Coffee heat rising

Sure you wanna go on that cruise?

The other day while cruising the Web, I stumbled across this bizarre and alarming site, describing some of the things that have happened to people while sailing on cruise ships. It left me thinking I’m glad to stick to metaphorical cruising!

As it develops, sovereignties and courts of law apparently have little jurisdiction over what happens on the high seas. Read one or two of these stories and you think, “Naaaah… This person is some sort of complainer.” But when you read a bunch of them, you see a consistency in what they’re saying: rapes, molestations, injuries, deaths (some evidently resulting from foul play) going unreported and uninvestigated, sick people being dumped ashore in Third-World ports. So many themes keep repeating, it’s hard not to take them seriously.

It reminds me of an experience my ex- and I had aboard a Royal Caribbean ship. We spent about three months in England while I worked on my dissertation—he used the project as an excuse to take a “sabbatical” from his law firm and came with me. To get home, our travel agent decided we should take a cruise ship from Dover to London…in the middle of December.

I recall having some vague misgivings, though I didn’t do a lot of thinking while I was married. Most of the time, I just went along for the ride.

And what a ride it was!

The North Atlantic is given to fierce and terrifying storms during the winter. Remember, I grew up with a man who was a sea captain. My father sailed with the Merchant Marine almost all his adult life (when he wasn’t in the Navy and the Coast Guard). We had always lived next to one sea or another. So I knew something about the ocean, mostly because he had taught me by tutoring me with his Bowditch, a thousand-page-long manual for mariners. I knew the Atlantic could be rough at that time of year, but (stupidly) I figured if it was unsafe for civilians they wouldn’t be running passenger ships across it in December.

Come to find out, the reason we were offered the “bargain” price our agent obtained was that Royal Caribbean would not normally offer transatlantic cruises at that time that time. The ship was being moved from Europe to North America simply to get it into the Caribbean, where they wanted to put it to work in the high season there. Rather than run it empty and lose money, the Scandinavian company that owned the line sold space at low rates. They did not give one thin damn about the safety or comfort of the people they suckered into this cruise.

After we were fully out to sea, we ran into a major storm. The seas began to get rough and before long were running very high. Waters were covered with spume, the air grayed-out with spray, and huge waves were breaking not just across the bow but over the bow, over the deck, and as high as the bridge. Water was crashing into the windows around the passenger lounge, which itself was fairly high above the main deck.

Passengers were grayed-out, too: almost all of them laid up with seasickness. I don’t normally suffer from any kind of motion sickness, but even I was so queasy I had to spend most of a day or two in a bunk. Understand, a passenger ship is designed to resist rolling and pitching specifically so that passengers will be insulated from motion sickness. When a lot of people are getting sick, the ship is wallowing in a bad way—indicating the ship itself is in a bad way.

About halfway across, the captain decided to heave to. He didn’t actually stop the ship, I don’t think, but he slowed its speed as far as he could without shutting down the engines. He claimed it was because the winds were pushing us west at a rate that would get us to New York several days ahead of schedule, and the company couldn’t afford the docking fees if they put into port early. Although the fee part probably was true, there was nothing to stop him from standing off shore a day, where at least we would have been within reach of a Coast Guard cutter had the ship started to take on water. The fact was, he simply couldn’t make much headway through such high seas, and he probably slowed in order to take the waves at a more stately and slightly safer pace.

Wind speed at sea is measured according to the Beaufort scale. I happened to know about the Beaufort scale from studying my father’s Bowditch, and from observing storms in the Persian Gulf and off the coast of San Francisco. I estimated the seas were running at about Force 11 and at some points at Force 12, which is the level of a hurricane.

One morning our table’s waiter reported that the waves had stove in the porthole of the cabin where he was bunked below. Though he was a fairly cool, macho young Italian, it was clear he was frightened. For a wave to stave an ocean-going ship’s porthole, it has to hit the ship with a mighty force. It was at that point that I realized for sure, we were in trouble. If the ship had gone down, we couldn’t possibly survive in lifeboats on seas that high, and I would have been surprised if it carried enough lifeboats to accommodate all the passengers and crew. Not that it would have mattered.

Carrying passengers across the North Atlantic in the middle of winter is insane. Intense storms are a fixture of the North Atlantic at that time of year. That Royal Caribbean’s management chose to do so demonstrated they have absolutely no concern for passengers’ safety, to say nothing of their comfort, nor for the safety of the ship’s large complement of servers, stewards, maids, cooks and other employees who are not seamen.

