Friday, January 30, 2015

Fangirl Fridays – Cruising the Caribbean with Vampires

Cruise ships in Philipsburg, St. Maarten
I recently went on a Caribbean cruise — just me, my husband, and an entertaining assortment of vampires, vampire hunters, and various supernatural species. The cruise was a dream come true for me, and I was looking forward to an abundance of relaxation time, which of course meant oodles of opportunity to indulge in reading.

I hadn’t been on a cruise in years. Now that I’m more of a quiet-book-in-a-scenic-nook traveler than a party-loudly-by-the-pool person, fictional companions were higher on my packing list than carousing couture. I carefully selected just the right book series well in advance, one that I knew would keep me riveted yet easily accommodate frequent interruptions. I made sure I had multiple formats, like audio books and e-books. And then I inadvertently started a new series the week before the trip, so I brought all those books along, too!

How did I fare, with clear turquoise waters, lush green rainforests, beaches of sparkling white or volcanic black sands…and an entourage of urban fantasy friends and foes? Well, it was tough duty, but I decided I’d do it again without even having my arm twisted! There’s something incredibly peaceful yet exhilarating about cocooning yourself amidst a boisterous floating city on a faraway sea to indulge in an extracurricular adventure that is uniquely yours.

I hope you’ll join me after the jump for a little reminiscing and some tips for book-loving cruisers.



Meeting some friendly local residents!
On this trip, I discovered that the eastern Caribbean islands are beautiful and diverse in their marvels. We visited five, and no two were alike. Each offered its unique history, culture, economy, architectural styles, and natural wonders, and my only complaint was that spending one day in each port wasn’t nearly enough time to get even an overview of each island’s outstanding attractions. So we tried to pick different types of activities at each port to collectively create one good island experience: we snorkeled, we hiked, we toured in trains, boats, vans, and on foot, and we lounged on beaches. Port days were exhausting, and I was more than ready to sit down and read once we sailed off into the sunset.


Then I quickly realized that cruise ships are not designed to help you read. They are designed to suck money from your wallet — via shops, bars, and casinos — and thoughts from your brain — with a revolving smorgasbord of music, games, and shows. And they excel at adding inches to your waistline — the buffet never ends!! Simply relaxing with a great book can be a challenge. But it’s a wonderful indulgence if you can swing it.

Our ports of call

When I think about my vacations (and stay-cations) over the years, I always remember what book I was reading. Its plot and characters are deeply intertwined with my memories of spectacular scenery and poignant reunions. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the first time I listened to the Pri-ya scenes in Dreamfever. And when I read One Foot in the Grave’s infamous chapter 32. (I also remember where Head Wench Barb told us she was when she read it! *snicker*) And when dinosaurs broke loose in Jurassic Park, vampires stalked the inhabitants of Salem’s Lot, and Lisbeth Salander raced through the icy, dark streets of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. For me, mingling vacation and reading memories can enhance both experiences remarkably, which is one reason I wanted to pack the right books. (I have made a few memorable mismatches. *sigh*)


What did I read?


I think I did pretty well for this trip: fun, fast, and action-packed stories; characters I could relate to and wholeheartedly get behind cheering for or against; a steady stream of surprises; and lots of snarky humor.
  • Chicagoland Vampires series — A Wench favorite, I had fallen behind in this series (I’ll blame that on Outlander and Outlander) and been waiting for the right time to pick up where I’d left off and read the last few books and short stories. I already loved Merit, Ethan, and their sidekicks, and would enjoy having a nice, long stretch of time to read through the rest of their adventures. I also looked forward to catching up on Barb and Zee’s many posts in praise of the later books in the series, which I’ve been avoiding so I won’t get spoiled. This would also prepare me for the new short story and book that are due to release soon.
  • Gardella Vampire Hunters series — I inadvertently began this series because I was looking for a quick standalone book, I had bought The Rest Falls Away on sale when Jeaniene Frost recommended it, and it was the only book on my e-reader that grabbed me enough to keep reading during a very stressful week of packing and preparing to travel. Then I realized it was part of a series. Oops. But I wasn’t about to stop reading it, so I packed it along. And it was perfect, because it was set in Jane Austen’s England, and cruise ship atmosphere — fancy dining rooms, formal nights, ostentatious chandeliers and décor, and ballroom dancing — helped me feel like a participant in the haughty aristocratic lifestyle described in these books. (Look for a series review soon!)

