"Cruising with myself" -- unreleased Billy Idol single or misbegotten vacation plan? I am an inveterate fan of solo travel, to the point where friends question the solidity of my marriage after I've taken off for yet another unescorted weekend. I enjoy traveling by myself and meeting new people and generally getting away from it all. But as a three-night friendless cruise adventure recently taught me, not all alone time is created equal.
Here's what I learned:
To cruise successfully, you must have serious #squadgoals
It all started innocuously enough, I trekked up the plank with my roller -- new novel from the airport bookstore in hand -- and felt the first pang of regret. My fellow passengers weren't nearly as decrepit as I had expected, but they ALL traveled in clusters -- be it a three-generation extended family or a posse of frat bros. Quickly scanning for any other solo travelers I might befriend in between quiet reading time, squad envy overtook me before I'd even found my cabin.
Drinking alone isn't as fun at sea
I was one of the first people to board the ship, or so it seemed, but as I searched for my room, I wheeled past dozens of seasoned vets who had somehow already stashed their bags and hit the bar. And they didn't seem to be on their first drinks.
Once ensconced in my port suite (complete with towel swan and all), I threw on a summer dress and wondered: now what? For without a drinking squad of my own, wasn't I just the sad sack imbibing at the bar alone, Barney Gumble style? Sure, a floating party is still a party, but I've come stag. What to do?
Well, drink, naturally, but on the move. I grabbed some Champagne, meandered around, located the casino, checked out the main pool, avoided the staffer in the Smurf costume, and counted down the minutes to the evening's pre-launch dance party. Grabbed another drink and dodged the Smurf again. Headed back out to the pool area and OHTHANKGOD the evening dance party had started.
Did I dance? Ummm, no, I have the moves of a disoriented manatee. Did I converse with any of the other thousand people at the party. Also, no -- but I did enjoy watching everybody! No really, it was fun. Baby steps.
Fitness classes are not the answer
Now, having exited the party early to get a good night's sleep, I was able to wake just after sunrise to continue my quest of sourcing new friends -- this time at the boat's touted fitness class: aqua cycling. Half-underwater cycling on a boat, what could go wrong, right?
For the next 45 minutes (18 hours?), a coked-up Italian instructor who didn't speak English screamed pedaling instructions from the pool's edge, only some of which the ELA teacher bothered to translate. Rocky seas swept some participants off their bikes and they spent the rest of class attempting a remount, while those of us who managed to stay on looked like drunken bull riders -- and not in a sexy way. All the while, children and parents alike gaped and gossiped. It was communal aqua-agony.
Oh yeah, did I mention that I was wearing a bathing suit and socks -- and nothing else.
So, no, I didn't really meet anybody to hang out with in fitness class. Nor did I have much fun. The moment it ended, everyone jumped off their bikes and ran for their rooms. Abject humiliation is not a bonding experience.
Find the Manic Pixie Dream Broads
And so it continued. Now, of course, I didn't need to make new friends -- I'm quite happy on my own, I mean I vacation solo for a reason -- but still, you often want to hang out with somebody. And having returned to the pool deck refreshed after two eggs and a hot shower, I tried to latch onto a contingent.
First, I approached a group of young partiers, soon realizing that I may very well have aged out of that demographic. Next, I sidled over to the middle-aged hot tubbers -- the clusters of women content to ride out the afternoon drinking and soaking. But when I hopped into a tub and attempted conversation, I got blank stares. I'm hoping it was a language thing. Totally had to be a language thing.
At last, I found my posse. That night at dinner, I was seated with a group of older women -- as in, Golden Girls older -- some of them professional writers. These were my spirit animals. They were sassy, insouciant, drink-happy sprites draped in sequins who spoke of their absent husbands in disinterested terms, if they spoke of them at all. They were Manic Pixie Dream Broads, and they were my ticket. We ate, we drank, we blackjacked in the casino, we (they) took in the Michael Jackson tribute show. OK, it wasn't the perfect match -- they didn't entirely take to me -- but they did get me through another evening.
Weather can make a bad time worse
I woke up on the final day determined to keep the good times going, with or without Bea Arthur. Today we were anchoring just off a tiny Bahamian island and boating over to enjoy sun and daiquiris. You don't need friends for that!
But Mother Nature wanted to play cheerleader to my mathlete. And so, she churned up the seas, making it impossible for the transfer boats to get us to the island. Instead, the ship headed back out to international waters, the staff opened the casino, and additional, uncensored debauchery ensued. Did anyone seem to mind? Hell no. Drinks were discounted and store merchandise brought out -- people shopped and drank and danced and gabbed and generally toasted a cruise well cruised.
Me? I went to the casino in search of the MPDBs. But couldn't find them -- it's a big boat. Maybe they were avoiding me? Nah. And so I hit the slots. And lost $200. And headed back to my cabin early. And, um, read.
Introverts need not apply
So what's my verdict on cruising alone? I think you probably already know, right?
I totally get the allure of the cruise. Bring some slaphappy besties, spring for all the booze you can imbibe, and commit to a relaxing vacay. But for me, a solo cruise was like revisiting my freshman year of high school -- at sea. No friends, mediocre lunches, reading as respite, and a general sense that I was doing it wrong while everyone else around me had a great time. Unlike more adventure-focused travel, where a person's single status can prove a positive -- no itineraries! Exploring new locales on your own terms! -- a floating fun orgy forces you to assimilate. Also, you're trapped on a boat!
It wasn't the cruise -- it was me. Shipping out solo might be a fine option for extroverts who can spark up conversation with a pool chaise, but until I tap into that inner cheerleader and learn to befriend whoever stands before me, I won't be donning my sea sequins anytime soon.
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