By Michael Kinney
MEXICO – I used to be addicted to “The Love Boat.” Couldn’t tell you why a young kid in his pre-teen years enjoyed watching a campy show that followed the staff exploits of the cruise ship the Pacific Princess.
From Capt. Merrill Stubing to the doctor to Cruise Director Julie Mccoy, the cast was entertaining and funny. As the only black cast member, Ted Lange who played Issac Washington, the bartender, was my favorite character. He also had serious game and a mustache.
However, as much as I liked the comedy, which ran from 1977-87, it never sparked a passion to want to spend any time on a cruise ship. As soon I discovered football and hit puberty, I pretty much forgot about the Love Boat and any attraction I had for it.
So last year when it was suggested that my 30th high school class reunion be held on a cruise ship, I admit I was not the most excited about the prospect. I had hoped my classmates would latch onto another idea instead of being stuck in the middle of the ocean for a few days.
That was not the case. Overwhelmingly, the Lawton Eisenhower Class of 1992 voted to celebrate our 30 year reunion with a five-day stroll through the Caribbean in June.
While my excitement level was low heading into the cruise, it turned out to be a great experience on Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas.
The crew and staff were amazing. I was fascinated by how hard they were working from before sun up to way past sundown. They always had a friendly attitude and I enjoyed getting to know a few of the ones who took care of us.
The excursions at Cozumel and Costa Maya were my favorite part. Others in the reunion group chose to hit the beach, go shopping or scuba dive. I wandered around the jungle checking out ruins and four-wheeling to cenotes and caverns.
The meals were top-notch. The braised lamb shank and every dessert top the list.
The best on-board entertainment may have been the Love and Marriage contest. A couple that had been married 54 years brought the house down and became local ship celebrities with their honest answers. (Hint: He had no love loss for her departed mother).
However, the main reason it was an amazing experience had to do with the 17 classmates (and family) who decided to take the journey. The people you choose to be around will dictate your level of enjoyment.
For our group, it started with Jackie Bridges. While I may have been the coordinator, it was Bridges who did all the heavy lifting in making the reunion special for each person in our group.
From gift bags to t-shirts to the little touches that I never would have thought about, Bridges went out of her way to make it an incredible experience. That includes finding Jennifer English to be our travel agent.
During five days at sea, it can be easy to get worn down. But that is almost impossible with the
energy that came from Mary Kasales, Bianca Newton and Jackie McMillan. Every night, they were ready to dance, laugh and tell stories until the sun rose.
I was ready to tap out early a couple of nights, but those three ladies were the motivation to keep on going. That type of energy can’t be manufactured or duplicated.
Getting to know Joseph Bartnik and his family was a treat. That includes becoming a new hero to his son Joshua. I’m not sure that is how they see it, but I do.
I have known Kathy Allen, Jackie Russ, Aimee Knight, James Hunter and Suzanne Parrish since high school. I have known Missy Owens much longer than that. All the way back to elementary school days.
It could be considered a small group, it turned out to be a great size.
It was just a great crew to kick it with. No arguments, no bad encounters or issues that have festered for three decades. Besides terrible internet service and a few crying kids, it was just a group of friends enjoying each other’s company and reminiscing.
Whether it was running up the stairs of a Mayan Ruin, watching Newton work the karaoke mic, McMillan having an entire room of young people want to dance with her, taking part in a silent disco, or the reunion group throwing away $200 on the slot machine because everyone (but me) got greedy, there were too many memorable moments to count.
It was also needed. The past two to three years have shown all of us that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Whether it was from the Covid pandemic or any of the other diseases and disasters that take lives every day, several former Eisenhower classmates didn’t make it to 2022. They didn’t get the opportunity to celebrate with us. There will be even more who may not make it to see next year, much less the next reunion.
That thought more than any is what motivated me to go on the cruise and every reunion I can. I don’t want to be home regretting missing out on an experience.
So, while I may not be the prototypical guest or made for the cruising life or The Love Boat, I have no problem doing it again. Whether it’s a cruise, a trip to New Orleans or Puerto Rico, I’m all in as long as I am surrounded by the right people.
Story & Photos: Michael Kinney Media
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