Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Cruise industry + Hamlet = paralysis.  Odd equation, you might say.  Bizarre.  Intriguing, perhaps.  Even divergent. 

The connections began rather innocently, like  the perfume of toasting coconut, seconds before it burns.  Scanning the cover of Maclean’s to inventory  what I might like to read in that issue, I hovered on the headline, “Troubled waters for the cruise industry” (July 22).    We’ve enjoyed three cruises since 2007, the most recent to the Panama Canal in February, all with Holland America.   We like the smaller ships; the dancing and shows conform to our taste and style, and the food lives up to expectations.  Mostly, though, we’ve met fascinating people:  an 89-year-old chemical engineer who worked on the Gemini and Apollo space programs; two very courageous women fighting lung cancer; an American lieutenant-colonel veteran of the first Gulf War (1990 – 1991), when integration of women in combat was just beginning. 

Given our memorable cruise experiences, I was eager to delve into the article.  Beyond the Costa Concordia and the Carnival Triumph (aka. “the poop cruise,” it seems), disasters which have garnered a lot of publicity, the cruise industry has faced many problems which often don’t make the headlines.  The article goes on to say that failed generators, passengers overboard, sexual assalts, and viral outbreaks number among the issues the cruise industry is facing, 97 such mishaps in 2012.  Those statistics are attributed to  Ross Klein, professor at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and self-appointed cruise industry watchdog, who documents his findings on his personal website, Cruise Junkie.  Klein maintains that the cruise industry is almost totally self-regulated.

I had always attributed our great holidays to hard work and carefully planning on the part of everyone connected with Holland America.  With our second sail one month after the Costa Conordia disaster, and the Panama Canal cruise barely a week after the Carnival Triumph fire, we were certainly aware of the risks.  Still, we considered those incidents the exception rather than the rule.  Now, I wonder if an element of luck was involved, too.  Even more disturbing, I ask myself if we want to tempt fate again, and choose another cruise as a holiday.   

This detailed information  removed my blinders, and rocked my travel world.  Suddenly, I thought of Hamlet, a young man raised in an idyllic  home by parents who loved him and, he thought, each other.  Suddenly, his world cracks.  Not only does his father die, but his mother marries her husband’s brother three weeks later.  Things get worse.  A ghost tells Hamlet that his uncle, his mother’s husband, murdered his father, and he must avenge the death.  For the young idealist, this is too much information.  “Conscience does make cowards of us all,” he realizes, conscience here meaning “awareness” rather than “a sense of right and wrong.”  “Enterprises of great pith and moment,” Hamlet continues, ”lose the name of action.” The weight of that information and the responsibility attached to that information paralyze Hamlet.  He is unable to act.  

We are just as vulnerable, even if our plans don’t involve avenging a parent’s muder.  In the face of a decision, we can feel overwhelmed with facts and statistics, often contradictory in themselves, and at odds with our view of how events play out in the real world.  To sail or not to sail?  To drink coffee or not to drink coffee?  To eat bread or not to eat bread?  To purchase a home or not to purchase a home?  No matter what the decision, there will be sufficient evidence to support either side.  Even worse, our minds made up and action taken, we’ll be barraged after the fact with information calling the decision into question.  It happens all the time—buy a dress and find it on sale somewhere else a week later; house prices fall after you jump into the market; the Canadian dollar goes up just after you exchange an impressive total.

In the face of the surfeit of information which disturbs my blissful ignorance, I need a strategy to prevent the paralysis of inaction.  So, I remind myself to live in the present moment.  I do my homework, research, be aware, and then act, for today.  If things change tomorrow, well, that’s tomorrow; I have no control over tomorrow.  Living itself is risky business.

Cruise industry news plus a sideways connection to Hamlet can give me pause.  However, it’s important to press the play button again, especially at this time of my life.

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