Well, my friends,we had to bid farewell to the great state of Alaska and take to the friendly skies for our trip back to reality, or insanity as it turned out. The trip was everything I’d hoped for and more, and I will dedicate several posts to the experience.
But first, I have to say ,Holland America is a superb, first rate cruise line and the beautiful Oosterdam very quickly became our home on the high seas. We had a wonderful week enjoying the beauty that is Alaska, exploring ports of call, relaxing and, of course, eating.
One thing, however, stood out and caught my attention right away. Above and beyond the sight- seeing, the delicious and artfully presented food, the great entertainment and shipboard activity, there was a sense of community that quickly developed among the passengers and crew. For as huge as this ship is, on the vast expanse of the ocean, it is a small microcosm of the world at large.
Holland America is to be applauded for their employment of a multicultural crew of people, both among the command staff and the crew in general. The Captain’s staff included officers from Holland, Scotland, Russia, the United States and the Philippines. The dining room staff, stateroom stewards and other crew positions were held by men and women from the Philippines and Indonesia and we passengers came from many different countries and cultural backgrounds. As our week progressed, our sense of community grew stronger.
Every morning we were greeted by bright smiles and cheerful “good mornings” from every crew member we encountered in the hallways, elevators and the dining room. Within a few minutes of our arrival, our stewards knew all of our names and greeted us with them every day. And although I have eaten in many a restaurant, this was the first time I received hugs from the young men who served us with such flair and professionalism, when it was time to say goodbye on our last day. Passengers were so polite, holding elevator doors for each other and helping those with physical challenges or children in tow.
Despite the fact that there were over 2000 people on board, after a few days we began to recognize people from the dining room, or from playing team trivia in the Crow’s Nest. It was not a party atmosphere that this ship carried, but a happy, friendly, sharing one, and it felt good.
On our last day, our cruise director, John Mann, invited us to attend a brief meeting in the theater/auditorium concerning proper disembarkation procedures. At the end of this meeting he also talked a minute or two about how wonderful was the community we had formed, how if we could do it here on the Oosterdam, so too could the rest of the world. Some of the Oosterdam singers came out and sang a song about love in any language, and the message was take this love, this feeling of belonging to a diverse community with support and respect for one another with us as we leave and spread it around a world that needs it now more than ever. .And then the curtain rose and behind it, filling the stage was a large portion of the ship’s crew, Captain VanderLoo included, waving goodbye and wishing us well.
It was a poignant moment and I must admit I was a bit misty-eyed at the thought of the end of the cruise, about how we, who had come together for a short while to experience the beauty of Alaska , would disperse back to our everyday lives in places all over the world and most likely never come together again. But the experience we shared, the cheerfulness and kindness of the captain and the crew of the beautiful Oosterdam would be carried with each of us, to those diverse places, and maybe take root and grow.
We left the Oosterdam that day and as we were delivered by buses to the Seattle- Tacoma Airport, reality hit us hard in the face as each television screen we passed carried news of the tragic event in Denver, Colorado. How I wished I could return to the Oosterdam and just sail away on her. But all good things have their end, and I am determined to carry my little piece of the cruise experience with me to the next community I become a part of. We have to console ourselves with the belief that there are more of us intent on forming communities rather than destroying them, more of us determined to greet each other with a cheerful” good morning” rather than a gruff word, more of us who’d rather hug then hate, and more of us who know the meaning of love – in any language.
To the captain and crew of the Oosterdam, I thank you for my first sunrise at sea, for my first glimpse of a humpback whale, for that incredible view of the Sawyer glacier, and for the exceptional care and the impeccable service you provided during my first cruise. And above all, for the warmth of your hospitality which embraced and touched us all. Well done!.