Europe 2017: Trip in Review (Pt. 1)

Hello dearest friends! It is 7:30pm as I sit in the lobby of Crowne Plaza, Copenhagen, typing away. Today, my family and I got off our nine-day Northern European cruise aboard the “Norwegian Getaway”. We will be staying in Copenhagen for a couple more days, then fly back to the states on July 12.

LOTS have happened during this past week’s vacation! I am so grateful that I had the chance to spend time with my family amidst the beautiful, historical backdrop of Northern Europe. This past week alone, we visited several famous cities, including: Copenhagen, Denmark; Berlin, Germany; Tallin, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Stockholm, Sweden. In part 2 of this two-part reflection, I will discuss in greater detail my thoughts on each of the cities and their individual wonders. Today’s post will be more of a general overview of the trip, focusing on highlights aboard the cruise ship!

Start of Vacation

My parents, two brothers and I flew out to Copenhagen on June 27. I was recovering from a minor flu when our journey began, so I made sure to stay hydrated, eat Vitamin C and dress in layers. We spent two days in Copenhagen before boarding the ship on June 30. Between arriving in Denmark and embarking on our seafaring voyage, the action-filled couple of days sapped most of my remaining energy, and the illness kicked back full-force during Day 1 of the cruise. Here’s an entry I wrote in my private diary the morning we boarded the cruise:

“10:37am. Location: Crowne Plaza hotel room 1611. Looking out a window. Listening to ‘Come What May’, from “Moulin Rouge!” OST. Eating: a Danish blueberry muffin. 

Between my jaw pain (which is slowly getting better), canker sore, jet lag, negative body image, period, and what I suspect to be an impending cold/flu, this trip is making out to be below par. No one is to blame, just the unfortunate chance happenings. I woke up at 3:00am this morning after falling asleep at around 7:00pm, I believe. Don’t remember much of last night, just that I was dead tired upon coming back to the hotel and headed straight to bed. I actually didn’t eat dinner– I fell asleep on the restaurant table as the rest of my family munched on meat (ribs, steak, chicken, the works).”

So, the start of my vacation was rough. Wish I could say things got better as the cruise went on, but my illness persisted, hindering me from sliding down the cruise’s gnarly waterslides and lounging on the open deck (it is very windy and cold in Northern Europe). I also made the mistake of not packing enough warm clothes, and thus spent a lot of my time shivering in the nippy weather. As mentioned in my diary entry, I had a strange jaw pain that started a couple days before the vacation. My dad says the pain could be attributed to me unconsciously grinding my teeth in my sleep. Anyway, because of the pain, I couldn’t open my mouth wider than a few inches without my jaw hurting. You could imagine how this could be a problem on a cruise vacation, where eating is the number one pastime of most passengers.

Ballroom Dancing Aboard the Cruise!!! 

All personal ailments aside, I was very pleased with the cruise overall. To my great surprise, the entertainment featured “Burn the Floor”, a Broadway-based Latin and Ballroom theatrical dance company! Coming onto the ship, I had no idea that “Burn the Floor” would be performing. I had heard of the group, and had actually reached out to one of the producers inquiring about auditioning for the show, but never have I seen the group in action. On the first night of the cruise, I sat front and center in the Getaway Theater, and was completely beyond myself when I saw the dancers strut onto the stage. I loved the theatrical element of “BTF”– it was ballroom dancing woven into a story. The crazy lights, fog and stage design made the production all the more enthralling. The entertainment was tailor-made for a dancer like me!

Throughout the cruise, the cast of “BTF” hosted samba, salsa and jive lessons for the passengers and, despite feeling sick most of the time, I’d always be there, dancing alongside the professionals. After the samba class hosted by Jenna and Santo, the “BTF” team captains, I spoke to Jenna about auditioning for the show. You know, to keep my options open. She told me that, later in the cruise, they could record a video of me dancing and send it to the producers as an audition tape. I gave her my cabin number and expected her to reach out to me, but unfortunately, this never happened. No matter, though. My immediate focus right now is college. Once I graduate, I will have more time to explore avenues in dance, should I choose to.

So dancing– specifically Latin ballroom dancing– was a HUGE theme of this cruise. Besides “Burn the Floor”, the cruise featured a band called the “Latin Express” that played every night in “Tropicana” dining lounge on deck 7. People would get on the dance floor while waiting for their food, and dance some cha-cha or rumba in the center of the room, where a hardwood dance floor was situated. On the first formal night of the cruise, I got out on that dance floor and did some solo cha-cha. Next thing I knew, phones and cameras were glaring me in the eye as I improvised, and I adored the spotlight. This is yet another reason I love dance. Often self-conscious in public, dancing is one of the few mediums through which I find freedom in expressing myself without inhibition.

