Believe me, I’ve heard plenty of people bragging about how wonderful it is out on the ocean in one of the luxurious, floating cities. It could almost convince me that it was the truth. I’m going to recount my experience of many years ago, before things got bad in the world of cruising. My deceased aunt (my mom’s sister) LOVED cruises and went on a few dozen. She couldn’t say enough wonderful things about them. Back in 1989, I was working nights at the post office, unmarried but engaged and had a lot of money. That in itself seems like a fantasy since when I traded up from “no-sleep ever” for a real life by quitting, I had to go back to getting used to not having money again. If it means I never have to take another cruise, it was worth it.
My mom wanted to take a cruise so I said I’d go with her. I think our first mistake was going to a travel agency. We’ve never gone to one before or since. The woman talked us into going with Carnival Cruise Lines, saying it was ”good for beginning cruisers”. At the time Royal Carribean looked more appealing to me. The travel agent kept pushing Carnival and we assumed she knew more than we did. In retrospect, she probably got a bigger commission from Carnival. We figured out we wanted to go for a week and to the Carribean. We would fly from Milwaukee to Miami, get on the boat and sail to the islands of St. Thomas, St. Marten, Barbados and Martinique. Then return home the following Sunday.
My mom has always been hard of hearing. At that time she didn’t yet have hearing aids. She was fine if you talked directly into her right ear or she could read lips. We knew we wanted 2 things out of our stateroom: an outside room that had a porthole so we could look out and a double bed so that we could lay in bed and talk about the day. We specified this many times. We knew there was a lot of honeymooners on a ship like that but we agreed to pay extra to get the double bed. Back then we paid $1500 EACH for this cruise. I look back and am HORRIFIED. I wouldn’t spend that NOW. Like I said, I had the money and didn’t know if I’d ever go on one again and wanted to do it up right.
We got down to Miami and go to check in at the table where cruisers register and we were told we have 2 single beds. My mom was so mad she could’ve gone postal by herself. This spurred one of the sayings that has stayed with us many years later. When they told us they couldn’t change our room or give us a double bed or do ANYTHING for us, she said, “If I had a sheet, I’d put it over your head.” Ha ha. I still say that to her when she makes me mad. What does it mean? Probably that she was so mad, she ceased to make sense! We went to our stateroom which made my college dorm look roomy by comparison. They gave out a “welcome gift” to each room. We got a shitty gift basket of fruit that seemed like it had been frozen and thawed. Other cabins were getting bottles of champagne which we would have LOVED. We asked about swapping ours out but no dice. At least we had a porthole, right?! Yes, but it was only about 9″ across and so dirty we couldn’t see out.
We were on one of the older ships named the Festivale. It was built in 1962, in service as an ocean liner with Carnival Cruise Lines from 1977-1996. Finally scrapped in 2003. From the minute I saw it, it didn’t impress me. It looked old and if you looked closely, not that clean. The main thing it had going for it was that it was HUGE. The only pool I remember them having open was on the top floor and it was the size of a postage stamp. No one else was even up there so we went. The boat itself was rocky on the water. We didn’t have motion sickness but at times we’d lay in bed and the room would spin. Back then, before cellphones, it was such a hassle to make a phone call. My hubby (fiance then) stayed at our house and dogsat while we were gone. I called him once from a payphone during that week and we only talked for a minute or two.
I can make acquaintances pretty easily. We met people in the hallway of the cruise ship and at various locations on board. We would’ve loved to get to know them better by eating dinner with them but you don’t get to choose who you sit with. LAME. There’s 2 dinner seatings: 6 and 8 pm. We requested the latter and got the early. I shouldn’t have been surprised. They were holding us hostage and we had to put up with whatever they decide to do to and for us.
The boat stops at each island for the day. We’d leave about 11 am to go exploring and had to be back and dressed for dinner by 6 pm. We were missing lunch to go and if we waited until after lunch, it was even harder to get back in time. This doesn’t leave a lot of time to look around. Plus it was drilled into our head endlessly that if we weren’t back at the boat in time, the ship would leave us and go out to sea. There were horror stories going around about different people who had been left at one of the ports and had to find their own way home etc. I enjoyed seeing the islands the most. I loved the shopping on St. Thomas where I got some gold earrings for myself and a gorgeous gold nugget watch for hubby. At the time it cost $600. When I gave it to him, he cried. He said he’d never had anyone give him anything so nice. He already had a gold nugget ring and it matched beautifully. On Barbados I got my hair braided in cornrows. St. Marten was nice too but I really fell in love with the island of Martinique. After that I couldn’t get it out of my head that I wanted to be married there. I wrote about this and why it didn’t happen in my ”I got you, Babe” blog post.
