Here there be TadPools / by jean-francois dubeau

God dammit I love a cruise. Which is good, because I’m organizing one for the Facebook fan community of the Frogpants podcast network. I stumbled into this role after a few posts extoling how amazing it would be if we all went cruising together. After a few of these posts I interjected that if we wanted this shared experience, then why not organize it and see where it goes. Just like that and without my immediate knowledge, I had volunteered for the job.

 "Finally! I can show off my old vacation photos!"

"Finally! I can show off my old vacation photos!"

However, not everyone knows exactly what to expect from a cruise and pertaining specifically to this group what are some of the hurdles to organizing such an event. There’s a lot I need to explain to my fellow Tadpooligans (members of the aforementioned Facebook community) so it makes sense that I should tackle this in a blog post so as not to miss an opportunity to give out some extra information. I want to talk about what to expect on a cruise, what are shore excursions, why I made some of the choices I did and some of the extras I’m hoping to include that will make this a Tadpool cruise.

The first time it was suggested I go on a cruise, my reaction was to ask “do I look in my mid-seventies?”. In my mind, a cruise ship was like a floating retirement home. A hotel with buffets, casinos and bingo, where people spent a week bathing in the sun while drinking watered down cocktails and gorging on heat-lamp food. To be fair, one can absolutely do this on a cruise and if that’s their jam, more power to them, but as I discovered, there is so much more to this kind of vacation.

You’ll feel an incredible amount of freedom

 Complimentary pizza until 2am? The taste of freedom!

Complimentary pizza until 2am? The taste of freedom!

When you woke up this morning, what was the first thing you thought about? Was it the things you have to do? Did you have to plan diner? Get the kids to a play date? Go to some social obligation? Figure out where to fit in doing the laundry in all this? When you wake up on a cruise ship you have none of these thoughts. The only thing on your mind is the list of fun things you’ll do today. We don’t always realize how much like shackles all these mundane responsibilities are. Now, being an adult and taking care of all your obligations is important and I’m not advocating for a Mad Max world of anarchy, but wouldn’t it be nice to not have to think about anything for a few days? That’s the freedom of being on a cruise ship.

Since you’ve already paid for lodging, food and most of the activities you’ll be doing, you don’t have the burden of constantly budgeting yourself. Meals are available almost everywhere at almost any time. Your only responsibility is to decide what you want to do. Sure there are a few scheduled things like shows and meals, but if you missed a show you were probably doing something more fun anyways and you can catch the next one later that week. As for scheduled meals, those are just for the dining room. You can grab a bite almost anywhere on the ship and the food is excellent.

Added bonus: I find that cruises are a great class equalizer. Passengers might have different sized cabins but out on the ship? It doesn’t matter if you’re a millionaire or if you won your trip on a radio contest; everyone is the same.

You will not get bored

Let me be a little more specific; you will be exactly as bored, as you want to be. As a vacationer, I have a lot of difficulty sitting still. I wake up, race to breakfast and immediately chain one activity after the other. I’ll go on shore excursions or swim laps in the pool during the day. I sign up for classes or visits (Note: the Oasis of the Seas, where we’re planning the cruise so far has an art gallery and is filled with a huge variety of art. Worth visiting the ship just for that). I’ll catch seminars and shows later in the day and hang out in bars at night. Others are happy just sitting by the pool or in the park (Oasis has a park too). If I were an athlete I’d sign up for some of the sports available like basketball. I’ve lost weight since my last cruise I’m planning on hitting the gym each day and trying out the wall climbing (there are two climbing walls on Oasis).

 Any ship with a surfing machine can't be boring

Any ship with a surfing machine can't be boring

What I’m saying is that cruises today offer such a wide variety of activities (or innactivities if you’re so inclined) that one has to intentionally look for reasons not to enjoy themselves. Putting aside tragedies and illnesses, with very little effort, you will find something to do that suits your character.

You can customize the Hell out of your cruise

So the base price includes everything you need to feel unprecedented freedom and relaxation, but what if you want more? What if you want to customize your vacation just a little more though?

 "Come with me, you will see..."

"Come with me, you will see..."

