I told these cruise stories on my blog a few years ago as How I went from being a Cruise Skeptic to a Cruise Addict. They are still some of my best life memories.
In the winter of 2011, I was strongly encouraging two of my dearest friends to follow through on a dream they had about something that is near and dear to my heart…
So when my friends, Sarabeth and Rhonda, who were turning 40 and 50, were throwing ideas around for a birthday vacation with a group of women, they didn’t have to twist my arm too hard for me to be supportive. In fact, since they are both just a wee bit indecisive, I began to send them friendly reminders, emails with links to beautiful destinations. I even gave them deadlines.
I don’t want to take away from them that they did all the work to make it happen, but let’s just say that I lived the process with them. And friends, the process of trying to get commitments from a group of women who have full lives and lots of children to take into account is not easy. Just trying to nail down dates for the trip was hard enough, but then when we started looking for places large enough to house the group of us, a group that was varying from 4 people to 20 people on any given day, I thought our heads might explode.
Finally, with the much appreciated help of a good travel agent, and with all of the rest of us weighing in with our strong opinions, Sarabeth and Rhonda decided on a Caribbean cruise with Carnival. The cruise was chosen chiefly because it was by far the least expensive option. It just felt the most accessible, especially since we could drive to our port and save buying airplane tickets.
Now I should admit here that of all the options that had been considered, for me, the cruise was at the bottom of the list. Somehow, I had the preconceived notion that a cruise out of the deep South was quite possibly one of the cheesiest vacations one could go on. Images of large bodies rolling around like in the movie Wall-E filled my head. I was afraid of finding myself hiding out in a cramped hole of a room trying to get away from salsa music and Casino lights. I was concerned that my aversion to crowds would make cruising one long bout of social anxiety.
But, being the very good friend that I am, I jumped into the cruise planning with both feet.
So it’s not our own private beach in Puerto Vallarta! Well, that’s ok. We’ll make it fun! It’s us!
A group of strong Southern women who have weathered multiple all night drives to Colorado, endured the breaking down of vans and Suburbans, and suffered through what others would deem an unbearable lack of privacy could certainly make a vacation away from our families fun for each other, no matter how ridiculous the surroundings.
And of course I had to keep coming back to the fact that the cruise was the best deal, and people, it’s no secret around here that I am a complete sucker for a good deal.
Almost as soon as the cruise was chosen, it began to reveal itself as the superior choice for a group of women. First of all, the deadlines were made for us. We had to book it and once your room (including your roommate) was booked, you couldn’t change it. Also, you could not add anyone to your room.
Now I know how it is when you get an email saying, Hey do you want to do this? I always think that I can think about that later.
I don’t have to decide right now.
Or I can say: YES! That sounds fun! Maybe I’ll do that, but then I can change my mind later.
The thing about booking a cruise is that you cannot put off your response to an email that says, Hey do you want to go on a cruise? Or if you do put off, you are not going.
The fact that I think that this is an absolutely wonderful thing about a cruise might sound kind of harsh, but I have more than once upon a time been in a situation where a condo or house was rented by a party and then the splitting of that cost was reduced to being divided by 12 to being divided by 4 or by 6 because no one really had to commit. And by commit, I mean pony up actual money.
So emails flew back and forth for a couple of weeks and then D(ecision)-day came and the final reckoning of actual swiped credit cards with a travel agent rendered us 12 gals who would be in just a few short months, going on a cruise. The group was in many ways a surprise. A lovely wonderful surprise.
We booked our cruise at the end of February to cruise in June, and before we sailed, we had three planning meetings.
Rhonda called the first meeting to discuss details. Some gals were not so much in favor of cruise meetings. Others felt that the meetings helped to heighten the anticipation of our vacation. Meetings were not mandatory as to accommodate both personalities. Of course, after we had so much fun at the first meeting, no one wanted to miss the others.
Mostly because of Bev.
Bev likes to live life to the full. She is a storyteller. She can make you laugh and cry in the same minute. But don’t feel alone, honey. She’s laughing and crying right along with you. If you ask her what she wants to do on her birthday, she says, Laugh!
So, Bev started off our first meeting by announcing that she would prefer from here on out to be referred to as Stormy. This set off a cacophony of cackling. Soon everyone else began trying on new names for the cruise.
Then, she suggested that we all wear feather earrings on the first night at dinner on board the boat, which quickly evolved into choosing themes for every night of our cruise.
Again, choosing a cruise name or adhering to the dress themes was not mandatory, as there were to be no rules on the vacation, only freedom. But if playing along would increase your enjoyment of the experience, by all means, wear a hat on Tuesday!
Our second meeting was at Whitney’s house. Whitney is my dear friend and sister in law and I talked her into rooming with me on the cruise, without even realizing at the time that this would mean I had my own personal fashion consultant. We had loads of fun shopping for and putting together our cruise outfits. We even chose theme colors.