How was my reading experience?


I don’t think I’ve ever survived so much supernatural drama so serenely! I didn’t chew off a single fingernail during 5 suspenseful books!

When Lady Victoria Gardella Grantworth de Lacy, the new Summa in the ancient bloodline of Gardella Vampire Hunters, battled a resurrected demon and then struggled in the clutches of a centuries-old vampire, about to be turned against her will...the ship was moored in St. Thomas and I was sitting on a gloriously white beach at a national park on a neighboring island. Not. Stressing. At. All.

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas,
U.S. Virgin Islands
Trunk Bay, St. John,
U.S. Virgin Islands

At nighttime Victoria valiantly battled an insidious evil deep within her, as nefarious forces vied to manipulate it for their own purposes, but during the daytime I rode around the island of St. Kitts on railroad tracks formerly used to haul sugar cane, photographing sweeping vistas of the rough Atlantic and calm Caribbean oceans and all sides of the island’s cloud-shrouded, rain-forested mountains. Again... Not. Stressing. At. All.

Basseterre
St. Kitts, West Indies
St. Kitts Scenic Railway
St. Kitts, West Indies

Windmill ruins and Sint Eustatius island
St. Kitts, West Indies
Atlantic coastline
St. Kitts, West Indies

While Victoria planned a war against an apocalyptic onslaught of demons poised to destroy mankind, and figured out how to infiltrate yet again the lair of her now extremely vigilant and tired-of-being-snuck-up-on immortal nemesis Lilith the Dark, to save the life of a captive vampire-hunting Venator, I was happily snorkeling amongst green sea turtles and shipwrecks, lounging on pristine white sands, and purchasing paintings along the sidewalks of Bridgetown on the island of Barbados. I did stress a little, because I had to select the paintings, but my husband and I agreed surprisingly quickly.

Snorkeling with sea turtles and shipwrecks
Barbados, West Indies
Bridegtown
Barbados, West Indies

Paradise Beach near Bridegtown
Barbados, West Indies

While Cadogan House Master Ethan Sullivan and his trusty Sentinel Merit were dealing with the aftershocks of his sudden reappearance, BFF Mallory’s treachery, and a former mayor who morphed into powerful dueling deities, to once again save the city of Chicago, I toured the island of Dominica, renown for its resident population of indigenous Carib (a group of people who lived on these islands when Columbus “discovered” and claimed them) and its national parks and rain forests. Not much to stress about here.

Trafalgar Falls
Dominica, West Indies
Trail to the Emerald Pool
Dominica, West Indies

Trail to Trafalgar Falls
Dominica, West Indies
Local crafts for sale
Dominica, West Indies

Roseau port
Dominica, West Indies
Lunch balcony view in Roseau
Dominica, West Indies


While Methan scrambled to respond to threats from the Greenwich Presidium, a vampire-killing serial murderer, and a conniving Master from another House, I strolled along a beach on St. Maarten, basking in the warm sunshine and cool ocean breezes, sipping frozen tropical fruit delicacies, and shopping for thank you gifts for the people who fed our pets and houseplants back home. I was getting a bit tearful about missing our dog by then.

Philipsburg, St. Maarten
Philipsburg, St. Maarten


Do boats and books mix?


I’m of two minds about cruising. On the one hand, they offer the opportunity to visit (very comfortably) a variety of ports I couldn’t afford to visit one by one and meet a lot of new people. On the other hand, they don’t offer much opportunity to experience nature and unwind quietly or solitarily. Introverts like me might find that it takes a bit more effort to find relaxing activities, but they are certainly available.

