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Everyone knows a Carnival cruise is prime stomping ground for singles looking to mingle. Weekend sailings especially attract younger crowds and the unattached. The same is true of the short cruises offered by Royal Caribbean.

As a married gal who takes a lot of cruises, often without my husband, I've found you don't have to be a swinging singles to enjoy a weekend cruise. Happily marrieds like me, and the blissfully betrothed like my pal Nina, realized we could leave the guys at home and enjoy the show from the sidelines when we embarked on a Carnival cruise to the steamy western Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Cozumel, and Grand Cayman. As it turned out, the trip was an unintended ego-boosting flirting fest.

The 2,040-passenger Carnival Paradise, like her sisters, is festively decked out like a Christmas tree, with twinkling lights and colorful baubles covering nearly every inch of her 70,367 tons. The trimmings include the six-story atrium festooned with sparkly Faberge-like eggs and the whimsical public rooms named after famous ocean liners. The Rex disco grabs you with its jungly faux animal-skin upholstery and carpeting, and the red, white and blue America piano bar will have patriots saluting at the doorway. There are eight bars around the ship, plus a huge gym, spa, three sprawling restaurants, a 24-hour pizza counter, sushi bar, and what seems like miles of outdoor deck surrounding the pool and snaking slide, with a live band blasting Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffet tunes to set the party mood. With all of these places to meet and mingle, coupled with the thousands of fellow passengers, officers and crew all marooned together with you for a week like a floating summer camp for adults, you'd have to lock yourself in your cabin to avoid meeting a ton of people.

It was only hours into our cruise that Nina and I met four strapping 30-somethings singles. They were so clean cut, we called them the priests. John worked for the IRS, Bob was a federal express guy, and the other two, oh I can't remember. They were decent is all, and frugal too -- they were sharing one of Carnival's roomy 190-square-foot standard cabins (OK, roomy for two, but reeeal cozy for 4). They approached us with your classic: "hey, what are nice girls like you doing in a place like this." We enjoyed the banter for a while, but then, sensing their interest, I flashed my wedding ring and Nina mentioned the b-word -- boyfriend. We didn't want to lead them on, but of course down deep we loved the attention!

By night, the Rex disco was swarming with prospects, including a bevy of dashing white-suited officers eyeing the herds from the edge of the dance floor. The Chief Engineer chatted me up for a while one night before I flashed the ring and moved on. I could'a danced with him, I thought, as if I was keeping score. A married gal's got an ego too! Another night in the disco, Nina and I found ourselves having a ball doing the campy YMCA routine with the portly purser, before running off to make the midnight comedy routine in the Queen Mary lounge.

Our encounters weren't limited to the ship, either. In Jamaica, where Nina and I signed up for an awesome river tubing adventure down the White River, the eau de aphrodisiac seemed to be wafting around the lush island as much as it was on board the ship. The group had barely floated past the first clump of towering emerald-green bamboo trees, then the tubing guide paddled himself next to Nina and stayed there, plying her with sweet nothings the entire trip.

Then there was the tax lawyer, Bill from Baltimore, who was on the cruise as part of a business convention. In the warm Mexican sun one morning, we met him on line for the bus to the horseback riding excursion. A shortish, balding chap pushing 40, he was the cute "guy next door" type and very easy to talk to. He told us, as the bus rattled along to a ranch in Cozumel's remote hinterland, what he was looking for in a woman: a wife who was willing to stay home and manage the household chores. Hhmmm, I was surprised at my feminist self for respecting his honesty.

Then again, I also thanked my lucky stars that my man back home didn't mind washing the dishes! I returned home from the Paradise to my own little slice of nirvana -- a bouquet of flowers and a big hug from hubby While it sure was fun dipping our toes in the frolicking Carnival sea solo for a week, next time it'll be even more fun to bring the guys along.

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