Wednesday, October 26, 2011

All Aboard!

I don’t like the heat; or rather it doesn’t like me. My low blood sugar seems to turn me into a puddle of Jell-O faster than the average person and soon I look like a dying jelly fish stranded on the shore. I don’t mind going to the beach, however, as long as I have my umbrella to keep me in the shade and no one tries to coax me into the water or out into the sun. It’s the atmosphere of the beach I relish; not the beach itself. If we could transport it into an air conditioned enclosure, it would be perfect. So, when the girls got excited about a cruise they wanted to go on obviously I had mixed emotions.

Correction – Teri and Sarah were ecstatic; Char just kept reminding us about the Titanic and how most of the people died.

“We’re going to the Bahamas, Char. There won’t be any icebergs,” Teri informed her.

“People go on cruises all the time,” Sarah chimed in. “They’re perfectly safe.”

Of course, I was ever so helpful by downloading every musical score I could think of from ocean tragedies: Titanic, Jaws, Perfect Storm, The Poseidon Adventure, etc. Char wasn’t amused.

However, she was excited because a cruise meant new clothes and since we had already paid for the trip she might as well make the best of it. I wasn’t sure why they required new outfits. We were the only people we knew going on this cruise, which left 1,996 other people who had never seen their current wardrobe. The clothes would appear new to these unknown people. Of course, as always I was told I was being silly as I was ushered into Ross for the first round of selections.

We booked this cruise at the end of June to take place in the middle of October, so there were three and a half months of fantasizing and planning, and of course, teasing Char. Did we want excursions or not? Were we attending the formal dinner and most importantly, how were we going to get our booze on board? That last was vital because the girls’ outfits broke me and if I was going into the heat I needed to be well hydrated with scotch.

When we announced we were going on a cruise, I was amazed at how many people had also taken cruises and snuck booze on board. It made me feel better about being a cheapskate. We stole their ideas and even put a bottle of Cooper’s Mark inside my jeans in a suitcase just to try getting it onboard. The guidelines said we could bring a bottle of wine per person as well as a small amount of non-alcoholic beverages. While this was very thoughtful of them it was also not nearly enough. Of course, we looked at the penalty and all they said was that they would confiscate our beverages until after our return home at which point they discovered items would be returned to us. We all agreed it would be well worth the risk and set up our decoys.

The next hurdle to overcome was passports. Teri and Sarah had theirs, mine was outdated and Char never had one. We always snuck her over the border when visiting relatives in Alabama, so she never needed one. We looked up the paperwork and the cost and the girls quickly saw the vanishing of several “much needed” outfits. The first of many calls was then made to the cruise line. I think after awhile they began to recognize our numbers.

“Yes, are passports required for this cruise?”

As it turned out, they weren’t. A driver’s license would suffice. The girls started planning their next excursion to the mall. However, the Monday before we were to set sail, Teri was doing our early check in and panic set in.

“They lied,” Teri said and I could see disaster written on her face. “The driver’s license has to be an enhanced driver’s license, which you can only get in three states. Florida’s not one of the three.”

Apparently, I had to prove I was a United States citizen, which meant I had to have a birth certificate to go with my license. That really annoyed me because Obama didn’t need one. As it stood, I didn’t have mine either. It had somehow gotten lost in one of our moves and all I could see was a closet full of dresses bought for nothing.

Teri hit the keyboard and the search fror my proof of birth was underway. I was born in Indiana, so it wasn’t like I could drive over to the hospital and get it. We found and placed the order, praying that “express” wasn’t just a fancy name in their slogan. It would be here by that Friday, two days before launch date. They didn’t run on Saturday, so if it wasn’t here Friday we were screwed and not in the I-need-a-cigarette way. That was too close for assurance, so the next day we called and pleaded our case for expediency.

“It’s only a fifty percent chance for Friday,” the man, who we’d get to know real well over the next three days, said. “But, I completely understand your plight and I’ll put your request at the front of the pile and do my best to push it through. Call me tomorrow.”

And we did, as well as the next day. “Everything was approved and it looks like it should ship today. Look for an email tomorrow morning with a tracking number and if you don’t get one, call me and I’ll see what I can do about a Saturday pick up.”

My stomach was in knots.

I had picked Teri up from work that Thursday as she was on the phone with Stan and listened to the entire conversation on the way home. As I trudged up our walk, she was hanging up with him and there on the door was the UPS sticker saying that they had tried to deliver the much awaited document. We had missed him by thirty minutes. Damn traffic.

It was odd to me as well that Stan didn’t even know that it had shipped the day before. Now that’s expediency!

The note said that they would try again tomorrow to redeliver it, but I knew our luck. No one would hear the doorbell. I know this because we’ve had a full house before and someone stopped by only to have to come around the house and call out to us. “We’ve been ringing the doorbell for ten minutes!” My only reply was “We have a doorbell?” Most people just walk into our house yelling, “Don’t shoot!” as they pass through each room.

I called the UPS station and begged for them to hold the package and then that Friday morning sent Char and Sarah to retrieve it. I wasn’t taking any chances. As it is the knot in my stomach didn’t unwind until Char called and said she had it in her hand. I needed a drink. Of course, the girls wanted to celebrate with a new outfit.

We were set; well, almost. Nails had to be done, hair dyed and cut and baggage packed. The girls had to try on every outfit, match shoes and accessories and decide what part of each day each ensemble was for. I grabbed a Samuel Adams, a Coshiba and hid on the back porch.

The same Monday that we had found out about my need for a birth certificate, the girls looked at me and said, “We need to go shopping.”

