Friday, August 2, 2013

Why do I Cruise?

I remember my first cruise.  I was seven years old.  We were at my family's old condo in Haines City, Florida, and I don't think I knew until the day we got in the car that we were going on a cruise.  Even headed to port, I remember not really knowing where we were going.  And then my parents told us we were going on a Disney Cruise, and I remembered seeing the segment on Disney Cruises at the end of the Walt Disney World promotional videos my sister and I would watch over and over again, so I kind of knew what was about to happen.  It's funny how I'd never really thought about this before today, but looking back, I'm pretty sure my parents pulled off the "surprise vacation" with a Disney Cruise.... I hope our reaction was okay.  I remember being really excited, but I was never the type of child to jump up and down with joy (I actually had a friend tell me recently, "Victoria, I feel like most of the time, you're really happy, but your expression doesn't always show it."  "Oh, that's terrible - I should smile more." [flashes fake grin] "No, not like that.").

There I am in my favorite dress with a brand new Minnie Mouse plush that my dad had just bought me... not smiling -

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Our first cruise rookie experience is a vivid memory for me.  It was lunch time, and we had gotten to Port Canaveral, but hadn't stopped to eat lunch, yet.  We continued into port and were at the first security checkpoint when my mother asked if we'd be able to eat once we got on the ship or if we should turn around and find a McDonald's and come back after we'd eaten.  "Oh, no - there's plenty of food on the ship!  Once you get on board, go to the top deck and find a buffet!"



My second cruise was two years later.  It was an Alaskan cruise on Royal Caribbean, celebrating my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary.  I was nine years old, and once again, didn't have any say in the vacation planning process.  My sister and I did find out about it in advance, though.... I suppose it would've been difficult to fly us across the country without telling us where we were going.  I have a lot of vivid memories about this cruise - I remember having a great time in the kids' club, winning the family boat race competition, freezing my butt off on the Hubbard Glacier, and so much more.  But most importantly, I remember that we liked Royal Caribbean.

Three years later, we went on our third cruise, and I participated first-hand in the cruise booking process.  My dad and I were trying to decide what vacation to go on that summer, and he had left me looking at cruises while he was washing the car.  I found a good one (I don't remember what my criteria was... perhaps that it was Royal Caribbean and left out of Port Canaveral) and rushed outside to tell my dad - he said book it!  At just 12 years old, I had booked my first family vacation, and there was no turning back!  Now with 13 cruises down, I'm currently working on planning the next two!

So that brings us back to the original question... why do I cruise?

As a family, we've looked to cruising as a solution for a variety of different vacation "needs."  For the Alaskan cruise, our grandparents (then in their 70s) really wanted to visit Alaska and were planning on driving their camper there, so we looked to cruising as a more relaxing (not to mention less dangerous) solution.  Then for our Caribbean cruises departing from Florida, we turned to cruising because it was a way to visit many different places without having to fly anywhere.  And then we began flying to take cruises because they were good deals, and we enjoy cruising.

Today's cruise ship is a floating mega resort.  We've sailed on cruise ships of many different sizes, and while not all have water parks and ice skating rinks, I've never found myself saying, "There's nothing to do."  Cruises have organized activities like trivia, dance classes, mixology lectures, scavenger hunts, and shows, in addition to swimming pools, mini golf, and other recreational activities.  There really is something for everyone, and so if you find yourself bored, there's no one to blame but yourself for not getting involved and having fun.

There's also a community aspect to cruising that's different from any land vacation.  Everyone is on the same ship for the same period of time.  You start to see the same people everyday, and especially on the smaller cruise ships, your fellow passengers become familiar faces.  Over the years and cruises, we've made a lot of friendships that we've maintained over the years.  I'm Facebook friends and still keep in contact with friends that we made on our first Christmas cruise in 2009 and our second in 2010.  But most impressively, we've actually reunited with friends that we made on our 2011 Christmas cruise on Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas out of San Juan.

That was the first Christmas cruise that we had table mates for (with Royal Caribbean's traditional dining, you have a set dining time every night at the same table with the same people - sometimes, you get assigned a larger table and sit with other passengers), and I think we were a little nervous - what would we possibly have to talk about with strangers for eight nights?  With the Smith family from Canada, what to talk about is never a question.  I don't know if they're just the easiest people to talk to, or if our families are just the perfect click, but whenever we get together with the Smiths, conversation just flows and we have the best time.  At the end of every cruise, we always exchange contact information and say, "Oh, we'll keep in touch," but our normal lives get in the way, and over the weeks, months, and years, we lose touch.  With the Smiths, we had already made the first step of reuniting by eating dinner together in San Juan the night after our cruise.  I remember our family congratulating each other, "This is the best we've ever done!"  Well, a year later, we learned that we would be in Florida at the same time, both post-cruise (we were actually looking at the same cruises but booked different ones!), and met up for dinner at Boma at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (any guesses on who chose the restaurant?).  Now, we're planning to book the same Christmas cruise next year!

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And on that same cruise, we met Derrick and Jennifer.  I love hearing Derrick's story of how we met - "It was raining, and we were sitting in a bar in Dominica, and the family next to us was making this awesome beeramid.  But the thing was, their girls were tiny!  I knew that we had to meet this family."  Derrick and Jennifer invited us to go to Johnny Rocket's with them once we got back on the ship, and the rest is history!  I got an email from Derrick a few months later, telling me that he and Jennifer were moving to Italy and that we should go on a Mediterranean cruise together.  Unfortunately, the cruise didn't work out (conflicting dates, work schedules, yuck!), but Derrick and Jennifer hosted me two weekends while I studied abroad in Italy.  Derrick says that cruises are the best because you meet people that are like you.  I'm hoping that Derrick and Jennifer decide to join us on our Christmas cruise!

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Cruising has given me the opportunity to visit many different places.  I wouldn't have traveled to Alaska if it weren't for cruising or sailed the Caribbean.  Traveling gives me the ultimate high.  I can't explain the emotion that I felt when going through the Panama Canal (which was my dream cruise), but I just felt this overwhelming mixture of excitement and happiness.  I wanted to jump up and down, to pump my fists in the air and scream - here I am world!  Here I am, doing this!  And that's what living is about - finding those moments where you want to explode with emotion.  Finding those moments where, try as you might, you can't contain your smile.  I've found that in cruising which is why I will happily cruise over and over again.

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