Cruise Control: 10 Things I Just Learned About Cruise Vacations

In the continued effort to fulfill the goals pictured on my 2013 vision board, last week I went on my first official cruise.  With my fiancé and his family I toured parts of the Caribbean touching down at destinations including St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Marteen and Barbados.

I was reaffirmed of the lesson I learn no matter what vacation I take, big or small: It really is about who you travel with.  That goes for the people you’re with as well as those that you’ll meet.  Bad company is almost a sure fire way to ensure you won’t enjoy your trip.  By bad company, I mean folks that don’t know vacation means to relax, not to micro-manage, control or complain.  Bad company can have your ready to haul ass from the most beautiful places on earth.

Before you continue, I warn you I may be somewhat biased.  When it comes to vacation I’m just not a beach-blanket-bingo kind of girl.  If you’ve noticed some of the most epic experiences of my life have taken place in big cities.  I like hustle and bustle, fancy restaurants, shopping malls, and trendy clubs.  Relaxing on the sands of a Barbados beach with a rum punch was beautiful for about fifteen minutes and then I found myself wondering, “What’s next?”  I make no apologies:  I am typical North-Philly born and raised rose from concrete.  I don’t snorkel.  I don’t jet-ski.  I feel like if we were meant to swim we’d have been born with gills.  But the great thing about a cruise is that there’s more than enough to do, if you have a little bit of common sense and know where to find the fun:

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A Guide to Being a Completely Over Confident Canadian Tourist

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Every time I plan a successful vacation where no one gets lost, arrested and whelp people actually have fun, there’s an inner travel agent in me that swells with pride.  This time I took it a step further and decided to venture out of the country.  OK, I was on the same continent visiting a place that doesn’t even stamp the passport that 10 years ago you didn’t need to enter, but I survived a 10 hour bus ride sitting upright in between two couples, got detained at customs, nearly assaulted by a gang of Haitian men and still had an awesome ass time.

Before I begin, let’s just make this clear:  I did not travel to Toronto JUST to see Drake, but he was a major influence behind my travel plans.  Before his references to the Skydome and his Started From the Bottom video which could easily serve as a Toronto tourism commercial all I knew about Canada was universal healthcare, Niagara Falls and Degrassi.  I left wanting to change my area code.  Unlike my favorite city NYC, where “making it” is being able to afford a one-bedroom apartment and eat a meal that doesn’t come with a flavor packet, Toronto was somewhere I actually could picture myself living and thriving,  My crush on a 6 foot, Jewish child-actor turned rapper brought me to Toronto, but my love for the city could have easily kept me there.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to visit, here are some tips that we’ll keep you from looking like a lost, helpless idiot who is unable to do currency conversions in your head:

One Reason My Summer Was Fucking Epic: OVO Fest 2013

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I try not to use the word “epic” too sparingly.  Ok, maybe I’ve used it to describe everything from the season finale of Pretty Little Liars to the Coffee Toffee Cupcake at Crumbs, but this time it actually applies. You may recall a little piece I wrote last summer entitled “Six Reasons My Summer Kind of Sucked” in which I ranted about all the things that went wrong that summer including two missed opportunities to see an artist that inspires me greatly,  Drake (one where he was literally down the street from my house) as well as being told I didn’t have enough flesh on my ears to tolerate an industrial bar piercing.  The summer of 2012 just wasn’t my summer. But something happened in 2013.  Things kind of came full circle.  First I actually invested enough thought and energy into this blog to be able to confidently write a follow-up to last summer’s series of unfortunate events and I finally did it…I finally snagged tickets to this year’s OVO Fest, Drake’s annual summer concert in his hometown of Toronto.

Before I come off as an obsessed stan, let me give you a little background.  I know a lot of fans claim to to have been Team  Drizzy from day one.  I don’t know when that day was but I do recall the first moment I heard a Drake track and thought to myself, “I fucking love this dude.”  I was riding the 25 bus to my job as a manager for Dairy Queen one summer.  I was staring out the window at Frankford Ave. after walking almost 30 minutes to a bus stop in the 90 degree heat and thinking, “This can’t be life.”  At the time I think I had some kind of off brand MP3 player that my parents got me for Christmas because they refused to buy me an IPod when a low budget brand could do the same thing.  I had downloaded a bunch of Drake tracks the night before.  I was into him previously because I was Degrassi fan.  He started to get sexy around whatever season it was just before he got in that wheelchair and was fucking around with scandalous ass Ashley.  Anywayz, there’s this one episode where he’s rapping on stage and Ashley is all jealous because he’s getting more play than she is.  I was like, “Damn this dude is talented.  I mean it’s Degrassi but I could bump this shit if I had a car.” So anyway, here I am on the 25 bus hating my life of soft serve Blizzards and methhead customers and that’s when I heard “Closer”. Besides the fact that the whole track was amazing, there’s this line where he says:

I promise momma Imma do it

Cuz I know I put u through it

And I just want u to sit around

With your friends at the dinner table

And say my baby famous and I

kneeewww it

I don’t know what it was about that line, but at that moment I decided I couldn’t settle anymore for this slingling ice cream shit; I needed to be so much more and furthermore I could be so much more.  How often do we talk about what we want to do just to find ourselves making excuses and folding at the first sign of insult and injury?  I don’t know how many years ago that was but in that time I got a Professional Writing undergrad degree, got an actual professional job that actually gives me all kinds of fancy adult things like paid time off and healthcare benefits and I’ve been slowly and steadily building a writing career for myself and making some decent freelance money.  I guess one of the reasons Drake’s rags to riches story makes me so emotional is because I feel like we kind of grew together.  Granted he’s way more financially stable than I am, but my mom can sit around at table with her friends and say, “My baby’s successful and I knew it.”

