Navigator Newbie

After some 37 years of cruising, I am, sad to say, a bit jaded. These days, about all I do is sun, shave and eat. Last time I was at sea, it dawned on me that it was time to look at cruising through a new pair of eyes. My son Chess, a rookie cruiser, agreed to join me on a seven-day sail, with the pledge that we would try all (well, almost all), that was offered on board.

Chess
When I want some time away, I habitually embark on a journey deep into the back country of a place where I can engage the local culture, not hampered with the usual creature comforts. Vacationing to me means sweat, physical challenges, lack of daily showers and eating whatever is in front of me, on the dirt floor of the mud hut that happens to be my home for the night.
So, why in the world would I cruise the Caribbean aboard one of world’s the largest cruise ships? Perhaps, because my Himalayan Buddhist friends have taught me to be completely in the moment, and to pay attention to what you have rather than what you have not. I accepted Dad’s invitation.

Dad
Chess is an active guy, so I picked Royal Caribbean International’s Navigator of the Seas with its climbing wall, inline skate track, golf simulator and two basketball courts. The miniature golf course was for me.

Chess
I looked forward to the climbing wall, and it didn’t disappoint. Lots of different routes with varying degrees of difficulty. Everyone can have fun on this wall, from tiny tots to the experienced climber looking for a challenge. There are four stations, where facilitators manage your safety rope and coach you up your chosen route. The equipment is in good shape, and you can climb as many times as you want, but after you complete one climb, it’s back to the end of the line.
Port days, wall hours are limited; 7-9 in the morning and 5-7 in the afternoon. I chose the early morning hours, and got to enjoy the wall without much of a wait.
Dad
I watched a small 7-year-old get to the top of the wall. I watched Chess rappelling down, getting a rope burn on his lip. I left the line.

Chess
Meals were wonderful. Expecting buffet, I was pleasantly surprised by the elegant sit-down dinner flawlessly attended to by our international waiters and serving staff. Having been a waiter in many fine restaurants myself, I can be a nightmare for servers who don’t approach their job as a craft and point of pride. No worries here. I completely relaxed under the competent and dedicated professionalism of Ercon, our Turkish waiter. After a bit of experimentation, I decided to order whatever Ercon recommended. The salmon was moist and tender, the Caribbean chicken was equally so, and the soups, salads, appetizers and desserts were perfect. I could not resist the temptation to eat every bite, and some nights I even ordered more than one soup or appetizer just so I would not miss anything.

Dad
Jaded maybe, but it still amazes me that it is possible to serve such marvelous cuisine to many people at one time. We had 3,496 aboard (Spring Break), yet the food and service were both outstanding.

Chess
Each morning at 7, I ran four miles on the jogging track surrounded by the blue Caribbean and freshened by the forever renewing ocean breeze.
Since I was on vacation, I had the time and the luxury of taking another hour in the late afternoon to work out in the gym — looking out over that same blue sea through wall to wall windows from 11 stories up. A dip in the Jacuzzi followed in one of seven available, then on to the hot sauna or steam room, then back to the Lobster Bisque.

Dad
My day started at 8 a.m. and included an afternoon nap. Actually, I lose weight on a cruise. Although sampling most everything, I’m careful to never get stuffed. (If you are Australian, read “overfull”). I’ll jog in another life.

Dad
We both went to the Belly Flop Contest. Thanks to Graham Seymour, one of the most entertaining cruise directors I’ve come across, and some willing “floppers”, this was a hoot. Surprisingly, the winner was not the 300-pound water displacer who looked like a sure thing (see photo page 46), but a fairly slim and agile guy who knew just how to hit the water to get the biggest splash. An hour after impact, his chest and stomach were still brilliant red.

Chess
Whatever.

Chess
Nights offered tons of choices; an assortment of musical artists playing in bars, clubs and lounges throughout this behemoth, boutiques open until 11 p.m., a well-appointed casino, even movies. With so much available, I had zero interest in sitting for an hour in the massive theater, watching a bunch of cruise ship dancers perform.
Dad
Cruise shows are on my miss list. If I hadn’t been traveling with a nautical newbie, I would have passed on “Now and Forever,” a tribute to contemporary Broadway. Nevertheless, a deal’s a deal. Even so, I sat us in last row balcony seats, so we could scurry away unnoticed like cockroaches hit by light. It was our loss. The first great surprise was a pit band. Live music folks, not the usual sound track recorded on shore; a huge plus. The next shocker; wonderful singers, dancers and professional staging. It was a great show!