Cornrows I got on Barbados
We ended up sitting at dinner with some people we just didn’t like. I could be mean but I’ll just leave it at that. I remember the photographer coming around to take pictures at the table. We’d go later to look at them and you can buy them for $ if you choose. I’ll never forget going to see ours and I’ve got bread crumbs on my chest in the picture. Sheesh! We didn’t have a camera along so I have no pictures from the cruise which is probably a blessing in disguise. I remember it vividly enough.
I’m the type of person who likes to see everything but at my own leisure, not do things on a strict schedule. Everything was pre-ordained what you would do and when. At 7 am an announcement was piped into everyone’s rooms telling about the day’s activities. Almost everyone working on the ship was a foreigner. They didn’t speak or understand English. The guy taking care of our room had a key and would come in every time we left. He insisted on tidying up everything and I like my stuff where I put it. I had my nail polish and brush out on the dresser, he had to move it to look neater. We kept our slippers at the edge of the beds so we could sit on our single beds and slip into them. This clown kept putting them 3 feet under the bed. You couldn’t reach them unless you got on your hands and knees and felt under there. This happened over and over. I think we told him not to and he kept doing it anyway. This drove us nuts! Instead of making life easier and having a restful vacation, it was maddening.
Part of the reason they made us keep the same table and waiter all week was so they could tell us to tip them in an envelope they provided at the end of the week. It was like the last night on board, before dinner. They expected us to tip a few hundred dollars. We did what they said to do because we still had one night left and who knows what they’d do if you pissed them off. In any case, that never sat right with me. Whatever happened to free will? Whether you have good service or not, you must tip according to their standards. We were never any bother. We’re the type of people who never make special requests (except what we’d tried to get them to honor upfront). The whole thing was annoying. We were supposed to tip that idiot who kept coming in our room and messing with our stuff. We did but weren’t happy about it.
Looking back, I don’t see why they don’t have a constant buffet going on the ship. Where people can go whenever they get hungry or get back to the ship. There might be lines and crowds but it’d be preferable to what we went through. Being served a sit down dinner is over-rated in my opinion. I hate snooty and snooty waiters are the worst. To this day I don’t like eating out somewhere that makes me feel uncomfortable. Where they treat me like I’m not good enough to be there.
This all happened right after my dad died. He died on Monday night. My regular days off were Monday and Tuesday nights. On Wednesday I called in and asked what to use for a death in the family. The guy that answered the phone said “use whatever you want”. I used 3 days sick leave. I already had vacation scheduled starting Sat. night. Idiot in the office never told my supervisor or anyone that my dad had died. I had a wedding on Saturday of 2 coworkers of mine. I didn’t want to cancel on them since I knew they’d paid for our dinners, etc. I hate letting people down! When I look back, I was a total fool for trying to do so much that week. Walking into the church for that wedding, I’d never gotten so many dirty looks in my life! Everyone thought I’d just called in to work and then was bold and brazen enough to show up to the wedding and leave on vacation. I didn’t tell a lot of people then (not even the bride & groom) because I didn’t want to put a damper on things. I’m such an ass. They had asked about vacation insurance and I thought there would be no reason on God’s green earth that I would ever cancel a vacation. The whole thing was non-refundable or I would’ve cancelled! I was really in no mood to go. The upsetting things I’d found out at the funeral were just going over and over in my head. That’s another blog post.
We left Friday morning and got home 24 hours later on Sat. morning. No sleep except for what I got on the 5 hour drive home in the car. We went to the wedding on Saturday then I packed and left Sunday morning. I was still in shock during the whole cruise and that probably played a part in why I didn’t enjoy it. When we got home, we complained to the travel agent and Carnival Cruises. They sent us a letter and offered us half off our next cruise. How generous of them! Half-off a shitty time is still a shitty time. I wouldn’t go on another cruise if it was free. Not the passage of time or the mellowing of my soul has made that an acceptable choice.