There were numerous onboard of events and activities to keep the guests entertained during our days at sea. The programming was such that I had a show in the evening, so I would treat myself to a “wellness” day, in preparation for my performance. The sea days provided a necessary respite after several days of frenzied port exploration. Usually I spent the time on one of the outside decks under an umbrella, with a good book – or working out at the gym.
It was during a workout that I discovered this magic place, visible from the window of the Fitness Center, located at the front of the ship. It looked like a private relaxation area. Located a few decks above the bow and offering a commanding view of the horizon, this was one of the most beautiful vantage points on the entire vessel. Its deck was sparsely strewn with cushy, oversized lounge chairs, crowned with a whirlpool. Oddly, there were very few people out there at any given time. There was a glass door in the fitness center, connecting to this place, but affixed to the door was a large and foreboding sign that read, “Kein Zutritt – Dieser Bereich ist ausschliesslich fuer SPA- und Saunagäste.” (No access – this area is exclusively for SPA and sauna guests.) I assumed from the sign that the SPA und Saunagäste must have paid more for their cruise and that this was a little add-on amenity…sigh. I felt like little orphan Annie, my nose pressed against the glass, longing for the exclusive privilege of the Ruheberiech(Quiet Zone).
One afternoon, while working out on the elliptical, I glanced in the direction of the bow and spotted one of the other guest entertainers and her husband luxuriating in this “exclusive area.” I was overcome with envy and indignation! Did she negotiate the Quiet Zone into her contract? Had she been she allotted a cabin superior to mine, therefore entitling her to the Quiet Zone? Or, can it be that I had misinterpreted the verbiage on the glass door and everyone is permitted to use the Quiet Zone? Upon further inquiry, I discovered that the Quiet Zone is indeed available to all guests. You simply have to access it through the SPA, and not the Fitness Center. Yay!
The following afternoon I paid a visit to the SPA, sporting stylish cruise wear with my bathing suit underneath. The SPA manager looked up from her desk.
I greeted her in my best and most polite German, “Hello. I would like to access the Quiet Zone. Can you please point me in the correct direction?”
“Do you want to use the sauna?” She inquired.
“No, thank you,” I replied. “Just the Quiet Zone.”
Her mouth puckered. “The Quiet Zone is only for sauna guests.”
“But I only want to lay on a big chair in my bathing suit and use the whirlpool and read my book. I promise I will be quiet.”
She repeated, louder, with greater emphasis, “The Quiet Zone is only for sauna guests.”
Apparently, the use of the sauna is a mandatory rite of passage in order to achieve the nirvana that is the Quiet Zone. I have nothing against the sauna. When I lived in Germany, I fully embraced the sauna culture that was adopted from the Finns, including their sauna dress code, the non-negotiable birthday suit. I always enjoyed sauna nudity, very comfortable and freeing. However, after appearing onstage as a headline entertainer, there is no way I am going to rub sweaty backsides with last night’s audience…But I really wanted to visit the Quiet Zone!
I would have to outsmart her.
“In that case, I would like to use the sauna,” I lied.
Her lip curled upward, sensing my deceit, “Would you like a locker key to store your belongings?”
“That won’t be necessary,” I replied, with an accidental sneer.
|“This area please only with bath shoes step!” (This means you)|
I entered the women’s locker room, victorious but fearful of retribution. Tentatively I approached the door to the Quiet Zone. There was sign on the door that read, “Ruhebereich, das Sonnendeck ist kein FKK Bereich!” (Quiet Area, the sundeck is not a…) Oh, for @!$*sake, I don’t even know what this means! Are we allowed out here or not?!! I pushed open the door to shield my eyes from the brightness – I had made it to the Other Side. It was…magnificent! I threw my towel onto an oversized chaise lounge and started to settle in when it occurred to me that I should submerge myself in the whirlpool. Should the Sauna Police appear and discover me bone dry I might be evicted…or worse! The whirlpool was divine. I bobbed up and down for a few minutes, allowing those water jets to have their way. No sooner had I toweled off and settled back into my chair, than did that dreadful woman come outside to check my whereabouts. My saturation level must have met her approval, for she slithered back inside. It looks like I won that round.
|The Quiet Zone|
As I lay in my chair, my mind wandered back to Germany’s bathhouses and “Sauna Culture.” I took part and loved it when I lived there! In much of Northern Europe and Scandinavia, day spas and bathhouses are quite prevalent. They are not considered an elusive luxury relegated only to the affluent, as they are in the US. You can find saunas and bathhouses in most German cities, boasting all kinds of amenities. Some are included in a gym membership, others a dedicated day spa, ornate with Roman or Turkish décor, water fountains, ornate gardens, and fragrant herbs. Regardless of the dress code, most were unisex, but offered one “Ladies Only” day per week. German bath houses offer most if not all of the following: Saltwater indoor/outdoor heated swimming pool, Finnish (dry) sauna, steam room, whirlpool, ice cold bath/shower, relaxation room, sun bed and massage options.
|My old stomping ground: The Holhusen Bad in Hamburg|
On a rainy Monday, when the theater was dark, my fellow cast members and I would spend our day off in this state of indulgence. Also known as hydrotherapy, these Baths are widely recognized for their energizing and relaxing effects. The first of three basic steps is to warm the body with a steam bath, dry sauna or hot bath. After 10 or 15 minutes, it is customary to immerse yourself in an ice cold bath or shower, to stimulate blood circulation and release endorphins. The last step in the hot/cold sequence is to relax in a Quiet Zone, allowing your body to regulate itself and bask in the health benefits of this ritual. The entire cycle can be repeated 2 to 3 times. I used to leave the bathhouse in Hamburg in a state of utter resplendence!
Wait a minute…I sat up and took a head count. There are 9 people out here, only 3 women – separate facilities – I’m takin’ a steam bath!!!! I bolted back to the locker room, peeled off my bathing suit, and marched forth commando into the sauna! I sat by myself in the sultry tiled room, loosely swaddled in terry cloth. Oh, sweet heaven, it has been too long!
When I left later that afternoon, I walked by the SPA manager. Apparently, now we were friends:
“Bye, have a nice evening!” she croaked.
My steam room sojourn had reconstituted my North German reserve, “Auf wiederschauen,” I replied.