THEY SAY THAT TAKING a cruise is a poor man’s idea of a rich man’s vacation. As an unsophisticated traveler, all I knew of cruises were the glowing reports I heard from others who had taken them—and the romanticized versions I saw in the movies.
My aspirations were based on a movie I saw starring Doris Day, Romance on the High Seas. It’s about a glamorous, adventurous and romantic cruise with beautifully dressed people, exotic locales, lively music and the beguiling sea. Doris Day sang, “It’s Magic.” All in glorious Technicolor.
In our younger years, my husband and I had a lot of caregiving responsibilities, so I put my dreams of vacations aside. But with those years behind us, I began to dream again of going on a cruise. My husband wouldn’t budge. Did I forget to mention he’s an inveterate homebody?
One day, I decided it was now or never. I marched over to our local AAA store and gathered information. I chose a cruise to the New England states and Nova Scotia during the fall, when I could also enjoy the scenic foliage during my favorite time of year.
Having never ventured too far from home on my own, I was somewhat apprehensive about traveling alone. But as luck would have it, a friend agreed to go with me. As she’s a veteran cruiser, it seemed an ideal situation. I bought some spiffy new outfits and I was off.
My enthusiasm was quickly derailed. Not long into the cruise, I got seasick, despite taking precautions and proper medication. Not long after that, I caught a nasty cold. I also hadn’t taken into account that the quiet life at home was at odds with my new schedule. In my desire to get the most out of my vacation, I wanted to fully embrace everything. I just didn’t pace myself. I was up and at ‘em early every day, never a moment’s rest.
By the time we got to Nova Scotia, I was sick and exhausted but fiercely determined to enjoy the tour—even if it killed me. All I remember is a lot of pine trees viewed from a bus. I then dozed off from lack of sleep, helped by the drone of the guide’s voice and the motion of the bus.
To top it off, the bus stopped at a flea market, where we had to stay until it was time to get back on the bus. What? How mundane and humdrum—I could visit flea markets at home. I wanted to see more of Nova Scotia.
I was disappointed with most of the tours, especially the one in Bar Harbor, Maine. I had always wanted to see Acadia National Park and learn more about it. I love nature and being outside. But the guide was obsessed with birds. Every 10 minutes, he would stop the tour, pull out poster photos of various birds, and begin a stifling lecture on the habits and distinctions of each. To say he was “for the birds” is putting it mildly—and the pun is intended.
Finally, a spunky little woman in the tour group—who shall remain nameless—let him know, in a nice way, that she had paid for a guided tour, not a course in ornithology. He then sullenly relented and the other tour members thanked her for speaking up.
The Boston tour was a little more enjoyable. It’s a clean city, not too much walking, and historically interesting. The guide was a good speaker and knowledgeable, except he just had to get into politics. He started inoffensively by talking about the Kennedys and their close ties to Boston. But he segued from there into his own political beliefs. Shades of Doonesbury—but he wasn’t a humorist or even a satirist. Heaven help us, he was an extremist.
When we got to Newport, Rhode Island, it was raining. I decided to forgo a tour, as I’d previously seen the sumptuous mansions of the ultrarich. I just idly passed the time visiting a few shops, not wanting to stray too far from the ship. By this time, I’d had it with the guided tours. I think the savvier cruisers booked early and chose the better tours.
I will say the food on board was good and plentiful. But because of my cold, I lost my sense of taste for a few days, much to my disappointment. The evening entertainment was pleasant, but nothing unforgettable. One night there was a singing group who sang a medley of songs from Jersey Boys, the Broadway show that’s a musical biography of The Four Seasons, the rock-and-roll doo-wop band.
To my surprise, one of the singers in the group—a handsome young man—came into the audience and invited me to dance with him to Frankie Valli’s hit, “My Eyes Adored You,” a poignant song about unrequited love. We danced the whole number with the spotlights on us. Did I just have my 15 minutes of fame?
Despite the dance, my overall experience didn’t meet my expectations, which were probably too fanciful. There’s a wide gulf between aspirations and reality, but I was glad I had my vacation. I would have always wondered what I’d missed if I hadn’t gone.
Besides, I did have a few magic moments and the satisfaction of realizing my dream of a “Doris Day cruise”—even if it wasn’t quite as dreamy as I imagined.