Independence of the Seas
There are generally two types of people. Those who have a master plan, and those who operate on the fly. The former, let’s call them type A, had their entire life figured out by age 5. You know those toddlers who won’t leave their house without their foot ball or basket ball and eventually end up being stars in those fields. Or that child whose thrill was never derived from playing with electronics, but from breaking them apart, and the smart parent would immediately see the techie in them and buy more gadgets, instead of admonishing them.
As I write this, I am reminded of my high school days. See, most people knew what they wanted to be when they could eventually earn a living (let’s not say when they grow up because I have learnt that even at age 40 or 65, people are still growing up) and therefore were clear on what classes to pursue. But the type B in me simply gravitated to what made me tick. I dropped Biology in Form II because I could not cram that Latin Binomial Nomenclature to save my life. Instead, I picked Physics as it fed my curiosity over how things worked, and chemistry since the lab sessions were fun plus it was easier to master the periodic table than name organisms in Latin.
Now I had a classmate who put her eggs in one basket, the basket of Chemistry. Cheryl was an A student, but what intrigued us was the fact that she could not be bothered to work on improving her grades in Kiswahili or Mathematics or any other subject. Not that she was failing them, but she was ok scoring a minimum of 70%. However, when it came to Chemistry, she had set the bar so high such that going over it would take a miracle, even for the world’s best pole vaulter. She would curse and cry and sulk and basically become a recluse until the next exam and only be of good cheer if she scored nothing less than 99%.
Cheryl had all these complex chemistry books, the type that we imagined accomplished scientists would use to refresh their memories when some formulas escaped them. Her version of netflix and chill while we were in high school was retreating into a corner at the furthest end of the games field with one of her humongous chemistry books, while the rest of us played stupid games. In the end, those complex books (and her high bar) paid off because while in university, Cheryl (now Dr Cheryl Kerama), discovered the gene for pulmonary fibrosis (a lung condition) which advanced genetic research into the management and cure of the condition.
Unlike my former classmate Dr Cheryl who always had an inkling to her calling and planned everything to a fault, I am still type B in all aspects of my life. I always go with the flow, but luckily, the current always leads me to such gratifying experiences, as it did with this cruise I went on a few weeks ago. Yes I had dreamt of going on one for years, but no, I did not plan it. Let me tell you how it came to be.
In October, I found myself needing a breather. More like a break before the madness of bringing something to life checked in. Or like how you find yourself wanting to binge eat the night before you start a 90 day clean eating program. See, there’s a personal project I have been working on for the last few months, and it was just about to get to its peak. You know that point where you can’t afford to blink or snooze, like the first day you bring a new born baby home from hospital. So I figured, before this project has me all grounded for months, why not go on a solo vacation? I will tell you all about the project in an upcoming blog, so for now, let’s focus on the story at hand.
And so I thought of my favourite continent in the world, Europe. Matter of fact, I have been wanting to specifically go to Italy all of this year. But there was the small problem of Visas taking donkey years to be processed, and by the time I would get one, Italy would be covered in snow, and I would need to dress up like an Eskimo anytime I ventured out. My nose would freeze, and even if I would not be rubbing noses with anyone, there’s nothing fun about carrying around an ice cold nose. And so Italy was out of the question.
But that did not kill my spirit, as there’s another destination that had aroused my interest earlier on in the year. A friend of mine and I had wanted to visit another friend in the US in July, and then the three of us would head off to Mexico. We would wear sombreros and long flowery sun dresses, eat tacos to line up our stomachs, and then take a walk around plantations where we would drink tequila straight from the agave plant. I had thus, thinking that the American Embassy had no time for last minute people, promptly applied for a Visa in April this year for the July trip. The consulate however decided to show me the big fat middle finger by granting me an interview date slated for 23rd, January, 2024. And just like that, my sombrero and agave dreams went into thin air.
Fast forward to October, a little birdie whispered to me that things had started flowing at the American Embassy, and that they were no longer being as indolent and inefficient as the Kenyan government offices. It turned out that, thanks to Ambassador Meg Whitman, the American Embassy had been burning the midnight oil since her appointment in August, and I was able to get a US visa in record time. I was no longer interested in going to Mexico (yeah that’s Joy for you, my interests shift faster than the seasons change), but I was definitely looking forward to visiting my friend Bianca in Dallas, Texas, and also spend sometime with my in-laws in Massachusetts. And just like that, I decided to take a three-week vacation. First week in Dallas, last week in Massachusetts, middle week to be decided. I would land in Dallas on a Tuesday after a 21 hour flight.
Carlton, where B resided, was beautiful in a laid back way. It mostly comprised of huge houses sitting on lush grounds. I spent most of my time taking walks, exploring the idyllic surroundings and ending up in the most beautiful parks which almost always had man made lakes. We shopped till we dropped in their malls whose simplistic design I loved as it was easy to work one’s way around them, more like the Junction Mall as opposed to the Sarit Centre where I still get lost to date. We ate so much delightful tacos (clearly I did not need to go to Mexico for that hehe) as everywhere you turned there almost always was a taco shop.
Before I knew it, my one week was almost lapsing and I needed to figure out my next move. On Saturday night, after spending the day with B doing an 8km hike in the most scenic nature trail in Dallas, I happily retired to bed at 8:00pm which was considered early. We were in the tail end of summer and days were still long, so if you still had your drapes open at 8:00pm, the outside would still be as bright as noon. Despite my fatigue, I needed to book my flight ticket and accommodation to wherever I was going next, so I flipped open my macbook. I knew I wanted to go to a coastal city, and my first option was Los Angeles, California. However, I learnt that a flight from California to my final destination Massachusetts would take 5.5hrs. Given that I was yet to recover from my 21 hour back breaking flight from Nairobi and the exhaustion from the day’s hike, I was not going to subject myself to long flights even if Idris Elba offered to pick me up on the other end.
