Desert Storm Veteran Linda Adams reflects on the benefits of cruising solo while on a reunion cruise to Mexico, Belize and Honduras in this week’s Women Who Travel Solo.
Why did you decide to take a solo cruise?
I don’t think I would have taken a cruise on my own. I always viewed them as expensive (and they are!). I’ve been openly promoting myself as a woman veteran from Desert Storm and have a book called Soldier, Storyteller: A Woman Goes to War out. The coordinator for a Desert Storm reunion found me and tweeted about a 25th reunion cruise.
I was so new to cruising that I thought the price was a daily rate, not the full rate, but I immediately chose to go by myself. I could have stayed with another veteran, since there were calls for other women veterans to share with, and I also could have asked a relative. But I lived in the barracks in the military and stayed in a tent with both male and female soldiers during the war. I did enough communal living already!
Plus I’m an introvert, and sharing a cabin meant I would never be able to get away from people at all to recharge. I get my energy from quiet, not from crowds. Solo traveling was never a question.
What cruise did you go on?
I was originally scheduled for a Sea Turtle excursion in Mexico, but that was canceled because the turtles weren’t out. I ended up going to the forum shops instead, which were the reason a lot of people go to Cozumel. They sell a lot of jewelry inexpensively. However, I wasn’t there to shop, and this would have ranked as the worst part of the trip. The store owners wouldn’t let me look and enjoy what I was seeing; they followed me around, trying to get me to buy, buy, buy.
In Belize, I took a trip to the zoo that started with a boat ride on a river and animal sightings. We saw a lot of iguanas. It was hot, hot, hot! I had a layer of sweat on my skin, and our only air conditioning was when the boat sped up. We got a typical Belize lunch of chicken, beans and rice, and salad. Then it was off to the Belize Zoo, which is the smallest zoo in the world. The howler monkeys were the most impressive, because of the sound they make. I kept hearing this terrible snorting sound, like a giant animal was stalking us. It was those monkeys!
If you go to the Belize zoo on a future cruise, take school supplies. The zoo takes donations, and they will be very happy.
Last excursion was the Gumbalimba Preservation Park in Honduras, which had a monkey park and macaws. We got the safety briefing first for the macaw, which was no buttons on ball caps. The bird likes buttons. There was one man who found this out. He posed with the bird on his shoulder. The bird snaked around behind his neck, reached down, and at the button on his collar. It knew that button on the collar was there!
Tell us about your experience on a cruise as a solo traveler.
This was my first cruise, so it was chaos—getting a passport, getting formal wear, figuring out what I needed to pack, because when I left we were starting to get colder, but I would be cruising in summer weather. I only had one suitcase and a carry on, and I was amazed at how the bags multiplied once you added a second person. When the veterans were checking out at the hotel and waiting for transportation, the couples had baggage carts with 5-7 bags on it.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect once I got on board. I knew there would be shore excursions, but what else would go on? The ship, Navigator of the Seas, has a “Cruise Compass,” which was an agenda of events for each day. One of the highlights was three art auctions and several seminars on art. One of my fellow veterans ended up with 14 paintings (we’re still trying to figure out how that happened!). But a lot of the events weren’t dependent on being a couple, so even a couple could have split up and gone to different events.
I’m a special case here, because I went from a solo traveler to a war veteran traveler. We were all given lanyards for the Seapass card (that’s a card that serves as the room key and for “cash” on the ship). The lanyard was green and said “Desert Storm 25th” A day didn’t go past when someone didn’t stop me and ask about it, and about the reunion.
I ate in the dining room each evening. Our part of the dining room was all the veterans, and the crowds got smaller through the trip as people went elsewhere. I’m lactose intolerant (I can have cheese, but not milk or yogurt). I was pleased to see that the menu had markings for dairy, gluten, etc. However, in practice, it didn’t work as well as it sounded. I think that people with food issues went to the café instead, because they could pick food without having to customize it. The staff did work with me, but it was pretty clear that they didn’t have a lot of experience dealing with it. I can usually work around it, but there were a lot of foods that had cream in them. Only one desert on the seven days didn’t have dairy.
Being solo, I roamed the ship in the early hours of the morning, before everyone was up (an introvert’s best time on a cruise!). I prowled through the library and the art gallery, walked up to Deck 13 to look out at the sea and get blasted by the wind, watched the sun rise, and took the walkabout deck around most of the ship. Sometimes I’d go out to the walkabout deck and sit out and watch the water.
I’m running a more detailed series about the cruise and the reunion parts on my blog here.
What was the best part of cruising solo?
I could do what I wanted when I wanted, like when I wanted to get up early and wander around the ship. A roommate probably would have been mad at me [for waking up at 7 a.m.], and I would have been mad because the roommate wanted to stay out until 1 a.m. I’ve had roommates in the army walk in at a late hour and flip the lights on like I wasn’t even there.
I could also eat when I wanted to. Invariably, if I with someone, it ends up being when they want to eat, and some people do not eat at regular times or properly. It’s hard when you’re hungry now, and your partner doesn’t want to until for another two hours.
What was the worst part of cruising solo?
The way people treated me sometimes, and this has always been the case for all solo travel. When people heard I was traveling solo, there was instant pity, like “I’m sorry I you couldn’t find anyone to travel with you,” as if everyone should travel with a partner.
I also had problems when I returned to the terminal. The hotel said they would pick the veterans, but by the time I got out of customs, most everyone had already left. I called the hotel, and when they asked “How many in your party?” I had this feeling of dread. Thirty minutes later, the feeling was justified because no one showed up. I had to take a cab back to the hotel. I think I’d been okay if they’d said they couldn’t pick me up because there was just one person; not showing up was just plain discourteous and left me thinking a lot less of the hotel.
Do you have any recommendations for solo travelers who are on a cruise?
Expect it to be expensive. While some of the newer ships are including cabins for solo travelers, you’ll get socked on other ships for the stateroom. The cruise company is expecting two people to stay in that stateroom, so you will be paying for two people, even if there is only one.
If you haven’t taken a cruise before, do it once to get the experience. With all the airfare fees and the chaos of security, it’s made travel more like riding in a cattle car. But when you go on a cruise, everything runs seamlessly, and the staff talks to you not only like you’re a human being but like they’re being neighborly. One of the fun things was that I told the Stateroom Attendant that I was going to the monkey park, and I ended up with a towel monkey hanging from the ceiling the following day.
If you’re an introvert though, try a 3-4-day cruise, because a cruise is a huge influx of energy that is harder to get away from. The shorter length will probably be easier to manage from an energy level. It’s been a week since I got back from the 7-day cruise, and I’m only starting to recover from the energy overload.
About Linda Adams
Linda Adams, who considers herself the least likely person to serve in the Army, ended up serving in the first Persian Gulf War at a time when it was still new and strange for women to be at war. She is originally from the land of sunshine and stars, Los Angeles and now resides in the land of politicians, Washington, DC. She has been published in Enchanted Spark, Fabula Argenta, and Tales of the Talisman. Follow her adventures on her blog.
Women Who Travel Solo
Women Who Travel Solo is a weekly column that shares the stories of women’s solo travel adventures in hopes of spreading the message that traveling alone is not only safe, but wildly rewarding. Inspire other women to travel solo by sharing your story with Something In Her Ramblings. Email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org.