“Let’s all go on a cruise” she said. “I am in, it will be AMAZING!!” the one on the left said. “Oh yeah, we had sooooo much fun on the last one” the short one pipes in. And with that it was set in concrete. Done. Organised. Swiftly. Without any second guessing.
What the hell had I just committed to? A cruise? Me? Shae the self-confessed Euro lover? The experienced South East Asian explorer? World adventurer, land lover, plane and train junkie… The list goes on. A cruise? Like on a boat? Like on a boat that sails on the sea? Like on water? Oh no, surely not. Surely, I can spend my travel money in a better way?
With 18 family members?
Has my brain suddenly decided after 41 years to depart my body and fly off into some distant land?
Look you’d be right in thinking I’d lost my mind but let me back track a little before you pass judgement upon my good self and the state of my mental health.
You see, those people in that very first sentence of this story were some of my dearly loved Aunties. My mum’s sisters. And if you’ve been following my blog of late, you’d know that Mum is no longer with us. In fact, in February this year cancer made an angel of the biggest legend of a human, my mum.
Mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in early December 2015 not long after getting back from her first ever cruise with some of her family, her first holiday in 20 years. Cruel twist of fate hey. Let that one sink in while you second guess why holidays should be a priority in your life.
She had a ball. I remember picking her up from Melbourne airport and for the 20kms to her house, Mum talked non-stop about how much fun she’d had. I could see the excitement in her eyes and hear it in her voice. She looked and sounded like a new woman, invigorated, inspired and ready for more adventures. For me it felt like Mum finally GOT travel. Finally GOT why I chose to invest my time and money in travel and experiences rather than a mortgage. Honestly, it had been years since I’d seen her so happy and shit did that make me smile. That was to be her last real holiday. Only a week after Mum got back from her cruise she got the cancer diagnosis and that is when all our lives changed forever.
The day after we said goodbye to mum (it was massive, my mum was one of 12 kids so lots of extended family) while we were all still together, the cruise plan was hatched. You see, we are a family that sticks together, we may fall out on occasion (it’s never bad) and there may be disagreements but we all pull together to support each other and this was possibly the biggest moment in our lives since Pa passed away (back when I was 13) that we all needed to band together. We were hurting, grief had entered our lives and took one of the best in a shitty fucked up kind of way so we needed to do something to honour her, to celebrate mum’s life, to be together, and to breathe again.
From memory I think it was my Aunty Cathy who suggested the cruise. Cathy and her husband, Phil (legends) are seasoned cruisers so it was decided that they would do the organising and before you knew it, 18 people had committed, rooms were allocated, and deposits paid. We were off on a family adventure on P&Os Pacific Dawn for 3 nights of cruising out into the Pacific Ocean before heading back into the port of Brisbane. This particular cruise was a ‘Comedy Cruise’ ha, I knew our family were quite funny, but there was no need to rename the cruise for our benefit ;-).
I was bunking in with one of mum’s youngest sisters, my Aunty Trish. Trish is only a few years older than me and a bit of a lush and gawd do I love her for it. I’ve lived with her previously so we would get on perfectly fine. Trish was, after all the person who introduced the younger version of me to much more refined drinking when I was 18. She was literally the perfect person for me to bunk in with. My brother and his wife ended up being about 1km away (not really but it felt like that) at the mid-front of the boat while a Trish and I were at the very end of the boat. Like the last room on level 9 while the rest of the family were splattered around near us.
On the day of boarding we all managed to find our allocated rooms and by 12.45pm I think it may have been my incredibly gifted for all things fun, Aunty Angela and her as gifted hubby Ross who sniffed out the only adults’ bar on board, Oasis (coincidently at the end of the boat, a level up from our room – winning). By 3.30pm when we had the ‘very important’ safety briefing, it would be safe to say that 70% of our family were well on our way to sweet drunken bliss. That particular day, our first day on board was also the AFL grand final (Australian Rules football for you non-aussies) so we managed to find a quiet spot at the on-board casino of all places to watch (ahem scream at the telly some of you) West Coast beat Collingwood. I’ll never get the picture of my sister-in-law’s joy of the Magpies los out of my head!
The first night was spent at the aptly named ‘Pantry’ which is a buffet of all different nationalities. Cruise ships are renowned for mass gastro outbreaks so obviously for that very reason, food is not a free for all, everything is served by staff. Generally buffet food rings to me bland and tasteless meals with limp salads and crap desserts, but not at the ‘Pantry’ on P&Os Pacific Dawn. No, sir, not here! I don’t know how many times I ate the spaghetti Bolognese on this cruise but call me super impressed. Other food options were really quite good considering the mass amount of people being served. The only real negative for me when it came to food and drinks was lining up for 20 minutes in the mornings for my much-needed double shot caffeine hit.
Later that night we ended up in the Orient Bar partaking in a spot of music trivia. Considering we are a family of music lovers, had a musician and an ex band manager in our group we were a shoe in to win and seriously we did win if honesty counts for something (meh there was one question that clearly was answered by Mr Google by on opposing team). To commiserate/celebrate our second placing, unhinged dancing, singing and general hijinks preceded a pretty crude but hilarious Comedy Show.
