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Cruise Ship Review
How We Heighten Our Cruise Experience
Before and After The Cruise

by Tom & Mary Milano

Mary and I start experiencing the excitement of an upcoming cruise long before the date of our departure and for an extended period after we return. We have found that certain mind games help. We are going to tell of a few that have helped us that you might like to try.

Collecting Memories

Some years ago we read about a renowned traveler, Niebuhr, who became blind in his old age. But having traveled all over the world, and viewing the most beautiful and loveliest scenes, he had stored in his memory countless pictures of landscapes, mountain scenery, and valleys of rare beauty. Then, as he reclined in his easy chair, his face would often brighten into a rich glow, as if some inner light was shining through. He was remembering once more some splendid scene he had looked upon in his travels. The author wrote that the chamber walls of his memory were hung all over with the pictures which filled his darkened years with joy and beauty.

This lovely thought gave Mary and I the idea that it might be a very meaningful and rewarding endeavor for us to make a conscious effort to collect memories. We have done that and at the very top of our long list of many wonderful memories are the sixteen cruises we have made in the last four years.

Photos Remind Us Of Our Past Cruises

Mary MilanoWhen we board a cruise ship, the usual photo is taken. We also have one taken on each formal night and when we are dining, and also when we disembark at a port. We have the formal pictures on the shelves of our wall unit in our den. They are a constant reminder of the many wonderful cruises we have made. In our breakfast area we have a window garden in which we place all the embarking photos, interspersed with the port photos. It is most pleasant to catch a glimpse of them whenever we are at our breakfast table. The only problem with having all these pictures staring at us is they make us aware that we are not getting any younger. But they also serve the purpose of reminding us that we had better cruise every opportunity we get and as often as we can, while we are still able.

Island Night Dinners

Another way we have of heightening our pre-cruise excitement is our Island Nights. We have in our cupboard, dishes which have a special meaning for us. We have made it a practice to collect two dinner plates from every island we have visited. When we return home, I write on the back of each plate the island, the name of the ship and the date of the cruise. One day a month, Mary decides what island she wants to honor and she makes what she calls an "Island Dinner." On that special evening she sets a card table among the flowers in our garden room. She then sets the table with the two plates she has chosen, a very colorful table cloth and napkins, and of course, candlelight. Then, dressed as we are on Island Nights aboard ship, we sit down to dinner. I pour Mary's wine and with the strains of soft music playing in the background, we have dinner and reminisce about our past cruises. After dinner, we have one of Mary's fabulous desserts, something we do not usually do when we are home.

When we finish dinner, I lead Mary to a small tiled area in our garden room that we call our dance floor. I embrace Mary in my arms and we dance, just as if we were in a lounge aboard ship. We particularly enjoy dancing the Rhumba to a CD of Edie Gormé singing "Amor" with the accompaniment of the Los Pancho's Trio. We get the same feeling as if we were dancing in a lounge aboard ship. But then we are brought back to reality when we glance out the garden room window, and instead of seeing the blue rolling ocean waves and sea spray, we see the lush green fairway of the 10th hole of our Connecticut club golf course. (We have played a mind game with ourselves.)

Well, I guess you can't have everything. Imagination and simulation can only take you so far, then reality sets in. But I can tell you this: we have found that having these dinners once a month immensely heightens our anticipation and excitement of our upcoming cruise and has added immeasurably to our collection of memories.

Fashion Show Week

Mary and I call the two weeks before we cruise, "Fashion Show Week." We retired from the restaurant business in 1973; it was our custom on weekends for Mary to be dressed in an evening gown and I would wear a tux. Remarkably, and to her credit, Mary has maintained her size six and is still able to wear these gowns. You probably would like to know how I have managed in the weight department . . . but I'm not going to tell you.


I think I should first explain how Mary prepares for a cruise. She has set aside a bedroom as her staging area for cruise packing. She has our two Val packs open on the bed, side by side. Yes, you read it right, I didn't make a mistake, we have two Val packs. (A Val pack is a suitcase type garment bag). As I wrote in one of our cruise reviews, Mary would have felt right at home among the women of yesteryear, who wouldn't think of traveling without a steamer trunk. After our fourth cruise, she made me buy the second Val pack. We now have his and hers, mostly hers. She even takes extra things in case she changes her mind as to what she's going to wear. Now you are forewarned: if you read in one of our reviews that the cabin had very limited closet and drawer space, be advised to take it with a grain of salt.

