The taxi took a left hand turn and pulled up to the line of cars waiting to be waved on by security. Our taxi driver, Christine, informed us to have our boarding pass and passports ready. A swampy area with murky waters and tall grass surrounded the strip of land our taxi sat on. Slowly we inched forward. A couple of semi-trucks passed us in the oncoming lane and our driver explained that those were the food trucks. Usually, the food trucks would get in at 6 AM and unload before the passengers disembarked, but because of the delay that morning, they were just now leaving. We had heard about the delay. Actually, that’s why it was early afternoon when we arrived at the terminal. That morning a dense fog in the harbor kept The Fascination from navigating under the bridge and arriving on time. Even with the delay, we were on board in a reasonable amount of time.
Once our luggage was out of the taxi and a porter collected them, we paid Miss Christine and joined the line that stretched outside the terminal doors. Everyone in line wore a friendly smile and was ready to talk about where you were from and if you had cruised before. That’s one of the reasons I love fans of SGM – they’re always ready to introduce themselves and have a little chat! (I will admit there were a few sourpusses who complained about the long line, but you must expect there to be at least one in every group!) While we’re on that topic, I’ll take a moment and comment on the lines. Personally, I was NOT disappointed with the wait. To be fair, they moved at a good speed. Especially when you consider that they were boarding 2000 passengers! For as many people as they had in the building, it only took us 30-35 minutes to weave through the line to security. After that, we went to the desk where we received our “Sign and Sail” card…and that barely took ten minutes or so. From there we left the building and boarded the ship. I’ll never forget what it was like to step on the gangway for the first time…below the water was gently lapping against the ship and ahead was the opening in the vessel’s side which allowed us entry. It was the first step off of land.
When you walked in the crew was there to direct you to what deck your cabin was on and so we waited for an elevator that took us up to deck 7 – the Empress Deck. Our cabin was situated on the “Starboard” side and when we reached our door, two black and yellow tote bags hung from the handle with “I went on a cruise with the Mark Trammell Quartet” scrolled on the front. We stepped in and became acquainted with our room. At 3:30 we had to attend the mandatory lifeboat drill, until then, I was itching to explore the ship. So we walked around the upper decks but all too soon it was time for the drill. We were assigned to Muster Station B. It was the funniest thing! Once the crew ran through the life jacket and other safety procedures, it was time for the muster stations to proceed outdoors to the lifeboats. They would call the letter for your muster station over the intercom and being in B, you would think we would have been one of the first to go. Not so! They called A and skipped right to C and D! When the intercom said, “Muster station B remain where you are,” everyone giggled. We were (literally) the last station to move to the lifeboat area! LOL Once we were out on deck with the lifeboats a plane began to circle the boat with a special message flowing behind in the wind… “Congratulations Templeton on 35 charters!”
After the drill it was time to set sail and I wanted the full experience! We made our way to the front of the ship and watched as The Fascination turned around and sailed out of the harbor. I grinned as the bridge came into view. (I could defiantly see why they wouldn’t want to navigate that in the fog!) It was so neat to see it off in the distance and then watch it get closer and closer until it was there. Sailing under was something else too! Once we passed the bridge it was five o’clock and because we were in the first seating for dinner (which began at 5:45) we had to hustle. It was at dinner when the last strip of land faded from sight and we were officially at sea.
With 25 Gospel groups on the ship we had a great selection of talent to choose from in the evening. The first group that we went to see on Monday was our host group, The Mark Trammell Quartet. They were singing in the Palace Lounge (which was at the front of the ship) at around eight o’clock. As we walked in and found a seat, the emcee, Dr. Goff, was informing every one of the numbers for this cruise. We had over 2000 passengers and 38 states represented. There were also five people from the United Kingdom, four from Norway, a few from Ireland and many from Canada!
The Mark Trammell Quartet kicked off their program with Your Walk Talks and God’s Been Faithful. “Those first two were new and this one is too!” Mark exclaimed, and then gave the title, “Don’t Stop Running!” That upbeat tune featured lead singer and Mark’s son, Nick Trammell. When that song ended Mark looked out into the audience and pointed out a man named Kenneth F. who had come on the cruise for 35 years. “I didn’t even know you were on the ship!” said Mark, and then mentioned that after the program they needed to catch up. He took a few brief minutes and introduced the quartet and then they sang Tis So Sweet that featured their tenor singer, Dustin Black. The new version of the old Gospel tune, Wonderful Time Up There, followed. “There’ll be shouting on the hills of glory,” Mark said, “We have time for one more song. If I had just one more opportunity to sing one more song, this would be it. It’s true, it’s relevant and it’s going to take place sooner than we think.” It was the ballad The King Is Coming.
From there we made our way to the Atrium were the Taylors would be singing at 9:30. Now, I have to tell you about the atrium! It’s built in a big circle and at the bottom there’s a staircase between the glass elevators. The singers stand on the staircase and sing to those seated below on the floor and those sitting on each level going up to the top deck. If you’re in the atrium, you can see the group sing from any deck you’re on. It’s amazing! This first time we were sitting on chairs two decks up. The Taylor’s began with The Love Of God and As We Near The Sunset Day. (I’m not familiar with their material so please forgive any errors with song titles!) The following song I recognized from the Hopper’s, but I couldn’t recall the name. After the upbeat Getting Ready Today and group introductions they sang I’m Gonna Make It and My, My, My.
At 10:00 PM we were back in the Palace, only this time the Whisnants were on stage. They began their set with We Are So Blessed, Gloryland Way and One Day I Will. Jeff Whisnant said, “I’d sung myself happy on that one!” They introduced the group and brought Ethan (their youngest son) up to sing with Austin and Jeff on the Road To Emmaus. Then Susan asked the audience to sing God Is So Good with them. “I don’t know what you are trying to fix today, but if it all falls apart, God can fix it,” said Susan and then sang All Is Well. They closed their set with New Day Dawning.
That first night we didn’t hit the sack until well after midnight! In fact, at midnight I was out on deck at the back of the ship gazing up at the stars. It was terribly windy and a bit chilly as the ship clipped along, but I didn’t mind. It’s one of my favorite memories from the cruise. There is something powerful about looking over the sea’s dark waters and up into the night’s black sky and knowing that God knew where you were at that exact moment!