In 2017 I went to a weight loss doctor. When I had dropped 40lbs, I realized that I WAS going to reach my goal! I started thinking about not just losing weight, but about getting in shape.
My roommate (Susan Sharek) and I started brainstorming: what would motivate us to actually exercise? The only thing we could come up with was travel.
A good friend had recommended that we go to Galveston, so we started looking at things to do in Galveston. That’s when I discovered that it is a cruise port.
Years ago, when I lived in California, I had booked myself on a 12 night Panama Canal cruise on Celebrity. Two weeks before I was supposed to leave, the ship broke down and my entire department got laid off. Needless to say, I never took the cruise.
I looked at what was available from Galveston. Disney, Carnival and Royal Caribbean sail from Galveston. Disney would be too many kids. Carnival does not have a reputation for safety for single ladies, so Royal Caribbean was the only option. When I looked it up I thought maybe, just maybe we could do an inside cabin on a 3 night cruise. But, my heart just couldn’t settle on that. I REALLY wanted to do a 7 night cruise.
I spent that night tossing and turning and praying. I had come to the conclusion that it was too hedonistic and beyond reality for my budget.
I went to a friend’s house that afternoon and saw a message by Lana Vawser. She said “go per the vision”. That’s when I remembered that I had created a vision board previously and that on that board I had put a cruise ship. I went home and looked at the ship on my vision board. It had the Royal Caribbean logo. And, it suddenly came back to me that Dr. Chester had told me that I’m a Royal Ambassador. This seemed enough of a green light for me to do further research.
I called my friend Laurie Pistole and asked her to pray for us. Her response was “A cruise! I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise!” so I asked her to join us. But, with three women, I decided we needed a bigger room, so I decided a balcony room would be the best option.
Laurie and I both work in retail so our vacation time is limited. We started looking at what would be available for the month of February. There were two itineraries available for that month. One went to Honduras and Belize and one went to Jamaica and Grand Cayman. Since Laurie and I are both in the Nations Prayer group and had been praying for Jamaica for a long time, we chose the Jamaica itinerary.
I decided I needed more information and found the Cruise Travel Center in Plano. I walked in expecting to pick up a brochure. Judy Winkler, the travel agent available when I walked in, looked up Royal Caribbean and told us that it was the 3rd day of a 3 day sale with 3 discounts available. She said that rarely ever happens. Usually Royal Caribbean only offers 2 discounts at a time. The sale was half off the deposit, 60% off the second person and $100 shipboard credit. It happened to be one of those rare months when I got 3 paychecks and there were 3 of us, so I booked the cruise. (A full refund was available until the month before the cruise.) I then called Laurie and said “Happy birthday in advance. I just booked our cruise and paid your deposit.” She cried. She said “Mary, I didn’t tell anyone this, but I told God that if He wanted me to go on a cruise, He would need to provide the deposit.”
This was the start of an incredible journey with God.
We next looked at what was available to do on the ship and in port. Since this cruise started as a way to challenge us to get in shape, we chose fairly active things to do. Despite the fact that there were many activities to choose from, we had complete unity in our choices. There were three of us and three ports. We each chose a port and what we wanted to do. Soozi’s port was Cozumel and she wanted a day to just laze at the beach. My port was Grand Cayman and I mostly wanted to snorkel with turtles. Laurie’s port was Jamaica and she wanted to experience the culture.
Laurie came over frequently over the next several months so that we could pray about the trip. We would pray for safety for the ship, the crew, and the passengers. We prayed for creative provision from God, for clear direction, and for a way to be a blessing to others on the ship. And, we did a lot of research.
One of the things I researched were hotels in Galveston. Of the two hotels in Galveston that provide valet parking and a shuttle to and from the port, only one was a real option: Moody Gardens. We agreed to go ahead and book our room even though it was a year in advance.
I wanted to do something special for the girls, something that would be a creative memory that was individual for each of us. I found “smash books” which were journals into which you could add photos, stickers, souvenirs, etc. I had found a coupon that allowed me to get an Instax (instant picture) camera and someone gave Laurie one as well.
My basic camera was not working properly. I would have to buy a new camera. I did research on what was available and found the Fuji finepix was not only waterproof, but dustproof and could be safely taken to the beach. There was one on sale at Costco and a friend had given me a Christmas gift that covered the cost of the camera. (You have to understand, I did the research on this, but had not told anyone about it. A week later my friend’s gift showed up.)
With the Instax cameras we decided to take pictures of our table-mates, our cabin steward, our waiters, etc. so that we could put them on the wall and pray over them. We got a magnetic dry erase board to put on the outside of our door so that people could write prayer requests for us. We decided to do a bible study together. We got anointing oil for our cabin.
I believe that all of these things caused the enemy to work overtime to keep us from being able to go on the cruise.
For one thing, I received a bill for $900 that I ended up going to court over. It was lowered to less than $200. Another God victory!
We went on walks to try to get in better shape. We climbed stairs. But, we were not able to do this very often. I had purchased shoes for work that ended up being extremely painful. I also developed an on-going sinus infection at Christmastime 2018. It didn’t clear up until mid-January. This was a concern because they will not let you on the ship if you’re sick.