Mary is really a pro at packing. She keeps and saves the cellophane wrappings that our dry cleaner puts over our clothes and makes sure each of her dresses and every one of my Val pack items are covered with them. She says it's the only way to keep your clothes from creasing and she has convinced me she's right. She also has a large open piece of luggage sitting sideways across the arms of a chair. As soon as we return from a cruise and all the laundry is done, she puts the underwear, socks, handkerchiefs and other items of that type in the suitcase, ready for the next cruise.

Two weeks before the cruise, Mary starts talking about what she might wear. (Remember what I said about mind games? Well, this is another one.) She asks my opinion and I tell her how nice she looked in this dress, and how that dress did something special for her, and how the other one made her figure look even trimmer than it is, etc., etc. Then after looking at some of our formal cruise pictures on our wall unit, I usually say, "I think I'd like to see you take such and such a dress, but I'm not sure. Why don't you try it on and let me see how it looks." This is the beginning of the fashion show. She begins trying on different dresses and we talk about them and then we decide if she should take it. This goes on at various times preceding the cruise and after we have made our selections, we often change our minds and do it all over again.

I'll share a secret with you. As far as I'm concerned, Mary would look good in a pair of over-alls, but I wouldn't dare tell her. I wouldn't take the chance of having to give up the fun and the intimacy that goes along with helping an attractive fashion model slip in and out of her dresses. We find ‘Fashion Week' not only helps greatly to heighten our excitement and anticipation of a cruise, but it makes for a very entertaining and interesting evening.


We would like you to read an excerpt from an article we read a number of years ago, by an unknown author, that has a poignant and compelling message, and then we will tell you how dancing extends our cruise experience:

The cruise ship was crowded with people off for a week of pleasure. Ahead of me in the passageway walked a tiny woman in brown slacks, her shoulders hunched, her white hair cut in a bob. From the ship's intercom came a familiar tune, "Begin the Beguine." And suddenly a wonderful thing happened. The woman, unaware anyone was behind her, did a quick and graceful dance step, back, shuffle and slide. As she reached the door to the dining room, she reassembled her dignity and stepped soberly through.

Younger people often think folks our age are beyond romance, dancing or dreams. They don't see the people who live inside . . . we are the wise old codgers, the dignified matrons. No one would ever know that I am still the skinny girl who grew up in a leafy suburb of Boston. Inside, I still think of myself as the youngest child in a vicarious family headed by a mother of great beauty and a father of unfailing good cheer.

And I am still the romantic teenager who longed for love, the young adult who aspired to social respectability. But whom should I tell? We are like the woman in the ship's passageway, in whom the music still echoes. We are the sum of all the lives once lived. We show the grown-up part, but inside we are still laughing children, the shy teens, the dream-filled youths. There still exists, most real, the matrix of all we were or ever yearn to be. In our hearts we still hear, "Begin the Beguine," and when we are alone, we dance.

Many Times When Mary and I are Alone, We Dance

Mary and I enjoy dancing. We like everything about it. We love having our arms around each other, dancing to rhythms of the nostalgic ballads of yesteryear and we enjoy the intimacy it fosters. We find it very exhilarating and exciting and romantic.

A couple of weeks before a cruise, Mary and I select some of our favorite CDs and retire to our den. The floor is parquet, which makes for nice dancing. We find ourselves saying the same thing every time we return from a cruise: "We should learn a few new steps." That's when the fun begins. We usually start off well, but when we get to trying out some new variation of an old step, we usually fall back to our old ways. We do this for a number of nights with pretty much the same results. We haven't made any major improvement with our dancing, but we find ourselves laughing a great deal and having a fun-filled evening. We aren't as poised and graceful as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, or maybe not quite as agile, but we're willing to make a wager that Fred or Ginger didn't have any better time than we do.

If you want to heighten your pre-cruise experience, play your favorite CD and imagine you're in the lounge of your favorite cruise ship. Take your sweetheart in your arms, hold her tight and as you dance, think of the many intimate moments you soon will be sharing. It will do wonders for you. (Remember it's all a mind game.)

