Preparing for the Big Day

5 12 2006

As a young woman I travelled with my parents nearly every year at Christmas. For six months we’d relive the excitement and fun of the previous trip but by the time summer arrived, waiting for the winter cruise listings became almost unbearable. So, one fine Sunday, usually at my mother’s suggestion, we’d get in the car, buy a box of donuts at a local shop, and head to Hoboken to see if any ships were berthed at the Holland America pier.

Sometimes we were lucky, the Nieuw Amsterdam, Rotterdam, or Statendam would be tied up and we’d watch as provisions were loaded, handsome Dutch officers hung over the rails or bounded down the gangways, and the ship swayed gently at the rising tide. Sailings were usually on Saturdays, so we rarely saw the ships leave. One time we arrived shortly before dusk and were treated to a beautiful sight. Sitting in the car, we watched as the sun set and lights began to twinkle on the Nieuw Amsterdam. “She’s as beautiful as a Christmas tree,” someone said and, at that moment, we knew that no matter what her itinerary, we’d be sailing on her for the holidays.

If the piers were deserted we’d drive over to the dry dock area to munch our donuts and gaze at rusty old freighters. It was a poor substitute, but just the sound of waves smacking the pilings and the smell of river water would conjure up images of foreign ports and exotic locales. We’d spend most of the time sitting in silence, each lost in a private daydream.

By mid-August or early September, Cruise Lines began to advertise their winter schedules. Again, Sunday was our day and we’d pour over the NY Times travel section searching for a trip we could afford, with just the right number of days, and ports that would set our hearts pounding, at first in the Carribean and later in South America and Europe.

There was also a little yellow book that could be gotten from a travel agency. What a precious thing it was! Every cruise on every line was listed along with days of departure and return, ports, and minimum to maximum prices. Whichever system we used, the next step was to call either the travel agent or the cruise line direct to get brochures and deck plans. By the time we chose our trip these would be limp from unfolding and refolding.

So many decisions! Excitement built as we discussed and researched the different ports of call. Staterooms were color coded for price. Could we afford the red or blue? Port hole or window? Although the roll of the ship was felt less on lower decks and midship, because of my walking disability, we chose high up–Sundeck or Prom–and toward the stern for easier access to the outside decks. Then, hold that room! send in a deposit!

If possible, we made arrangements to visit “our” ship on a sailing day. We’d catch our breath at the beauty of the public rooms, peek into the dining room, and wonder who the lucky people were sailing in our cabin. The sound of chimes and a loud speaker announcement informed visitors it was time to go, but we lingered until the urgency of the final call and the sound of the ship’s horn vibrated the soles of our feet. Standing on the dock as the ship departed, we’d wave farewell and shout “Bon Voyage,” knowing our turn would soon come.

Did I say soon? How was it possible for three months to drag by so slowly? A few weeks before the sailing date tickets arrived in the mail and (be still my heart) baggage tags! Now it became real and a sudden panic would grip us. Our business demanded we work until the very last minute, but cruise wear had to be looked for in closets or purchased, (a long bamboo pole spanned the living room from one door jamb to the other to hold carefully ironed dresses). Matching jewelry had to be cleaned, shoes polished. Appointments for haircuts and permanents had to be made and kept. For some odd reason, my mother always felt compelled to leave the house spotless. Dad cleaned the garage. What was all that about? Maybe because he needed to unearth a ladder to get the luggage down from the attic.

Suitcases were open in every room of the house. Our two cats, Little Guy and Barry, padded from one to the other searching for a comfy bed only to be dumped and shooed to make room for bathing suits and shorts, underwear, and pajamas. Last of all, the cocktail dresses and evening shirts went in and the cases were closed and locked, tags attached. Where was I? Tidying up the last of the work–I loathed packing.

The night before I barely slept. Sailing day came and all of us were dead tired, convinced we’d forgotten something vital. Finally, bathed, dressed, shod, perfumed, coiffed, gloved and coated, we locked the door behind us (after checking that the gas was off–how many times?) and got into the car for the trip to manhattan. Half-way through the Lincoln Tunnel I’d spot the sign that says New Jersey/New York and Mom would ask Dad if he had the tickets. He always did.




3 responses

5 12 2006
Heather Blakey

What a touching roam down memory lane Barbara. I found this poignant somehow. What extraordinary, precious memories you have, now immortalized on the internet.

5 12 2006

Most delicious — and intriguing as please believe that I wrote the above post ‘Tegsh and All’ before reading this — if time has any meaning in creation, which is in doubt.


5 12 2006


I plan itineraries – routes, places to visit, I read up on all the sights and history and dream of the adventure. Often after this immense effort, when the trip cannot be taken for one reason or another – I tell my husband – that’s ok – I already got what I needed from that experience.

As I age and mature – I no longer plan, trust has replaced plans as I struggle to surrender to serendipity and no room at the Inn!

Your strong writing here – takes me back to a time when the days were longer, weeks and months stretched out endlessly and we didn’t rush so much.

Fabulous writing and sharing… Many thanks.

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