“Cruise Control”

Roger Clark
December 2021

I’m a big guy. I drive a big truck. I dream big dreams, and that’s a big deal, but some things can make me feel small in the blink of an eye. That would include the Northern Lights, red cliffs of Moab, and stars so close you could pluck them from the sky. (But don’t. They’re still hot!). Also high on that list is Royal Caribbean’s cruise ship “Independence of The Seas”. In fact, it’s VERY high, towering 15 decks above the dock.

She’s over 1,100 feet long and 185 feet wide, weighing in at 156,000 tons, yet needs only 30 feet beneath her keel. Leaving the pier in Galveston without a sound, her electromotive diesels were quieter than a Kenworth in a junkyard. With the cruise control engaged, this Freedom-class ship sailed across the Gulf of Mexico at 21 knots, which is the same speed we drove the family car through Austin on I-35. 

Crewed by 1500 employees from around the world, they can serve up to 4,600 passengers, but because of Covid concerns we sailed this time with only 1500 masked up guests. We personally met passengers and crew members from the Philippines, England, Ukraine, and Indonesia, yet from behind the mask we learned music and mumbling are universal languages. I’m telling you, I heard it myself!

Our stateroom steward was from the Philippines. Our dining room server came from the Indonesian island of Bali, and Captain Gus Anderson was from the Netherlands. Shipboard entertainment, including a stage production of “Grease”, featured singers, dancers, and even skaters from a half dozen foreign countries, including Texas. We attended a matinee performance, which was interrupted by 10-foot seas banging against the bulkheads, but performers never missed a single paycheck. It was, in a word, awesome.

There’s also a word for having to board the ship through six separate checkpoints, but this is a family magazine, so I’ll just say our passports were scrutinized more religiously than the price list at a Hunter Biden art sale. I had to show everything. Driver license. TWIC card. Passport. Even the Covid vaccination card, or a sales receipt from the art gallery, whichever was more recent. 

One interesting observation involved passengers boarding with us. One was cruising for just twenty bucks. Another was starting her 37th lifetime cruise. Yet another was a Walmart driver, who logged three million miles with the Walton clan, and was boarding our ship immediately after concluding an 18-day voyage on the Carnival ship Breeze. To me, that’s like a mailman going for a walk on Sunday, but still better than doing your 34-hour reset between shopping carts!

 Were there surprises? You bet. While boarding and disembarking was a hassle, mostly from walking with a facemask for what seemed miles between checkpoints, there were also introductions to a wide variety of activities that would kill me just for asking. Waterslides, diving boards, and a downright wicked temptation called the Flowrider were prepared to drown me in front of a dozen smiling witnesses. 

But I’m smart, not just good looking, and confined my adventures to riding the glass enclosed elevators.

Other surprises included the ship’s library, which had no books, and Wi-Fi coverage of 25 bucks per day, per person. Probably the most popular pre-boarding discount is the drink package deal, but we declined, sharing instead a single Pineapple Guava Sangria, to celebrate our six-year-late honeymoon. All that cost was a home equity loan. If that’s not enough to make you jump overboard, I don’t know what in Cozumel would!