Discovering a Small World on a European Cruise

A View of the Atrium
A View of the Atrium

Who knew a lighthearted joke from the crew would pave the way to my meeting with someone from my distant past?

On one of our many cruises, I was sitting with my wife, Virginia, in the Atrium, our favorite place to relax in port, telling one of the bartenders of my visit to his country. He was from the Philippines and I had been to Subic Bay while I was in the Navy.

He asked what year I was there and when I told him 1956, he brightened. With a big smile, he said “Papa!”

We started to laugh, Virginia, too. Everyone thinks the worst of navy men.  

The joke spread over the bartending and service staff in the atrium, and in no time at all, the Filipinos who had gotten to know us were calling me Papa. I must have heard “Hi Papa!” four or five times a day.


On subsequent cruises I continued to get mileage out of the joke, but had no idea where it would lead. During a European cruise sailing aboard Crown Princess in 2009, we were sitting at a table in the Atrium playing cards when a couple about our age sat at the adjoining table.

We started to talk and during our conversation, I told them the Papa joke. The husband, Bob, asked what year I was in the Philippines. I told him 1956. He replied, “So was I.” He then asked had I been stationed in Subic Bay. “No,” I said. “But I visited while I was with the air group on the USS Shangri-La.” My new friend remarked he, too, had been on the USS Shangri-La.

He then asked what squadron I was in and when I told him Fighter Squadron Fifty Three, he once again replied, “So was I.”

As it turned out, we were both in the same place, on the same ship, at the same time, but we’d never met before. I was a plane captain on the flight deck, getting the planes ready to go and the pilots strapped in and sent on their way.

Bob was on the hanger deck, in the power plant division. Between opposing 12-hour shifts and the different-world aspect of our duties, our paths had never crossed.

But they finally did on a cruise ship bound for Rome.

Here we were, Bob and I, more than 50 years later, having drinks, enjoying a wonderful cruise vacation on a beautifully appointed ship, half a world away from our last cruise together on the no-frills Shangri-La.

We spent a few hours enjoying each other’s company, Bob and I talking, Virginia and Bob’s wife, Barba, looking on in some astonishment. It’s been four years since our cruise, and we still email each other from time to time.

Virginia and I have been on 22 cruises with Princess Cruises and nothing like this has happened to either of us before. But it certainly was an incredible experience to meet someone from my past in such an unexpected way.

After 10 years with the Navy, David segued to a career with the LA County Marshall’s office. He and Virginia are looking forward to their next adventure, a coastal cruise in April on Sapphire Princess.