The Great Goodwill Tour
Things are not always as they seem. For example, from the title, you might surmise that this is an article about a charitable tour. A good will tour, if you will.
You would be wrong. It’s an article about a tour of Goodwill, and the Salvation Army and other thrift type stores. That’s right. This was a real vacation we planned in the early 1990’s.
We had a week to spare, two airline tickets to use and a substantial discount on a car rental. We planned to fly into Raleigh, NC. Since we’d both been to the Carolinas a number of times, we wanted to do something really different. I’m not sure of who came up with the idea, but my husband and I agreed that it might be fun to just visit thrift stores. Thus, the Great Goodwill Tour was born.
We drove through small towns and back roads in North and South Carolina and Tennessee. We stopped at every thrift store we found. We browsed the stores, and then took photos in front of each to show everyone how we spent our vacation.
We didn’t make many purchases. I do recall buying a new Lillehammer Olympics sweatshirt at a Salvation Army store where they had hundreds of them, apparently left over from the games. I think my husband picked up a jacket around the same time. We were living in Miami back then and not accustomed to cooler weather.
‘A good time was had by all’ was an understatement. We had more laughs along the way then we would have ever gotten from a traditional vacation. When we returned, our friends were amazed that anyone would plan a vacation around the thrift store experience.
Would I do it again? Probably not. It was one of those things that could never be duplicated and to even try would diminish the memories of one of our favorite vacations.
A Surprise in Panama
Many moons ago, I worked fulltime as a meeting planner in the travel industry and held a part time job as a writer for a trade publication. Back then, it was commonplace for me to fly into Miami International Airport after a week on the road, then head to a destination for the weekend. I would then spend the following week writing my articles in the evening, somewhere on the road
That was the case when I arranged a visit to Panama City, Panama. My husband met me at the airport and exchanged a bag of fresh clothing for a suitcase full of dirty laundry. (A note to those reading this: I was in my early 30’s and had the energy of 10 people. At 60, with the energy of less than one, I wouldn’t think of trying this!)
I flew to Panama City on Copa Airlines. The local tourist office had arranged for a driver to take me to the hotel. I was staying at the Panama Marriott, centrally located to everything I would see.
Now I wrote for a small publication that targeted travel agents in seven southeastern states. I believe our circulation was around 20,000. While this was an important group for destinations to attract, it was hardly a major newspaper and I wasn’t even close to being Rick Steves. That’s why what happened next caught me completely by surprise.
Having been in airports, on planes and in hotel rooms the better part of the previous 48 hours, the only thing I wanted to do was get there, take a hot shower and get some sleep. That wasn’t going to happen.
As we approached the hotel, I saw what appeared to be the entire staff, in uniform standing in front My first thought was that there was some sort of disaster drill or maybe even an actual disaster. But when we pulled in, a man in a tux – yes a tux – opened the door, introduced himself as the General Manager, and asked if I was Mrs. Boyd . When I answered yes, he waved his had to the hundred or so people gathered there and in unison they chanted, “Welcome to Panama City Mrs. Boyd!”
Someone ran over and handed me a bouquet of flowers. The staff parted and amid clapping and cheering, the General Manager led me to my room, a lovely suite complete with wine and hor d’oeurves. I had a half hour to get ready for dinner and as a guest of honor at a traditional Panama show.
Talk about a night to remember.
If they wanted me to never forget Panama City and the Marriott, it worked, although treating me like royalty was a little over the top.
Remembering Baked Alaska
Now here’s a blast from the past: Baked Alaska.
Yes. They still serve the gooey dessert onboard, but not the way they used to. In the early 1980’s, the serving of Baked Alaska was full of pomp and circumstance. It was something guests looked forward to near the end of their cruise. All the waiters would dance around the room with the dessert atop their heads. Somehow they lit the meringue – I’m guessing using some sort of sterno – and the while the plate had a curved bottom that fit their heads, there was nothing else holding it on.
It was quite the spectacle as they marched to the beat of island music around the dimly lit dining room while delighted guests clapped and cheered and later all but devoured the tasty treat.
But it was an accident waiting to happen and it did. I recall once a waiter’s hair caught fire. He was quickly whisked away and I think I was the only one in the dining room who realized this was not part of the show. On two other incidents, the Baked Alaska toppled off the heads of waiters and on one occasion, the carpeting caught fire.
I don’t remember when the practice was discontinued, but it probably wasn’t a moment too soon. Still, every time I see Baked Alaska on the menu, I fondly recall the early days of what was a big part of the cruise experience.
Remembering Seawind Cruises
It was never one of the more popular cruise lines, but Seawind Cruises filled a special niche. I sailed on the former Vasco de Gama, which was renamed the Seawind Crown In the late 1990’s, just before the tiny line combined services with Dolphin Cruises, which was soon gobbled up by larger Premier Cruise Line.
The ship was built in the early 1960’s and held less than 700 passengers. Her decks were made of teak and the interior was filled with rich, dark woods and brass. This was not a floating theme park like many of her counterparts in the day. When you were on the Seawind Crown, you were on a classic ship.
