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Rodney's Ramblings: Bridge At Sea

Rodney Gascoyne finds that bridge players are no longer welcomed on sea cruises.

Life is getting harder for bridge players at sea on cruise ships. We have seen this for some years on some fleets, where they have been keen to drop such offerings in all their ships. For Caribbean weekly cruises with departures from main islands, this is understandable, as most days are island hopping with almost no days at sea, but for most, and particularly those with many sea days, like trans ocean trips, this is unacceptable.

Shipping companies have made their own rods for their back. The fleets are too large and expanded rapidly up to and beyond the Global Financial Crisis, as they could not cancel build orders. This has left them chasing fewer and fewer prospects, added to the impact of bad publicity from shipping disasters by Carnival and Costa, where passengers have to fear for their safely, and proper handling when problems do emerge. As an industry they seem to be getting foot in mouth disease. As a result, they have been trying to maximise revenue by nickel and diming to extreme lengths, to take what else they need from their victims.

As for bridge and other non-revenue generating areas, this has seen big changes. On many ships they have removed card rooms and other non-productive facilities, replacing them with Internet Cafés or other money grabbing alternatives. You can almost see their minds ticking, to find new ways to get at our wallets and handbags, taking over corridors and passageways, with moving tables offering their overpriced trash, or turning the space into yet another specialty restaurant with expensive fare. Where, if at all, will they stop?

I found all there options and exercises on a recent transatlantic voyage on the Norwegian Star, but then taken to absurd levels. On a 13 day run from Copenhagen to Miami, there was just the one short stop in the Azores. As it happened, the weather was not playing fair and so far more need for passengers to find activities below deck. The ship’s alleyways were mostly obstructed with temporary sales exhibits and tables and so much harder to transit from one space to another. They have also managed to have six specialty restaurants, while offering poor times and space to use the no charge ones, so trying to force people into the expensive options. I heard many complain they were not worth the cost, and so why it was they continuously tried to plug the extras, while the restaurants themselves were often half empty or poorly attended. The passengers were not playing ball or as dumb as Norwegian wished.

For the bridge it was a total disaster by the Ship. They requested an experienced Bridge Director, with only one week’s notice, to travel over 6000 miles to join them, much at his own cost. The first day they placed two contradictory notices in the Daily Program, thus expecting him to be on Deck 12 the same time play was to happen on Deck 8. Then their Assistant Cruise Director insisted he stay in the inadequate Meeting room on 12 for the full time slot, in an empty room. This first meeting attracted an initial 50-60 people with all levels of experience. The room was inappropriate for normal card games, having only 5 foot rectangular tables, tightly packed into a dull interior space, not easy to find and access. There was also a total absence of any bridge equipment, such as duplicate boards, bidding boxes and any other paraphernalia, but they did have 20 packs of cards for the complete trip!

The space on Deck 8 - tables and chairs in a specialty restaurant only opened after 5.30pm. Their tables were a mix of square and round tables, but also advertised for all other games and cards from 9am till 4 o’clock. It was also used for reading and any other personal pursuits like embroidery, as passengers could not easily find quiet spaces for their own activities. They did later open the Teen space too, as none aboard or who would use it. Normal quiet spaces were been used for sales. As it was, many of us were forces into this space to play social bridge in separate foursomes.

Those at the meeting expressed their wishes and were receptive to his ideas to do what we could for the voyage. When allowed, he then went to talk to the Cruise Director and her staff, with those plans in mind. He was met with total indifference, understanding or any knowledge of what Bridge entailed. They clearly were not willing to recognise what we requested, but continued to set items in the Daily Program that confused everyone, making daily changes without any prior notice to the Director, who learned like us when the Program appeared. He again was forced to stay in the wrong place again and again, while most of our number had by then lost patience or had moved to Deck 8 for personal games. This was obstructed at times by the restaurant staff trying to move us and lay up their tables for dinner, as early as 2.30pm, until we forced a change with an officer.

This farce continued for more than a week although some instruction and discussions were carried out by the Director to try to help the less experienced attendees. As for duplicate play, he also devised a makeshift way to run duplicate games, although dislocated again by staff with moving times and venues, all inappropriate and without notice. One afternoon session for four tables, was run on this basis, but then we were told that the Cruise Director had instructed the Hotel Director to ‘fire’ him, for lack of cooperation with her ‘ignorant’ staff. She appeared at the next session to tell us why and claimed she had many many written letters of complaint again the Director, from our passengers. When quizzed she claimed more than 4 such letters, but every one of us did not believe she even had one. The whole problem was between her, and her incompetent staff, and the Director who continued to seek more appropriate arrangements for us all. After this, he was told to stay away and talk with none of us for the remainder of the trip.

A passenger then ran another three sessions using the Directors methods, till the end of the passage to Miami, using the meeting room. It was almost as if the Cruise Director herself, was trying to kill any attempt for us to spend time together, when she would have preferred us to be out spending money on their usual parade of overpriced services and trash. I have never experienced such an indifferent and obstructionist attitude on any ship I have travelled. I had not believed this possible before this Norwegian Cruise Line trip, which was generally filled with poor service and provisions by the Ship’s officers; as always, their Asian service staff were the only bright spot of the whole voyage. I now wonder whether there is any value left to cruising with these companies – bring on the smaller ships please.

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