And the cost of items that I needed for the cruise kept mounting up. Not only did I need new clothes, but my roommate did too. And things like a fire retardant over the door organizer for the cruise cabin, reusable water bottles (which Laurie bought for us), and a non-surge outlet that would allow us to charge phones and cameras at the same time—all of these type of things were extra charges I had not planned on. Then, there were the big ones. Susan needed a new passport and I needed to get contact lenses so I could go swimming/snorkeling.
Even up to the last minute there were challenges thrown our way. For instance a few days before we were to leave, Derrick came over to check out my car. It was incredibly kind of him to do so, but I honestly didn’t think he’d find anything wrong; or at least nothing that would be more than $50. Instead he told me the car was in good shape except that I needed 4 new tires immediately. He didn’t consider me to be safe even driving around town. I was so very blessed with the help I received for that! A couple of days later I was going to take the money I had saved for the cruise out of the account so that I could pay for everything in cash. It was the only day I had available to do this. Wells Fargo was shut down nationwide that day. I ended up having to rearrange my schedule for the next day so that I could get to the bank.
I had requested the time off of work as soon as I paid the deposit. It was approved almost immediately. This was not what Laurie experienced. She had prayed diligently and asked her advisors at church how to approach her management team with her request. She submitted a request in writing that was beautifully and respectfully written. Months passed with no response from them. When she approached them about it, they told her they hadn’t made a decision yet. The stress level at Laurie’s job got so bad that she had extreme back pain. When x-rayed, it was determined that she had no fluid in her discs. She ended up going to a chiropractor. Medical bills and time off of work started taking a toll and she began to believe that she would not be able to go on the cruise. With a great deal of prayer and advice she chose to ask her manager if she could step down to an assistant position. They told her she could. And, on Christmas Eve they transferred her to another store. We know that this was God-directed because as soon as she got to that store, she was welcomed in by the manager saying he had asked for her. Her time off for the cruise was approved immediately.
Because of Laurie’s back issues we had to scale back on our activities. With much discussion and prayer we decided that In Cozumel we would go to the beach and lie in the sun and swim only if we felt like it. In Grand Cayman we changed from an excursion where we swam with dolphins and then snorkeled with turtles to one that visited a historic home and then snorkeled with turtles. In Jamaica we changed from riding horses through a plantation and into the sea an all day tour called Go Native Jamaica.
We drove down to Galveston without any problems and got to the hotel around noon. Check in time was 4pm, but our room was ready. (Thank You Jesus!) We prayed over the room and anointed it with oil. We watched a history presentation of Moody Gardens and were amazed to find out that it started as a therapeutic horse ranch and that it still provides that service as well as many others that give back to the community.
The next morning Laurie woke up from an amazing dream where we believe she was transported into heaven. We took the shuttle to the port without any problems. At the port the shuttle was unable to park due to a train that decided to stop, blocking all traffic for 30 minutes.
After that, it was a day of saying “Awe-mazing!” For God had truly outdone Himself in giving us the gift of this trip. The ease of boarding the ship surprised me. There was no stress involved. Laurie is Miss Sunshine and makes friends wherever she goes.
We had booked lunch at the steak house for the first day and our menu was upgraded to include more options and our waitress from Trinidad brought us dessert even though it wasn’t on the menu.
We then attended a lecture about the ship where we received a charm in the shape of double dolphins. Double blessings.
Our cabin was in the rear of the ship. A corner aft balcony. It required that we walk down a long corridor and as we went down the corridor we found our luggage sitting outside of other cabins. We considered this to be another blessing because we were told not to expect our luggage until 7pm. Although not large, our cabin was comfortable and our deck…Oh My! Such beautiful views! This was another of God’s blessings because we were able to upgrade to this cabin without an increase in cost.
Dinner that night was lovely. Our table was on deck 5 in the Botticelli dining room and had a window view. We were joined by a mother and daughter from the Plano area. Erin, the daughter had been on over 20 cruises and was able to give us some great insight and tips.
We later explored the “Promenade” and found Christmas ornaments in the shape of our ship; something I had read was very hard to find!
As we retired for the evening we found that our beds were very soft and we were rocked to sleep by the gentle movement of the ship. Not once did any of us experience sea sickness, or any form of illness or anxiety at all!
Our first full day onboard started with a “port shopping” talk where we received a charm in the shape of the Royal Caribbean symbol; the Crown and Anchor. A prophetic blessing.
We attended an art lecture that day where we each received a signed lithograph. This was another unexpected blessing as the lithograph was only supposed to be given away if we attended the art auction which included a lot of alcohol.
After a relaxing and fun day we attended our first formal night. Another couple had joined us at our table and we spent most of the evening laughing together.
That night I dreamt that I saw a fish and then I was in a car that my mother was driving with two other people I could not see clearly. (My mother never learned how to drive.) I noticed that we were going in the wrong direction and I asked about it. My mother turned the car around and said “It’s a surprise!” Then I woke up. We docked in Cozumel that day—our “beach” day. We stood in the middle of a long line awaiting the bus to Playa Mia Beach Park when a man came directly to us from behind a fence and told us to follow him. He led us to a bus that was leaving immediately. His name was Angel.
