Finding Silence on a Cruise: An Extrovert Discovers an Introverted Life

solitudeThis past week, my stepmother graciously and generously took my four siblings and I (including three spouses and five grandchildren) on a cruise to Alaska. It was our first full-family vacation. It will not be our last.

But, god willing, it will be our last cruise.**

I don’t want to be ungrateful. I appreciated and enjoyed the family time. I’m not a cruise person. I’m not an activity person. I’m not the ideal candidate for a cruise. For me, it was like being at a wedding for someone I don’t particularly like, surrounded by people I’ve never met and don’t want to meet. The buffet line was always too long; it was a cash bar; and every ten minutes someone was insisting I partake in an activity that didn’t really interest me.

For what it’s worth, while I didn’t foist limbo dancing, tossed bouquets, or clinking-glass kisses on my wedding guests, I did insist they dress in costume, so I’m just as bad as anyone else. My favored activities are simply different. In the end? People had fun on this cruise and I shouldn’t knock anyone for having a good time just because it isn’t my idea of a good time.

The thing about a cruise (which, I kid you not, continues to auto-correct to “curse”) is the noise never stops.

I’ve always identified myself as an extrovert. I’ve read all the stuff on the interwebs about introverts and how introverts interact with the world because I want to understand introverts better, I want to work with introverts better, and I want to be a better friend to an introvert.

Extroverts have a reputation for being obnoxious–I’ll admit, I’m really annoying–but an introvert is truly terrifying. That look from an introvert when you’ve crossed the line is worse than any blurted emotion or reaction from an extrovert.

I look at it this way. Extroverts spray the field with gunshot and are surprised when they hit someone they love. Introverts cause no collateral damage because they strike their targets with surgical precision like professional assassins. I have neither the discipline nor the control to hold anything back. Ever.

As an extrovert, I need noise. I need people. I write better with the TV on. I think better in a crowded room. When it’s just the two of us and you’re silent, I can guarantee my mouth is yapping away. I externalize my thoughts and my emotions. I process ideas by bouncing them off other people. I make decisions after voicing all the pros and cons. I absorb the energy around me and use it to my advantage.

This cruise taught me more about life as an introvert than I ever want to know. I felt every movement; I saw every flash of light; I heard every noise. By day four of the seven-day cruise, I couldn’t leave my cabin. I cried. I rolled myself into a comforter and stared out the balcony window. Like an introvert, rather than thriving off the crowds, I found the noise and the movement to drain everything in my system. I desperately needed downtime and alone-ness, which isn’t a word, but I hope you’ll forgive me. This is new territory. Most of all, I wanted to hone my ability to slice people with a scalpel without damaging the surrounding crowd.

I didn’t even want to drink cocktails.

The thing I learned more than anything else this week is how difficult it is to be an introvert around a pile of extroverts. My introverted brother-in-law is a smart, funny, interesting man. I never get to see that at family functions because we are a loud, shouting, aggressive bunch. I assumed he didn’t see the need to compete with our nonsense and that he might find this family kind of boring. He sits in the other room and outright ignores our stomping and our laughter. But, that may not be the case. I’m certain he doesn’t find us as charming as we think we are, but I also don’t think he ignores us because he thinks we’re boring. He wants his silence.

On a cruise, there is no room for silence. Constant house music plays in the background, even during loudly hosted trivia games or Bingo or towel-folding competitions. A jazz band would start to play at volume 11, regardless of the number of people in the audience (in our case four people in the entire room), but during a diminuendo, I would hear “I try to phone but I’m too shy can’t speak” just under the live music. The quietest places on the ship were the casino, but it was too smoky in there, and the video arcade. I wish I were kidding.

I may not understand entirely what life is like for an introvert, but I do have a sense now of what it might be like to be overwhelmed by external forces. I needed to sit quietly with my back to the room, or alone in my cabin, to recalibrate. Rather than feeding off the energy around me, I was exhausted by it. Things were too bright, too loud, too much.

I just needed silence.

