Six years ago, days before Christmas, we got a call from Seabourn Cruise Lines, asking if we could do a last minute fill in as artist-in-residence on a 3-week tour from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles, through the Panama Canal (back in those heady pre-Covid days). It was cold outside—really cold—so we considered the proposal for several minutes. It would be a monumental task to secure supplies on such short notice and we would miss Christmas with our family.
Did I mention how cold it was?
What followed was a whirlwind of preparation, a frantic shopping spree (buying up all the local art supplies), weather-detoured air-travel (with six suitcases containing supplies), and confusion upon our arrival (it seems someone forgot to include our names on the ship manifest). Yet, somehow, we (and our six suitcases) talked our way through security.
This was unlike our normal cruise watercolor workshops, where we brought our own participants (our own private group). On Seabourn, we were “guest-entertainers.” In fact, we signed the same Entertainment Agreement the ship’s guest singer, comedian, and ventriloquist signed. Our entertainment assignment was to conduct (2) one-hour painting demonstrations on each “sea day” (which only amounted to half of the trip’s days). After those two hours, and on the other “non-sea days,” we were just normal passenger-blokes.
But this was no normal cruise ship with normal passengers. This was an exclusive crowd of “fine people.” Here’s a 23-sec. excerpt of me speaking at dinner one evening:
I’m convinced we sailed with one-tenth of the world’s fortune. An example would be the day Marlene and I realized we were eating way too much food, way too often. The full-wall mirror in our ridiculously lavish cabin, convinced us to grab our music-loaded Apple iPods and head up to the ship’s gym for a workout. We were surprised to find only one other passenger working out that morning. It wasn’t John Jacob Astor IV, but it was Steve Wozniak (ironically, the creator of the revolutionary music-loaded Apple iPods we held in our hands).
The journey was enjoyable, though surreal. I actually tired of having access to any food or any drink at any time, and I’m not one to be shy around food (or drink, for that matter). The quality and availability was excessive for even a cruise ship! And, I was (sort of) “creeped out” when passing staff (staff I had never met) would greet me by my name.
On the other hand, our daughter, back in Montana, gave birth while we were passing through the Panama Canal (three weeks early!). Word spread quickly throughout the ship, and nearly every passing crew member and passenger congratulated us. The captain even relayed a video-congratulations back to Missoula.
Our Entertainment Agreement with Seabourn did include one unusual stipulation. It specifically “forbid” us from visiting the crew’s bar, down below decks. At first, I thought, with all the over-the-top opulence provided to us above deck, why in the world would we want to go below and visit the crew’s bar? Up above, everything was so plush and refined. Down below, I envisioned hot, smelly, coal-fed boilers and the rusty, metallic pipe & valve decor of an old German U-boat.
But then I wondered, could it be better? More fun? More lively? And what’s the deal with a “crew’s bar” anyway?
Late one evening, towards the end of the trip, I walked by the perky, not-unattractive, young entertainment director about to enter the crew staircase.
I asked her, “What’s down those steps, anyway?”
She answered, “Why, that’s where all the magic happens.”
Then she turned to descend, closing the door behind her—leaving me to forever wonder.