My First Cruise

Kim Smyth

© Copyright 2020 by Kim Smyth

Photo of Kim and porpoise.

A few years ago, I went with my Sertoma group (stands for service to mankind) on a four-day cruise that departed out of Galveston, Texas and was to take us to Cozumel, Mexico. I was at once excited and nervous, never having cruised before I was apprehensive at the cost and of how the whole thing worked. I need not have been afraid, however. My first cruise was so exciting and filled with fun and adventure that I doubt any cruise will be able to top it. Itís akin to receiving your first kiss, nothing after that one quite compares. I was no longer living in southeast Texas, yet the ladies of my group insisted I join them for this cruise. They always made me feel special like I belonged with the cool kids. I joined Sertoma soon after moving to Groves, Texas-close to Port Arthur in southeast Texas. We were an international group focused on assisting those with hearing issues and education surrounding hearing health. We did fundraisers, helped people in our community obtain earplugs and other supplies, sponsored golf tournaments and more. We had a lot of fun even if our cause was serious. Our meetings just happened to be held where I volunteered with the United Board of Missions. It was a happy time in my life, I loved being a member of Sertoma and volunteering my free time when I wasnít working my part-time job at a local retirement home.

In preparation for the cruise, I went Paleo and vowed to lose twenty pounds. I was in no shape to parade around in a bikini until I got my body in a shape I would be pleased with. It worked, I did lose twenty pounds and have since adopted a keto lifestyle, then reverted to Paleo, I think itís more sustainable. Regardless, I was very proud of my accomplishment and my newfound lifestyle, even starting an alternative health blog later. My study of essential oils, low carb diets, and holistic medicine came in handy, providing much-needed content for blogs and articles. I learned the correct way to eat which keeps me on track even now. I really had to be convinced to let go and live a little during the cruise, Iím so happy I did.

I remember meeting up with the ladies at Vickiís house where we all donned the groupís specially designed T-shirts and took the obligatory group photo. Everyone was going on about my weight loss and how good I looked, yet I was more concerned with how much money I would need, especially for the special excursion I had planned. The one thing I wanted to do was swim with the dolphins, more on that later. They assured me I had plenty of money and tried to get me to just relax and enjoy myself. Well, there wasnít much relaxing, but I did enjoy the heck out of the entire cruise!

Us Sassy Sertoma Sisters set out for Galveston in a caravan from Taylors Bayou in southeast Texas, me with my soon to be roommate Dedie, in her mini-van, and the rest of the gang spread out in other vehicles. Once we arrived and parked in the specially designated spots, it was time to wait in the long boarding line, go through security and hope no one found the booze some of the ladies were smuggling in, to winding up in the first lounge we came to as the group wanted to start with a drink. That seemed to be the popular consensus, drinking the entire cruise was a must. I did not want to buy the drink package, so I was promised extra drinks by some of the ladies who did. Besides, I had too much to see, do and experience, some of which required one stay sober. I would not be missing my excursion due to a stupid hangover. Trust me, I drank plenty at other times. The ship was enormous, like a floating city! Everything one needed in one place. Bars, restaurants, trendy shops, pools, a casino, a gym, spa, and more!

I was like a kid in a candy store, I wanted to go, go, go do everything on the agenda, whereas my roommate was happy to take the chill route and even stayed in the room most of the time. What I didnít realize, was that she is a veteran cruiser, sheís seen it all, done it all, and now she just wants to relax. I wonít go into the room arrangement fiasco, suffice it to say, we should not have paid the extra cost to have balconies, none of us used them anyway. My room served as the place I lay my head at night, or I used it when I needed to change clothes. I got the daily itinerary the ship provides (we went on the Carnival Triumph that first cruise) and proceeded to plan out my day very carefully. I didnít want to miss a show, an event, or my excursion, and Dedie said to go and do whatever I wanted, she didnít need to run around as much as I wanted to. So, I had free reign and took advantage of it!

The first order of business after our welcome-on-board drink was to plan my excursion, get it paid for, and not have to worry about that part, then I would know just how much I had left of my money to spend on other things. It was surprisingly affordable, I learned that the money went on a special card we wore around our necks. Whatever we ate, drank, or purchased went on that card. You could check your balance on the tv in your room every day. My excursion was to swim with the dolphins, have lunch, and enjoy a bit of beach time once we made Cozumel. This was back in 2015 and I believe the cost was around $130. My traveling budget was $500, and I brought money home! I am known to be quite frugal when I need to be. Whatís more, I got everyone back home a little souvenir as well. Does this girl know how to budget or what? But back to the story.

The first night, we gathered as a group in the main dining room, still clad in our Sassy Sertoma Sisters T-shirts for dinner. Looking out the window I saw the sun setting on the ocean, the white frothy trail the ship made as it left the United States and felt like I was in paradise, and we were not even in Cozumel yet. Cruising suits me. We enjoyed a delicious dinner, diet momentarily tossed out the window as I even contemplated dessert! This was a vacation, a treat, so cheats were allowed. I still ate sensibly for the most part. Now drinking, thatís another story. It was no holds barred on that. Especially once we discovered the piano bar, with its oyster-shell-lined walls, feisty (and slightly crass) piano player, and an entourage worthy of rock stars. The first night we rocked that place to the ground, dancing and making new friends I still stay in contact with to this day! We made sure that we took in at least an hour of that place every night we were at sea.

