I’m not really a cruise person. I tried taking a cruise with my husband a few years ago, when we were still dating long distance. There were several problems, mostly stemming from the fact that I was a little cheap about spending money on the vacation; also the cruise was too short, there were too many days at sea on the Atlantic, and the weather was bad. I don’t even remember what the food was like because I was motion sick and miserable for most of the trip. The nail in the horrible vacation coffin was the Country-Christmas music that played over the PA system on loop. We heard the song “Santa looked a lot like Daddy” at least 3 times a day during our 5 day vacation. In retrospect, maybe we should have expected such torture the week before Christmas on a cruise that left from South Carolina.
Given my previous experience, it was a surprise to everyone, myself included, when I agreed to go on a week long cruise with our friends this winter. I rationalized the decision though; the cruise company had already been vetted by a couple who travel constantly, there would only be one day at sea and none in the open Atlantic, there would be no Christmas music, and there would be friends to distract my husband if I needed some alone time. I decided to not think about it too much and just go along with the flow. No decisions, no thinking, and no planning ahead of time.
The day before we left, I spent the entire afternoon packing. I even prepared a thermos of coffee so that when we woke up at 2:30AM to drive to the airport, I would be ready to go. Our flight to San Juan was one of the first to leave the airport that morning so we planned to arrive at 4AM when the American Airlines terminal opened. Much to my surprise, there was already a line of people waiting to drop off bags, probably 50-100 individuals. I looked over someone’s shoulder, while we walked to the back of the line. The stranger’s boarding pass was for a flight leaving at 9AM? Some asshole was checking in for a flight 5 hours early, and I was going to have to wait in line behind him! I mean, we were going to have to wait in line behind him, but that I was the only one pissed off about it. My husband rarely gets anxious so easily.
We waited for about 15 minutes before American Airlines staff finally started calling for anyone from our flight to skip the line. During that wait, it dawned on me that we had something of a time constraint on our plans for the day. Ordinarily, if we were traveling and got bumped off a flight or missed a connection, we could just arrive a day late with few repercussions. If we arrived in San Juan too late, we would literally miss the boat.
Fortunately, the security line was swift and we boarded the flight on time. However, we couldn’t take off because the potable water tanks had been drained overnight and they hadn’t been refilled. To be clear, there was plenty of bottled water available, we just didn’t have water for coffee, or tea, and probably not for the bathrooms. No one schedules the one hour flight to Charlotte at 5AM on a Saturday unless they have a connecting flight, so the entire plane was full of cranky people with tight connections. Perpetually expecting this task to be finished in “just another five minutes,” we ultimately waited at the gate for over an hour before the pilot finally made the call to leave without the water. For the entire hour I sat there and stewed in the possible horrors.
If we didn’t make it to Puerto Rico on time then we would miss our cruise entirely. What if we made it on time, but our bags were missing? Would we leave with the ship anyways and have to buy toiletries and new clothes everyday? It was something of a relief to remember that we were adults who had enough money to book a hotel at the last minute, or to buy a new flight home early, or to purchase new bathing suits and a set of souvenir tee shirts for the week. We only had a first world problem, not a critical failure.
It’s funny to me because today I can write this and feel very relaxed about the situation. In the moment I was tired, I was hungry, I was carrying a bag that was a little too heavy, and it was a little bit cold out. You know, everything was awful and the world was ending. Despite my best efforts to turn every minor incident into a fucking travesty, we did actually make it to the cruise ship on time.
I slept that entire afternoon and most of the evening. I grumbled when my friends spoke to me. I was reluctant to attend dinner and then petulant with the waitstaff. I was jealous of my friends who could enjoy themselves while I was still feeling like the world had shattered. That’s an explanation, not an excuse.
Expectations and reality don’t always line up and that far off thing in the distance might not be as perfect as it looks, slightly off center, slightly asymmetric, slightly out of focus. Photo was taken while we waited in line in the airport terminal.