I can’t remember exactly how old I was the first and only other time that I went on a cruise. All I recall is that I won a quick $100 bucks, not sure it was legal for me to be playing or if my dad let me pull the handle when no one was looking. I was into boys. In fact, I remember having to pay my parents $100 for a 10 minute phone call I ‘secretly’ made to a boy back home. A boy that later stalked me, but that’s a separate story. In any event, it was to the Caribbean and the perks of the cruise excited me; all you could eat junk, a nightclub with fancy lights, multiple pools. All the consumerism USA that, like candy cigarettes, try to suck you in at a young age and get you hooked. As I write this, I wonder what my parents really thought of it; when I think of my parents and traveling the first image that comes to mind is my my dad naked on a rock in Yosemite. But I’m sure, like most who seem to walk the line, they figured it’d afford a little something for everyone; for my sister and I, a bit of freedom that teenagers only dream of. And for them, less whiny teenagers as a result of said freedom.
Fast forward to my early twenties when I traveled a lot; planes, trains, automobiles, mopeds… everything short of a cruise, cuz, well with my twenties came two diplomas and no career. Not that it mattered anyway, to this day my chosen mode of travel is on a budget to countries that the only thing you need to save for is airfare. Janet and I spent two weeks in India, for example, and spent a total of $500. Five. Hundred. Dollars. And much of that was spent on bus fares because I distinctly remember paying $2 / night at some places.
In any event, in celebration of forty years of marriage, Willy’s parents kindly offered to take us (and Willy’s brother’s family) on an Alaskan cruise. Let’s pause the cruise talk for a moment because 40 years of marriage really deserves a moment of silence. I’ve always felt so fortunate to have such strong examples of marriage in both my own parents and in Willy’s. His parents are two of the most kind and giving and humble and -since I’m being honest – raunchy people around (gotta love straight shooters. Well, at least I do). They still hold hands and kiss goodbye.
Nothing devalues quality time with family and this particular trip wasn’t about the cruise experience so much as it was about spending time with grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and each other. And for that and that alone I will walk off the ship with fond memories.
That said, if you subtract family and celebration from the equation, the cruise life is not for me. I found it hard to get past the forced fun and the amusement park-esqueness of it all. Getting off the ship, or trying to anyway, amongst lines of people and staff scanning badges only to be force-rushed into a picture with a man in an eagle costume gave me anxiety. The kids drew a lot of stink eyes early on from fellow cruisers that presumably sensed the threat to their peaceful retreat; one women remarked from a balcony below below how loud the kids were being and that was before the ship even started moving.
Leading up to the cruise I heard myself testifying to not being the ‘cruise type’, clinging to the hope that the Alaskan cruise is different than the rest, ‘no better way to see the glaciers’ being my cling-to-hope catch phrase. And then I boarded the ship and came upon staff dressed as lumberjacks enthusiastically dancing as if they were at a pride parade. I love a good pride parade, don’t get me wrong. In fact, we missed the one in Seattle by a day which bums me out. It all just feels like a weird pairing; chefs on floor 5 carving watermelons and pineapples into the shapes of owls and fish and birds, group jazzer size on floor 3, and glaciers and bear spotting out the right-side of ship.
I can recall visiting many of cities that would change from quiet, serene towns into an implosion of tourists as soon as the ships dock. And it always ruined it for me. I mean while the town was taken over, anyway. I felt bad being the intruder.
Toward the end, I think we all accepted it for what it was and relaxed to take in the real purpose — a celebration of love and togetherness. A tribute to the simple truth that any experience in life is made meaningful by those you spend building the memories with.
And the glaciers. I mean, they sure were incredible.