The Braille Monitor                                                                                       July 2003

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On the High Seas

by Susan Povinelli

Sue Povinelli
Sue Povinelli

Susan Povinelli is a longtime member of the Federation and the wife of NFB of Virginia treasurer Larry Povinelli. Sue is a frequent contributor to these pages. The following article first appeared in the Spring 2003 issue of the Vigilant, the publication of the NFB of Virginia. This is what she has to say about a recent cruise that she and her family took:

Lately cruise lines have gotten a bad reputation for activities from spreading food-borne viruses to acts of discrimination and humiliation against blind passengers. Luckily, during my recent trip I suffered from none of these. During last year's Christmas holiday, my family sailed on a Royal Caribbean cruise that carried us around the islands of the Western Caribbean. I would like to share my experiences and impressions of a most memorable and enjoyable cruise.

 My sister promised her children that, if any of them could maintain a 4.0 grade point average all the way through high school, she would take them on a cruise. Luckily for the Povinellis, one of her sons accomplished this great feat, and my sister invited our family to join them on their sea journey.

It was snowing big, fluffy flakes as my daughter Michelle and I landed in Pittsburgh to transfer to the plane that would take us to New Orleans. Pittsburgh seemed extremely beautiful. It might have been the weather, or perhaps it was the thought that we would be spending Christmas on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, where the temperature would be in the eighties.

A few hours later our plane landed in New Orleans, where we met the rest of my family. We were greeted by a representative from the cruise line whose job was to help us and the other passengers through the boarding process. The cruise staff tagged our luggage with our stateroom number then handed it over to the porters. We boarded the bus for the short ride to the pier. It was wonderful not to have to worry about our bags; they would be in our stateroom when we arrived on the ship.

As we approached the pier, we at once noticed our ship, Grandeur of the Sea. She was beautiful. We stopped for a few minutes to watch the porters load the luggage onboard.

The check-in process went very smoothly and efficiently, and we were aboard in no time. We were impressed by the beautiful ten-story atrium in the center of the ship. It was as magnificent as many of the beautiful land hotels we have stayed in. We proceeded to our stateroom to find our luggage waiting for us.

I had heard that ship staterooms were small, but this one was quite roomy, with lots of cupboards and drawers in which to put our clothes. My daughter slept in a wall-mounted bunk bed prepared for her every evening by our steward.

We had read on the cruise company Web site that the daily schedule would be available in Braille. I asked my steward about this. He didn't know about the service and had never seen Braille before. I pulled out a Braille magazine and showed him. Unfortunately Braille was missing on this beautiful ship, but it was the only thing. I had my husband read me the print schedule every morning. Then we would decide which events we wanted to attend that day.

The steward and other personnel were very friendly and helpful. They provided assistance when needed in a courteous, non-patronizing way. During one meal my sister started to read the menu to me. The headwaiter stopped her and said that it was his responsibility to explain the day's menu. He was excellent at describing the wonderful food selections. When I couldn't decide because everything sounded delicious, he would recommend his favorite. In the case of desserts, he brought us both of them. The food was excellent and plentiful.

It seemed strange to have the waiter place the napkin on my lap; this is proper etiquette at a five-star restaurant. Also I was taken aback when our waiter asked to cut my meat the first time. My initial response was to say no. As usual, I thought he believed I was unable to cut my own meat because I was blind. Then I looked around and noticed that other waiters were cutting meat for their guests. So I agreed since the staff were also doing it for other, sighted passengers. He sliced the meat into lovely long, slender pieces, not into small pieces as one would for a very small child. He did it with both grace and style. After he finished, he went over to another table and cut someone else's meat.

There were many, many activities on board. Special programs were designed for small children, teens, and adults. Most days I didn't see my daughters until dinner time. They were off having fun and meeting new friends. They went to teen dances, pool parties, and scavenger hunts, to mention only a few of the activities. Larry, my sister, and I attended lectures on shopping and excursions; watched a towel-folding demonstration in which they made an elephant, a swan, and a dog from bath towels and washcloths; attended evening shows, including comedians, magicians, and Broadway-style shows; walked the deck (usually two or three miles a day); and tried our hands at bingo.

My family took several excursions or tours during our cruise. They were all excellent. The tour guide or the tour bus met us once we landed in port. In the town of Progresso, Mexico, we toured a Mayan ruin. It was only thirty minutes from the port. There we climbed to the top of one of the temples.

In Cozumel we rode a boat called Catch the Wave that anchored a few miles from shore. There the children and my sister went snorkeling and explored the beautiful coral formations and observed the tropical fish. Meanwhile Larry and I sipped drinks on the sundeck and watched family members snorkel below us. I am not much of a water lover and had no urge to try snorkeling.

My husband Larry and I rode a glass-bottom boat. This enabled us to explore the sea bottom and watch the fish as they swam underneath us. Although the guide assigned to us had a limited English vocabulary, I got a lot of helpful additional information about the color and shapes of the fish from a couple of young children who were sitting next to me. The children became excited when they saw a fish. They would shriek with glee, "There is a yellow one!" or "Look how big that blue one is!" Then the guide would tell us what type of fish it was.

Also the diver on board went down and brought up a very large starfish for me to hold. It must have been a foot in diameter. I learned that starfish have only one eye and can live out of water for only ten minutes.

The tour in Key West, Florida, was a walking tour. The guide was excellent as he described the plants and buildings in great detail. We visited the Key lime store and the rumcake store in order to bring a taste of Key West home with us to share with our friends.

In our last port of call, New Orleans, we took two tours. The first was a semi-private van tour of the city of New Orleans. Some of the highlights included the French Quarter, the Garden District, and the cemeteries. The guide was very good at explaining the sites and the history behind them. The second tour was probably the most exciting for us. We took an air-boat tour of the Louisiana swamps. The boat vroomed across the water at forty-five miles per hour until we arrived at the spot where alligators were sunning themselves on the shore. Of course a trip to New Orleans would not be complete without a walk down Bourbon Street.

But I think my favorite memory of the trip was on Christmas Eve when Larry and I were standing on the deck, leaning against the railing, staring out at the nearly round moon that shimmered across the beautiful blue water near Cozumel, Mexico. In the background I heard the words to "Let it Snow." It seemed strange and wonderful.

It did not feel much like Christmas with the balmy weather, yet it was peaceful and wonderful to listen to the waves lap against the ship as it glided across the water. My family will look back on this vacation with fond memories for years to come.

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