Cruising for the Commitmentphobe
In an effort to groom a new generation of devotees, cruise companies are now offering shorter sailings at rock-bottom prices—the perfect opportunity for a commitmentphobe to test the waters.
When a friend first e-mailed me about something she called "cruises for commitmentphobes"—and suggested I take one—I couldn't help but wonder if I was stepping into the middle of an elaborate joke at my expense. I think I actually looked behind both shoulders while sitting at my computer, as if there might be a candid camera hovering somewhere out of sight. The idea of a ship packed to the gills with people like me (you know the type, annoyingly resistant to getting tied down to anything, from dinner to relationships), all of us working out our issues together at the midnight taco bar...it just seemed so unlikely.
But then I learned more. What we had here wasn't the sort of floating group-therapy session I had envisioned. Turns out there's a new trend in the cruise industry of offering shorter, more adventurous excursions at remarkably low prices. The seeming goal is to attract a new, younger clientele—people who would never consider a typical cruise because of the time commitment (a week, 10 days, 2 weeks) but who might get on board for a briefer foray.
In other words, the target audience is me: a young, single professional who never would have imagined myself on a cruise. Why? Well, I don't know. I didn't have specifics beyond the usual, "Can you imagine being stuck on a boat for two weeks?" But once that concern was moot, what excuse did I really have left? I certainly didn't have any biases against pools, the ocean, bikini-clad women, or Coronas with lime.
Before committing, though, I wanted to get some words of advice, if not straight-up encouragement, from a professional (no, not my therapist). I called Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of cruisecritic.com. Turns out I had another commitmentphobe on the line. "My husband and I never plan in advance," she said. "What happens when you book that four-o'clock spa treatment and you end up splitting a bottle of wine at lunch?" Her main suggestion to me was to go with the flow and not plan too much. Oh, and: "Don't go on a traditional ship."
Having grown up on a steady diet of Kathie Lee Gifford commercials—"In the mornin'! In the evenin'! Ain't we got fun!"—I figured Carnival was my best option. And the hilarious and not-so-traditional-sounding Carnival Fun Ships, some of which max out at a manageable five days, made it an easy choice. After convincing my friend and fellow cruise virgin Sheila to take the plunge with me, I got on carnival.com and found a room on one of its Fun Ships for $349 per person. Did we want an ocean view? That would be $140 more for each of us, but yes. A balcony? Another $100 each. Grand total for two, with taxes and fees: $1,330. We'd be going from Miami to Grand Cayman, then on to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and back. One confirmation click, and I was scheduled to meet my fate aboard the Destiny.
The first few hours of the cruise experience play through like a surreal movie montage: sneaking past the Carnival photographer and his sunset backdrop upon embarkation; watching the crowds on the lido deck (the term for "pool area" that I thought existed only on The Love Boat) as they down the Fun Ship Special, a punch drink of vodka, rum, and amaretto that will undoubtedly lead to punch-drunk; taking a tour (which lingers for a suspiciously long time in the casino and shopping areas, where passengers can dispose of their money); watching a lifeboat instruction, during which Sheila and I stand shoulder to shoulder with fellow passengers while wearing life vests; and then, finally, topping it all off with a beer (that Corona with lime) back up on the lido, as we admire the Miami sunset (the real one this time) retreating in the Destiny's wake.
By 6 p.m., it's time for us to make the first of our five dining appointments at table 443 in the Universe dining room. In addition to Sheila and me, there are three couples: late-20-somethings Meg and Brent from Indiana; mid-20-somethings Garret and his five-months-pregnant wife, Casey, from North Carolina; and early-30-somethings Dr. Heather and her husband, Jay, who hail from Florida but reside in Georgia. The getting-to-know-yous are polite, if stilted, and I feel a tinge of panic about dining like this for the next four nights.
When we get back to our room, on the bed and spotlighted by the wall lamps is what at that moment seems to me the single greatest thing I've seen in my adult life: a bath towel folded into a walrus. Yes, a walrus—all perky and cute and staring right out at us as we walk into the room. Maybe it's the Fun Ship Special working its gooey magic, but I smile. Sheila shrieks with glee and snaps a photo. Everything is going to be all right.