Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cruise: Day 6 - Sushi Watching

The ocean has been as placid as, well, the eponymous lake all day. We have seen nothing higher than 5’ waves for the entire trip, but the sea conditions today are as flat as a pool of mercury. The temperatures have also been quite moderate, probably to a fault for the sun worshippers out at the pools. I have taken this opportunity to enjoy the most relaxing day that I can remember. With nothing at all on the schedule and the delightful weather conditions, I have spent almost all of my time either on the veranda or down on deck 3 watching the ocean slide by.

Watching the ocean might not be quite as uneventful as you might think. We were traversing waters that reportedly offer up whale sightings now and then, but none of the massive swimmers were to be seen. I did see quite a few of the flying fish again, although this time entire schools of them would blast out of the ocean’s surface rather than the soloists I had seen before. It really was a treat to see a couple of dozen of them come thrashing out of the water together, only to disperse in a peacock tail of trailing wakes on the water. I’m amazed at the distances they can fly, just glancing the surface of the water and periodically dipping in their tails to propel themselves ever faster and further. Their bodies glint brightly in the sun and they look just like dragonflies on a pond.

I had to get online to do early check-in for the flight home right at the 24 hours before flight time to ensure an early enough boarding number to allow for an open bin above our seats for our big carry-on bag, and while I was waiting for the magic second to roll around I Googled flying fish. I was simply curious as to why they fly. According to Wikipedia, it is to evade predators. Well and good, but it cost me hours of watching and waiting for the ultimate irony: I would love to have seen some poor fish fly across the ocean using its unique adaptation to its hostile environment only to have a bird swoop down or a bigger fish leap up to catch it.

And yes, that moment of glorious irony would have been worth a fish’s life to me. I’m like that.

It was unlikely to happen, though, given how hard I found it to even catch the little buggers on the camcorder. I was only able to catch flighting (heh!) moments of their all-too-brief flights and after awhile gave it up as being nearly impossible. Having thrown in the towel, I decided the rest of the afternoon could be spent far less productively (which was, after all, the goal) on the veranda with a book and a glass of vodka. Best, I thought, to keep the camera with me, just in case.

And that is how I managed to capture a minute or two of an entire (School? Pod? Group? Clan? Coven? Gang? Herd?) of dolphins swimming alongside the ship, jumping in the graceful arcs that are so much associated with the perpetually smiling mammals of the deep.

They are mammals, aren’t they? I’d Google it if I hadn’t wasted my last internet minutes on those damn flying fish.

Cruise: Day 6 - Heading Home

Somewhere out the veranda window and over the horizon is Cuba. It was on the other side of the ship on Monday, and close enough to be seen. Today, as we work our way up the Mexican coastline on our way back to Tampa, it is invisible. We’re making 21 knots, but as with every other speed we’ve traveled at, the motion is not discernable. The only way to gauge our speed is to step outside and listen to the sounds of the ocean sliding by eighty feet below us.

It is in that way that I noticed the relatively slow pace that the ship took on the short trip from Roatan to Belize. We had only a few miles to go and all night to get there, so the entire trip was done at a sedate ten knots. With a good current, I could match that speed in my kayak. Not for long, of course.

The approach to Belize is not the same as the other ports. The water is shallow, apparently, and the ship had to slalom its way through a channel. We slept through most of that - it was only apparent when the cruise director found the short walk from the bed to the bathroom was suddenly much more downhill than expected.

My first impressions of Belize came when I stepped out onto the veranda and was greeted by bugs, high humidity, and ugly brown water.

Nothing throughout the day did much to change that impression.

I had not planned on leaving the ship to even go to port, but the lure of a fifteen minute boat ride on the powered catamaran that was being used as a tender changed my mind. Basically, my feet only touched Belize long enough to get off the tender, look at the same “mall” stores that we have seen at every stop, and get back on the boat. It was worth it, though, just for the boat ride. If I wasn’t a flying guy, I’d have a boat.

