A Sporadically Fun Thing I’ll Probably Do Again

On Sunday, November 23, 2009, the author embarked on an eight-night, nine-day, round-trip leisure cruise from New York City to the Bahamas aboard the Carnival Dream, at the time the largest and most technologically advanced ship in the Carnival fleet.

Day 1 – Sunday

Before every vacation I convince myself I’m getting sick. A mild scratchiness accosts my throat. My temples warm with what must be an impending fever. Then, two nights prior to sailing, they start. The nightmares. Which, to be honest, is too strong a word. It’s the dream I originally had during my second cruise (I’ve been on six), this vague anxiety that I am depriving myself of the best part, that I’ve slept through all the excitement, that I haven’t spent enough time on a deck chair napping and reading and not thinking or finally thinking about the big things, that the days are flying by too quickly, that the cruise is almost over and I’ve blown it, that I haven’t accomplished any of the things I wanted to — just like the rest of my life. (FOMO trumps YOLO in my personal vernacular.)

Day 2 – Monday

The difficulty with a nine-day cruise is that what at first feels like all the time in the world quickly turns to no time at all. It’s like having five Saturdays in a row followed by four Sundays. Or one Saturday and eight Sundays, if you’re as predisposed to anxiety as I am.

Day 3 – Tuesday

Depression sets in. The open-seating breakfast is to blame. The maître d’ again thinks I want to meet people. It must be something she interprets from the index finger I raise as I approach her station — indicative of both getting her attention and the number of people in my party. She must think, “He is a finger in search of a hand!” when in fact I intend the index finger to send a different message, namely, “Look, I have emancipated myself from those other fingers. Help me keep it that way.”

Day 4 – Wednesday

I wake up and immediately vow to not spend any money. No gambling, no cocktails, no shore excursions, no $3.95 bottled water in my cabin. Which will be hard, considering that the Carnival corporation makes spending money so effortless and devoid of consequence, a concern for dry-landers — not carefree me.

Day 5 – Thursday

I sleep through my 6:00 a.m. alarm and instead rise at 7:00. I could easily sleep three more hours but there is exploring to be done. After three straight days aboard the Dream, today I go ashore.

Day 6 – Friday

From the ship, Freeport is a bit of an eyesore, an industrial wasteland of shipping containers, rusting cranes and scrub brush. I’m sure there are nice parts. If the shore excursion list is to be trusted, there are places to golf, swim with dolphins, sail, ride Harleys, snorkel, shop, and stare down at the ocean floor through glass bottom boats. None of this interests me a whit. A quick perusal of the “Carnival Capers” reveals absolutely nothing I feel inclined to do on the ship, either. And I can’t tell you how liberating this is.

Day 7 – Saturday

Against all odds, I obey my 5:45 a.m. alarm and pop out of bed feeling lucid and fresh. I don the plush Carnival bathrobe hanging in the closet and step out onto the balcony to watch the sunrise. The ship is quiet, save for the murmur of waves and wake. It feels good to air out the old grapes underneath my robe and I stand there savoring the pleasant updraft while watching the sun’s slow, variegated ascent. I’ve seen far more sunsets than sunrises in my time but I think I prefer the latter. There’s an optimism to sunrises, like a battery charging to full strength.

Day 8 – Sunday

Calling my hangover a hangover is like calling the Carnival Dream a boat — it is inaccurate and the error is an order of magnitude. The most obvious question is why, why, why a grown man of 37 would do this to himself, effectively (very effectively) ruining the last day of his vacation. I have no satisfactory answer and this absence of rebuttal will lead me to reconsider my relationship with alcohol (and the odd cigarette) for a long time to come.

Day 9 – Monday

For me, one of the most enticing aspects of taking a cruise that terminated in New York was the opportunity to retrace the final leg of the journey European immigrants made coming into New York harbor hundreds of years ago. But I sleep through it. I’m not too crushed. There’s really not a whole lot of geography to marvel at along the New Jersey coast at 5:00 a.m. (It’s not like coming upon the White Cliffs of Dover.) I’d seen the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on our way out of town and could approximate how it looked on our return — simply swap out the purple glow of dusk for the dreary haze of morning and play it back in reverse. Besides, the real show-stopper is the New York City skyline, and that’s not something you have to board a cruise ship to catch — a free trip on the Staten Island Ferry will do nicely.