Music At Sea February 14th - 28th 2010 Celebrity Infinity

Monday, 1 March 2010

Brooks Blog

A personal account of the 31st ‘Music at Sea’

A South America/Antarctic Adventure onboard “Celebrity Infinity” 

February 14 - 28, 2010

Buenos Aires, Argentina - Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

Elephant Island, Antarctica - Gerlache Straight - Paradise Bay, Antarctica

Ushuaia, Argentina - Cape Horn, Chile - Puerto Madryn, Argentina 

Montevideo, Uruguay - Buenos Aires, Argentina

When icicles hang from the window sill and a snow dumper has just plonked an 18 foot mountain of white winter wonderland in the middle of your driveway, many might secretly habour fantasies of white sandy beaches, softly sighing seas, palm trees, Caribbean sunshine etc. etc.  Well, dear reader, not the participants in this Music at Sea!  They packed their bags, fought their way through the snow to the nearest airport and…….headed to the Antarctic – remarking when they arrived that it was colder at home than in the vicinity of the South Pole! Those who could, arrived  in Argentina early ‘just in case’, four of the group renting a luxury apartment for a pre-cruise week in Buenos Aires with daily tango lessons thrown in! At the other end of the scale  First prize for determination must go to Linda and George who, their flight from New York cancelled due to bad weather, drove to Canada from whence, routed Toronto/Miami/Buenos Aires they arrived at Infinity’s dockside berth just a few minutes before she departed! 

My own journey to join ‘Infinity’ was eventful as, when MAS is involved, I like to be on the ship well in advance, so I had arranged to connect with ‘Infinity’ in Ushuaia seven days before MAS commenced. Late on the evening before I left came an urgent email from Miami

‘If you receive this - call”. I did  - to learn that there was no point in going to Ushuaia the next day as Infinity, coping with what we might politely call ‘weather problems’, had altered its port order and had already been there! Spare a thought for the poor Cruise Director who, with expected artistes not arriving and departing as planned was now improvising like mad, and spare a thought for the passengers bouncing up and down on the unpredictable waters of the South Atlantic! As I left the house the next morning my better half sleepily enquired what I was most looking forward to seeing on this trip.

“Cape Horn’ I replied.

Suddenly she was wide awake.

“Gay Porn?” she exclaimed!

What a start! Surely the day could only get better?!

I had been  re-routed to Puerto Madryn and my past flashed up before me!  Eight years ago scheduled to join ‘Mercury’ in that same port, I had flown to Trelew – the nearest airport - arriving there still dressed for a London winter, and since temperatures were in the 80’s looking conspiculously out of place. At that time memories of the Falklands War were fresh and my discomforture was not eased by the knowledge that a UK newspaper purchased at Heathrow and now protruding from my raincoat pocket was attracting some attention! The first sights to greet me inside the airport terminal were memorials to the gallant fallen of Argentina plus a fighter plane of the Argentinian Air Force who had a base there and to add to my misery the agent who was supposed to collect me and take me to the ship didn’t turn up.  For a few hideous minutes I felt stranded behind enemy lines! An illusion as the local people could not have been kinder towards this oddly dressed stranger in their midst – even counselling me against walking around with too much cash in my pockets – they made me so welcome that when I did leave them 3 days later to catch up with Mercury in, yes you’ve guessed it, Ushuaia, the parting was tinged with regret. Anyway, I digress. Back to the present. This time flying London/Madrid/Buenos Aires where, arriving early in the morning and faced with a 14 hour layover befor the onward flight to Trelew I asked a taxi driver to take me to the Recoleta area to see the famous cemetery.  (Don’t get me started on Buenos Aires taxi drivers! 90% should’nt be behind the wheel and the remaining 10% have no idea where they are going) This taxi driver was worse. He didn’t even ATTEMPT to look where he was going – gabbling in Spanish about football and twisting his head round to me in the back street to make sure I was getting the message! All this whilst simultaneously weaving in and out of the many lanes of early morning rush hour traffic,  convinced me that even if I reached the cemetary it would only be on a one way ticket. As he grew more and more animated I grew more and more desperate! Suddenly he reached in the glovebox, scrabbled around inside, and then triumphantly produced a dishevelled piece of paper which he carefully handed to me.  What was this – the Holy Grail? No. It was a photocopy of the passport of one Diego Maradona! (For those of you who don’t know: Football is a religion in Argentina and its High Priest is Diego Maradona – the nearest they have to a living Saint and by national acclaim the greatest Argentinian to draw breath).  I persued this treasured document with respect and then carefully made to hand it back to my driver. 

