Self-Improvement 505: Even Considering a Cruise

Because end-of-the-school-year lists aren't clawing my head from the inside out already, I've decided to stress about whether my passport will arrive in time for our cruise. We have, and I am actually counting here, five different "major" backup plans in place in case the new laws that start on Monday cause unanticipated delays, even though the odds are that everything will be fine. Hopefully.

I do know - per the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative - that I don't actually need a passport for a closed loop cruise, even under the new rules. I could just make do with a driver's license and a birth certificate.

Except... my first certified copy of my birth certificate is in Los Angeles, being processed for my passport application. Why? Because I can't find my last passport and can't remember if I've even seen it since moving to Las Vegas. So I had to use a birth certificate and fill out a form explaining why I'm such a goober in the moments when I'm not being utterly anal retentive.

And the spare certified copy of my birth certificate? The one I got for our Homeland Security interview two years ago? The one that, despite paying out the buzzding for expedited processing (10-15 business days), arrived after six weeks and thus too late for our interview? (Luckily we didn't need it after all) The one I chucked, unopened, into a dark corner until I felt like dealing with it?

About that envelope that I only just opened a couple of weeks ago?

It's not my birth certificate. It's for some other person born on the same day as me.

So, I am bereft of adequate Proof of Citizenship at the moment. And now that I know I can't count on the Texas Department of Health - not in matters of time nor accuracy (no surprise, I used to work there) - all my hopes rest on the estimated timeline from the State Department.

They also rest on the Cruise Line. See, they say that your documentation can be fine according to the buried fine print of Customs, but if the cruise line doesn't feel like it will be okay, they won't let you on board.

So, I found a place on the DHS site that seems to say I can use a photocopy of my birth certificate if I must. Great! I have that! But then the WHTI site seems to want a certified copy. Oh. However, the AMEX travel site (no, they aren't the government, but they've always seemed so conservative and responsible, haven't they?), says I can use a photocopy if I can prove that my certified copy has been submitted as part of a passport application. I can do that!

But would the Cruise Line be satisfied with such unorthodox evidence? It's hardly being advertised, and it may not even be true.

What if I take my first passport (~1985, picture barely shows my Duran Duran buttons), a photocopy of my birth certificate, photocopies of my parents' birth certificates, printouts of 1930 census records showing my grandparents' places of birth, copies of pension applications for both Union and Confederate soldiers and widows residing higher up in the family tree, throw in a few Revolutionary War enlistment folios and 17th-century immigration ship records, bind it all in a soothing floral report cover (I'll just steal one off some kid's final exam essay), and neatly clip a twenty dollar bill so it shows through the window?

We'll call it Back-up Plan #6. Maybe spending most of my adult life obsessing over genealogy has all just been leading up to this one moment. Stand aside, sailor, while I strum the ballad of moi. Give me bingo or give me buffet...

Sometimes pregnant women have to be kept away from certain books full of prenatal doom and gloom. Me, I need to be kept away from chat boards where people put flashlights under their chins and talk about how their expedited passport was applied for at Christmas but didn't arrive until the end of summer.

Always keep your passport in good standing. Don't be like me.

What actually triggered this little speech is that I was wondering how I became like me. My last passport expired in 2003. That feels like Just The Other Day, but - crivens! - it was six-plus years ago. Waily, waily! (Sorry, I'm reading a lot of Terry Pratchett YA this week.) I love to travel and am well aware that you never know what opportunities will pop up. I married someone from the other side of the world, for pete's sake. Why did I not renew my passport? Especially after I went through the bother of getting my certified birth certificates (or just the one certificate, as grimly discovered) for Mike's immigration interview?

Reason #1: I didn't want to get my passport photo taken. Allow this mug to become part of the Official Record? Goodness, no. Come back, um, later, after I magically start living my life completely differently.

(Is the person who studiously avoids mirrors less vain than the person who studies them endlessly?)

Reason #2: I didn't trust myself not to use said passport.

