The title of the blog might have you a little worried but I promise it’s not about the dreaded norovirus but on how we first fell in love with cruising.
We love Florida. Not least because of the fabulous weather but also because of the variety of things you can do there. Like most Brits, we weaned ourselves on the amazing theme parks of Orlando and central Florida. The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, all of them incredible places to visit. However, there are only so many times you can ride Space Mountain or get drenched at Wet ‘n’ Wild and so we looked further afield. West to the glorious beaches of the Gulf Coast. East to the barriers islands of the Atlantic and then South to the laid-back charms of Old Key West and the dazzling energy of Miami. We enjoyed visiting them all.
It was on a holiday back in 2002 that planted the seed that would later flourish into our current cruise addiction. After visiting Orlando that autumn we headed west to the Gulf Coast and down to Sarasota and Captiva Island. Yes, we did the Sanibel Stoop and the Captiva Crouch, gathering the myriad of seashells found on the beaches there. After saying a fond farewell to the gulf we headed east towards the bright lights of Miami. We drove Alligator Alley, more formally known as the Everglades Parkway or I75. An incredibly long straight road that bisects southern Florida.
With a day to spare before flying home, we decided it might be fun to take the boat trip out to Star Island. I recall boarding the small boat somewhere near the Marketplace and heading out to see where the rich and fabulous lived. We had barely left the harbour when this magnificent white leviathan came into view. It was Voyager of the Seas. She sat calmly, gleaming in the bright Florida sunshine. She looked so different to what I imagined cruise ships looked like. So sleek, modern and huge. I decided then and there that I wanted to sail on her. It was 18 months later before I took my first cruise. However, it wasn’t on Voyager of the Seas but her younger sister Mariner of the Seas.
When we first mentioned our intention to cruise to family and friends we got what we now know to be some familiar responses.
‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly cruise, too many people’.
‘I would feel trapped’.
‘What if you get seasick’?
And my favourite ‘I’m sure I would get bored’.
Back then we couldn’t be sure they were wrong. I think we must have asked ourselves the same questions more than once. In close to 30 cruises I can honestly say only one of those events has ever come true and only once. I got a little bilious in some rough weather travelling from Valencia to Civitavecchia. Ironically on Mariner, our second cruise on this ship some eight years after our first.
Undeterred by said comments we did our research, decided we definitely wanted to sail the Caribbean, the spiritual home of cruising, and we really wanted a balcony cabin. Mariner met those criteria and it had the added bonus of sailing out of Port Canaveral which is so easy to get to from Orlando where many UK charter flights arrive.
It was a 7 night Western Caribbean cruise visiting Coco Cay, Ochos Rios, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. They all sounded very exotic and exciting places to visit but we really had no idea what to expect. Back then we knew nothing about dining options, drinks packages, shore excursions, gratuities, what we should pack and what we shouldn’t. We were extremely green which I am sure is common amongst first-time cruisers. We all gotta start somewhere I guess.
The day of the cruise came. We had stayed overnight in Port Canaveral and as Peter returned the car rental I could see Mariner in the distance ready to welcome us onboard. From what I recall check-in was a doddle and it’s something Royal Caribbean always seem to excel at, even on the enormous Oasis Class ships. We entered the white underbelly of Mariner to the jaw-dropping spectacle of the Royal Promenade. Most cruisers will tell you that you can look at a hundred pictures and view countless videos of cruise ships but they never seem to do the real thing justice. You just have to be there.
My partner told me some time after the cruise had departed that he had a feeling of dread on how he would cope for 7 days if he hated it. He need not have worried. We knew before we had returned to Port Canaveral that we would be booking another cruise. We loved every second of that cruise and your first ship will always hold a special place in your heart.
We loved the freedom of unpacking our cases and being taken to a new port each day. We loved the way the staff looked after us as if our happiness and enjoyment were everything. The food, the drink, the entertainment. It was a dizzying cocktail of wondrousness that left us craving more. We certainly suffered from PCD after that cruise. PCD is Post Cruise Depression. An acute condition where the only known antidote is booking another cruise as soon as possible, preferably whilst onboard your current cruise. We have since learnt that a buffer of two or three booked cruises gives an even greater chance of surviving this most horrid of afflictions.
In the next blog, I will detail what we learnt on that first cruise. The things we liked, the things we didn’t. How we developed some cruise habits that remain to this day and things we might have done differently if we knew then what we know now.