“No, No – its for you”

What do you do when a complete stranger gives you a gift which to him is priceless and which to you  - well, put it this way, Maradona scored the winning goal for Argentina against England in the 1986 World Cup. Whats more it was ‘controversial’. Why? Simple. In football you kick the ball with your foot – which is why its called football.  Sometimes you can use your head – if you have a suicide wish, but its still called football. OK? What you don’t do is stroke the ball into the goal with your hand which is what Saint Diego did. That’s considered cheating. Damn it, it IS cheating – but not, apparantly,  in an Argentina against England game refereed by a man scared witless by hysterical chanting from the Argentine fans,  conveniently afflicted by myopia! When asked to explain, the great Diego said the goal was the ‘Hand of God’ which didn’t play to well with the English sports fans who saw video replays clearly showing whose hand it was and anyway, brought up to believe that God is an Englishman, knew He would NEVER do such a thing – especially if the match was England against Argentina. Throughout the country English fans spluttered in their beer which brings me back to my current predicament i.e. an Englishman sitting in the back of a cab driven by an Argentinian Football Fanatic for whom the memory is sacred, and desperate for the Hand of God to take some control over the steering wheel. Moreover, how I should respond to this unsolicited gift without causing a diplomatic incident?

So what did I do?

I simpered “Muchas Gracias” seemingly overcome with emotion (Which puts me in line for a ‘Wimp of the year Award” and an Oscar) and, honour satisfied,  my new found best friend deposited me outside the gates – alive - of La Recoleta cemetery the final resting place for many illustrious Argentinians including Eva Duarte (Evita), Admiral William Brown (founder of the Argentinian navy) and presumably one day, (but sadly not yet),  one Diego Maradona! 

After I had paid my respects to the former first lady I sat underneath the giant centenerary Hindu rubber tree close to the cemetary’s walls, sipping a coffee from La Biela. An extract from the the great Arthur Rubinstein’s biography came to mind.  He had a few run ins with Juan Peron and took his revenge by often repeating a story concerning an angry Peron confronting the US Naval attache to Argentina about persistent stories in the US press which suggested that his beloved wife Eva might, in her past,  have worked as  a ‘lady of the night’. 

“Why do so many of your newspapers print disgraceful stories about my wife”? he demanded. ‘They are even claiming she was a prostitute!’

“Please do not be upset Senor Presidente,” the naval attache replied, “They still call me Admiral – but I retired a long time ago”

It was a beautiful Sunday evening when Infinity slipped her moorings and glided gracefully down the Rio de la Plata (translation ‘River of Silver’ or known to us in English: River Plate) en route to our first port, the Falkland Islands. She was carrying close to 2,000 guests representing nearly 50 countries with, unusually, less than 40% of the passengers having English as their first language. Throughout the cruise all the major announcements were to be made in five languages. We were a floating United Nations. And excitement was in the air.

On our first seaday Paulina, with her husband Wei (on their 4th ‘Music At Sea’  cruise) celebrated her birthday by inviting some friends to join them in the private dining room of the SS United States Restaurant. As we sat around the table, surrounded by memorabilia from the legendary ocean liner, another member of the group – Russ – sprang a surprise by revealing that this was indeed a very special, nostalgic evening for him because many, many, years ago as a young man, he had worked onboard the predecessor to the “SS United States” – the “SS America”.  His evening was complete when he was shown original menus from his old ship being displayed on the walls of the dining room.

Paulina had just returned from her son’s wedding in Borneo at which she had suggested to her prospective daughter-in-law that she might follow an ancient Chinese wedding tradition and serve her future parents-in-law tea on bended knees!  The bride to be, having dutifully considered this proposal, gave her answer.

“I will be happy to respect your ancient Chinese tradition  - but I hope that, in return, you will observe an ancient and revered Bidayuh wedding custom.” 

“What might this be?” replied Paulina.

“On the eve of the wedding you will leave your hotel, gather a fresh human head, and present it to my parents!” 

And did they?


I am happy to report that ancient wedding customs were dispensed with in favour of something more appropriate for the 21st century! 

And then as the evening drew to a close Wei astonished us with stories of his youth which included being conscripted to work on the Bridge over the River Kwai, escaping and then walking (yes, WALKING! ) back to Malaysia.

