This year’s cruise was on the same ship, Liberty of the Seas, leaving from the same port, and one of the three destinations was the same. That familiarity made a huge difference in my confidence and comfort levels from the get go. It also makes packing light (well, lighter) much easier.
I made it through TSA faster than I ever have and got to Houston with minimal difficulty. Liberal use of earplugs in busy public spaces did wonders for my stress levels. Even though I’ve only been there once before, walking into the Houston Marriott felt like coming home. There’s something about being surrounded by your tribe that can’t be replaced by anything else.
Fast forward through the NASA tour, joyful reunion with friends from previous cruises, a shared bottle of my Prager tawny port, and some games late into the night. Unfortunately, the restaurant staff was somehow even slower and less responsive than last year (I heard later they had some staffing issues). I skipped the group NASA tour Saturday morning because, not only have I seen it before, let’s face it, nothing could compare to the personal tour I’d already been on the day before.
Sunday, we loaded up to board the Liberty of the Seas. Our group was assigned to a bus that looked like it had been to one too many Pride parades. Disintegrating seat padding, detaching headrests, exposed wiring, and rainbows all over the ceiling. In the end, it got us where we were going, but there was some amused concern.
After a year away, it took some time to regain my bearings and remember where everything was on the ship. My cabin was directly over the R Bar (which has become a semi-permanent barcon for us), which I thought would be both convenient and potentially noisy, but ended up being largely irrelevant. I spent maybe an hour at that bar on the very last night. It’s just too noisy and chaotic for me to get anything out of the interactions there. My cabin window looked out onto the promenade instead of the ocean, which actually worked well for me— no sun to try to block out with the curtains. I spent very little time in my cabin aside from sleeping and bathing, so utilitarian worked out fine for me.
I started out intending to methodically document all of the weird cruise ship art in the stairwells, but I only made it through one before my legs vetoed the idea. The rest of them were taken opportunistically over the course of the week.
Game nights were one of the biggest highlights of the cruise. We had a disastrous Betrayal at Baulder’s Gate, and several rounds of Unstable Unicorns that were painfully full of laughter despite my victory being viciously denied several times in a row.
Formal night overlapped with Costume Karaoke, so half the people were dressed up nice, and the other dressed up weird. Lacking any costume ideas in time to participate, I opted for business casual.
I’ve only participated in karaoke once. Between my tastes in music and limited range, karaoke places never have anything for me to sing, but the guy running the event told us that they had a 3.5mm jack to the sound system and we could pull up anything we wanted on youtube and just play it from our phones. This opened up a wide-ranging deluge of antics from dueling necromancers, to puppet covers of Roxanne, to Little Mermaid duets. Immense fun was had by all.
There were so many other amazing performances! I went in expecting my ears to bleed, but came out utterly floored by the singing talent gathered together that night.
Cozumel was every bit as brutally hot and humid as last time, but I got smart and booked a submarine excursion this year. The little submarine was essentially just a cylinder with a double row of seats down the middle, but the views were pretty good.
The coral in Cozumel is not one jumble of unified underwater cliffs like a barrier reef. It’s more like scattered boulders on a sandy ocean floor. While we didn’t get quite the explosion of colorful fish, we did see a number of stingrays in between the formations. They took us 100 feet down and all the way to the edge of the island shelf where the seafloor suddenly drops away into darkness. We also swung by an old WWII minelayer ship that had been repurposed as an artificial reef. The entire tour only took about two hours, which was a bonus to me, as it allowed me to get back to the AC in the Liberty before the heat and crowds on the surface wore me out.
I pretty much slept through Grand Cayman. As soon as my alarm went off in the morning, I immediately said, “Hell no,” and turned it off. Resting was much more important than the excursion even though I’d already paid for it and would not get my money back. I took a couple pictures from on deck, including the only noticeable hill on the island— which turned out to be an enormous landfill. There may be some cool stuff on the island (I heard a lot of people going on about the sea turtle encounter), but the sight of that landfill really kind of turned me off to the whole place.
The cosplay party that night was as entertaining as expected. We had everything from my half-assed T-shirt to holy-crap-wow semi-pro cosplayers. There were awards and much cheering. Fun was had by all.
Falmouth, Jamaica on Thursday, I went all in and joined the Dunn River Falls excursion despite the discovery that my twenty-year-old bathing suit no longer fit. Cutoff BDUs it was! The falls would have been beautiful if not for the hundreds of people crowded into it. They rushed us through, dunking, sliding, cheering, and singing every step of the way. The entire thing was obviously built to cater to loud extroverts, and a busload of introverted writers was definitely not their target audience. Still, I enjoyed myself. The mineral deposits encasing fallen logs were fascinating. Formations that would have taken hundreds of thousands of years in a limestone cave happened so fast in the falls that logs were almost completely encased before they could rot away.
The river tubing was more relaxing, but still a touch exciting. There were random bits of very mild rapids that created the occasional splash, and currents kept getting people stuck on the sides or on rocks, but we still had a good time.
The farewell party is always bittersweet. After more than a week bonding with an absolute dream community, you don’t want it to end, even though you’re about to drop from exhaustion. The real world is out there waiting for you, and you wish you could find a way to avoid going back, but all things must end. You do your best to ease yourself back into your old life, trying to hold onto the lessons and growth you found while you were in this beautiful, self-contained world. You try to comfort yourself by staying in touch with all the new friends you’ve acquired.
And your resolve to skip next year’s cruise fails utterly. I mean really, what’s a few months of food? You needed to lose some weight anyway.