For whatever reason, the pool looked enticing, yet I never had time to visit it. I was too busy attending mandatory ship seminars, vibrant, exciting shows, jewelry shows, and art shows. My persistence paid off too because I attended the seminar that gave out the coupon books, tips, and tricks for making the most out of your cruise, I kept winning prizes left and right. At one jewelry show, I won a tanzanite necklace said to be worth around $300. Then I won a bracelet with aqua beads on a leather band from Marahlago, unknown value. The coupons were to be used in Cozumel at the gift shops where I scored an additional pile of jewelry, charms, and discounts on sunglasses and T-shirts. I was so proud of myself getting all these bargains. The ladies said I had virgin cruiser luck and not to expect this to happen on every cruise. I felt so lucky and privileged! Nothing compared to the feeling I got swimming belly to belly with a dolphin though.

Once we got to Cozumel, my excitement grew! After we offloaded from the ship, we were taken to buses to get to the excursion sight. As we pulled up to the sight where the ďdolphin schoolĒ was, I noticed people were in groups already, being led around small pools that were enclosed and separate from the ocean. I was so excited; I didnít realize one had to go to class to learn how to interact with the dolphins first. Our instructors we kind and patient, after we donned life vests, we each got our lessons one person at a time in groups of about ten. I was behind Emily, one of our Sisters who by the way, almost didnít make the excursion. She did not heed the warning to stop drinking early the night before and was suffering a horrible hangover. Anyway, I had pictured riding the dolphin behind its dorsal fin, no, thatís not how it was done. Once the instructor whistled, our dolphin swam out to us and flipped over where we were waiting to grab ahold of its neck, he then swam upside down with us riding belly to belly. Then we each got to pose while kissing our dolphin and got pictures of that later. What a thrill it was, the dolphins were so gentle, smart, and funny! An experience I will never forget. The water was a bit chilly, yet that was forgotten once I was belly to belly with my dolphin. Iím sure the picture was expensive, around $75, but for a once-in-a lifetime event, I had to have proof Iíd done it! Cross that off the ole bucket list! After the ride, we were treated to lunch where Emily decided some hair of the dog was necessary. She talked me into trying my first Bloody Mary. It was spicy, which made it tolerable. Iím not much of a tomato juice person, so that was not exactly my cup of tea. It was small, however, so I drank it. Then came lunch, after which we snuck off in a taxi to a nearby beach to stick our toes in the sand (which was course by the way) and enjoy a real drink, a margarita of course!

We had to hurry to get back to the shopping area just off the ship and had about one hour to rush around to all the shops, cashing in our coupons and to souvenir shop. My discount made it possible to obtain some fashion sunglasses that changed colors for about $50. From the same shop I got my hubby a color-changing T-shirt which he wears to this day. I believe the brand was Del-Sol. Cool stuff but very spendy. I also came back with the usual trinkets, a charm bracelet with the shipís charm and a DI-Diamond International charm with a real diamond chip in it. Other shops gave away earrings, rings, and charms, depending on the shop and the coupon you had. I acquired the native rum cake from one of the shops as well, along with other souvenirs like a magnet for my friend Stephanie. Shot glasses for the boys, and a bottle of tequila for my bestie.

Back on board the ship it was time to find a tasty beverage and get ready for the dress-up dinner. We all rifled through our bags, pulling out the specially designated duds, fussing with our hair and makeup, and then donned our best and blingiest fake jewelry. Itís nice to have an occasion to get fancy, and the dinner was decadent and delicious. Everyone looked beautiful and we really enjoyed ourselves, visiting each otherís tables and showing off in our finest. Breakfasts were easy-peasy with many different selections, most of the time I just went to the grill and ordered eggs cooked with bacon or sausage, that and coffee was all I really needed. I donít eat bread and didnít want the typical sugar-laden breakfasts everyone else went in for. The fun was in the fellowship with the other ladies and looking at all the cool shapes the talented ships cooks carved the fruit into for every meal. We also had cute little towel animals with that dayís itinerary on our beds every day when we got back to our freshly cleaned rooms. There was so much to see and do, I canít possibly remember every detail. The shows were fabulous, the ships actors and dancers so talented, the comedians so funny. It was a super time and I could not wait for my next adventure at sea. Friendships were made, more prizes wonÖoh yes, I won art at the art show too! The ladies could not believe my good fortune. Of course, I had to pay for them to be framed later, however, I won another $300-$500 worth of artwork, Iím just lucky, I guess! Three paintings in all, two large paintings and one small one. I donít mean to sound like a commercial, but Carnival certainly is the ďfunĒ ship! Iíll never forget the experience or my Sertoma sisters, we still stay in contact with each other through social media and the occasional visit. The next cruise I took, which was longer, would be on Royal Caribbean, but thatís a story for another day! 

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