Monday, December 5, 2011

“Blue Balls”

As we walked the streets of Paradise Island, I noticed the bridge that I had seen earlier from the rear of the ship. It seemed that people were paying a toll to get onto the island and I wondered if that was part of the price of seeing Atlantis and having celebrities close at hand. On the ferry ride over the tour guide had informed us about the wealthy Americans, such as Oprah Winfrey, Nicolas Cage and Michael Jordan just too name drop a few, that had taken up residence on the island or camped out at the luxury resort. We were also pointed to the Bridge Room, which had become known as the Michael Jackson suite because he stayed there once. Anyone who would like to sleep in the same room could do so for $25,000 a night as long as they stayed there a minimum of four nights. You can buy a house for that!

The Atlantis Resort
It also demonstrated that the wealthy are the same everywhere. We had just taken a ferry ride from Nassau where the streets were filthy, the noise at concert level and the poverty high, and landed five minutes later on an island with a home for sale for 4.5 million dollars. The traffic on Paradise Island was like rush hour at Christmastime back home, but the streets were clean and the landscape pristine. People probably said, “Please” and “Thank you” as they mugged you on this side of the water. It boggled my mind.

Granted, we didn’t tour Paradise Island much because I felt under dressed, but I was still surprised at what I saw. Yet, I shouldn’t have been. We’re the same way in the States. Someone will build a ritzy neighborhood right beside the ghetto and then try their best to get the ghetto to move. We don’t care for the impoverished, and we’d rather hide them than help them.

We followed the crowd and the signs, crossed streets to honking traffic and finally discovered the Marina Village at Atlantis, which is a strip of specialty shops and restaurants for people who want to purchase Worth Avenue merchandise at Wal-Mart Roll Back prices. We bypassed the stores wanting to get to the main stage of the Atlantis, which was on the other end of the small village of shops. With eateries and boutiques on one side and a marina of high-end yachts on the other, it was almost like walking through Downtown Disney to get to the main show.

Who's Been Sitting In My Chair?
I’ll admit that I was surprised that the Atlantis didn’t have a cover charge for sight-seers, but we were able to walk in without challenge. To the right were more boutiques for the wealthy wannabes, but you had to climb even more stairs to reach them and my legs said, “Go left.” In that direction was the Atlantis Casino, which looked like any other casino to me, except bigger. We walked around snapping photos of the lost city motif, which was also different than other casinos I had been in where recording devices were greatly discouraged. However, no one bothered us and we took a picture of everything we saw.

The artwork and statues inside the casino were truly amazing as dragons surrounded the bar and astrological signs enveloped the cashiers. There was even a semi-circular chair that swallowed me when I sat in it. I felt like a two-year old who had snuck into Daddy’s recliner. The girls had an Alice in Wonderland feeling as they reached the Golden Throne that they just had to crawl up onto. Of course, I had to sit in it with them standing around me as loyal subjects. All they needed were palm fronds to fan me and grapes to serve me. They just laughed and walked off, leaving me sitting there.

It's Good to Be the King
Since it was a casino, we decided to give it a spin or my parents would have been highly disappointed. Being retired and living close to Biloxi, Mississippi, their form of entertainment is to spend an afternoon hitting the slot machines. So, in honor of Mom and Dad, we each played a dollar in the penny slots. I know, I know, big risk taker, but losing my money at a casino has never been my thing. I’d much rather buy useless stuff that I don’t need than donate to someone who already has too much and won’t share.

Teri had the best luck at the machine, turning her dollar into six before losing while I lost mine in two spins. Char and Sarah were able to play briefly, but in the end their dollar dwindled down to a five cent ticket you could redeem. There was no way I was asking for a nickel in the billionaire wonderland, so we kept the stub for Teri to add to her scrapbook.

The Atlantis is a resort full of things to explore, as long as you’re a paying guest, that is. We just wandered around and zoomed in with our cameras. There was a man-made lagoon with a white sandy beach where you could swim or ride giant red bicycles on top of the water. It came equipped with a pavilion with a cheesy looking roof covered in giant sea shells that were really a failed attempt at cute. We also found fish ponds with star fish creeping around while trout swam free of the fear of being someone’s dinner. You could sign up for tours of the Royal Towers Architecture or The Dig and view artwork and artifacts to make your journey to Atlantis worthwhile and almost authentic.

