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Tea on the High Seas

October 09, 2019

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Cruise ships are floating cities offering shopping opportunities, a casino, library, full-service medical clinic, swimming pool, fitness center, restaurants serving the cuisine of six continents and . . . Afternoon tea.

Exploring the ship — 800+ feet from stem to stern and 100 feet wide — I discovered all the amenities previously mentioned as well as no fewer than five bars, a theatre offering everything from stand-up comedy to chamber music, and a full basketball court on the top-most deck.

My father invited me to accompany him on a 14-day cruise to Alaska via the inside passage. Dad is 89 years young; glaciers are shrinking on a global scale; and the middle of August presented itself as our now-or-never chance to Anchorage, making multiple calls at ports coming and going. Apparently folks who cruise have an unlimited desire for the keychains, billed caps, and massive mounds of moose memorabilia available at every port.

Each day, we received an agenda of the days’ offerings: Hoonah Point had a zip-line tour, Hubbard Glacier presented the opportunity to get up close and personal to a calving glacier, Kodiak had bear watching, Sitka offered float plane tours, and Homer had the Salty Dog Saloon. On the ship itself, one could take a yoga class, meditate, or make pasta. Each afternoon at 3:00 PM, the “friends of Bill W.” met in the Neptune Lounge; while those who wanted “Afternoon Tea” converged upon the deck five dining room.

From the first day, I was intrigued as well as frightened by the afternoon tea. Intrigued mostly by the tea — but frightened that it would be awful or stale or both — and apprehensive about meeting people who would cruise to Alaska and attend an afternoon tea. These misguided fears were part and parcel of my decision to wait until the 13th day of a 14-day cruise to attend the tea.

My mistake.

Yes, there were the ubiquitous finger sandwiches with the crusts carefully removed, as well as a plethora of jam tarts and miniature scones. Wearing my provocative “I am silently correcting your grammar” T-shirt, I arrived at deck five at the appointed time. I was alone in the ginormous dining room as the server brought a tray of savory bites and a steaming pot of tea. Anxious to drink tea – any tea – after two weeks of nearly palatable coffee, I gratefully sipped the tea.

“Sir,” I gestured to the server, “what kind of tea is this?”

“Darjeeling, ma’am, the best tea we have.”  I sipped rapturously before taking a deep and long drink. Soon a couple joined me.

“Tell me,” the man asked, “are you a retired English teacher?” He pointed to my shirt.

“How could you tell?” I deadpanned. Both retired educators, we spent a pleasant half hour drinking tea and talking shop.

Two regrets from the cruise: I should have joined the “friends of Bill W.” at least once, and I should have attended the afternoon tea sooner and more often.

Bon voyage!

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