Thursday, November 17, 2011

We’re Cruising Now

The four of us stood on the small balcony of our stateroom, leaning over the rail, watching the ocean ripple past us as the three-dimensional view of the Florida coastline diminished into a thin line.  We had actually done it.  Despite our fears and all of the obstacles that had cropped up, we were on a cruise and Char hadn’t passed out yet or caused a panic.

With our adventure finally underway, only one thing occupied my mind.  Food.  I was finally hungry.  We had stopped at McDonald’s on the way to Port Canaveral and picked up a couple of cheap burgers from the dollar menu, because we weren’t sure if they’d be serving lunch on the ship.  Poor Char was so nervous, she was afraid to even eat a French fry for fear of puking it up.  Besides, that McChicken had been four hours ago.

 “Okay, girls, it’s time to eat.  They said lunch was served by the pool.”  It seemed an odd place for a buffet line, like a giant tease to kids who have been told, “You can’t go swimming for thirty minutes after eating.”  Personally, I think it’s a great time to teach children the importance of making wise decisions.  “Sure, you can go swimming, but if you get a cramp and drown, I’m not jumping in after you.  I’m enjoying my key lime pie.”

When we arrived I realized that the buffet wasn’t exactly by the pool, just within close proximity.  There was a stage between the two that was used for nighttime frolics and family fun.

The grill, however, was perfect for us.  On one side were piles of what Char classified as normal food:  hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries and chicken strips.  On the other side steamed several Mediterranean dishes that Teri and Sarah relished.  I helped myself to a little of everything.  What can I say?  I’m easily pleased.

And with the amount of food on the cruise, I was more than pleased.  At home, even though we try to eat three good meals a day, it doesn’t always happen and most of us are lucky if we eat two.  However, on the cruise we ate four times a day.  We usually woke up at eight and were eating breakfast by eight-thirty.  Lunch was gobbled down at noon, but since our fine dining experience wasn’t supposed to happen until eight-fifteen, it was important to grab a meal at five to keep starvation at bay.  Usually that’s when Teri and Sarah had sushi for three while Char and I either had pizza or another hamburger.  One day I had a hot dog, but it was nothing like 7-Eleven’s, so I didn’t do that again.

The hamburger and hot dog buffet was an every day availability while the other buffets usually changed to a different international cuisine.  There was a salad bar, a deli, and a dessert buffet as well that seemed never-ending.  You could also get pizza and ice-cream twenty-four hours a day.  Ice cream for breakfast, now that’s a vacation!  With all of this food at my fingertips I was going to need a bigger life preserver.

One of my biggest pastimes is people watching and I was able to do that quite a bit on the Sensation.  There was actually 2,000 people plus crew to steal characters from.  Outside of the individual oddities that roamed the decks, I knew of three different groups sharing the cruise with us.  The first was some sort of Bible group having a retreat on the high seas, hopefully not based on Jonah’s adventures.  Then there was a wedding party on board for a couple getting married in Nassau, and the third group I noticed was an after-wedding party.  This couple actually brought their family on their honeymoon!

Now, there are quite a few trips I would take with my family, and upon arriving home the first thing the girls did was price a cruise for the eleven of us, which with Disney it’s cheaper to purchase a kidney.  However, I couldn’t imagine going with Nathaniel and Christina on their honeymoon.  It kind of gives me a creepy West Virginia feeling and makes me think of several Criminal Minds episodes I’ve seen.  Of course, it could probably spin into a nice mystery-romance, so I stole the family in my notes.

After lunch, I started thinking about dinner.  However, we had opted for the late dining experience, which meant I had three hours to go.  So, the girls browsed our handy “Things to Do Today” list that had been waiting for us in our room while I continued to scope out the scenery.

We had chosen not to sign up for any excursions while on our vacation for two reasons.  The first was cost.  Expensive!  The second was because it was our vacation and we didn’t want to be told what to do and when to do it.  We had turned the schedules off the same time we had flipped our phones to AirplaneMode, which was confusing enough since we weren’t on a plane, but phones don’t have a “Bug Off, I’m On Vacation” mode.  With the way technology is nowadays, I’m sure our phones knew the difference and were laughing at us going, “Silly humans.”  Yet, shortly after we had boarded and bought our first Funship Special, I snapped a photo of the girls enjoying themselves, posted it to Facebook with a “Bon Voyage” and the four of us turned the phones off.  There would be no outside contact for four days and we were ecstatic about it.

