I traveled on my first cruise vacation thirty years ago. I was intrigued by the idea of a cruise for perhaps a somewhat superficial reason: I had done a fair amount of vacation traveling to Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and had become enamored of the concept of “all-inclusive” vacation resorts, where for a fixed price vacationers’ lodging, meals, alcoholic drinks,entertainment, activities, and even cigarettes (hey, it was the eighties) were included. My first visit to an all-inclusive was to a resort in Jamaica that was called, aptly, “Hedonism”. With youthful exuberance, less maturity, and lack of self-control that comes with being in my twenties, I approached that first all-inclusive stay with the same rationale I approached all-you-can-eat buffets back at home: “they’re going to lose money on me!” I partook in it all, indulging to excess in everything that was available, especially liquor (screwdrivers with my eggs and bacon at breakfast). It was on that first all-inclusive vacation that I cultivated my taste for cognac—even if it was not exactly top shelf. Up to then, the concept of an after dinner cordial was foreign to me. My rationalization of getting my money’s worth veered into stupidity. For instance, even though I had kicked the smoking habit several years prior to that vacation, I could not resist the saucer of complimentary cigarettes that adorned each of the bars at Hedonism. Convinced that I could indulge for just the week I was there, I ended up re-starting the smoking habit again for another several years.
Cruise ships promised many of the same amenities of all-inclusive vacations, at least the food, activities and entertainment part, with the added benefit of being able to visit more than one destination. Despite cruises having obvious appeal, I had demurred. For one thing, I just was not a “water person”. In my boyhood in Brooklyn, NY, the closest I got to the ocean was occasional visits to iconic Coney Island. I never learned how to swim; my only opportunities to visit a swimming pool in my youth were when my summer day camp occasionally took field trips to the Department of Parks and Recreation McCarren Pool. Furthermore, I was apprehensive about an unknown: the possibility that I or my companion would experience seasickness that would ruin our vacation. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by these floating all-inclusive resorts.
In 1988, Royal Caribbean launched Sovereign of the Seas, then the world’s largest cruise ship at over 73,000 gross tons. It was 12% larger than the then cruise ship size champ, the Queen Elizabeth 2, and almost 60% larger than the Titanic. Its scale was so unimaginable that a May 1987 article in the Chicago Tribune exclaimed that “it is doubtful any larger cruise ship will be built in the near future.” The article was sort of correct; depends on how “near future” is defined. In 1995 Princess Cruises launched the larger Sun Princess, the setting for The Love Boat: The Next Wave, a revival of the iconic The Love Boat television series that ran from 1977-1986.
Sovereign of the Seas promised as many, or more than, the amenities of the most luxurious all-inclusive resorts. The floating city boasted 14 decks traversed by glass-encased elevators, a high-end shopping mall, the largest casino at sea, night clubs and lounges, spa, and numerous photo-friendly vantage points. A stunning atrium soared five stories and surrounded tropical plants, a splashing fountain, more glass-enclosed elevators and a sweeping staircase. My cruise on Sovereign of the Seas was my first “real” date, well, the first time traveling together, with my then girlfriend Cheryl. Besides the obvious sentimental value I hold for that cruise—Cheryl is now my wife of 26 years—my recollection of that voyage is that it was magical. Amazing, grandiose midnight buffets with ornate ice and butter carvings, formal nights where everyone dressed to impress (both now forgone cruising traditions), a grand atrium unlike any cruise venue seen before according to veteran cruise mates on that voyage with us, and all the other amenities and trappings of a new, state-of-the-art vessel easily convinced me that cruising was something that I wanted to do more of.
Read the complete Chapter 1, The Joy of Cruising. Available now!