Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Surviving my first cyclone

Back to the travelogue.  Part I was Monday.

The ship sailed through Milford Sound on the way to New Zealand. Unfortunately, it was rainy and windy. But from the observation lounge I took some photos of breathtaking vague outlines of fjords, startling blobs that supposedly contain waterfalls, and one amazing shot that’s either a steep cliff or a rain forest.

Next we went through that aforementioned cyclone. (They’re cyclones in that hemisphere; hurricanes in the other.) Heavy rain and winds at 70 knots on the balmy Tasman Sea. Everyone was holding on for dear life. People swaying, staggering, and bracing themselves against walls. Normally you only see that when the pool bar closes. I’m guessing the shuffleboard tournament on the top deck was not heavily attended. Some plates went flying but that could have just been part of the big Greek buffet in the Veranda Room. I can only imagine what the 3:15 Hula Hoop Contest must’ve been like.

But that was just the warm-up. In the evening the winds increased to 130 knots. And the waves reached 40 feet. Cowabunga! Spray from the waves reached the observation lounge – on Deck 11.

I hope they cancelled the dart tournament. Tables were flying off the top deck like giant Frisbees. And yet, everyone was down for dinner. Hey, it was rack of lamb night! The ship couldn’t maneuver its intended course so had to turn around, reduce speed, and basically just wait out the storm. Gigantic ocean liners rarely make sharp U-turns. For a reason. The entire ship tilted. Everything on one side of a room was now on the other side of the room. Whoa Nellie! The storm lasted about twelve hours, or… more accurately: one Medique tablet. Kudos to the captain and crew for navigating us through this harrowing situation with grace and great skill. Since the storm ended at 2:00 AM it was too late to sound the official all-clear, which is Maureen McGovern singing: “There’s Got To Be a Morning After.”

Then at 4:30 we were all jolted out of bed with an announcement that the ship was now on “Code Bravo.” What the fuck is that? No one knew, but it couldn’t be good. I’m wondering – do I stay put? Evacuate? And if so what’s the dress code? Is it elegant survival? Then the power went out in my cabin. Turns out there was a small fire on the top deck. It was extinguished in eight minutes, the electricity restored, and at 5:15 I lay my head down to resume a peaceful night’s sleep. I asked a crewmember who has been sailing for fourteen years how many “Code Bravos” he had experienced and this was his first. I can’t believe my good fortune!

The power was out only in those cabins directly below the fire. Like mine. A passenger the next morning said to me, horrified, “So you didn’t have internet?!” I’m groping frantically in the dark for my life vest and she’s worried I can’t "like" someone’s Facebook status.

Welcome to New Zealand. As the T-shirt says: 2 million people and 72 million sheep.

The big selling point in New Zealand these days is that the LORD OF THE RINGS was filmed there.

First stop: Timaru. Big attraction: the Tin Shed. Yes, the same Tin Shed you thrilled to in LORD OF THE RINGS.

Then on to the delightful French village of Akaroa. Took a harbor cruise and saw the world’s smallest dolphins, the world’s smallest penguins, and fur seals. I think the fur seals doubled as soldiers in LORD OF THE RINGS, but I can’t say for sure.

Saturday was Wellington, which reminded me very much of Seattle. Charming, hilly, and cold & rainy in the summer. Spent the morning seeing sights like a location for LORD OF THE RINGS. Then went to the big annual international Rugby Championship in the afternoon – the Wellington 7’s. This is what I call a spectacle! Everyone comes dressed as if they’re going to the West Hollywood Halloween Parade. I drew more attention than a guy in drag wearing a Hooters’ outfit because I wasn’t wearing a costume. All your favorite Flintstones, sheiks, satyrs, Fruits of the Loom, hairy nuns, brides, men in bunny suits, angry babies, storm troopers, M & M’s, pixies on steroids, Santas, vikings, 300 pound Barbies, Ronald McDonalds, and Zulu warriors were there in full-force rooting for their teams – as would any serious sports fan. Kiwis have a sense of humor. I can’t picture this happening in Germany. Ironically, the only characters I didn’t see were from LORD OF THE RINGS.

Was interviewed by cruise director, Paul for the daily closed-circuit TV briefing shown in all the guest cabins. Turns out more people saw that than the season finale of CHUCK on NBC.

Tauranga was a pretty little beach town at the foot of a volcano. Only explored for a few hours. Nothing was filmed there so what’s the point? Plus, it was Super Bowl Monday. Or, as the Kiwis call it – “Waitangi Day”.

Sadly, I had to disembark in Auckland. It was very tough to say goodbye to so many new friends and free liquor. Was very excited when I heard that Auckland was the “City of Sales”. Turns out it’s the “City of Sails”. Boat! What Jew travels 12,000 miles to see boats? But the city was spectacular and none of the fifty volcanoes erupted so that’s always a plus.

