MacMania VI sails from Seattle

As some of you may recall, I spent a week last fall on MacMania V, a Geek Cruise through the western Caribbean. This time, I’m writing to you from MacMania VI, headed north to Alaska from Seattle. Joining me this time, as before, is my wife Marian. But this time, we also chose to bring our eldest child, Kylie (who turns four in a month). I also managed to talk my mother and her husband into joining us, so that we’d have plenty of help watching Kylie—and so that they might get a bit of Mac education out of it as well!

As we live but a few hours south in Portland, getting to the cruise was much simpler than flying across the country to Florida—we just piled everyone (and a large collection of luggage) into the family hauler around 9:30 a.m. Saturday, and headed north on I-5 to Seattle. Arrival and boarding were very smooth. We were able to park directly next to the terminal, and from there, it only took about 20 minutes to get the necessary paperwork out of the way and board the ship.

We spent the next few hours exploring our home for the week, the MS Oosterdam . This is a large vessel; bigger than the Veendham that we used for the western Caribbean cruise. Thankfully, our stateroom is located almost directly in the middle of the ship—though that just means that everything is equally far away, and pretty much nothing is close.

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Playlist on the high seas

A couple weeks ago, Rob Griffiths and I spent a week aboard the MS Veendam as part of MacMania V —a combination of a Mac conference and A Western Caribbean cruise. We taught classes on a variety of topics, such as maintaining your Mac, finding cool and affordable software, and using iWork. But the class that will likely stand out for me—in terms of how fun it was to “teach”—was one that had little to do with the Mac itself; that session was called “iPod Add-Ons: The Best of Playlist.”

In the hopes of preparing a fun diversion from all the “let us teach you stuff” classes, I prepared a presentation on many of our favorite iPod accessories. How fun could that possibly be? Very, as it turns out—especially when you bribe the attendees. You see, I had door prizes. Boy, did I have door prizes.

Thinking that a giveaway would be fun, before the cruise I e-mailed the manufacturers of some of the accessories I was covering and asked if they’d be interested in donating a sample or two that I could give away to attendees. I expected to get a few responses; instead, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of these vendors. (To be clear, I asked about products I had already chosen to cover; none of the products I included in the presentation were there because we got samples to give away.)

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All ashore

Early Saturday morning, when the MS Veendam docked in Tampa, the MacMania V cruise officially came to an end—as did one of the more interesting work weeks of my career. As I look back on the past seven days, I find many fond memories, from the scuba diving to the incredible assortment of dinner entrees to the sights in each port of call. But beyond that, by far, the best memories come from the interaction with fellow Mac users. Whether it was in sessions, at meal time, or just during an impromptu conversation elsewhere on the ship, there were stories to be told, backgrounds to be learned, and knowledge to be shared—and not just from the speakers to the attendees. Mac users are a diverse group, and the attendees at MacMania V covered a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and Mac experience levels. The chance to discuss Macs, Macworld , and technology in general with this small group for a full week was truly special, and I think all of us are leaving with a better perspective on our fellow Mac users than we had going in.

My interaction with Mac users is typically entirely virtual—from exchanges in the various online forums to e-mail to the occasional iChat, all I usually “see” of other Mac users is their text on my screen. But for the last seven days, the speakers and attendees all had the chance to put faces to names, to learn just why so many people love their Macs, and to just generally have a blast working in a most unexpected environment. Sure, there are some challenges to interacting aboard a cruise ship—three of my four sessions were interrupted by several-minute-long announcements from “Money Man Mark” about the upcoming bingo sessions—but those challenges are offset by the encapsulated nature of the experience. Although cruise ships are large, most of their area is reserved for staterooms and the ship’s operations. That leaves a handful of public gathering places, in which you were almost guaranteed of meeting another MacMania attendee, regardless of the hour of day or night. And every evening, all 60 of us were seated together (at a number of tables) for dinner, leading to even more conversation.

The shore excursions, too, were often a chance to interact with MacMania attendees. I think nearly every speaker I spoke with had at least one or more attendees on their shore excursions. That was true even in my case, as one of the other divers with my wife and I on both scuba diving days was a MacMania attendee (and there were only four people on the boat on the second dive day). No other conference I have attended has offered this much interaction between speakers and attendees outside of the conference proper.

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My week on a Geek Cruise

One of the most frequent questions I got before leaving for MacMania V was, “What’s a MacMania cruise like?” Given that this was my first, I couldn’t answer. But now that the cruise is almost over and I’ve spent a week enjoying the Caribbean and teaching classes, I can tell you that I’ve had a great time. If the idea of a cruise itself appeals to you, I highly recommend coming on a MacMania cruise, and for two reasons. First, as I mentioned in a blog entry earlier this week, there’s a lot of free time while the ship is sailing between ports, and the classes are both fun and informative. But just as fun is sailing with a group of people who share a common interest — one of the best parts of this cruise has been spending time with other Mac users and their families. In addition to classes, we eat meals together, go on shore excursions together, and just plain hang out together, and I think all of the attendees would tell you that they’ve met and gotten to know a bunch of really cool people. Having “cruised” this way, I can’t imagine going on a cruise without being part of a group.

That said, if you’re interested in what the day-to-day of a Geek Cruise is like, read on. As I noted earlier this week, there are sea times and shore times. When you’re docked, you have the option of going ashore, either on your own or as part of a planned excursion — there are many such excursions available for each port. Classes are held when the boat is at sea, which is most evenings and on days when we’re sailing to the next port. (On this particular seven-day cruise, we had four shore days and three sea days.)

Classes have been a lot of fun. As I mentioned earlier this week, on Monday Rob Griffiths and I presented our “Cool (and Affordable) Software” session, where we covered nearly 50 of our favorite affordable apps and utilities, many of which long-time readers would recognize as past Mac Gems and past MacOSXHints.com “picks of the week.”

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Guatemala, Mexico, and Mac horror stories

Greetings again from the MS Veendam . As I write this, we’ve just completed our port day in the area of Costa Maya, Mexico. My wife and I went diving again, and yes, that means we have more fish pictures. However, I’ll spare you the underwater camera work today (well, maybe just one image in the gallery ), and instead talk about what went on yesterday, last night, and today in general.

Yesterday we were in Santo Tomas de Castillo, Guatemala. The ship docked at a very busy commercial dock, as you can see in the latest image gallery. While it was kind of fun to watch all the frenetic dock activity, the Guatemala dock is clearly a commercial operation first, and a cruise ship drop-off point second. After diving on Tuesday, we chose to take it easy in Guatemala, and decided to just spend the day relaxing at a local beach resort. Overall, while I had a pleasant afternoon, it was definitely not the highlight of the trip. Perhaps I should have known things might be a bit tough when I spotted this sign after getting off the ship.

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The case for cruising

There’s more to a MacMania cruise than scuba diving —there’s also a full curriculum of classes to show cruisers how to get more out of their Macs. Rob Griffiths brought his Mac OS X Hints to the high seas the other morning; after that, Rob and I spent an afternoon showing attendees some of our favorite cool and affordable utilities. We also participated in a Q&A session with the other speakers. Finally, we challenged Leo Laporte and Janet Hill to a shootout of our favorite Gems. (We’ll post some of the details of our sessions at Macworld.com when we get back to dry land.)

As this is my first MacMania cruise—and the first cruise I’ve been on since I was a kid—I spent much of the first couple days getting a feel for what a Geek Cruise really is. Some quick observations:

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