For the meeting, Whitney made wonderful Mexican food. We had all been instructed to wear something that we would wear on the cruise. I wore a dress of Whitney’s and new summer shoes. Bev and Rhonda showed up in matching pajamas.
At this point we were still several months out from our departure date and I was already beginning to change my mind about cruises. We were having so much fun getting ready for what we had now dubbed #cruisazy that I was more certain every day that I was going to have a marvelous time. Also, I had quickly become mesmerized by the little red box on the Carnival website that tells you how many days it is until you cruise. I kept going to the website and checking the number. I might be admitting to being a bit of simpleton here, but that little box never failed to excite me. It’s brilliant, I tell you.
The day finally arrived for us to leave, and our road trip down to Mobile, Alabama was as much fun as our cruise meetings. I think I laughed all the way there.
We all crammed into two hotel rooms in Mobile, giggling into the wee hours and giddy with excitement.
Then the next morning, we got on our boat.
There is really no way to describe that first glimpse of your cruise ship.
I mean, I’ve been amazed by boats before. I remember when my uncle bought a brand new ski boat after we had spent years of weekends on the lake with boats that only sometimes started up.
I was so excited for him to take us all out on its maiden ride on the Arkansas River. As we filled up the seats and rode up and down the river, I imagined myself laid out with my sister in the front of that boat all summer long.
My daddy schemed every minute he could for us to get away to beautiful Lake Ouachita during my junior high and high school days.
It’s a full moon tomorrow night. Can you skip school?
Those were common words at the Loibner household.
I can’t decide if Daddy was just anxious to take me away from my current sketchy scene as much as possible or if he was just glad I was finally old enough to drive the boat so he could ski. Either way we both loved to sneak away and I always felt my heart skip a beat at the first sight of the boat. And the water.
However, none of my stolen weeknights away on Lake Ouachita prepared me for the sight of a cruise ship.
When we stepped outside the hotel in Mobile last summer after breakfast, we could see it.
It was GI-NORMOUS! Still, I am astounded at just how big cruise ships are! I had read how many people were going to be on this boat and I had wondered how in the world they were all going to fit. Then I saw the boat, and it was just way, way bigger than I had ever imagined. I still feel a little dumbfounded by it.
8 of the 12 of us had never before been on a cruise ship. The anticipation and enthusiasm just kept building as we headed over to the cruise terminal and got in line. We all wore our swimsuits under coverups and carried on bags with our beach towels. Our travel agent had warned us that we might not get our rooms and luggage until late afternoon, but not to let that stop us from getting on the boat and getting the party started early.
We all got through the embarkation lines at different times. Whitney and I made it on somewhere in the middle. We entered the boat off a long, hot ramp and into a chilled lavish lobby full of bright colors, round leather couches and tall glass elevators. I felt like a little girl and I wanted to get in that elevator and ride up and down until I had seen it all. However, someone with an Australian accent was telling us via the loudspeaker to proceed to the Lido Deck where lunch was being served. (Incidentally, we now all pronounce Lido Deck with an Aussie flare.)
When we found our way to the Lido Deck, we were greeted by Elle and Skeeter who were carrying fruity umbrella drinks and grinning ear to ear. We squealed when we saw them.
We practically ran all around the deck checking everything out, oohing and ah-ing at the perfectly lined blue deck chairs. We took a gazillion pictures, texted our families and yelled over and over again, We’re on a cruise!
The excitement was beyond contagious. Each time another pair of us came through the doors out onto the deck the rest of us would yell,
Hey! Look at this! Isn’t it amazing?!? We’re on a cruise!
This went on for approximately four hours. I am not even kidding. We were just so excited.
We pulled out our towels and claimed a bank of twelve chairs and then found all kinds of wonderful things for lunch. Hey look! You can just walk right over there and get a hamburger if you want! Or if you don’t want, you can have a salad. You can wait an hour and eat when you get hungry. Whatever you want!
We jumped in the pool, slid on the water slide, drank more umbrella drinks and took more pictures.
Sometime after 4pm the Australian gal came back on and told us we were about to leave port and that the Sail Away Party was happening on the Lido Deck. Sail Away Party is just a fancy way of saying the ship is about to leave. I think they call it a a Sail Away Party so you will be more excited. And you know what, it totally works! The ship’s big horn blew and suddenly everyone was yelling,
We’re moving! Look the boat is MOVING!!!
Like we had expected to just stay docked in Mobile forever. We were AMAZED I tell you.
There was all kinds of fun music and silly party games happening. Some joined in. Some watched. But we all laughed.
You could feel it in the air, that wonderful light-hearted anticipation!
Over the next five days, we danced, brought down the house in the karaoke bar, dressed up for dinner, played bingo, had our pictures made, went to the beach, shopped in Mexico, told stories, made scenes and danced some more.
We made wonderful memories.
And most of all, we laughed.
And y’all, it really was the MOST fun.