It was a strange experience, being on a cruise ship for (mostly) academic purposes. This was my first time on one, and to be honest, I actually prefer the resort experience more when it comes to vacations. An overwhelming sense of "fake" was prevalent on the ship, and while resorts aren't necessarily better, on a cruise all you have is the boat. No beach, no grass, etc. I also didn't love the dark, cavernous feeling on most decks of the boat or the lengthy process to embark and debark. Even the mall was kept dark and lit with neon lights most of the time.
But there is a big advantage to hosting a conference on a cruise ship: nobody can leave! This was really great for building community. It was easy to find other attendees and spend some social time with them. For example, on one of the early nights, there was a disco party happening in the mall. At that point I was alone, wandering around, wondering what to do.
When I ran into some friends (old and new), I finally had someone to dance with, even if we were stuck with disco for quite some time. I would not have danced disco alone, but with them, I had a blast.
I have to admit that the upper deck with the pools was a nice place to prepare for my paper presentations (lab mates, if you are reading this: pretend I prepared weeks in advance and practised at our meetings). Sitting on a swinging chair looking out on the ocean is a good way to relieve last-minute stress.
And boy, was I stressed. I wasn't worried about the actual presentation being good, but rather whether the audience of heavy-hitters in the stories-in-games field would think the work itself was any good. It was a rare moment of feeling the imposter syndrome. To make matters worse, I had two talks almost in a row! Good to get them over with, but no chance for feedback in between.
Fortunately, everything went very well. The talk was good, and the questions afterwards were even better. A lot of the people I was intimidated of in the first place made a point to tell me that my talk was interesting. Later in the conference I even got to have an extended conversation with one of them, giving me both confidence and ideas. (Learn more about what I presented if you're interested.)
After my talks and a couple of other interesting paper sessions, I escaped on my own for a bit to decompress. The sun was starting to set, which was the perfect time to take a stroll around the boat.
The next day, the ship docked in Cozumel, Mexico, where two of my new friends and I went on a tour of Maya ruins (apparently you aren't supposed to include an "n") and visited a gorgeous beach. I was really glad to have my talk behind me at that point as I could completely relax and enjoy it!
The last day of the cruise included more interesting talks and a lovely reception and dinner to cap it all off. I left the following morning on a high, and already trying to figure out how to ensure I attended next year's conference. I left feeling like I had finally found "my people," from my awesome roommate to the researchers with the same interests. Thanks FDG, and hope to see you again soon!