MM 4.5 — Day 1: The Virgin

I can hardly believe this is actually happening: although I’m still in my — admittedly (very [very]) late — thirties, I have started off on my first cruise vacation today!

This is not your average cruise, mind you, as I’m joining some 70, or so, other travelers for the MacMania 4.5 geek cruise. The concept is as simple as it is enticing: combine a normal cruise with all the Good Stuff(tm) like a stylish ship, all-you-can-eat food, amazing vistas, and interesting shore excursions (let’s skip the “over-priced drinks” bit for now…) with geek-targeted training sessions featuring well-known industry experts.

On this particular cruise, the ship’s the Holland America Line‘s spectacular MS Noordam, “Mediterranean Enchantment” is the name of the cruise, and the tech part of it — aptly named “Roaming Reflections” and “MacMania” — covers photography and the Macintosh, respectively, offering a total of almost 4 full days of seminars. This being my first geek cruise, I’m not quite sure just what to expect, but with the presenters’ cast including Mac luminaries David Pogue, Chris Breen, and others, the seminars should be just as instructive and entertaining as what you’d find at the reknowned MacWorld conferences.

If you’ve never stood close to a ship the size of the Noordam, you cannot imagine just how huge that thing is. Even the make-shift embarkation “terminal” at the Civitavechia port seemed tiny in comparison. As it turned out, embarkation is just like boarding a plane: you join the queue, check in with your cruise ticket, go through a metal detector, have your baggage X-rayed, and pass through the customs area. The major difference between embarkation and boarding simply lies in the size of the vehicle you get on: I guess, entering the Noordam via a small gate in the side of its hull can give you an idea what using the Star Trek’s transporter room must feel like, because, once inside, you’re transferred from the real world outside into a spectacularly luxurious hotel on water. Very, very impressive.

Noordam Glass Elevators

Apart from the fact that this hotel is on water, there’s one other difference to the land-based variety: the muster drill. It’s like acting out the “important safety instructions” you’re briefed on in an airplane with an amateur theater group: instead of just being amused by the cabin crew wearing those life vests, you get to actually wear one yourself! Unlike the inflatable vests found in aircraft, though, the life vests on the ship are bulky as hell. That’s because there’s styrofoam instead of air inside. Anyway, getting through a doorway with that thing on is no easy feat, but at least you are warned well in advance of the actual muster drill, so you have ample time to try that vest on in the privacy of your own stateroom.

Eventually, you’ll hear an alarm signal, telling you to move to a specific muster station next to one of the life boats. And, no, this activity is non-optional — you have to play. Once an officer has checked that every passenger assigned to that muster station has actually shown up, you can move back to your cabin, take the vest off — and explore the ship, which I probably did with my eyes and mouth wide open thanks to the sheer grandeur of the Noordam’s innards.

Ready for the Muster Drill

There’s just one thing about the muster drill that I’ve been wondering about quite a bit, and it has nothing to do with the actual drill: during the drill, I got asked by two different fellow-cruisers if I was one of the geeks on board. If that had happened once, I wouldn’t have thought much of it, but twice?! Maybe my new hair style has something to do with this. Well, anyway, there are worse things. E.g., they could have asked me if I was one of the official Barry Manilow fans on the cruise, or so…

When I told others about my upcoming cruise, there was one common theme among all the advice I got: free food. According to those stories, the weight gained on a cruise averages around 2 pounds a day, which spells bad news for my next physical. For the time of the cruise, though, I’ll just try to put that morsel of information into the back of my mind. If you could see what food they put on the plates here you’d understand. Of course, it’s not just good food they serve, but also great drinks. Heck, I even had a Grolsch, one of my all-time favorite beers, during my first dinner onboard tonight.

Speaking of the first dinner on-board: as is obviously common on cruise-ships, every passenger gets assigned a specific table for the dinner sessions. And, man, was I lucky with regards to the folks I share that table with, because this seems to be one of the speakers’ tables: here’s to nightly geek conversions with folks like Jack Davies, Bill Durrance, or Chris Breen. How cool is that?!

Let’s not identify the person who asked this question, but it was during this first dinner Erik Pitti, a fellow geek cruiser, and myself were asked if we were virgins. I mean, really! It may have to do with the fact that Erik is as much a geek as I am, but we couldn’t help replying that, yes, with regards to the cruise, we were virgins, indeed. Sometimes there are questions that you cannot possibly answer in a decent way, no matter how hard you try. And since the discussion that evolved from this little Q&A was so entertainingly weird that I just had to base the title of this blog post on it.

This voyage seems to develop into one of those experiences that involve countless little anecdotes, and I could just keep on writing for hours on end, but I don’t want to be spending too much time typing away at my trusty PowerBook in the solitude of the blogger. So, let’s consider this first post done. The voyage is off to a great start and I’m all excited about what will happen during the next ten days. Here’s to my first cruise!

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