Monday, January 14, 2008

back from vacation

I got back yesterday from my week's vacation in the Caribbean on a 9 day cruise with Royal Caribbean. I had a great time. I went with my mother, brother, and his girlfriend, and we visited Haiti (sort of - because of the weather that day we couldn't get off the boat - but I was in the waters of Haiti taking pictures of Haiti, so I think it counts...), the Dominican Republic, St. Thomas (picture at left) and Puerto Rico.

I didn't have a problem with seasickness, which I was worried about, although getting off the boat proved to be more difficult. I currently feel like I'm bobbing around on a rocking boat. I hope this feeling goes away in the next day or two, because I'm not enjoying it. My vacation was extremely relaxing. I have a bad habit of working through my vacations. Usually when I vacation, I take work with me, end up answering too many work related emails and phone calls, or spend time doing worship planning and sermon writing. I did have internet access on the cruise, but it was pretty pricey, so I kept communication to the outside world at a minimum, and phone service was also expensive and intermittent. So on this vacation, I got to be actually on vacation, without spending most of my time thinking about church-related things. In fact, I only once said the words, "I'm a pastor," and that was on my last day to my stateroom attendant who commented on my "love thy neighbor" t-shirt and asked if I was a Christian. I said, "yes. I'm a pastor actually."

The cruise was fun. I was reminded a lot of the campy resort you see in Dirty Dancing in many ways - complete with fantastic ballroom dancers who were on board, cheesy group games that were surprisingly fun, and announcements over loudspeakers of upcoming activities. Like when I was little and going to camp and wanted to be a staff person, I felt very curious about what it's like to be part of a cruise ship staff. For the 3000ish cruisers, there were 1000ish staff onboard. They work crazy schedules - they don't get days off during the week, just blocks of time during days. They work six month contracts with 6-8 weeks off in-between. Many of them (waiters, stateroom attendants) depend heavily on tipping from guests to make a living wage. And they have to deal with sometimes demanding, sometimes rude, sometimes just thankless guests! I'm not sure how they handle it, honestly. We experienced nothing but great service the whole trip. There were some delays getting started (the cruise before ours had had a medical emergency and had to divert back to Puerto Rico, causing a delay in our start time), and some changes to the schedule, but nothing that they didn't scramble to make not-a-problem.

I did attend worship onboard last Sunday. They offered a Catholic Mass, a Jewish Sabbath Service, and an "interdenominational service" for Protestants. The service was led by one of the cruise director's staff members. She read a few stories of the inspirational email forward / Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul variety, asked us to share places we'd seen God at work in our lives, and closed us with singing amazing grace. I'm not sure what her personal religious background is, but I can't imagine she ever anticipated leading worship as part of her job description. I found it pretty bland, with very few references to God, even, and certainly no mentions of Jesus or anything so very specific. It was - interesting at least!

I loved our days in port - we went on a great tour in the Dominican Republic with a guide who showed us some more authentic, less touristy parts of the country. We swam at Magen's Bay in St. Thomas, surrounded by islands and clear blue water, and went to Coral World and touched starfish and had an incident with a very hostile bird. We walked around San Juan, Puerto Rico, in search of places to shop where the items didn't say "Made in Ecuador" and "Made in India," and found a lovely arts and crafts store featuring the work of local artists. And being on the ship was fun too - I loved walking on the jogging track on deck 12. I loved that I could find times of silence and solitude even on a cruise ship with 3000 people. I was amazed that I could so for a walk on the track in the evening and see hardly anyone else at all. The food was great, even for vegetarians, and even with the constant food availability, I managed to lose half a pound (thanks to that track!) I loved getting to play mini-golf and go ice-skating on board. I loved the shows - the dancers, the ice-skating show - and the celebrity headliner: Charo!

I would definitely cruise again. We're already talking about persuading our extended family to go on a cruise together. And I'm thinking (unrealistically) about that around-the-world 144 day cruise brochure a brought home. Maybe a future sabbatical?....
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