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Sarah on Jun 16, 2016

Whacky and heartwarming tales from a life at sea

Rob Mitchell and his wife May have been on more than 60 cruises, and  semi-retired, they spend the majority of  their time at sea. With so much cruising experience,  they have more than a few interesting stories to tell! We had the pleasure of interviewing Rob and are thrilled to share his experiences with you.

Serial cruisers

You've met a lot of people on these cruises; which characters stand out in your memory the most?

"One of the oddest was the elderly guy who travelled around the ship (Diamond Princess) on a Segway. That was unusual in itself, but add to that the fact that his secretary/companion accompanied him on another Segway and then the fact that he had a basket attached to the side of the Segway which was occupied by his 'comfort' dog. This was a small dog which was supposed to know when he was going to have an attack . At that time, about six years ago, Segways weren't all that well known."

"Then there's the couple, man and wife, who we saw on a number of occasions who always dressed like twins, wearing matching clothes, although she might be wearing a skirt and he be dressed in trousers, but they would be identical in colour and style."

That is hilarious - we love cruising characters! What about the crew? You must've met some standout personalities on all of those voyages?

"We had a waiter, Ongard, on one of the ships. On Halloween, all the waiters in the dining rooms usually dress up in costume. Ongard is gay, and decided to dress as a woman. He looked terrific. He had the high heels and the make-up. We kept laughing at all the male passengers who kept coming up and wanting their pictures taken with the good-looking waitress, none of them realizing that they were cuddling up to our Ongard."

Classic! You must've made friends with some of the crew members over the years. Do any come to mind as being particularly great?

"On the last couple of cruises we have enjoyed several dinners with Captain Paolo Revera, Customer Services Director Antonio Barbato and Customer Services Manager Fiammetta Stinchi. Unfortunately they won't be on board for our next cruise's wrong ship. In addition to those three, there is also Mark Turner and Stuart McGunigall, two of the Cruise Directors. These two guys seem to enjoy what they do. For them, it is a vocation, not a job. And I must mention the various Maestros'. Our last one was Ignacio. They are all extremely accommodating."

Wonderful. What about on the opposite end of the spectrum? Have you ever had any awkward encounters with staff?

"In1973, we were in Fiji. The big white ships would arrive much more frequently than they do now. They were temptation. The decision was made. I acted for Union Steamship, the agents for P&O, and negotiated a good deal for a cabin ˜with facilities'. I wasn't going to have to walk down the corridor every time I needed to go to the toilet. We were promised facilities. The big day came. It was a cruise down to New Zealand, then across to Sydney, then down to Melbourne for the Cup, back to Sydney, across to New Zealand and home again. As parts of two cruises and the full Melbourne Cup cruise. May and I boarded in Suva, accompanied by two friends, one a very hairy Englishman, the other his Indian girlfriend, and I looked just as scruffy as George, and May was a very young Chinese girl with extremely long hair. I asked the officers at the front desk for confirmation that our cabin had ˜facilities'. They confirmed that it did and gave us the key. We found the cabin and were just putting the key in the lock when we were confronted by a room steward (English) wanting to know what we wanted. I told him that we wanted our cabin. He checked the number on the key, shook his head slightly, looking puzzled, and opened the door. As he stood back to let us enter he turned to a female officer walking by and whispered something to her. I heard her tell him that she would check up. We did look scruffy, but we definitely weren't stowaways. It turned out that it was the second best cabin on the ship."

We've all been judged on appearances before! Did the experience turn around?

"Later that afternoon there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find the First Officer and the room steward. The First Officer said that there had been an unfortunate mistake. I could see the steward's eyes start to light up. We were finally getting our marching orders. I asked the officer what mistake had been made. He said that the Captain was having a small private cocktail party tonight, and our invitation had gone to the wrong cabin. He apologised profusely and handed us the invitation."

Being a writer with published books, do you ever get recognised while onboard?

"On our last cruise I saw someone reading my book.
How is it? I said.
Good! Why?
I wrote it.
He got up and shook my hand."

"Another time a guy I asked the same question and the answer came back: Oh, mediocre."

Haha, oh no! How does that feel?

"One of the great things about being an author is finding someone who has read your book and enjoyed it. Worst thing is when someone didn't! I always leave 6 of my books in the exchange library on the ship."

Speaking of ups and downs - have you ever been onboard during an emergency or touchy situation?

"We were on one ship when the Captain was obliged to sound the crew emergency signal. Our waiter was halfway to our table with our sweets (fruit). He did an about-turn. Put the plates on the serving counter and was off out of the dining room at a run. Every waiter was doing likewise. It illustrated the thoroughness of their training. We were most impressed. I won't go into the incident in detail, but everything went like clockwork. Princess and its captains take safety very seriously indeed. We have the utmost confidence in them."

Roba and May having fun cruising

That is great to hear! What about changes in plans - have you ever had to cope with any major itinerary mishaps?

"There are good things which come out of 'bad'. We were on a nine day cruise around Japan, the third of three in a row. We were chased by a super-typhoon and missed half of the ports, arriving in Yokohama one day late, making the cruise a ten day one. Princess refunded the whole of the cost of the nine days. They then proceeded to refund the cost of one day's sailing to those boarding Diamond Princess for the cruise back to Australia  because of the shortening of that cruise. And yes, they gave us a day's refund as well, even though our previous cruise had been lengthened by that one day. We've had similar refunds from them for delays getting into Noumea and when having to bypass Noumea."

That's great! Sounds like you two have learned how to go with the flow. Before I let you go, can you sum up why it is that you and May cruise as much as you do?

"I am retired. I like to write. I like to travel. I like the convenience which cruising gives us. At the end of a day after hours spent in some port we know what the bed and room will be like. We know what we can expect for dinner. We know that we won't have to ferret about in a suitcase for clothes to wear the next day, nor hope that the washing we did in a hotel sink will be dry by the morning."

Cruising into retirement

Above all, Rob and May cruise because they love it - and it provides a great space for Rob to write uninterrupted and unworried by the stresses of life on land.

A cruise retirement can seem like an unattainable goal, but it just requires some creative thinking, budgeting and a solid plan - as Rob has discussed in previous installments: his thoughts about retiring at sea, and his tips on how to do it best. So, start dreaming - and in the meantime, find a cruise for your next holiday!

I have enjoyed visiting as much of the world as possible over the years. Europe and the Mediterranean are personal favourites, but there is so much to see very close to our little Australasian corner of the globe- one of my top travel experiences was snorkeling with tropical fish and turtles in New Caledonia! Cruising is a fantastic way to see it all, and we hope to make booking a cruise easier for both first-timers and old salts. From ship tips to destination news and views, we will keep you up-to-date. Happy cruising!

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