What Happens in Vegas Comes Back and Gets Put on My Blog

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View from my filthy 11th floor window

On my 27th birthday (which I still can’t believe was a few years ago) I promised myself that I would always travel somewhere to celebrate surviving another year (bonus points for making personal and professional progress) and that no matter how long or short the distance I would change my surroundings.  My 27th birthday marked my first trip to Vegas and whom better to commemorate my debut into the world with then the one responsible for it but my mommy.  We came, we saw, ate Johnny Rockets and conquered.  We stayed at the Mirage and besides her cussing me out in the middle of a casino, we managed to have a good time.  After celebrating my 28th birthday with the boyfriend at a cheesy lover’s resort in the Poconos whose claim to fame are lucite champagne tub towers and free Sinbad performances (the comedian, not Kevin Sorbo), we decided to take a our first official trip with airfare included and go back to Sin City.

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Christmas Time at the Bellagio

The good:

The Aria hotel has a way of making all of its guests feel filthy rich by association.  I woke up every morning with a view of the Gucci store and there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t see a woman casually strolling through the casino in Michael Kors flats and a Kate Spade satchel slung over her shoulder.  Even the modestly priced “Café Vettro” menu options made me feel like Lauren Conrad sipping lattes at a contemporary styled Laguna Beach bistro.

All of the hotels on the strip must have some kind of service contract with Febreze.  But seriously, all of the ducts send scents unique through the hotel wafting through the air.  Aria had a woodsy vanilla smell.  The first two days was nice, but on the last few days it kind of gave me a migraine.

My first Cirque Du Soleil experience was impressive.  “Ka” was like my dad reading me a childhood fairytale complete with acrobats swinging from my bedroom canopy.  There’s a scene were the performers look like they’re swimming to the bottom of the ocean literally right in front of you: surreal.

Eli Roth’s Goretorium was fucking insane.  The haunted house is short but totally worth the beanie that I lost after emerging from a trash bag material covered room described as a “vinyl vagina” that literally envelopes (borderline suffocates) you before spitting you out.  Think S&M meets Hostel.

The “Bodies” exhibit was a little boring until you realize about half way through that you are staring at an actual preserved embryo.  Made me consider my pro-choice status for about five seconds.  Be prepared to look at some beautiful organ displays in Crayola colors and shriveled preserved penises since apparently only men like to donate their bodies to science.  A pre-med student’s dream.

Came up $40.00 off a $1.00 in a MGM Grand slot machine.

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The room reminded me a lot of King of Prussia Mall: Looks expensive and has a lot going on but I left getting nothing out of it

The bad:

Lost $10.00 in Aria slot machines.

The Aria’s biggest selling point was its electronically controlled rooms.  There’s a super remote (that mind you doesn’t even stretch a foot beyond the headboard, so if you want to control anything expect to be held hostage by the nightstand).  You can control the lighting to give a room a romantic ambiance or even the drapes so that each time you enter you’re greeted by a display of the Las Vegas skyline, BUT be prepared to spend the first few days trying to figure out how to get the room to do what you want it to before getting frustrated and just walking over to all the appliances to control them manually.  I was always opening the blinds when I was freshly butt naked from the shower when I meant to turn on just the desk lamp. Oh, and by day three I was completely over the sexy low lights.  I just wanted one bright lamp to be able to read the buttons on the regular TV remote.

The one cool thing is you can control the bathroom lights from the bedroom and enjoy leaving your friends in a pitch black bathroom listening to soulful R&B while they take a shit.

Speaking of “Soulful R&B”, there were no rap selections in the music categories.  Forget listening to French Montana’s “Pop That” while pre-gaming with your girls before you head to Haze.  Be prepared to bring an audio kit for your IPod or spend like$30.00 if you use the one the room provides.  Guess they didn’t want certain guests offending others by being loud and hoodish **clears throat** prejudiced **cough cough**

There’s a reason Aria is located in City Center.  It’s basically a mini city.  It took us about 15 minutes to go from our room to a restaurant in the same building. The layout made me feel like Jennifer Connely in the labyrinth while the cleaning staff were friendly creatures helping us along the way.  Unlike the Mirage which was huge as well, but simple to navigate, I never could get my bearings.  Our check out was like a scene from a movie.  We couldn’t find our way from the regular lobby to the tour lobby where our shuttle was picking us up.  We ended up going completely in the opposite direction, luggage in tow with ten minutes to make it to this impressively hidden tour lobby.  After getting off an elevator that took us down but wouldn’t take us back up, boyfriend had to lift my luggage up a short flight of stairs only to find that the one path was blocked by construction moving a huge decorative plant, meaning we literally had to go up across a bridge to the other side of the hotel.  We finally made it to the tour lobby on time, but I was literally sweating, panting and pissed off.

