Cruisin' Part 1: This is way bigger than a Basstracker

June 2, 2013 

Editor's note: This is the first in a four-part installment on a first-time cruising experience.

Forgive me if this column seems a little off-kilter, but after a few days of gently rocking back and forth on a Carnival cruise ship, it feels like my office chair is as wobbly as my Uncle Jimmy at a family reunion.

My wife and I just returned from a four-night cruise to The Bahamas. It was our very first cruise, and I figured I just might return with a column idea -- in addition, of course, to sunburn and a few tropical diseases. I sure hoped I would come home with a column idea because since 1995 I've been convinced every column idea I've had is the last I'll ever have -- I've had that feeling for 884 straight weeks.

Until now. There was just too much from this cruise to cram into a single column. From the food to the Bahamian people to the ship itself, I've got enough for four columns. Actually, I've got enough for five columns if you count my brief jailing and public flogging in Nassau, but five columns just seems like overkill.

Today, let's talk about the ship itself. Getting on the thing was adventure enough -- especially when we went through security. Putting 2,000 passengers on a boat is a slow process in today's fearful society. I remember watching "The Love Boat" in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and it never took more than five minutes to find your cabin, flirt with cruise director Julie and get a drink from Isaac. So I don't know what the holdup was during our embarkation -- unless it was folks trying to smuggle liquor on board in an effort to skirt the ship's drink prices.

Granted, we did have two very large bottles of mouthwash that smelled and tasted inexplicably like rum. Strangest thing I've ever seen -- but apparently not the strangest thing the lady checking our luggage has ever seen as she gave us a wink and smile and said, "This ain't my first time."

I have no idea what she was trying to imply about our needing a half-gallon of mouthwash for four nights, but at least she was nice about it and let us keep the two bottles. And after a couple hours on the ship -- and a few mouthwashings -- I managed to put that incident behind me and begin exploring the vessel.

I discovered that a cruise ship is significantly bigger than a Basstracker, with way more stairs. There are 10 decks, spread across a ship that is 103-feet wide and 14 miles long. My poor wife never got her bearings, mouthwash or no mouthwash. She can't go to the bathroom without a GPS. If we were supposed to go down, she went up. If it was left, she went right. If the captain had let her drive the boat, we'd have wound up in Lake Eufaula -- which is a beautiful place, mind you, but not as well known for its snorkeling. Fortunately, by the end of the cruise, she … well, never mind, she never got her bearings. Come to think of it, it was awfully quiet on the ride home from the port in Jacksonville.

"Um, honey?! Baby, are you here?"

I'm sure she's around here somewhere. Probably lost. Or, rather, she may have stayed on board when we were supposed to disembark today (which I thought was something you did to a tree) because she fell in love with the elves on board. The elves were some of the crew members from all over the world who sneaked into our cabin every five minutes or so and made the bed, exchanged the towels and spit-polished everything in the room. My forehead has never been so shiny!

But what truly won her heart was the way they twisted our towels into animals and set them on a shelf so that my wife would come in and squeal with delight upon seeing a walrus, moose and then an elephant in our cabin. I tried to follow suit on the last night of the cruise and twisted one of our towels into an eel, but she was not impressed. Must be because I'm not Ukrainian.

What I found amazing about the ship was that they could cram a casino, restaurants, waterslides, health facilities, bars, pools, libraries, shops, theaters, more than a thousand staterooms and Yankee Stadium onto a single vessel. It was truly spectacular.

Most spectacular, though, was what we saw from the top of the ship -- ocean, stars, the moon, islands, other vessels. Of course, on the top decks they also had something called wind. I didn't actually see it, but I know it exists because it took my straw hat and donated it to the Atlantic Ocean.

I honestly had no complaints about the ship. I thought the cabins were plenty big, and the bathrooms had super water pressure with hot water that could reach the nuclear level I like for my showers. My only issue came on the first night when some loudmouthed twentysomethings made way too much noise about 2:30 a.m. after apparently hitting the casino and bars a little too much. I worried they might resurface the rest of the cruise, but they were never heard from again.

It's quite possible they didn't make it back to the ship after our first shore excursion in Freeport or perhaps they fell over the side into the ocean, either of which was OK with me. But don't blame me for whatever happened to the loudmouths -- I merely wished for them to have hangovers and seasickness for the rest of the cruise.

Before the cruise, I worried that all the children and rugrats on the ship would be the ones who got on my nerves. But all the kids just acted like kids, laughing and playing and having innocent fun. It was instead the drunk twentysomethings throughout the ship who got on our nerves. We found ourselves far more comfortable in areas where kids played without cussing and blowing smoke. They didn't seem desperate to draw attention to themselves.

And after seeing what all the boozing did to some of the younger adults on the vessel, we found we didn't even want all the mouthwash we smuggled on board. In fact, by the end of the cruise, we poured most of it down the drain. After all, we didn't take this cruise for the mouthwash; we came for the islands. And our visits to Freeport and Nassau would be everything we expected and more, as you'll learn next week.

Next week, Chris Johnson writes about his shore excursions in The Bahamas.

Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. Connect with him at or

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