Spring Travel Issue: Cruise

Dancing Across the Waves

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By Ellen Gilchrist
Sunday, March 9, 2003

I had never set foot on a cruise ship nor had the slightest desire to do so until my granddaughters called one cold January day and asked if I would chaperon their dance team on a five-day cruise to Nassau in the Bahamas. They had been invited to be the entertainment for the last night of the cruise. Their dance lessons are projects I paid for, and have been involved with for many years. I have sat for many hours watching them rehearse and have been the backstage mother for countless Christmas shows and recitals. My granddaughters are 15 and 17 years old. Their glorious dancing years are almost over. How could I say no?

So I am going on a cruise. I don't like crowds. I don't like to sleep in strange beds. I'm bored with the Caribbean, but, after all, it is only for four nights and five days. I love my granddaughters and the girls on their team, and I know and admire their dance instructors. I knew I would be in good company. Another thing I have never done is go anywhere with a group of women, but these young women are dancers and athletes. I decided to open my mind and broaden my horizons.

Another thing I don't like to do is live on a boat. When I was younger, my husband and I kept a 50-foot sailboat in the British Virgin Islands. We would sail it around for weeks on end, usually in the company of our two best friends. I think of that experience as a dreary round of rationed water, canned food and begging to get off and spend a night at Little Dix Bay. The idea of being on a ship with a bed and showers is new to me. "You'll have to get a new bathing suit, Grandmother," the younger girl said to me. "And, of course, a base tan."

In April I ordered a bathing suit from Lands' End and began to lie out in the sun for 30 minutes every day. These preliminary activities changed my personality to such an extent that I was entertaining the idea of buying a flowered dress. I didn't actually buy one, but I tried several on and did buy a tropical print shirt from a 75-percent-off sales rack. In my normal life I do not wear flowered dresses, print shirts or anything with writing on it. Perhaps the sun was going to my head.

It was around this time that I called the cruise line and upgraded the reservations for myself and the girls. The team had special fares for the cruise, and I had told myself it would be an adventure to travel in steerage, but then thought better of it. "Give me adjoining cabins on the deck where you would book your parents," I told Michael, in the Miami office of Royal Caribbean. "Make sure I can sleep."

Chaperons are supposed to stay in the same room with their charges, but I trust my granddaughters not to get into trouble. Also, their sleep patterns are not in tune with mine. They would be getting up about the time I went to bed for a nap and would want to watch television after I was asleep for the night.

With my base tan, my print shirt and my upgraded reservations, I decided I was ready for whatever a cruise turned out to be. Stories of cruise ships limping back to port with all the passengers sick with dysentery did cross my mind, and I prepared myself for a certain amount of Disneyland tackiness, but I was ready. I used to scuba-dive when we had to fill our own tanks with air and mail the regulators to California to be checked for holes. I figured I could weather a five-day cruise.

The girls, Aurora and Ellen Walker, and I all met up in Cape Canaveral on the eve of the cruise. I made everyone go to bed early. Aurora had warned us that we might have to wait in lines to board the ship, and we wanted to be early to avoid the crush. Visions of Ellis Island. I do not stand in lines. There is nothing I want enough to stand in line to get.

I was amazed at the size of the ship. No photograph can prepare you for the size of a cruise ship. We weren't even on the largest one. Royal Caribbean has a class of ships called Voyager that are much larger.

Our voyage began on Sunday. There was no waiting in line. We arrived early, parked the car under a palm tree and were whisked aboard the ship by a polite, helpful crew.

Our cabins were spacious and well-appointed, and the interior was as clean as a hospital. I was breathing sighs of relief.

By noon we were in deck chairs in our bathing suits, putting on suntan lotion and drinking lemonade.


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© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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