We sat under coconut palms at the beach park until it started raining. We grabbed our towels and ran for shelter—shops.
When it stopped raining we went back to our loungers until it rained again. Because this happened all day we ended up doing a lot of shopping. In one store I saw the fish that was in my dream and bought it.
God protected us in that we always missed the heaviest downpours. When we got back to our cabin, I counted out what I had left of the cash I brought to Cozumel. I had $30 more than when I started the day! Awe-mazing God!
The next day was “my” port—Grand Cayman. Because the ship can’t dock at Grand Cayman we have to take a small boat to the pier. It’s called “tendering”. Royal Caribbean only has 5 small boats and approximately 3,000 passengers. It took quite a while to get to shore, but the process went smoothly. Still, we arrived later than expected and had less time there than we had hoped. We visited Pedro St. James, a historic home/living history museum. God used this to do some healing work in Laurie’s heart.
Then we went to the Cayman Turtle Center and snorkeled with turtles. Neither Laurie nor I had ever snorkeled before and we LOVED it!!! We discovered a whole new sport for us to explore. Beyond that, God used this time to restore the joy I’ve always experienced in the water. My mother had me in swimming lessons by the time I was 4 years old and I used to dive off the high dive in high school, but I had not been in the water in years. In essence I felt that God was telling me that I’m not too old to enjoy swimming.
One of Laurie’s dreams had been to see an ice skating show and this evening, God made that dream come true. Not only was the show beautifully choreographed but the talent of the performers astounded us! Not only were they able to perform intricate moves, sometimes lifting other performers over their heads with just one hand, but they did so on a moving ship on a stormy night when the ship was rocking quite a bit!
The following day was our final port—Jamaica! God had his fingerprints all over this port!
The very first thing we noticed was the Jamaican flag flying over our cruise ship. Then we noticed the tour buses—they each had a Biblical message: My God is real, Jehovah Jireh, Psalm 27. Our tour guide was Tamara, but she told us to call her Mama. She was not only informative about what we were seeing that day, but gave us insight into the history, economics, sports, music, etc. of the culture. She was funny, engaging and had a nice singing voice. Obviously working in the role God had called her to. She protected us by telling us what to watch for and to let her know if anyone tried even just to sell us something. She took us through the local market area where the native Jamaicans shop, then on to a church, and on a long drive up into the jungle/mountains. There we were able to see a school, interact with the kids and listen to them sing to us. Then we went to a farm for a traditional Jamaican meal. Delicious! She then took us to a store to shop for souvenirs where the proceeds would go back into the school. Tamara was such a good tour guide that she had us all singing Bob Marley songs on the way back to the pier and we all hugged her as we got off the bus! To see how the locals live what they have to contend with was heart breaking. Laurie fell in love with the culture and is now considering becoming a missionary to the Caribbean and to Jamaica in particular.
The next morning I saw a beautiful sunrise.
We spent this day at sea exploring the ship, taking funny photos, talking to the people who worked on the ship, and shopping for souvenirs. Laurie wanted to take a nap that afternoon so Soozi and I went to the main dining room for lunch. Soozi asked the waiter if there were any sugar free desserts and he brought her two! When he gave me my dessert, I asked if I could take an order of crepes back to Laurie. He said “I thought you’d say that, so here it is.”
It was the second formal night. That evening the master chef over the 250 chefs onboard decided to visit our table. Erin (who had been on over 20 cruises) was shocked. She said that had never happened to her before, in fact, she’d never seen that happen at all! Another unexpected gift from God. The next day Laurie and I saw him in the café and he said, “I remember you girls! You’re on deck five in the dining room.” And he let us take pictures with him.
Our dinner companions: Lugo and Nanette, Nancy and Erin; our waiter, Mark.
Our last full day onboard was another blessing from God.
Another beautiful sunrise…time spent in the hot tub…a “backstage” tour of the galley kitchen.
The tour was another gift from God. Not only did we learn a lot about Royal Caribbean; how the kitchen works, how they prepare meals for people with allergies, but also how they give back to the communities they visit. There was also an element that was key to Laurie regarding a dream she had had before we ever considered going on a cruise, but that’s her story to tell.
God used this journey to help me break off a lot of the poverty mindset I struggled with for so long. He used it to teach me how to budget. And, He used it primarily to teach me to trust Him, not just for the everyday things, but for the extravagant things as well. He used the time leading up to the cruise, the cruise itself, and the time since the cruise to simply tell me that He loved me; exceedingly, abundantly more than I can even imagine.
My treasure from God:
The blue starfish represent the blue of the Caribbean Sea. The Royal Caribbean “crown and anchor” to remind me that I am anchored in Him and have a crown in heaven. The nautical compass to represent God’s guidance throughout this trip. The palm tree for the coconut palms in Mexico. The turtle for snorkeling with turtles in Grand Cayman. The pineapple for the fresh pineapple we had in Jamaica. The double dolphins for the double portion blessings God poured out on us. The three open hearts to represent the three of us.