Given the fact that for most of the last decade I have been working as a contractor, vacation time has frequently proven difficult to come by. It always seems to be a matter of having either money and no time, or time and no money. When I was working for Volt (which was a majority of the time I spent contracting) I would accrue vacation at the rate of 1 week for every nine months worked, but on all but a couple of occasions this meant I’d have vacation available only a couple of months before I would have to take three months off anyway, making it kind of pointless to take the time off instead of working all the hours I could while I was still there and getting the vacation time paid off at the end of the assignment. As for the time and no money, that usually came in the form of unemployment, although even then, on occasion I might be in decent enough shape at the end of a contract assignment to sneak away for a few days. With a couple of exceptions (including the Disney World trip in 2008 and the whirlwind Route 66 trip I took in 2007 shortly before I started this Blog, from which the material for my abandoned gas stations post came) most of the vacations I’ve taken have been short ones, usually planned around only being able to get away with taking one or two days off.
One of the rare instances during this period where I was able to get away and take an actual honest-to-goodness vacation was back in April of 2005, when me, my brother Jared, his then future wife Emily, and my younger sister Heather were able to accompany my parents on a 7-day Caribbean cruise aboard the Star Princess, from which the above picture came. Although this actually wasn’t the first time I had ever been on a cruise (I had actually been on this same ship for a short 3-day repositioning cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver a couple of years earlier) it was the first time I ever had the opportunity to visit the Caribbean. Destinations on this particular cruise included a short stop in Puerto Rico (San Juan,) St. Thomas, Tortola and Princess Cays (Princess Cruises’ “private island,” which isn’t actually so much an island as it is a beach on the southern tip of Eleuthera in the Bahamas that happens to be somewhat detached from the main island.) It certainly wasn’t a relaxing vacation, but then again I’ve never been known to be any good at relaxing on vacations anyway, so this didn’t come as too much of a surprise. The weather for portions of the trip was somewhat less than cooperative; The trip ashore in San Juan resulted in a particularly notable drenching on that trip, and even though the weather mostly cooperated in St. Thomas it wasn’t exactly the dryest place I’ve ever been either. I actually wrote a fair bit about the cruise at the time while I was on the ship, but the whole thing seems to be somewhere in the proverbial dustbin of history by now. Still, I do have nearly 500 photos from the trip on my hard drive, and can recall quite a bit about it from those.
In spite of a little bit of rain here and there and some occasional rough seas, it was a nice vacation. I found the dolphin swim on Tortola to be just a bit overrated, but one of my favorite parts of the cruise was getting to go scuba diving on St. Thomas, and I also managed to win $100 in the casino which helped offset some of the onboard and shore excursion expenses from the trip (it could have been as much as $200 but I couldn’t quite leave well enough alone.) I’ve been meaning to go back for another cruise for some time now, but due to the whole “money and no time/time and no money” situation noted above, the opportunity really hasn’t presented itself. When we went in 2005 my parents were already seasoned cruisers, and since that time they have continued to go on cruises roughly once every 12-18 months, which almost always means that I end up staying here and watching Imola and Minardi for them while they’re off cruising. Various factors have prevented me from being able to go again… until now.
Having finally landed in a full-time job with full-time benefits means that I can now accrue up to three weeks of paid vacation time per year, which is a far cry from the one week per nine months that was the best I was able to get while I was contracting (most of the contract agencies either offer no vacation time at all or reduce your base hourly rate by a lot more than the vacation time is worth if you take it.) For some time now my parents and several of my aunts and uncles have been planning to all go on a Caribbean cruise in late March of next year. Thanks to my new job, it turns out that this will be exactly when I have enough accrued time to take a week off, meaning that for the first time in years I actually have both the money and the time to join them. Not only does this mean that I get to join them on the cruise, but I also get to bring my brother Jason (who I don’t see nearly enough of these days) along for the ride. I will be sailing in late March aboard the Ruby Princess (the newest ship in the Princess fleet) for a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise, which will be making stops at Princess Cays (of course), St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Grand Turk along the way.
It certainly seems like it should be a fun bunch of people to be stuck on a boat with for a week, although I’m pretty sure someone would probably yell at me for calling a 950-foot, 116,000 ton behemoth a “boat”. One of the nice things about a cruise ship this big is that there’s enough space that even with 3,500 passengers aboard there’s enough space that things never really truly feel crowded. I do find that I tend to get a bit sick of fancy food after a while on the ship though, and on the two cruises I’ve been on I’ve found myself heading straight for the junkiest fast food I could find as soon as I disembarked the ship. On this particular trip, the only truly must-do activity I’ve got on my itinerary is to go scuba diving in St. Thomas again. I’ve half-considered even getting PADI open water certification before going on the cruise, but a combination of expense and not exactly being thrilled about the prospect of having to dive multiple times in Puget Sound in the dead of Winter to complete the training probably mean that I’ll end up just doing the beginner dive at Coki Beach again. Aside from that, it’s all pretty much up in the air for now. Which is exactly the way it’s supposed to be.
It’s been nearly six years since I last went on a cruise, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting the chance to go again. There’s just one minor inconvenience along the way: Right now, there just happens to be an entire Winter between now and the cruise in late March. A La Nina winter at that, which is apparently supposed to make things extra miserable or something like that. Something tells me that in the unlikely event that I haven’t already been thinking Spring since the middle of October, I’m going to be doing a lot of it between now and then…