I've always wanted to take a cruise: the ease of planned day trips, the lure of the casino, the all-you-can-eat midnight buffets.
So when I see an ad for a cruise on the JDate Web site, I decide to take the plunge.
I pack four bottles of hand sanitizer (due to recent viral outbreaks on cruises) and spend way too much time shopping the "cruise-wear" sections of department stores. (I didn't even know these existed.)
When you're single, traveling to tropical islands isn't always what it's cracked up to be. But, I figure, if I don't meet the love of my life on this trip, at least I'll have a large pool of potential companions to go duty-free shopping with in the Bahamas. But who will these people be? I'm expecting the worst.
However, the very first person I meet getting off the bus from the airport -- a gentle, soft-spoken businessman with a hint of a South African accent -- lays my fears to rest. Mr. Accent and I board the ship together. I'm lingering over his pronunciation of "Newark," which is downright luxurious. Soon, Mr. Accent is off to unpack and I've got six hours to kill before our private welcoming party.
I've never been on a cruise before, and it feels a bit surreal as I sip my welcoming punch and witness the mad rush to sign up for "parasailing," "swim with the dolphins" and "treasure hunt."
Back at my single cabin (most people paid less to share this tiny space with a roommate), I don a slinky dress and head nervously up to the Music Man lounge for the party. My heart's pounding. What am I doing here?
To my relief everyone at the party is nice. Mr. Accent talks to a few blondes. I stop to chat with him; he's extremely sweet, but his eyes wander. Is this on-to-the-next mentality a part of singles culture?
So my eyes wander, too, to a man wearing hip glasses, tight jeans and pointed leather boots -- I soon discover he's a religious banker. Mr. Stud is already dating two women and is just here "to chill." But he still has hopes of "getting lucky," he confides later.
Mingling more, I meet a doctor from Georgia, a woman from my hometown and a few lawyers. I find out later that about half of the 85 JDaters on board are, like me, in their 30s. Each person is friendlier then the next, but I can't shake the feeling that it's all rushed: I'm hurrying to meet as many people as possible, yet I'm not sure precisely why.
Then I meet High-Tech, 28, a laid-back computer programmer from Los Angeles with a twinkle in his eye. I notice that he focuses on me when we speak.
The next morning, I'm waiting with High-Tech to board the small boat that will take us to a private island. The ship is wall-to-wall people. From the corner of my eye, I see someone vomiting behind us. Whipping out the hand sanitizer, I push forward, away from the seasick person. High-Tech catches up, breathless. He's here for a vacation and to re-establish an exercise routine, he tells me.
"I don't really have time for a long-term relationship," he says. "Maybe dating."
High-Tech is off to catch "yoga on the beach" and I join the others for JDate Olympics. After three rounds of passing the Hula-Hoop without using hands, I'm ready for a little break. I lounge and sip a Bahama Mama, compliments of Mr. Accent. I could get used to this.
Being a VIP -- he's been on other JDate trips in the past -- Mr. Accent knows about the kinds of connections that can form on these trips: the flings between people from different states, which usually fizzle in the end; the new friendships that may lead to after-trip dates with friends of friends; and, potentially, the long-term relationships.
Later in the evening, I dance with High-Tech. The deck is lit up as the crowd boogies to the Cha-Cha slide. He gets some type of a drink housed in a coconut and offers me some. When I don't take any, he gets a second straw: He's figured out my obsession with the cruise-ship virus.
The last day of the cruise is overcast, but JDaters are lying out anyway. Mr. Accent is occupied with the new woman he is seeing. So I find Ms. Chicago, who tells me, in this short amount of time, it's hard to read people and know if you'll end up in a relationship.
"If you meet someone, that's like icing on the cake," she says. "If you don't, you have new friends and you're on a cruise!"
Have I made a lifetime of friends from a four-day cruise? I might not have met the love of my life, but I did actually make some friends. And I'm surprised at how much I've enjoyed being part of the group.
Article courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.