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DaCruzNut

A SEA OF MEMORIES - Part 2

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2 – ONTO THE SHIP; OUT TO SEA

My bags were all packed, with their little Carnival baggage tags filled out and attached. They were in the car, just waiting, patiently for me. My dog was in “puppy jail,†for a week, and someone, I think, stayed with the kids. All the little forms and papers were filled out; the camcorder battery was charged, and, so was I!

I got in the car; started the engine; put in a Bob Marley cassette (“Legend,†of course…), and I was all set. One of the advantages of living, in Miami, is the fact that I was only a short drive from the Port, yet long enough, as a result, that you have ample time for the excitement to build.

After about fifteen minutes, I was headed east on the Dolphin Expressway; I went up and over the I-95 overpass, which, at the time, was the highest point in Miami. You can see everything from the crest of the roadway, from downtown Miami to the beaches and, when it’s very clear, even the tops of the buildings in Fort Lauderdale. But, that day , there was only one vista that held my attention….. It was from here that I got my first glimpse of the ships lined up at the Port of Miami. What a line-up it was! A fleet of liners, each one different from the other in size, shape and color. Adorning the funnels, everything from a smiling dolphin to the red, white and blue. It was no time at all before I was exiting the highway into downtown Miami, and getting close to the port. Just a few blocks, and that very long, last, red light, and I turned onto Port Boulevard. I don’t pretend to understand why, but the fates have always turned that light red, just as I approached it, evry time that I was leaving on a cruise. Just one more little obstacle on the path to fantasyland. Yet, whenever I’m leaving the port, at the end of a cruise, and want to stretch just a teeny bit more time in the port, that very same light, now in the opposite direction, is always green.

Finally, the turn, past Bayside, and onto the bridge that connects downtown Miami to Dodge Island, and the cruise terminals. You get to the top of the port bridge, and see all the ships in formation. Your heart is pounding and your breath a little hard to catch. The drive entering the Port of Miami, more correctly the Dante Fascell Port of Miami, is breathtaking, and as you climb higher up the bridge, the views of Bayside Market Place, and it’s marina, on the right and the ships on your left, act to add to the excitement.

From the top of the bridge, you can also see the “million dollar islands,†Star, Palm and Hibiscus Island; home to the rich and famous, and even glimpse South Beach. It’s my favorite drive!

Even with all there is to see, your attention suddenly focuses on the procession of cruise ships, gleaming in the Florida sun, all with that classic ocean liner profile. Some had one funnel; some had two. But, they all looked liked ships. All, that is, except one. One looked like a cross between a ship and a hotel. It was more modern, sleeker, and a lot larger than the others. In fact, it dwarfed them. She was a behemoth, a giant, a monster, big! At over 45,000 gross registered tons, she was larger than the Titanic! One of the largest cruise ships afloat, and our destination, the m/s Holiday.

I arrived at the front of the retminal, where baggage handler took my belongings, at the pier, and was over-tipped, as he loaded my bags onto the cart. What the heck, I was on vacation, and going on a cruise.

I drove to the parking lot, locked the car, and, practically ran to the terminal entrance, stopping once, very briefly, to take a short video of my destination.

Check-in went very smoothly, and, in no time, I was walking across the gangway and onto the ship…

I expected that the interior of a ship would be brass, teak and mahogany, with little portholes; not chrome neon and mirrors. I anticipated that the interior colors would be subdued and soothing, and the furnishings leaning toward elegant; not screaming colors and impressionist settees. But, this ship was very special!

Not because she was bright and modern; not because she was among the first ships designed and built specifically for cruising; not because she ….. well, let’s not worry about the, “not’s….†The one thing that made this ship so very special was the fact that she was about to change the face of cruising, forever.

I do not intend to describe any of the ships we have been on in any great detail, nor give any particular ship, or cruise line, a rating. There are several reasons for this.

First, there are many places where this information is available, including www.CruiseCrazies.com, ######, and a number of cruise boards; "Cruise Reviews," a multitude of cruise guides, Cruise Travel and Porthole magazines and the cruise lines' brochures.

In addition, a particular cruise line, or individual ship, can change drastically, over time. It wouldn’t be fair for me to review a cruise taken years ago, not knowing how, or what, changes, have been made. A prime example of this is the fact that one of my most favorite cruises, and two of my least favorite cruises, were both on the same line.

One exception is the Britanis. But, more about her later….

