Tiger Cruise [ty-ger krooze] noun – The Navy’s name for a very special guest cruise program. A Naval ship is permitted to embark relatives and friends of crew members (Tigers), eight years of age or older, for a Tiger Cruise. The cruise provides an opportunity for family and friends to see and participate in our daily shipboard routine.
Yes! I got to participate in a Tiger Cruise! This was an adventure that not many people get to enjoy and I was so excited to have this experience! (I didn’t know that a Tiger Cruise was on my bucket list, but I guess it was! Check!)
As mentioned here on my blog previously, my eldest son is a Navy helicopter pilot who is assigned to the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike group. In April of last year he deployed to the Middle East. He was only supposed to be gone for six months…..that is until the situation in Syria happened. The Nimitz carrier group was on its way home when they were rerouted to the Red Sea in early September as a show of force for the U.S. This situation delayed their homecoming by months.
But finally on December 3, 2013 the USS Nimitz pulled into Pearl Harbor. My husband & I had flown to Honolulu the day before and I happened to be in our hotel room when waaaaay out on the horizon we were able to see the Nimitz as it passed (click on the photo for a better view):
We were soooo excited because we knew that soon we would be reunited with our son, Brooks!
We got to spend a day and a half enjoying Waikiki and Pearl Harbor with Brooks. We were privileged to be included in a special Anniversary tour of Pearl Harbor along with some men who were survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Some of these men have never returned to Pearl Harbor until this year. I am sure their minds were traveling 72 years in the past and reliving that awful day as we stood on the memorial floor with the wreckage of the USS Arizona just below the water’s surface. Part of our visit included a “Floral Tribute” ceremony, when we were invited to scatter rose petals on the water in honor of anyone we wished. Brooks, his father and I dropped petals and said prayers for two of Brooks’ fellow helicopter pilots who were lost in an accident on September 22, 2013. (View my video tribute to those heroes in this post .)
We boarded the Nimitz aircraft carrier on December 5, 2013 and pulled out of Pearl Harbor the next morning. It was so moving to see the respect that all of the military personnel showed as we passed by the USS Arizona Memorial…..manning the rails and holding solemn salutes until the carrier passed the memorial site.
Life on board an aircraft carrier…..what can I say? Of course it was a lot different for us “Tigers” than for the men & women deployed on board. Most of the time when we tell people about the Tiger Cruise they ask two questions:
1. “What were the sleeping arrangements like?”
2. “Was the food any good?”
Because our “sponsor” (our son Brooks) was an officer, we got to enjoy the accommodations and priveledges enjoyed by the officers. Tigers whose sponsors were enlisted men or women enjoyed the same accommodations and priveledges of the enlisted ranks.
Our sleeping quarters were more comfortable than I anticipated. I was quartered in a four-bunk stateroom. My three roommates were women who were also Tigers. My husband was quartered in a two-bunk stateroom, and his roommate was an officer with the Wolfpack (my son’s squadron.) I wish I had taken photos of the room….I can’t believe I didn’t! But it was divided into two parts: one room had lockers and desks for two people, and the other room housed the four bunks, lockers and desks for two people and a small sink and mirror. The mattresses were actually pretty comfortable (but I can say that since I only had to sleep on it for 7 nights….sleeping on them for months might have created a different opinion.) Once I learned to make sure that my earplugs, water bottle, tissues, cell phone charger, book and lip balm were all within reach once I had climbed up into my top bunk, I was set!! 🙂
The difficult part was learning our way around! It is like a maze inside of the carrier, with many decks, ladders and hatches up & down and sections. Luckily they put “No Tigers Allowed” signs on parts of the ship where we were not supposed to go, so that helped us as we were navigating around the ship. For the first few days the only places I knew how to get to were my room, the closest women’s “head” (bathroom), the “Wolfpack Ready Room” (which is where the pilots are briefed before a mission & de-briefed after a mission and where they generally hang out in-between), and the Ward rooms (dining rooms for the officers.)
The food was pretty good! (Brooks said it was better during Tiger Cruise than it had been all during the deployment, so I guess I’m grateful for that!) In the Ward rooms they had a nice salad bar, a buffet line which usually held a variety of entrees, meats, and side dishes such as vegetable & starches (usually potatoes or rice or mac & cheese). There was also a buffet line in the kitchen where you could get items from the grill or fryer. The Ward room had a beverage area which offered coffee, hot water for tea, soda and milk. One item I missed was bread….there was not very much to be had. But a few less carbs never hurt anyone, right?
