Making cruise pals is no trivial matter

Darren Cartwright

The task was easy enough - attempt to organically meet people on a 14-day cruise from Hong Kong to Shanghai, via the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan.

I had only one rule: any venue where alcohol flowed freely was off limits. It may be easy to talk to drunks but that doesn't mean you're suddenly friends.

But it did mean about a third of the socialising areas on Holland America Line's mid-sized ship Volendam - bars, the pool deck and the casino - were excluded.

So I opted for trivia. On a cruise ship, there are no concerns about cheating because there is no mobile phone reception and the onboard wi-fi is slower than dial-up.

Plus there's never much at stake. The small handful of teams who gathered for the opening trivia game in the Volendam's Crow's Nest lounge on deck nine were playing for lapel pins.

If you've never cruised before, know there are very serious pin collectors onboard ships. We were playing for a shiny "Asian' Holland America Line design. Rarity unknown.

Answers are marked under the "honour system" and I notched a credible 13 out of 16 to tie for first.

My victory drew attention, and hearty praise, from my trivia neighbours Dana and Butch from California.

I did explain that the last question for two points (how many players in an AFL side?) was relatively easy since I was from Australia.

By the time the cruise director came around to check the scores, he thought the Americans, now sitting opposite me and freely chatting away, were on my team.

We all received a sought-after pin, so big smiles all round.

But Dana was curious about how well I scored.

She took the sheet, studied it for a few seconds, then placed it back down.

A few minutes later we departed but she made the point that I should take the answer sheet as a memento.

All in the space of about 20 minutes, I'd made my first friends.

Chuffed about my win, I returned to my cabin to review my answers.

To my surprise, and disgust, I should only have scored 12, not 13 points. I had awarded two points for a one-point question that had two parts. It was an honest mistake.

Not sure if Dana, a retired school teacher who would no doubt be experienced in marking question sheets, picked up on it but she and Butch were waiting for me two hours later at the 9pm music trivia round.

They probably thought they couldn't lose. We came fifth.

Next up was a bus trip to see Old Manila.

My tactic was to be one of the first aboard and sit as near to the front as possible because older folk like to be near the door. But you can't sit too close to the front because the first few couple of rows are reserved for the elderly or disabled.

I could joke that the whole bus would have been be eligible for those seats, but I won't.

Also, if you sit alone near the rear you can be easily brushed if it's not a fully booked excursion.

On queue, I was the second person on the coach and sat in the third row against the window.

Within seconds, an American woman, possibly in her 70s, sat beside me.

She said a quick "hello" and then went to retrieve her seat belt. It had fallen between a gap in our seats. I wriggled it free and kindly passed it to her.

"Thanks" she said. It was the second and last word she muttered over the next four hours.

I cross out bus tours as a way of meeting people. Everyone was too focused on getting on and off the bus as quickly as possible.

And a warning: don't change seats mid-trip. On one excursion, after a brief stop, a couple sat closer to the front and it caused angst and audible whingeing for the next 20 minutes among those who "lost" their seats.

Having failed to make friends with grandma, I had a better experience in Taiwan visiting Dream World shopping centre in downtown Kaohsiung.

The centre didn't open until 10am and, having arrived a little early, I waited outside the entrance.

It's where I met likeable Gold Coast retirees Liz and Jim, who were eager to converse.

Three hours later, as agreed, we met up again and shared a cab ride back to the port.

Friends made, money saved.

I did take a bus trip to the Nagasaki Peace Park. Another friendless return ride.

Although I promised to avoid places where alcohol flowed freely, I made an exception.

If it was part of an activity then it was fine, so I attended the "how to make' a cocktail class" ($US15/$A20).

Only myself and Californian native Rhonda, who was filling in time while her husband Ozzie played Blackjack, signed on.

We chatted for a while until our mixologist cancelled the session because of a lack of numbers. He needed a minimum of four people.

But we did receive a refund and a free cocktail and I made a new friend.

Even on a ship with 1400 people it's amazing how many occasions I bumped into Butch, Dana, Liz, Jim and Rhonda.

In fact, I saw Rhonda several times and each time she appeared delighted that she remembered my name - "Darrell".

Fair to say, Rhonda has been downgraded from friend to acquaintance.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: Any number of international carriers fly direct to Hong Kong where Holland America's Asian cruise departs, including Qantas, Virgin Australia, Cathay Pacific and British Airways.

Holland America's next similar trip is February 3, 2019: A 14-day trip from Hong Kong to Shanghai via Taiwan and Japan on the Westerdam. Prices twin-share. Inside (Cabin): $A2,379. Obstructed Oceanview: $A2,909. Verandah : $A3,489. Signature Suite: $A5,449. (https://www.hollandamerica.com/)

STAYING THERE: Arrive on the same day as cruise check-in opens and you get a "free night" onboard because the cruise does not depart until the following day. Otherwise stay at InterContinental Grand Stanford with rooms from $A250 (www.hongkong.intercontinental.com/). Transfers to the cruise port are also available from here.

The writer travelled as a guest of Holland America.