What I do want to try to convey are my feelings, memories and experiences; things that cannot be found elsewhere. That being said, let's get back to the Holiday, before it sails without us…

As I stepped across the threshold, from the edge of the gangway and into the atrium, I, suddenly, felt like Alice stepping through the looking glass. For the next seven days, I would be leaving reality behind and entering the fantasy lands of Wonderland.

Never-Never Land and Times Square, all combined together.

My eyes were assaulted by the bright colors, reflections and glare; neon; chrome; mirrors; yet, not in an unpleasant way. The décor, while unexpected, seemed to add to the excitement of being on a ship. Looking around, you could tell that most of the passengers were fellow first-time cruisers. Eyes wide open, in a blank stare, with jaws slightly dropped. A general look that is a combination of surprise, amazement and excitement. Passengers clutching a copy of Carnival Capers in one hand and a map of the ship in the other. Despite the years that have passed, some things will never change.

For the very first time, I did the, now, traditional, self-guided, tour of the ship. I started with my cabin, which was slightly larger than I expected, until I checked out the bathroom. But, that's another story…

The picture window looked out at Watson Island, a familiar sight for a "local." Yet, it looked more exotic, magical and tropical through a ship's window than it did through my windshield, driving to work.

After checking out the cabin, I began exploring the entire ship from bow to stern and port to starboard. Of course, I had no idea what those terms meant, other than the fact that they were "nautical." It was later that I learned that port is the left side of the ship, facing the front. An easy way to remember is, "We leave the PORT going FORWARD."

As far as bow and stern are concerned, I always remember that my name is the same as the back of the ship. The problem with that is, if I forget and call them the bow and the Jeff.

The various rooms, clubs and lounges, along with the walkways and other public areas, added to the excitement, but it was the pool area that was alive and jumping. The public rooms all had a “theme,†but they all were done with glitz, incredible color, bright neon lights, sparkling/twinkling things; the effect was mind-boggling.

The ship was so far ahead of its time, that she still holds up very well today, against the new behemoths. She may be “small,†at a mere 45,000 grt, but she has enough public rooms to keep all, except the fussiest passengers, happy, and she has a certain intimacy that is lost on the larger ships.

As I got to the pool area, there was an island band playing a new song, which started in Jamaica, swept through the Caribbean and had made its way to "The States." The original was recorded by "Arrow," and, has since, become the unofficial theme song of cruising. People were dancing, clapping and, generally having one heck of a time, as the band sang, "All the people, all around me, feelin' hot, hot, hot…"

Bar waiters with trays of frozen thingees, in fancy, tulip-shaped, glasses on their heads, moving to the beat of the music………."hot,hot,hot"….The photographer shoving a camera in your face…….."me mind on fire, me soul on fire"…..a video camera, suddenly in front of your eyes…"feelin' hot, hot, hot"…..

Although some people can find this initial assault annoying, I find that it is one of the most exciting parts of the cruise. Throw in the Welcome Aboard Buffet, and you have begun to discover what cruising is all about.

A few hours after getting onto the ship, I watched as the ropes were dropped, the ship began to pull away from the dock. I, kind of, expected Kathie Lee Gifford to be dancing across the deck, singing, “If They Could See Me, Now,†but, had to settle for a very bad rendition of “Anchors Aweigh†blaring out of the crummy on-board speakers.

Most of the passengers were standing at the rails, towards the stern of the ship. People were waving from the ship, and passers-by on the MacArthur Causeway were honking their horns, and waving back.

A group of well-wishers stood along the shore and waved and yelled. I had been one of those well-wishers, just one week earlier, when I drove to South Pointe Park to shoot some videos of the Holiday, leaving the Port, which would become the opening shots of the video I was now taking, from the opposite perspective.

I sailed past Star Island, Hibiscus and Palm Islands, and South Beach; watching the, now, distant lights of Miami fade away against the backdrop of the spectacular South Florida sunset, and, then, out to the open sea.

The pilot boat pulled alongside, shortly afterwards, and the Pilot hopped off our ship, onto his boat, and headed back to Miami. This is another part of the cruise that will never lose its excitement. When the Pilot hops off the ship, onto the Pilot Boat, you know your cruise has officially begun; you are on our own and the adventure, truly, about to begin……

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I love this installment, Jeff. Your vivid descriptions bring back memories of my first sailing, as well. And, no matter how many cruises we take, the excitement of embarkation day never fades. :smiley:

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