Friday, July 28, 2017

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Pre-Trip and Introduction

This trip was most definitely an odd one in the making.  Before I get too far ahead of myself, though, allow me to introduce you to the cast of this journey.

First off, there’s me.  I’m Chris…known to many as “Mush”, thanks to my last name (“Mushrush”).  It has been my nickname since grade school.  It was my father’s nickname, as it was for his father and most likely his father’s father.  I’m 44, and, thanks to being A.D.D. and cursed with one of those “you can sleep when you’re dead” mentalities, I wear a number of hats.  I’m a full-time non-tenure-track Instructional Assistant Professor of Economics; at the same time, I’m also a full-time Travel Planner (for full disclosure) that specializes in family travel – Disney and Universal vacations, primarily; however, I’m expanding out into the Cruise Industry and am gaining experience so I can provide the best service I can for cruise customers.

Then there is SWMBO…”She Who Must Be Obeyed”…she responds to “Sheri” or “wifey” every so often.  She’s younger than me…I’ll just leave it at that, since I value the air that I breathe.  She’s an accounting supervisor at a major insurance company, an awesome wife, and a terrific Mother to the next two entries.

Did I say that correctly, Sheri?

Next up is Son #1: Aaron.  He’s 14, though he looks more like he’s 17-18.  6’0” and 215 lbs.  Yeah, he likes football and can’t wait to start high school this fall.  He’s in the typical teenager phase, which makes for some “interesting” discussions.

Finally, we have Son #2: Eric.  12 years old, but already 5’6”.  He’s the comic relief in the family – to a fault, at times.  This tends to bring out the monster in Son #1, as you see in most families with siblings.

With the introductions out of the way, let’s get to how we decided on a cruise.  Sheri and I did our first cruise a couple of years ago on the Disney Dream (post link), and we found out quickly that, though I joke about her getting motion sickness on it’s a small world, she definitely gets green on the high seas.  Couple that with an accidental removal of a Scopolamine patch two days early (advice: keep the patch ON for 3 days…even if you are back on land!), and she vowed never to go on another cruise.  The boys, however, were reminding us every time I got a new cruise booking that they have been on one fewer cruise than we have and wanted to take one.

After December, the stress levels were nearing an all-time high for both Sheri and me, thanks to work.  I actually had a minor scare where my blood pressure went haywire just before the holiday season.  Luckily, most everything seemed to point to a couple of issues that are both treatable – completely depleted ferritin levels (most likely from donating nearly 10 gallons of blood over the past 20 years), and the dreaded sleep apnea (which I have probably been dealing with since I was a teen…even when I was in excellent shape and not the donut shape that I am currently in).  Ending the blood donations, eating a half-side of beef every week, and downing iron supplements with an orange tree’s worth of juice has my ferritin levels on the rise.  Two dreadful sleep studies and a CPAP machine later, and the apnea issue is being taken care of.  Couple that with (what I hope to be temporary) high blood pressure medicine, and I’m happy to say that everything is going well, though I still know I look like an idiot with the CPAP mask on.

Regardless, I realized that, for all of us, we needed to do a family vacation that got us completely away from work.  Sheri and I also were to be celebrating our 20th anniversary in mid-June.  Being complete Disney freaks, we automatically considered a trip to Disney World, but it would be in the middle of the summer when the central Florida temperatures rivaled the surface of the sun.  I then brought up a cruise, and Sheri quickly vetoed it (she was green just thinking about riding Pirates of the Caribbean).  We then considered a trip to Napa Valley, which is where Sheri and I have done the past couple of adults-only trips.  I again made a subtle nudge at a cruise, when her defenses were down a little (that, or I liquored her up and then brought up the topic).

Initially, we were planning on waiting until July, because I have been a coach for our boys’ baseball teams for 8 years.  This became a non-issue when Eric and all of his friends, at the recommendation of the middle school baseball coaches, decided to skip playing on the same team and opt instead for playing in a league on separate teams in Bloomington (a larger city about 10 miles away).  This actually released me from the coaching duties for the first time in a long while (right…you know I still helped out by keeping the books for the team!).  It also opened up more of the summer for a trip, including our anniversary week.