Of course, there are plenty of roped off areas with bored personnel standing watch to keep riff-raff such as myself from getting too close to the richie-rich. We pressed up against every rope we could as we examined every nook and cranny possible, taking picture after picture. When we had exhausted every open pathway, we scaled back down to the Marina Village, because by then, I desperately needed a drink.

On the way back through the village of shops, we popped into a bar called Bimini Road. I think it also served as a restaurant, but we were the only ones in there and I wanted liquid nourishment, not food. I was hoping to sample a truly island beverage. However, every bottle I saw behind the bar was a recognized brand: Jim Bean, Glen Livet, Bacardi and Crown Royal. I was about to give up when the lady bartender handed each of us a single-sheet menu for our perusal.

The Sea Shell Pavilion

 Some of the concoctions were new to us, so we decided to take a chance and each pick a different drink and share. We ordered the Buccaneer’s Point, Berry Island Ting, Marina Sunset, and a Bimini Bahama Mama. Each one was a different color, and at ten bucks a pop, luckily came in tall glasses, unlike the eight dollar shot glass sized drinks back home.

With cocktails in hand, we sat at the bar and sampled a sip from each as we enjoyed our own company. The bartender kept coming over to check on us and ask nosy questions, like where we were from, how long we were staying, and how many children we had. I’m not sure how many guests she’s used to, but I’ll bet we’re the only ones that asked to take a menu home with us. Why pay for souvenirs when free ones can be begged for?

Refreshments at Bimini Road
“Just so you know, we do not deliver,” she called to us as we left.

As we walked back to the ferry station under the bridge for our return trip, we could hear a lady calling out, trying to draw business to her alcohol stand. She sold cigars – Yes, I bought one, a Cohiba – and made drinks for you to enjoy while you waited for your ride. She would hawk her wares to the incoming ferries by standing on the concrete edge, her hands forming a megaphone around her lips, and screaming as loud as she could. “I have Pina Colodas, Strawberry Daiquiri, Bahama Mama, Rum Runners, and…” and here she would bend over and sway her ass back and forth dramatically, “Blueeee Baaalllls!”

I never saw anyone purchase anything besides my cigar, but I almost tipped her just for the show she was putting on. She was definitely the highlight of Paradise Island.

Our ferry finally arrived and I should have known to wait for the next one when I saw the captain pouring motor oil into the steering wheel. However, with my history with cars, I know what it was like to do whatever you could to keep a vehicle running. I decided to see what would happen and the four of us took our seats. However, our anxiety only increased the longer we sat there.

The ferry over had had four personnel on-board, but this one only had the captain and another “tour guide” and both had blood shot eyes and cocaine fingernails on their pinkie fingers. They were also very much in a hurry. As people climbed on-board the anorexic captain practically shoved them down the steps and into their seats, pushing them with his body as if they were sumo wrestling. A family with a boy in a wheelchair was screamed at to hurry up and get in their seats with no compassion for their plight at all.

The urgency made no sense since they weren’t going to leave until the vessel was full anyway and to make matters worse in a creepy sort of way, they had a bad habit of constantly checking over their shoulder as if expecting some evil to jump out and nab them. We were definitely on-board with criminals and I started to fear for our lives.

Once we were on our way we had to endure the same tour speech with the same corny jokes and I wondered how many people traveled from Paradise Island to visit Nassau and why on earth they would. Who would want to walk the streets of poverty as a tourist moment?

The boat ride over was fine until it came time to dock. It was then that the oil in the wheel must have run out and the steering was practically gone. The captain couldn’t turn the boat into his slip and we wound up coasting towards the wall holding up the vendors to the Straw Market. Char gripped my arm as we came within inches of hitting the concrete.

We sat there for a moment as the two men whispered back and forth in the same tone I’ve used with the girls when I didn’t want to frighten the kids. It didn’t work on them and it wasn’t working on me. After a couple of minutes had passed, the captain got the boat in reverse and was able to turn us toward our exit point. This time, however, it was the wall that brought us to a jarring halt as he allowed the ferry to drift into its final resting place. I didn’t wait around to see if he risked taking the boat back out.

Between Woodes Roger’s Walk and the water resided the Straw Market, which looked like a flea market selling all the merchandise you didn’t buy in Freeport. It was a series of wooden tables ceilinged with clear sheets of plastic to ward off the rain that had finally ceased. The souvenirs, again objects of mass production, were piled high on every table with purses and travel bags hanging from two by four poles. The walkway was a narrow path that even made me feel crowded in on.