We finally made it to New York—obviously; otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog. I would never set foot on another Royal Caribbean ship again. And after having read the reports on the ICV site, which seem to emanate without pause, I doubt if I would book a cruise at all. Sure wouldn’t recommend it to a friend!

Image: MS Majesty of the Seas. Upstate NYer. Wikipedia Commons.

A low-cost make-up kit for travel

With airlines barring all sorts of toiletries and making it difficult or impossible to carry on more than a change of underwear, women who use expensive department-store cosmetics have a problem. Check your make-up through in a suitcase, and chances are it’ll be lost when you reach your destination. If that’s the case, you can be out several hundred dollars worth of fancy toiletries.

There’s a simple, low-cost solution. It involves taking advantage of a little secret the cosmetics industry doesn’t want you to know: pricey upscale face creams and make-up are, at base, identical to the stuff you buy at Walgreen’s.

Yes. I’m afraid it’s true. Lancôme, for example, is just L’Oréal dressed up in elegant jars and gold-plated price tags. Clinique is suspiciously reminiscent of Almay. This being so, you can safely do without your favorite products for a week or two of vacation time and still look just fine during your trip. The trick is to find something comparable to replace the liquid items you use in your daily toilette


Go to a drugstore, a camping store, or Target and get yourself a few three-ounce plastic bottles with screw-on caps. These are about the size of the free sample shampoo bottles you find in hotels and upscale motels. Plastic bottles are lighter to carry than glass jars and don’t break, and three ounces is as much as you’re allowed to carry on. Also, lay in some one-quart ziplock-style plastic bags. And a pen with indelible ink, such as a Sharpie, will come in handy.


Amazingly enough, ordinary hand creams contain the same active ingredients as the most elegant, allegedly refined facial moisturizers. Look for one that has little or no perfume, so that it doesn’t clash with your favorite fragrance or annoy by filling your nostrils with some industrial chemist’s idea of what women want to rub on their hands. Keri and Cetaphil are excellent choices.

Pour a little of this into one of the plastic bottles and screw on the cap tightly. Use your sharpie to mark the contents. You can use this cream for your face as well as other parts of your body.

Worried about drying around the eyes? A light touch of Vaseline will prevent that, no matter how desiccating the motel’s air-conditioning or the sea breezes. Get the smallest container available, and apply a thin layer where you feel your skin is especially dry. Use with restraint, to avoid creating a shiny effect.


Neutrogena makes a very fine sunblocker, available in grocery stores and drugstores. It’s nongreasy, noncomedogenic, odorless, and effective. Transfer some of this into a small plastic bottle so you can easily pack a little in your carry-on. Pack Neutrogena’s big bottle in the check-through. That way you’ll at least have enough to last a day or so, while you wait for lost luggage to catch up with you or get around to buying more products.


Drugstore makeup. If you’re not used to buying foundation in the drugstore, be aware that you usually can open the bottles in the store and test them on the back of your hand. Of course, your hand isn’t exactly the same color as your face, but it’s close enough. Better brands are L’Oréal, Revlon, and Almay. The coverage and effect is identical to those of the brands you buy at expensive venues. Some of these products contain sunblockers with significant SPF protection, so if you’re planning an outdoorsy vacation, check those out.

Not long ago, for example, I was at Saks Fifth Avenue, where I allowed a cosmetics saleswoman to give me one of those “makeovers” in which they demonstrate their products and try to persuade you to go into hock to buy every item in a line. The cosmetician remarked that the makeup I had on was exceptionally good. I said it was Almay. She looked blankly at me-never heard of the stuff.

Compared to the Yves Saint Laurent makeup she put on my face that day, I’d say it more than held its own.

Drugstore cosmetics — the same brands are often available at Target and WalMart — are often on sale and so cheap you can afford to buy more than one bottle if you’re not sure which color is right. I’ve found that Walgreen’s will let you return a color that doesn’t work. Walgreen’s also sometimes stations a salesclerk in the cosmetics department who has been trained to work with make-up. These women are very good at helping you identify the right foundation colors.


If you use powder in a compact, you should be able to carry this on a plane. Drop it in your handbag or carry-on. If you use loose powder, substitute compact-style powder purchased at the drugstore cosmetic counter. Another option is to purchase make-up billed as foundation and powder together. It comes in compacts and is easy to carry on a plane.

You may want to consider foregoing powder while on vacation. It really isn’t necessary. And if you’re of a certain age, powder doesn’t “set” your makeup: it settles it: into the lines of your wrinkles, making them stand out like the canyons on the face of Mars.


