The blunt end of the FAB

There is some good news for my Internet connection. Because we’ve got iPhone roaming, we can get a phone signal in some ports and then use the hotspot facility to hook into the Internet. The FAB won’t like it because we’ll dodge the charge. And another personal matter: I’ve decided to stop shaving for seven weeks. So far, my face looks like a withering peach, but at least there are some signs of pepper among the salt.

If being bussed from the hotel to the wharf showed one thing last Saturday, it was the overwhelming popularity of mini cars in Rome. Every big city is heading in this direction, I suspect, because there isn’t enough room for all those family cars we used to think of as normal.

The mini car is cross between a quad bike and a car, most so small that you must sit on your own lap to fit in. The very smallest hold only one person, but most take two, with no room for freight. They are parked on the simple principle of there be being almost enough room. Parking restriction signs mean nothing. And if there isn’t parallel room, park them sideways, or on pavements, or on corners.

In stark contrast was the FAB, sitting in port waiting for its 2000 paying sailors. It awakened my apprehension when, at home, I’d seen similar vessels so huge they looked as though Circular Quay has arrived to tie up next to them.

Inside, the FAB public areas are exactly as I’d imagined, with powerfully coloured examples of every interior design extravaganza since the invention of the chair. But this is what the cruising sailors obviously like and who am I to question it? Cruising is a demand driven business. Speaking of which, paying for the cruise is like Bunnings, where low prices (far from low, actually) are just the beginning. Once the ship has encapsulated its 2000 fun seeking sailors, its attention is turned to how further monies can be extracted. Each day, each passenger is charged US$15 for staff gratuities, whether they feel grateful or not, after which they should flick across some more money to express their further gratitude to those with whom they have had direct physical contact. A 15% gratuity is also added to every item purchased. When we queried this philosophy, we were reminded that, for example, we should be grateful to the lady who puts soap powder in the ship’s washing machine even though we will never meet her and cannot tell whether she places the soap with scowling indifference or with a smile for the love of washing our clothes.

Surcharges aside, the ship is bristling with sphincter clamping prices for services like beauty treatments. There are special deals applying to eating and drinking too, where you can save by signing up now and regretting later. We have a drink contract where anything under $9 is free but if we venture into a $9.50 drink we get hit with the whole charge, not just the bit over our free allowance. Free or not, you cannot escape the 15% gratuity on every drink. All transactions, even when losing money in the casino, are charged to your multi-purpose plastic card, so you don’t know you’re headed to debtors’ prison until you can’t settle up at the end of the voyage and are marched off the paupers brig – unless you can arrange a mortgage on your house by Internet – which incurs further costs plus a15% surcharge on top of that because somebody down in the engine room looked at a switch to make sure it was working according to the manual.

Our stateroom, (it is a keel-hauling offence for calling it a cabin) is excellent, along with our designated personal assistant whose smile starts at one earlobe and finishes at the other. We have a generous space with a great television, a king-plus bed (two doubles pushed together), lots of cupboards, a full width private balcony (seven stories up from the water) and a decent bathroom with twin basins. The toilet is the airline deafening-suck-and-pop type and there is a separate, straight jacket shower fitted with a body-seeking curtain, plus a very small bath which is not recommended for large people, of whom there are many outstanding examples on board, because their buttocks could become vacuum-sealed against the bath base and would need to be craned ashore intacto for separation.

The public areas are vast and varied, some charming, it must be said. If you can’t find the solitude you crave you can book a quiet cabana where, for a fee pus surcharge, you are cordoned off from the riffraff. That contrasts to the two swimming pools. The large one is small and the small one is even smaller. During most of the day you don’t actually take a swim, but get into a family bath with up to 2000 people. There is also a swirling thermal pool which doesn’t attract as many people because it charges per wallow, but at least has a lower percentage of discarded bodily fluids.

13 May 2018

We birthed at Naples today with permission to go ashore, and the possibility of visiting Capri or Sorrento by ferry. We opted for some earthly experience in Napoli. Just outside the wharf we found a tram that offered a hop-on hop-off-of the city – with a warning that if you hopped off you would have to wait more than an hour for your next hop back on. Michelle has a fear of seeing the FAB on the horizon minus us. We decided to take a hopless journey, boarded, and then found that the tram was actually a bus impersonating a tram. It had a steering wheel and shuddering diesel engine that imparted an internal organ massage as it trundled us around the city and climbed the famous hillsides. Naples, like many famous European cities, has too many cars and not enough money to restore its magnificent ruins. To its credit, like Paris, it has not allowed new high-rise buildings to bugger up its charm. There is nothing over eight stories high and most of the grand, Italianate buildings haven’t changed over the last hundred years. That goes for their paint too.

14 May 2018

Ahead of us we’ve now got two days at sea – a time when the FAB comes into its own with fun and serious stuff to do while communication with the rest of the world ceases. At this time the FAB puts its best effort into keeping the paying sailors happily paying some more. For instance, we attended a detox and weight loss talk in the gym which gave good information but went down a plughole at the end when we were told the best way to retrieve our wrecked and wretched bodies was to submit to a body composition analysis (fortunately for us a machine and consultant was on board to take our measurements for a fee plus gratuity surcharge), followed by an upsell of six months’ supply of detox pills to enable us to conduct this essential process ‘externally’. We should also eat five times a day, poo thrice, drink litres of water and pee profusely, exercise the heart and muscles vigorously, sleep at least eight hours – all of which leaves about ten minutes to make a living. You realise that detox and weight loss on a cruise are oxymorons, even admitted by Mr Purebody doing the talk. After we received a grim warning that we’re eating and drinking ourselves to death, we give the man a polite round of applause and return to our irresistible march to the gallows.

We were invited to the theatre for a fact session with Captain Jürgen Von Wilhelmsen III who made himself available to lift the lid on how this ship actually works. I’m a bit of a sucker for this sort of stuff.

The ship is 50,000 tonnes, carries 1968 guests, 840 crew, hoons along at 19 knots (max speed is 23 knots) and is driven by two huge electric motors that swivel to provide rear steering. When they are turned fully in the opposite direction they can stop the ship in four ship lengths. There are five massive diesel engines that generate all the electricity to run the motors and the rest of the ship’s needs such as hair dryers and toasters. Three of the engines are at the stern and two at the bow in case either end gets flooded. Also at the bow are three electric engines either side driving propellers to steer from the front. The ship produces all its own water by either reverse osmosis or evaporation. Uneaten food is ground up and fed to the sharks well out to sea while all the garbage is sorted, recycled, and sold when in port. Water from showers, baths and laundry is recycled for use as grey water for the likes of washing. Sewage is also recycled but goes to the sharks who look upon it as wine. Actually, some of it is, when you think about it.