there were problems there. (Angola, in case it has slipped your mind, is in southern Africa!)
Many cruise lines also cite examples of kindly customers worrying about the waiters’ welfare, and wondering aloud whether they manage to get home of an evening to see their folks.
“It sounds silly, I know – and sometimes it is hard to believe that people have said these things,” admits a cruising industry PR man.
“But I think it happens because cruise ships are so large, and so comfortable, and so well-equipped these days that people forget they are at sea and ask the same questions that they would on land.”
Still, you’d think they might notice the basics.
One woman passenger got off Fred Olsen’s cruise ship Braemar when it arrived in Dover last summer at the end of a two-week cruise, collected all her luggage, then looked around at her seaside surroundings.
Pointing at Braemar, she remarked to her companion: “I’ve never noticed that ship before, have you?”