One of the things that occupied us for the first few days was to complete a “Tiger Qualification Standards” packet that was comprised of a LOT of questions about the different areas on the ship, their purposes, the people who worked there and their responsibilities. To help us gain the knowledge we would need to answer the questions there was a series of six tours of the different areas of the ship scheduled throughout each day of the Tiger Cruise. Brooks, Redgie & I spent a lot of time taking the tours and interviewing the people we met along the way in order to complete our TQS. When we turned in our completed TQS we received an “official” Tiger Cruise certificate and pin. 🙂
After that experience I decided the place that I would least enjoy working was in the Fuel Pump room (where they constantly are purifying the fuel to standards needed to be used by the jets…..it was stinky down there, and dangerous) and the place where I would most like to work was for the Media department (which was responsible for all on-board movies, publications, photography, videos, social networks, etc.)
We got to tour all kinds of areas of the ship such as:
- The Foc’sl – responsible for the huge anchoring mechanism including links of anchor chain that weigh 360 pounds each and two anchors (each weighing 30,000 TONS each!)
- The Medical area which included a Surgery, X-Ray room, Pharmacy, etc.
- The Hangar Bay where they store all of the aircraft that is not on the flight deck and also included a tour of the Fire Equipment and systems on board the ship
- The Flight Control tower (“Pri-Fly”)
- The control room responsible for driving the ship
- The Flight Ops Center
- The Brig (2 individual cells that house 1 person apiece and a “General Population” cell that could house up to 15 persons at a time.)
- The Jet engine shop where they take apart, reconstruct and test the jet engines
- Fuel Pump Room
- Media Center
- Viewed various “Static” displays of different aircraft and demonstrations
Some of the specific activities we participated in were:
- On Saturday (our first full day at sea) there was an “Air Power Demo” on the flight deck. The demonstration included all of the different kinds of jets and helicopters that are assigned to the ship. It was a pretty amazing opportunity to see first hand all of the flight deck operations involved in launching and recovering the jets and helicopters. Some of the helicopters demonstrated manuevers including dropping bombs into the water & we could see their explosions from where we stood! There was also a super-sonic jet demo that startled me so much I almost dropped my camera! We had to wear earplugs because it was so loud!
- On Sunday 12/8/13 at 7 a.m. Redgie and Brooks participated in a 5K “Fun Run” on the flight deck
- On Tuesday 12/10/13 we watched the “Air Wing Fly Off” when all of the fixed wing planes and jets flew off the carrier to the base at North Island. They have to be off of the carrier before it docks in San Diego because otherwise they would be stuck on the carrier since it needs to be at sea & in motion in order for the planes to fly off of it. That is why as soon as we came within flight distance of North Island the Air Wing left.
- On Wednesday 12/11/13 we watched all of the helicopters of HSM-75 & HSC-6 fly off the carrier to the base at North Island.
The rest of the time we spent mostly in the Wolfpack Ready room. We watched a couple of movies – Ironically the movie we watched on 12/7/13 (the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor) was the original “Final Countdown” movie starring Kirk Douglas. It was ironic because part of the movie is about the attack on Pearl Harbor and it was filmed on board the USS Nimitz!
The trip culminated when the Nimitz pulled into the port at North Island in San Diego on December 12, 2013. We could see from our position along the side rails of the aircraft carrier that there was a crowd of family and friends waving signs and American flags and cheering the return of their loved ones. I have seen scenes like this on TV lots of times but being on the other side of it, standing on deck amongst the brave men & women who had sacrificed so much in service for our country was such a moving experience for me.
I thought of those who leave home on deployment but do not get to return to hear the triumphant strains of our national anthem being played by a band on the pier as the two lost pilots of HSC-6 did, or of their families who instead of being in the crowd down below were at home missing their loved ones. I said a prayer of gratitude for their sacrifice for our freedom and a prayer of thanks for the safe return of our son, and for the amazing experience that we were so privileged to have on this Tiger Cruise on board the USS Nimitz.
(Click on any of the photos below to view larger images)