As a media nerd, I’m obsessed with Royal Caribbean's commercials (example). The perfect blend of music and fast-paced shots gets your heart racing, imagining yourself on one of those gigantic ships. There are people zip lining, surfing, and flying down clear water slides. I did none of those things on my trip. You’ll notice that my trip video is not exactly as energetic as that ad. I did see Mayan ruins, eat sugar cane for the first time in my life, watch performers in Cozumel swing around a pole far up in the sky by a rope attached to their feet. But these are the surface memories. When I think about the cruise that I went on, the memories that I have deep down are the plainest ones. They’re harder to make an ad out of.
I miss the gentle swaying of the ship that lulled me to sleep every night. I miss boarding the ship after a tiring day out at port, showering off the sand and the sun, and flopping down in the fresh sheets for a totally guilt-free midday nap. I miss arranging a sofa cushion so that my dad, brother, and I could sit around the tiny table in our cabin, playing intense games of UNO and spoons. I miss the insane wind on the top deck of the ship, the way it felt like a permanent spring. I miss the daily routine of a slowly savored dinner followed by a show. I miss the way people from the other side of the country that you’d never met before could become your friends after a round of Trivial Pursuit together. I even miss the feeling of my shoulders and thighs burning from the handprint of the sun. I knew I had gotten somewhere with this whole mindfulness/meditation thing when I was able to look past the pain and actually enjoy this feeling, the souvenir of a long day spent in the sunshine.
I am incredibly grateful and privileged to have gone on five cruises in my life. After these five I have become convinced that those who cruise are part of a community. I’m not going to lie, before the first time I cruised, it seemed like a cheesy way of traveling to me. A facade, a show, not real travel. But now I see that there’s a reason you don’t meet many first-time cruisers. You meet people who went on one, then two, and then three cruises, and now wear t-shirts that say: “I have no cruise control. It’s like the cruises just book themselves”. I still agree that traveling on a cruise cannot compare to getting deep into the culture of a country. But you don’t cruise to see the world. I believe what people keep coming back for is the feeling.
Sailing away from Miami
For some reason, I’d never imagined Miami like this - full of skyscrapers, green parks, children playing, people running, blue skies, and water. I’d been once before when I was 5, and the memory of the unfortunately cloudy, chilly trip must have become ingrained in my memory as THE image of Miami. I’m sorry, Miami. One day I’ll come back and explore you properly.
The very first part of the cruise we experienced - and arguably the best/most important - was the FOOD. We weren’t even allowed into our cabins when we boarded so we set up camp in a booth in the buffet and took turns guarding the luggage while we loaded up our plates. That first day I wasn’t even sure where to start, I was so overwhelmed by the choices. Then for dinner, we’d go the fancy Black Pearl Restaurant where a new menu greeted us every day. When nothing else was open, there was a truly American burger/hot dog grill as well as a free. 24-hour. Fresh. Pizza bar. *mind explodes* I wrote a post earlier this week about healthy travel and why I think it's okay to let go on vacation - and let go I did! When I got back home to Wisconsin I’d walk into the kitchen like “Hmm, I’m hungry, but… I have to make food? There’s no room with a mile-long stretch of free, prepared meals that I can just grab from? What iS THIS?!!” It was a hard adjustment, to say the least.
The first full day was a sea day, so we had plenty of time to explore the ship. Honestly, almost all cruise ships look the same, especially when you compare those from the same company. But it is breathtaking every time. I’ve got a quite minimalist style. You know the kind - white walls, plants, wood touches, etc. It’s just nice to take a break from that and to spend a week in a place decorated so lavishly it seems the designer was trying to set a record for most patterns found in a single oceanic vessel. Patterned carpets, wallpaper, rainbow lights, glass elevators. This ain’t your average sailboat. My favorite part was our restaurant, the Black Pearl Restaurant, aptly decorated with tiny LED lights, shining in waves across the ceiling and little black metallic spheres all over the place.
My brother discovered a fierce competitive streak within him when we tried a round of mini golf. We then came back every evening to try and determine who was truly the best. I didn’t win any rounds, but it was the wind’s fault, it just kept blowing the ball in the wrong direction ;)
We had already visited Cozumel and had made no big plans for this second time. We did have one goal, however. We wanted to drink Coca Cola from a glass bottle. I know, I know, sugary, questionable, carbonated drink. I honestly don’t even like soda normally. The bubbles are too much for me and it leaves a weird filmy feeling on my teeth. BUT. A cold Coca Cola in a classic glass bottle on a hot day after walking miles is a whole ‘nother ball game and I can’t explain the science behind that. It just tastes darn good.
We achieved this goal and spent the rest of our time walking around the city. We stumbled upon the Danza de Los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers), in which a group of men climbed up a pole to a small platform at the very top, wound a rope around their legs, and let go. They sailed round and round, the rope slowly unfurling as the drummer played a rhythmic song. It actually seemed quite fun! Would you do it? Perhaps I should put it on my bucket list.
In Belize we had a tour guide show us and a small group of tourists around. While he was a nice guy and I admired his refusal to accept the common beliefs, his arguments were a bit sketchy and seemed to all to allude to ALIENS. For example, he argued that since the Mayans crossed the Bering Strait to reach Central America (supposedly), they could not have possibly possessed all of the technology they did because who has time for education when you’re walking all day? Now obviously this journey would not have happened in one or even ten generations, but I just smiled and nodded politely.
Isla Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras, takes the cake for the best view. After visiting many islands, I’ve determined that the most beautiful ones have two things: greenery and hills. While all the other islands were flat and covered densely in low, plain buildings, the view at the Roatan dock was simply magical. We were there very early, so the sun was low in the sky, casting a glimmer on the calm waters flowing around the hills connected by thin bridges. What most stood out to me on this island were the children. It made my heart ache to see them jump up to drum on buckets as our taxi drove by them on its way to a popular tourist lookout point. I saw kids working in the market stalls, knowing only a few English phrases like “it’s free to look,” waving me over to look at the jewelry with such persistence and tenacity. And I never felt so lucky to have been able to spend my childhood as the shy little kid that I was, totally sheltered, never worrying about money, spending my time playing instead of working.
Our last stop was Grand Cayman. By then, we were tired of tours and decided we’d do things ourselves. We met the chickens wandering around downtown, searched at least a dozen different souvenir shops for the best deal on postcards, and picked up heavy rocks from the ocean floor.
This vacation was one of the best ever. Debarking was difficult, and as we drove back into Wisconsin we were greeted by a dark, miserable snowstorm. It was a reality check, to say the least. But I hung up my cruise card on my bulletin board to serve as a little reminder of that sunshiney and blissful week.
My question of the week is: Have you ever been on a cruise? If you haven't would you consider going on one?