Cruise offered the journey of a lifetime on many levels

Let me tell you about my summer vacation.

As cliché as it is, I just returned from one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It was just a seven-day Caribbean cruise but what was packed into it on multiple levels was astounding. Beyond the food, entertainment and tropical ports of call were multiple examples of commitment, quality and dedication that had a profound impact on me.

I think one of the biggest things I will always remember about the cruise was its purpose. My in-laws, Joe and Jerry Snyder, are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. They paid to have their whole family together for the celebration. There were 12 of us in all, half being my family. We were also celebrating my wife’s graduation from grad school, our niece’s seventh birthday, Father’s Day and whatever else we could think of.

The Snyders are an amazing couple. They have been an incredible source of strength, inspiration and support in the 17 years I’ve been married to their eldest daughter, Sandy. They are some of the most godly, giving and caring people I know and their example of marriage and Christian living sets a very high bar for my family. Originally from Texas, they moved to Oregon and Colorado where they had careers in information technology and finance. Right after Sandy and I tied the knot, they moved to Orlando, Fla., to become missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators and are now retired.

Sandy’s sister, Susan, married Brandon Moore, who is an Army chaplain and a man of impeccable character. They and their two little ones were recently stationed in Hawaii.

Being with this family of faith has been inspiring on many levels. I feel honored and very humbled to be a part of it. Having all 12 of us together for the first time ever made my heart swell with joy and pride all week. (My daughter lives with her mother back in Colorado and rarely gets to spend time with Sandy’s side of the family and had never met our niece.)

The celebrations took place June 17-24 aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Escape on a voyage that took us to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and Nassau in the Bahamas. Just going on a Caribbean cruise is a lifelong dream I never would have imagined I’d get to cross off my bucket list. Going with this incredible family pushed the whole experience over the top.

Another thing that made the experience memorable was the remarkable crew. More than 70 nationalities were represented among the 1,500 crewmembers and every one of them shined as models of professionalism and courtesy. They said the average crewmember works 70 hours a week, yet they were always impeccably dressed, always smiling and paid great attention to detail and passenger comfort and safety.

One of the people who really stood out to me was a guy from the Philippines named Rowan, who we all called the Washy-Washy Guy. He was one of the people who greeted guests at the Garden Café, which was the main buffet restaurant where we ate most of our meals. To ward off spreading diseases, hand sanitation was highly encouraged and his job was to spray sanitizer on people’s hands. It was a very lowly position, but he owned it.

He made up a Washy-Washy song that he sang at each meal as guests came in. His melodious voice sings in my head every time I wash my hands now. Rowan was always smiling and eager to visit with people. He made the act of going to eat a pleasant and memorable experience. I’ve got a lot of respect for someone who can do that with a menial and unpleasant job like that.

Then there is Mario, our junior cabin steward. He is from Nicaragua and is probably in his 50s. His job was to clean our cabins and make our beds. Again, it was a thankless task and the average person would easily overlook him as a hired servant. Not us. He was very much like family. Heather, my daughter, practiced speaking Spanish with him and they engaged in many long discussions about language, family and life in general. He rolled towels into little animals that he left on our beds each night when he came to turn down the sheets.

Mario was so efficient at his job that it would have been easy to overlook him. He is quick and quiet and hard to notice. Throughout the course of the week, he got to know us and we got to know him. I honestly think our lives are a little bit richer because we he was in it.

Those two gentlemen are just examples of the way the whole crew were. Crew morale was a priority for the company and it genuinely reflected in the way they treated the guests. I can think of many companies that could learn a lot about hospitality and customer service from Norwegian.

Interestingly enough, I’ve come this far in my vacation story and haven’t said much at all about the vacation part. The food was plentiful and incredible – some of the best I’ve ever had. The entertainment was straight off Broadway. The pools were small but the water slides and the ropes course were huge thrills. The waters were colors that even the best photographs couldn’t begin to capture. We went snorkeling and shopping and sipped water from fresh coconuts. We saw panoramic views and vibrant fauna and flora that were breathtaking.

All of it made the perfect backdrop for the time spent relaxing with family. I felt like God was smiling on us the whole week. It was such an incredible blessing. I can only hope that someday 33 years from now Sandy and I can do the same for our children and grandchildren. What an adventure that will be.

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