We’ve all heard the saying: You can’t go home again. It was the title of a novel by Thomas Wolfe, the theme of which is that everything — places, people — is constantly changing, and the memories you hold dear generally belong to the past and can’t be recreated in the present.
Carnival was my first cruise “home.” It was where I cut my teeth on ship-board life, where I fell in love with the sea, where I learned the ins and outs of spending a week or more on the ocean waves, gliding from port to port and meeting new people — both the natives of those countries and my many fellow habitual sailors.
The memories and the friends that I made on Carnival ships are precious to me and I’ll treasure them for the rest of my life. But like so many do in the “real world,” I grew up and moved away and when I came back … it just wasn’t the same. Which, I hasten to add, doesn’t mean it was bad. In a way, it will always be “home.” But in another way, it’s not where I belong anymore.
Leaving home for the first time is always hard, a little frightening, and a little sad. But it gets easier and easier, and at some point, the paradigm shifts and it’s going back that’s difficult and even sort of scary. That’s the point I was at when it came time to embark on a cruise this December on Carnival Glory, after a year and a half away from the cruise line, during which time I had been cruising on MSC.
The Glory cruise would be my twenty-first on Carnival, twenty-third total. I’d only been on MSC twice, both times on the Seaside, but I had also fully immersed myself in the MSC cruise world. I had dropped out of most of the Carnival forums and Facebook groups and was spending my social media time on MSC pages. I’d researched and studied and fully experienced my Seaside cruises and had made myself an “instant expert” on many aspects of the line’s operations, practices, rules, ships, and personnel.
I was obsessed, addicted, enamored, devoted, fixated on “MSC for Me” just as I’d gotten hooked on Carnival the first time I set foot on one of their ships. Cruising on Carnival was like when I bought my first home. It wasn’t a mansion but it was affordable and it was mine and I loved it. Cruising in the MSC Yacht Club for the first time was like when we left our 1800 square foot house in Seagoville and moved to this almost 4000-sf home overlooking the lake. It was an amazing step up but there were things that were new and bewildering and anxiety-producing, too.
It didn’t take long, though, for this to feel like home. I still sometimes miss some things about Seagoville, where at one time I knew everyone and they all knew me. I had served on the city council, been a city employee, been involved in the chamber of commerce and all sorts of clubs and committees. I was part of the community.
But I know if I went back to Seagoville now, it wouldn’t be the same. People have moved away (like me); some have passed away. New subdivisions have sprung up, new businesses have come in; older neighborhoods have deteriorated and the house we lived in and the street we lived on have changed. City hall and the police department that I knew so well would be full of new faces. Those friends I left behind who are still there are older now (as I am) and the years have brought more changes than just physical ones. It’s not the same city I left fourteen years ago.
I hadn’t been gone from Carnival nearly that long, so the differences weren’t nearly as profound, but changes go both ways. It’s not so much that Carnival has changed (though in some ways, it has); it’s more about how I changed, in terms of what I want from cruising, in those 18 months or so.
Why go back?
You may have read my many previous blog posts about how much I love the MSC Yacht Club experience, and you might wonder why — when it’s obvious that I already knew it was bound to be a letdown — I went back to Carnival at all. Well, as Facebook users are fond of saying about their relationships (and relationships exist with companies as well as people), it’s complicated.
Okay, maybe not that complicated. Just a long story. For a few years there, I was cruising four or even five times a year on Carnival. The last one (before this one) was in May 2017. It was a Journeys cruise on the Sunshine. A lot of things went wrong on that cruise, and I won’t go into that here, but it wasn’t a good one.
I also had a cruise booked on the Carnival Breeze for September of that year. I cancelled that cruise (for several reasons), but it had already been partially paid for. Unlike MSC, Carnival doesn’t refund your payment if you booked under their early saver plan, but they do carry it over to be applied to another cruise. I used that credit to book this December 2018 cruise, mostly because I was able to find a Grand Scenic Oceanview Cabin open. That’s a rarity since there are only two on each ship (and not all ships), and it’s one of the best value-for-the-dollar cabins Carnival has to offer.
Initially I was hoping that some of my large group of buddies from past Carnival cruises – whom I call my BCFFs or Best Cruise Friends Forever – might join me on this on. As it turned out, none of them did. That was a disappointment, but I ended up inviting an old friend, who had never cruised before, to go with me. I also joined the Facebook group for the sailing and got to know some people there in the months leading up to the cruise.
I had cruised the first week in December every year for the past several and always enjoyed that time. The ships were decorated for the holidays, hurricane season was over, and since kids weren’t yet out of school (and in fact had just come back from Thanksgiving break), there weren’t a lot of them on board. I was hoping the second week in December would be pretty much the same (spoiler alert: in some ways it was, but in more important ways, it wasn’t).
As usual with me, timing was a big bugaboo. At the time I booked it, almost a year in advance, I didn’t know I was going to get a major contract working on a Microsoft project in September-January. I also had no idea our upstairs bathroom was going to spring a leak (dripping into the ceiling of the kitchen below), and that my husband would want to go ahead and do a complete remodel of it while it was torn up to make repairs, and that this would be taking place during the week immediately preceding the cruise.
So I found myself rushing to meet a whitepaper deadline at the same time I was picking out granite and sinks and tiles and overseeing the remodeling project (not to mention living in the midst of the demolition noise) while also doing all my “regular” work, attending to the animals, trying to get ready for Christmas, and prepare for the cruise. Can we say “stressed to the max?”
So I didn’t go into this cruise with the best of attitudes. Although I hoped it would be an opportunity to get away from all this and relax, realistically I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Sure enough, the remodeling job didn’t get finished on time, collaborators on the paper kept wanting to make changes and delaying that, and by a couple of days prior to flyaway day, I knew I was going to spend most of my time worrying about my husband trying to deal with the contractors at home, and that I was going to have to work from my cabin on the cruise. Have Surface, will travel. Add to that additional unexpected expenses and my own quirks about sharing a cabin with someone, anyone (OCD only child that I am) and there was no way this was going to be the best of all possible cruises — regardless of which cruise line it had been.
In the review, I’m going to work hard to be fair and unbiased, then. My personal circumstances were in no way Carnival’s fault, and even if I’d been in the Yacht Club, I’d have been under the same pressures (although the unlimited premium drinks in YC might have at least temporarily taken my mind off it all. LOL).
Still, despite everything, the cruise had its moments — some very nice ones — and I met some great people, as I always do. They say any landing you can walk away from is a good one, and I figure any cruise you can walk away from with brand new friends is a good one, too.
In the next post, I’ll go into some details about the cruise itself, as well as the pre-cruise hotel experience and the airports/flights.