As many of you know (because I didn’t shut up about it for days), Michael took me on a surprise cruise last weekend. The surprise was partly that he sprung it on me about 48 hours before departure, but the real surprise was that I went through with it in the first place. People who’ve known me a while have to be scratching their heads because I approach the idea of riding around in a pile of creaky metal out in the open water with only slightly less trepidation than this bundle of insanity.
Now, by the time this trip was arranged, Michael knew I’d go because despite my carping from the minute we met that I’d do no such thing ever, the reality is that I’d agreed to go on a cruise a couple of months ago on a date to be named later.
I didn’t agree grudgingly, either. I actually willingly said I’d go with no coercion or hesitation whatsoever. You see, I’ve come to the realization that after facing some truly heinous situations recently that I’ve never spoken publicly about, the possibility of a rouge wave or sub-tropical glacier no longer gave me the slightest pause. I’ve been through worse than I was ever likely to encounter on a cruise ship and come out so far ahead that being afraid of open water seemed absolutely ridiculous. I’m pretty sure there’s one thing I’ll never come to terms with, though.
Much of what happened next will surprise exactly no one who’s known me longer than a day. Send your cards and letters of condolences to Michael for everything he had to put up with because I was a loon and I know it.
Once I knew the day of departure and name of the ship, I flew into research mode and spent hours reading reviews, tips, hints, tricks, and studying the background of every person involved with the ship since the day it was commissioned. By the time we arrived I knew:
- When and where the ship was built (in case there was a trivia contest).
- It’s tonnage and capacity both with and without the crew (so I’d know how much luggage to bring without causing us to sink).
- How many nautical miles we would travel and the precise weather outlook for the surrounding 10 days (in case we got delayed by an exo-season hurricane).
- How many restaurants, nightclubs, and cabins the ship had (not because I wanted to explore them but because I needed to know every means of egress and how many people were likely to be in my way).
- How many lifeboats were available (18).
- The GPA of the Captain since 1st grade (was he mentally fit to take command of my life for the next few days).
- How fast it could go at top speed (in case we needed to de-ship via helicopter).
- How many rivets were used to weld it all together, and what size (so I could bring extra).
I’m kidding about one of these.
A little backstory: Michael and I are a little spoiled working from home all the time so when we get up in the morning and sit together for about an hour, drinking coffee, and leisurely catching up on what happened overnight around the world. Friday morning — the morning we were supposed to leave — I tried valiantly to adhere to our morning routine but I lasted about four minutes.
After half a cup of coffee I announced I “couldn’t spend all day sitting around” and we needed to go. Poor guy. We were in the car 20 minutes later, speeding toward Miami.
Have you ever been trapped in a car with an overcaffeinated chihuahua for three hours? That’s pretty much what it was like for Michael as we headed to the port. I doubt I shut up for more than a couple minutes until I finally ran out of things to say. Then I just read random crap to him off the internet so I wouldn’t jump out the window and start running alongside the car.
Things were going great until we got near the port. Wait…let me tell you something I’ve forgotten to mention. I’ve never seen a cruise ship up close. I’ve only seen them in pictures and from a great distance as I drive over the Skyway Bridge. So, yeah…
We were tooling along the street, driving past American Airline Arena when all of a sudden the top of the ship — the biggest damn thing I’ve ever seen in my life — popped into view behind it. Being the sensible, pulled-together person that I am, I immediately screamed, “BOAT!!!” right at Michael. Captain Obvious, reporting for duty.
I didn’t say anything as we rounded the corner because I was too busy hyperventilating. As we pulled into the terminal area and I saw the enormity of the vessel — and I do mean enormity — I promptly burst into tears.
I didn’t really have time to think after that because suddenly there were Things to Do. Find the terminal, find the porter, find check-in, find paperwork, find a stiff drink. The only thing I didn’t need to find was the ship because IT WAS FREAKIN’ HUGE and kinda hard to miss.
The second I got on the ship I was sure I could feel it swaying from side to side like a bouy during Hurricane Hugo. Of course that was untrue since we were docked and tied to the 4,340-ton concrete port. But I felt it anyway — as I told Michael about 300 times in the first two hours. In fact all I kept telling Michael during that first two hours was, “I feel it moving” and “This is so weird.” Over and over and over and over and over and over and over. It’s a wonder he didn’t strangle me with the arms of my jacket before we even left.
We killed a lot of time until it was time to disembark just wandering around watching things and people. Michael had cruised before so this wasn’t a strange and freaky experience for him. I, on the other hand, ran from side to side, railing to railing, end to end, deck to deck like my pants were on fire. For hours. He just sort of followed along patiently answering the most inane questions I’ve ever heard come out of my mouth. Well, for a Friday, anyway.
I knew it was almost time to leave and I was dying to hear the horn. I knew it would be loud but I wanted it anyway. Little did I know, that wasn’t going to happen. *weep* Apparently, ships leaving Port of Miami aren’t allowed to sound the horn (I don’t know that as fact, it’s what I’ve been able to piece together). It seems all the rich people in the $24 million mansions around the Port would be perturbed if they had to hear a dozen ship horns a day. Fair enough.
So I’m standing out on one of the open decks with a plate in one hand and a sandwich in the other. I look out a window and my brain completely seized up at what I saw — buildings were moving. All of them. No, wait. WE were moving. Holy crap! This was happening.
I ran from railing to railing again, not really comprehending what my brain was seeing for the first time in all my 44 years. Now, for all intents and purposes, as we headed for the open water, I should have been utterly and completely terrified. I should have been curled up under a deck chair weeping into a towel. I should have been anything but what I was, which was completely enthralled. Entranced. Blown completely the hell away.
