We got a call from the U.S. Embassy late one day last week, letting us know they had a high-level delegation flying in from Manila. These kinds of calls are always exciting, and this one was particularly gratifying when we realised that U.S. Senator John McCain would be on our manifest.
And not only John McCain but three of his Senate colleagues, including Joe Lieberman, Sheldon Whitehouse and Kelly Ayotte. So what happens on a vessel like the Emeraude when you’re carrying high-level passengers? How does the cruise experience differ? In answer to the first question, a lot, and in answer to the second, not very much.
When John McCain and two of his Senate colleagues sailed with us in the spring of 2009, they went out of their way to insist on no preferential treatment. That may be the American in them, that disdain for ceremony and protocol. That doesn’t mean we didn’t redouble our efforts to make sure that every last one of our ducks was in a row. We did. We contacted the liaison officer at the Embassy to ask about special dietary requirements and learned that Senator Lieberman was a kosher vegetarian.
Otherwise, the Senators cruised Halong Bay like other passengers, regaled by Senator McCain’s previous experience on the bay and in the country, of course. All but Senator McCain debarked to tour Surprise Cave and to visit a small fishing village with our guide. Senator Lieberman stayed up late to watch Indochine on our top-deck, one of the few who watched the entire, 3-hour French epic. And he rose early the next morning to do tai chi at sunrise.
Their fellow passengers were respectful and politely removed. Only one other passenger on our manifest was American, and he introduced himself to Senator McCain as a constituent since he is also from the state of Arizona. Nobody asked for pictures (except us!) or autographs. The only other passenger to approach the delegation was a woman who worked on a big cruising vessel moored in the bay. She was also American. When our tender approached Emeraude Pier, she wanted to let Senator McCain know that seeing him here made her day.
In one respect, the trip was uneventful, which is how we like it but for the weather, which was by turns gorgeous, foggy and drizzly. Had Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie cruised our vessel, I’m not sure it would have been business as usual, and you can bet I wouldn’t be blogging about that here. But politicians are another matter. These Senators were on an official trip, en route to Myanmar to assess the changes happening there.
That Senator McCain (presumably) steered the delegation to Halong Bay speaks volumes about the appeal of this natural wonder. And that he steered them (presumably) to us on the Emeraude, well... enough said.