It doesn’t take a whole lot of extra money to put in some add-ons to your trip that will make the whole difference. For example, while Royal Caribbean will have a long list of available drinks available as part of your standard cruise package alcohol and soft drinks aren’t complimentary. That’s great news if you don’t drink these beverages but less so if you thrive on a nice effervescent cola or want to get sloshed. This is why there are drink packages available to give you access to sodas or certain alcoholic drinks so you don’t have to think about that either. There are even wine packages so you can have a bottle or two waiting for you at your diner table.

If relaxing by the pool is just not relaxing enough, the Oasis has a complete spa offering pedicures, manicures, massages and other treatments. Some more complex and advanced classes are available, like scuba diving or wine tasting. If the incredible food available in the dining room and in the many restaurants all over the ship still aren’t to your liking, because you’re a real snob, there are a few specialty restaurants where you can pay a little extra for a truly unique dining experience.

In short, whether you have a little money or a lot of dough to toss around, there are ways to adjust your experience. If all else fails, there’s always shopping. The promenade is essentially a small mall with shops of almost any variety from souvenir to liquor to luxury items. Finally, if money is really burning a hole in your pocket, I have one word for you: casino.

Of course, with three days out of the trip being ports of call, one of the biggest way to customize your trip are the shore excursions.

Shore excursions

As I’ve mentioned, there’s hardly any reason to get off the ship if you don’t want to. However, the ship travels between destinations for a reason; there are things to see and experience amongst these islands. Before I get into the details of some of the choices I’m contemplating, I need to take a moment to discuss some of my decision making process.

I’m making choices. Not all of these choices are going to please everyone. Nothing is set in stone yet, but I have to start picking a few things if only so I have solid matters to discuss with the travel agent I’m working with. Screaming “Cruise!” into the vacuum isn’t very likely to yield results, so I’m using my own experience as well as information I’m gathering from a few place (including the survey I gave the TadPool to fill) in order to make my decisions. It’s the first time I organize a cruise for a fan group, but it’s sure as sugar is sweet that this isn’t my first trip to the confectionary. While I will inevitably either price or organize the trip so it’s out of reach for some people, if I were to accommodate them I’d be doing the same disservice to others. It’s a sad fact that what works for some don’t work for others. So bear with me, I’m doing my best to accommodate the majority and that’s what you’ll see reflected as we move forward.

 Trust me.

Trust me.

Shore excursions are a way to experience what each port of call has to offer. I’ve decided to explore a West Caribbean cruise out of Fort Lauderdale on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. Let’s take a second to explore this line of decisions.

Royal Caribbean’s : Surprisingly, the cruise line and ship weren’t my decision. I asked Teras Cassidy of Geek Nation Tours to give me an initial proposition for a group cruise that would suit a very diverse ensemble of nerds and he came back with Royal Caribbean’s. This is the only cruise line I’ve ever dealt with and I have nothing but praise for their service, ships, amenities, food, etc. Having already worked with them for an onboard event, I know that they are great at communicating and accommodating. Bottom line: Even if there are reputably cheaper options, I didn’t feel the need to argue for them, choosing instead what I consider a sure bet for a great experience.

The Oasis of the Seas : Again, it wasn’t my idea to pick that ship, but I could hardly argue against it. While it’s not as cheap as the smaller ships it does offer more comforts and luxuries as well as variety of activities and environments to enjoy (there’s a park with actual trees and an aqua-theater for Cirque du Soleil-like performances).  Even the larger, newer ship, The Quantum of the Seas, while having more gimmicks, doesn’t have the same variety as the Oasis.

Western Caribbean : Why the Caribbean at all? Why not a West Coast cruise or an Alaskan cruise? Simply, Caribbean cruises are the ‘entry level’ cruise and offer the biggest variety of activities and better prices. There are sailings pretty much any time of the year and it offers most of what is to be expected from a cruise. Finally, if I’m expected to organize this, I want to do it in familiar territory.

February : It’s outside of hurricane season. It’s not too hot like a summer cruise and, unlike the originally suggested holiday cruise, it’s cheaper. The only thing that might make the date slide one way or the other is that we may very likely need to accommodate school holidays for people who want to bring their kids. 

Now that we have the ground rules covered, let’s talk about what I have in mind for shore excursions. First stop…

Labadee, Haiti

A lot of people mentioned being interested in doing some beach activities during the cruise. Labadee is pretty much perfect for a TadPool Beach Party. There are a series of shore excursions and activities but I opted to not do anything special for this port of call. The ship will be bringing a buffet to shore for food. There are activities like kayaking and seadoos as well as swimming of course. I’d like Labadee to be our ‘free day’ for shore excursions. As we start making reservations and hammering things down, we can form small group for those who want to explore particular activities, but otherwise, my wish is that we all enjoy the beach together while everyone goes off to do whatever excursion they’ve signed up for.

