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After leaving the house in the capable hands of a friend of ours, we starting driving towards Tampa at about 8:30 pm on the 21st of December. I did most of the driving down there, including the last 30 minutes, even though I felt like I was falling asleep then. We met the other members of our party for breakfast at their hotel, and then headed towards the dock.

My party consisted of:

Me, 6' 250 lb half-orc paladin of the goddess of animals; NG.
Sue, 5'2" 200 lb dwarf barbarian/shaman; CG.
Chris, 6' 230 lb human rogue with bardic knowledge feat; CG.
Paul (my father), 6'2" 215 lb human wizard; NG.
Marge (my father's wife), 5'10" 160 lb elven diplomat; CG.
Julie (my sister), 5' 1/4" 200 lb gnomish sorcerer; LG.
Pete (Marge's son), 6'6" half-elven cleric; NG.
Kate (Pete's girlfriend), 5'9" elven cleric; LG.

More seriously, my dad is a teacher, Marge is a real estate agent, my sister shows apartments and used to be a chef, and Pete and Kate are both doctors.

The whole start of the trip was very stressful for me. I had found out shortly before we left that someone was going to get charged $11.50 per day per person in gratuity charges, just for being on the ship. That seems fair (that covers all food servers and room cleaners, and they clean the room like three times a day) but I was afraid we couldn't afford it. Getting on the ship was also stressful because there were no signs, and the guard who was theoretically directing us to where we needed to go yelled at me rather than being helpful. It didn't help that I hadn't had any sleep.

We got on the ship around 1 pm, and I sat up on one of the upper decks and talked to Dad while Chris got me sustenance - I was in desperate need of protein and vitamins, because the road food had been primarily carbs and caffeine. I watched the sunset from Dad & Marge's room and then joined everybody in the Destiny dining room for dinner.

The food was excellent, for the most part. Occasional breaks in quality didn't ruin the experience by any means. The food was also highly vegetarian-friendly, and I had vegetarian dishes three nights out of four, even though I'm not vegetarian. The only meal I was really disappointed with was the breakfast we had Sunday morning in the sit-down restaurant; the pancakes were meh, the syrup was fake maple, and the turkey bacon was undercooked and unpleasant. But, the breakfast buffet was still open so I went up there and had a real breakfast.

The first night was set to be our Solstice celebration, so Sue and I went walking on the upper decks to see the stars and do a little ritual. I dabbed ritual oil on our hands and then we held hands; I just stood there, soaking in the feeling. It helped, I think.

The first full day was a day at sea, and I spent the day doing trivia and wandering around on my own, exploring. I got a temporary tattoo of a spikey dragon on my shoulder, in orange, red, and brown. The afternoon of the 23rd was set for celebrating Dad & Marge's anniversary, so we got a cake and met up on the back of the ship to watch the sunset. After that, we went to a show in the ship's lounge; it was 'southern' themed and we got to watch the performers dance to a bunch of familiar country songs, including Rocky Top, which is sort of like Knoxville's theme song. (I drove 11 hours and got on a ship to hear Rocky Top, yes I did.) The best part of it was the violin-player who did a very good version of Devil Went Down to Georgia. Dinner was 'elegant' that night, so we dressed up, and got some nice pictures taken which I'll scan and post some day. We did karaoke that night, and I sang Billy Joel's Longest Time to applause that had real enthusiasm in it.

The second day, we had docked in Cozumel, and I went snorkeling in the morning. It was nice, like floating over an enormous aquarium. I had lunch with Sue, napped, tried out the casino with Sue, then hit the water slide and the hot tubs. The third day we were back at sea, and Sue had a tour around the ship in the morning so she and I got up for an early breakfast. After she left, I went to play cards with my family in Dad's suite, and we ordered lunch and exchanged presents. I got two t-shirts. Then Chris and I went and enjoyed the waterslide and the hot tub together.

Departure day required us to get up pretty early because we needed to be out of our room by 8 am and ready to go by about 8:30. Getting out was stressful again, but we managed it somehow, and started driving home at about 10:30 am. We got home at 1 am this morning.

All in all it was a positive experience for me. I was able to relax, for the most part, although I wouldn't say I had fun. Chris and Sue did, though, and that was what I was really hoping for.
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