Love Boat or The Perfect Storm?

December 5, 2008

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I never expected to find myself on a Royal Caribbean cruise during my year of traveling the world. But as I searched for one-way flights from Spain back to the States, I started thinking how interesting it would be to go by boat instead. So after a quick search on Kayak, I found a Transatlantic cruise from Barcelona, Spain to Ft Lauderdale, FL from $399. Even after the extra fees and taxes it was still cheaper than flying and included food and lodging for 13 days! I was still a little apprehensive about cruising, but decided that either way it would be an experience, (but I bought about 4 books in Barcelona just in case).

Day 1: I do laundry for the last time at my hostel (I checked prices online and the boat charges a per piece charge, so a shirt is $3.80). After packing, I catch a taxi to the pier. There’s a massive line all the way around the building, so after dumping my bag at the bag check, I stand in line for about 45 minutes, reading a book. It appears that I’m the only person in my age group in this line, and I feel like someone is going to ask me where my parents are. ;)  The second line inside the building goes quicker and after dodging some ship photographers I finally get on the boat. I wander the halls and stairs, and finally find my room. I’m excited to discover thats it’s a real room and they didn’t just trick me into buying a closet-sized horizontal space like on a train in China. After backpacking for four months it’s a dream room, with a king-size bed and fluffy white towels. This calls for a celebratory jump on the bed and then I set off to explore the ship.

Exploring was maybe not the best idea, so far it feels like being in a floating mall… and I don’t like malls. There seem to be a lot of disgruntled seniors wandering around. The air is somewhat toxic, but perhaps it’s because they’re those kind of “travelers” who are all up in a fuss about arriving (here’s to hoping). And I passed some crazy woman griping at two workers in the hall, so I gave them the “I think she’s crazy look” and one of them started giggling.

On the main promenade, I bought a Ben & Jerry’s sorbet in a cup for $2.80, which was reasonably priced, but not very good. There’s also a free Seattle’s Best Coffee machine with fresh milk, so that’s good. But the nominal fee for the Internet is $.55 a minute as in… $33 an hour… seriously, how is that a nominal fee? Anyway, I won’t be using the Internet on board AT ALL! After wandering, I went back to my room and unpacked. It’s nice having my own room and bathroom! And the towels are amazing! I have a little couch thing too. I signed up for the later dinner at 8:30pm, so it’s like I’m on Spanish eating time still. So I wandered around a bit more, saw the outer decks, pool areas, sports court and climbing wall, before heading to dinner. There’s only one other person at my table, a flight attendant from LA. He’s funny, and if I can only have 1 person at my table, than I’d rather have a funny person who complements me than an old curmudgeon. He’s been on lots of cruises and said that not everyone goes to dinner the first night. Ah, tips from the professional cruiser! So the food is amazing! And it’s free! I could probably gain 20 pounds in the next 2 weeks.

Day 2: Today we stop in Cartagena, Spain. This morning, I woke up LATE, at like 8:30am, because it was so dark in the room, I had no sense of time/light, kind of scary actually. So I went to the casual breakfast place (the one that you don’t have to sit and order), it’s like a buffet, but massive. I finally had what I’d been craving since Morocco, granola and yogurt and OJ. Then I “stole” an apple for later, and walked down to the Promenade to get a Seattle’s Best and a banana muffin. And then it was time to get off the boat. It’s kind of strange just walking off the boat. Thankfully, most people were either still sleeping or trying to get info from the people at the docks. I walked straight to the Tourist Information center in town, and I appear to be the only tourist in town so far.  I feel like it’s the Amazing Race, and my new job is to out-think the seniors, ok well that wasn’t hard to do. ;)  I ended up going to an Internet cafe, doing a little shopping at Zara (they really need to open in Portland!), and then I walked around the town and up to the fort. I saw people from the boat on several walking tours. I bet they’re glad they paid $40 to follow someone around town. It’s kind of strange being in a town that’s flooded with thousands of people for one day. I was buying some tea tree oil at a Natural store, and the owner asked if I was from the boat, and I was actually kind of embarrassed to admit that I was, so we got to talking about the cruise and Obama, and I asked him if he knew of any English bookstores and he said that actually he knew of a book exchange at the port office, where he and his [Scottish] wife have a yacht. So he gave me directions and his card to show the security guys. Such an interesting encounter! I had to be back on the boat at 4:30pm, so after wandering a bit more, I headed back to the floating mall. The next two days at sea to Ponta Delgada, The Azores, will be a chance to preview what a week at sea will feel like. Another oddity, I can’t get over how formal all the workers are. It alternates between being awkward and amusing. They’re all “OH, I’m sorry mam” and “here you are, thank you” and I’m like… “oh, ok, thanks” And at dinner they put your napkin on your lap. I was like “uhhhhh…. ok, uummm… thank you.” Ah, the sailing life.