 That's a lot of jet skies 

That's a lot of jet skies 

Falmouth, Jamaica

There are a lot of activities in Falmouth, most of them culminating in climbing the Dunn’s River Falls. This is something that might cause some welcome discussion because, though the falls are kinda fun, they are a little crowded making the ascent like standing in line in a river. For a similar price, I was contemplating we could all take a catamaran trip along Montego Bay to go swimming amongst coral and fish. For those who want to stay on the catamaran they are more then welcome to do so and enjoy the complimentary drinks on board and just enjoy the sun.

Cozumel, Mexico

Again, I’m bucking the trend with my selection of activities. The go-to excursion is visiting the Mayan ruins of Tulum. However, these are over an hour away by bus which isn’t that bad but isn’t my idea of fun. Instead, since a surprising amount of people have expressed interest in culinary activities, I was thinking of splitting our group in two: those with a taste for inebriants can enjoy the Tequila Experience and become tequila experts. Those who don’t like booze as much can enjoy the Salsa, Salsa and Margaritas excursion to learn how to make these Mexican specialties.

I’m obviously open to other suggestions or discussions for these excursions and there are still a lot of details to figure out. Note that price had to be a consideration for a lot of the choices made here and I wanted to offer as inclusive a catalogue of activities as possible while keeping the group somewhat together a little.

TadPooligans on the Oasis of the Seas

Before any of you get the wrong idea for my previous paragraph, I have no intention that the TadPool group spend every waking (and some not-so-waking) moment together. Most shore excursions last a few hours at most, leaving participants to do their own thing the rest of the time. However, this is meant to be a TadPool cruise, so there should be plenty of opportunities for the Damn Distracting Bunch of Freaks to see each other.

I don’t want to force anyone into anything but I will strongly suggest we get together every morning for breakfast. The ship issues schedules for each day and I’d like us to be able to discuss briefly each morning over bacon what everyone is planning to do so that those who want to group up for onboard activities have no trouble doing so.

This is all well and good, but we need some actual TadPool activities to make this a proper TadCruise.

The scavenger hunt

Scavenger hunts on cruise ships aren’t new but they sure are fun. The Oasis of the Seas is an enormous ship (second largest cruise ship in the world I believe) and has an incredible amount of things to see on board. This would be a continuous event that would culminate with an award ceremony during…

A podcast taping before a live audience

Brian Ibbott has agreed to tape an episode of Coverville (or something else, we’ll figure it out) during the cruise. For the moment I’m thinking this could be an activity for our last night on board so that we have a full week of insane adventures to draw from for topics an discussion. While we can have access to a conference room for this, if we have enough people we might be able to leverage taking over the comedy club on board. This would also be a perfect night to have…

A trivia contest

I don’t have much decided regarding the details of this activity, but I think an hour of trivia before or after the recording would be incredibly fun. Mr. Ibbott has demonstrated his genius at hosting such things, so I might call on him for that. I have to be careful how much I ask of him though or else I’ll have to start paying the poor guy.

A board game night

It wouldn’t be a geek trip without breaking out the board games. Zombie Dice, Cards Against Humanity, etc. We can take over a conference room and play until the wee hours of the night if we so please. They serve food and drink late on those cruise ships.

Cruise activities

I don’t want to overload the week with TadPool specific activities as there is already so much to do on the Oasis and all you need to do to make something TadPoolish is add a few Distracting Freaks, we can easily organize a Casino Night and Dance Night or a wine tasting, etc. There are traditionally two fancy diners on board; the Captain’s diner and the Chef’s diner as well as a plethora of things to do. As long as we’re doing some of them together, it’ll be a blast and it’ll be a TadCruise.

There you go folks. This is what I’ve got so far. I haven’t submitted anything to Teras yet, so everything remains malleable for the time being, but I’d like to be able to send him to negotiate prices and benefits on our behalf as soon as early February so we have time to prepare and save up.

The survey will remain open until then and if you need to communicate with me for questions or suggestions, feel free to do so at jfdubeau at gmail.com