It’s funny– I came on vacation to take a break from dancing for a week, only to have dance find its way back to me. I loved performing for other cruise passengers during dance lessons and parties. When other dance-enthused passengers saw I was a dancer myself, many would approach me in random places– the Garden Café buffet on deck 15, the restrooms, or even outside immigration in St. Petersburg, Russia– and express to me how much they enjoyed watching me dance. Even though dance is not my professional career, I still derive fulfillment in imparting joy to others through my love for dance and performing.

One night, after dinner, I headed to the cruise gym, which had a small studio with hardwood floor and mirrors. I was practicing dance, when some of the dancers from “BTF” joined me in the studio to work out. Here’s a diary entry I made that very night, upon returning from dance practice:

“At the gym, guess who I ran into? THE DANCERS! Yeah, that’s right. There was Giulia from Italy, her partner Ruben from Spain, Valentina from Italy and her partner Dario from Italy. I was there to practice dance, and practice I did. Right in front of them. I felt a bit self conscious at first, as I was practicing in front of these amazing dancers whose videos I couldn’t stop watching, but eventually, I got over myself and focused on my practice. Besides, most of them were focused on their workouts as well. I did my rumba walks and cha cha routine. Dario, who was apparently a Blackpool Under 21 finalist, asked me where I was from. I told him, the US. Giulia and I discussed her incredible foot arch— she told me it was partly natural, but she also trained it. And she said my foot arch was good as well. As for shoes, she told me that she faced a similar problem of heel balance. What helped her was getting a shoe with a square tip, instead of rounded. My AIDA’s are rounded. I told her they were $200, and she said that was way too much for a pair of shoes. She told me that the shape of my legs was very nice, and that I seem to know how to use them. I attributed this bodily awareness to my gymnastics background, and she agreed that gymnastics definitely helps a lot with dancing. I spoke to Ruben as well. He’s the guy with a bunch of tattoos.

It just strikes me how dancing has the ability to unite people from all across the globe. We all share a common language and passion— dance. I definitely wasn’t expecting Latin dance to follow me onto this vacation, but I’m glad it did. For the first time in a while, I enjoyed practice. Don’t get me wrong— I am super out of shape. But the spirit is there once more, and that’s what matters most.”

Dancing in front of the cast of “BTF” and bonding with them over our common passion for dance was definitely a highlight of my cruise vacation. I’m sure that, by the end of the cruise, most of the dancers recognized my face, be it from my crazed clapping and cheering during each of their performances, dancing front and center with them during the dance lessons they hosted, or running up to them and giving them each a big hug every time I saw them. Later, I friended most of the dancers on Facebook, and found that we shared many mutual friends from the dance community. I’m telling you, the Latin/Ballroom dance world is so tiny and insular that you are bound to share common connections with dancers from all around the world.

Food Galore! 

The food aboard the “Norwegian Getaway” was not the best I’ve tasted compared to that of other cruises, but still quite good. Unlike our previous European cruise aboard the “Carnival Breeze” in 2012, where I effectively starved myself to avoid gaining weight (at 14-years-old, I was still in my obsessive gymnastics state of mind), this time around, I decided to get my money’s worth and enjoy all the delicious delights the cruise had to offer. While the buffet’s variety was, in my opinion, a bit weak, I still enjoyed pigging out every day. If I wasn’t dancing, working out, or in my room, sleeping, you could find me on deck 15, stuffing my face with all sorts of international cuisines. I am confident that I gained at least seven pounds this past week, but I will hit the ground running once I get home and, hopefully, burn off the weight in no time.

I spent lots of time with my family this past week. After my brothers and I left for college last summer, it’s been difficult for the five of us to be together in the same place at the same time. Being in such close quarters with my family allowed us to bond and catch up, but also brought on its fair share of tension. Perhaps due to my sickness, my period, and my jaw pain, I was not in the best of moods during some parts of the trip. One especially heated moment happened on July 3, the day of my second-pass enrollment time for fall quarter classes. That day, we were at sea, without internet access. Because of the circumstances, I grew very impatient and anxious, as I was eager to get the classes I wanted. I lashed out at my parents, saying some really dumb things and even blaming them for bringing me on the cruise, where I was stranded in the middle of the ocean with no connection to the outside world. In retrospect, I acted quite childish, and I regret hurting my parents simply because I wasn’t feeling great. I do in fact cherish the time my family and I spent together, especially since these moments will grow less and less frequent as my brothers and I grow older. Besides the shore excursions, we had some good fun together aboard the cruise ship. We ate most of our meals together; dressed up in matching family attire for the two formal nights; tried our hands at the ship’s ropes course; sipped on (virgin) pinã coladas whilst enjoying each night’s fantastic entertainment; attended dance parties and dance lessons (Austin and Chris even got on the floor during the jive dance class, taught by professionals Stefano and Anna); and watched Chris bring the house down with his impromptu performance of “Mephisto Waltz” one night in “Headliner’s Lounge”.

