HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Things I have never done: a cruise. Oh, wait. I did a story about the QEII and sailed from Boston to New York, which was cool, but not really a voyage. But a real pack your bags, board the ship and (with flags fluttering and horns bellowing) take off for days on a floating hotel with a mizzendeck, lounge chairs and sixteen bars? Nope.
But the intrepid Cate Holahan did it. With two little kids, no less.
How bon do you think THAT voyage was?
But she got a fabulous idea for a book from it. And, as we all know, that makes it all worth it.
Neosporin. Cough medicine. Tylenol?
I brought the clear plastic bag to the tip of my nose and jostled its zip-sealed contents. A red box shook to the front from behind a Benadryl bottle. Bubblegum flavored histamine blockers wouldn’t beat an epinephrine-filled needle jammed, Pulp Fiction style, into the thigh. Still, a spoonful would be better than nothing in the event of an allergic reaction. I’d never given my little crew shrimp. I had no idea whether or not they were sensitive to shellfish.
I had no idea how I would survive the next five days.
At the urging of a good friend, my husband had near-unilaterally decided that our two-year-old and a three-year-old should accompany his pal’s young family on a Disney Cruise. It was going to be GREAT!!!! Mickey. Tinker Bell. “Relaxing” by the pool and the ocean. ALL YOU CAN EAT! What could go wrong?
The thriller writer in me wanted to inform him of Finagle’s law—or at least the fact that neither of our toddlers could swim. The wife in me saw his excitement and pressed her lips together. Yes, our kids hadn’t yet advanced from Yo Gabba Gabba to the Disney Princess stage. Sure, the stuff required to amuse and care for two children sub age-six would consume half of our 214-foot stateroom. Okay, so I’d be squeezing children accustomed to a sprawling suburban house into an area the size of the bedroom in my second Manhattan apartment. But, hey, it would be an experience! And, no, I didn’t want to offend our friends.
“Do you think I have enough anti-nausea medication?” I asked.
“Yes. The ship is a floating hotel. It’s so big that no one gets sick,” my husband responded.
“The kids get car sick. Surely, they’ll feel queasy on the ocean.”
“You worry too much.”
“It’s my job.”
My husband looked at me like he should have packed a Xanax prescription.
The cruise was not a vacation. My kids didn’t care about the Disney characters. They didn’t like being “penned in” on the ship. The drinks were too watered down. Worst of all, my two-year-old’s body chose that week to develop molars. My floating pharmacy did not include Orajel.
Several times, as my two-year-old howled in our cramped quarters about the gums that I could not soothe and my husband drank with his dear friend by the pool, I stood on our stateroom balcony, belly pressed to the mahogany railing just beneath my bust, and mused about disappearing into the azure Caribbean sea. Would I make a splash? How long would it take to save me? Could I swim to Cozumel?
I never jumped. But the passing thought did make its way into my next novel, TheWidower’s Wife. The protagonist in my book is trapped by a crisis, partially, of her own making. Writing about her circumstances brought back the cruise. I could feel the warm wind on my skin and see the ombré ocean through the balcony bars. I remembered feeling caged in a floating prison guarded by Mickey Mouse. Those very real feelings influenced my fiction and my dramatic choices. I wrote what I knew.
In the end, I can’t say that the Disney Wonder was a wonderful vacation. But it was an inspirational one.
HANK: Have you ever been on a cruise? Ever wanted to? Please report on your journey—or your thoughts on that journey! And a copy of The Widower’s Wife to one lucky sailor—er, commenter.