My First Real Vacation
When I was growing up my family never went on vacation. I do not recall any of my friends families going either. The idea of visiting far away places and sunning oneself on the beach came from nothing more then day dreams and television shows. We just did not have the money to spend on such extravaganzas. You see, rich people get to take real vacations just for the heck of it. Just because they found some new place they want to explore. Families like ours only got to take vacation if we won them on game shows or spent ten years eating TV dinners just to save enough money to drag a car load of kids and peanut butter sandwiches to the Grand Canyon for a week. It is not that we never took the occasional trip to Grandma's house or visited tourist spots native to our state on boring 'day trips'. Those were alright at the time, I suppose. It was not until I was getting married and planning a honeymoon that I realized I never went on a real vacation before. When we ended up staying in town at a local hotel for a few nights instead of going to some distant and secret romantic spot I did not mind. Maybe it was because I never knew what I was really missing. Perhaps that old saying, 'Ignorance Is Bliss" could have been applied to me back then.
When I became the mother of two children under the age of three I started learning the importance of needing a vacation. We lived six hundred miles from our hometown and when my husband could take leave we would venture back up north for a week or more. Now I can understand how this would be a vacation for my hard working Marine Corps husband as he got to step away from and forget about the frustrations associated with his daily grind. I, on the other hand, became trapped in a small Plymouth Horizon with two screaming babies in the backseat and a scaredy cat dog who would not lay anywhere but on my lap for the entire twelve hour trip. Upon our arrival I would commence my own daily grind of caring for two babies and that dog who were just torn from their familiar surroundings of home and thrown into the many arms of estranged loved ones. This was surely not a vacation for me. I anxiously awaited the day we would wake up at five AM and cram back into that small car for our twelve hour return trip home, usually regretful that we remembered to retrieve the dog from our family's back yard. Again I reminded myself that real vacations were for the rich and not those of us stuck in such limited middle-class lives.
Eleven years later I was divorced and living in a small apartment with my now much older children. I was still in need of a real vacation and wondering if I would ever get the opportunity to give my children the family trip I felt they had always deserved. Then one day it suddenly happened. There we were, in the mall, looking for a cheap haircut for my son. I got him signed in at our usual place and told him I would be right next door in the travel shop looking at brochures. About a half hour later he showed up at my side looking all trim and proper once more while I sat there with a travel agent named Karen, my new best friend, signing papers for a week long Western Caribbean cruise. I walked out of there in a daze. I could not even remember the ride home. I just know I drove us there. My son was beside himself with joy and could hardly wait to tell his younger sister what I had just done. I went to the mall for a hair cut and came home with a cruise. And why not? I was thirty-five, vacation less my whole life and working hard at two jobs. We deserved this vacation, right? That new Visa card sure came in handy too. Anyway, what was done was done. There was no turning back from here. In only fifty days we would be flying down to Miami for a one night stay on Biscayne Bay before embarking on the adventure of a lifetime.
That fifty day wait felt more like a hundred as we planned and saved and packed. We shopped for cute sandals and bathing suits and big floppy straw hats. Everyone knows that when you go on a cruise you need a big floppy straw hat. I found the perfect summer read too. I could just see me now, basking in the sun on the Promenade deck in one of those chaise lounges. I am wearing my new hat and reading my new book all the while sipping a tall iced tea that was served to me by a very handsome foreign fellow in cute white shorts and a smile that could melt your heart. Yep, it was going to be great!
The flight down was uneventful. Aside from a little nervous anxiety from my daughter about flying, we got there in one piece. A bus was waiting to take us to the hotel. When we finally got to our room we collapsed in the beds for a brief nap. We planned for a walk around town then dinner downstairs. Afterwards we ventured out back to walk beside the pool and the Bay itself. The side walks were lined with palm trees, my first palm trees. I was so excited to see them. I felt rich, privileged, even blessed. On our walk about the Bay I noticed we were alone. So with no one else in sight I walked up to one of those beautiful, stately trees and put my arms around it. Then I gave another look around to make doubly sure no one was watching and I gave the tree a quick kiss. My children cracked up laughing and we turned around and ran back.
The following afternoon we were safely aboard ship roaming the narrow halls of the Main deck in search of our room. The sight of this massive vessel nearly knocked me off my bus seat as we approached the port and here I was standing in the middle of it all. When it was time to set sail we stood on deck and waved at all the folks on the port. We had no one to see us off but I knew by watching all those Love Boat episodes that this is what we were supposed to do. This ship even made waving good-bye fun.
The days that followed were filled with more fun then I could stand. We busied ourselves by running around the ship just looking for new places to explore. It seemed to me that we spent most of our time either preparing ourselves to dine, finding the specific eatery or eating once we got there. I had no time to lounge around on the deck reading my book. Nor did I have time to show off my big floppy hat or admire all the cute foreign scenery. Besides, the sun was so hot on deck that the three of us avoided it like the plague. Our evenings were spent being entertained in the huge theater that played anything from Broadway-type shows to amature talent and magic shows. I advise not sitting in the front row for the magic shows however. Seeing all that fishing line can be a real disappointment.
We engaged ourselves in onshore excursions when we docked in Jamaica and Grand Cayman. The slow moving, air conditioned island bus tour of a rum cake factory and turtle farm was nice. We even ate a turtle meat sandwich and have the pictures to prove it. However, the six hundred foot climb up the Dunn River water falls was a bit much for me. Once back in my cabin after that little ditty of a day I passed out before dinner and never moved until breakfast. The best times were when we climbed to the top deck as the sun began to rise to see the approaching islands or at night when we leaned way over the rails to watch the fast black waves rushing past us with their white tips. And when no one is looking you can stretch out your arms and yell, 'I am king of the world.' You really can.
One week was just not long enough. There was so much more to see and do. It was hard packing our bags the night before we docked in Miami. No one wanted to leave that ship. I held back tears as I stepped from the ship unto the enclosed plank that lead us through customs. Aside from the best time in my life, I had nothing to claim. We sat silently on the flight home lost in our own thoughts of the past week. 'When can we do it again', they asked. Not soon enough. Who would have ever thought that I might some day be taking such a risk, such an adventure as this? I am counting the days for my next real vacation and I assure you, it will not take another thirty-five years.
Tags: Cruise Vacation Carnival