Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Welcome Home

The Sensation found home at about five that morning, but we didn’t know it until six when all three of the girls’ alarms went off calling us back to reality. I fought the urge to call the cruise at an end until I absolutely had to. Phones were staying off until we left the port simply because I didn’t want to deal with the outside world yet. If the kids had burned down the house, or killed each other, there wasn’t anything we could do about it until we were off the ship anyway, so why worry before it was absolutely necessary.

There were a couple of things we had to attend to before disembarking, so we decided to do everything early since we didn’t have to vacate the stateroom until 8:30. There was no way I was hauling our carry-on luggage around if I didn’t have to. I had carried that stuff on and knew how heavy it was.

Mr. Cool
We dragged our protesting bodies out of bed, skipped the showers and headed for breakfast. Everyone else on the ship must have had the same notion because the dining room was jam packed with people, some still in pajamas and others who had their luggage with them. We got our food, found a booth, and then just stared at our plates. Who eats this early? Several kids wondered the same thing as they leaned back in their hard plastic chairs and drifted off into dreamland once again.

We nibbled at the food enough to justify the trip down and then we surrendered to a lack of appetite. I held onto my coffee, however. Everyone on-board would be better off because of it.

The first stop on our errand list was the photo gallery. Throughout the cruise, they had several areas set up with backdrops and props for passengers to pose for professional photo shoots without a sitting fee. There was no limit to how many you could have taken and no obligation to purchase. They would be ready the next day, lined up along the walk with every other picture they had tricked you into posing for, along with pictures of other passengers. They were just tossed out there, so that anyone who wanted to could enjoy a hearty laugh at my balding head.

We had posed for several, each girl wanting something different, and I figured what the hell since it didn’t cost me anything, unless, of course, the girls conned me into buying the tax free photos. As I stood there, my head cocked at an awkward angle, I knew there was no way I would get away without a few purchases. To be honest, it was the cheapest way to go so I didn’t mind, not even six pictures at $19.99 apiece later. The girls were happy, which in turn makes me happy.

The Oak Room
After the perfect poses were selected, we had to check in at customs, because we had purchased two bottles of alcohol over our allotted limit. I thought this totally unfair, because no one had told me there was an allotted limit. They had merely said, “Buy now while it’s tax and duty free!” Like a sap, I fell for it. At the end of our Sea Day, I discovered that you’re only permitted a couple of bottles per household, not person, and you have to pay customs on any purchase over the limit. We were tricked!

Customs had set up shop in The Oak Room, which was one of my favorite spots on-board. It was decorated like an old-fashioned library at some fancy country club and even had a brass telescope that you could gaze into the horizon through. This morning, however, it was locked with a handwritten sign on the door. “Do Not Enter.”

The girls and I just looked at each other. “What do we do now?” Grant it, we were early, but only by five minutes. There was a lone man sitting at a table reading a Florida Today and sipping coffee, obviously oblivious to our plight.

“They told us to come here,” I said, just to give voice to my frustrations.

“Should we go in,” Teri asked.

“Why would they tell you to stay out after telling you to come here?” Sarah chimed in.

Char finally just shrugged and opened the door. She’s always been the rebellious one of our merry band. “Excuse me, but we were told to come here for customs.”

The Brass Telescope
“Yes, yes, come on in.” He had definitely had more coffee than I had that morning. “This is the place; just waiting for people to show up.”

“Then you might want to take the sign down that tells them to stay out.”

The gray-haired man glanced at the door with a puzzled look and then just shrugged his shoulders. “What can I do for you?”

The girls explained our situation as I stared at the box of complimentary doughnuts that had not been unwrapped. Not very inviting, I thought.

“Oh, is that it?” He took our paperwork with a friendly smile as if we were being overly dramatic. “Not a big deal.” He signed the waiver that kept my booze tax and duty free and I was able to forgive him for not offering me the chocolate frosted sugar.