I’ve been so, so fortunate in my life to have been exposed to some truly unique, wonderful, and special experiences that I’m well aware many have never experienced. Therefore, something as relatively common as pulling away from a port on a cruise ship shouldn’t have left me so completely speechless but it did. It was less about the physical surroundings and more about what it represented.
Generally speaking, I’m not afraid of much. Public speaking, crowds, strangers, rough neighborhoods, being suddenly thrust onstage in front of many hundreds of people for two hours (that’s a whole other post), dogs, parties where I don’t know anyone — none of these things bother me in the slightest. Even though I can swim, open water has terrified me since I was a little kid (thank you, Poseidon Adventure). To conquer one of the only fears I have left is exhilarating beyond compare. I was already talking about our next cruise before breakfast the next morning.
The remainder of the trip passed in a blur of laughter, amazement, bliss, and some of the most unbridled joy I have ever known. That’s not to say there weren’t moments of complete crazy. For instance:
- I was riding the elevator when an American girl of about 14 got on (I note she’s American because I can’t fathom anyone reaches their teens in the U.S. without encountering an elevator). She asked what floor we were going to and sighed loudly when I told her because she wanted to go to five, not three. Evidently, she was unaware you could push one of those numbered buttons on the panel to get off where you wanted so we sailed right past her floor. For all I know, she stayed trapped in there until we got back to Miami.
- Speaking of elevators, we got in one at one point that seemed to not want to respond to repeated button-pushing. We got back out and told a crew member the elevator wasn’t working. His ernest response? “Maybe it’s unplugged.”
- Yes, as I mentioned earlier on Twitter, someone (possibly two someones) fell overboard. I don’t know the details but it happened as we arrived in the Bahamas. I was in the room at the time fetching something but Michael got to see the whole situation unfold. I missed all of it, therefore I followed him everywhere the whole rest of the time. The guys in the public men’s room were kind of annoyed with me after a while.
- As we left Nassau, the Captain (an amazing guy who I actually got to meet) was trying to tell us we’d have to deal with some wind until we got turned around so it was at our backs. English is not his first language, which I found impossibly adorable until he said, “It will be windy until we turn over, then it will be more calm.” That’s the only time I almost fainted.
- The Captain gets a free pass, however, because he was proactive with a small but crucial piece of information. Our cabin was at the very front of the ship, near the tie lines and anchor. As we left Miami, he mentioned that at some point early the next morning we’d hear him drop anchor and it was likely to be loud. That turned out to be the understatement of the millennium. At about 5:00 the next morning, I was snoozing in the aquatic hammock of the Atlantic when there was this horrific crunching of metal approximately seven feet from my head. It sounded like the entire Bahamian Navy was entering the ship via our porthole. I didn’t mind being woken up, but I would have panicked had he not warned me. (Us. No, me. I know his message was for me and me alone.) I would have probably run screaming down the hall that we’d hit an iceberg and someone needed to find Leonardo and my necklace. Christ on a unicycle, it was unnerving.
- No one really explained to me that I’d have to learn to walk again — both on the ship and when I got off. I’ve been disoriented for two days.
- You don’t want to mess with me during muster. If you’ve never been on a cruise, muster is when they teach you all about lifeboats and lifejackets. They line you up 40 to a group and tell you everything you need to know about getting off the ship in the event of an emergency. Naturally, I hung on their every word but some of my fellow ship mates were too cool for school and wanted to instead exchange stories about how to smuggle four ounces of booze on board inside a bottle of mouthwash. I was not amused. By the way, if anyone asks, I was with you on Friday night, okay?
- The entire crew is endearing and they work their ever-loving asses off every minute of the day. If you go on a cruise, please tip well.
- The rooms are so tiny I had to step into the hall to change my mind. It was like living in a doll house, and I loved it.
- You meet some phenomenal people on a cruise. You also meet the absolute dregs of society and it’s amazing I didn’t shank some of the shitbags on that boat.
- Never once during the day did I see those giant air blowers designed to dry carpeting but they were out all over the place in the common areas every morning. Makes me contemplate (but not for too long) how much puke they have to clean up every night from the overdrinkers.
- I was very aware of other vessels around us all the time, every minute. Early on, I think the first night, I told Michael I needed to speak to the Captain right away because we were heading right toward another ship and he needed to know. Of course, your depth perception is way off on the ocean so things are much closer than they appear. It took about 20 minute for Michael to convince me that A) the Captain really had this under control and, B) we were at the back of the ship and the boat was behind us.
- I got lost a lot. Big surprise.
- I have an inordinate fascination with the helper boats (as I call them) that take you in and out of port. Tug Captains have been brass ones the way they zip up to a 880-foot (true fact) vessel that weighs 74,000 TONS (also true fact) and nudge it around the way a mother lion nudges her kittens. Those guys take no shit. I could see that all the way up on Deck 14.
We already know we’re going back out again and almost have the where and when nailed down, too. Living on or near the beach in a tropical paradise for ten years has probably taken away some of the mystique of ocean travel for me. The heat and beaches are something I see all the time. That’s not what this was about.
It was about overcoming fear and then stomping it into dust. It was about being disconnected and unreachable for days. It was about spending huge amounts time with the most amazing person I’ve ever known. It was about learning everything I can about new environments. It was about setting foot on foreign soil for the first time in my entire life. It was about the best experience I’ve ever had.
Until next time.