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Cruising Along

By Marvin Druger        Email:

Marvin Druger and his companion, Victoria, during their cruise through the Great Lakes. He says, “In a strange sort of way, the cruise of the Great Lakes was boring. The ship moved at night and we never had the feeling that the ship was moving at all.”

After two enjoyable cruises on Viking in Europe, it was time for another Viking cruise. This time, my companion, Victoria, and I set off on an eight-day Viking expedition to explore the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes include Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world and constitutes about 10% of the world’s surface freshwater.

Our plane left Syracuse at 6 a.m., which meant that I had a sleepless night for fear that the alarm wouldn’t go on. To add to our start, I gave the wrong directions to the airport to the Uber driver, even though I had traveled that route countless times.

Of course, we both had packed large suitcases full of clothing that we would never wear on the trip. We could have easily and comfortably taken two backpacks for our eight-day adventure.

We boarded the ship in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The ship was an expedition ship built in 2021 and had every amenity possible. It had a capacity of 378 passengers. But, for some unknown reason, it had only about 230 passengers. Most of the passengers were elderly people trying to get a final fling at life. The passengers and staff were very diverse and came from many places all over the world.

The staff was listed as 256 crew members. Every passenger received superior treatment. The crew was extremely attentive and helpful. Everywhere we went, we were greeted by smiles and “Good morning” or “Hello.” One of the waiters was even named “Marvin” and we befriended him. I once dropped a spoon on the floor. A hand immediately reached out to pick it up. “I’ll get that for you, sir.”

Meals were outstanding and we spent a lot of time eating. One restaurant was buffet-style and there were several more elegant restaurants to dine in. Although the food in the restaurants was excellent, I felt a bit uncomfortable dining in such elegance. I kept thinking about the poverty-stricken people I had seen in India living on the crowded streets barely surviving, while I feasted on foods in a fancy restaurant. I felt shame and guilt.

Extremely wealthy people are accustomed to this lifestyle. One Viking policy was for men to wear collared shirts at dinner in the fancy restaurants. Yet, there were several men with collarless polo shirts. My theory is that, if you are wealthy enough, you wear what you please, despite rules. Not me.

Lift bridge in Duluth, a port city on Lake Superior in Minnesota.

There were many memorable moments and experiences. In order to qualify to use a kayak, passengers had to pass a physical test. An alternative to the kayak was the Zodiak, a motor-driven rubber raft. To pass the kayak test, you had to climb over the sides of the Zodiak and get into the kayak. Surprisingly, I was able to do it, but we never used the kayak.

Another test was to squat to qualify to visit a submarine and have a short, undersea trip. I passed the squat test, but I decided not to visit the submarine. Victoria did go on the submarine voyage and she reportedly saw a concrete wall of nothing while I lifted weights in the ship’s elaborate gymnasium.

We cruised past a silver mine in Lake Superior and we passed through the Soo locks that enable ships to traverse the different water levels between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

I always thought that the Great Lakes were well-known for shipwrecks. An estimated 10,000 shipwrecks, largely due to stormy weather, have occurred in the Great Lakes. I remember the famous wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975, when 29 crewmen died. Yet, surprisingly, the word “shipwreck” never appeared anywhere on the trip or in Viking advertisements. I suppose Viking did not want to frighten people and influence whether or not they chose this cruise.

Daily events, such as excursions, lectures, special events, etc. were posted daily on a TV screen in our room. It was confusing and we couldn’t figure out how to view the schedule.

One day, I experienced the international traveler’s disaster. I couldn’t find my passport. I looked everywhere, but it was nowhere to be found. I panicked and spent almost an entire day looking for the passport. Finally, I found it. There was a small table next to the bed. In desperation, I felt a flat, hard object in a corner under the bed. It was the passport that had slipped off the edge of the table onto the floor. Whew!

The general manager liked my new book (“Strange Creatures and Other Poems About Life” — available on Amazon and in bookstores) and he arranged for me to do a poetry reading at 9 p.m. in the large auditorium. All preparations were made, but nobody showed up, except Victoria. This was a professor’s nightmare i.e., preparing thoroughly and having no class showing up. I attributed this lack of attendance to the older age of the passengers. They probably were asleep by 9 p.m., or were they?

I brought an old cane with me for stability when hiking. The brown shellac on the cane was worn off and I polished some damaged areas with brown shoe polish, thus giving the cane a mottled appearance. Some lady stopped me and said, “Is that a shillelagh cane from Ireland?” “No,” I replied, “It’s a crappy cane that I found in my attic at home.” Actually, the cane does resemble a shillelagh cane from Ireland.

My daughter suggested that I should request a transport chair to navigate the long distances in the airports between flights. The transport service was remarkable. I sat in a transport chair and the airline agent pushed me past long lines of impatient travelers, through security, and right up to the door of the plane. On the return trip, we rode in a motorized vehicle. The agent even stopped to enable us to buy food at a food court. We saved miles of walking in the airports between flights. My advanced age and my cane were signs of impaired mobility and qualified me for the transport service, From now on, I will carry my cane whenever I fly anywhere. The service is fast, friendly and free.

I barely used my cane on the trip. I was reminded of the time I visited a friend in the hospital who had just had back surgery. He ran out of his room to greet me, waving a walker over his head, “What’s this thing for?” He exclaimed.

In a strange sort of way, the cruise of the Great Lakes was boring. The ship moved at night and we never had the feeling that the ship was moving at all. There were no fish, no scenery, no birds, no wildlife, little hiking and a lot of long, empty hallways. Tables in the dining rooms were mostly for two people, so it was difficult to meet and converse with others. My main conversations with others were in the laundry room, where I was obliged to go to do laundry since I forgot to pack my underwear.

The ship stopped at Duluth and Milwaukee. These cities are not exactly Paris or Florence, but there were points of interest. We saw the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth and visited a museum in Milwaukee. Milwaukee is known for its breweries and the Brewers major league baseball team. Having Duluth and Milwaukee on the itinerary made me feel that Viking had run out of places to visit on the Great Lakes and they were stretching things.

The final cruise excursion was Mackinac Island, Michigan. Mackinac Island was designated as the nation’s second national park after Yellowstone. This resort paradise is known for its Grand Hotel, its fort, fudge, caramel corn, saltwater taffy, bicycles, tourists and horse-drawn carriages. No cars are permitted on the island. We toured the island in a horse-drawn carriage and enjoyed seeing the beautiful scenery.

The air fare to and from the cruise was advertised as being free. Returning home to Syracuse was an adventure. Viking routed us from Milwaukee to Denver to Syracuse. This was sort of going backwards, instead of going from Milwaukee to Chicago to Syracuse. Fortunately, there were thunderstorms in Denver, so they allowed us to reschedule the flight home. We flew from Milwaukee to Chicago to Syracuse, which was much more convenient than going through Denver from Milwaukee.

Overall, a cruise anywhere is like a pleasant dream. You feel like you are living in another world. Life is free from everyday cares and worries. There are always unique, memorable experiences. The expense is well worth escaping from the complex, political, distorted world in which we live.

I recall sitting in the quiet library on the ship, gazing out at the watery environment and thinking, “Isn’t this wonderful?”