“So, what islands are you stopping at this time?” my ever-loving spouse asked a day or two before I was flying to Florida for my annual cruise.
“Uh, uh, I’ll print the itinerary out for you. We’re on NCL’s brand-new ship – the Bliss,” I offered.
“You don’t know where you’re going?” he asked, somewhat incredulously. Somewhat. Not completely.
“St. Thomas. Tortola. Nassau,” I spewed after stealing a glance at the papers on my desk.
He shook his head and thanked his lucky stars that he could stay home and walk the dog in the snow.
Ten years ago, we went on a family cruise. It was his first and my fifth. Everything I love about a cruise, he hates. I love overeating. I love overdrinking. And I love being held captive with 4,000 imperfect strangers for a week.
After that fateful cruise, my spouse agreed that we’d both be happier if I overindulged with my bosom buddy from high school rather than with him. Which is what Patty and I have been doing ever since.
Patty cares less about where we’re going than I do. We’ve been to so many of the Caribbean cruise destinations so many times, done so many snorkeling trips, bought so many pairs of “one-of-a-kind” earrings and sipped so many umbrella drinks in so many beach bars that all the islands begin to blend together.
But, people on the other hand, never do.
I often marvel at the serendipitous situations that randomly pop people into my life – especially when I’m traveling. I look around the cabin of the airplane, squeeze my thighs tight in deference to my inch-away seatmate and assess the arbitrary combinations of humans who are all going to the same place on the same day at the same time. Knowing there’s a good chance the plane will go down, I spend my final living hours making up obituaries, assigning passengers occupations, families and Purple Hearts. And then, because there’s a better chance that we’ll land safely, I give them dreams, destinations and broken hearts.
As we boarded the Bliss and caught first glimpses of our coincidental cruisers in their unisex right-out-of-the-suitcase Bermuda shorts and loudly-flowered expandable tops or identical Here We Go Again! T-shirts, orange on day one, green on day two, a thought came to me.
What if pre-cruise we filled out a form that helped pair us up with people of common beliefs, quirks and vocations? Simply check a box for carnivore or vegan; daiquiri or beer; sun or shade; excursion or exploration. Then, perhaps a profile of who we are and why we cruise.
It would be a game-changer, for sure.
Arguably, we’d never be matched up with the likes of Frank and Michelle, Air Force-trained, early-risers who engaged in Apple watch competition.
The morning after the crash; the crash that was graciously accepted as imbalance rather than impropriety, Frank held up his wrist.
“Forty-four flights,” he boasted.
“Of beer?” I asked, having not yet conquered one single set of stairs.
Meanwhile, Michelle, after going up and down and up and down and up and down the water slide nine times, sat alone in the dining room sneaking in yet another email with her ultra-important, awe-inspiring job back home.
Certainly Catherine, an accountant, who, in a good way, didn’t fit my mental mold of a number cruncher, would never have suspected we’d have a common kinship for Italian green-leather purses and special needs children.
Had we not witnessed, and subsequently commented on Haydar’s first-day pseudo-concussion, would it ever have led to late-night talks about books and art and gulp, political agendas? Would we ever have learned to love Lucas and Valerie and steal Happy Birthday signs from their cabin door?
I’m not sure Carol Ann and her husband Puffy, a pro golfer who spent a day in the infirmary on an IV after too much vomiting (food, not alcohol) would have checked our box. Yet, our conversations were always full of candid content and easy camaraderie.
And then, there was Amy who wore an “I love my Hubby” T-shirt. Imagine the stories we concocted from that, though the truth came as no surprise once we started talking Kindles and kids. She really did love her husband, Keith, with whom she was traveling, despite raising eight children. And she was equally surprised that a woman twenty years her senior was once a cool mom herself.
A self-professed engineering nerd, Kevin, rooming with the adorable doctor in physical therapy, Renee, boomed hellos and warm greetings. He hated fish, loved cocktails and engaged in underwater motor scootering. Only one out of the three remotely resonated with me. And then we met his parents, Joyce and Mike, and all was forgiven.
We probably wouldn’t have been matched up to vacation with the lovely 20 year-old Abby and her six-month old daughter who were in the midst of an ugly custody battle. Nor with the family with six (at least) children who ate six (at least) meals a day and spent six (at least) hours a day in the hot tub. And we pretty definitely would have passed on the orthopedic surgeon from West Virginia who declared there were too many Democrats in his home town of Asheville, North Carolina. We likely wouldn’t have had much interest in the snow-white haired grandmother reading Nora Roberts and Lisa Scottoline novels, her ten-year-old grandson barreling through Diary of a Wimpy Kid at a rampant rate. And I’m sure Sara-with-no-h, and her entourage of mismatched and mis-aged traveling companions would never in a million years imagine they’d find common ground with un-tattooed, conventional (in their world) women like ourselves.
I chuckled myself to sleep wondering if given the choice, anyone would anyone sign up to cruise with two upper middle-aged (lower old-aged?) women who choose vacationing with each other over their significant others. Whether there’s any appeal to cruising with a retired educator, an aspiring novelist (give up that dream, honey!). With one who (on a cruise!) slurps a mere cup of soup a meal, the other four pieces of bread, filet mignon, risotto and chocolate cake. Same 10,000 calories every single dinner. One so soft-spoken you have to lean in close, the other boisterous enough to hear bow to stern. One who brought home every towel and napkin animal the room stewards left on her bed, the other who pocketed petite spoons from the dining room to stir hummus at home.
And really, would anyone choose to cruise with someone who recycled stories instead of plastic straws?
But therein lies the beauty of a Blissful cruise. The random pairing of people whose paths would never cross on dry land. Who wouldn’t ever even begin the conversation that ends with the realization that it’s not what we are but who we are that makes us worth befriending.
Even if that realization is diluted, enhanced or antagonized by a little too much bourbon.
Thanks, friends, for another fun trip.