Man Vs Cruise: Notes from the last family vacation I’ll ever take

I”m a man in his mid-30s who has inexplicably found himself about to embark on a 7-day cruise with his Korean mother, his aunt and his sister. It”s not clear how this has happened. I mean, sure, I agreed to it. It”s something my mom had wanted us to do for a long time, and I recall saying “okay.” But in my mind, that was going to be the end of it. It was many months ago, and it was just words and a credit card payment. And yet somehow, time has chosen to march on, eventually depositing me here, about to do this thing. 

What follows is a blow-by-blow of this cruise. If you find yourself siding with the person with whom I am cheap-shotting, or crudely dismissing, I don”t blame you. You are wrong and would have done the same thing, but I don”t blame you.
Day One: All aboard! (Haha! Nautical! You get a lot of that on a cruise and yes, it always feels forced.)
11:45 AM My sister and I meet up at Dock 90 in NYC at the agreed upon time. We”re both excited and pre-travel giddy and doing our best to embrace the spirit of the trip. Working against that is a familiarity with terrible people, and a reluctance to be around them for any length of time.
12:00 PM Fifteen minutes have passed and there”s no sign of my mother and aunt, who, it turns out, are already lost. Haha, well better to get that out of the way now, since there”s only a finite number of times that can happen. What”s that, you say? There”s actually no limit to the amount of times they can get lost? Hilarious!
12:15 PM I find them standing side by side in matching raincoats (one blue, one yellow) near the taxi stand. It”s pretty adorable, actually. After a brief argument about whether they should carry their bags or accept my offer to take them, then ruling out several other variations (my bag perched on aunt”s rolling bag, pushed by her, then by me, her carrying my mom”s purse, some other thing I refused to entertain), we”re off!

12:30 PM We enter a large terminal and get in line. Looking around at the mass of people, I”m dismayed. It”s like the Noah”s Ark you”d use to repopulate a Guy Fieri restaurant.
12:34 PM I notice a curious thing. It seems that many people have chosen to embark on this cruise with someone they have a romantic interest in rather than the person who was once responsible for yelling at them for seventeen straight years. A person who seconds earlier, offered them a mint they had to turn down three times before it stuck. Different strokes, I guess!
1:37 PM A woman hands me a key card and says. “Bon Voyage!” (French for: “You dummy” or something.)
1:43 PM We board the ship! We”re in a massive room containing the front desk, a lounge area, bar, piano, and a giant movie screen. (Later I will see a family of five watching the screen as it plays a generic sequence of nature scenes, completely oblivious to the magnificent island view to their left, visible through floor-to-ceiling windows.)
2:01 PM The main deck contains several pools and hot tubs, a stage and dance floor, numerous bars and restaurants, tons of pool chairs, and a large water slide. Some cruise-goers will choose to wait until the ship is in motion before rushing onto the dance floor, drinks in hand, but those cruise-goers were not on this ship.
2:15 PM Somehow people are already HAMMERED.
2:35 PM The ship makes its way out to sea. As we pass the Statue of Liberty someone in charge of such things plays that Lee Greenwood “Proud to be an American” song. This feels silly and pandering, like a bald eagle forced to fly around with a red, white and blue iPod playing a continuous “U! S! A!” chant. A woman to the left of me weeps. Another man says to his wife, “That was really, really special. He just nailed it.” Yes, that was some completely off the cuff, split second decision-making we just witnessed.
“Hank, what”s that statue up ahead?”
“Chief, we go this way every time, it”s the Statue of–”
“Take the wheel!”
*hits play*