Chess
I was so impressed I went to the second seating show, this time in the third row, where I could get a close look at the performers. Wow! I would be back for more.

Chess
Since this was a true vacation. I took advantage of it every way I could, and none of that included getting off the ship. Conversely, my reluctance to wander the ports was overcome by the opportunity to get a little local flavor.

Dad
Yeah, local flavor. In Ocho Rios, Jamaica, as we left the port area, a female security agent let us out of the gate with a “Have a good day.” The gate banged shut and she then said, “Come back in one piece.” When we did get back, the sign over the port entrance said, “Glad you made it.”

Dad
We played miniature golf. To my surprise, the course actually tested our putting skills. At the end of the nine holes, we were tied. It would be unsportsmanlike to tell you who won the sudden death playoff.

Chess
I did.

Chess
Dad dragged me to the Art Auction. Given that scattered around the ship I had seen a good deal of what was available, I kicked and screamed, but a deal is a deal. People were bidding and buying, but I’m sure they consumed a lot more of the free champagne than I.

Dad
There are times in life when a deal should not be a deal. One definition of art is “artful.” A definition of “artful” is wily. Our auctioneer was artful.

Dad
Chess is single and was hoping for a bit of shipboard romance, so he was excited about the “Singles Meet and Mingle” at 11:45 p.m. in the Dungeon Bar.

Chess
I went with nervous anticipation. Would the women be attractive? Would they find me interesting? Would I be the only one still dressed in a tux. As I entered the Dungeon, all I saw was a table of six guys in tank tops and t-shirts with witty sayings such as “I fish, therefore I am.” There was no organized “Singles Meet and Mingle.” Counting me, there was a total of one single. It was a badly lit non-event in the aptly named Dungeon. Feeling a bit foolish, I headed back to the cabin as single as I had been just 10 minutes earlier.
Luckily, the next afternoon there was a “Search for Singles” event at the outdoor pool bar at the reasonable hour of 4:30. Certainly this would be a nice little organized event designed to make sure that all singles could meet, mingle, mix and match for the rest of the cruise. After all, it was only day three, which still left plenty of time for romance.
That afternoon, I selected just the right smart casual outfit to attract a potential romantic cruise mate. I waited until 4:40 to give ample time for the gaggle to gather. There was a group of five at the bar; two men and three women. The odds were in my favor. No, wait. One of the women just got two drinks, and has now joined her husband and two kids. That leaves two women and now three men. No, wait. One of those women is actually a girl about 15 drinking a virgin Pina Colada. This isn’t looking good, and where the heck is the organizer of this event?
I sit down next to an attractive women who was talking to a man and another woman. We struck up an easy conversation. Great, she seems completely at ease with meeting other singles. No, wait. Did she just say “We?” As in “We’ve never been on a cruise before.” She turns to the man next to her and says, “Honey, that boat trip to Alaska wasn’t really a cruise, was it?”

Dad
Chess is still single, and I am still married, but I got to watch Desperate Housewives on the TV.

Chess
I decided to take a shot at the golf simulator. For $25 an hour, you and your party of up to four can challenge each other to a round of golf on any number of world famous courses. I chose Pebble Beach. For an hour, I took on one of the most challenging courses I’ve ever played. I shot an 81 at Pebble Beach!

Dad
Well, truth be told, Chess has a hard time breaking 100 at his local public course! Moreover, the simulator assumes you can two-putt every hole. Although he outputted me in Miniature Golf, I don’t remember any holes in two.

Chess
Nevertheless, Daddy dear, as far as my golf buddies are concerned, my 81 at Pebble Beach is still a topic of conversation.

Chess
What astonished me, and what I am a bit timid to tell my adventurous cadre of friends back home, is that I really enjoyed this cruise. I was impressed with the elegance and ease of cruising. Given the choice, I would have worn my tux every night. I loved the shipboard experience and could care less if I left the ship for any of the tours or ports. For me the destinations were secondary to all that was offered aboard the ship.

Dad
It was a wonderful experience spending this time with my son. Sadly, it may well be our last cruise together. Chess is already checking out Singles Cruises, and unless something really awkward happens, I won’t be able to join him.

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2 Responses to “Navigator Newbie”

  1. Shelby T Mitchell Says:

    I can’t believe you were doing all of this while the NFL Title games going to the Super Bowl were on the line! You would skip this! You must be pretty brave in order to do this but hey nice read! Go Colts!

  2. Shelby T Mitchell Says:

    Very nice article on blogging. But why do it when the NFL Title Games are on the line for the Super Bowl. But still, very nice article!

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