EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final installment in a four-part series on a first-time cruising experience.
I've always enjoyed being on the water, but last month's cruising experience was something completely different.
This wasn't kayaking through a gator-infested slough on the lower Chattahoochee, setting trot lines in Whitewater Creek or floating down the Flint River on an inner tube. I mean, we're talking ocean here -- waves, whales, pirates and mermaids. I never once pulled up a mermaid in Whitewater Creek. I wouldn't know how to gut 'em and eat 'em anyway.
I didn't really know how I'd react to being so far out to sea that I could not see land or how I would handle a tiny cabin as my living quarters for four nights. As it turns out, I'm perfectly fine with it.
Granted, there were several things that could have thrown off my perspective. For instance, there was a full moon during our trip. Standing on the top deck of a ship around midnight while holding a pretty lady as the full moon reflects off the sea has a way of playing tricks with your brain. It was so cool that I dang near considered going back down to the cabin and getting my wife to join us.
And then there was the perfect weather. There were no storms, no rain, no hurricanes, no water spouts -- no nothing except rampant sunshine. Except at night, when there was plenty of moonshine. But unlike the moonshine back home, this moonshine didn't result in anyone going blind -- or worse, my Uncle Jimmy pulling out his out-of-tune five-string guitar and serenading the countryside with lovely ballads like "Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised" or "You're the Reason Our Children Are Ugly."
The one thing I was concerned about -- being isolated from the world out there on that boat -- turned out to be one of the main reasons I found that I love cruising. And I'm not even sure I knew that until we pulled back into port in Jacksonville.
It was actually something my wife pointed out as we enjoyed our last breakfast on the water while waiting to disembark. As she looked around, everyone was back on their phones -- texting, chatting, playing games and checking Facebook. Actual communication with their friends, family or strangers mercifully came to a stop for them now that they were back in range of cellphone towers. No more of that talking to the humans nearest you or having to look at them. The smiles and laughing stopped.
For four days, I talked to my wife, strangers and shipboard personnel, who smiled and were polite every time we spoke. Granted, they mumbled stuff in Romanian, Italian and Antarctican when I walked away, but I'm sure it was stuff like, "That South Georgia boy sure was one groovy dude, don't you think?"
For four days, I don't know who liked anything I'd put on Facebook in the previous week. I didn't know who emailed me with an offer to help them launder $50 million. I didn't know which politician sold his soul to corporate America in the previous four days -- as if it wouldn't happen the next week. I didn't even know how the Braves were doing. (There are 162 games, after all. If it were Georgia football season, I'd have to make some arrangements.)
With all the publicity this year over cruise ship incidents, I'd wondered if I'd made the right choice picking a cruise for our first anniversary celebration. I used the same logic I use with airlines -- if an airplane crashes, that's the airline I want to fly next because I figure they're probably extra-cautious. That's why I chose Carnival for this cruise -- because they were not having a good 2013.
How did that pan out? Well, let's just say that we hadn't even gotten back into Georgia before we started planning our next cruise. If I hadn't made the mistake of forgetting about the straw hat I was wearing on the final day on the windy top deck of the ship, it would have been the perfect cruise. Instead, I had to watch my hat swim back to the Bahamas. If I could have swum that far, I might have done it myself.
But I took something away from the ship that kind of keeps the cruise going in my head. The cruise director. Nah, just kidding. We dumped him in the Okefenokee Swamp on the way back when he wouldn't shut up about trying to get us to limbo.
No, the most important thing I brought back from the cruise was the desire to simplify. You can't take a whole lot of stuff on a boat. But you don't need a whole lot of stuff on a boat, which I found very freeing and relaxing. And you don't need a whole lot of stuff back here on dry land, either, even if it seems to be Americans' mission to collect more and more stuff, bigger stuff, expensive stuff, high-tech stuff. I think we should take all that stuff and stuff it.
In the meantime, we've already booked our next cruise -- with two boys, ages 16 and 13, which should be a test of our patience. We're not planning to see how big a splash they would make if they fell into the ocean, but plans are subject to change depending upon how many man sounds my wife can tolerate in a small cabin over five days.
She may very well come back alone.
-- Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. Connect with him at Facebook.com/KudzuKidWriting or firstname.lastname@example.org.