Cruising Then and Now

by Jim Babb

Braille Monitor

July, 2009

From the Editor: Here is another cruising article. Jim Babb is president of the Albuquerque Chapter of the NFB of New Mexico. This is what he says:

Our first cruise was in the spring of 1969, about six months after we were married. We cruised the Caribbean, leaving from Miami. We stopped in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, St. Martin, and Nassau. The ship was of German registry and was of average size for the time, about five hundred passengers. It bobbed around like a cork in the water, and my wife Mary was constantly seasick. I had some usable vision then, and mobility aboard was not difficult. The hallways and dining rooms were laid out in the usual grid--in other words, logical, unlike the monster cruise ships of today. Mary said she would not cruise again, not because of the food or great ports, but because of the seasickness.

We both took early retirement in 2001 and decided to try cruising again. We had heard that the ships were larger, employed stabilizer fins, and rode the seas much more smoothly. We can both attest to the fact that they do indeed ply the choppy oceans much more smoothly and they are astronomically larger. A small to medium Royal Caribbean cruiser has fifteen hundred to two thousand passengers, a medium to large ship has three thousand to forty-five hundred passengers, and the truly big ones have over six thousand. Some of these larger ones would be like laying the Empire State Building or the Sears Tower on their sides. I find mobility aboard the behemoths a real challenge. On the cabin floors the hallways often do not go straight through; you may need to go up or down a few floors to get to the other end of the ship. The dining and entertainment floors constantly curve to the left or right, often through noisy gambling areas, etc.

Our latest cruise ship had tactile and Braille numbers at eye level near each cabin door, where they should be. Our first cruise ship had flat numbers. The elevators on our modern cruiser were Brailled, and there were a few wheelchair-accessible cabins. The daily ship newspaper was available in standard print only, as were the meal menus. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to international cruise lines. I have seen a few blind cruise passengers with white canes, but I have never seen a guide or support animal. I have heard of some serious problems with guide and support dogs on shore in some foreign ports. Last September Mary and I celebrated our fortieth anniversary by taking a twelve-day cruise from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Hawaii, including several stops among the islands. We found a fabulous cruise deal from a travel agency in Seattle that I have used several times in recent years. Once we were aboard the 2,100-passenger Carnival Spirit, the good times began. The food, service, and accommodations were awesome. We had gourmet food at every meal, and our bed and bath were cleaned when we left the room for breakfast. The first five days were at sea, but we found plenty to do, including cooking classes, a tour of the massive kitchen facility, other classes, a library, miniature golf, shopping at the numerous stores aboard, exercise room, swimming, and much more. Mary took some library books, and I took my Victor Stream and listened to hours and hours of books, podcasts, etc., as I watched the ocean and people on deck. If I had taken my Talking Book player and vinyl records in 1969, I would have needed an extra-large suitcase to carry an equivalent amount of reading material.

We stopped at about five of the Hawaiian Islands and had about eight hours in port to shop, walk around, or take a ship-sponsored tour. We could even take local transportation. We didn’t do the onshore luau since it was pricy, but many passengers did and raved about it. We did take the Honolulu tour, which included the castles of the Hawaiian monarchs and the Arizona Memorial. The memorial was both sobering and inspiring. It was interesting to note that about 80 percent of the visitors to the memorial were Japanese.

I was also surprised to find a bit of New Mexico in Hawaii. I brought my radio. While I was listening to a local Hilo station, I heard an advertisement for Sierra Blanca mini ranches for sale in Ruidoso, New Mexico. We had a great time; may a cruise be in your future.