One Thing or Another: Cruise Control (All Aboard!)

It’s always One Thing or Another… a lighthearted look at aging, life, and the absurdities of it all.

By Mark McNease

“There’s something very depressurizing about boarding a cruise ship. The daily, mundane, pressures of life that bear on you the rest of the time are suddenly lifted, falling away like a jacket let slip from your shoulders.”

Spending time on a floating hotel was never high on my wish list. I no more imagined going on a cruise than I imagined climbing the pyramids at Machu Picchu or hiking the Appalachian Trail. I didn’t have anything against them, they were just things other people did, feature stories in travel magazines I read when I was still flying by choice and not necessity. Then I met the man I’ve spent the last twelve years with, and cruising entered my life. That can happen when we enter relationships: if you enjoy the unexpected, meet the person of your dreams.

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My first cruise was just three nights over a Labor Day weekend, out to some cay and back. I didn’t just like it. I loved it. Cruising quickly became a favorite way to vacation for me. I also like spending nights in hotels for some of the same reasons: no chores, no clean up, no appointments, unless it’s a massage or a shave/facial combination. Cruising is that times twenty, with the added bonus of feeling young at fifty-nine on a ship of retirees.

There’s something very depressurizing about boarding a cruise ship. The daily, mundane, pressures of life that bear on you the rest of the time are suddenly lifted, falling away like a jacket let slip from your shoulders. One minute you’re at a crescendo of anticipation and anxiety – will the security line be daunting? Did you forget your passport? – and the next you’re staring at the dock through a dining room window or from a deck chair, calm and trouble-free. You know that for the next seven, or ten, or, in our recent case, fourteen days and nights, you’ll have no obligations and all the food you can eat. You’ll commit to hitting the ship’s gym every morning, a commitment you’ll break by the third day, and you’ll have a full schedule of activities to choose from on a handy printout each night. Bingo in the Revelry Lounge? Check! Disco trivia in the Rendezvous Room? Check! Seminars on diamond buying and next wave nutrition? Check! So much to do between hitting the buffet for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late night pizza.

I personally love sea days. There’s something embryonic about rocking slightly all day and night, my balance shifting almost imperceptibly as I navigate a moving floor. I also love sleeping with the balcony door open just a sliver, the sound of the water we’re cruising through providing a better soporific than any white noise machine. I can understand why some people are terrified by the idea of being a speck on the ocean – it is vast, and a plunge into it, by body or ship, is rarely survivable – but I also find something supremely peaceful about it. What greater reminder is there that our worries, our frets and anxieties, are really not worth the toll they take on us? Out there in the middle of the sea it all amounts to less than a drop.

Port days are what a lot of cruisers live for. On this last trip we stopped in Boston, Portland, Bar Harbor, Quebec City, Saguenay, Sydney, and Halifax. Most stops are just for the day, disembarking in the morning and sailing off again by late afternoon. We spent two days in Quebec City, a gem of a place with bilingual signs everywhere and charm to spare. It was like Greenwich Village if the Village were much bigger, cooler, and infinitely cleaner. That’s something I’ve often noticed about places outside huge urban centers: how they manage to be awesome without being filthy. Maybe the whole of Canada is like that.

You can make lots of new friends on a cruise if you want to. You can dine alone or at a shared table. We’ve enjoyed the company of many strangers over breakfast and lunch (we always eat at our own table for dinner). We’ve met people from far away, and, on this trip, a couple whose daughter lives up the road from us, and another whose daughter works next door to my job. Thousands of people we’ll never seen again, cared for by an army of hard-working and painstakingly pleasant crew members, all on a ship together for a few moments in time. It doesn’t get much better than that. See you in the boarding line.

Mark McNease is the author of eight novels, two short story collections and miscellaneous fiction. He was the co-creator of the Emmy and Telly winning children’s program Into the Outdoors, and currently co-hosts The Twist Podcast.


2 Replies to “One Thing or Another: Cruise Control (All Aboard!)”

  1. Oh, Markulous! What a terrific column! I always thought of being on a ship akin to being in prison with the possibility of drowning. On a whim we booked our first cruise a few years ago. In a word: BINGO! Me and the Mister enjoyed a wonderful cruise to Alaska and I booked every off-boat excursion offered — a 2 hour trek on a glacier via helicopter, a bi-plane over fjords and a landing in a cove for a lovely lunch, I got a dubious haircut in Juno that still makes us laugh to this day. (Juno what you shouldn’t get in Alaska?, a haircut…..). We did the transatlantic trip on the QM2 which was swank and old school, and most recently a yacht experience Wind Star from St. Maarten. You and Frank would dig that vibe, too! Unlike a plane, being on a ship requires you to slow down, tap the breaks, breathe deeply, take it in, go for a walk and take in the infinite sky. Thank you for this article and the reminder!

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