The stories were always there; I knew my characters and how their stories would eventually unfold. What I didn’t know was where they would exist, where they would build the visions of their lives. I needed to see these places, to experience their world, to walk in their footsteps…. and so we began to travel.
Our vacations consisted of long flights, many hotels, and endless rides in search of history. After these trips, I always felt tired and unable to connect the characters to the places we had been. They didn’t belong there, the footsteps were not familiar.
I had always been drawn to the sea, in childhood, we lived with the water as our backyard and spent hours out to sea, fishing long after the season was over for others. The deep, dark ocean intrigued me, and the journeys of people crossing the ocean would always be in the fiction I created. The question was, how to see the places I needed to research and how to best introduce my landlubber husband to the sea. Before 2004, it didn’t matter, we were busy raising children, spaced enough apart to keep at least one college on the payroll for 20 years, some years it was two colleges. Trips to Arizona & Florida to visit family, were our vacation trips, and usually only once a year. The history trips took a back seat, I just wasn’t ready to put my characters here in the relatively young America.
Finally in 2004, a trip with our youngest to Florida, provided our “trial cruise”. My parents had cruised before on the big cruise lines, but a 7 day commitment from my landlubber husband, was going to be difficult. I searched the net, and there I found it; a short 3 day jaunt to Nassau on a ship that was older than me. It had been known by several names and purposes, but it was spending its dying years as the Regal Princess, the cruise line, Imperial Majesty. It left from Ft Lauderdale, Florida at 4pm, arrived in Nassau the next morning, and then returned overnight to Ft Lauderdale. The decision was late in time, and our $125 per person gave us the last cabins available. It didn’t matter, it was a cruise to the Bahamas, and cheap. Inside cabins, in the deep bowels of the ship were fine and would provide us with laughter at family dinners for years to come.
Mom and Dad, it turned out, had upper and lower bunks, a bathroom the size of a tiny closet and one chair that in the small cabin, blocked either the cabin door or the bathroom. Mom, ever the trooper, climbed the ladder to the top bunk as fast as her 71 year old body could go. There was no room for the roll-away for our daughter, so switching cabins would not be possible. Our inside cabin down the hall, featured a double bed for midgets and according to the cruise line, there was no problem getting a roll-away for our 16 year old daughter. The air was rather foul and the mold in the crevices and the bathroom corners, gave a sort of “camping out” feel to the cabin. The cabin was tiny, a double bed in the corner and a small dresser. The tiny passageway from the cabin door to the bathroom was single file and for my husband, it was a sideways shuffle to fit. The three of us, standing side by side, took up all the available floor space in the cabin. Then came the roll-away……..
The first challenge was to wrestle it in the room and close the door, a problem made harder by the fact that we were the last corner cabin in a narrow hallway. My husband had to step in the tiny bathroom and my daughter and I climbed on our bed to unfold her bed, the cruise line was right, it fit. The problem was, there was no floor space left to walk. Trips to the bathroom at night were a family affair…..everyone up, wake the daughter who slipped into the bathroom to help with the fold up of her bed. Spin the folded bed out of the way, and a small space appeared for us to get out of our bed. An intimate snuggle to pass each other by the bathroom door and you were in. Just squeeze against the wall so the bathroom door could close and privacy was yours. After the first night, our daughter put us on strict fluid restriction after 6pm, just to assure a bit of restful sleep.
The crew was wonderful, this was their ship and they were proud. My husband found his sea legs and even the cold February air off the coast of Florida was better than the snow we left behind up North. Our day in Nassau was sunny and warm, with gale force winds. We chose to walk around, the beachcombers on the ship returned, not sunburned, but sandblasted from gale force wind driven sand. We stood in awe, as parked next to our tiny 50’s era ship was a Carnival cruise beauty. New & big with streams of people was the ship that cast a long dark shadow over our mold infested transportation. Their passengers skipped down the strong, iron walkway breaching the pier, while 3 crew members rescued my father stuck halfway up the steep, flimsy bridge, swaying in the gale force wind. Back on board, we passed the barrel size swimming pool and climbed up high to get a glimpse of the Carnival pool, hidden from view by the massive water slide. Cruise ship envy set in as we stood there and quietly thought to ourselves….”What does a cruise on one of those beautiful ships cost?”
We followed the Carnival ship out of the jetty in Nassau, it looked much safer in the wind whipped waves in the ocean, than our little ship. We pitched and rolled and I knew there was no way my husband would ever go out to sea again. He didn’t get sick, but the soup sloshing out of the soup bowl at dinner was discouraging. It was formal night aboard the ship, and as we posed for family pictures, you only had to turn around to see the Titanic staircase backdrop to wonder if the lifeboats were seaworthy.
As we traveled the ocean back to Ft Lauderdale, the squeaking of the roll-away ritual was drowned out by the storm raging outside. Like steerage passengers on transatlantic voyages of long ago, we stayed awake and talked.
“Let’s go on one of those big Carnival ships next time” my husband eagerly offered.
“We can explore and find the footsteps of my characters, a place for them to exist” I added.
Finally in 2005, we found ourselves on one of those beautiful Carnival ships. We were finally traveling, my husband relaxing, and I in search of historical places for my characters to live.
copyright 2005 Rita Alexandrea