From the time I was just a wee girl, I liked to go places. My energy level – before I became a senior citizen with bad knees and compromised lungs – was always high. Sleep was an afterthought. Going places and doing things was my passion.
My mother gave me the nickname Sherri Go Gardner, adding that I didn’t seem to be too discerning about where I went, as long as I was going somewhere. “If the car is moving, Sherri’s in it,” she would say.
Perhaps it should be no surprise then, that my second career is as a travel agent. Perhaps it should be no surprise that I want to experience what I can under the guise of being more knowledgeable in the information I have for my clients.
When Richard Branson started talking about a new cruise line – Virgin Voyages – I was intrigued. When I went to a training session where one of the vice presidents of sales spoke just ahead of the launch of the first ship, The Scarlet Lady, I was mesmerized. Virgin Voyages are not your traditional cruise ships. They are as different from Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess and Norwegian as those industry leaders are from the first type of cruise vessels, the ocean liners.
First of all, no one under 18 is allowed to sail on Virgin, and that is by design with absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic or vaccinations. The ships are adults-only.
When I heard the presentation and later did my training online, my overwhelming thought was, “This is a ship for millennials. My kids would love it.” Gone are a lot of the things my adult children did not care for when they cruised with us: Set times for dinner every night at the same table with just a few menu choices, entertainment that included some very good and some less than stellar performances and a ship vibe that skewed older.
Virgin Voyages has a different way of looking at the cruising industry. I thought then that they had probably found a market niche that would serve them well.
Today, I am completing my first Virgin voyage: a five-night trip from Miami to the Dominican Republic on the Scarlet Lady. It was to be a fact-finding mission for me and, truthfully, I expected to feel like a fish out of water and be ready to get off the ship.
Instead, I am planning my next Virgin Voyage, and I feel more like a mermaid. It has been a different kind of cruising experience, but I have loved it.
Virgin got me a bit out of my comfort zone. I ate food I would have sent back at other venues. I watched shows I might have walked out of in Knoxville. I saw more tattooed arms, legs and buttocks than I have seen in my entire life and heard some of the stories from the living canvases on the meanings behind their choices. And I dyed my hair pink.
Unlike my hair dye, the effect of the cruise is going to last awhile. Like all the travel I have done in recent years, the experiences have changed me and added to an already blessed life. What I learned on this voyage is different from what I learned in Barcelona or Prague, but just as enriching and valuable.
The pink hair color was fun, like the cruise. It also let me see myself and others see me in a little different light than they were used to.
That, I think, is the best part of growing up. You can continue to change and learn, especially when riding the waves with a ship full of people a lot younger than yourself!
Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons. Her newest adventure is as a travel agent with her own company, SGH Go Travel. Email her at [email protected]