Now that Labor Day is in the record books, it's time to plan for winter survival if you live above about 39 degrees latitude in the northern hemisphere like I do as a denizen of Philadelphia. Every year, my Seasonal Affective Disorder seems worse. By February, I am wallowing in despair. I have learned that I need to preemptively plan a trip to somewhere warm. One option is a cruise.
My friends are all over the map (literally and figuratively) in their opinions of mass market cruises. Some think they are Evil incarnate, symbols of First World excess, polluting behemoths. Some think they would hate to be one of 3,000 guests in a floating hotel that you can't just leave whenever you want to--unless you are an amazing swimmer and not afraid of sharks. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some think cruise vacations are the best idea since Noah's Ark.
We've been on at least ten cruises. With a few exceptions (Alaska, Southeast Asia), they have been kind of formulaic. This is because most of the cruises we've been on have been Caribbean "get me outta here" winter cruises.
Although "formulaic" might have certain negative overtones, there is also something to be said for the comfort of knowing what to expect. My husband and I enjoy independent travel to new places where we don't know the language; where public transportation is mystifying; where insects might be on the menu; and where the scenery, arts and culture are National Geographic worthy. However, in February, when it seems it will never again be above freezing, I want to be able to enjoy seven days of the following:
- being able to go outside without attire that makes me indistinguishable from the abominable snowman,
- where someone else makes the bed and cooks my food,
- where I'm wondering if staff members are medicated because they are all invariably friendly,
- where I can mingle with other guests from all over the world or pretty much avoid them altogether,
- where I don't have to carry a wallet,
- where I have my choice of zip-lining through the jungle on a Caribbean island or curling up with a book on a chaise lounge and looking up to gaze at the azure sea;
- where my husband and I can dance with music provided by a live band and it is very unlikely that anyone we work with will see us,
- where we can go to a decent (as in, not poor quality) show every night,
- where we can both enjoy a mojito (or several) without worrying about whether we have a designated driver; and,
- where I can visit, but don't have to fly to, a tropical island on "A Wing and a Prayer" airlines.
My criteria for picking a February cruise are not stringent:
- there has to be a non-stop flight of less than five hours to the embarkation port from Philadelphia International Airport,
- the ship cannot be billed as a "Fun Ship" (i.e. no hairy chest, beer chugging or belly flop contests),
- the strength of the children's program should not be the first bullet point in the cruise line's advertising; and,
- the itinerary has to be a route where the temperature is likely to be above 75 degrees everyday. (Extra points if the itinerary is also interesting, but that's not make or break when I'm just trying to escape from Old Man Winter.)
Every year, a beautiful Indian Summer and gorgeous fall foliage lull me into believing that this winter will be different, but soon after the City of Philadelphia takes down the holiday lights, I know I will be trolling the internet looking for a maritime happy pill.