6:00 PM My sister and I check out the main dining option on the ship, The Garden Café. Apparently they named their restaurant after the place responsible for 2% of the food they serve. I”m actually surprised the logo isn”t a carrot in a circle with a line through it. Or a smiling, anthropomorphic ham eating a cheeseburger that is also eating a cake.
7:01 PM My sister and I make our way past a rascal scooter convention, seeing enough tribal tattoos to cover every tribe on earth three times over plus the cast of Wall-E, to eventually arrive at the bar. We are there for quite awhile.
Day Two: At Sea
8:30 AM We meet for breakfast. Breakfast is roughly four separate meals crammed onto two plates for each of us. And then dessert.
8:37 AM A man on a loudspeaker (Is this loudspeaker audible from your bed, Kevin? Why yes it is, astute reader!) starts the morning by singing that “Are you happy and you know it” song, to a ship full of adults who thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, I”m not sure I”ve ever seen people get more out of part of a song. A few sing along. Most clap. Many laugh.
8:45 AM My aunt asks me various questions about my life. “What are you writing now?” “Where do you live in NY?” She seems disappointed with my answers. (Quick backstory: Once, after putting on a few pounds, she mentioned that I looked fat and then puffed out her cheeks at me, to underline the subtle point she”d just made. Prior to this trip I saw her about once a year. I feel like that was a good system for us, and I look forward to its return.)
9:04 AM I notice my mom takes great pleasure in inventing fictional characters she believes are overpaying for things that she saw coming. Ex: “These people are all buying drinks on their room tab. Boy, are they gonna be surprised when they check out and see the bill.” Or “People going to the coffee bar instead of the (free) restaurant, they”re gonna get an extra charge. They”re not gonna believe their eyes.”
9:15 AM She also plots against imagined foes, countering their strategies with her own. “They”re trying to hide the salmon all the way over there, but I know where it is. I go there first.” Then, “Make sure you get salmon.”
Note: The salmon was on a brightly lit cart placed dead center in the middle of the room.
10:00 AM We spend the day by the pool. We eat a double-digit amount of meals. Morale is fine, and the ability to eat almost any food you can imagine at any moment of the day has not yet lost its luster.
8:00 PM I put on actual pants because it”s time for dinner, a decision I was alone amongst the ship”s men in making.
9:00 PM We hit the ship”s casino. My mother and aunt play slot machines, my sister and I drink. My mom tries to give us money to gamble about every nine minutes, and every time it ‘s a fight to convince her we both have plenty of money. It”s sweet and I”m glad I have a mother who wishes the best for me, but on occasion I also like to be alone with just the thoughts in my head, not answering questions I”ve already answered half a dozen times.
The Korean mom, for those of you unfamiliar, is a lot like the stereotype of the overbearing Jewish mom. In any half hour span she will offer me food and money several times. My replies are, in order: “No, thank you.” “Nope.” “No!” And finally “Still no! I am aware there”s a buffet, I can see it! No, I don”t need money! No, Heather doesn”t want any either. Please, I”m begging you, stop handing me cake!”
Day Three: Port Canaveral, Florida
9:30 AM The man on the loudspeaker sings that “You are my sunshine” song. Keep in mind, that when he sings, you have to hear it, there is no escape, short of plugging your ears. I plug my ears.
11:30 AM The room steward greets me at my cabin. “You are cruising alone, sir?” “Yup” He gives me a sad look, followed by a pause. I realize he pities me, assuming I”m some creep on a boat by himself. I think about correcting him. “Hey, we just wanted our own rooms. I’m not some loser! I’m traveling with my elderly aunt, mom and sister! No, wait. Uhhh…” I just nod and move along.
12:10 PM We hit our first port and Florida is about what you”d expect. If you”re excited to be in Florida, you’ve either just been resuscitated, having seen the light, or you’ve just gotten off a cruise ship. We take a much-needed break from lying around by a pool to lie around on a beach. We drink $1 margaritas that manage to miss even the incredibly low expectations you”d have for $1 margaritas.
6:00 PM I trudge back onto the boat. I”d compare myself to a man going to his own execution, but that wouldn’t be fair. Those don”t last for seven whole days.