An extra dab of foundation will cover most minor flaws. Otherwise, check the drugstore counters for inexpensive tubes of coverup. L’Oréal packages an especially effective one in a small, lightweight tube.


Since pressed powders are unlikely to be mistaken for bombs, you probably can get away with tossing this in your handbag, carry-on, or backpack. If you use a liquid or cream blusher, buy an inexpensive powdered version and a fluffy brush at the drugstore cosmetics counter. You can apply it with a cotton ball, but a brush is much easier and nicer.

Blusher also often can be dispensed with. Experiment: you may find you don’t really need it, especially if you’ll be outside a lot.

Eye shadow

Here, too, if you use liquid or cream eye shadow, substitute an inexpensive powder shadow in a neutral color. A readily available combination is a light beige or pale tan with a midrange brown for the accent color. Sometimes you can find translucent golds, which look awesome on darker complexions…and on any face at the beach.


Not a likely bomb. Bring your fave eyeliner along, stashed in your handbag or carryon. Or buy an inexpensive version at the drugstore, one that can get lost without any loss to the budget.



Eyebrow pencil

If you color your eyebrows and your hair is brown, you can use your powder eyeshadow as eyebrow pencil, assuming you selected a tan/brown combination. Get a stiff, slanted eyebrow brush and use it to apply the shadow. If your hair is very dark, you’ll probably have to use actual eyebrow makeup.

Shampoo and Conditioner

Brace yourselves now. Shampoo is really nothing more than detergent. That’s right. It’s dish detergent. You actually can wash your hair with Dove or Ivory, whose scents are inoffensive. After a rinse with hair conditioner, you can’t tell the difference between the results from shampoo and the results from ordinary detergent.

If I’m carrying clothing that I will have to wash by hand, I bring along some Woolite. It works just fine to shampoo your hair, and you don’t have to carry two bottles of wash stuff. If your clothes will go to the cleaners or the laundromat, bring a little shampoo or detergent in one of your small plastic bottles.

You should bring conditioner, though, in case you stay in a hotel or other lodging that doesn’t supply it. Put detergent or shampoo and conditioner in small bottles for the carry-on kit. If you’re going to be gone more than a couple of days, pack the regular-sized bottles in your check-through suitcase.

If the detergent concept is too scary, check the sample-size bin at the drugstore or dollar store and pick up small containers of shampoo and conditioner that will fit in your carry-on.

Facial cleanser

Hang on to your hats, ladies. Soap will not hurt your face! Au contraire, it’s good for your face. When I was checking in to the Mayo Clinic for an appendectomy, I had to state my age. The nurse looked at me and said I couldn’t possibly be that old. “Of course I am,” said I. “Well,” she said, you sure don’t look your age.” This was after 25 sleepless hours of excruciating pain.

Fact is, I’ve been washing my face with soap and water since I was 12 years old. Apparently it hasn’t done any harm.

Plan to use the hotel’s soap. If you’re going camping, bring a bar with a moisturizer, such as Dove. Carry it in a small ziplock baggie.

Makeup Remover

Soap. Wet a bar of soap and dampen a washcloth. Wrap part of the damp washcloth around your index finger and rub some soap on the cloth. Use this to remove mascara that has run under your eyes. Wipe carefully, keeping your eyes closed, with the washcloth and warm water.

If this is too spooky, baby oil will do the trick. Stash some in another of the little bottles, and bring some cotton balls or pads.

Naturally, take your contact lenses out before applying either of these around your eyes.


A toner is nothing but a slightly acetic astringent with some perfume added. You can buy inexpensive toners at a drugstore, or you can dilute a little vinegar 50-50 with water for the purpose. Whichever you choose, store some of it in one of the small plastic bottles, and mark accordingly.

Packing It

Whether you’re trying to fit the loot in a carry-on or packing it in a check-through suitcase, remember to put all the bottles containing liquids inside a ziplock bag! Zip this tightly shut. You will have to present this at the security gage. For check-throughs, you may want to drop the first bag inside a second bag and zip that shut, too. This will prevent leakage inside your suitcase – assuming the TSA doesn’t pull the bags open and neglect to reclose them. Try using your Sharpie to label them with a polite request to reseal them.

This is where you can see the advantage of preferring powder and compact products to liquids. The more items come in plastic compacts, the more you can get into your purse or carry-on without being hassled. Transferring liquids into small bottles ups your chances of being able to fit the entire collection into a carry-on. But even if you have to check it through: if it gets lost, it’s no tragedy. You can replace the stuff inexpensively on the other end.

Tags: travel, baggage, packin