For eight days I got off the road and got on the water. Boarding the Carnival Conquest in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on February 6th, I was not sure what to expect. Returning eight days later, on Valentine’s Day, I could have stayed on that giant ship and floated across the Caribbean for another week! Before I left land behind to spend a week soaking up the sun and going to places that a truck and trailer couldn’t go, I was afraid that I would think about all the things I had to do at home. Well, the warm winds blew those thoughts away before we were even out of the port.
It had been nearly a year since I had talked to Dave Sommers and had decided to be a part of the “Truckers Gone Wild” 2016 cruise. Now, it was time to board the ship and let the fun and learning begin. Late in the afternoon, our bags were delivered and we got to settle in to our new “bunk” for the week. It was amazing to see all the ships parked in their private stalls with thousands of people and thousands of bags exchanging places – the guests who were getting off the boat with the memories of their time at sea and the new guests getting ready to board. It was like a truck stop on steroids, with every vessel having its own reserved parking spot.
Saturday evening, as all of the ships left the port for their destinations, they were like shining jewels lighting up the night. It was kind of like the trucks with all the lights, lighting up the night, rolling down the highway. The seas are the highways for these floating palaces that are filled with so much to see and do. No centerline, no fog lines or rumble strips to keep them on track – just wide open deep blue water. It was going to take two days at sea to get to our first stop in St. Martin, so it was a good time to check out the ship.
Going on deck Sunday morning, I was pleasantly surprised at how warm it was. Sunday afternoon I began to feel a little sea-sick, so we were heading back to the room when we made a stop at the Effy Jewelry Store, where my friend Tamie Pohlmann witnessed Brian Taylor get down on one knee, after I said I liked a ring he had put on-hold earlier, and asked me to marry him. I said yes! It was a wonderful moment, but it does not cure that sea-sick feeling! They sell little pills at guest services for $3.29 that do take away that feeling, so I was a bit more celebratory later that day.
There was a huge group on board for their annual Super Bowl party, and this event pushed off the first formal night from the traditional Sunday night to Monday night. It was fun to have a reason to get dressed up, heels and all. It was Monday night when we had the good fortune to get Assadee as our waitress. She is from Thailand and she was really amazing! We got to know and talked with some of the crew that were working so hard to make sure our trip was pleasant, and I learned that their lives are similar to ours, as OTR drivers. Many of them are away from their home anywhere from 7-9 months. Some crew members are husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend. I’m sure the cruise lines look at this just as trucking companies look at husband and wife teams, especially when they have to be gone that many months at a time.
Tuesday morning, as we got off the ship for the first time, we had strict instructions that if we were not back by the specified time, the ship would only wait if we were on an authorized excursion. If you went out on your own and got back too late, you would be out of luck and left behind. St. Martin was beautiful, and as soon as we got into the port area there were monkeys that will sit on your shoulder or on your head for a picture for $10. The monkeys do wear diapers, so at least you don’t have to worry about that. After wandering around a little by the dock, we took a water taxi to downtown. Funny, when we ate, we asked the waitress where she was from and she said Montreal. No more snow to scoop for her!
On Wednesday we stopped at St. Kitts. This time we signed up for a tour that took us to both ends of the island. The first stop was the rain forest, which was pretty dry because they have not had much rain in the last five months. They drive on the left side of the street there, and the streets are so narrow, I often thought the vehicles were going to hit as we passed. After this stop, off to the other end of the island we flew, where we were dropped off for a couple hours to play at the beach. It was fun to get out in the warm water and ride the waves in. It was here where, on top of the hill, the water to the right of land was the Caribbean and to the left of that little piece of land the waves were crashing in from the Atlantic Ocean.
Our next stop was in old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and here we just wandered around. This time, while on the land, it felt like the shops were swaying, like the ship felt when it was out in open water. By this time, I had come to appreciate just how nice our “narrow” roads and streets are compared to what these poor drivers have to navigate every day!
Grand Turk welcomed us with a little shower as we got into the port. Here, we took a taxi “downtown” (if you can call it that). Along the street were vendors and shops. It was here, with more than a little hesitation, that we tried conch, the meat that comes out of those big seashells that, when you hold them up to your ear, sound like crashing waves. It was wonderful, and I would like to thank the woman who finally convinced us to try it. We got our feet wet in the ocean, and then learned a lesson, too. If you want to take home one of those cool big seashells, buy it, because if you pick one up and try to bring it back in your bag, they will take it from you when they send your things through the x-ray machine.
Friday was another formal night and, again, the fun of getting dressed up. Everywhere on the ship there are photographers taking pictures. There are so many backdrops for you to choose from, and at the end of the cruise, you can collect all of the ones you like and then they put them on a USB thumb drive for you to take home, giving you the right to print the pictures you like later.
Saturday was our last day at sea, and it was a little sad knowing that all the pampering was about to come to an end, only to be replaced with reality. It was time to pack all the treasures we had acquired and get our bags ready to leave, so that the new cruisers could take our place. Although we did not spend much time with the trucking group, it was nice having some friends aboard.
Next year, the Truckers Gone Wild Cruise will take place February 18-25, 2017 on Carnival’s Glory ship, which will visit St. Thomas, Grand Turk, the Dominican Republic and San Juan. In 2018, there will be a back-to-back cruise. The first leg will be February 10-17 with stops in Aruba, Carousel Island, the
Dominican Republic and Grand Turk. The second leg will be February 17-24 and will visit Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. You are welcome to take either leg or both. This trip will be on Carnival’s new and biggest ship, Vista. Both of these sail out of Miami. If you want to go sooner than these and would like to go to Alaska, check out the cruise that sails June 21-28, 2016.
For more information about other Truckers Gone Wild (TGW) events, you can visit www.sscruisesinc.com to book your vacation and then pay for it over time, so when you are ready to go, it’s already paid for. The cost figured out to be about the same or less as a good hotel a night, and food is included in the cruise, so it’s a really good deal.
I would like to thank Darren Heller for sharing some of the pictures he took with me. He is co-host of the Hillbilly Express Radio Show, which is on internet radio. I want to learn more about this and write a future story about it. This year there were 240 drivers on the cruise, and they are hoping to get that number up to 500 by the time they board the Vista in 2018. We work hard out there, and we all deserve some time away from the road. I highly recommend that you book a cruise, sit back, relax, and let the captain do all of the driving!