I recently had the opportunity to go on vacation.
After many years of skipping the chance or using one or two vacation days at a time to do other work, in 2015 I took a leap into a new experience.
Initially, I was really too frugal — or maybe just too cheap — to take 10 consecutive days off work, but I was in a bit of a rut and some friends suggested take a cruise with their group.
As some know, my hobby is ballroom dancing and this group often would get together on a trip — usually to the Caribbean Sea — and focus on dancing.
The thought of spending that much money all at once turned me off, but I felt like just getting away for a while.
In reality, a cabin shared with a friend can be as little as about $850 for 10 days during the slower winter months or about $1,000 with taxes and fees. If you plan it out, that comes to about $83 a month that my financial advisers advocate saving in advance. For me, that was skipping either a couple of fill-ups or maybe a tank of gas and a trip to an inexpensive restaurant an average of once a month.
The off-season is very reasonable and I discovered that there weren’t a lot of extra fees unless you signed up for excursions ashore. As with anything, you can get “nickled and dimed” to death, if you’re not careful. Often it’s just better to go ashore on foot and hire a cab to whatever attraction interests you.
I had so many friends who often went on cruises that I was always envious.
My idea of a “cruise” from my Marine Corps days was about 2,000 sweaty guys packed into an ugly gray ship without many windows and always preparing for combat. The days were filled with training, working out, cleaning weapons, studying about the situations you might face and augmenting the Navy ship’s crew to keep the vessel safe.
I remember bunks stacked four high on all four walls or about 16 Marines in one compartment — and that was for the more senior guys.
Well, this dance cruise sounded significantly better with 3-4 hours of world class dance lessons in the morning, an afternoon practice session or a trip ashore or a nap after lunch, depending on your preference. After fine dining in the evening there were three hours of elegant dancing until about midnight.
My first cruise in 2015 was just a blur. On my second, last year I spent more time visiting ashore. This last one in January, I focused primarily on improving my dancing.
The annual event includes about 200 to 300 dancers from across the country with a group headquartered out of New York aboard a cruise ship with about 2,500 passengers.
This year included about two dozen people I already knew well — some from my old dance studio back in North Carolina and some from our dance group here in Altus.
It’s a kind of immersion experience — sort of like learning a foreign language in that country. Everything you do is about your passion — dancing. The more you learn the more you realize there’s more to learn.
Phones aren’t ringing, email and texts typically don’t work and even when they do, there isn’t anything you can do to fix what’s happening back home, thousands of miles away.
There is a kind of quiet resignation toward the inevitable and acceptance that things will be just fine until your return.
I understand that there are many types of cruises — some that focus on SCUBA diving, some might have nightly concerts with a favorite band, others that highlight photography or even academic studies in some topic.
Whatever your passion, I’d suggest that everyone give a cruise a try. Next year, God willing, I’ll try to do another in the Caribbean and maybe sometime in the future I’ll take one to the Mediterranean Sea.
These days the cool thing is you can search all your destination ports on the internet to research before you trip, follow your ship via its itinerary and watch the progress via bow and stern web cameras. There are even a few video virtual tours and tourist review articles to keep you interested while you wait for your turn.
Next year one of my goals is to climb a Mayan temple that I’ve only seen in movies. If I can’t walk on it, I’ll bring back lots of pictures.
But, there is one caution. Even though many of the passengers’ experiences seem fancy, those in the crew who make it happen have a significantly different experience.
While they are typically very pleasant, many are from economically depressed countries and are working aboard ship for minimum wage and room and board.
They work very long hours. The head waiter dressed in a tuxedo at dinner will often bus tables in the buffet area during breakfast and lunch.
Any extra money they can scrimp and save is typically sent back to families overseas.
So, I was taught to try to be truly kind and appreciative, and to tip generously.
Actually, that sounds like a good lesson that I can bring back from my vacation for those in our own service and hospitality industry in the United States.
Reach Eric Steinkopff at [email protected] or 580-482-1221, ext 2072.