I, however, was a little apprehensive leaving the boys in the house unsupervised and worried what I would return to.  They had jobs, which meant there was a cash flow of sorts, and at least two of them could buy liquor.  They also had a thing for my fire pit and were loud as well as messy.  Okay, I was a little more than apprehensive.  Would I have a house to return to?

Before we had left for our four-day getaway, Teri had done her best to ensure a clean return.  On the kitchen counter, taped so that it wouldn’t get “misplaced,” she stuck a note titled, “For Anyone Who Stays at This House Longer than Four hours.”  She then listed several chores that had to be done before our return, such as dishes washed, trash taken out and floors vacuumed and mopped.  It was a gallant effort, but I had seen the squalor the boys call their bathroom and I wasn’t holding out much hope.

To be honest, the no-schedule aspect of the cruise was one of my favorite parts.  I loved not having to be anywhere at a certain time.  Even though our dinner reservations were at 8:15 every night, we didn’t have to be there if we didn’t want to because the buffets were always open.  Of course, the girls wanted the experience, so we did it, but that was our choice.

I could truly live my life this way, free of clocks and calendars.  If I wanted to kick back and stare off at Mother Nature for awhile, or get lost in a novel or something I was writing, I could.  I understand the need for deadlines being a freelance writer, but I also think that the fewer there are the more relaxed the human race could be to explore and enjoy the life around us.

It is within the freedom of those moments that we experience things that simply take our breath away.  We had finished eating our lunch and ridiculing the other passengers when we decided to just retire to our stateroom and rest.  The girls really wanted to take their time getting dressed for the evening and I wasn’t opposed to some peace and quiet.

As the girls rotated showers and blow dryers, I poured me a scotch, grabbed a cigar and headed for my little piece of Heaven, the balcony.  It was in the solitude of that moment that I enjoyed one of those breath-taking experiences.

Sitting on the balcony, surrounded by the Atlantic, I watched the spectacle of colors that made up the sunset.  There were no city lights, no honking horns, and in the solitude of my cabin, no screaming kids.  Only the peaceful music of the ocean and the giggling of the girls as they were getting ready surrounded me.  This was tranquility.

As the sky changed its colors like a slow moving kaleidoscope, I would knock on the glass and make the girls come out and watch, make them breath in the changing view.  We had a VIP booth to one of the longest running shows to exist and I wasn’t going to miss a second of it.

Once the girls were all gussied up there was still plenty of time before dinner for some exploring, so we decided to see what the Atrium had to offer.  Atrium, I discovered, was the name they gave their shipboard mall.  There was your typical gift shop with tons of items that were stamped Carnival Sensation on them, but there were other specialty shops such as jewelry, cologne, tobacco, and liquor.  It was the liquor section I found rather annoying at first; because you weren’t permitted to take your purchases back to your cabin and imbibe.  No, you bought it and they held onto it until the final night of the cruise when they would then bring it to your cabin in a sealed box that you weren’t allowed to open even then.  I didn’t see the point.

“I can buy booze back home. Why do I want to buy it here when I can’t drink it until I get home anyway?”

“Because it’s tax and duty free,” Teri answered.  “It costs less.”  She is always great at trying to save us money, because that means they can buy more stuff – especially shoes.

Tax-free I understood.  The other I didn’t have a clue about.  “What is duty?”  It even sounded weird.  Duty.  It almost sounded like something you say in regards to newborns.  “Coast is clear!  His diaper is duty free.”

I found out later that “duty” is really just another word for tax.  It’s a fee attached to goods by governments.  If the merchant doesn’t have to pay these fees then we, the consumers, get the savings as well.  I’m surprised there isn’t a Wal-Mart Ship floating around somewhere.

However, they did have some great deals on popular liquors, so I figured what the hell and bought six bottles, two of which we were told could not be purchased in the States.  That was probably why I needed the passport.  Of course, the booze we bought that night was the only thing not like America.

