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Onboard & Outclassed - Ruminations on a 20-something cruise
  June 5, 2008
Winter 2008
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  By Elise le Blanc, Indianapolis (In.)

After embarking on and disembarking from yet another budget journey with my brave travel companion, we compiled a few Do's & Don'ts for the people in our age bracket considering booking a cruise anytime in the near future. Having just returned and about to slip into a sugar coma from a mixed bowl of Apple Jacks, Fruity Pebbles & Corn Pops, I am posting this now while the details are fresh in my delirious mind that's about to hit the keyboard:

DON'T: Go on a Princess 'Caribbean Cocoon' Cruise of retired senior citizens if your party consists of just you and one other person of the same sex who is marrying age but has no wedding ring, otherwise you will spend the whole trip being eyeballed by old-timers wondering why you aren't at one of the GLBT Meet & Greets in the Explorer's Lounge. Our favorite tactful inquiry: "So are you girls...coworkers?"

DO: Read the daily cruiseline newsletter. It will keep you abreast of all the social events in which you will NOT partake, thus also counseling you on where NOT to be at any given time. Like Mid-Deck for a Caribbean Conga Line with DJ Chrispy, Skywalkers' Nightclub for Disco with DJ E-Motion, or Scoops Ice Cream Bar for ceramic lessons.

DON'T: Expect to be able to ask the crew a question and get a comprehensible answer. Everyone speaks English, but make sure you can either read the "You Are Here" ship maps and/or are travelling with someone who can horse whisper his or her way through the accents before parroting the translation back to you.

DO: Check in to the boat after 2 p.m. (less wait time) and carry your own luggage on & off the ship, otherwise you could spend your whole first day being the only one at the pool in pants and a Dr. Pepper shirt, twiddling your thumbs and wishing for access to your swimsuit, only to discover at 8 p.m. that all three of the tags you had affixed to your luggage had somehow come off, meaning it had been camped out at Lost & Found all day instead of arriving via porter at 2 p.m.

DON'T: Go anywhere without your cruise card because cruise cards = magic. Passports are verified when you enter the ship and your picture is taken & associated with the cruise card they issue before boarding, so it triples as your passport, license/photo ID and on-ship debit card, as well as a tracking device for when you get on and off (or left behind) at ports.

DO: Ask for a room upgrade. If the cruise isn't at capacity (off-season), you might be able to get a better room for little to no charge.

DON'T: Purposely do something ridiculous - like cross one eye - for the first photo taken upon entry to the ship. Not only are your sweaty self and the airbrushed backdrop bad enough, but this photo WILL end up in a public photo gallery for everyone's perusal later that evening.

DO: Graciously decline getting your photo taken on formal nights, at dinners and when exiting for each port of call. The $10 (for only one print!) is a complete waste of money for anyone with his or her own camera.

DON'T: Be a 200+ lb woman who shows up for the practice emergency evacuation drill at the Princess Theater (aka: "Muster Station A") wearing nothing but your damp swimsuit, elbow rolls and the lifejacket you collected from your room without taking an extra second to also grab something to cover your ass germs instead of rubbing them all over the auditorium seats.

DO: Be lazy by tuning into the Princess Mast Cam on the cabin TV, which will allow you to gauge the sun situation and course of your morning from the comfort of your bed.

DON'T: Go to the 24-hour buffet on Bavarian Night.

DO: Specify the number of people in your party and request to be seated ALONE at meal tables, otherwise you will be added to an amalgamation of strangers who will ask where you're from, what number cruise this is for you (most people were already in double digits and gasped that we were cruise virgins) and/or wax poetic about this cruise compared to previous cruises. From one distraught man: "I was expecting classically trained musicians to be performing during tea. Last year's tea had a classically trained trio of Russian musicians. They were spectacular. I went just to hear them play. This isn't at all what I was expecting. But their work permit was up after a year. Hopefully they will be invited back. They were classically trained."

DON'T: Try to move or hide dinnerware from the wait staff in any of the fine dining rooms. Obsessed with etiquette, cleanliness and inventory, you will receive new silverware with each course, regardless of whether the original has been used. I once tried to rescue my shrimp fork for later use on a miniature dessert, only to have it whisked away without my knowledge despite having hidden it both under the bread basket and in my lap.

DO: Ask for anything you can dream up. For example, I asked for three extra helpings of the Strawberry Sorbet With Lemon Zest palate cleanser. In a martini glass. Instead of getting pissed that a 20-something is ordering the asinine, they will smirk and tease you the rest of the week (this might only work for females).

DON'T: Dismiss the importance of Formal and/or Theme Nights - these are like second-chance prom for old people, so use it as an opportunity to recycle a bridesmaid dress or leisure suit.

