A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail inviting me to tour “the most elegant ship built in the last 50 years… OceaniaRiviera.”
My heart sank. I knew all about cruise ships from a tour I took a few years ago. Memories f that visit still haunt me: a fancy lunch, glasses of sparkling champagne, a waiter unfolding a crisp cloth napkin in my lap, great company.
From the sound of it, touring the Riviera — a luxury ship with about 800 crewmembers — would be even more difficult. Surely, I thought, my editor wouldn’t be so cruel as to make me go. I was wrong.
“Do I get hazard pay?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said cheerfully, as though he were sending me to cover a centenarian’s birthday.
I considered calling in sick. I considered tricking a bystander into taking my place. I even considered turning in my press pass and moving back to Nigeria.
But deep down, I knew what I had to do. For a serious journalist, backing out is never an option.
The public needed to know about the five-star amenities in the most elegant cruise ship in the world. If I didn’t work up the courage to go inside and emerge to tell the story, who would?
Besides, if I didn’t sacrifice myself, another reporter would have to take my place. I couldn’t let that happen to my colleagues, even though I knew the assignment would be the toughest of my career.
On the morning of the tour, I put on my best shoes and skipped breakfast, suspecting that part of my onerous responsibilities would include sampling five-star cuisine prepared by internationally recognised chefs.
I walked to Wickhams Cay with a sinking feeling, hoping that I would be turned away at the gate. I longed to go back to the Beacon office and spend the day writing about politicians, phoning grumpy government officials, and copy editing articles.
Anything but touring a luxury cruise ship.
As I neared the vessel, the tourists coming off were cheerful and smiling — no doubt because they were escaping from the ship, I thought.
Along with tourism officials and other media representatives, I was greeted warmly by Karen Negron, the international representative of Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas for the Caribbean.
I had no choice but to follow Ms. Negron on board the 1,200-passenger vessel, which had docked a few hours earlier.
When we got on board, we were issued identification cards and led to an elevator. It took us up several floors, passing paintings, sparkling chandeliers, sculptures, dazzling lights and smartly dressed crew. My head spun.
Spa, casino, bars
We stopped on Deck 15, which houses more of what I dreaded: the ship’s spa, tearoom, conference room, a casino and bars.
Passengers sign up to stay on board for as long as 10 days, according to Ms. Negron.
I shuddered. If I had to do that, I’d miss my own apartment, where mosquitoes whine in my ears all night and crickets chirp all day. And I’d probably go crazy from the abundance of hot water.
As we walked through the corridors, I quickly got flustered. I didn’t know where to look. Outside the windows, the view was stunning, but inside the walls were decorated with paintings by Latin American artists.
The ship resembled an art gallery on the sea — and in a way it is, Ms. Negron explained: cruisers can purchase the art on display, some of which was marked “Sold.”
I was barely able to keep my cool and take photographs of myself posing on the Riviera — just to prove what I had survived.
The tour also included a trip to the ship’s spa, where serene music played in the background as we walked through corridors lined with fountains and plants.
I longed for the dusty, broken fountain at the Sir Olva Georges Plaza, and the dirt and noise of Main Street, where I usually spend my days reporting.
As Ms. Negron explained that the 15-deck vessel has 10 fine dining restaurants with menus from all over the world, I knew the worst was yet to come.
I cringed as she listed off their fancy names: Red Ginger, Toscana, La Reserve, Jacques, Waves.
More than anything, I wanted to return to my desk at the Beacon and eat my usual meal of Ramen noodles and a microwaved baked potato. But duty called.
Ms. Negron led us into a large dining room, where we were seated under a crystal chandelier. A Sri Lankan sommelier kept refilling our glasses with wine, and I had no choice but to keep drinking it: I knew the public needed to know exactly how it tasted.
Gourmet food followed. I endured one course after another: miso glazed seabass in den miso marinate, risotto all’aragosta — but in the spirit of journalistic restraint, I’ll stop short of describing all six courses so as not to disgust readers. I’ll just say that when we finally left the ship, I could barely walk.
Though the experience was painful, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment for having completed the most difficult assignment ever.
If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.