My second option was Florida. A quick google search informed me that a flight from Dallas to Orlando, Florida, would take 2.5 hours, and one from Orlando to Boston, Massachusetts would take 3 hours. This was sensible, so I quickly booked the flight tickets. I thought the hardest task was done, until I had to figure out an itinerary for a whole week and accommodation options as well. I felt like I was back at my former job and had to put together a 52 page investment recommendation in a week for a company I had not visited physically and whose financials were in French.
“This is meant to be fun.” I thought to myself. “What is the one thing I can sign up for that is guaranteed to grant me unparalleled fun for a whole week?” I pondered further. And then I remembered how for an entire decade, I had always longed to go on a cruise, but somehow imagined it was something that only celebrities and silicon valley billionaires did for fun, so I never bothered to do anything about it, you know like a little research to understand the logistics, costs, etc. So I figured I had the perfect opportunity to edify myself on cruises and just maybe, I would be on the next one in the next 48 hours. After all, what do they say about dreams? If your dream doesn’t scare you, then you need to change your mattress haha. I kid.
I keyed in “Five day cruises departing on Monday 24th” on google search and of course, given my last minute booking, there were not so many options. There was one from Galveston, Texas to Mexico, but I had already booked a flight to Florida, plus I was not interested in going to Mexico alone. But like I mentioned earlier on, by God’s grace, the tides are always flowing in my favour. The second available cruise ship was departing from Orlando, Florida and going to the Bahamas! The Bahamas!! A Caribbean country that I had wanted to visit for the longest time, but just like the Maldives, the cost had always thrown me off balance. Here I had the chance to visit the Bahamas, albeit for two days only, but on a cruise ship operated by the Royal Caribbean, a company whose iconic ships I had always marvelled at on their social media pages. I was even more surprised to learn that it would cost me USD 250 on a per person sharing basis (and $500 solo) for a full board experience. The equivalent of KES 60k for a whole week! Honestly, I believe God works overtime for me, and most probably it’s because of my mother’s relentless praying. I leapt out of bed and ran to the living room ignoring the pain in my pelvic bone. I don’t know if it’s just me or do the rest of womenfolk experience pain in their pelvic region after long runs or brutal hikes?
“I found a plan for us for next week.” I yelled across the living room startling B who was lying on the floor glued to the TV screen with a bowl of ice cream in her hands. Apparently that was her perfect remedy for sore muscles.
“Don’t tell me you want to go on another hike!” She howled in agony.
“Quite the opposite. I found us a five day cruise to the Bahamas. You pay your flight ticket to Florida and back, I’ll cater for the cruise.” I announced, excitedly.
She stared at me in disbelief like one would stare at a dog dragging a bleeding raccoon over a white carpet. I imagined she felt, what we normally feel when summer bunnies arrive in December and want us to accompany them to endless parties and vacations, imagining that we could put our lives on standstill because what are jobs anyway?
“That’s an irresistible proposition but remember I have a job to resume to next week? I wish you had told me earlier.” She sighed.
“And I wish for once in my life I planned things as opposed to doing them on a whim.”
And that is how I ended up going on a five day cruise, alone. But as depressing as being solo on a cruise ship might sound, it ended up being an experience of a lifetime!
Independence of the Seas was a 15 deck behemoth that dwarfed all of us as we queued to board at Port Canaveral in Florida. The ship has a maximum capacity of 4,515 guests, and on that particular trip, there were slightly over 4,000 of us waiting to experience a voyage, some, like myself for the first time, others, for the 16th time, like this lady I met from upstate NewYork who was there to celebrate her 52nd birthday alone. There are many moments in life that have blown my mind away, left me speechless and teary eyed. Coming face to face with this beast, and my experience while inside its belly, ranks top on my list.
The ship set sail at 4:30pm. I stood on the edge of the 12th deck on its backside, watching the city shrinking in the horizon as the we moved deeper and deeper in the sea. Shortly after, the sun began to set, casting a scintillating sparkle on the sea, a sea that was so calm despite a 156,000 Gross Tonnage vessel slicing through it. Behind me was a surfing area on deck 13 where some kids kept falling off their surf boards, and adjacent to it was a bungee jumping facility that ran all the way from deck 15.
For three nights we sailed non stop. It was hard to notice the passage of time as there were countless nooks to explore on the ship and activities to engage in. There were more than 10 restaurants to chose from, so I made sure to have all my meals in different restaurants, my highlight being breakfast with a view of the Atlantic sea as ship sailed away. Most days I spent time at the pool on the 13th deck where sometimes they would have a live band or an in-house DJ. The pool was almost on the edge of the ship, so I was able catch a view of the sea while engaging in the day’s entertainment.
In the late afternoons I would go indoors and mostly spend my time on deck 5 which had this area that was designed to look like an ancient city in Europe with cobbled streets, charming little coffee shops, clothes and jewellery stores. In the evenings, I watched an ice skating show on one night and devoured an enchanting musical at one of the indoor theatres on another. On the third and forth days we docked at different points in the Bahamas and after breakfast, set out to explore. On the fifth day, we were back at Port Canaveral at 7am.
You can clearly tell the highlight of my cruise was being aboard the ship and the Bahamas did not quite steal my heart as much as the vessel did. I am now looking forward to doing another one in 2024 with my family on Royal Caribbean’s new state of the art ship, Icon of the Seas, which will be launched in the same year.