DO: Take a laxative before bedtime if you have trouble with irregular bowel movements while abroad. It will kick in the next morning before you leave, and the toilets will remove all traces by being more air suction than water.

DON'T: Worry about the temperature of the shower or cabin. Cruises are just a sideways, mobile hotel and still allow you to determine the exact degree of your water and room.

DO: Wait until the end of the cruise to buy ship services - the last two days are spent with 'deep discounts' on spa/salon services, internet cafe and boutiques.

DON'T: Bring kids, or maybe even have kids. They will shatter everyone else's tranquility - in the pool, adults-only hot tub, dining rooms, beaches, elevators - and lead grown-ups to fume silently while exchanging commiserating glances. Direct from a grandmother: "I love my grandchildren. I do. But I come here to get away from that."

DO: Tend to your toenails if you are an old man planning on baring your feet - the last thing a girl wants when she is eating breakfast at the pool is to see nearby toenails that have become such thick a thick, yellow petrified wood material that the ridges could probably produce a lithograph print.

DON'T: Get in an elevator with teenage boys. They will break it and you will find yourself sitting on the floor, in a towel, waiting for the maintenance man to rescue you from listening to them discuss how the three of them are going to blame the two of you, to which you can respond: "Whatever. There are security cameras. Plus I peed in the ocean several times this afternoon, so I can sit here ALL day."

DO: Buy tax-free wine or champagne at the port of call and drink it at the Princess Theater's screening of 'The Holiday' - hard liquor can only be consumed if purchased on the ship, otherwise the ship stows it away until the night before departure.

DON'T: Hover near your cabinmate's open suitcase while removing your swimsuit, otherwise you might accidentally drop a series of sand dunes into it.

DO: Go on a singles cruise to listen and laugh at the love connections being forged instead of being on a Cocoon Cruise feeling bad that half the boat is celebrating their 50th Anniversary with a champagne toast and 'How We Met' story swap in the Island Dining Room.

DON'T: Panic about not getting a deck chair - there are more than enough chairs, levels and hidden nooks to accomodate everyone. If nothing else, you can reserve one just by setting down your standard-issued blue & white striped beach towel and/or a personal effect (which won't be stolen).

DO: Get drunk and go the the Rustic Inn in Fort Lauderdale before departure or after return. Do get the $30 Crab Sampler Platter that can be split between two and is preceded by a tray of Caesar Salad and succeeded by sweet cornbread, with a mountain of both regular and garlic crab in between. Do use the mallet provided, otherwise you might get funny looks when you are drunk, speechless and cracking the crab open with your teeth a la Darryl Hannah in Splash.

DON'T: Eat at French bistros in Fort Lauderdale. They lie. Then charge you 50 bucks.

DO: Go to the serene and unpopulated Megan's Cay lagoon in St. Thomas, as well as Orient Bay in St. Maarten which is partially nude but wholly overrun by constant offers from native women selling ankle brankelets, 'magic beach towels' and hair-braiding services.

DON'T: Fly AirTran unless you want a 30-minute search for your reservation and subsequent battle with the luggage tag printer by the supposed ticketing professional.

DO: Ignore the constant barrage of advertising for discounted gemstones. The on-board seminars, televising of the on-board seminar, jewelry stores on ship and shore and coupon books ("Passport to Savings") taken together can begin to detract from your appreciation of the Caribbean as something other than an oversized Kay Jeweler - just stick to the beaches and Belgian chocolate shops.

Quotes from the Peanut Gallery on the Lido Deck:

C: You swished it around and spit it back out! You may as well have licked my tongue.

E. I just got a coffee cup that sweats coffee - anything can happen.

E: You realize we're going to bed at 8:30?
C: I blame the alcohol. And the drugs. And crabs.

E: You ask for the upgrade. You look more authoritative.
C: And by 'authoritative' you mean 'bossy and demanding'?
E: Exactly.

C: I need a cigarette, man.
E: Ew, no. I'm not sitting next to you with that reek. I mean, look at them - they're quarantined. Like a disease.

E: I've never felt good after eating a sausage link.

C: Marty McFly called. He wants his jacket back.

E: What did people do before coffee?
C: Heroine.

Anonymous: The air and water are so soothing - I've peed four times.
Also Anonymous: Funny you should say that, because I'm peeing right now! know you can drink your own urine?

Random Senior Citizen at Afternoon Tea: So you girls are...coworkers?

E: This is the first day we look like full-blown lesbians. And your tennis shoes aren't helping our case.

C: That necklace looks like someone splooged gold.

E: I would be so pissed if I got stuck sitting next to someone who smelled like garlic crab.

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