Cruise ship obscured by fog near Tampa Bay.

Brilliance of the Seas

The annual Cruise Queens vacation was supposed to happen last week. I figured five days out of the country would make it easy to skip TV. Our bon voyage became a non-voyage after the second day of sea fog led Royal Caribbean to cancel the February 23 sailing of the Brilliance of the Seas’ five-day trip to Grand Cayman and Cozumel. After over twenty-four hours of automated text-message updates raised our hopes and dashed them every two hours, my friend and first year Cruise Queen Terri Johnson dubbed it Groundfog Day. We were stuck in a loop that ended with the message that the Coast Guard would not permit ships to enter Tampa Bay under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Granted, this bridge had been struck before, so caution was reasonable.

Oddly enough, the weather was clear at the docks where we sixteen women gathered in matching Tiffany blue t-shirts and tiaras to await news or storm the dock. We had places to go, costumes to wear, birthdays to celebrate, and attitude to spare. We became news. TV Channel 13 and Channel 8 interviewed us. A photo of the ship in fog outside of Tampa Bay circulated among the crowd, who had spent the night at the Tampa Marriott Waterside. The ship looked more like something from a modern version of The Flying Dutchman than a vacation ship.

group of women shopping in St. Augustine

The Cruise Queens land in St. Augustine for shopping on St. George Street.

Undeterred, we gathered back in Polk County at Cruise Queen Pam Abbott’s home in Lakeland to formulate Plan B. Cruise Queen Kim, owner of Saigon Bistro in Lakeland, arrived with trays of food. We gently elbowed one another for the egg rolls and set plans to book rooms in St. Augustine. Tropical wear was swapped out for sweaters and long pants and the next day we caravanned to northern Florida. By Thursday morning we piled into cars to shop at the outlet mall and St. George Street and King Street. Among us, we bought over sixty bracelets, two dresses, and untold number of souvenirs, causing a financial spike in the local economy.

I introduced Terri to an art gallery where hubby and I bought our favorite paintings–Love’s Art Emporium, where we met Len Cutter and his sons. After a discussion of art and poetry, Len recited Robert Frost’s The Road Less Traveled from memory the way he said it would sound from a New Englander. Terri and I gaped in joy and wonder.

Len Cutter, Love's Art Emporium, St. Augustine

Len Cutter, Love’s Art Emporium, St. Augustine

We celebrated birthdays in costume. No, not birthday suits. One night we dressed as Pink ladies from Grease in honor of Amy’s birthday, and another night we dressed in 70s garb for Cruise Queen Kathy’s. Disco days, white go-go boots, yeah. We got stares at Harry’s Restaurant. Being without television (even though I was on the news) has put more life in my life. Thanks to great friends with a carpe diem spirit, we had a blast.2175

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