I usually sail on small ships because I like the intimacy of the voyage on a ship with only about 200 to 300 passengers. But some years back, I boarded my very first mega-cruise ship, a ship from the fleet of the Royal Caribbean, to join the very first cruise to sail into the Singapore Cruise Terminal and officially open Singapore's international cruise terminal. It was on this cruise from Singapore to Bangok that I was the lucky recipient of kindness from a stranger.
This trip from Bangkok to Singapore was my first cruise on a mega-ship, and the difference in size between my usual smaller ships and this mega-ship I found myself on was so stark that I took to calling the mammoth Voyager of the Seas ship of the Royal Caribbean, the Republic of Royal Caribbean. It was true.
This ship was not a cruise ship; it was a floating country. I sailed on it as one of the passengers sailing from Thailand on the very first cruise ship to use the international cruise terminal of Singapore, launching it in the process. The new cruise terminal was launched via formal ceremonies presided over by Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, which I then attended upon disembarking in Singapore. By the way, this international cruise terminal has definitely put Singapore on the map as Asia's cruise ship hub.
BUT STILL WALKING THE CALORIES OFF
Anyway, back to the Voyager of the Seas. This ship I sailed on to Singapore was so huge that it was basically a floating city, and that’s why I nicknamed it the Republic of Royal Caribbean. In fact, this Royal Caribbean ship was so big that it took me awhile to get a grasp of this floating city. I had to walk a whole lot – yes, it was an exercise to go anywhere -- whether for breakfast, or to retrieve something I'd forgotten in your room, or to go up to the observation lounge of the ship, for example – and at that time this was definitely all the exercise I never ever got in Manila.
On my first night, my friends and I had taken separate elevators up to the 12th floor, and after that, we’d never seen each other again because we'd gone in separate directions -- and once you're going one way, well, you're off to a different city almost. On another night, we’d all gone to the game event but we’d had to sit separately because there were only odd seats free by the time we’d arrived. And that was the last I’d seen of them as well, in an auditorium with about 1200 people.
KINDNESS OF A STRANGER
Amidst all the people, though -- or perhaps because there are so many people? -- there were lots of instances of kindness by strangers.
On my first night on board, we were docked outside Pattaya and everyone sensible was accessing the Internet from the cruise terminal instead of on board the ship. It cost US$.65 a minute to access the same Internet on board the ship via satellite, so of course we were all going for the free Internet whenever we could.
EVERYONE'S ON THE INTERNET
Anyway, I’d just arrived to board the ship but I’d seen everyone with their laptops and iPads sitting around the cruise terminal area, so I’d assumed WiFi was free. So as soon as I’d checked into my stateroom and unpacked, I’d lugged my Macbook Pro down to the terminal – a walk the equivalent of two runs around the Manila Polo Club field, by the way – from my room and sat down on one of the chairs.
Shock of my life when I finally got settled and I asked someone how to get on the Internet. Internet access at the port terminal cost US$2 for two hours, which was a steal by cruise ship standards; but I hadn’t brought any money with me to the cruise terminal. I'd left my wallet in the safe, and all I had was the cruise ID I needed to re-enter the boat.
The guy sitting next to me – the same one who'd broken the bad news about the US$2 fee – probably took pity on me, as I’m sure I looked like I was about to kick myself for stupidly not bringing any money to the terminal.
Plus, by then I was exhausted from a really busy 24 hours and the long trip door-to-door from Manila, and I’d just lugged my heavy computer across the Republic of Royal Caribbean and down to the terminal for nothing.
US$2 OUT OF NOWHERE
Well, he actually fished for US$2 from his pocket – this is a complete stranger, I have to stress again – and gave it to me.
“Here,” was all he said.
Oh my goodness. A total stranger was giving me money out of nowhere. We made small talk and I found out that he was from Florida, cruising with a bunch of relatives. I tried to find out how I could pay him back on the cruise, but he just said: “Forget it. No worries.”
Of course I made up my mind to return the US$2 if and when I saw him on the ship again. Have I seen him again on the Republic of Royal Caribbean, though? Of course not. On that mammoth ship, I had enough difficulty finding my friends, much less finding kind strangers.