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One Last Smile.
“Now smile for the camera! Ready? One … two … three … DRAMAMINE!”

Start: Call me dull, or a curmudgeon, or an old stodge, but I just don’t like cruises. I didn’t have a strong opinion either way before I experienced one, but once I had, my opinion solidified just about as fast as our government can create taxpayer debt.

However, despite the overall unpleasantness of the experience, I did gain something of value from it, something I suspect most of my fellow “sea-farers” did not.

Baptism by Nausea

Through an American Automobile Association Nascar promotion, my wife managed to win the grand prize, a three day cruise from Long Beach California to Ensenada, Mexico. (The relationship between Nascar and a Carnival cruise escapes me, but some mysteries are probably best left unsolved.) The expenses to us turned out to be minimal … well, relatively minimal … so why not?

Unfortunately I managed to lose about a day and a half because I appeared to be having seasickness. I’ve never been on a cruise or on an ocean-going vessel before, so I had no expectations. (I mean, I’m from Indiana, and spent twenty years living in the Phoenix area — the “ocean”? What’s that?) I seriously doubted it would be a problem because I have no memory of ever being carsick, let alone something like this.

Spending many hours laying in bed in my cabin, watching movies to distract myself from my seriously annoyed inner ears, was not quite the picture I had of that little outing. Fortunately I never got to the point, like Jeff Goldblum in The Right Stuff, where I was hanging my head over the edge of the ship and puking my guts out.

To make a long, thoroughly tedious story short, we took some generic Dramamine as a precautionary measure when we boarded the ship. My wife didn’t have an issue with it, but I did, and after a few clues I was able to deduce dimenhydrinate, the active ingredient in this stuff, actually makes me susceptible to seasickness.

(I mean, if you stop taking something for a condition and the condition goes away, assuming a causal relationship is a slam dunk, don’t you think?)

Of course, the bottle said “for motion sickness.”

I really should have looked for one that said “for the prevention of motion sickness.”

Light at the End of the Tunnel … was Darker than the Tunnel

It is traditional on cruises to dress for the formal dinner, which we had Saturday night, and part way through my wife began having back issues and then started feeling seasick. Fortunately, she didn’t wind up like Jeff Goldblum in The Right Stuff either, but between our seasickness propensities this washed out Friday, most of Saturday, and all of Sunday.

So, let me say this: If I had actually dropped the list price of $1500 dollars for the two of us on this experience, I would have been seriously ticked off at my circumstances.

I really don’t have any issue with the Carnival Cruise corporation as such, though I do find it annoying that, even though we won this package, we had to pay for every little stinking peripheral thing we used on this trip (for instance, they stuck six cans of soda in the our cabin that at first I thought were complimentary, and after I started on them I discovered they were $1.75 each). The only other gripe I have was that most of the bartenders, stewards, waiters — the first-line customer service — were not American, British, Australian — or from anywhere else English is used conversationally — and because of this, though their use of English was adequate, it was not really at a comfortable level.

I will also comment that most of the employees did not seem very happy.

On Sunday morning I left the room for a while, got breakfast, and wandered the deck for a bit. The main buffet room was comfortable enough, but had some cheesy Christmas music going in the background, so I went outside to get away from it and had to keep a watchful eye on the seagulls who were naturally looking for a handout. Afterward I wandered up to the foredeck and could see the ocean completely surrounding us.

Now, let me set the scene a bit. We left dock at Long Beach Friday at about 6:00 PM, arrived in Ensenada, Mexico probably about 5:00 to 6:00 in the morning, hung there till about 6:00 PM, and then headed out to sea again. The return route is longer, and slower, put-putting along at sea until we docked at Long Beach at about 5:00 AM Monday.

For the better part of Saturday night and Sunday we were dawdling along at maybe a couple of knots. At one point I was up on deck, and the absurdity of all this fell into place: I was sitting in a floating hotel, isolated to some degree from the trappings of my everyday life. Ensenada, as it turned out, didn’t have anything that either of us wanted or could do. (I had asked Friday if there were any pyramids close by or maybe places known for the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary — something interesting, for heaven’s sake — and apparently they don’t have Mayan sacrificial rite jeep tours or Blessed Virgin Mary excursion packages.)

(Or at least, not in Ensenada. Maybe farther south.)

Based on this albeit limited experience, I’m tending to feel that the “vacation cruise” as an entertainment form, is a throwback to the excesses of the rich during the early Twentieth Century, before air travel came into its own. During this trip (I hesitate to call this blatantly commercial package a “voyage”) I did not experience any of the romance and wonder of the seafaring life, ala Captain Horatio Hornblower, but instead wound up focusing more on itemized statements for grossly overpriced services which you pay, because, like airports, you’re stuck where you’re at and they know it.

Given a choice between another cruise and Disneyland, I’d take the rodent couple and the angry duck every time.

Do I sound ungrateful?

Okay …

  • I’m grateful I didn’t get food poisoning.
  • I’m grateful our cabin wasn’t burglarized, and neither of us were pick-pocketed.
  • I’m grateful that I managed to not catch something from the other passengers in the “disease factory” that cruise ships can be.
  • I’m grateful I was able to get far enough away from the party-hardy crowds to make the experience tolerable.
  • I’m grateful neither my wife nor I needed to get medevaced from the ship.
  • I’m grateful we weren’t cruising anywhere near Somalia.
  • I’m grateful I was able to eat too much. (Yes, you read that right.)
  • I’m grateful we didn’t have any citizenship issues getting off the boat when we got back to Long Beach.

(I am seriously grateful for that last one.)

Do I still sound ungrateful?

Yeah, bite me.

Interlude with that Elephant in the Room

The last fine day of our cruise I spent tending to my wife (who, on top of everything else, apparently had caught a cold) and I stepped out periodically to try to get some perspective to see if I could drag myself out of a pretty sour mood.

Late Sunday It was dark, and it had rained. Just beyond the edge of the outside decks all that could be seen of the material existence of the entire universe was some foam swirling on the surface of the sea from the ship’s passage and propwash. The cloud cover had erased the stars and moon, and the ship was truly alone.

In the huge, largely unoccupied buffet room, sitting with another self-indulgent bowl of self-serve soft-serve and looking into the face of oblivion, I was finally able (if you’ll pardon the mangled metaphor) to squeeze some lemonade out of the bushel of lemons the cruise had handed me.

A deck below me, rowdy sports fans were cheering or catcalling their teams. On a stage at the opposite end of the ship a Vegas-style show was vamping away while drunk customers shouted orders to waiters over music that was too loud to begin with. There were all manner of silly, empty orchestrated activities in progress designed to persuade the shipload of customers into believing they were being given something of value.

Looking out that window, just twelve feet away, was oblivion. Not just figuratively, but literally. A few steps, a fall of something like fifty feet, and I would be dead in minutes, or if the water didn’t induce hypothermia, maybe up to an hour.

This realization brought me face to face with The Void, the emptiness in our worldview, the elephant in the room that everyone on that ship was doing everything they possibly could to ignore.

The Void and I are old friends. Every time I stumble into It, It always has something for me.

The answers to the Big Questions, the understandings that makes Life worth living, are right there, and as far as I know I was the only one on that ship who had the sense to pat the trunk of the elephant in the room that everyone was ignoring and get a friendly squeeze in return.

It was good to have a friend there that night.

Despite our physiological issues, the Carnival Cruise corporation, and the efforts of all those scurrying employees, I did come away with something of value from that cruise.

Despite it all.


Copyright © 2006-2009, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.

This article is revised from a previous version (no longer available) which was published on this site, December 11, 2006.