Monday, July 26, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 131

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 44
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 14

“The Big Family Cruise”

While Mal and I were on a Caribbean cruise in 1997 we thought it could be nice to celebrate our upcoming 25th wedding anniversary by taking a cruise with all of our siblings, their spouses, and our parents. We had a nice wedding all those years ago but it wasn’t very expensive or “fancy” because we had no money at the time. Now we had a little bit and we wanted to share this milestone anniversary with the people we loved. We had negotiated a reasonable price with Carnival Cruise Lines for fifteen cabins on the outside of the ship because we wanted all of our family to enjoy a window view. The location of these cabins weren’t the greatest since Mal and I were paying for this trip and we were trying to make this trip affordable. Even in the “less desirable” location this vacation was going to cost us over $30,000.

A few weeks before we were scheduled to set sail, our travel agent, Elsa, called to say that Carnival had upgraded all fifteen cabins to suites with private balconies on the top deck at no additional charge! No explanation was given for this great upgrade but we were happy to take it.

The ship, “The Imagination,” was “sailing” out of Miami, Florida and since we were coming from several different parts of the United States we all planned to meet on the ship near the main pool. Travel arrangements were the responsibility of each of our family members because we couldn’t really afford to pay for their airfare, too. Several family members used accumulated “frequent flyer miles” and another group just drove to Miami because they lived nearby. A bunch of us flew out of Boston, Massachusetts together since that was the most convenient airport for us. Surprising, even though there were thirty-one in our group, we all found each other soon after we boarded the huge cruise ship.

After the mandatory “lifeboat muster” drill, we all spent some time exploring this luxurious “floating hotel.” This ship was twelve-stories high and it was almost 1000 feet long. It contained several nightclubs and lounges, two huge dining rooms, a large casino, a health club, swimming pools and much more! This ship carried over two thousand passengers and almost one thousand crewmembers. My wife and children had no problem finding their way around this ship since we had taken numerous cruises on similar ships but many of our relatives found themselves intimidated by the enormous size of “The Imagination.”

After the ship headed out to sea and our initial exploration was done, it was time for dinner in the main dining room. Since our group was so big, we were seated at three large tables next to the windows looking out over the ocean. We decided to change our seating arrangements several times during the seven-day voyage so that we’d get to spend time with as many of our relatives as possible. As usual, the food was delicious and beautiful to look at. Most of our group enjoyed the opportunity to sample foods that they had never tried before including snails, cold strawberry soup, and several Caribbean dishes.

This cruise offered lots of activities onboard while the ship was at sea and there were dozens of tours available for the days that we were scheduled to be the islands. With such a large group I knew that it could be much too difficult to be their designated “tour guide,” so we decided to be available to offer suggestions without putting pressure on them to do what my immediate family was planning to do. Each evening, I’d explain several tour options and I’d tell them what I was going to do. Anyone who wanted to travel with us was welcome. If they wanted to do what I was doing, they needed to meet in the lobby at a specified time. No pressure at all. This was their vacation and they should do whatever they wanted to do.

Our first island stop was in Cozumel, Mexico. Most of us took taxis to the beautiful Chankanaub Park where we snorkeled in crystal-clear, fish-filled water, explored a small botanical garden, and relaxed in the sun.

Our next island stop was Ocho Rios, Jamaica where I chartered a private bus to take us to the famous “Dunn’s River Falls.” This is a huge series of waterfalls that you walk and climb, (holding each other’s hands) through rushing water with the help of an experienced tour guide. Although there were a few very challenging parts of this climb, we all managed to survive and we had a fun time. The family members who had decided not to go with us to “The Falls,” went snorkeling and reported that it was even better than Cozumel.

Our last island stop was in Grand Cayman where most of us went on a tour of “Sting Ray City.” This tour takes you to a sandbar about twenty minutes out into the ocean. When you get into the water you are suddenly surrounded by dozens of stingrays that measure as much as four feet wide. These strange, gentle creatures would glide under your feet and brush up against you as you swim around this sandbar. The tour guides gave us pieces of squid to hold between our fingers so the stingrays could suck it out of hands. This was an exciting tour, and although I’d done this once before, it was fun to watch our relatives experience this.

One night, before dinner, a group of us went to a lounge for a Karaoke session and we were entertained by several of our own family members including Lori Howley, Madeline Paladino, Carol Walsingham, and our son Adam and daughter Cassy.

Another night, my daughter Cassy, and Mal’s sister Carol, participated in the “Passenger Talent Show” in front of almost one thousand people. Cassy sang the theme from Walt Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Carol sang a song by Ray Boltz titled, “The Anchor Holds,” that explained that during times of crisis and trial, the power and strength of God will remain constant if we rely on Him. This was an interesting choice of songs to perform for a “cruise-crowd” but she certainly did a great job.

On another evening, while the ship was at sea, our relatives surprised Mal and I by reserving a function room and throwing us a twenty-fifth anniversary party complete with many thoughtful gifts. It was great to have almost our entire families together in one place. (The only relative who wasn’t invited on the cruise was my brother Jay and his wife, Annette. Although we love them, we knew that they couldn’t afford to spend any money on shipboard or island activities and they wouldn’t enjoy the “cruise-atmosphere.” We didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable) As it turned out, this would be the last time we’d all be together.

Next chapter: Adam goes to college and we move to New Hampshire.
Pictures: Our 25th anniversary cruise
We swim with the stingrays
We climb Dunns River Falls in Jamaica

1 comment:

  1. Cake not signed inJuly 31, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    Could you buy rain barrels on this cruise? I mean, was there a mercantile?