Christmas at Home

We’ll be at home for Christmas this year, for the first time since 2007. (Technically, we were home on Christmas in 2013, but we were gone the week before.)

Fleeing for Christmas started in 2008. In 2008, my sister-in-law passed away in January, and my mother-in-law passed away in June. It was a bad year. My wife didn’t want to be home at Christmas and her brother didn’t want to be home at Christmas, either. He had a timeshare in Orlando and was taking his kids, so he invited us to go along.

Here’s the thing about Orlando – I hate Orlando. I have no love at all for Disney (never understood the attraction), and I don’t particularly like a cold swamp in December. Also, I was at IBM at the time, working for Lotus, so I was going to be in Orlando three or four weeks later for Lotusphere. Lotusphere was scheduled in Orlando in January because the weather is generally miserable, so the hotels are cheaper. So, I was not looking forward to Orlando in December.

We went. It was a nice time, in spite of the fact everyone was basically in mourning. The parks were freezing but seeing European tourists turning blue in short shorts and t-shirts who believed the “weather is always beautiful in Florida” marketing mantra was fairly amusing. We did get to see Blue Man Group – and I never realized the irony until I wrote this.

After we got home, all was quiet for a few months, and then my wife declared she didn’t just want to be home last Christmas, she didn’t want to be home at Christmas forevermore. So, I didn’t even think about “this will be expensive”, I thought, “How do I prevent ever spending Christmas in Orlando again?”

The answer: find something else to do that will be so enticing that she won’t think freezing in Florida is a good idea, even if it is with family.

That’s why in 2009, we took our first cruise. One Sunday, I Googled cruise lines, and sent information requests to all the major ones – Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean. I got emails from Carnival and Royal. Norwegian called me ten minutes later. We have a winner.

Maricela introduced herself as “my” cruise consultant and asked what I was looking for as a cruise. I said I wanted to cruise out of Galveston. She said, “We sail from New Orleans.” I found it difficult to argue with that. It’s pretty much the same port, except for the State and location, and New Orleans being almost twice as far away by car (I wanted to drive to Galveston.)

We booked the Norwegian Spirit out of New Orleans for a seven-day cruise. It was an interesting start – we got our sea legs easily, but we tended to miss dinner every night because we would get back from an excursion, decide to take a “quick nap” and wake up at 10pm. I’m not sure what was on that first cruise that made us so sleepy, but it was amazing. Somewhere along the way, I had a strange feeling I didn’t recognize. Later, I realized I was relaxed.

That started our cruising adventures that are documented here. I can help you book your cruises now, as I’m a travel advisor.

That brings us to 2020. This was not a good year to be a cruising fan. This was not a good year to be a travel advisor.

So, we’re home for Christmas. We’re having family over which will make Mom happy because when my Dad died, she refused to leave home for Christmas, even though we invited her along with us (that was the year we sailed early.) Hopefully, nobody in the family will die from having Christmas at home in 2020.

I didn’t think staying home for Christmas would have a major effect, except for being cold in Dallas instead of warm in the Caribbean. However, I’ve noticed I am getting crankier than usual (my wife may disagree), and I am certainly not relaxed.

We don’t have a cruise booked until October 2022. This is very distressing to me. We have had three cruises in a year a couple of the past years.

So, Christmas at home. For the first time in 13 years or so. Unemployed. With family. With a wife who will spend more on food for four than a cruise would have cost. I’m pretty sure this is how alcoholics get their start.

Merry Christmas!

New Year’s Cruise

Just back from a week’s cruise on the NCL Pearl, a Christmas to New Year’s cruise. We visited Great Stirrup Cay, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. The Spousal Unit discovered she loves snorkeling. I discovered a Nikon CoolPix AW100 is a kick-ass point’n’shoot camera. Nobody got sunburned. We took my son and daughter-in-law, and we’re all still speaking to each other.

We were told this cruise is one of the most expensive cruises of the year – not because of Christmas but because of New Year’s Eve. People apparently really like to sail on New Year’s Eve.

Strangely, every New Year’s Eve, I’m reminded how arbitrary the choice of the date is. December used to be the tenth month (“decem”, a distant memory from my Latin class), not the end of the year, and there is no seasonal, solar or lunar reason for January first to start a new year, as far as I know.

However, January first does start the year, for whatever reason. Suddenly, at midnight last night, a ship full of people who had ranged from isolationist to surly became friendly. Every bloody one of them said “Happy New Year!”, even the ones who wouldn’t say “Hello” as they passed you in the hall an hour earlier.

Maybe it was the turning of the clock. Maybe it was the hope of a new beginning, no matter how arbitrary. Perhaps, it was just the accomplishment of getting free booze from a cruise line (and the champagne was nice). For a few short moments, we were all friends.

New Year’s Eve celebrations always seemed rather silly to me – you get as drunk as possible up to the actual minute, but that’s all there is – when the clock rolls from 11:59pm to midnight, you’re done. Plus, since it’s purely a timing issue, you can’t move to another part of the ship for a better view.

So, the Captain counted down the seconds, the previous year ended, and that was that. Then, the realization that it was after midnight, you were drunk, and your bags had to be packed and outside your stateroom by 1:00am kicked in. After that, the truly unlucky realized their spouse had decided 7:45am was a reasonable time to disembark.

People did not look as haggard as I expected this morning, as they left the ship with six hours or less of sleep, but Lord, they didn’t look pleased.

I really feel sorry for the crew who got to manage a midnight mob of merriment, herd people back to cabins, and then spend the morning preparing for the passengers due to start boarding by noon. I have a feeling there was more puke to clean than usual.

I’m glad we wanted a cruise to get out of the house for Christmas and to visit ports we hadn’t seen yet, because I don’t understand paying that much money specifically to hear ten seconds counted down in a Norwegian accent.

I much prefer a cruise where all the  people are out-going all week, and not just storing all their happiness for a ten-second countdown on the last night.

It was a strange trip. People were very insular. Part of that may have been an “English as a Second Language” issue, as there seemed to be a higher percentage of passengers from outside the US than on previous cruises. Also, there were huge family¬† groups onboard – not just Mom, Dad and the kids, but Mom, Dad, kids, grandparents, cousins and more. Those two conditions gave the trip a completely different vibe than previous “mostly American, small families, couples, singles” cruises we’ve had before.

Fourteen people signed up for a Cruise Critic Meet ‘n’ Greet, which was a pretty low number. Two showed up, besides us and the kids. As the officers arrived, I was beginning to fear they would out-number us. So, there was no real passenger participation, which was a change from last year, where we were above 50% attendance or more, and had forty sign up. It was sad, because we made friends at the meeting last year and hung out with them the rest of the cruise. This was a ship full of individual groups, where in the past, we had made some friends relatively quickly. On this cruise, people had so many built-in friends, they either refused to make new ones, or just didn’t feel the need.

A bad cruise is still better than a week at work, and this was not a bad cruise. It was just disconcerting that it was so different from the previous ones.

If you check the calendar, I think it will be a while until Christmas falls on Sunday, the day many cruises from Miami begin. So, maybe next year, people won’t wait until the last night to acknowledge there are other families onboard.

If nothing else, 2011 has been defeated. Happy New Year!