How To Heighten Your After-Cruise Experience

We have mentioned a number of things we do to heighten our before-cruise experience -- they are the very things you can also do to heighten your after-cruise experience. The many pictures we have in our den are a good reminder of our cruises, as are the boarding and port pictures displayed in our breakfast area. Now that we have taken sixteen cruises, we have so many pictures that I have hung a number of them in my office. I enjoy looking at them as I glance around the room. It makes for a very pleasant atmosphere.

Our Island Nights after a cruise are a delight and make for a wonderful evening of reliving memories and planning future cruises. It also gives us a chance to practice our Rhumba.

Dancing is sure to heighten your cruise experience before, during and after a cruise. It's fun, it's romantic. And, taking dance lessons is a lot of fun and I promise you, you will forever remember the numbers: one ... two ... three and a four. Those numbers are riveted to the inside of my forehead forever.

Photos of Past Cruises

Half Moon CayCruise snapshots are a very good way to rekindle memories of a cruise. We file each of our cruise snapshots in the packet that the film comes in from the developer, under the name of the ship. When we want to remember a certain cruise, we take out that packet and go through each of the photos. It's fun reminding ourselves of the wonderful time we had at different ports of call. We enjoy looking at the pictures that were taken while we were having lunch in Pancho's Backyard in Cozumel or while we were swimming in the magnificent pool of the Jamaica Grande Hotel in Ocho Rios, or some of the beautiful pictures we took of that pristine paradise of the Caribbean, Holland America's Half Moon Cay. Pictures are a great reminder of the many wonderful moments we have enjoyed on our past cruises. Make sure you take a camera on your next cruise and bring home a bunch of memories.

Internet Cruise Message Boards

Another way to vicariously cruise and heighten your after-cruise experience is by joining one of the many cruise message boards on the Internet. They offer you an opportunity to have conversations with other people who are passionate about cruising. I would like to tell you about a wonderful experience we had after posting on a message board.

I was surfing various cruise web sites when I came across a message board where you could post the date you were sailing. I posted the date of our sailing which was April 4th, aboard the Ryndam. A couple of days later, I received an email from a woman who read my post and said that she was also booked on the same ship. We exchanged email; in one of her messages, she sent a picture of herself. We thought it was nice but didn't give it further thought.

The day of sailing, we were in the Holland America terminal in Ft. Lauderdale waiting to board and I happened to glance to my right and I saw a girl that looked familiar. I said to Mary, "That's Pat, the girl who sent us the photo." Sure enough, it was her. I introduced myself, and the three of us carried on like old friends. On the second night of our recent cruise aboard the Grand Princess, we returned to our stateroom to find bottle of Chardonnay on our desk, with a beautiful note attached, compliments of Pat. What a pleasant surprise! Try joining a cruise message board, they really can be fun.

Write a Review of Your Last Cruise

And last, but not least, and possibly one of the best ways you can extend your cruise experience, is to do what Mary and I do: write a review. When you return from a cruise, share your cruise experience with your fellow cruisers by writing a review. Not only will you be extending your own cruise experience but you will be helping your fellow cruisers get the information they are seeking. One of the pleasures we derive from writing a review is all the email we receive. If you write a review and do not know how to have it posted, write to us and we will help you.

I think we have given you enough suggestions on how to heighten your before- and after-cruise experience -- now it's up to you to see if they work for you. We believe that the ability to enjoy things for a longer period, be it cruising or our everyday life, is directly correlated to our ability to play games with our minds. My favorite author Emmet Fox once said, "It is the food which you furnish your mind that determines the whole character of your life. It is the thoughts you allow your mind to dwell upon, which make you and your surroundings what they are." The games we play with our minds can help us in every area of our life.

As we have written in a recent cruise review, we would do ourselves a world of good if we took the advice of that grand old Johnnie Mercer tune: you got to learn to "Accentuate the positive...eliminate the negative...and latch on to the affirmative." That's what these suggestions are all about. They are mind games you can play to help accentuate and heighten your enjoyment of your past and future cruises.

If you do something special to enhance your cruise experience, please share it with us, and if you have enjoyed this article, Mary and I would enjoy hearing your comments. Until we meet again, Happy Cruising.

Photos courtesy of Tom & Mary Milano.


Tom & Mary Milano are obviously addicted to cruising. They would love to hear your experiences and can be reached at tmilano@n-jcenter.com.

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