At the time of the Falklands dispute between Britain and Argentina (“two bald men fighting over a hairbrush” was an apt description) there were, so I am told, some in the UK who believed the islands were just off the coast of Scotland! The reality is that the approximately 700 islands comprising the Falklands chain (Las Malvinas for friends in Argentina) lie approximately the same distance from the South Pole as London is from the North Pole. Unpredictable weather means that Cruise ships are frequently thwarted in their attempts to stop at these remote islands but we were fortunate. MAS guests came back with tales of drinking Guinness in the pubs, eating superb fish’n chips and, above all,  of the tame wildlife. A sheep shearing demonstration was a must and ALL were delighted and excited to have been there.  I was told that serving the entire community there is just the one hospital containing twenty two beds of which only one is a maternity bed – which suggests an unusual degree of cooperative timing amonst the islanders! 

And then it was time for ‘Infinity’ to raise her anchors make course for that great white continent of mystery - Antarctica. To Elephant Island where Shackleton’s “Endurance” was wrecked, then a navigation of the Gerlache Straight en route to Paradise Bay and all to a superb commentary pointing out the wild life which included penguins, seals and whales. Our fellow guests, many wearing thick insulated parkas and sporting binoculars and cameras were revelling in the atmosphere. As a brilliant sun shone down on the glacier smooth sea we drifted seemingly on tiptoe amongst the icebergs, the hushed stillness only interrupted by the crunch of the ice floes brushing the hull of the ship – their subterranean thuds echoing through the silently gliding Infinity like some primitive greeting code of welcome.

Icebergs seen from the Promenade deck – Close enough?

We were’nt just looking at Antacrtica. We were experiencing it in all its raw beauty. It was that ‘Eureka’ moment when we suddenly knew and understood why Scott, Shackelton and Amundsen had risked life and limb to come here and how fortunate we were to be witnessing those same sights in total comfort and safety.  Over and over again I heard fellow guests expressing the same feeling. “We are SO lucky’ and the truth is that we were. Even the notoriously fickle Antarctic weather was smiling on us. 

That evening I joined some of the MAS group for dinner. The waiter approached to give an overview of the food on offer. Solemnly he cleared his throat and, recognising the sign, seven heads attached to seven hungry stomachs swivelled in well drilled unison to give him their complete attention.

“Good evening everyone – I hope you had a wonderful day?”

Chorus of ‘Yes’ from seven throats attached to seven heads attached to seven hungry stomachs

“I just want to go through our offerings for this evening and tell you what is good on tonight’s menu‘.

He had our rapt attention. Seven pairs of lungs attached to seven throats attached to seven heads attached to seven hungry stomachs stopped exhaling less the noise interrupt the good news about to be delivered. 

‘Tonight” - (expectant pause) – ‘NOTHING is good on the menu’ Stunned silence as the enormity of what had just been said penetrated the brains of aforesaid seven heads attached to seven hungry stomachs – then, with exquisite timing which only comes from delivering the line many times in the past he continued:

“Nothing is good on the menu because………… TONIGHT…………EVERYTHING IS……… EXCELLENT!”  

Communal “WOOSH” as pent up air in seven pairs of lungs, attached to seven throats, attached to seven heads, attached to seven hungry stomachs was released in collective unison with the precision and finality of the final chord of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony performed by the Berlin Philharmonic.  Round of applause from all of us, happy beam from the waiter and, to be truthful, he was right, everything was EXCELLENT – not just that night but every night!

Our conversation turned to  the ‘old days’ of cruising (I nearly wrote ‘good old days’ but that would not only be maudlin but unfair) The Masquerade nights – fancy dress to you dear reader – without which no cruise entertainment programme was considered complete. I remember one entry with great joy. A wheelchair-bound passenger completely covered his tranportation with yellow paper and, with much honking from a horn on the arm rest plus the encouragement of thunderous cheers from the audience, propelled himself around the ballroom floor like a whirling dervish as ……a Yellow Cab! 

On another occasion I was alone in the elevator when the doors opened and in tottered a three-tiered wedding cake precariously balancing on stiletto heels. 

“What are you going as?” I asked the lady – for indeed it was a lady underneath the decoration.

The recipient of my enquiry gave me a look reminiscent of Dame Edith Evans’ portrayal of Lady Bracknell in ‘The Importance of being Earnest” It drew a deep breath.

“How dare you.” 

(“Oh dear” I thought  – something wrong here!)

“This”  (a bejewelled finger pointed to the garment cloaking her body) “This gown was chosen. and given to me, by my late husband just before he passed away” 

(“Is that why you murdered him?” No, of course I didn’t say that – much as I would have liked to. Discretion IS the better part of valour and very necessary for survival onboard a cruise ship)

There was a pause whilst she quivered and struggled with deep emotions conflicting within herself.

”Do you have the temerity to suggest that his treasured gift to me resembles………(she could hardly bring herself to utter the words) a FANCY DRESS COSTUME?

