Sunday, October 25, 2009

Another Day Closer, Still Excited

Oh good lord, I'm gonna be a basket case by the time next fall rolls around. The whole fam-damily is excited about this trip, and I'm afraid it's going to be the longest year ever, followed by the shortest week ever...

I guess the reason for that is because I know what to expect. I've been on four or five cruises now, and each one has been spectacular--not because of the ship, or the destinations, or because of the awesomeness of leaving the real world behind for a week (although, they all play a part), but there's more. Consider the great times I've had with all of my best friends and T2V buffoons as we 'do' Vegas a couple times a year. As great as that is, it's not even a drop in the bucket compared to the fun I have when my siblings and I get together for a week on the high seas.

Seriously, there is nothing I'd rather do than hit the Caribbean for a week with the family. Given the choice to do just about anything, or take a cruise with the fam for a week, and the Sibling Revelry Cruise wins out every time. The reason for this is simple--back in the year 2000 (seems odd to say that, no?), we'd never done a cruise before. Hell, we kids (as we call ourselves) hadn't even been together in the same room but once in the previous ten years or so, and I hadn't spent time with any of my sisters in almost four years before that.

But Cyndi, the original gentlewoman of leisure, wanted to go on a cruise and got the ball rolling the first time. She made it sound so enticing, and once four of us agreed to go, (Sherry, Cyndi, Mikey, and Amy--Reverend Dave and Nancy were unable to join us), it was on! What made it even better was that it ended up costing us just about $375 apiece, for the entire week, since they had cabins that would hold four people (we didn't know any better at the time).

We didn't book it so far out in advance back then--maybe in June or so for a September sailing--and having never gone before, we weren't sure what to expect. Oh yeah, we were excited to go on vacation together, because 1) it was a vacation, and 2) we'd never done anything like this in our adult lives. The last time all of us were together for any length of time, we were all still living under the same roof, our parents were still married, and we were much too young to appreciate each other.

So anyhow, Cyndi booked the thing, we all sent her the money, and that was that. I guess the real excitement didn't start to build until we got our cruise documents and luggage tags in the mail. We talked it up a bit, but nothing like we do now. It was more of a "Hey--I'm looking forward to seeing you guys" type of brief conversation and that was it. I guess we just didn't know what we were in for.

Finally, September rolled around and it was time to go. I flew out of Phoenix on the red-eye flight to Atlanta, met Amy at the airport, and we were off to Miami. Sherry and Cyndi were flying together out of Nashville, and the plan was to meet them at the baggage claim in the Miami airport, since our flights were scheduled to land within 20 minutes of each other.

I'll never forget that flight to Miami--I mentioned it before, but the old lady in our row that was talking up how much fun a cruise was--Oh, you'll have such a good time. They have bingo, and shuffleboard, and square dancing!--she damn near ruined it for us. But Amy and I still laugh about that to this day. We found many more fun things to do other than the activities geared towards the nursing home gang.

Anyhow, we found Sherry and Cyndi at the airport, just like we planned, and the four of us found a crazy Russian cab driver willing to haul all of us and our mountain of luggage to the cruise ship terminal. (Seriously, I think Sherry brought 18 pairs of shoes for a seven-day cruise).

Being cruise-ship rookies, we didn't know what to expect, and shuffled through the cattle-call of the boarding process just like everyone else. We got our Sail & Sign cards done, did the check-in thing, and had our pictures taken for the first of what seemed like a thousand times that week.

Once we got embarked, the first order of business was to find our cabin and ditch the carry-on luggage. That's when reality set in. We had a tiny interior cabin at the very aft end of the ship, just above the screws. No big deal, we didn't mind--we were just glad to be there. But the room was tiny--about the size of my last bedroom, and it had two bunkbeds in it, with about two-and-a-half feet of space between them. Sherry and I claimed the lower bunks, Cyndi and Amy got the uppers. Since they had to use a couple of ladders to get up into them, Cyndi called hers 'the treehouse', and so Amy then decided to call her bunk 'the penthouse'.

What a week we had. We were on the Carnival Paradise, and at the time, it was a pretty new ship and completely non-smoking. Our itinerary took us to the Bahamas, San Juan Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas.

Of course, we made the usual rookie mistakes--bringing way too many clothes first and foremost. I mentioned Sherry's 18 pairs of shoes, but I'd brought two pairs of jeans with me, and they never came out of the suitcase. It was t-shirt, flip-flops, and swim trunks during the day, then a Hawaiian shirt and Dockers at dinner. Other than that, I wore nothing else except my James Bond tuxedo a couple of times for the two formal nights.

We also went crazy on the umbrella drinks. Back then, I was making a pretty damn good living, so my vacation budget was basically unlimited. I remember that the cruise went from Sunday to Sunday, and on Thursday night when they shoved your first Sail-and-Sign statement under the door, my bar bill was already over $700 for the week. But then again, I pretty much had a drink in my hand constantly, plus I bought a couple of bottles of wine in the dining room, not to mention a couple of times on sea-days I'd just buy a bucket of beer and go around making friends. But hey, it's like the Vegas Chamber of Commerce says--You can't put a price on a good time!

Besides boozing it up and getting the most out of our time at sea, we got very lucky with our dinner companions that week. There were the four of us, and we were seated at a table with six other strangers. But we hit it off immediately, and had a blast with them all week. Lucky for me, there was a rather attractive single gal as part of the group, and we naturally kinda gravitated towards each other and had a great week together, even keeping in touch for a long time afterwards (and thanks to the miracle of Facebook, we just reconnected last week!).

But the best part of the entire cruise was the time spent in our tiny, dark, overcrowded cabin. I swear, I laughed my ass off for the entire trip. I'm a goofball anyways, and Amy is even funnier than I am. Plus, when you add Sherry and Cyndi in the mix, it's just nonstop comedy. Every afternoon, we'd all gather back in the stateroom and have room service deliver some lunch or just a tray of cookies and brownies and a few cartons of milk. And we'd sit in there shooting the shiat, telling stories, joking around, and just basically making memories all afternoon. Those afternoons spent together really were the highlight of the trip, and it planted the seed that has kept us doing it almost every year since then.

Oh, don't get me wrong--we loved the islands. Blue Lagoon in the Bahamas was about the most awesome place I'd ever been, and my head almost exploded just trying to process the unreal blue color of the water. Sailing and snorkeling in St. Thomas was the best shore excursion we ever did--nothing since then has been able to top it. And spending the afternoon getting tattoos in the back of a sketchy record shop in San Juan by a guy who didn't speak a word of English was a bonding experience that most families can't brag about... But even so, just hanging out and laughing together each day was the best part of the whole experience. To this day, whenever we get together, we still tell those same stories and jokes from that week and we all still laugh about it.

The price has gone up a bit in the past nine years. Back then, I had to cough up about $400 to leave the dock. This time around, I'm paying almost four times that amount. But it doesn't matter what the cost of the cruise is. They can charge whatever they want, because the food, the scenery, the balcony, and all the umbrella drinks are just ambiance. The best part of our cruises are the memories we've made together, and nobody can put a price on that.


No comments: