Monday, October 10, 2011

"Cosa Nostra" Cruise Lines

I rarely write personal stuff on this blog, but an interesting happening a few months ago is worth sharing. I
have no idea how I'll use the following story, but it's likely to end up in a Sasha Jackson mystery someday...

In May, I went to Italy (and France). First time for me in Italy, and I loved it! I planned the trip based on water travel - as much as possible.  I took ferries from place to place. The itinerary was basically as follows:

Nice to Bastia to Livorno to Palermo to Naples to Rome  (The only surface travel I did was a train from Naples to Rome). 

Now the ferries were something else... Nice to Bastia and Bastia to Livorno were six and four hours respectively, and the journey was a lot of fun.  In each case, the ferry had a party atmosphere, several restaurants and bars, a gift shop, arcades, slot machines, a sundeck and even a wading pool!

The ferry from Livorno to Palermo was something else though... I almost chickened out and contemplated hitchiking to Palermo instead!  As I approached the ferry, I had visions of being attacked or robbed, and worried that the floating bucket of bolts would capsize.

I knew it would be a ~20 hour journey, departing at 11 pm and arriving at 7 pm the next day.  I even had a little cabin booked (a nice cabin actually, two bunk beds and a bathroom with shower, etc). 

With the first two ferry rides, it was pretty touristy and the ships left from a touristy port in the heart of the city.  For Livorno to Palermo, though, it was an industrial/commercial port way the hell out gawd knows where.  It truly was a dark and stormy night... okay, it was dark and foggy and I wondered if the cab driver was lost.  Nope.  There's the boat...

Now, I knew ahead of time that the Livorno to Palermo ferry was essentially a cargo ferry.  But they do sell tickets to tourists and I couldn't possibly be the only dingbat tourist to hop on board...  So, I'm at this shipyard, surrounded by eighteen wheelers and bikers and thinking WTF? There were a few families doing car trips with mom, dad and two or three kids, but mainly it was long haul truckers and a few bikers (the vroom vroom kind, not cyclists), but really no other tourists like moi.

I go to check in, and - unlike the previous two ferries with stellar customer service - this boat had stevedores named Butch and Bubba greeting the guests.  I was the: 
  • first Canadian they had ever had on board
  • the first female travelling solo they'd ever had
  • one of the very few pedestrian travellers on the ferry

So that was the set up.  The staff were all right out of central casting for The Sopranos or The Godfather.  They never smiled, the bar & restaurant staff were not particularly friendly, and none of them was what you'd call well groomed.  Okay, no big deal...

What was particularly surprising was the fact that this was a TWENTY HOUR ferry ride with no stops, out in the middle of nowhere, and there was basically no place to spend money!  Think about this: A totally captive group of travellers, and really not all that much to do for most of the journey (there was no land view to speak of, really, no Internet, no cell service, one community TV in the main deck "lounge area"...)

  • The gift shop never opened (it only appeared to have three items for sale anyway, two of which were stale chips).
  • The "casino" - about a dozen slot machines - was only open from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm.
  • The buffet restaurant (sad looking fare) was only open for lunch from 12:00 to 2:00 pm.
  • The bar/cafe was open for two hours, then closed for two hours, then open for two... etc.
I wandered around the decks and looked at the water, had a smoke and pretended not to notice the clusters of truckers who were checking me out (sadly, more as a curiosity than as a hot property!) 

It was just really strange to be in such a "we don't give a fuck about you and your desires" place, especially given the situation, in which they could have turned the whole thing into a gold mine, especially the slot machines.  As a tourist I expect to be gouged, but this was the extreme opposite of that. 

It was strange, but I'd definitely do it again.


  1. Totally reminds me of a ferry ride my sister and cousins and I took from Wales to Ireland. Scary stuff!

  2. Hmm, maybe the tourists are just a front for the 'cargo' :-)

    Disclaimer: That suggestion is for entertainment purposes only and I'm not in any way maligning whatever scary ferry company that Jill travelled with :-)

  3. @Sarah and @ Cathy it was truly weird... what travel operator DOESN'T want to milk passengers/tourists for every cent they can...? Hmmm... 'front'... I gotta use this as a book plot someday...

  4. ooh an adventure! I enjoyed reading this. Funny how life is often weirder than any plotline you could come up with. Deffo a story in this!