My wife and I went on a short cruise many years ago. We thought then we would do another one soon, but for a few reasons it didn’t happen. This year, we made the choice to combine our resources for a vacation on the ocean. It turned out to be like doing it for the first time and I want to share my observations. There’s a lot to take away from such a trip, one that focuses keenly on fun but which on closer inspection is much more than that.
We wanted to spend conservatively to keep our good deal on the cruise affordable. We had travel credit vouchers from Amtrak we could use to get to Union Station in Los Angeles. From there, we took a tram to Long Beach, where we would get on the Carnival Panorama for a cruise to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. So, we rode the rails from Tucson and made our way to the ship.
It’s something of a marvel to see how cruise employees move over 4,000 people and their baggage through security and onto a ship in four hours. From staging the baggage outside the terminal, scheduling boarding groups every half-hour, arranging assistance for those with special needs, to inspection for contraband (cannabis, etc.) with talented canine sniffers, the system is well-organized and efficient. Excitement builds from the time of arrival at the terminal through the long walk up the gangway and peaks with finding your way to the stateroom you’ll call home for the duration of the cruise.
There isn’t a lot to be said about this. That’s because there isn’t much to it. They insist groups muster at assigned stations within the first hour of being aboard. The orientation consisted of learning how to put on a life vest. Done. If you don’t remember it, there are life vests and instructions provided in the cabin.
The room’s TV has some information about the cruise that answers some questions, but mainly it’s up to the passenger to figure out how to get around to places of interest on the massive ship. We discovered there are 15 decks from bottom to top. The length of Carnival Panorama is almost 1060 feet, roughly the size of an aircraft carrier. That’s more than three football fields. It would take about 14 average-sized whales stretched end to end to equal the length of the ship. For us, it took a few days just to get our bearings and learn how to use their fancy elevators, our door key, the network of free restaurants and QR coded menus.
On With the Show
Enough about the ship. It’s about the activities, right? It’s about being on the ocean, no land in sight! There is so much to do, boredom isn’t an option. They do have a deck they call Serenity, where I went to just sit and be for a while, but it’s crowded at times with people in hot tubs and it even has a bar. It does have a peaceful vibe up there on Deck 15, though.
We loved the entertainment, including a stand-up comedy show with two prominent comedians (Lisa Alvarado and Will Marfori), a dance/music stage show called Rock Revolution, and a three-piece classical group that played independently as well as in a stage production we missed. There’s also a piano bar with a very talented pianist/singer with a wide range in his catalogue.
We took part in some karaoke a few times. Sandy did a few of her favorites like Moondance, Fever, and Walkin’ After Midnight. I covered a few different styles, doing the likes of Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, and Loggins and Messina. The karaoke fans were enthusiastic and appreciative, which makes the singers feel really good. And there were some absolutely remarkable singers putting themselves on the line there.
The Highlight of Highlights
There is so much to love on a cruise ship. It’s sort of like listing out the good parts of Disneyland or Disney World. The food is great and most of it is included in the basic cost, served most anytime you want it. There are games and sports and swimming for the active, a casino for the monetarily adventurous, deck lounging for the quiet and contemplative, and quality movies on an outdoor screen about the size of an old drive-in theater screen. The staff is extremely helpful and attentive, so we usually felt well attended.
There was one part of the experience which stood out in my mind above everything else. It was the attitude of the cruisers. It was in evidence from the very start. We met two people from Bakersfield who were much younger than us and established a friendly connection quickly while we were waiting to be called for boarding. We went days without running across them again, lost in the multitudes, but when we did it was like a reunion with old friends. Cruisers are as diverse a group as I’ve seen anywhere. All colors, sexual orientations, ages, varying ethnicity, the full spectrum of religions and social strata are on display. Nobody seems to pay any mind to these differences. I perceived not just tolerance of the other, but genuine appreciation of all kinds.
No matter how many are packed into a crowded elevator, there’s seemingly always a willingness for one more. If you need a table to dine, people who don’t look alike welcome each other to sit with them. Striking up conversation with strangers is effortless regardless of barriers that may be erected back home. These conversations aren’t just shallow or trivial either. When someone needs assistance with a problem such as mobility, there’s no shortage of hands lending themselves in gestures of love and compassion. I witnessed only one or two exceptions out of the thousands of people with whom I interacted over the seven days. I swear, the cruise social atmosphere is practically Utopia.
Over the Top
To summarize, I’m going to take this even further at risk of appearing hyperbolic. I’m paraphrasing Martin Luther King now in saying I’ve been to the High Seas…I’ve seen the Promised Endless Sea. I may not get there with you, but humanity will get there one day.