The empty theater was dim at 3 a.m., illuminated only by the strings of delicate lights lining the aisle floors. Our voices came out hushed, absorbed into the thick carpet, the endless rows of red velvet seats, and the heavy folds of curtains sweeping back from the stage. Aside from the occasional crew member pushing a cart of cleaning supplies in the hallway beyond the theater’s half-open doors, we seemed to be the only ones awake in the belly of the ocean liner. The deserted theater was home base to us, a group of teenagers who had become unlikely friends after meeting at Remix, a teen club onboard the northern-bound cruise ship, The Golden Princess.
â–º honorable mention 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Over the course of a week, the cruise ship became home to me – to all of us. In many ways, I feel as though I spent the best parts of my vacation not in the ports of Alaska or Canada, but rather stateless and countryless, plowing relentlessly through the frigid Pacific. It wasn’t so much our destination that changed me as our perpetual journey to it; a journey spent roaming the uniquely fascinating terrain of a cruise ship at night. I found it to be a harsh and beautiful habitat, devoid entirely of vegetation and populated only by a handful of teenage night owls and the occasional wealthy insomniac. As people retreated one by one to their rooms, the mundane became quietly magical. A ship already decadent by day was transformed into an echoing, cavernous Camelot, moated by an endless expanse of glacier-strewn sea.
Our days at port were, admittedly, gorgeous. Each one was different, and my friend Laine and I collected stories to share with the others come nightfall. We went ziplining over the rainforest in Ketchikan (where my lime green cell phone was lost forever), took a limousine tour through Victoria (driven, ironically, by a white-haired Britt), and devoured deep-fried crab cakes at the famous Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau (at the same table as a local gay couple, who assured us that the food there was “totally fabulous”). However, no matter how scenic or exciting our excursions were in those colorful mountain-cradled towns (and they were consistently both), I felt as though our true vacation began nightly at ten o’clock, when we gathered with the others outside Remix to plan our next nocturnal adventure.
Free from the eyes of our elders, we ran wild. We attempted tag in forests of abandoned pool chairs, hiding behind columns and trying to avoid falling into drained hot tubs. We played epic, hour-long games of ping-pong on three tables pushed together, and lay on our backs on the stage of the uninhabited theater, listening to music and laughing too loud because we knew that there was no one around to hear us. We ate breakfast at 4 a.m. at the ship’s only 24-hour buffet, and ventured onto the decks to lean out over the railing, a group of twelve voyagers illuminated only by the stars that swam like glowing fish in a river of black Alaskan sky. For eight hours out of every twenty-four, we were the kings and queens of a sleeping, seventeen-story castle.
Onboard The Golden Princess we could travel while sitting still. We’d return most nights to the vacant theater, our touchstone, and sit cross-legged in a circle until dawn, trading secrets and nurturing our newfound sense of independence. We learned fearlessness together, cocooned in our oasis. That summer, on those infinite nights, I felt for the first time what a powerful thing that it is to be young.
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