New Friends

Through shore excursions, we had the pleasure of meeting a few other wonderful families aboard the ship. There was the vivacious, charismatic and downright hilarious gay couple, Bob and John, who was joined by Diane (Bob’s sister-in-law from his ex-wife), and John’s aunt (I forgot her name). We first met them in our Berlin shore excursion tour group, and had the off-chance of running into them several more times throughout the cruise, including yesterday in Stockholm, this morning during disembarkation, and earlier this afternoon in the middle of Copenhagen! In Berlin, our tour group made a bathroom stop at a local gas station, where we had to pay to use the (very stinky) public restrooms. The gas station attendant was the roughest, rudest guy I’ve ever met, and Diane had the unfortunate experience of facing his wrath, when she accidentally paid him the wrong coin. Later on the bus, she recounted her experience of being body-blocked by this man from entering the restroom as she grappled to find the correct coin. According to Diane, she told the mean German man, in English, that he had a “small penis”. The story made my mother crack up, which by proxy, made me laugh like crazy. It was a fun moment we all shared.

We also met an Australian family– Rob, a retired pilot; his wife, the beautiful Lisa, a former flight attendant; and their two daughters Olivia (age 23) and Elouise (age 19, like us). They were the only other family joining us in our two-day St. Petersburg tour. Over the course of those two days, our families bonded and shared many a laugh. I got the impression that Rob saw in my two brothers the sons he’d never had. It was especially heartwarming to see my brother, Chris, cozy up to Rob. You see, Chris has a tendency to latch onto certain adults and mentors he takes a liking to, and he definitely liked being around Rob. We ran into the family a couple more times on the cruise ship, and exchanged contact information with them. Am definitely looking forward to reaching out to them next time we find ourselves in Australia.

Then there was Raina and her family. By complete coincidence, Raina– also a UCLA freshman– boarded the same cruise ship as me and my family. By an even greater coincidence, she and her family happened to be on the same bus as us for the Stockholm excursion! As always, I was decked in my UCLA attire, ’cause I just love my school that much. Raina’s mother noticed my UCLA lanyard and tank-top and asked if I went to UCLA. I replied in the affirmative, telling her I had just completed my freshman year. And that is how Raina and I were introduced! Can you believe what a small world it is?! Raina, Austin and I were not the only Bruins aboard the “Getaway”. We met a couple UCLA alumni, who also donned the colors of their alma mater. I was thinking of gathering all of us Bruins and doing the beloved “eight-clap”– our school’s chant– on the top deck of the ship. This never happened, unfortunately, but it was great meeting fellow Bruins from different parts of the world!

Mental Health Crises 

Not all parts of the cruise was sunshines and rainbows, however. Let me share with you guys an excerpt of a diary entry I wrote on July 3 at 11:35pm:

“Just got back from the gym, and heard the most disheartening, sickening news from Austin. There’s no use in sugar-coating this, so here goes.

Basically, I was stretching inside the studio, just doing my own thing. You know, the usual– oversplits, back stretch, etc. Out the window where three men, all crew members, working out (lifting weights, bench pressing, etc.). Austin was working out right next to them, when he caught wind of their conversation. They were talking about me behind my back. Apparently, one of the men said to the other: “Your future wife.” The other man replied, “She couldn’t handle it.” [by it, I presume they were discussing the size of the man’s penis]. Commenting on one of my back stretches, one man said, “That looks like doggy-style.”

That was the gist of their conversation… or at least, what Austin told me…

The sad thing is, when Austin told me all this after I came back into the cabin, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Hearing what had transpired, I simply nodded my head in sad resignation and disappointment… Men like those crew members who demeaned me today are just a few of many who think it’s okay to treat women as sexual objects and inferior beings…

I don’t know. Part of me is saying, “Belicia, you asked for it.” Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was stretching right in front of these men in my tight black leggings and spaghetti strap tank. The voyeurs were apparently peeping through the glass window of the studio, deriving sexual pleasure from my body… I claim ignorance as part of the reason this unfortunate event happened. In my head, I feel that I, and every woman in the world, deserves the right to do exactly as she pleases, without worrying about judgement and unwanted attention from others. I was stretching, for Christsake! I am a dancer, and I need to stretch. As a passenger on this cruise, I had every right to be stretching in that studio, without feeling unease. And I was totally fine, until I heard about what those men had said. It’s exactly like my experience at Bay Club, when the three married men called me a “slut” when I happened to be doing the middle splits in front of them.

