There are river cruises, ocean cruises, booze cruises, and an increasing number of “specialty” cruises, where fans vacation alongside their favorite musicians, fellow conspiracy theorists (the “Conspira-Sea” cruise), or cat lovers (the “Meow Meow” cruise). There are TV and movie-themed cruises, with The Walking Dead and Star Trek among them, and others that embrace arts and crafts, goths, meditation, nudism, and swinging. We decided to stick with a regular, traditional cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line. Despite the name and its cold weather implications, these Norwegians, who are no dopes, tend toward the Caribbean, and so did we, choosing a sailing out of New York with stops at Port Canaveral, Florida, and Great Stirrup Cay and Nassau in The Bahamas.
My wife and I are experienced cruisers, and in fact, had been on one with an identical itinerary, before we had kids. On previous trips, we’d always selected a cabin on one of the lower decks; they were significantly cheaper than the larger, upper deck cabins, though I’m pretty sure the fine print included a reserve clause to press us into service in the nearby engine room upon demand.
This time, we enjoyed a slightly bigger room, with a balcony that overlooked the water. I was suspicious of the balcony at first—my only basis for comparison with a small sitting area suspended over water was a carnival dunk tank. Before settling down to enjoy the view, I conducted a brief scan to ensure there were no trigger mechanisms or bull’s eye targets present.
The first days at sea were sunny and languorous, spent pondering important questions like, “How many foods can be successfully wrapped in bacon?”; “What’s the difference between sherbet, sorbet, and ice cream?”; and above all, “How much food can be stuffed into a single person?” This contemplation, enhanced with thorough sampling and first-hand research, was punctuated by the occasional card game and my first-ever shipboard massage, a wonderful experience spoiled only slightly by the sales pitch for products and additional treatments that followed it. (The ability to say “no thanks” is vital to an economically efficient cruise experience.) It was a couples session, which meant my wife and I had the benefit of solidarity in our attempt to escape quickly, manifested with subtle cries for help like, “Amy’s really the one you want to talk to” and “I think Pete was interested in a free acupuncture consultation, too.”
Thus, together we sat as a Japanese woman with poor command of English recited a script listing various maladies that could be cured by acupuncture, and associated benefits of the treatment. Amid discussion about the (pseudo)science of tongue analysis and detoxification by seaweed wrap, Mariko got her goals and ailments a bit mixed up, asking “How long have you suffered from weight loss?”
The answer, of course, is never, and there’s no better example of the good fortune of being American than on a ship where the passengers (mostly middle class Americans) are served food and drink 24/7 by non-Americans of every ilk—60 different nationalities on board. Despite long work hours, the crew is always friendly—they have to be, if they want to keep their jobs. The variety of accents among the crew can make any conversation an adventure, as when my wife was informed that one of the available dessert options was “lamb sherbet.” After a few moments of disbelief, this was clarified to be ordinary (and meatless) lime sherbet.
I suppressed a desire to shout “Land ho!” upon sighting of Florida, and instead prepared for our first port of call, and our chosen excursion, a trip to the nearby Kennedy Space Center. The Space Center did not disappoint, nor did our selected activities in the Bahamas: stand-up paddleboarding, a close-up “dolphin encounter,” and snorkeling, during which my daughter got to touch a sea turtle who happened along at the right time.
After those adventures, I used my final days on board much like a camel building a sizable hump (or belly, in my case), anticipating the days of comparative deprivation to come, when I’d have to buy and prepare my own meals, and as a result, would be living mostly on ground beef, fruit, and cereal.
There are no flies on the high seas, and we’ve traded scurvy for the occasional outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease; aside from seasickness, the biggest danger on a cruise ship is ending up like one of those obese, scooter-bound humans in the movie Wall-E. And yet, as much as I enjoyed our cruise, the adjustment to reality upon returning from a vacation leaves a lot to be desired. As wonderful as that week aboard ship was, the week that followed it would prove to be one of the worst in my life.
More on that next time, though. (That’s right, this is my first-ever column cliffhanger.)
Peter Dabbene’s website is peterdabbene.com.