In February 2013 we tried something a little different. We packed our bags, flew down to Florida, and hopped onto the Freedom of the Seas, a thirty-six hundred passenger mega-cruise-ship slash floating-city. We left our electronics — except for my cameras — at home. I took a break from running. And we had some family time, enjoying the sand, sun, and surf of a small handful of Caribbean ports-of-call. This is not a chronology of those adventures: it is a smattering of observations and recollections.
I realize that starting a vacation post with a bit of whinging about the flights there and back might get me pejoratively-labelled by readers as either (a) a late-nineties stand-up-comic wannabe or (b) entitled. I don’t want either.
Flights suck. They always do. It’s the reality of modern travel that having ones person safely and securely transported thousands of kilometers through the air inside a jet-powered aluminum can, along with ones belongings and some quasi-magical electronics to keep one entertained and distracted the whole time, may result in the occasional delay as a result of powerful forces beyond ones control such as, say, an epic snowstorm. It happens.
But despite two hour delays on red-eye flights, five-year old daughters who insist on staying awake to “feel the plane take off” or the peculiarities of antiquated rules prohibiting the use of the aforementioned electronic devices at arbitrary times, one tends to almost always get to ones destination eventually.
The midnight flight en route was mashed into an odd situation I’d never before encountered in my years of air travel, the kind of situation where the captain comes out and pleads with passengers to voluntarily get off the plane. They needed to free up three spots to get a crew somewhere as a result of a snowstorm in Toronto causing system-wide backups. A plane-load of Florida-bound families (most on their way to the Magic Kingdom and carting young kids through the skies well past their bedtime) heard the news that “this plane can’t leave until we get three more crew members on this plane.”
But, again, we got there eventually. We got home a week later, too. And despite the frustrations of a three-leg milk-run, even more chronically-late flights, and the ever-present threat of a missed flight somewhere in the chain of the adventure, Claire got a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty from a few thousand feet above Manhattan and we ate New York Style Pizza in a New York airport. How is that not cool?
On Rocket Ships
One of my first orders of business upon returning to the world of the network-connected, now almost two weeks ago, was to detail (in a previous blog post) our adventures at the Kennedy Space Center during the free-day we’d scheduled prior to the departure of our vacation-proper. We went to see some rockets at Cape Canaveral.
We saw rockets. We saw lots and lots of rockets. In fact, we wandered through a rocket garden where rockets grew from the fertile Florida peat ready for harvesting by thousands of dedicated rocket scientists toiling in the hot Florida sun for the meager pittance wage and under the ever-present threat of being eaten by an alligator (I assume.)
Actually it was a kind of open-air museum, a testament of awe-inspiring bigness to years of space exploration and a bit of a reminder of an era-gone-by or maybe even a by-gone-era. And whose condition reminded me, I’m sad to say, of this bit of radio-drama dialogue:
ZAPHOD: It\’s a derelict spaceport…
NARRATOR: And within which they have discovered a large number of:
FORD:…amazing old ships…
NARRATOR: Whose condition has been described by Ford Prefect in these terms:
FORD:…just rust and wreckage…
NARRATOR: And by Zaphod Beeblebrox like this:
ZAPHOD:…just like huge, broken eggshells…
But it was still pretty awesome.
Kennedy Space Center reminded me of Disneyland (or Disney World if you’d rather the geographic proximity as a preferable reference) but for science and spaceships. It was a polished, carnival-like showcase of monuments to the nineteen sixties and seventies, wrapped in rocket-cafes with space-pizza and souvenir shops to suit the most discerning consumer. I assume this is deliberate as I also assume many of their visitors are folks needing a day off from the Magic Kingdom but not quite ready to leave the shell of illusion such places cast on reality.
We did the bus tour. We went through a couple simulations and a simulator. And we had fun. What more can I say?
On Rental Cars and Buses
The thing about vacations is that you’re always bumming a ride. The properly acceptable way to do this is give some random stranger at a desk your credit card in exchange for some keys to mystery car in an unfamiliar parking lot wherein you buckle up, hang-on tight, and venture out onto unfamiliar highways with a hastily-printed map you prepared just before leaving home because you remembered that your Google-powered map requires a data-connection and in a foreign country where roaming charges apply the cost of downloading a map could easily out-pace the cost of actually physically driving on the roads.
We paid tolls. We don’t pay tolls in Alberta. It was a curious thing, but I can see how it would get old really fast.
We drove, experienced the joys of buying gas in an unfamiliar place and… got to where we needed to be. Huzzah!
The other acceptable way of bumming a ride, of course, is to book transportation on a bus. This might take the deeply practical form of a shuttle from Point A to Point B, getting one from say, a car rental agency to a cruise ship terminal. Or it might be something even more clever (though far less superficially practical) such as taking a shuttle from Point A right back again to Point A, but of course with that all important stop somewhere in the middle involving ocean, sand, beach chairs and refreshing beverages. We did this a couple times on each count, and on each occasion I found myself sitting helpless in a large vehicle in a strange country, pondering just how trusting I was as a citizen of North America to take my family on board a strange vehicle and venture through random country-side for no other purpose than entertainment.
Traffic was insane. Roads and their conditions are even more insane, sometimes snaking up at angles I wouldn’t consider candidates upon which a road could be built let alone a full-sized passenger bus driven on.
But then I suppose those points — A and B and everything in between — made it all worth the awkward adventures of everything in between.
Some people like to complain about getting seasick on boats. I’ve never had that issue. I recall back in 2010 when we went deep sea fishing in the Caribbean off the coast of the Dominican Republic, that I was the one up top with the captain drinking beers and eating ham sandwiches whilst my family members were down below feeding the fishes with the remains of their breakfasts.
The Freedom of the Seas, the hulkingly massive cruise ship that a mere two years ago was considered the single largest passenger vessel in the whole wide world (now out-classed, of course — thank you progress and innovation) could hardly be termed a simple boat, nor remotely compared to that rinky-dink, mercy-of-the-waves fishing vessel that we fished off those same few years ago. Sometimes you easily forgot you were on a boat, what with the shopping mall, casino, and skating rink inside.
But then no matter how big we build our toys, we’re still just little creatures roaming a big planet. A cruise ship is big, but the ocean is just way bigger. Waaaaay bigger. And there was swaying and bobbing and — at night when my head hit the pillow — that unmistakable rocking and lolling of a boat.
I’ll have a lot more to say about the boat, most of those words shared about what happened on the inside and at the various locations the boat travelled whilst we were on it. I don’t claim to be anything other than fare-paying passenger in a massive floating hotel, but… still. As much as some people quietly claim to revile the cruise industry or the idea of a cruise as a vacation option or even the thought of everything that a cruise represents — I know you’re out there — there is something epic about cruising: put all the glam aside, toss away the faux pageantry and ignore the sunbathing, rum-guzzling tourists that populate the upper decks. It is this thing that we’ve created as a society and a culture, a feat of modern technical innovation, and we casually climb aboard, fearlessly thumb our teeth at the powerful ocean and jaunt for the most superficial of visits to foreign lands and exotic ports without getting so much as a bit of sand between our toes (well, unless you really want to.)
Among the many gushes of non-stop entertainment and inundation of created pleasures, I did recognize that much of where I was. I’d wander out to prow while most everyone else was still asleep to watch the sunrise over the water. Or I’d stand at the very stern, leaning on the rail and just watching the churning wake barely impressing itself upon the Caribbean or Atlantic or wherever we happened to be that day. I did that much.
More vacation Rants, Reviews & Redux are on the way… someday.
Part 1 | Part 2 (Coming soon!)