Several of the merchants were working together, spaced equally apart selling the same products, hoping if you said “No” to the first, you’d buy from the second or third. I learned of this chain business when one lady had to go to another booth for change for my three for five dollars purchase.

After not even traveling a third of the way down due to the fact that after three booths everything appeared the same as it did in Freeport, and every woman called me hon. like a waitress at a mom and pop restaurant, which annoys the hell out of me, we crossed the Woodes Roger’s Walk and decided to try shops that actually had solid walls. We were hoping for more original merchandise, but were gravely disappointed. Every shop we entered looked just like the ones in Daytona Beach except this merchandise was stamped with “Bahamas.” They had the same expensively cheap mugs and magnets that look chintzy, but which you buy anyway because they have the name of your vacation on them and you can prove you actually went somewhere later on in life.

After we poked our heads into two or three, we finally surrendered and decided to weave our way back through the now bustling street to our home away from home where I knew a semi-clean bathroom awaited me.

A Kodak Photo Op Without Kodak

 Back on the ship, we followed the same routine as before; we stowed the gifts and then went for sushi. Well, half of us went for sushi. The other half went for hamburgers. My feet ached from all of the walking over the past two days and all I wanted to do was sit and stare at people for awhile before the girls started their nightly drill of preparing themselves for dinner. I don’t think I’ve changed clothes so much in my life!

Sitting in the stateroom wasn’t as much fun with the Sensation docked between two other ships because all we had to stare at was the white side of a bigger boat that said, “Look at what you could have had.” Still, the girls grabbed their books while I grabbed pen and paper and we kicked back allowing our legs a much needed break.

Relaxing Back On the Ship
Dinner went the same as the previous night’s except we were missing the two couples who were brother and sister. They had told us the night before that they were going to a restaurant in Nassau to celebrate their anniversaries. Personally, I still think it was all an elaborate cover up. The spouses of the brother and sister just seemed a little too friendly with each other while practically ignoring their spouses, but who am I to judge what goes on behind closed doors.

Each night at dinner, usually around the time of dessert, the wait staff put on a little show to hopefully entertain us for the evening. The night before it were a choir number and this evening it was the waiters dancing to T-Pain’s Apple Bottom Jeans. They vigorously gyrated their hips as they swayed back and forth getting “low, low, low” and the audience cheered and cat-called the entire time.

At one point, one of the passengers, a tall, lanky blonde wearing a cowboy hat and hips that could hold holsters in place without the need for a belt, bounced up beside them and all of the waiters lost their concentration. Most of the male patrons did as well along with half of the females. Cowgirl received the most applause for going the lowest.

Once dinner was over, we decided to try the piano bar. However, it was an adult comedy show and we had already seen what Carnival classified as funny and we were hesitant. The man at the piano was nothing like I expected and I should have made us leave the minute I saw his cowboy hat. It looked better on the blonde at dinner. As it was, I got into an argumentative banter with a drunken grandma that was trying to tell me the Florida law concerning shooting someone on your property and the frustrating thing was that the lady didn’t even live in Florida!

I'm Wiped Out
The comedian at the ivory keys was even less funny than the cerebral palsy guy from two nights ago. His main act was merely to sit there and beg for people to come in and listen to him offering free beer if they did, which I am sure he wasn’t authorized to give out. He tried picking on us for a bit just to change things up. I mean, one guy with three ladies, who wouldn’t incorporate that into their act? I do it all the time.

“So, which are the wife, girlfriend, and secretary?” He asked from over his shoulders. We had sat behind him because the girls wanted to watch him actually play the piano. I wished we had sat closer to the door. Char played along with him, giving each of them a role. “I’m the wife, she’s the girlfriend, and she’s the secretary.”

“Lucky bastard. So, secretary, wanna come help me with some dictation?” And whenever he floundered with his lack of a routine, which was often, he came back around to us, and by that I mean he hit on Sarah, the secretary, the entire time. Char and Teri were glad they had been given the other roles and as soon as we had finished our drinks, we got the hell out of there. We should have stuck with our commitment to not venture into another comedy venue while on-board.

It was only 10:30, but we had had all of Tuesday we could handle. We fixed another mixed drink back in our stateroom and piled onto the balcony to stare up at the stars above our neighboring ship. It was chilly due to the slight breeze blowing in off the water and the smell of the ocean blended with the smell of people. We sat there, enjoying the breeze as well as the company, lost in the warmth of us.

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