(“Well, it had crossed my mind actually” No, I didn’t say that either - there is a time and a place to say these things and, given the reaction, enclosed space of the elevator, and lack of an emergency phone, this was neither!) 

She concluded: “I do NOT participate in such childish NONSENSE!” Mercifully the elevator reached her stop and, as the doors glided open, she swept out leaving me resolved NEVER to comment on anyone’ s dress EVER again. 

Now there were people around that table who are now VERY eminent in their chosen profession (which makes their anonimity essential) several of whom began to recount student pranks which, perhaps, in the sober light of day, they might have wished had been left unsaid – but there again, some might argue the National Enquirer might be be better left unread! (Not me I always look for a copy to read on the plane home across the Pond and if it said that Elvis was flying the plane I’d tap on the cockpit door for an autograph.) Anyway, back to the narra - One of our group (lets call he/she ‘X’) recalled a masquerade party at a night club in New York. ‘X’  determined to win and planned his entry with military-like precision. First he dressed his collaborators in medical white coats. Then, realising they needed a ‘patient’, they ‘volunteered’ a slightly inebriated co-conspiritor to lie prone on a stretcher to which, (just to make sure he didn’t fall off or – heaven forbid – run away) he was securely tied. Surveying his work “X” decided the ‘patient’, far from looking at death’s door, seemed remarkably healthy – which wouldn’t do at all – so, to tweak up the realism, the ‘patient’  was attached to an intravenous drip. No ordinary intravenous drip mind. This was a SPECIAL vintage intravenous drip – the IV bottles having been filled with white wine! (No, I don’t know if it was a chardonnay – Yuck, I hope not. Don’t interrupt you’re spoiling the story). There was no stopping “X’ now. His creative juices were fired and he was really on a roll.  He ‘borrowed’ a gurney, commandered an ambulance, and, with lights flashing and siren blaring, the whole kit and caboodle arrived at said night club around  02.00am (much to the consternation of the local neighbourhood who, woken from their slumbers thought nothing less than the Delta force had landed in their midst).  ‘X’ emerging from the front of the ambulance, imperiously supervised the opening of the rear doors and then, surrounded by his entourage of white coats, produced his stretcher bound ‘patient’ from the back of the ambulance, strapped him back to the gurney and then, perhaps in a similar manner to the ceremonial wheeling in of the Thanksgiving Turkey, triumphantly guided both gurney and hapless occupant into the night club and onto the dance floor where - to humungous cheers from the crowd – they were awarded first prize. 

‘X’ was now well down ‘memory lane’ and without too much urging from the rest of us recalled attending a party at Studio 54 in New York to commemorate the 50th. Anniversary of the sinking of “Titanic’.  Don’t ask why anyone would hold a party to commemorate that but if you’re going to be tacky  - be SPECTACULARLY tacky!…….As ‘X’ entered the club he was greeted by the usual hubub of excited banter, laughter, clinking of glasses etc and then he was struck dumb by an unusual sight even for this, the most exclusive and bizarre Disco in the Big Apple. Hanging from the ceiling like an enormous vulture about to pounce on the single lone figure on the dance floor beneath was an enormous replica of ‘Titanic’.  The unfortunate person underneath the hull was holding a microphone and singing, or perhaps a more accurate recollection would be TRYING to sing, because two enormous fans, one each side of the stage, were operating at full blast, generating hurricane force winds which, constantly blowing her dress above her ears, not only made singing difficult but breathing perilous as with every gasp she she risked inhaling her entire wardrobe. So what was she singing? Yes, You’ve guessed it. “Stormy Weather” (I told you this was tacky) but wait dear reader. That is not all. We’re coming to the climax.

“Don’t know why theres no sun up in the sky” she warbled.

‘Your’e underneath ‘Titanic” – that’s why there’s no sun up in the sky’ responded the happy revellers.

‘Can’t go on – everything I have is gone” she continued - the ship creaked and swayed perilously above her.

“Will be soon” shouted the excited crowd.

“Just can’t keep my poor self together’ she gasped –  her dress now half way down her throat.

“Ha Ha – we can see that” responded the throng.

The singer, seemingly oblivious of what was about to happen, valiantly went for the last stanza.

