From Cruise Curmudgeon to Obsessed Cruiser

by David Wenstrom

David and his girl, Thanh
David and his girl, Thanh

“Why don’t we go on a cruise?” Thanh asked, as she had many times before.

“Because we are not Bill and Melinda Gates,” I replied.

I am a man of modest means. And men of modest means—men who have memorized the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s (or the “tasting menu,” as I call it)—do not go on cruises. I’d seen enough old movies to know that cruising was a pursuit reserved for the select few—aristocrats and oil barons, not special education teachers.

Even if I could scrounge up the hundred grand or so for a cruise vacation, there was the matter of what to wear. I knew extensive formal attire would be involved, for I’d seen Cary Grant cross the Atlantic in an endless succession of stodgy suits and starchy tuxedos in “An Affair to Remember.” I did not own a tuxedo. I didn’t even own what could technically be called a suit. A sports coat and Dockers might suffice for snorkeling, but what about dinner?

Which brings us to food. Cruise veterans might touch on the tropical sunsets or the splendors of Glacier Bay, but their narratives never strayed far from the food—the sumptuous dinners, the scrumptious desserts and, above all, the fact that one can eat all one wants whenever one wants to eat. I did not want to eat all I want to eat; largely because I didn’t want to spend countless additional hours at my gym undoing the damage.

“I’m serious,” Thanh persisted. “Let’s go on a cruise.” Thanh had been on two cruises. She had tasted the forbidden fruits of midnight dessert fetes and she wanted more. “Sure,” I relented, as I pondered my post-cruise paunch. (On the bright side, I’d be so broke after the cruise that I’d lose the paunch in no time due to starvation.)

We booked a seven-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera (it was news to me that Mexico had a Riviera). It was also news to me that I could afford a cruise.  The price of passage was about what I’d typically spend for a week in Yosemite, in one of those unheated hovels they call tent “cabins.” As much as I liked the price, I had serious reservations about the product–an interminable week of grazing and sunbathing on the high seas. I’d bring a book; that would help kill the time.

My first inkling that cruising might not be quite what I’d imagined, occurred as our airport shuttle approached Los Angeles Harbor. A gleaming white colossus gradually emerged from the storied Southern California mists (smog). “Our ship,” Thanh said. My eyes grew wider and wider as the leviathan loomed larger and larger. That was no cruise ship; it was a small planet. Those “floating palaces” in the old movies were mere asteroids in comparison.

As we boarded Diamond Princess, found our stateroom and explored, it dawned on me that my kill-the-time book might not be necessary. There was so much to see and do, so much in fact that by the second day, I was seriously concerned about my tan, or lack thereof. Thanh and I were so busy enjoying everything from comedy acts to conga lines that I hadn’t had time to acquire that bronze patina that would prove I’d been on a cruise.

Thanh agreed to turn it down a notch and try a little Lido deck lounging. We grabbed some deck chairs, grew bored after 20 minutes and resumed our whirlwind of activities.

I did, eventually, acquire that seasoned-seafarer tan, thanks to some unforgettable Mexican shore excursions in the warm winter sun—snorkeling off the Marietas Islands (and photographing their fantastic blue-footed boobies!), whale watching out of Cabo San Lucas, parasailing miles (it seemed) above the sparkling waters of Mazatlan.

I didn’t put much of a dent in that kill-the-time book—and not for lack of trying. I’m an early riser, and every morning I’d slip over to the still-quiet Horizon Court buffet to sip coffee and read at a window table. I never made it past the first paragraph. I simply couldn’t tear my eyes from the passing coastline, the rolling waves, the rollicking dolphins, and the mysterious, mercurial sea. I could’ve sat there for hours, utterly at peace.

What I wouldn’t give to be there now, sipping my coffee at the dawn of another extraordinary day! That first cruise vacation four years ago transformed me from cruise curmudgeon to cruise fanatic. Thanh and I have since been on a second cruise to Mexico and we hope to take a Hawaiian cruise in the next few months.

While I once dodged Thanh’s suggestions that we go on a cruise, it’s now my friends and colleagues who do the dodging as I pester them relentlessly about the joys of cruising:  Stressed? Why don’t you go on a cruise? . . . Getting married? Why don’t you go on a cruise? . . . The Giants lost? Why don’t you go on a cruise? . . . The Giants won? Why don’t you go on a cruise?

Really, why don’t you go on a cruise?

David lives in Redwood City, California and he’s enjoyed two Princess cruises while Thanh has enjoyed four.