“There is no way you need more clothes. You do know there is a weight and bag limit for this cruise, right?” I was going to have to carry the luggage and my back was beginning to twinge.

“No, not us. You.”

I hate buying clothes for me. It takes away from my books and writing supplies and really I can write naked. It’s not a problem. However, the girls were tired of me wearing boxers that didn’t really cover anything, and of course, I needed a jacket for the formal dinner. The fact that I already had a sports coat didn’t matter because, well, it was old. They also used the shopping trip for more shoes, so somehow I think I was tricked.

Finally, we were packed with two bags devoted solely for sandals and heels, twenty-eight pairs for a four day cruise and that didn’t include mine. I didn’t say anything, just carried them, proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Usually the night before a big trip – visiting family, going to Disney, or getting a hot dog from 7-Eleven – I have a terrible time sleeping. It’s like my body is pumped full of adrenaline from the excitement and anticipation of what’s coming that I just want to get the trip underway. However, that Saturday night before the trip I had the best night’s sleep I had had in a few days. I’m not sure what it was, but I was calm and peaceful with no worries at all. I was looking forward to the next few days of isolation.

That next morning I woke up refreshed and ready to go. We enjoyed a nice, leisurely breakfast, loaded the car and headed for the port. We dropped our bags off with the porter, everyone handing off the seven bags to the two people who kept saying, “Let’s hurry up and get you on that ship and underway,” which made me wonder why the rush and if they knew something I didn’t. The car was then parked for its four day vacation at Port Canaveral. “Stay away from Fords,” I said as I patted the hood. With our carry-on bags we hauled my writing and our secret stash of alcohol into the terminal waiting to see if our clever ploys would work. With passports, driver’s license, boarding pass and birth certificates, we were quickly ushered through the lines, given our Sail and Sign room keys and pointed to the gangway. To be honest, we looked like a tourist gang and people gave way.

Before we were even onboard, the pictures started. They had three photographers set up in front of hanging backgrounds of the ship and we were ushered in front of one for our first pose before we were pointed to the plank over water that lead to our vacation. It would be the first of many times a camera was thrown into our face, memories snapped that we could purchase for $19.99 each.

We crossed over onto the Sensation at 12:30 and at that point were told our room would not be ready until 1:30. Now, I regretted carrying my writing and books on board as I would have to lug these things around for an hour. My back was already hurting from the bags of shoes.

We decided to actually pay for a drink and sit by the pool, which was already brimming with tourists, and wait for the room to be ready. As we looked around for a quiet nook, a waiter named Carlos came over with a tray of souvenir cups filled with the ship’s drink of the day, The Funship Special. Everything on the ship was paid for by a swipe of our Sail and Sign card, which carries our name as well, and once Carlos saw my name he never forgot it. It was a great touch of personalized service even if a tad on the creepy stalker side. Later that day as we were touring the ship, he had changed into his dinner uniform and spotted us.

“Hey, Robert, you enjoy your day? What time you eat dinner?” He said in his broken English.

I’m always good for a conversation so I joined in. “You look spiffier than earlier. Yes, yes, the day has been great. We took the 8:15 dinner.”

“Oh, very late dinner. You enjoy now.” And he was off and running.

One-thirty came and we decided to ditch the luggage before touring the ship. The bags that we had checked with the porter were already waiting outside our room when we got there and we quickly pulled them inside to stow away. I counted out seven bags and tossed them on the bed and shut the door, ready for a drink. However, a knock came before I could rescue my scotch as the steward stood there with our eighth bag.

“We only had seven.” I stood there confused, looking at the girls. I read the tag on each bag and sure enough each one had our name attached.

Char and Sarah started laughing. “Oh yeah, we decided to go ahead and check the make-up bag instead of carrying it on. Sorry.” I searched for the scotch.

When we found the special bags, we laughed like kids who had pulled one over on their parents as each container of secret elixir had made it, even the one we had stashed in the suitcase. I’d tell you our secret, but we’re going on another cruise and we don’t want Carnival reading about our cleverness.

To be realistic, I don’t think they checked all that hard. I think most of those warnings are to scare the goody-two shoes who like to play by the rules. They probably expect us rebellious types to break the prohibition anyway. I could be wrong on that, but I don’t think so.

The girls hung up their dresses, laid out their shoes, and divvied up the four tiny drawers. I enjoyed our balcony for the first time already knowing that I’d be in the way. Once everything was safely tucked away, we grabbed our cameras and began our tour of the Sensation free of heavy bags. I did, however, keep pen and pad on me. Hey, it’s not as awkward looking as Linus’ blanket and I don’t suck my thumb; at least, not that anyone can prove.

We confiscated a tiny map from guest service, spent our first hundred on bottomless sodas and then enjoyed discovering the ship by getting lost. A ship, I learned, is not like a hotel in that you can’t go from one end to the other on each floor. It’s like a maze where you go up two floors, walk down to the middle of the ship and then go down three floors. It took us awhile, but eventually we saw every room we could enter.

We finished our tour of the ship, snapping pictures of every room and corner we came across and then decided to watch our departure from the balcony of our stateroom. Char was still quite nervous and when I started panicking I wanted it to happen in private. We fixed drinks from our lunch boxes and leaned against the railing as we sailed down through the port and out into the Atlantic. People waved and cheered to us as we passed the bars and the park, wishing us a bon voyage. We waved and shouted back. Char’s knuckles were still white, but that would change. We were doing it, our first cruise. Surrounded by the girls, I smiled up ahead at the open sea.

“Let the adventure begin,” I whispered.

* * * * *

No comments:

Post a Comment