We finished making our purchases, were entered into a raffle for spending so much and then realized it was time for dinner, which was one flight up and all the way at the other end of the ship.  We would definitely know our way around before the cruise was over at this rate.

Dinner was a unique experience.  I was completely baffled and, to be honest, I didn’t want to appear the fool by asking anyone what was permitted.  It was almost like stopping in a strange town and asking for directions.  Men just don’t do it.  Cruises should come with a Guide for Dummies book, because dummies like me needed all the help we could get.  Of course, most of us probably wouldn’t read the book, but that’s not the point.

Our reservations were for 8:15 each night, because we didn’t know if we’d be doing something fun and exciting at five, which was the early dining.  As it stood, we were doing something fun and exciting each day at five; we were eating.  Who knew?

We headed down to the Ecstasy Room at eight, not realizing that when they said 8:15 they really meant it.  The doors never opened a minute sooner.  When we arrived, the space between the glass doors and the elevators was crammed full of starving people.

When the doors did finally open it was like Target on Black Friday morning, people rushed in in a haphazard manner.  Not knowing where to go, I handed the crew member at the door our Sail & Signcard, which she handed to a waiter who told us to follow him.  We did, of course; still not sure what was going on, but hoping he would lead the blind to sustenance.  He escorted us to a table that sat ten people and four guests had already arrived and were engaged in conversation.  Soon after we were warming our cushions, two more people filled the empty seats.  Dinner with strangers.  Oh joy!  I could people watch right there at my table.

And I did, making mental notes of every thing that seemed odd about these people.  Later that night we did what we always do after meeting people.  We talked about them.

“So, what did you ladies make of the new people?”  I started the ball rolling.

“Those two couples are definitely swingers traveling together,” Teri said.

“The two Canadian ladies have to be lesbian lovers,” Sarah said.

“I was too busy holding onto the table and not trying to throw up to notice much,” Char apologized.  The ship had been rocking pretty hard that night and she had been holding the table with one hand while eating with the other all through dinner, so I didn’t pick on her.  Much.

After dinner we went back to the liquor area, bought two more bottles and waited around for the raffle drawing.  You had to be present to win and we had nothing better planned, so we waited.  Besides, they had free shots for an hour, all you could handle, and the four of us could handle quite a bit.

It was nearing eleven and we still weren’t ready to turn in yet, even though back home we would have been heading for the pillows wondering why we had stayed up so late.  There was a comedy show in the Plaza Lounge, so we decided to end the night laughing.  It seemed odd to me to attend a comedy show in the same lounge where they taught us how best to save our necks in case of an emergency, but it was fitting that it was my Muster station.  I mean, here’s this guy trying to make us laugh in the same place that Danny, the Cruise Director of Fun, taught us to put on life preservers, shiny-side out.  That’s kind of funny.

The comedian, however, was not.  He was a young man in his upper twenties who suffered from Cerebral Palsy.  Outside of the obvious physical signs, we knew he had this condition because he based most of his routine on it.  To be honest, at first I was confused and kept leaning over to the girls asking, “Are you sure we’re in the right place?”

“It said Plaza Lounge on our list of activities,” they assured me.  However, they seemed as confused as me.

When we had walked into the lounge, there had been “Adult Karaoke” going on, which at first I was excited about.  Usually when people slap “Adult” onto the title of something it means nudity involved and dancing on poles.  However, I was disappointed.  All “Adult” meant was “Drunk People Scream Here.”  Sarah loves going to karaoke and we enjoy going with her because she can actually sing.  Unfortunately, the people on the ship couldn’t and it was like listening to a tone-death quartet.

As bad as the singing was, the comedian was worse.  To be fair to him, he did have a couple of funny lines, but while RodneyDangerfield could pull off the self-deprecating humor, this guy couldn’t.  All of our lives we are taught that disabilities are not funny and not to make fun of those who have them, and while some of his jokes were indeed humorous, I found myself feeling guilty afterward and inwardly berating myself.  Not the feeling you want to have at a comedy club.

The torture finally ended and we had made it past midnight, the kids would be proud.  Back in the room I slipped out onto the balcony and stared at the water churning around us.  The girls were getting things ready for the night and taking pictures of our first towel animal.  We had survived day one of our cruise.  More than that, we had thrived.

We always do.

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