Minutes are expensive here.

Captain’s Passenger’s log. Day one.Or something.

I’m on the balcony of my stateroom on the Celebrity Millennium. The blue blaze of my laptop screen is harsh compared to the moonlight and soft glow from the shaft of the glass elevator bank just beyond view. I’m still adjusting to Atlantic Time, two hours later than it is back home. So here I am, at almost midnight, and I’m booked for a coastal bike tour on St. Croix at 8:15 a.m. Prudent.

The four of us – my mother, sister, stepfather and me – boarded the ship for good today after a sticky afternoon stroll around old San Juan, all cobblestoned hills and T-shirt shops and cupcake-colored haciendas frosted with white curlicue balconies. We stopped for sangria and gazpacho at a lazy tapas bar just off the main drag; our server never seemed to grasp that we had to be back to our boat in an hour, but she was thrilled to convey that the guava glaze on the croquetas jambon had been made in house.

We raced back to the ship just in time to sanitize our hands a second time from the automatic dispensers. The greeters recognized us and welcomed us back; the gangway might as well have pulled up as the last of our feet hit the lobby. Just as the sun went down and the lifeboat drill began – seven short blasts and one long blast on the ship’s horn and the internal warning system – I made my last cell phone call back to Chicago. I don’t know when I’ll talk to the Knight again, and it feels a little silly to feel as hopeless about that as I do. Still, I’m homesick already: not for a place but for a person. Nine days feels like an eternity, as if I might start screaming at a volleyball a few days in, but in reality, I know it’ll be easier for me to get through our time apart. I have pleasant heat and a humid Caribbean breeze, a certain shade of bronze to shoot for. Waves and shore excursions and dinner every night at 8:45. He has wind chills and bills, lessons to plan for the new semester. Clanking radiators and a shining Camry missing its driver’s-side door handle.

The boat is like another world, a shiny microcosm with fake plastic money and tuxedoed staff, a mess of different languages, a halting mix of trudging geriatrics and careening youth. We’re like royalty here; we have our own stateroom attendant and will have the same wait staff every night in the Metropolitan Restaurant. Our suitcases and a bottle of champagne awaited us when we arrived at to our tiny stateroom on Deck 8, and we returned to turndown service and fresh towels. We explored the ship together before dinner; I tripped up a beautiful flight of teak stairs and bruised my left shin before we’d even left the port. During our journey, we found at least four bars, a jogging track, a basketball court, a movie theatre, a casino, shops, an acupuncturist, a floral shop. Two live bands had already started playing to a largely nonexistent audience. My sister and I stopped to listen to one for a moment; we watched a couple shyly step onto the dance floor and vanish into their own little world as they spun through a lively number. The woman’s skirt, the swirling pattern and silken fabric, flared and fell in time as she spun in and out of his arms and swayed her hips. It doesn’t feel right to be here alone.

As I fumbled my way back from the bathroom during dinner, a bit giddy but vertiginous from the lilt as we sped out and away from the lights of San Juan, a staff member in a white tuxedo said, “Look at that smile.” I couldn’t help it. I felt like a princess in my yellow flowered sundress and navy cardigan, even though I felt foolish and unsteady. Even more reinforcement for the princess factor: I can order anything I want for dinner.

Even two entrees, if I wanted.

But I couldn’t. Certainly not.

…unless it was really delicious.

The breeze on the balcony is heavy and sweet, and there’s another cruise ship seemingly stationary along the horizon, a thin line of white lights against the blackness. It’s not as quiet as I expected it to be out here, and not as dark either. But the noise and the brightness aren’t like Chicago. The ship’s kicking up a white froth hundreds of feet out, like a nature-themed white noise machine cranked to 10, and the halo of the moon is so bright that it’s impossible to see the stars. I’m nearly dozing out here by the glare of my laptop, but the crisp white sheets of my twin bed are calling.