I think I forgot to mention, before we left, that the first leg of our 8 weeks away this summer was to be an extended Viking Cruise around the Mediterranean. Greece, Italy, Croatia, Monaco, Spain. In two weeks.
We joined the cruise because Ed was recruited by a booking agent to give lectures to the passengers. More accurately, he was recruited by the booking agent to become a client of the agent, who then pitched him to various cruises. Within a couple of weeks he had 3 offers for the summer, and we chose Viking.
Ed’s lecture on one of the stops, Monte Carlo, was fabulous, by the way. Monte Carlo was a tiny little principality—it’s still a tiny little principality—so poor that to keep body and soul together the prince was selling his towns to France. Then he hit on the idea of recruiting a criminal gambling entrepreneur with a genius for marketing and guest services—not unlike Viking (the marketing and guest services part, not the criminal entrepreneur part !)1 —and the rest is history.
I’ve never thought of myself as a cruise person, and, lo and behold, I am not a cruise person.
More to the point, I am not a recirculated-air person. For a human with an immune system like mine, being on a cruise ship for two weeks—even worse, being on a tour bus for two weeks (multiple tour buses, no less)—is like being on an airplane for two weeks.
When I finally got to Paris I was so sick I was in bed for two days. After that I was up all night, every night, convulsed by a seizing, racking cough. I was so sick I missed the French Open, which we’d bought tickets for. Ed brought me back a t-shirt.
Eventually the situation came down to a choice between buying a ticket home so I could be sick in my own bed, or visiting an English-speaking doctor here in Paris and hoping s/he could patch me up.
That’s another thing: the French medical system.
The doctor I went to—from Quebec originally, so fluent in both languages—not only fixed the problem but also, as a bonus, diagnosed the issue I’ve been having for—oh—call it the last decade or so,2 and told me which specialist to see3 when I got back to the U.S.
In contrast, the G.P. whom I see occasionally in Westchester spends half our appointment pitching me on a colonoscopy. This she does without fail, no matter what I’m there for. (Urinary tract infection? Get a colonoscopy. Shingles? Get a colonoscopy. Etc.)
Having changed my life in the course of an unhurried 30-minute appointment, my Paris doc then charged me half what anyone in my neck of the woods at home would charge. Try seeing a doctor in the middle of Manhattan, and—well, you can’t necessarily get in to see a doctor in the middle of Manhattan, not unless you’re a member of a concierge practice with an upfront membership fee of twenty thousand or so.
My own Manhattan doctor, whose office is directly across the street from Trump Tower (that’s actually been a lot of fun, watching the show outside—I was even there the day Melania and Barron moved to D.C., for some reason) charges $500 for a 15-minute office visit. A 15-minute telephone consult is somewhere around $125 (Ed thinks it’s more), and she doesn’t take insurance.
The meds, which we paid for out of pocket, were cheaper than the same meds in America covered by insurance.
(Sidebar …. have Katharine and I mentioned C&K is a nonpartisan blog? If not, this is probably a good time – (!) I delved into comparative healthcare systems about 10 years ago, but have now forgotten most of what I learned, and I never got around to reading the book I bought comparing the US system to the French system. In case you’re interested, I think this is it: Differential Diagnoses: A Comparative History of Health Care Problems and Solutions in the United States and France by Paul V. Dutton.)
Back to cruise people and not being one.
If I were a cruise person, I would be a Viking cruise person, no question. The people running the company, as well as the people running the boat, have the whole thing down. The entire Viking operation is pretty much a miracle in logistics, and that’s on top of the aforementioned miracles in marketing and guest services. A fair bit of the conversation over the many meals and drinks we all consumed was: Viking. Wow. How do they do it ?
Almost everyone we met was on their second Viking cruise at least, with many more to come. One woman, a retired middle-school teacher from Texas, told me she and her husband take lots of pictures so they can show their adult children “where their inheritance is going.”
An architect on board told us the cost to build and launch a boat like the one we were on was in the neighborhood of $1.4b. Viking has built a whole bunch of big boats now, and they’re building a bunch more. Sixteen more, I think.4
That’s another thing: big, for Viking, is not that big. There were roughly 900 guests and maybe 600 staff on our boat (a 1.5 to 1 ratio – hard to imagine for a person like me, involved in education).
The really big cruise ships, like Celebrity, have nearly 5000 people on board, all told. Apparently there are Chinese ships with thousands more.
Five thousand souls on one ship. That’s an awful lot of germs in close proximity.
Two weeks on a Celebrity cruise and they’d probably have to carry me off the boat on a stretcher.