Pros
  • Beautiful scenery, exotic ports of call
  • Lots of comfortable chairs
  • Multiple micro-environments for different tastes in music and ambience
  • An endless array of delicious treats, both healthy and “I don’t care because I’m on vacation” 
  • Time to exercise and all types of enticements: fitness center, yoga classes, island excursions, Zumba by the pool, club dancing into the wee hours
  • Unexpected delights, like a live glass-blowing show
  • A library with lendable books

Cons
  • Super stealth skills required to nab unoccupied chairs
  • No micro-environment for people who enjoy quiet ambience
  • An endless array of delicious treats (be sure to pack loose, stretchy or flowy clothes to lounge around in!)
  • Unexpected delights distractions from reading, like a live glass-blowing show
  • The loudest library imaginable, wide open to the relentless cacophony of music and games
  • 4,000 other people sharing the ship with you (and possibly multiple ships in port)

Tips for bookaholics
  • Private balcony. Most cruisers who read a lot say they spend many hours on their balcony, but that is a pricey luxury. By the time we booked, this wasn’t an option for us.
  • For me, this was the real “library” on the ship!
  • Earplugs. The portable balcony! Seems like every time I got good and comfortable, someone started to sing. Or yell out exercises. Or DJ. I could just pop in my earplugs and keep on reading. (Don’t get me wrong, I love music. But my brain can no longer separate the words entering via my ears from the words entering via my eyes. I inevitably start singing along with the music, totally distracted from my book, even if I don’t like the song.)
  • Solarium. If the ship has a covered, adults-only wave pool — what I might have long ago pooh-poohed as “the old-folks’ pool” — check it out immediately! Ours let in just the right amount of wind and sun, featured an alternative healthy food bar with snack-size portions of gourmet fruit dishes, salads, and desserts, and quickly became my favorite place on the boat. Once I snagged a chair, I was set to read, swim, feast, sunbathe, and even nap for as many hours as I could stand all that relaxation! Soothing new-age music played in the background, melting all my cares away so I could concentrate completely on killing vampires. Or saving vampires. Depending on which book series I was reading.
  • E-ink reader. I asked for a Nook Glowlight e-reader for Christmas in anticipation of reading in the sunlight. (That’s rarely a problem in rainy Oregon!) It was slimmer and weighed less than my mini iPad, yet it had a soft light for evening reading in dark corners. (Be sure to download all your e-books to all your devices before you set sail. Wi-fi is astronomically expensive on cruise ships, and hard to find, unsecured, and unreliable on shore.)
  • Audio books. I downloaded audio versions of the CLV books. These were perfect for listening to by the pool and while power walking around the boat. (However, this required my iPad. The e-ink readers won’t let you load apps to read or listen to books in different formats. That was a huge disappointment.)
  • Travel mug. One for coffee, one for evening beverages (unless you want those to taste like coffee). Fill it up on the way to your chosen reading destination and throw it in your beach bag. (I keep a constant lookout for travel mugs that retain temperature for hours and don’t leak.) I would tell you my husband's clever idea for sneaking duty-free rum onboard, but he swore me to silence! I will say that rum goes quite well with the free guava/passionfruit juice I grew quite fond of in the conveniently located juice bars.

So get cruising, book lovers!!


For bookaholics thinking of taking to the high seas, I enthusiastically recommend cruise reading! When the seas got a little rough or the dining room opened late, I hardly noticed. I was far more concerned with how Victoria was going to get out of her latest predicament, and then her next dire situation, and then the one after that. Beloved characters were always under siege and mankind was often on the verge of annihilation, so I rarely noticed the minor irritations of boat travel.

Bidding adieu to Dominica with book and beverage in hand

If you think of your cruise ship as a changing tapestry of backgrounds for your reading materials and carve out your own personal reading realm, books can be a delightful and integral part of your cruise, just as they should be for any vacation! The larger-than-life extravaganza around me made the characters seem grander and more vivid. I began to identify fellow travelers who’d fit right into the plots, dark recesses where vampires might lurk, and nooks and crannies where I might hide away in the event of a demon apocalypse. And I was continually comforted by the rhythms of the waves. It was hard to get too stressed out while the rocking of the boat lulled me into a sublimely peaceful state, completely involved in the drama, yet somehow safely ensconced in my intimate, immense little world.

Do you like to read while you’re on vacation? Please share your tips for reading on cruise ships and other potentially noisy and distracting places! And what books have you especially enjoyed reading while on vacation?

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! First of all I just have to visit these islands! Your photos tempt me so much! Now, I always take my Kindle with me, home, work, visits, vacations, you name it. Reading is the best way for me tp pass the time on long (or short) flights. Never did a cruise though.

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