Look, last year I had such a bad day at work, we went to see Barry Manilow that night at a cost that I still cannot say out loud. While it's true that I'm good at avoiding impulse shopping, I'm not perfect. All it might take is for one more freshman to say, "What essay?" and - bam! - I've booked breakfast for two in Rome. This Saturday. Bring a jacket.

A self-medicating creature with no credit card debt and a working passport could be very dangerous creature indeed.

Yeah, I don't know which reason is more stupid, either. But both beat Reason #3. (Decided to take a chance and take all that time it takes to fill out the form, get photos, write checks, and swear the oath and spend it on sleeping or goofing off instead.)

And is Italy even known for its breakfast food?

Back to the PSA: Passports last ten years. Don't be like me. Get or renew yours now. You never know when swine flu is going to cause a bunch of Mexican cruises to change itineraries, causing a bunch of people to cancel, causing a bunch of (relatively) last minute scrambling to fill the ships, and thus causing a lot of high-fiving as people get balcony suites for dirt cheap. (And then the danger passes and the cruise lines start changing itineraries back, but you're locked into a good deal no matter what... assuming your passport arrives.)

Actually, if you look at the title of this post, this is not where I started nor meant to end.

One thing I always marvel at is how my attitudes have changed over the years on so many things. Led Zeppelin, button mushrooms, Las Vegas, Unix, roses - I've undergone enough little 180s here and there that I can't help but expect more to come. Will I become an officer in a Steven Seagal (sp) fan club? Will I buy a motorcycle and weave through traffic in imaginary lanes only motorcyclists can see? Will there ever be Pepsi in my fridge?

Cruising kind of falls under this category. I was never actually down on cruising, but given all the the ways to travel in the world and given what I thought were my proclivities, I never imagined I'd have enough time and money to make it down the list to such a low priority item as taking a cruise.

Yeah, and once upon a time I assumed my Disney Theme Park : European Cities ratio would be about 1:10. Hah.

My logic was as follows: cruising could be fun, but why not just use that money to go directly to the port and spend more time there? What kind of person wants to just dip into a new location for a few hours, then go back to the ship? Why would you sleep on the seas and play shuffleboard when you could be hitting museums and restaurants on the mainland? Maybe, if you were rich and had already visited all those places, and you just wanted a break... or if it was free... But I don't drink or sunbathe or like to sit with strangers at dinner, so... no, not likely.

Then we stayed on the Queen Mary last year, jokingly calling it "our kind of cruise." The romance and history of a famous ocean liner, the scars of decay and foolishness, the serene views, the ability to come and go to shore at a moment's notice, the proximity to Disneyland and Newport Beach... who would want to be "trapped" at sea, surrounded by water slides and formal nights?

But the morning we left the QM, the Carnival Pride docked next to us. Wow. Pretty thing. Maybe a seed was planted?

Then Mike made his passing "cruise someday" comment, I did my idle research, and we discovered it was cheaper for us to cruise to Catalina/Ensenada for a few nights than it was to ferry over and pay for a room and meals for just one night. Three weeks later, and I'm already wondering which cruise we'll take next summer. (So here's hoping we like this one!)

Anyway, I didn't see any of this coming. It was looking like another econo-summer of possible plans to hit the Shakespeare Festival or Grand Canyon or maybe even Yellowstone and, whoa, a big boat comes out of nowhere and smashes broadside into my sensibilities.

So, having unexpectedly become a Cruise Person (at least in theory), despite having so many other travel aspirations, I wonder if other unexpected interests are yet to come. Or, rather, I try not to wonder, to not even idly play with the hinge of that Pandora's Box, because I really don't want to become one of those "See 15 Countries in Five Days" travelers, or stay in eco-huts on the Amazon River, or - gulp - take teenage students on a class trip to Thailand.

Some people freeze their credit cards in a bowl of ice. Zip-loc bags will protect even passports from freezer burn, right?

31 May 2009 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)