The itinerary was wonderful. On our weeklong cruise, there was a full day at sea, but otherwise you visited a different port every day between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. We stopped in Grenada, St. Lucia, Barbados, Curacao, and Caracas. You could also combine a second itinerary to Dominica, Barbados, Antigua and Guadalupe with two days at sea to spend two, full weeks onboard.
That was the good news. While we loved the itinerary the ship left a lot to be desired. It was to go in for a refurbishment shortly after our cruise and it was a mess. There was very little polishing and upkeep. Brass was finger marked; carpeting was frayed to the point where people were tripping over it. There were so many roaches in our room that they could have taken over the ship. And this may be hard to believe but we saw several rats when we were onboard. The food was okay. I am hardly a vegetarian, but I found myself choosing from that food group every night because it was the best thing on the menu. Given the number of rats onboard, I was a little leery of the meat and poultry.
Thank goodness for the itinerary.
In the end, the ship was grounded in Barcelona for debts from her parent company and in 2004, after sitting ‘dead’ in the water there for several years; she was broken up for parts.
The Seawind Crown died a slow death from pure neglect. A sad end for a ship that should have gone down in history as one of the great classics.
Remembering Sea Air Holidays
I was watching a commercial for Viking River Cruises when I started yearning. Now I don’t yearn often, but that enticing ad brought on one of my strongest yearns for days gone by. It’s been a long time between yearns. Nearly two decades ago, my husband and I were planning our first visit to Paris and Prague and sandwiched between both cities we were booked on a 15 night river cruise.
The thought of spending more than two weeks on the former Sea Air Holidays ship, The Queen of Holland, was more than either of us could bear. But my Editor wanted the story and I was the Cruise Editor, so you get the gist. I was going river cruising.
We thought we would be bored out of our minds, so we bought Eurail passes. The plan was that at any point during the trip we decided we couldn’t take it anymore, we would head to destinations unknown and meet up with the ship at some point in time. It was a very solid plan. As fate would have it, our cruise turned out to be anything but boring and you should note, we never used our Eurail tickets.
Our cruise began in Vienna and as we pulled away from the dock on that first night, four men, costumed in the time period, performed selections from Mozart. We were hooked. Organizers told us we would see, feel, smell, taste and touch small towns and cities throughout Austria, Germany and The Netherlands and we did. We sampled local beers in Bamburg and homemade sausage in Nuremburg. We cruised the Mainz, Rhine and Danube Rivers with experts revealing every historic detail as we entered and exited the locks and offering detailed descriptions of every breathtaking castle on route. We saw the region in a way few people will – using all five senses.
The flat bottomed ship held only a few hundred passengers. The crew was Dutch. The dinner onboard was tasty, but odd. Almost every guest was American and the Dutch Crew tried hard to cater to our tastes. That said, one night the main course was hamburger steak. The next night they served Salisbury steak. On another night, the only selection was meatloaf. It was always the same entrée with different names. No one was offended and in fact, everyone got a good laugh as we took bets to guess what the evening selection might be. Our cabin was tiny, but it didn’t matter. It was probably the only cruise I’ve ever taken where the only time we spent in the room was when we were sleeping. As I recall, we visited 18 wonderful ports in 15 days.
It was a few years after that cruise that Sea Air Holidays was no more. I heard that Peter Dielman Cruises purchased the Queen of Holland and after Mr. Dielman’s death, that line folded and I’m not sure of what happened to the ship.
I’ve heard wonderful things about Viking River Cruises and I’m sure I would fall in love with any cruise I had the good fortune to sample. Staterooms, I’m sure, are larger and better equipped than the Sea Air version. I’ve seen Viking’s onboard recipes. I’ve posted their online recipes. I’ve even attempted to recreate their sumptuous entrees. I have a feeling their recipe books don’t contain a chapter on, “America’s Love Affair: 101 things to do with ground beef that will dazzle and entertain”. I’m sure I would make new memories, but they will never compare to The Queen of Holland.
I have several memories of NCL’s Norway, once the largest passenger ship of its kind. I’m sure she’s in a scrap yard now, but in her day, she was a beauty! My former sister in law accommpanied me on this cruise. We heard tales of hauntings and ghosts onboard, but didn’t think much about it. After all any old building would probably have the same reputation.
This was a seven night cruise and the first time Janie and I traveled together. We seemed to have similar tastes and interests so I didn’t feel that compatibility was going to be an issue.
But a few hours after we went to bed, she started humming. Then I heard her get up, presumably to visit the bathroom. When she returned, I felt her sit on my bed and assuming she knew she was in the wrong bed, she got up quickly and went back to her own bed. This happened the first three nights of our cruise and I attributed it to her talking in her sleep. It was weird, but not too annoying.
On night three, she screamed my name and said, “What on earth are you doing”? Apparently she had enough of ‘my’ humming and sitting on her bed and it was keeping her awake. When I told her it wasn’t me it was her, we both grew suddenly quiet.
It was neither of us.
So we decided, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! We hummed along and talked as the same ritual continued every night of our cruise. When we reluctantly mentioned it to the Captain, he just laughed and told us the ship was haunted and that he had several encounters himself.
It was reassuring that our sanity was not in question and that whatever spirit was on the Norway didn’t follow us home.