Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Never Cruised Before? How It Began for Me

We've just changed our clocks back an hour for the end of Daylight Savings time. My mind has wandered back more than an hour, and I've found myself in a time before my first cruise.

I had never even considered a cruise when I went with a friend to a local travel show. As a lark, I entered a contest, one of the vendors had, for a free cruise. Little did I know, filling out that raffle ticket would turn out to be the beginning of a still-thriving 23-year love affair with cruising. If you haven't guessed, I was one of the winners of a cruise for two. All we had to do was make our own way to Florida.

My husband and I didn't know what to expect as we headed down to Florida for the optional stow-away night that we purchased for an extra $25. We had decided to spend the extra night onboard so that we didn't have to worry about missing the sailing (something that we still do to this day - except now we stay at a local hotel).

The ship we went on was the Yankee Trader, a Windjammer ship. This wasn't the typical cruise ship that you see in commercials. It's a small yacht that held about 100 guests and crew. The dress code was swimsuit and barefeet most of the time (except for the Captain's dinner where we had to put on our shoes). If you wanted to help with the sails, you could do so, but weren't required to participate at all.

Fun and relaxation were the only requirements of this first cruise of ours. To this day, we can still remember all the new friends we met, the great crew, the rum swizzles, the pig roast for the Captain's dinner (complete with apple in the mouth), the fresh grouper dinner one night (using fish we caught off the bow), the toga party (my husband came in second place), the beautiful wood that graced this small ship, the wonder of being immersed in nature - the sea and beautiful islands. We had to pinch ourselves to make sure this wasn't a dream.

Our second cruise was quite different than the Windjammer. My same friend had booked an outside cabin on Carnival Celebration for a Spring Break get-away. They had asked us to join them, but we already had a vacation planned at Christmas, and didn't think we'd be able to go again in the spring. After our land-based vacation in December, we decided that we needed a "vacation from our vacation", and upon return booked the cabin next to our friends.

This ship was quite different from our first experience. The Celebration was a 37,000 ton floating resort (It's since been refurbished and is now over 47,000 tons). By today's standards, it was quite small, but when you compare it to the Yankee Trader, you can just imagine how we felt when we got onboard.

The first thing we saw when we got onboard was the Pursers Lobby, which was just like walking into the lobby of any of the finest hotels we'd ever stayed in before. From there we were directed to our stateroom, our home away from home for the next seven days. Our particular outside cabin had a picture window (some outside cabins have port holes). For those that have never been on a ship, you can compare an outside cabin to a hotel accomodation where you have an ocean view but the window doesn't open. In the case of a ship, the type of window varies by ship and location on the ship.

After dropping off our carry-on bags we looked through the daily guide that was on our bed, headed up to get something to eat, and then started to explore the rest of the ship. When we returned to our cabin, we unpacked our luggage which had arrived while we were exploring and got ready for the mandatory life-boat drill.

What's this - a life-boat drill?? Can the ship sink? Am I in danger? What's up with this?
Not to worry - this is standard on all vessels afloat. Just as you do when you get on an airplane, it's important for every passenger to be aware of what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency. I'm happy to report that cruise lines take safety very seriously - in fact, it's their number one concern. Once the drill is over, it's back to the main agenda - having FUN. After all, we were on one of the "Fun Ships" of Carnival Cruise Line.

Well folks, that's all for now. I'm waving from one of the public decks as we sail away from our embarkation port. Don't worry, I'll be back to complete the story.

In the meantime, if you can't wait, send me an email or give me a call. I love to talk to first-time cruisers and help them plan their first cruise vacation. I even love to talk to veteran cruisers, but that's a story for another time.

Next time I'll take a look at some of the myths about cruising. Until then, happy cruising.

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