This past week I was on a cruise that went from Seattle to Juneau and Ketchikan, Alaska. It is a great way to vacation. I went on the Holland America line, which had been recommended to me by several friends. Great food, excellent accommodations, and seeing Alaska and the coastline of British Columbia were wonderful. We did have some bad weather and didn't see everything on the original itinerary as we had to skirt even worse weather but the trip was till great. And I have to say, a cruise is an amazing place to people watch and find characters for your writing.
There are numerous options for meals. Many of the people seem to continually opt for the all-day buffet. The food there was good and it was convenient and the Lido deck, where the buffet was, had big windows and you could sit and watch the sea and the view. I ate up there for breakfast once and lunch twice and saw a few interesting characters. But the best experience for my writing was in the Vista Dining Room.
Most days we ate all 3 meals there. Many of the tables are for 4-8 people and we were 2, so they always asked before seating us if we'd like to share a table and we always said yes. It's not very often that I get to spend an hour over a meal with complete strangers, listening to their accents, their speech mannerisms. Or getting an opportunity to watch their physical quirks and gestures, their manner of dress. It isn't staring excellently but there is an opportunity to study several people in that intimate a setting.
There was a bit of sameness. They were mostly couples, mostly middle-aged and older, mostly white. But there were at least two couples who really intrigued me, who just might show up in a book soon. In his book Weekend Novelist, Robert Ray recommends spending a lot of time in public places, like a shopping mall, to scope out potential body types, mannerisms, affectations. And I've done some of that but those experiences are more fleeting.
For character studies, cruise ships are a better deal. And way more fun!