What is 954 feet long, carries 2,200 passengers, plus two ballroom dance teachers from Smith Valley? The Carnival Cruise ship, Spirit. "Would you be available to give ballroom dance classes on a cruise to Hawaii?" the telephone voice inquires. Available? "Absolutely," would be a better word.
On the five-day passage to Hawaii, our job is to give a dance class each morning and afternoon. Once in Hawaii, the ship makes calls on the four major islands, and we become regular passengers. To add to the sweetness of our good fortune, our stateroom and all meals are cost free.
Life aboard a ship is shamelessly decadent. Dining sumptuously in an elegant dining room is a nightly event. Each morning brings many tough decisions. An omelette, or pancakes, perhaps ham, bacon, or sausage, and don't forget the fresh tropical fruit.
And what about those "grueling" dance lessons? Most men will not consider ballroom dance lessons, unless they are out of sight of land. "Come on Harold, it will be fun and it's free," Martha implores. Beginners, oldsters, skeptics, daredevils, all scrunch together on a dance floor that is much too small. Regular partner dancing is impossible. I give an impromptu jazz dance class. The music is infectious, and shipboard gaiety reigns. Later, when classes are of manageable size, the gentlemen learn the fine art of leading. Their partners can't keep from smiling. We even get a few tip envelopes when the cruise finishes.
Shipboard friendships incubate rapidly. Faina and Ellis are world travelers. Their personal card reads, "World Wanderers and Wonderers." Faina dresses in the style of a Gypsy. Ellis passes for Indiana Jones. They're extraordinary people. One day, we share afternoon tea in the lounge. In front of us, on a tiny stage, are two Scandinavian goddesses. One strums a harp, the other bows a viola. We nibble pastries, sip tea in china cups, and watch white caps pass by through the lounge windows. I rapidly adapt to my new life style.
Once in Hawaiian waters, our new schedule begins. Each night we cruise to another island, and spend the entire day in port. In Maui, we drive the wiggly Hana Highway, which is just 33 miles long, but takes three hours. We pass clingy vines and gushing waterfalls. It's spectacular, bamboo groves, palm trees and all.
In Kauai, we tie up in Nawiliwili. Adjacent to the wharf is a park colonized by chickens. Tiny frogs are a scourge, hence eco-friendly chickens solve the problem. In Hanapepe, we find the Hawaii of yesteryear. The buildings are from the late '30s. Down the road is a hovel is so buried in crimson bougainvillea and yellow trumpet vines, it's almost invisible.
On the dry side of the Big Island (Hawaii), is Kona. A short drive out of town brings us to a veranda cafe on a hillside. Every imaginable variety of hibiscus turns the hillside into an artist's pallet. On the wet side of the Big Island, is wet and funky Hilo. Trendy health food cafes nudge up to old style department stores. In the central market, great mounds of pineapple and bushels of cut flowers patiently await buyers.
Perhaps the most memorable moments of the voyage, come as we leave port each evening. Our new friends, Andrea and Malcolm, play and sing melodious Hawaiian music on the fantail. Mooring lines are cast off, the ship glides slowly away from land. The sun hovers behind a velvet, green mountain. Andrea's sweet voice sings of "Aloha," which means hello and goodbye. We have cruised to the edge of paradise and had a peek. Sure glad I took all those dance lessons many years ago.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.