It was not on my bucket list. For one reason, I don't have a bucket list. Furthermore, I'm about as fair-skinned as they come. I don't sunburn; I "sun fry."
Still, my wife and I were given a cruise months ago after we submitted to a timeshare sales pitch, and we took our ship trip last week. We really enjoyed our time, though I still prefer the mountains.
More than anything, the two of us hadn't been on an extended "vacation" alone in 26 years, and with all but one of five children out of the house now, it was a good time for this getaway.
We loved the ocean and sunset views. We loved walking among ancient Mayan ruins and touring an historic hacienda outside one port city. Our scuba excursion was cancelled due to extreme undertows created by the same weather that froze out Mississippians last week. But it didn't matter.
I also loved all of the new onboard experiences. Perhaps it's because I'm a writer, but I tend to get as much out of processing a new experience as I do enjoying the pricey perks of one. I'm wired to ask "who, what, where, when, why and how" about most everything I see and feel. It's the journalist's curse. I'm just too cognitive. In other words, as many of my friends tell me, I way overthink things at times.
But I couldn't help myself—our cruise was a wonderland for "cognating" and so that alone was worth it all.
A cruise is a study in human nature. 1) People-watching on steroids; 2) Ship sociology/psychology; 3) All aboard for behavioral brooding. I dove in and and uncovered a lot of "love" and "lust," and in neither case am I referencing the subject of sex. (Sorry if you were hoping for that!)
Here are six "take-aways" from my over-the-top pondering.
THREE POSITIVE OBSERVATIONS—THE LOVE BOAT
Conclusion: Our better instincts can prevail.
1. WE CAN ALL GET ALONG. At least for a short period of time, we can pull it off—overcoming racial, ethnic and socio-economic barriers. Our last night on board, the captain told the guests, "We have 1,100 employees on this ship from 61 different countries and all walks of life, and we all get along. If we can do it, why the heck can't the world do it?" Good question. Of course, every guest was on the ship to have a good time, and so both employees and guests arguably were less likely to cave to their worst instincts. We could hold out for a four-day trip; but even the four-day Woodstock experiment had some brawls and boorish incidents. The point is—a massive mishmash of humans can be thrown together and treat each other nicely.
2. NEVER A CROSS WORD. An amazing 1,100 employees staffed our ship carrying about 3,000 guests on a space that is 893 feet 4 inches long and 116 feet 6 inches at its widest point; it had 10 or 11 stories. That's the formula for a "crowd," and crowds are rarely things I like. I'm claustrophobic not only spatially but also "populationally." Crowds often seem to be a recipe for complaints, wise cracks and even a crime or two. I witnessed, nor heard of, none of these. (Of course, there had to be some, but the point remains.)
3. SMILING WORKS. Virtually every employee I passed smiled. That felt really good. It made me want to smile too. Smiling is a good recipe for success (think Disney World or your favorite coffee house barista). I wondered—What's the trick to pulling this off? Can we all be smilers? Though I'm sure they're taught to do so, and even evaluated on their good manners, it seems ship employees actually practice smiling enough that it becomes a natural reflex. I realized that these employees are taught to think about others each day. Putting others before themselves produces such smiling people, even when they don't feel like it.
THREE NOT-SO-POSITIVE OBSERVATIONS—THE LUST BOAT
Conclusion: Our cravings can get the best of us.
1. SMOKING SPACE. Smokers were allowed only a quarter of one outdoor deck to light up. No indoor space—period. "Everyone else" knew where they were and didn't seem to care. When the chill factor was in the low forties (again, the result of that big freeze following us south), these folks were still heading up on deck and puffing away, missing live music and games and other giddy activities, plus freezing their toes off. That's sad in a way, but it's reality. Each chooses his or her "space" in life. Smokers are getting choked out—not only by their smoke, but also by increased and embarrassing exclusion.
2. DRINKING LIKE FISH. I was in a fraternity. At Ole Miss. I've seen some amazing feats of alcohol consumption. I like a glass of wine or a bottle of beer here and there. However, never in my 55 years on this planet have I seen so many people consume so much alcohol for so long. I almost felt they should be congratulated—like someone might do to the winner of a sickening hotdog-eating contest. I wondered: With all of the amazing sights, sounds and smells the trip offered, why would these folks enter a perpetual state of inebriation for the trip's entire duration?
3. MORBID OBESITY. I'm sure many binge drinkers take cruises mostly for the drink-'til-you-drop opportunities. I'm afraid others take cruises mostly for the eat-'til-you-explode experience. Never have I seen so many morbidly obese people in one place. Never. I tried to ignore it (as I hope many will ignore my very pitiful paunch), but it's hard to miss scores of elephantine folks in every room one enters. There were more restaurants on our ship than fast-food joints in some Mississippi towns. I came away wanting badly to diet; perhaps irrationally I ate only one helping at some meals. I even ate two salads. I'm more convinced than ever that Americans are gluttons. Ship trips offer something few Americans really need—UNLIMITED FOOD.
In conclusion, both my wife and I returned home refreshed, recharged and happily reflecting on so many wonderful aspects of our trip at sea. We're thankful we had this time together. I also am further convinced we humans are the strangest and most interesting of creatures.
Some of you are understandably saying, "Geez, just chill out"; or "Get over it." Well, I warned you that I overthink things. But if you're really concerned, then don't worry. I'm very "chilled out" and "over it" as well. Now, back to work.