Cruises are for old people. Cruises are for young single people. Cruises are not for a married guy in his 30s who has been around. So I believed when I, the married guy in his 30s, embarked on my first cruise.
What happened? I had a good time. You never know.
Whenever I had thought about a week on a ship, I could not picture someone my age treading the deck with septuagenarians who paused to pat their shirt pockets for their pills, or lounging by the pool beside giggling 20-year-old girls who were sleeping four to a cabin and hoping to meet guys.
I don't like shuffleboard, I don't like pool games, I don't like suntanning and I'm past the need to prance before coconut-oiled secretaries.
Then, earlier this year, my wife and I were offered a cruise. The price was affordable. The weather in Ohio was gray and wet and cold. We had just endured three months of considerable stress and needed a break. I finally acquiesced when my wife hinted that refusal could lead to bodily harm. Actually, she prefers inducing mental anguish.
So we signed up for seven days in the Caribbean aboard the Victoria, a Chandris Cruise Line vessel departing each Monday from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and visiting St. Thomas, Martinique, Grenada, Caracas and Curacao.
I bought a few good books, did a few sit-ups so as not to embarrass myself around the pool and tried to keep an open mind.
Points to Remember
What follows is what I learned, for the benefit of contemporary young adults (you know who you are) trying to decide whether or not to vacation aboard a ship.
One: On a cruise, the ship is the main point. Like many tourists, I fancy myself a bit of a geographer. I don't just want to see the highlights or tourist traps. I want to absorb a foreign culture, mingle with the common man, ruin my digestion on the local cuisine and argue with a cabbie over whether a four-block ride could possibly cost $37.
On a cruise, such opportunities are limited. The point is to spend time on a ship. We had about four useful hours in any port. That meant hopping about to the standard tourist stops, then climbing back aboard the Victoria.
I had little time to drink with deserters from the French Foreign Legion, plunder ancient tombs or any of that other intrepid-wanderer stuff, although I did find time to become hopelessly lost on the island of Curacao in a very expensive rented car.
Given my choice, I'd have spent a week in Martinique, another one in Caracas, then said the hell with everything and sailed for Tahiti. But hey, it wasn't my boat.
Do not assume from these remarks that our time ashore was wasted, however. My wife had an absolute ball shopping in St. Thomas, the hemisphere's largest perfume and package-liquor store. I saw my first rain forest and banana grove on Martinique and succeeded in tracking down a bottle of rum I coveted.
On Grenada I chuckled as our soft-spoken driver gently delivered an accurate, comprehensive geopolitical lecture about the recent American invasion to the other couple in our taxi, a pair of Americans who happened to be dumb as oysters.
In Caracas I was fascinated by the ranchitos , squatters' dwellings that crowd every mountain ravine around the city. On Curacao I sniffed the fragrant air of the floating market and walked through the curious Dutch architecture of Willemstad. Not the stuff of Homer or Rudyard Kipling, but fun.
Two: A cruise is good for you. For a week we were continually outdoors, much of the time breathing clean ocean air. Life slowed to a sensible pace. We forgot about mortgages and memos and deadlines. We walked a lot. Sleep was deep and refreshing.
Of course, I ate like a pig and knocked back more Grand Marnier than usual, and my wife burned her feet to the color of cooked shrimp under the Caribbean sun, but overall we came home feeling rested and fit. And we looked it. Well, she looked it.
Three: A cruise is romantic, though perhaps not sexy. I presume that I do not have to explain why standing on the deck of a ship in warm Caribbean breezes under a starry sky is romantic. So let me just confirm that it is. Such an evening can bring you up against another fact of life at sea, however: Ships' cabins have thin walls, on the principle that thick, soundproof walls cause boats to sink like rocks. I could hear the man in the next cabin flossing his teeth.
A boisterous nocturnal frolic seemed the height of immodesty.
Do What You Want
Four: You don't have to stuff your swimsuit pockets with Ping-Pong balls. That is, you don't have to play pool games if you don't want to. There are a million inane activities for those so amused. I did at least watch two--the golfing competition, in which old men proved you can't putt straight on a rolling ship, and the Miss Victoria pageant, held beside the pool and won by a guy from Flint, Mich., in drag.