Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

Cruise fans bring their beloved seas to dry land


CRUISING enthusiast­s Jen and Jonathan Sternfeld found an unusual coping mechanism during the coronaviru­s pandemic: a fake cruise.

Each day, the couple from Schenectad­y, New York, would draw up a cruise schedule full of meals and activities to look forward to, including cocktails on the “Sunset Deck” (their front porch), tiki Tuesdays, movie nights and elaborate “chef’s table” menus.

As they posted photos of their “cruise” on social media, more and more friends, including me, began to follow along.

“All of us were missing cruising,” says Jen Sternfeld, who has been on 29 real-life cruises. Inspired by friends posting nostalgic throwback photos of previous cruises, “I just said we could do a virtual cruise by taking pictures at home”.

As travel plans remain on pause for most Americans amid measures to stem the spread of the coronaviru­s, cruises seem particular­ly fraught. In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended a “No Sail Order” for cruise ships throughout September. Some cruise lines, such as Cunard, have opted to pause cruises until November.

What’s an avid cruiser to do? Create fantasy cruises from the safety of home. While some would-be cruisers have specific destinatio­ns in mind, many are just seeking the escapism of the cruising experience.

Digital resources for the fanciful distractio­ns abound, many supplied by cruise ship companies anxious to help keep future holiday bookings front of mind. Via Facebook, cruise line Royal Caribbean offers trivia games, Spotify playlists and oceantheme­d “interactiv­e quest” games for kids. Holland America launched a HAL@Home video series with concerts, while Silversea’s YouTube channel provides cocktail recipes.

The robust “Virtual of the

Seas” itinerarie­s posted by Royal Caribbean, which started in March as the lockdown began, helped inspire Jen Sternfeld, a private chef, to flex her cooking skills at home. While others whipped up fancy coffee or baked sourdough loaves, she began to prepare and photograph multicours­e “chef’s table” meals and colourful tropical drinks, the latter often presented in souvenir glasses collected on previous cruises.

Every week or two, the “cruise” and its destinatio­n changed. Italian dishes served on the “Costa” line, for example, motivated Sternfeld to use the various types of pasta she’d stocked up on for quarantine. Her attention to detail soon expanded to include drawing a detailed “cruise map” of their home and a itinerary, all posted on Facebook.

“My husband was working from home, we had no time constraint­s,” she says. “I’d change clothes and take a picture of myself against some wall in the house.”

More and more friends began to comment daily. “We were more connected that way,” Sternfeld says.

For Kirti Dwivedi, a Phoenix marketing consultant, a virtual cruise was a honeymoon to follow her virtual wedding, which took place in April via Zoom. In lieu of a planned trip to Hawaii, and wary of sheltering in place during a lengthy Arizona heat wave, the couple road-tripped to a rental house in Anaheim, California. Their stay included a fancy “Captain’s Table” dinner of truffled potatoes and steak. They broke out the formalwear and toasted with champagne.

“It was like a three-hour reprieve from everything crushing around us,” Dwivedi says. “Even a small escape – the energy that goes into making it special or different is what we need right now.”

And that escape had to take the form of a cruise, she says.

It represente­d the wedding proposal, which took place on a sunset “booze cruise” in Hawaii, as well as the scuttled honeymoon plans. “The ocean is really special for us. There’s something renewing about it,” she says.

A sense of humour also goes a long way on virtual cruisers.

After her planned solo cruise to the Caribbean in March was cancelled, Larysa Bolde, an X-ray technician and chiropract­ic assistant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, was inspired by a video posted on Twitter of a septuagena­rian Australian couple staging their faux voyage, wearing white bathrobes, clinking wine glasses and propping up their bare feet in front of a flat-screen TV showing a video of a rolling seascape.

“I said, let’s see if we can take this one step further,” she says. “Instead of just one picture, build a whole story.”

She channelled her disappoint­ment into a running thread on Cruise Critic, a cruise reviews site. While this is just one of many threads on the site dedicated to fantasy cruises, ranging from long, melancholy missives to sci-fi, this one is light-hearted, a brief journey amid mangled towel animals and lounging pets in sunglasses.

“It was just pure enjoyment for me, the entertainm­ent factor,” Bolde says. “The virtual cruise helped me. It was just the feedback, they were telling me how clever I was. I enjoyed it. Some days you’re just feeling down ... (but it made me realise), life isn’t so bad.”

Bolde is planning cruise No 2, which is to take place during a lakeside visit.

“Eventually, the real cruises will come back,” she says. “In the meantime, we’ll live vicariousl­y through our imaginatio­n.”

However, even the sharpest imaginatio­ns can bump up against limits. After seven “sailings” taken over nine weeks, “I ran out of steam in terms of the activities,” Sternfeld says. The names of the final cruises reflected her waning fervour: “Cruise of the Whatever,” followed by “Tired of the Seas”.

Just like their real-life counterpar­ts, virtual cruises aren’t meant to last forever. |

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