The Love Boat

I’m not ashamed to say that on Friday nights when I was in middle school in the late ‘70s, I rarely missed an episode of The Love Boat.  I joined the cruise from the moment Julie and the crew greeted the clearly dysfunctional passengers as they boarded the ship, to the final scene as they pulled into port with all the passengers’ problems solved and major life lessons learned.  I dreamed of having Isaac’s job on a cruise ship, serving passengers drinks and helping them solve their problems, or at least going on a cruise myself someday.
I no longer wish to take a cruise and am pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy that type of travel, so it was with a little hesitation that I booked my first overnight cruise in Hạ Long Bay a few weeks ago.  It was not the Love Boat, but it was a fabulous experience.
Hạ Long Bay has been twice named a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its natural beauty and unique geological characteristics.  It consists of approximately 1900 limestone islands rising from the Gulf of Tonkin.  The islands are uninhabited and, except for some fishermen who live on floating platforms, the only people you will see there are other tourists.
There were about twenty-five passengers on my cruise, a combination of newlyweds, families, a mother and daughter, couples and single people.  They came from six continents and were traveling as short as a week or two to as long as a year (me).  We compared travel stories and got to know each other.  Despite how “diverse” the group was, I couldn’t help but feel we had so much more in common with each other than with the people serving us on the boat.

Flipping omelettes for breakfast

The crew members were all young (one was 18) and male.  They worked tirelessly to attend to our every need while on board.  They work long hours for weeks at a time without going home.  Our guide, for example, told us that our bus driver (who drove the four hours from Hanoi to the port), works for 26 days straight, including weekends, before having a day off.  If he takes any days off, he must find his own replacement and pay him/her.  He drives from Hanoi to the port in the morning and returns with passengers from another cruise in the afternoon.  When you add in traffic and the pick-up and drop-off at each hotel, the days are easily more than 12 hours long.  


My cabin

The ship’s crew all spoke some English and were interested in practicing with native speakers.  I was happy to be invited for a chat with two crew members late at night.  We sat outside the dining area while the passengers returned to their comfortable cabins and the rest of the crew lay down under the tables where we enjoyed scrumptious meals.  Some arranged dining chairs to sleep on.    I learned more about their lives and ambitions during our conversation.  We didn’t solve the world’s problems and there was no major drama on the trip, but I think Julie and Isaac would say that it was the magic of the Love Boat that prompted one crew member to invite me to his wedding before the night was over.
Google Hạ Long Bay and you will see stunning photos that show its real beauty in ideal conditions.  I did my best to capture it, but it’s not that easy.  Here are some highlights.

Comments (18):

  1. ellen (kathy's neighbor!)

    October 17, 2016 at 08:47

    Another great post, Tim ! And thanks for reminding me about Isaac and Julie. Ugh, but now I have the theme song in my head……

    • Tim Flanagan

      October 18, 2016 at 23:37

      And to think I used to sing along with it!

  2. Paula Agins

    October 17, 2016 at 10:29

    They just keep getting better and better!!! I too watched the Love Boat 🙂

    • Tim Flanagan

      October 18, 2016 at 23:37

      I knew my more “mature” readers would appreciate this!

  3. LInda Wight

    October 17, 2016 at 11:10

    HI Tim, another great adventure – glad u are meeting interesting and diverse people- also a “love boat viewer”. THe people work very hard – We had one cruise – enjoyed but I don’t think as interesting as yours:) You’re a people person! Love the pictures!

    • Tim Flanagan

      October 18, 2016 at 23:39

      Thanks, Linda.

  4. Millie

    October 17, 2016 at 12:53

    Great post Tim. A witty and fun read on my lunch break.
    I hope you go to the wedding!
    Thanks, Ellen, now humming the Love Boat theme song!

    • Tim Flanagan

      October 18, 2016 at 23:39

      He might have changed his mind, but there’s another wedding next month.

  5. Lori

    October 17, 2016 at 15:47

    I was a Love Boat fan, too!!! Except I wanted to be Julie when I grew up! Awesome post, Tim….so beautiful!

    • Tim Flanagan

      October 18, 2016 at 23:40

      You ARE Julie! Working your magic everywhere you go.

  6. Sarah Huber

    October 17, 2016 at 19:20

    OMG – what an amazing place! I have loved all your posts.

    • Tim Flanagan

      October 18, 2016 at 23:41

      Glad to hear from you, Sarah. I’m sure you would love it here.

  7. Betsy

    October 17, 2016 at 21:13

    Those limestone islands are breathtaking! Also…no mention of Gopher???

    • Tim Flanagan

      October 18, 2016 at 23:41

      Gopher was in my draft, but he didn’t make the cut!

  8. Susanne Murphy

    October 18, 2016 at 21:35

    I would love you hear you say more about how the passengers had more in common with each other than with those who worked on the boat.

    • Tim Flanagan

      October 18, 2016 at 23:59

      Thanks for asking. It’s a topic that’s been on my mind since I started traveling decades ago. Sitting on the boat, I couldn’t help but feel that the passengers – from Argentina, South Africa, Israel, UK, France, Italy, Australia, China and the US were all representing the privileged classes of their countries. We all have jobs with benefits, families, plenty to eat and took regular vacations. We have power, freedom and enjoy access to just about everything the world has to offer. Nearly everyone spoke English. I felt our lifestyles were so similar compared to the lifestyles of the workers on the boat. They work long hours for little pay and probably no benefits. The idea of a vacation probably does not enter their minds. They are surrounded by things that they cannot access – cars, travel, hotels, cruises, expensive restaurants, electronics, power, education, . . . . These are just superficial observations since I really don’t know any of these people well, but one thing I am always reminded of when I travel is that those of us who are wealthy are a small percentage of the entire population. That’s easy to forget when living in the US. There’s so much more to say about this, so I’ll try to write more in the future.

  9. Diane Weisman

    October 19, 2016 at 22:45

    Tim, I’m glad to hear your getting to travel around during your time off. I too watched The Love Boat on Saturday evenings during the 70’s and early 80’s. I always wanted to go on one and now having been on 9 cruises, I do like to travel by boat quite a bit. For me a cruise is like a travel buffet. I get to see a bit of everything and then when I really like a place I can go back later and stay for an extended length of time. It’s also the only vacation that I can fully relax on with the family. The only decisions I have to make are my food, drink and entertainment choices.
    I have always felt some guilt when traveling to third world countries when I see the living conditions of the average people working so hard to give and show their guests a great time. You are such a wonderful humanitarian and a person who can connect with so many around the world. I look forward to you sharing more of your experiences in Southeast Asia.
    I know that the crew members work hard on the cruises I’ve been on, but the people you spoke to seem to be working unbearable hours, and without a decent place to sleep. Is this the norm for most of the service related people that you have met?

    • Tim Flanagan

      October 20, 2016 at 01:40

      Hi, Diane. I am always amazed at how many hours people work everywhere I travel. There’s a security guard at my apartment building, and I have never seen him leave. He is there 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. He must have a day off, but it’s probably once or twice a month. He sleeps in a small room by the entrance with a mattress on the floor. I see him cooking meals on a hot plate. There are plenty of wealthy people here driving nice cars and hanging out in coffee shops, too. I don’t see evidence of poverty and homelessness like I have in Latin America or the US (I’ve only seen one person begging in two months), but the salaries are definitely low.


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