First Time Cruising

by Michael Satterfield

I had no idea what to expect when I passed through TSA style security to board the Carnival Inspiration, my idea of cruising was shaped by the 80's sitcom 'The Love Boat,' movies like 'Ghost Ship,' and that one visit I had made to the Queen Mary.

I made my way to the main atrium of the ship, black mirrored walls accented by brass and neon stretched up from a lower deck bar to a large skylight. The bar was already packed so, I decided to find my cabin located on the Rivara Deck, I had an interior cabin. Since the cruise didn't cost me anything I saw no reason to complain, besides I was certain to find myself partaking in all of the activities and excitement that the cruising life had to offer, right?

The room was larger than I expected, it had a fake window, I wondered why they bothered with the curtain, it seemed like an odd detail. The slightly dated the room had all the trappings you would expect from 1996, including period-correct pastel-colored artwork. It also featured a far larger closet and bathroom than I thought. Ventilation was controlled by a knob on the ceiling and the TV was made by ViewSonic which I thought only made enterprise computer monitors. I had just a garment bag to hang up and my backpack, so I snap a few pics of the room and make my way out to explore the ship.

Walking around the Promenade Deck, home to the bulk of the ship's entertainment, I got more of that 90's vibe. It felt like a mix of Circus Circus and a 90's sci-fi movie, like Total Recall but shot in Las Vegas. Lots of Neon, mirrored surfaces, faux marble, wild carpet patterns, and ornate ceiling designs.

Moving outside, many of the guests had already made their way to the pool and jacuzzis, little did know that this would be the lowest point of occupancy for the jacuzzis at in point in the trip. The crowd was an interesting mix of mostly retires, families with kids, and couples, there were few outliers in the crowd. I am not much of a gambler or a drinker and the idea of wedging myself into the growing mound of bodies in one of the jacuzzies didn't seem that relaxing. So after some exploring and dinner, I retired to my cabin.

The next morning we awoke anchored off the coast of Catalina, the small island is a popular tourist destination. I make my way to the main theater to receive my tinder boat group assignment. The group is called and we all board the Catalina Spirit to be shuttled to shore. It's cool and overcast, having been to Catalina many times in the past I wander around for a bit, have some lunch, and shoot some photos, before finding something for lunch.

The town of Avalon is small and there is nothing new for me to see, I walk among the shops, people watch, take more photos. Catalina holds a lot of memories for me, from trips as a Boy Scout to camp on the island to more recent trips from a life I once had. I take off my shoes and wade into the water, it's cold, and quickly approaching is the cut off time to get back to the ship. I don't want to wait for the last boat and the inevitable rush of people that will be waiting until the last minute. 

As we sail away from the island the sun decides to make an appearance just before it slips into the sea. After a short nap I head to dinner, tonight is "casual dining" which for most people on the ship means they put on a shirt with sleeves, a collared shirt isn't even required for "casual" night. My polo shirt may as well be a tuxedo, but I am shown my table and look over the menu.

After reading through my choices I decide to upgrade (for an extra $20) to the "premium steak" which in hindsight might have been unnecessary since the man at the adjacent table ordered the standard steak and there was not a noticeable difference in quality or preparation. Michelin Star dining this is not, while the food lacked any flavor, presentation, or quality, the staff was incredibly attentive and did an excellent job.

Waking up in the port at Ensenada to the news of devastation wrought by the earthquake in Mexico City put a damper on the day. As I ate my breakfast I watch as the massive flag was lowered to half-staff across the harbor. Listening to people's conversations at breakfast was funny, many were worried about the earthquake aftershocks, not realizing that Mexico City is over 1,300 miles away.

The overcast starts to burn off and I make my way out to my pre-arrange shore excursion a Baja California Wine Country Jeep Tour, by far this was the best part of the trip as I got to drive a classic Jeep Wrangler (everyone else had modern four doors Wranglers) across dirt roads and to an amazing winery. The tour ends at a tequila factory in the heart of old town Ensenada just a few blocks from the ship, giving me time to walk around the tourist traps before heading back to the ship.

After Ensenada, it was a long day at sea, while most people were looking forward to the whole day at sea, I was dreading it, I am not one who lays around the pool and relax kinda guy. I did take in a comedy show, play machines at the casino, eat way too much pizza at the buffet, and all the other things that could be done while trapped on a floating 90's casino. Tonight is the more formal dinner where you are supposed to at least have a sports coat, some women wear full evening gowns, a few guys have nice suits, but for the most part, it doesn't seem like the dress code is enforced. The next morning we would wake up back in Long Beach, pay the $70 parking fee, and head back home.

Is cruising for me? I don't think so. Perhaps a longer cruise with more destinations and stops would be better, or a river cruise where it is more of a floating hotel. But if your idea of a great vacation is a floating Las Vegas buffet, complete with a casino and stage shows,  cruising might be the right vacation for you.