Mrs. P and I just returned from our third cruise in as many years. While we did have a good time — a great time, as a matter of fact — each cruise was nearly identical. Yeah, they each had the same itinerary (two days at sea, stop at Port Canaveral, Florida, stop at Norwegian Cruise Lines' private island, stop at Nassau, Bahamas, then two more days at sea), but I mean the overall experience was the same. There were scheduled activities, 24 hour-a-day food, high energy, yet campy, shows and... did I mention there was food 24 hours-a-day?
The early part of the cruise is sort of a self-orientation period. After boarding the ship, the first activity is, of course, a visit to the buffet. Here, one can get a preview of the obscene amounts of food that will be abundantly available for the next seven days. During your third or fourth helping of spicy citrus cole slaw and pomegranate cheesecake brûlée, the PA crackles to life with the announcement that the staterooms are ready. Then after unpacking your belongings into the tiny drawers and skinny closets of your cabin, all guests are instructed to gather at a designated area for a mandatory life boat drill. Federal maritime law and the International Brotherhood of Seafarers (I think) require all cruise lines to have a life boat drill prior to launch. (That's launch, not lunch. For Chrissakes, you just ate lunch!)
All cruise lines treat the life boat drill differently. Some are rigid and deadly serious, requiring passengers to don life jackets and stand silently by their appointed lifeboats. Others, like Norwegian, are more relaxed, merely having guests gather, sans life jackets, in an on-board restaurant, bar or other common area and sit through a five minute run-through of some loud air-horn blasts. At 2:30 sharp, Mrs. P and I joined our fellow "Section G1"s and waited until we were given the "all clear." We sat at a table in one of the ship's formal dining rooms as other guests filed in at staggered intervals. Slowly. Very slowly. A crew member in an official-looking vest checked names off on an official-looking clipboard. Several other crew members in equally official-looking vests, circled through the assembled crowd counting and recounting. The first crew member announced that we would begin once everyone from our section was accounted for. People were trickling in at 2:45. Others stumbled in as the clock approached 3 o'clock. At thirty minutes after the designated time, people were still entering the "G1" area, kicking punctuality to the proverbial curb. Finally, with everyone in attendance, the alarms sounded and the drill was completed. Everyone filed out and, most likely, headed back to the buffet.
Once the ship crossed the 12 nautical mile mark, the on-board casino sprang to life with the ringing of slot machines and the shrieking of winners. The casino remained open for the next consecutive 48 hours, as the ship cut its way down the eastern seaboard in international waters toward Florida and all points south. When the vessel entered Port Canaveral, slot machines were silenced, chips were stacked and locked up and the casino emptied as passengers took the gangway out to the various available shore excursions.
Mrs. P and I returned from our shore excursion, a full day at Downtown Disney, the shopping district at Walt Disney World. We made our way back on to the ship and walked through the closed casino. We nearly screeched to a stop. Every single seat at every single blackjack table was occupied, as were the seats at every slot machine and all available space at the craps tables. The casino would not open for at least ninety minutes, as buses arrived from various shore excursion destinations. Yet guests had already staked their territory, not wanting to miss a single second of gambling activity. I recognized some as the same people who sauntered in late for the life boat drill.
When it comes to personal safety and gambling, it was clear which was a priority. The early bird gets to double down.