Before I started working on ships, I got my sea fix by cruising as a guest. Just a few days after I was offered my position, and only a few weeks before I started my own onboard career, I was sailing on a small ship, the Norwegian Sun, to Cuba and the Keys on a short family vacation. The Sun attracts a party crowd, because it is a short cruise, and because of the open bar. If you've been on a cruise before, you know that whether you purchase the beverage package, or buy your drinks by the glass, alcohol is expensive onboard. The Sun may not have all the thrills of the larger ships, like a go kart track or an ice bar, but they're more intimate, can take you to some more remote ports, and you won't get lost anywhere onboard! Oh, and they have an unlimited open bar. It makes cruising so much easier. If you want a glass fo wine with dinner you don't even have to take out your card. If you're at the pool and want a drink, you just go get one! In fact, because it's a small ship with less than 1,000 guests, by the second day I could sit down at the pool and the bar waiter would just bring over a Banana Daiquiri for me! No need to even ask. they learn your orders, your name, and keep your glasses full. I always kept cash on hand so I could pass out tips, because for that kind of service it would be criminal not to.
Our first stop was Key West. Just a short drive from my apartment in Orlando! It feels weird to pack, embark a ship, go through a muster drill, and end up a few hours from home. But, I'll always take any excuse to visit the Keys. If you've never been, they are a completely different world from Orlando or Miami. Over the years Key West has become more geared towards tourists, with plenty of souvenir shops and luxury rentals on the island, but the vibe is still entirely true to itself. In Key West we just wandered. Because its so close to home, and we've visited so many times before we didn't feel like we had to do it all in a few days, so we just strolled along the shore and through the shops in town. We stopped for iced coffee at the Cuban Coffee Queen, ducked in and out of the shops along the same street, and took in the sights of the island. My mo has always loved Kermit's Key Lime Pie, so we stopped by for a slice. Normally we take jars of filling, Key Lime juice, and cookies home, but since my parents have recently made Florida their home they don't necessarily have to bring pieces of the island back with them. After all, we're just a short drive away.
Some of the main attractions in the Keys are fishing tours that will take you out to sea so you can catch and filet your own dinner. One of these boats had just returned a few minutes ago, and the deckhands were cleaning it off after its voyage. A bucket of fish guts from the cleaned catch of the day ended up getting dumped right into the water, and nurse sharks and trevally swarmed the boat to scoop up the refuse. At the time, I worked with sharks every day, but it had been a long time since i had seen them out in the wild.
That night back onboard was the night of Norwegian's signature party, which was called the White Hot party at the time. It's since been transformed into "GLOW" which was always the best night of the cruise, with guests and staff dancing until they couldn't anymore, but this was my first real introduction to what my job would be in the coming year. Our cruise director was a gorgeous Colombian woman who arrived decked out in a tight white suit, complete with massive angel wings (I have a pair of my own here).
The cruise staff and dancers got everyone moving, and the pool deck was lit up in technicolor. Thinking back on it now I can feel the humidity of the Florida night and the bass pounding in my ears. I'm the partier in my family, so the rest of them didn't want to stay long, but the sneak peak got me excited to sign on in just a few weeks time. I couldn't believe that soon enough it would be me up on that stage, in my company issued white mini skirt, convincing even the most reluctant guests to let go and let the rhythm move their body. On the Sun it was easy to get people onstage because, as I said, open bar!
The Keys claim to fame, or one of them at least, is that it sits just 90 miles from Cuba. With Cuba being our next stop, as we docked the next day, I felt differently looking at the signs, postcards, and street arrows pointing south, boasting 90 miles to Cuba. Years ago when Americans were banned from visiting the island I'm sure it would feel exciting, to be as close as I could get, but instead it geared me up, setting the stage for what would come tomorrow. The Keys were gorgeous and a place I'm sure I'll visit again soon. In fact, it's going to be the starting point of our dream trip that will be upcoming as soon as it is safe to get back out on the road. At the time, though, the Keys were our jumping off point for Cuba! My Cuba stories will be coming next week, and I can't wait to share this island's magic with you.