“STORMY WEATHEEEEEEE….” when out of the wings appeared  a gigantic ‘iceberg’ heading straight for – you’ve guessed it – the pride of the White Star Line.  Wallop! It smashed against the ship, “URGH” screamed the vocalist running for her life,

‘AHHHHHHH” went the crowd in a collective alcohol fuelled orgasm. CHER BANG, went the ship hideously lurching from side to side and then with a great sigh and snap of its suspending lines falling to the floor – CRASH -  where it disintegrated into little pieces and then – suddenly -  there was stunned silence followed by thunderous cheers as without warning, standing like a godess in the wreckage was revealed:


 Ushuaia – “The port at the end of the world”

Back to the cruise! Our next port was Ushuaia – the self-styled ‘port at the end of the world’ – which it is. The most southerly town in the world. Once more we were fortunate with the weather – the odd fluffy cloud draped the snow-capped mountains – but this was a glorious day and, yes, there were more penguins to see! Then to that notorious graveyard of many a ship - Cape Horn. Even fearless mariners have been known to experience qualms of trepidation at the thought of ‘rounding the Horn’. All my previous attempts had ended in failure - on one occasion I was convinced we would capsize - so when I awoke on Tuesday 23rd. of March (the day of our navigation around this southern tip) it was in a frame of mind more like that of the owner of a new Toyota Prius who, hearing the engine purring quietly feels confident, but……….who knows?! I needn’t have had any negative thoughts. No problems today. Infinity rounded the Horn with hardly a roll. It was an absolute dream of a day and when we returned to our staterooms that evening all the guests found a commemoration certificate inscribed with their name and signed by the Captain – a thoughtful and much appreciated mementoe of a very special day. Thank you Celebrity. 

The next day was one of those wonderfully relaxing, langorous sea days as Infinity strolled just off the Argentinian coast towards Puerto Madryn. It was to this area of Patagonia that a Welsh community, fearful they would lose their own identity if they remained at home and promised by the Argentine government that they could maintain their own Welsh traditions and language, emigrated to Patagonia in the mid 1860s. Their descendants remain here to this day keeping the Welsh language and traditions alive. Welsh tea shops and cakes were in evidence. We even saw a Welsh harmonium complete with – get this – a mouse-proof pedal! 

 Our tenth anniversary cake – pre-surgery!

That morning we had small but important ceremony to perform, namely a reception to commemorate the 10th anniversary of ‘Music At Sea’.  Can it really be ten years? Yes! We toasted John and Rosemary under whose careful stewardship MAS has flourished and then Jeanne – conscripted to be the group’s honorary surgeon – dissected the unanaethetized anniversary cake with consumate professional skill - It didn’t feel a thing!

And so to our penultimate port. Montevideo. Again the sun was shining and what a joy it was to walk the tree-lined boulevards of this ancient city.

 Teatro Solis – Montevideo

The Solis theatre, a national treasure dating from 1857, is the oldest in South America and nearby I discovered the most beautiful bookshop – a temple to the written word – inside which was a stained glass window with this inscription beneath ‘Veritas Filia Mendacii Est’ No, I don’t know what this means - so if you do, please email me. Thanks. 

 Bookshop in Montevideo

And so, that evening, as the great fireball in the sky slid beneath the horizon, Infinity glided from her berth close to the resting place of ‘Graf Spee’, heading once more for Buenos Aires. It was that bittersweet time when one says Farewells and dreams of meeting again. Privately I thought this ‘Music at Sea’ had been one of the best.  A unique itinerary, fantastic weather and the crew of ‘Infinity’ delivering the top class cruising experience for which Celebrity is justly renowned. I had kept these thoughts to myself and was hoping to get feedback about the rest of the group’s feelings. Without exception everyone loved the cruise and adored ‘Infinity’.  And then I had a wonderful surprise. We have not yet announced the ‘Music At Sea’ programme for 2011 and I had dismissed the possibility of any of the group returning for a second cruise this year. Wrong!  Several had already made reservations!

In May: ‘Azamara Journey’ Barcelona – Copenhagen including London and our private excursion and concert in WS Gilbert’s home (of Gilbert and Sullivan).

In June: The ‘Celebrity Mercury’ Alaskan cruise with our trip on the Rocky Mountaineer and concert at Chateau Lake Louise.

In September: The West coast wine cruise onboard ‘Celebrity Millennium’ including a reception at John and Rosemary’s home,


In October:  Egypt/Israel round trip from Rome onboard ‘Celebrity Eclipse’.

What a wonderful start to our tenth anniversary and if YOU, dear reader, would like to join us, please do.  As the song goes:

“Theres always room in our house to share a smile or two – there’s always room enough dear friends for YOU.”

But there won’t be if you delay(!) so telephone or email John and

Rosemary NOW!!

Until we meet

My warmest thoughts


LONDON March 2010.


Music At Sea February 14th - 28th 2010 Celebrity Infinity

Monday, 1 March 2010