The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

February 19, 2011

Can You Really Get Away From It All Anymore?

Filed under: travel — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 2:54 am

Artwork from the Star Princess. Remember kids, do not try this at home.

When people go on vacations, they do so for all sorts of different reasons.  Some people want to go see new places and explore strange and distant lands (such as Montana or Sequim.)  Other people want to go out into the wilderness for adventure, scenery, and half a zillion bug bites (give or take a few.)  Still others want to cram as much fun and/or partying into their vacation as they possibly can.  This is what I usually end up doing when I’m on vacation, and although I’m not the type to go out and party, I do find I tend on occasion to just try to cram too much stuff into a trip.  I suspect part of this has to do with the relative lack of vacation time I’ve had in the past, and the short trips I’ve generally been taking as a result of this.  When I’m on vacation I seem to have this little voice in the back of my head that likes to remind me that I only have 47 hours of vacation remaining, and I’ve only been on the Haunted Mansion five times on this trip, and I should really hurry if I’m going to get another 12 rides in.  This is a tendency that is pretty much completely incompatible with a relaxing vacation. 

Then again, it could be worse.  On the Disney boards I read when I’m planning trips to the various  parks, there are a fair number of people who plan the heck out of their trips, , some going as far as to create timetables down to the minute of what rides they should be on at what times, and when they should be grabbing what Fastpasses.  While the planners are quick to point out that careful planning can seriously cut back on line-waiting and make a busy day a lot more productive than it would otherwise be, but predictably, things rarely go according to plan, and when things go off the rails, it can’t be pretty.  Unofficially, it seems that Epcot has developed something of a reputation as being the Meltdowniest Place on Earth (don’t expect to see that one in the commercials anytime soon,) and some members of the board have come to describe the conditions that can be caused by such obsessive planning by the derisive name of “Death March Tourism.”  And yes, the term has come to mind when I found myself at the back of the Epcot World Showcase after the fireworks with my feet threatening to go on strike due to unfair working conditions, a crowd of people headed for the exits, more than a mile of walking to get to the bus stop (and yes, I checked that distance,) and the knowledge that the bus back to the hotel was going to be standing room only when I actually made it there.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to the other major reason people go on vacations:  To get away from it all.  With all the various pressures of day-to-day living, it’s no wonder a lot of people want vacations to be as uneventful as they can possibly be.  Although I know I’m not one of them, I know plenty of people whose vacations consist of heading to somewhere sunny and tropical and doing as little as they can get away with while they’re there, up to and including nothing at all.  This is pretty much the exact opposite to how I take vacations, but I can definitely see the merits of a nice relaxing getaway.  And what better place to get away than the high seas?  In fact, the current marketing slogan for Princess Cruise Lines is “Escape Completely.”  On the surface, a cruise ship seems like the ideal place to get away from it all.  Even though you’ll be making a number of port calls along the way, much of the trip will be spent out in the middle of nowhere.  You’ll be surrounded by all the amenities you could possibly want, but at the same time surrounded by nothing but the high seas for miles around, and nothing on the horizon but the occasional island, oil rig or other passing ship.  But even on a cruise ship in the middle of nowhere these days you can’t quite manage to get away from it all.  In the modern world, it all tends to be a bit more difficult to get away from than you might think.

As of when I am writing this post, my upcoming vacation is now approximately five weeks away, but I’ve had it booked since early December.  Given my longstanding tendencies to plan vacations with relatively short notice, I generally have only weeks rather than months to anticipate an upcoming trip, and as most people who know me will attest, I am not exactly the most patient person in the world.  I’m not saying I already have a suitcase packed or anything like that (I suppose I should at least do some laundry first,) but I’ve spent a bunch of time researching various things, planning out stuff (or mostly planning stuff that I’m not going to do really) and generally just spending way too much time wishing vacation would hurry up and get here.  Having been on a couple of cruises before on one of the Princess Grand Class ships (the Star Princess) I think I’ve got a reasonable idea of what to expect, and I’ve been to a couple of the ports on this trip before as well, but  for the most part, it’s going to be a whole week of nothing in particular to look forward to.  I’ve got a couple of things planned which I would like to do, but beyond that, pretty much everything’s up in the air.

One thing that I don’t plan to do on this trip is spend a bunch of time on the computer.  I do intend to bring the iPad to use for some reading and writing, and believe it or not most cruise ships do have Internet access these days, but if the fact that you’ve got a big 950 foot long, 116,000 ton floating city full of things to do up to and (including nothing at all) doesn’t give you a good excuse to get off the computer, the exorbitant cost of Internet access (as much as 75 cents per minute for a connection of sometimes dubious reliability) will.  Oh, and if you really want you can even use your cell phone on board, but that’s even more ridiculously expensive at $2.49 a minute (and yes, there are horror stories of people getting home from their vacation with $5,000 phone bills because they forgot to turn off their iPhones when they went on their trip.)  Now there are obviously perfectly valid reasons why one would need to be on the Internet while on vacation, but there’s also plenty of reasons why you wouldn’t want to be.   The staterooms on the ship are also equipped with televisions that get a number of channels, and if a major sporting event happens while you’re at sea there’s a pretty good chance they’ll have it on the giant screen out on the pool deck (the cruise I’m going to be on happens to coincide with the first couple of games of the NCAA Final Four. )  Sure you can get away from the world, but sometimes the world manages to find you anyway.
Granted, this is only a 7-day cruise, with only two days that are spent completely at sea,  a round trip totalling a couple thousand miles.  For a 100,000 ton cruise ship, that’s practically a run to the grocery store.  At the end of the Caribbean cruising season, the Ruby Princess will be spending the summer in the Mediterranean, which means a Transatlantic voyage with seven straight days at sea to get there.  The first cruise that I went on back in 2003 was a nonstop repositioning cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver, with three days at sea.  Even with a giant ship loaded with amenities, I can see where someone might get a bit of cabin fever on a trip like that, especially when one is prone to seasickness.  I don’t necessarily think I’m immune to it, but on the last cruise I took, I had some issues the first night and then none at all for the rest of the week.  For the most part the weather was reasonable (if a bit rainy) on that trip though, and I’m not sure how I’d handle rougher seas, especially the ones you might run into on a longer trip.   Still, if there’s anywhere you’re going to get away from it all that doesn’t involve a campout in the Sahara Desert, that seems like as good a place as any.  I suppose a lot of this depends on your attitude.  If you come on board with all your cares and troubles packed in your suitcase, you’re obviously not going to get away from them.  Then again, if you leave them on the dock and don’t worry about things, you’ll be a lot happier.
Can you truly escape completely these days?  To be honest, I’m not sure, but at least the getaway vehicle makes for a nice ride.

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