Cable Beach, Nassau, Bahamas
Cable Beach, Nassau, Bahamas

I feel a tad sheepish writing this post. Last week at this time I was in Grand Turk, enjoying white sand, sunshine, blue skies, and warm temperatures, such a contrast from the snow/slush combination outside my door. I also realize how lavish this sounds. Another cruise? Two years in a row? Does it help if I tell you we didn’t plan to take another cruise this year? No, I guess not.

This trip came about rather unexpectedly. I’m dubbing this year, “the year of milestone-wedding celebrations” for both sides of the family. In a couple of weeks, my in-laws will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. (Way to go, Mom and Dad B!) Next month my parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. (Kudos, Mom and Dad!)

To celebrate my parents’ anniversary, the Helyer clan decided to take a trip. After our original plans fell through, the cruise option surfaced. Cruising isn’t for everyone, but when trying to plan a trip that will appeal to a range of ages and interests; for example, a 15 year old to a 72 year old, a cruise is worth serious consideration. That’s why late December found us scanning cruise deals for the last week of February. And we found one.

After taking two cruises, I have some favorites about this type of a vacation. Before I share, I should point out that for a long time I thought I would never take a cruise. I think I thought it would feel too artificial. I wasn’t completely wrong about this. After all, living on a ship for a week with 3500 other people isn’t “normal.” Plus, I like to visit places where I can feel a bit like a local—eat at the neighborhood café and shop at the local stores, etc. Disembarking a ship with a herd of other people at a port isn’t the best way to embrace local culture. Nonetheless, a cruise still has its merits.

1. 24 room service. Except for Mother’s Day, I never receive my morning coffee in bed. But for one luxurious week, I fill out a slip of paper and leave it on my door at night and, voila, the next day someone brings me my coffee. For me, this is the height of luxury.

2. Water-Watching. Not sure this is an official term, but once a ship sets sail, the main view from any window on a ship is—water. I find it both peaceful and calming. The same could be said for watching a fire in a fireplace or a fire pit. No directions required: Sit and stare.

3. Evening dinners. Depending on the cruise you take, dinner can be a dressy affair. On our most recent cruise, we had two “elegant” evenings where people pulled out their best clothes and notched up the fashion quota. Last year, I saw a couple of gentlemen wear tuxedos. This year, I saw quite a few women in evening gowns. In a society that thrives on quick and easy meals and dinner-on-the-run, the ritual of dressing up for a meal and enjoying it at a leisurely pace reminded me of a by-gone era. Downton Abbey, perhaps?

4. Friendly and Attentive staff. From the wait staff to the room steward, constant smiles and friendly greetings are the status quo on a cruise. Good staff will learn your name by day 2 and use it often. Every morning as I left my cabin, the female steward would ask me about Jake and Anna. How are Jacob and Anna doing? she inquired. This small gesture communicated care and interest.

5. A taste of the world. I only have my Carnival experience to draw from, but I imagine most major cruise lines hire from around the world. On the name tag of each Carnival employee, is the name of the country that he or she comes from. I find this fascinating. Where else can I come in contact with someone from Indonesia or Croatia on a given day? (Unless you work at Stony Brook, of course.) Then there is the food. I ate Mexican, Pan-Asian, Japanese, Caribbean, and American food in the course of one week. For a person who loves to try to new foods and enjoys changing up the menu, I was in heaven.

As winter lingers and the start of spring feels beyond reach, the memories from the cruise become sweeter by the day. Mainly, I want to be grateful. Many around the world will never leave the perimeter of their neighborhoods. Tonight, many will go to bed hungry and cold. Some won’t even have a bed. While I can easily create a list of favorites, I want to remember that a vacation is a gift. When I am tempted to compare my circumstances with others or to allow discontent to enter my heart, I hope I can remember this moment. When my cup was full and gratefulness filled my heart.

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