Once we were done with our errands, there was still over an hour before we had to be out of our room and we couldn’t leave the ship until 9:15. There was no mass exodus allowed as Carnival wanted some semblance of order. Plus, it made handling the baggage terminal quite a bit easier. Those who didn’t have checked luggage were the first permitted off the ship, probably because they provided the least hassle and that was their reward. The rest of us were divvied up into sections and ours just happened to be the last one they were going to call. That fit perfect with my goal to enjoy the ship for as long as I could.

With a little over an hour left before we had to vacate the stateroom, the girls wanted to go back and enjoy it to the fullest, and by that they meant, of course, they wanted to take a nap. It seemed six came way too early for them that morning. So, I sat at the make-shift desk writing and watching them enjoy a morning snooze.

Of course, I cheated them out of fifteen minutes due to a sudden coffee craving. With loud protest, the girls pried themselves from the warmth of the covers. Carry-on bags were grabbed as sleep still clouded their eyes, and with forty-five minutes left of our Sensation experience, we decided to sit on the Promenade sipping coffee and watching people. Of course, my note cards were out and I was scribbling away as the girls struggled to wake up.

I didn’t feel bad, however, because the remaining passengers weren’t as lively as they had been on Sunday, either. Four days of non-stop fun had drained everyone of the bouncy spunk that had powered them up one deck and down another. It was either that or the reality they were about to disembark to made even Freeport look good. I shuddered at the thought.

The four of us sat savoring our morning must-haves, coffee for Sarah and I, hot tea for Char, and Teri’s nectar of the gods, Diet Coke, as we did what we always do at the end of an adventure; we shared our likes and dislikes. Of course, the only real dislike any of us had was the ship’s version of comedy.

At 9:11 they called our section and it was time to return to the real world. With a deep breath I gathered our bags. “Bye bye, vacation.”

I’m not sure what I expected as we disembarked, but I was highly disappointed, especially in the security. They may have searched the bags we had checked, but no one even glanced at what we carried off. There were no scanners, no x-ray machines, and no sniffing dogs. The only thing between our car and us were several people close to the age of retirement, if not beyond, who kept wishing us a “Happy return to the States.”

A porter that sounded like he came from the islands we had just left greeted us with a hand truck as soon as we entered the baggage terminal. “Need help with your baggage?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but just followed Teri and Char to where our bags were. They must have wanted help because they just pointed to the bags and allowed the man to load them up.

“Stay close.” And we practically had to jog to keep up. He weaved his truck through the people and stacked baggage, and soon we were out of the terminal and into the Florida sunshine, which was hiding leaving us with 49 degree weather. In short order, we were loaded up and heading home while the porter was on his way back to earn another tip he wasn’t supposed to receive.

Now came the part we were all dreading. Before we had set sail four days ago, we had flipped our phones to Airplane Mode and left them there. Besides wanting the isolation, I also didn’t want the major bills for international texting. I spent enough on the cruise without having four five hundred dollar phone bills waiting for me upon my return.

Once we pulled out of the terminal parking lot and hit 528 heading home, I sighed at the inevitable. “Okay, girls, fire them up.” Within seconds each phone was dinging and ringing as texts, voicemails, emails and Facebook updates whined about being ignored. I hadn’t missed it. Cocooned in our own little world away from society’s call for constant attention had been a peaceful, stress-free adventure. I wanted to turn everything back off.

Finally at home and safely perched once again at my bar on my back porch, Teri booted up her laptop and the girls began searching out their next cruise. The bug had been caught and now they wanted more, even Char who we almost had to drag onto the ship. They priced a couple for the entire family, and for eleven people it wasn’t too bad; just a down payment on a house, really. Then they ventured into the possibility of an Alaskan cruise, which would last seven days. I started panicking. If they had taken twenty-eight pairs of shoes on a simple four day cruise, how many would they need for a seven day adventure? My back already began to protest! Now, it was my turn for a nap.

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