Our second day cruising was disappointingly, a shocker weather wise and a few of us had been stricken with a bit of sea sickness so while some spent time in bed, most of us headed off to do our own thing indoors for a few hours before meeting up at the front of the boat, at the very tip, in yep you guessed it, another bar. But before drinks could commence a few of us started the day in the gym, some went on walks, while I found a quiet spot by myself to sit and have some reflection and writing time as this was of course, what would have been Mum’s 64th birthday. Only natural that in moments like these that emotion can bring tears to the surface so with that, just before I broke into an epic sob session and just as I was looking for a dignity saving escape route, over walks two living angles in the form of Aunties with the long-missed sun at their backs. It was literally a perfect moment. I love being Ms Independent, solo world traveller, strong-as-all-hell-I-got-this-shit-sorted-woman-of-the-world, but… I just didn’t realise just how much I needed people, my family, until then. Thank you Clare and Colleen.
Later that night the entire family was booked in at the Waterfront Restaurant for mum’s birthday celebration. Unfortunately, dinner was a bit of a fizzier on account of about half of us battling the dreaded sea sickness, but in a roundabout way, mum managed to save the night. You see sneaky me (some might say, clever) managed to bring along some of mum’s chemo anti-nausea drugs (yes yes I should have thrown them out, but ya know, I didn’t and for good reason) and within no time people started to feel a little better. A few of us got an early night while the rest headed off to another late-night comedy show before succumbing to sleep in readiness for the next day…
The next day? The last day? What a day! From what I remember at least anyway. You remember that bar we went to the day prior, the one at the very tip of the boat? Well on the second day of the cruise, our first time at that bar and after witnessing a flash mob (why do people still do that?) we started to count just how many bars there were in total on the boat. And by doing that count, someone, I can’t remember who exactly, suggested a bar crawl for our last day. A plan was conceived, put into action and by 1pm the next day we were back at that bar at the tip of the boat ready to drink ourselves into sweet bliss.
Rules were (cause with our lot there needs to be some rules):
- 1 drink in one bar – half an hour maximum time spent in the bar before moving onto the next (pffft some of us managed more than one drink)
- One shot to buy in for every bar you’ve missed
- One extra drink for one person (only) in each bar for a family member on her own cancer journey
After visiting 10 bars, 2 other alcohol serving areas on the boat and revisiting a few more, sneaking in more drinks in our half hour slot at each bar, and general crazy hi jinx over gawd knows how many hours, it was suggested in good spirit that our family should have an annual bar crawl to celebrate mum’s life on her birthday. Considering she wasn’t a drinker (but her children clearly are) I think my brother and I are down with that, she loved a decent celebration after all. I’ll go with it for sure. I love drinks. Sorry mum. Ah it was sure a night to remember. There were a few tears (me mostly) but plenty of laughs and happy times. Mum would have been (and probably was) right amongst it all. She was after all an instigator of fun.
So. Did I have a good time on my first cruise? Yes! Of course, I did. If you are thinking of doing a cruise, I would. It really is a different kind of adventure and one of which will always be what you make of it. Like any form of travel. Just do it. Like all travel inspiration, don’t wait to do it. Just remember when you get off the boat it is going to take you a few days to get your land legs back and things will feel weird. Yes. It is true! I struggled for three days. Would I do it again? Yes, but not for a while and if I did it would be out to see something like an island or other things in the ocean….
But irrespective of would I do it again was not the point of THIS cruise. This was to celebrate the life of an outstanding, firecracker, cheeky, generous and beautiful woman who happened to be my gorgeous mum. I think we did a bloody good job of honouring her. Yes, it was a bit boozy for some of us, but in true family spirit we were together and having a great time.
On the first night of the cruise my brother and I snuck away from everyone else and stood at the back of the boat watching the sunset as the boat left the port of Brisbane. It was real pretty. One of those catch ya in the feels moments. A token moment of admiring natural beauty and our own sentimentalities on such a pivotal occasion. Arm in arm, tears in our eyes we vowed to make this a beautiful and fun journey, for mum. Gawd I fucken love that kid (sorry swearing not sorry really).
There were many times on the cruise when I stood back on all the frivolity, all the laughter and all the noise to take stock. To look at each and every one of my family enjoying themselves and I could feel mum next to me saying ‘we did good kid’. You see family was at the core of mums whole entire essence. Mum loved her family more than anything, her children, me and the bro, were her life. Her whole entire family was what fired her and gave her the most joy in her life. Wherever she was in the universe over those 3 days I know it was a whirlwind of amazing for her as much as it was for me.
So, as mum did when she arrived home from her cruise, with the spirit of travel racing through her heart and soul, so did I. I don’t think that feeling of post-holiday elation ever leaves a person. That excitement should never die, that glow should not fade. So, there really is only one thing a person can do to top a holiday.
Book another holiday. And that I did.
For my mum Mary, Richie, Jasmin, Tricia, Angela, Ross, CAtherine Rose, Phil, Michael, Helen, Clare, Colleen, Narelle, Luke, Nikki, Daniel & kids.
Thank you x
To book through P&O visit their website