Took a tour and I’m starting to get an idea of how these people think. The guide announced that the population of Auckland reached 1.5 million last week and then added, “I’m pleased to say it was a birth not immigration.” We can only hope the baby wasn’t born into one of those retail families.

The tour itself was not much. He drove us through suburbs. Big whoop!  That’s like having one day to see Los Angeles and going to Reseda and Pacoima.

Got back into town myself after checking into the Novetel Auckland Airport, a glossy corporate hotel with all the warmth of a Sharper Image store. I’m surprised the pillows weren’t made of chrome.

Loved the Sky Tower! Locals say it’s there so they always know where the casino is.

There’s a prison next to an elementary school. If a ball goes over the fence kids, don’t try to get it.

Sign on an Auckland bridge: Caution! Bungee Jumping Overhead!

Alas, it was time to leave. I love these countries and their peeps, but one more freakin’ Botanical Garden and my head will explode.

Flew over the Ditch from Auckland to Australia then back home. On the flight to Los Angeles from Sydney I was very relieved not to see any cast members of LOST. Eighteen hours in the air and I arrived two hours before I left. Qantas Premium Economy now includes hot meals and time travel!

Bravo to Kevin, Josh, and Dann from PTV at Sea for being such terrific hosts. And “Code” Bravo to the zany crew of the Regent Seven Seas Voyager for your gallant courage steering us through the storm without having to evacuate or cancel Bingo.

For more travelogues please buy my book, TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED for only $2.99 ebook version, $6.99 paperback.  You can order yours here.  According to the blurbs, it's really funny.  Thanks much. 


Johnny Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Walker said...

Haha! An excellent account. As a fan of Lord of the Rings, I think I'd probably enjoy New Zealand. Next time I'm abroad, I'd like you to be my tour guide. Or at least standing behind the real tour guide making witty remarks.

So how did your lectures go? I'm guessing the crowd was rather different than the ones you've addressed in the past?

Anonymous said...

I suppose this trip was for all the people out there kicking themselves that they didn't book the Costa Concordia last month when they had the chance.

An (is my actual name) said...

Looks like nothing less than churning liquid hell. I'd have required massive sedation. Good for you, keeping your sense of humor about the whole thing.

CCroom said...

And this exactly why I like to go there every couple of years. Plus, I get to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Diana said...

Word on the street is as the # of bravos increases the worse the intensity of the "bravo" situation. glad you only had one!

Found a great article talking about pilot season and it's effect on actors, courtesy of Mo Rocca's twitter feed. Worth looking through!

cshel said...

I've been wanting to go to New Zealand for a long time now. And I've never even seen Lord of the Rings - gasp!

For some reason a cyclone sounds even scarier than a hurricane, even if they are the same thing.

Thanks for another great travel story, Ken. I say - Bravo!

Betsy said...

Sidesplitting account. Having been there, I can also testify that it is painfully accurate. The only thing Ken left out was what a hit he was on the ship. All of his events and lectures were standing room only....if anyone had been able to stand.

Anonymous said...

There used to be a great saying about New Zealand.

It went something like

Nothing is allowed unless it has been specifically permitted in which case it is compulsory.

Dan Tedson said...

"I can only imagine what the 3:15 Hula Hoop Contest must’ve been like."

Four dead, three pregnant.

Gladys said...

Belated Happy Birthday, Ken. Thanks for the hilarious travelogue. As another survivor of the great cyclone of 2012 and the 4:30 AM Code Bravo, when anyone asks about our cruise on the Voyager, I refer them to your blog which is so much funnier then my account which puts everyone to sleep. Thanks for the great lectures which this crowd loved. I think you inspired the Captain to make his noon announcements funny.

Gary and Louise said...

Reading Ken’s blog about our cruise adventure was even more fun than combing through our 9,000 digital pictures. He was definitely the hit of the ship and had us all believing we too could write great TV shows and announce major league baseball games if only we had his spectacular talents. He failed to mention, however, some of the educational highlights of the on-shore excursions. For example, our Australian guide told us that patting a kangaroo on the head turns her off, but stroking her chest is dynamite. (Go figure!) We tried it and the results were terrific.

Kiara minijuegos said...

wow, that impressive ... great photos ... that the most amazing experience you went through ... always we respect mother nature ..

Anonymous said...

Ken, you were definitely the highlight of the cruise for us. I'm so happy I came across your blog last night. Great description. Like the other cruiser, I'll just refer people to your blog when they ask about my favorite part of the trip.
Thanks again.

Carole said...

Nice post. For another reason to go to New Zealand look at this post on Great Barrier.