Perhaps a part of me still thinks I am a pre-pubescent 11-year-old girl who can do as she pleases in public without men undressing her with their eyes— aside from pedophiles, of course. The fact is, though, I am a woman now. 19 years old. My body is that of a woman’s. I have curves that draw in men’s attention. People have called me “sexy”. Thing is, I don’t really see myself as “sexy” or “hot”, so in my head, I feel that I can do what I please without garnering the attention of men. I realize now that I thought wrong. I was naive. I absolutely hate that, in our society, women who fit the standard of “sexy” can’t go anywhere without attracting unwanted attention, even if they have no intention of doing so.”

The experience with the three crew members was unfortunate, and I was half-thinking about reporting these crew members to guest services. But what proof did I have to hold against them, especially as they were speaking about me off-the-radar, without knowledge that my very brother was standing right next to them, catching every word of their disgusting “locker-room talk”? In the end, I just swallowed the experience as an unfortunate reality of our still-backwards society. When I go back to UCLA, I will take some classes in feminism and gender studies to be better equipped when something like this inevitably happens again.

The rest of the cruise, though, I was wary of attracting unsolicited attention from wandering eyes. The second formal night was quite an ordeal, actually. Dressed in my golden prom dress and wearing thick black lashes, bright red lipstick and a matching red flower in my hair, I walked out of my cabin that night looking the part of a queen. Inside, however, I was dreading the attention I knew would be coming my way. As my family and I waited in line to take formal pictures, my hands were cold with fright, and my heart seemed to be beating in my throat. Part of it was my irrational fear of taking pictures in public. I know– you would think that, as a dancer, I’d be so used to being in the public eye, that something like taking pictures would be a piece of cake. In reality, aside from my escape through dance, I still get very nervous in front of a camera. When I get nervous, my facial muscles clench up, and try as I might, I can never seem to muster a smile, unless someone or something deliberately makes me laugh. So the picture-taking in itself was a source of great anxiety. That night, I was far too much in my head, worrying about others’ perceptions of me, when really I should have felt confident in my ravishing gown and six-inch sparkly stiletto heels. Some of the attention I received was gracious– older women and female waitresses kindly commenting on the elegance of my look. Other forms of attention, like men glancing up and down the length of my body, was less well-received. Then there was this Chinese lady named Fiona, whom my family had met on the cruise. An older lady, she was still single and unmarried. Anyway, upon seeing me in my gown, Fiona asked me how much I weighed, and I replied frankly– 130 lbs. She drew back in shock upon hearing my response, saying, “No wonder you are so fat! You need to get back dancing immediately to gain your shape back!” I was shocked and, quite honestly, hurt by her biting words. I know I always preach the importance of not letting others’ perceptions of you affect your own self-image, and developing a strong, unshakeable confidence that cannot be affected by anyone’s words… but that night, I really let Fiona’s words– words from a lady who meant virtually nothing to me– sink in deep. Dinner that night was three plates of fruit.

Finally, there was the flirtatious photographer, Charles, whose forwardness was unsettling. He took my family’s pictures the first formal night. When it was time for my solo pictures, he kept throwing me winks in between shots, which I interpreted to be mere goofiness. Then, as I stepped away from the backdrop, he whispered to me, “You’re really cute.” I was flattered, but also a little taken aback by his forwardness. The next interaction with him was on the shores of Estonia, I believe. He took my family’s picture, then asked for our room number so he could save the picture in our account. After I gave him the room number, he proceeded to ask me for my phone number… in a joking manner, I presumed. Of course, I said no. But the next time I saw him on the shores of Sweden, I made sure to deliberately walk a little faster, so as to avoid having him take my picture again. The last night of the cruise, my family and I were on deck 8, browsing through the hundreds of pictures we had taken over the course of the week, when Charles showed up. He joked with my mom about being her “future son-in-law”. My mom just laughed really loudly, and replied, “She is only 19 years old!” He replied, “I can wait for her!” I am sure he was joking… but I feel things very deeply, and hearing Charles say this was enough to make me retreat prematurely into my cabin to write in my diary. Thankfully, I never saw him again, and do hope our paths don’t cross again someday.

It is 10:04pm now, and I must be getting to bed soon. My family and I have a long day ahead of touring Copenhagen, so I want to be well-rested for that. I hope you enjoyed this rather lengthy overview of my cruise vacation with all its joys and pitfalls. Stay tuned for part 2 of my vacation reflection, in which I discuss the various European cities we visited in greater detail. Sending you all much love from Denmark!










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