Day Four: Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas
9:15 AM We mix it up! Spending the day on a beach in the Bahamas. It”s some sort of private island owned by the cruise line. It”s lovely and filled with cabanas and tiki bars and huts selling souvenirs. But it feels off, artificial somehow. Like a “beach” exhibit constructed by aliens for their human zoo. Have you seen that movie “The Truman Show”? I haven”t.
11:30 AM I talk my sister into going on a guided wave runner tour. It is absolutely fantastic and easily the highlight of the trip. They are fast and sometimes you can jump a wave and launch yourself into the air. Halfway through my sister gives me a tense, I-am-terrified-smile, but overall she enjoys herself.
1:00 PM We drink in the sun and then quickly suffer the effects of doing that. My skin feels like a sandpaper raincoat I”m wearing inside out.
5:25 PM We return to the ship, just in time to catch my mortal foe once again singing into the boat”s PA system. I make a note to find his family once I”m back on the outside.
Day Five: Nassau, Bahamas
8:00 AM We spend the day at a resort type place for more gambling, eating, drinking and poolside lounging. This may sound good, and it is, to a point. That point is rapidly approaching. I can actually seeing it, zooming across the water. I think the point got ahold of a speedboat somehow.
Day Six: At Sea
10:20 AM Picture yourself by a pool. Then surround yourself with the worst people you can imagine. The cheap, the petty, the broken, the probably racist, the loud, the teenaged. Then imagine them all half-dressed. And drunk. While the music playing is atrocious. And the whole thing is bobbing back and forth with a nausea-inducing rhythm.
12:36 PM Despite the above, I”m actually enjoying myself. The sun shines, a breeze blows, and I feel a nice wave of calm wash over me. I”m lucky that I get to spend time like this with my family.
12:37 PM My aunt smiles and gestures for me to lean over to her, so I do. “Kevin, you need to accept Jesus Christ into your life and start going to church.”
Across the deck, I see my sister ordering an elaborate drink in a coconut carved to look like a monkey. She looks happy. Not a care in the world.
10:53 PM I”m in the ship”s fancy cigar bar. (Calm down, I know. But they’re great.) I learn the answer to the question, “Where on the ship wouldn’t you go in basketball shorts, sandals and a baggy tank top?” That answer is nowhere! Or Dignityville! Or Potential for Kevin’s Respect Town! (Population: not even me.)
Day Seven: At Sea
9:30 AM I eat my third meal of the day!
10:30 AM I see a woman in a wedding dress and am confronted with all manner of horrific thoughts. WHY? Why not get married in a more appropriate location, like a highway overpass or a haunted boggy marsh?
10:45 PM I have spiraled into existential crisis. What choices led that bride here, to the ship? And also her groom, and every other person involved. How did they all say yes to so many awful ideas? Was this wedding party also the production team on AMC”s “The Killing”?
12:16 PM Our meet-up times are getting less frequent. Last night, I was able to swing a noon lunch rather than breakfast, then slipped in a “or noonish!” before diving from the elevator.
1:45 PM Pool. Food. The dark underbelly of America after that belly has just ingested a plate of sun-warmed ham salad.
2:12-10:04 PM This day feels like an eternity. You ever see time-lapse footage sped up, the sun rising, setting, clouds passing, etc? This is somehow the opposite of that. I picture my hands closing around the neck of the ship”s captain.
Day Eight: At Sea. Still. Perhaps Forever
10:30 AM I shamble about the decks, less than the man I once was, a wraith. I”m clad in an inappropriate hoodie and jeans. I look for my reflection in the mirror, a sight that has never failed to bolster my spirits, and see… nothing* (* This was actually a mistake, turns out it wasn”t a mirror.)

11:45 AM In agony. The ship has taken a part of me, never to return. In its place is a slice of pizza, a cheeseburger, waffle fries, some chicken and a rice dish of some sort. Also a pecan pie and some blueberry crumble thing.
4:30 PM I”m having a medicinal drink on the upper pool level. Looking around, I learn there is still a type of man in his 20s who will react to a beautiful woman the way he once saw a lout in an 80s movie do it. Then he will literally grunt and stage cough in her direction, in an attempt to catch her eye. I watch this from afar, as my last shred of humanity manifests itself as a small blue creature, turns to me with a tired smile, hands held out in an “I give up” gesture, then jumps into the sea.
5:30 PM I get really drunk.
Day Nine: New York
9:00 AM We dock and I literally run off the boat, bags in hand.
10:56 AM I kind of miss the buffet.

(Photos by Heather Seccia. More Kevin here.)