I left feeling like this overrated hotel was doing the most but not getting it done well.  The windows were dirty making my view of the MGM Grand and Gucci store like looking through the scratched up bulletproof glass at the corner Chinese store.  One of the handles of the dresser drawers was falling off and there was something that looked like a tag made with a Sharpie on our “fancy” bathroom pocket door.  (Sorry I was too disgusted to take pics).

They say you never know someone until you travel them.  The boyfriend who can navigate through Philly in a fog with his eyes closed was turned into a lost directionally challenged mess (myself included).  Much of our time was spent trying to see what tram to take and deciding whether we were in the Crystals shopping Center or our actual hotel. But at least we can read.  We weren’t the only lost ones, but we are critical thinkers.  There are plenty of signs and staff to help you along Hotel Labyrinth, so why were other guests wandering around aimlessly, taking up space in the “Check-In” line when they were clearly “Checking-Out”?  And don’t get me started on the foolishness of the McCarran airport.  They need line leads or something.  There were as one lady stated “no rules” at the airport.  US Airways had no curbside check-in so after paying to check our bags at a kiosk, we ended up in a small gathering at the front counter where it was every man for himself after one employee made an announcement that she was getting off leaving the counter understaffed.  TSA’s asked me if I had liquids in my carry-on and after replying, “I don’t think so…” she must have decided that was good enough for her after letting me pass through a half-assed inspection.

The tourists here are also annoying.  I realize I am included in those tourists, but what is it about foreigners that make them visit other people’s cities and treat the locals like degenerates.  We came across plenty of “Brads” on this trip with their leather loafers and Louis Vuitton laptop messenger bags jaywalking across the huge intersections lifting their hands for motorists to stop as they sauntered through traffic with the steely-eyed entitled gaze that warned, “Rich White Man Crossing”.  And unlike one of my fav cities NYC where pedestrians move with a purposeful and important rhythm with agendas that range from Wall Street meetings to shopping at the hugest Macy’s in the world, pedestrians here were uncoordinated, awkward and god awfully slow.  Maybe because everyone was just trying too hard in 5 inch heels and ill-fitted bandage dresses.

Lastly there are the hype ass passengers at the airport.  Why are you standing up ready to make your way to the front of the line if you are seated in Zone 4?  Excuse me while I politely roll over your pretentious toes with my polka dot carry-on.  And all of you big spenders who are enrolled in Silver, Gold and Bronze preferred flying clubs: apparently the ability to read is not a requirement since you are still stupidly standing in the line marked “General Boarding”.

Although I spent much of this trip doubting the little confidence I had gained overcoming my directional challenges, Vegas is still one of my favorite places to visit.  There’s always something to do whether you spend hours in the casino, shopping in the Fashion Show Mall or Miracle Mile Shops, or getting solicited to participate in a time share presentation, get free passes to a titty bar or get offered to buy some kush.  I’m actually planning a girls’ trip there in the summer so I can finally take advantage of a pool and some place I don’t need a Segway and a GPS to navigate.  In the meantime if you’re planning a trip keep these things in mind:

The Goritoreum stole my beanie and all I got was a Blue Margarita.

The Goritoreum stole my beanie and all I got was a Blue Margarita.

  • You can do Vegas right whether you’re on a stockbroker budget or think a fancy dinner is anything you don’t have to boil in a microwaveable cup.  There’s fast food, plenty of hotels with modestly priced cafes if you actually have the kind of professional job that offers benefits, and swanky restaurants and clubs if you truly want to bottle pop like a Rick Ross video.
  • You have to get one of those super tall frozen margarita drinks.  Everyone walks around with some kind of open alcoholic beverage here.  You’ll feel like a loser until you get one.
  • Bring a pair of cross trainers or some kind of walking shoes.  Walking the strip will have your feet on fire if you try to do it in heels.
  • See a show. Vegas is all about extravagance, glitz and glamour. There’s shows with magic, sex, and both.
  • All gamblers have to start somewhere.  Play slots if you’re completely clueless and watch a good game of blackjack.  Eventually you’ll gain the courage and confidence to jump in.
  • Be careful planning your visit.  I loved the Christmas displays and 70 degree weather, but there was a lot of construction going on and exhibits that were closed for the week since this is labeled “the slow season”.  Most of the clubs are only open the latter end of the week.  If you want to make lots of new friends, come closer to the weekend, but if crowds aren’t your thing Monday through Wednesday is a good time to book.
  • What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but criminal records and STI’s follow you home.  Don’t be stupid.  You can have fun without becoming completely delusional.  Eventually you’ll have a very average life to return to with company policies and stuff.