You know exactly what I did then.  I started pushing the cruise idea a little more and focusing on early- to mid-June as the time frame.  I’ll readily admit that I was working Celebrity Cruise Line hard early on, since I was looking for just Sheri and me.  She (rightfully) nixed that one, claiming that the boys had to go on our next cruise.

Wait…she said “next cruise”, didn't she?

That meant that she was starting to waver a little bit on the “no more cruises” mandate.

Okay – I went into full-on travel planner mode (what better way to keep your skills honed than with your own family?!).  I started working on finding the best fit for Sheri and the boys, keeping my “wants” in the background a bit.  Family cruise – let’s check Disney/Royal Caribbean/Norwegian/Carnival.

Already been on Disney, and I wanted to gain experience on a different line.

Down to three…Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian.  I started looking at itinerary/ship combinations, and Carnival dropped out, leaving the remaining two cruise lines.  I wanted a lot of entertainment on the ship, so I had it narrowed down to a Freedom-, Oasis-, or Quantum-class ship for Royal Caribbean or a Breakaway-class ship for NCL.  Norwegian Getaway was going to be doing itineraries in the Baltic Sea during the time frame we were looking for, so I defaulted to the Royal Caribbean ships.  I just couldn’t find a price/ship/itinerary combination that worked well, so I decided to look at Norwegian Escape.

Hmmmmmmmmm………interesting…..eastern itinerary with St. Thomas and Tortola for the primary stops…THREE sea days (which could be a double-edged sword; since our last cruise didn’t have any sea days, we didn’t know if we would like them or not)…and…what’s this?...the “Free at Sea” promotion……………

I texted Sheri at work and threw the idea out there, making sure to highlight the beverage package along with the dining package.  She didn’t reject it, which was progress.  Now to set the hook.

I compared the cost of some of our past trips (both adult-only and family) to the cost of a 7-night cruise (which made her cringe).  Being an economist, I went to a “per-person per-night” comparison and showed her that the cruise had the lowest price per capita per night than anything we had done in the past.

The accountant (who hated economics in college) in her kicked in… “JUST GIVE ME THE PRICE!!!”  The economist in me returned the volley with marginal costs, opportunity costs, graphs, etc.

At that point, she nearly divorced me.

After talking her off the ledge and showing her how we could pay for the majority of it, she agreed to consider it.

Good thing, because I had already put a hold on the June 17th sailing the day before.

When I told her that, she started phoning her attorney, but she put the phone down when I told her the deposit was fully refundable for now, but we needed to get the deposit in.  I found an excellent stateroom – one of the rare angled balconies!  It was 12272 – located on the port side in the aft, near the stairwell.

The combination of having a Ph.D. and working at a University, coupled with my position as a travel planner, had me going into full-blown researcher mode as soon as the deposit was made.  I tried to explain to her the concept of “Freestyle” cruising, which Norwegian is known for.  I also explained to her that we’d want to make reservations for the specialty dining and perhaps some entertainment.  She looked at me as though I had a third eye forming in the middle of my forehead (“You want to make reservations on a ‘freestyle’ cruise???”), but, after my fifth “Just trust me on this one”, she decided to do just that.  As the travel agent on record, I also added the soda packages for the boys along with the 3-meal specialty dining package to match what we got.  I also snuck in an anniversary cake request at dinner on our anniversary, and I set up a request for distilled water for the CPAP machine I was bringing onboard.

It was around this time that I joined the Roll Call for this specific cruise, and, at that point, it was around 30-strong (13 families).  This was about the size of the Roll Call group for our last cruise on the Disney Dream.  It seemed to be a little quiet; however, being more of a lurker on the CruiseCritic boards, I still took the time to learn about the slot pull, the gift exchange, and, being a travel planner wanting to see as much as possible, the cabin crawl.  Since we had an angled balcony, I had a feeling that people would want to see our stateroom, so I immediately signed us up for that.


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