Adventures with Uncle Deej - Bug on the High Seas

I've said it before and I'll say it again... Becoming an uncle for the first time was one of the most rewarding items on the benefits package included in the contract with my wife. Over the last decade, we've had some great adventures with our niece, from birthday celebrations at Cirque du Soliel to a somewhat impromptu trip to Disney on Christmas Eve. But now that she's a bona-fide teenager, MJ and I are at last able to treat Bug, as she's affectionately known, to some of the more grand adventures that we've often dreamed about.

For three years running, we've set sail aboard the Brilliance of the Seas during the week of Thanksgiving. This cruise has become a new favorite tradition of ours - one which has sadly come to an end due to Royal Caribbean schedule changes, but I digress. Last year, in between the 47 rounds of putt putt while cruising with our nephew, Old Sport, I slipped into the Next Cruise office and booked another Adventure with Uncle Deej. Only this time, it was Bug's turn.

We waited until the summer to tell Bug there was a trip forthcoming, knowing that a year's worth of anticipation would border on cruel and unusual punishment. Naturally, being the loving uncle that I am, I decided the best way to share where we were heading was through a rudimentary game of Carmen Sandiego. Soon our text thread was filled with near daily requests for clues, which were duly replied with obscure geographic references as well as one lengthy and riveting discussion on latitude and longitude. Given that Bug is exponentially smarter than me, I'm taking the fact that it took many rounds of clues as proof of the game's success.

In what seemed like both an eternity and the blink of an eye, the weeks and months of excitement eventually gave way to the cheesy welcome aboard photograph.

Just as we learned the previous year with Old Sport, cruising with a teenager is a very different world than the one MJ and I are typically accustomed. For starters, I had to lug an entire carry on bag worth of books onto the ship. You see, Bug reads at roughly the pace of a book an hour, so this was just to tide her over during the two sea days. Somewhere among all of those clues, I probably should have told her the ship has a library.

Another key difference... When Old Sport wandered into a gift shop, he'd guilt me into buying an inflatable cruise ship or a Royal Caribbean magic marker. Bug's meanderings, on the other hand, had the potential to be far more costly. I learned this lesson not three minutes after stepping onboard the Brilliance, thanks to her visit to the Next Cruise office to pick up brochures for a 28 day trans-pacific cruise to Australia.

Once I convinced her to put the brochures away, we spent most of the afternoon before cast-off eating exploring our way around the ship. In the year that had passed between visits, I had forgotten just how much I missed the 3pm visit to Cafe Lattitudes.

Shortly after sail away, I learned a couple more valuable lessons about traveling with teenagers. The first is that they have both an aversion to the camera and a spidey-sense that alerts them to employ a host of creative face-covering tactics anytime a picture is being taken. Hence why my camera roll is filled with a variety of photos like this...

The second thing I learned about traveling with teenagers is that their outward displays of excitement are.. shall I say, mostly non-existent. For example.. On our way down to Tampa, Bug mentioned that she really hoped we saw dolphins at some point during the cruise. Wouldn't you know that roughly 10 minutes after cast-off, a group of dolphins came jumping right by the ship. The reaction: A slight shrug of the shoulders. Then there was the much anticipated pass under the Skyway Bridge. Same thing. Although, I probably should have expected that one. The anticipation was really all mine and, after all, it's just a bridge.
Over the next several days, however, I managed to catch a glimpse of countless moments that could have been mistaken for excitement, as well as a number of those elusive hands-free photos. We had one such sighting while waiting on some dock runners in Key West...

Then there was this...

She seemed to take to bartering in Cozumel...

As well as some wacky exfoliation...

And really, who wouldn't smile at this view?..

But nothing brought out that rare teenager excitement quite like her appearance on the morning show. Which bears some explanation...

Every morning, the cruise and activities directors, Jerome and Flavio, aired their own version of the Today Show discussing all of the fun things scheduled that day. During the show, they read various "shout outs" which guests were invited to leave in a box in the atrium. These are usually birthday wishes, random questions, etc. After day one there were no shout-outs submitted, so Jerome and Flavio encouraged guests to "ask us anything." Bug took this as a challenge and proceeded to deposit half a dozen questions, all of which they read the next morning. The next day we were so busy chowing down in Rita's Cantina, she didn't get her questions submitted before the cut-off time. Of course, neither did anyone else, which prompted this response on the next day's morning show...

After exploring Cozumel, we spent the afternoon stalking searching for one of these gents so Bug could make a proper introduction. We eventually found Flavio, who suggested we meet he and Jerome that evening outside of Bug's favorite place...The Next Cruise office. It seemed that this girl, who just a few days before had an aversion to the camera, was now set to make her debut on the small screen.

Her "shout-out" that day?... A request to play Frosty the Snowman on the atrium piano, which Jerome and Flavio were happy to oblige.

As is always the case with these adventures with Bug, to say we were sad to see it come to an end would be an understatement. And as the sun slipped over the horizon for the final time aboard the Brilliance, a famous line from Hamilton played on repeat in my mind.
"Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now."

Then again, any onset of post-trip depression would have to wait for a different day, because another magical adventure was awaiting us back onshore.

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