I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to my introverted friends: Kate, Cary, Darcy, Melissa, maybe Tanya but I’m never entirely certain, and most importantly Groom. I know now. You can tell me, your babbling extroverted friend, to shut the hell up. And, I’ll stop asking you what’s wrong.silence

**I don’t want to be unfair. I definitely had some fun with my family, listed below in no particular order.

  • My sweet, sweet sister-in-law who doesn’t vote because she doesn’t think she can make a difference (“Only important people can change the world,” she says) stood on the stage during the 45-minute karaoke activity (every activity was less than an hour) and sang in her Gaffney, South Carolina, twang “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” to such perfection I almost fainted. She pronounced “pitiful” as “pit-ful” and sang it more like Warren Zevon than Linda Ronstadt which added to the charm.Susan
  • I walked on a glacier. I walked on a mother-effing glacier and I still couldn’t take the moment seriously enough for just three seconds to get a decent picture with my sisters. I’m putting that in the plus column.DSC_0210
  • Groom and I joined the throngs of people on the upper deck as we worked a handful of 360-degree turns in the 900-foot cruise ship in the basin next to the Margerie Glacier. We even saw the glacier calving a few times, which was 1
  • I had a crazy amount of fun playing video games with my nephew.
  • I am cured of all cravings for hot fudge sundaes, meat, booze, and/or live music and entertainment.
  • I saw this on the side of the road in 2-1
  • I got to see my tweenage nieces all dressed up and gorgeous.
  • My stepmother’s wonderful friend and traveling companion handed me El Zombi, Drag Queen of Dia de las Muertas (below) near the end of the trip and it was perfect.zombie
  • My brother kept shouting “Champagne! Champagne for everyone!”
  • I drank glacier
  • I really did enjoy the towel animals the steward left in our cabin every night. My favorite was a lobster with a mouse photobomb. One night, a monkey hanging from the ceiling scared the bejeezus out of me.mouse photobomb monkey
  • I worked out nearly every single day for 45-minutes to an hour. And, my brother showed me some exercises to help work off my Bingo arms.
  • I discovered yet again that my 20…something…24? (I’m the worst aunt) year old nephew is a really nice guy and great to be around. Can’t wait to see him again in five years (see: worst aunt, above).
  • The artwork on the ship was both disconcerting and aggressive. I loved 1 photo 2
  • I learned Groom is still the best Sherpa.

helicopterHe would get off the ship when we arrived at whatever port and find a person with a truck, hop on a float plane, and go fly fishing. For instance, he got a tour of Haines, Alaska, from a local guy and his wife while I made my way through a three-block crowd of approximately 3,000 people in Skagway before smooshing into the backseat of a helicopter next to an oversized pilot wannabe (sample questions he shouted at the actual pilot into his headset for all of us to hear included “How many pilot hours you got?,” guide photobomb“What kinds of hours do these machines [he means helicopters] see?,” “These hills make me think of flying in Hawaii,” and my personal favorite “You ever hit a bird with one of these? I did once and it was a trip!”) to walk a glacier with a bunch of tourist-weary guides, a handful of family members, and a dozen or so strangers from the boat.

When we reached Ketchikan near the end of the trip, Groom rented a car and we made our way to the end of North Tongass ketchikan(pronounced “Tongue-Ass” because we are a bunch of juveniles) Highway to Settlers Cove where we found a little quiet spot by the water and snacked on pickles, salami, provolone, and black forest bread that we purchased from the local IGA. (Please don’t judge me for the meat and cheese. Please.)

When we pulled into our last stop in Victoria, BC, we were allotted about four hours to go ashore. Groom pulled me off the ship—at this point, I didn’t want to do anything evephoto 3r in the whole wide world ever for the rest of my life—and insisted we walk the 20 minutes into town. After an hour of wandering, we stumbled upon Ulla, which served small plates of local and vegan fare. We had the most amazing meal before walking to some random bar and ordering a couple of cocktails and then finding a taxi to return to the ship with 15 minutes to spare.


Sarah Devlin

About Sarah Devlin

Sarah Devlin has been writing about the recreational industry since the late ’90s but ironically can’t run, swim, or bike a mile.