Do luxury cruises ever live up to their expectations? Are they the last refuge of the truly unimaginative newlyweds, singles looking for action and anniversary celebrants?
I don’t know. That’s not how I ended up taking a cruise.
Several decades ago my mom, sister, brother-in-law and I drove down to Galveston from my mom’s home in San Antonio and boarded one of the Princess Cruises. My father stayed home because he had been naughty. Mom decided he should stay in San Antonio and spend the week alone reflecting on his bad behavior. I’m not certain he did that. I suspect, rather, that he watched a lot of bad TV, read awful books, and ate vast amounts of peanut butter straight from the jar.
It seems to me that cruise shippin’ is the perfect environment for an extrovert who doesn’t thrive on hazardous sports, but wants to be surrounded by group activities. It isn’t a perfect environment for an introvert like me.
Ads for cruises paint a delightful picture of people having fun, staying up late, relaxing and eating well. Everyone seems caught up in an aura of exuberant rapture. They’d have you think that no one is sitting alone, in their cabin, missing their pets. Is any of it reality? It’s not an introvert’s reality. Asking an introvert to enjoy a cruise is like expecting a lizard to shed its skin and trade it for a spandex bodysuit.
Once in a while, I’ll catch an episode of The Love Boat on Me TV. It’s a painful show to watch (as are The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, and The Partridge Family). The forced gaiety, canned laughter, insipid love triangles and mating escapades, and, definitely, Doc’s predatory sexual behavior and the blatantly sexist dialogue turn my stomach.
Fortunately, I didn’t experience any of that on my cruise, though there were some uncomfortable and anxious moments. Within hours of our trip, a younger man glommed onto my mom and began to stalk her. Okay, he wasn’t exactly stalking. My mom has this magnetic, warm personality that draws people to her. I take after my dad. I exude get-the-hell-away-from-me rays, which have proved to be very effective at driving people away.
During the cruise, I turned into Mama Bear. I glared at the stalker every time he wandered up to speak to my mom. My sister and I devised elaborate schemes to keep him from finding our mother. I created an elaborate back-story for the guy: He was a gold-digger, a predator with a history of cruise-ship stalking, an ax murderer preying on the elderly. It kept me awake at night. My mom, however, was flattered. She likes people. Generally speaking, as a category of living things, people don’t thrill me much.
Meanwhile, my mom felt that it was her responsibility to help me, a single, eligible woman, to enjoy the cruise. And that included badgering me until I agreed to attend line-dancing classes onboard. Somehow, I managed to stuff my dignity into a dark place, and I participated. It delighted my mom. Fortunately, I escaped without having to fend off unwanted advances, proving once again how effective those GTHAFM rays are.
My memories of that cruise are mixed, but mostly wonderful. I was able to spend a week with my mom, away from cranky dad, with no responsibilities other than to make sure that my mom wasn’t taken in by some gigolo. I discovered that she was then, as she has been in my older years a mom who is also a good friend.
This January, my mom, my sister, her husband, and my brother went on a 2-week cruise to Hawaii. I stayed behind—not because I had been naughty, however. I simply couldn’t scrape up the vacation time. I would also be starting my mom’s bathroom remodel as well as doing dog sitting for three terriers. My family cruise gang luckily missed some of the worst winter weather in Idaho. They missed the 8 inches of snow that fell overnight and a string of cold, bleak, windy days.
This cruise occurred almost exactly a year since my dad’s passing on January 5. I hoped that my mom would, with the warm sun of a different climate, feel refreshed and comforted by the presence of her loved ones. I’m pretty certain she did. It was, after all, a truer representation of a love boat than the one inhabited by the likes of Gopher, Isaac and the annoying and anemic cruise director, Julie.
The best part of it all is that mom seems glad to be back home. Home. A world away from what was called home a year ago, her Idaho home appears to be giving her what she needs—comfort, solace, safety. And that fills me with joy.