I'd Rather (Not) Be Cruising

April 29, 2011

Sometime in our lives my husband and I must have angered Poseidon, mythological god of the sea. We’ve been on three cruises together, and all three have featured the unexpected, if not the downright awful.

It all started on our honeymoon. My father had given us a four-night cruise as a wedding present. After embarking from San Pedro (CA) the day after our wedding, we were to visit San Diego, Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. We’d endured a wild rainstorm on our wedding day, but the next morning dawned sunny and bright. The sea was a little choppy, but nothing Dramamine couldn’t handle.

Our first shore excursion, to the San Diego Zoo, provided us with a clue that the storm had left lasting effects. Many of the animal habitats lay strewn with tree limbs and other by-products of the wind and rain. We saw quite a few bewildered-looking animals exploring their “redecorated” homes.

The zoo was a bit messy, but otherwise fine, and our stop at Catalina was uneventful. But when we reached Ensenada, we were told the port was torn up and we weren’t able to dock. Our planned horseback-riding-on-the-beach excursion was exchanged for a day at anchor in the harbor where my new husband tried to teach me to play chess.

Two years later, we braved a second cruise, a more ambitious one: from Venice to ports in Turkey and Greece. Our troubles began before we even boarded the ship. We flew from our home in California to New York City, where we planned a couple of days’ sight-seeing before flying to Milan. A medical emergency on board forced us to make an emergency landing in Denver, where the size of the plane and the shortness of the runway destroyed our landing gear. The airline had to fly parts and mechanics to Denver to fix the plane, and an eight-hour unplanned layover—spent entirely in the airport, waiting for news about when we would fly out—ensued. 

Next, when we disembarked in Milan, I left our contact lens solution on the airplane. After we moved on to Venice before our cruise, it rained constantly as we tried to explore the beautiful old city. Pictures from this trip feature us wearing chic green plastic bag slickers—and glasses!

When we finally boarded the ship, our cabin was situated next door to crews' quarters where they argued constantly and loudly. It featured a wall-mounted toilet-flushing button so stiff I had to use my foot in order to press it hard enough to do the job. Another storm delayed the cruise so that our shore excursions took place at night. We “saw” Greece from a bus in the dark. On the trip home, which took more than 24 hours, I came down with a cold. While waiting for our connecting flight at JFK, we were reduced to eating out of vending machines and drinking our souvenir Greek Metaxa out of a paper bag.

One thing we did see: Corinth Canal
Our last attempt at cruising occurred about seven years ago. We sold our business and to celebrate, decided to take a cruise to Alaska, a dream of my husband’s. This time, our son, my mom and step dad and my husband’s mom joined us.

While we were on the land portion of our tour, news reports of a “sick ship”—our ship!—reached us. The illness, Norovirus, was described as “a mild gastrointestinal illness,” but the cruise before ours had to head back early because so many passengers became ill, and so the ship could be disinfected before our cruise began.

We were a little nervous about boarding, but all seemed fine. Aside from industrial-sized containers of hand sanitizer on every deck and not being able to serve ourselves from the buffet, there seemed to be no sign of the previous passengers’ illness. The ship was lovely, our stateroom comfortable (with an easily-flushed toilet) and to our son’s joy and our eventual thankfulness, two TVs. We enjoyed the gorgeous scenery and cushy shipboard amenities. Our son gloried in the freedom of the kids’ programs, and roaming the ship with new friends and a walkie-talkie to keep in touch with us.

It was just after a stop at Glacier Bay that I started to feel a little queasy. I popped some additional seasickness medicine, but it didn’t help. I quickly went from sipping champagne and eating chocolate-dipped strawberries to being confined to my bathroom. My son didn’t even make it back to the cabin—he threw up in the elevator. My poor husband had to take care of him while I collapsed in bed. “Mild” illness? I've never been so sick in my life.

A “cabin call” from the medical staff distributed shots and other medications to battle the virus. Just as I started to feel a little better, my husband began to fall ill.

Aside from feeling so bad, between the actual illness and quarantine days, we missed two out of three ports of call, including our helicopter/glacier/sled dog shore excursion. (We couldn’t have been sick or quarantined during one of our days at sea, oh no.) When we finally staggered off the boat, we vowed never again. The only bright spot in this horrific trip was that our parents, who were all in their late 60s, did not get the virus, and by all accounts, had a marvelous time.

So when it’s time to plan our next vacation and one of us says, “Hey, let’s go on a cruise,” we laugh ourselves silly and make different plans. Land plans.

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  1. Remind me not to get anywhere near water with you on our next outing!!! Wow, that's quite the record!

  2. What a set of awful vacations Kathy! I've never had any desire to cruise, as I'm afraid of getting seasick. But having the virus you and your family had would be SO MUCH worse!

  3. Wow! At least it was memorable!

  4. Talk about a track record! But I guess it all makes good fodder for a future memoir, right? Great update and wise, wise advice. :)

  5. Cheryl--We have had some bad experiences on the high seas. I think we'll stick to dry land.

  6. Jacqueline--I would definitely say it was memorable! At least we have the stories, right?

  7. "Weread"--That's right--every experience, good or bad, is fodder for future writing. And we made it through, so no permanent harm done.

  8. Oh my goodness. I don't think I want to go on a cruise. My sister says they are fun but I can't understand why. I'd rather get in my car and drive but that means motels and possible bed bugs. Mmm, I'd best just visit family or stay home! Poor you, you'd have thought ONE of these cruises would have worked right for you.

  9. Timaree--I much prefer the driving tour, too, even with the risk of bedbugs! I'm not quite ready to give up travel, so I guess I'll risk it.