Being one of the first to get back on the boat, I went straight to the seat I wanted. It was right up front, and it was the only seat that had access to an open window. I had the camcorder with me and wanted to get some video of the immense Carnival Legend as we motored our way back out to it. A few minutes after I got situated, a family of three got onboard.

The child was a florid-faced, red-headed, twelve-ish year old porker who was clearly used to having things his own way in more places than just the dinner table. He decided that he wanted to sit where I was sitting.

“Dad, I want to sit there!”

To his credit, Dad informed him that there was someone already there, myself being of so little import to Young Sir Porkbelly as to be beneath notice.

“So tell him to move. He won’t care.”

Again, to dad’s credit, he was quite able to discern from one look at me that I did, in fact, care, and I think he may even have picked up on the not-so-subtle look that indicated that even if I hadn’t cared before, I damn sure wasn’t moving now.

As I was later to see as more people got on the boat, not much of anyone was thrilled with Belize.

As we sailed away later that afternoon, the waters of Belize offered up something no other port had: a glimpse of a dolphin cavorting alongside the ship. I also saw a few more of the flying fish that I had seen a day or two before. Once I get back to the Land of Always On Internet, I have a list of things I want to Google. Flying fish is one of them. Because I always want to know how things work and why they work that way, I’m curious as to what the Darwinian benefits are to a fish that can briefly fly just above the surface of the water. Perhaps they prefer bugs to other seaborne delicacies. But are there that many bugs out over the sea?

I’ve also spent a lot of time trying to figure out how things work on the ship. How do they feed so many people in so brief a time? How do the lifeboats get from being snugged right up against the ship to the water’s surface quickly enough to matter? And then there are the truly mundane questions like just how many pianos are on this thing? I know of at least five, but I’m betting that there’s at least twice that.

As we pack our bags for tomorrow’s arrival, there is one last question: how in the world are they going to get 2,200 people off of this thing?

I’m afraid that the answer is going to be “with a great deal of difficulty.”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cruise: Day 5 - More Shopping!

I’m sure that you’re just dying to know, so let me start out by saying yes, there was shopping at Roatan. If fact, if you ever want to get a chuckle out of an older guy who plainly has lost interest in the endless shopping on the third out of four stops, walk right up and ask him if he agrees that we could have just saved a couple of grand each and taken our respective spouses to the mall.
It's a very pretty mall, though

I think Roatan was by far the best stop of the entire trip. The shopping area, while suffering the demerit of being, well, a shopping area, had the advantage of being spacious and attractively landscaped. Plus there was a three-man xylophone(?) group playing calypso style music. We didn’t have a whole lot of buying to do, but the cruise director had seen an advertisement that intrigued her. It touted the benefits of a special type of nail polish that changes color when it senses ultraviolet rays. In other words, it changes color outside. She couldn’t seem to decide between one that changed to purple when outside or one that was purple while inside and changed to something else outside. Since it was intended for daughter Erika, whose favorite color must be purple, I suggested that we just wait until we get home and buy her some that’s purple all the time.

You know that look of disgust you can get from a woman? I got it from the cruise director AND the shop girl. That’s when I went outside (I remained the same color, disappointingly) and made the suggestion about just having stayed home and gone to the mall.
Approaching Roatan

Roatan Shrimpers

The shopping aside, Roatan also was the only stop with a built-in beach. Both Cozumel and Grand Cayman had beaches, but you had to travel to them either with an exorbitantly priced shore excursion or take your chances with a local taxi. Roatan’s beach was just a simple walk across a short bridge from the pier area. As with beaches around the world, it was hot and crowded. We stayed just long enough to wade in the ocean for a little while and to show the first stages of starting to change color to a sunburned red before heading back to the ship.
An easy walk to the beach

Once on the ship we did what old, noise-sensitive people do after being kept up late by a deck party on their roof: we napped.

Cruise: Day 5 - No sunrise over Honduras

Sure, it’s been doing it for eons without me, and is very likely to continue doing so long after I have returned to the earthly elements from which I came. Still, with as much importance as I had placed on meeting the sun every morning this week, I would have hoped it would wait for me. I was late, though, due to an Ambien Oversleep.

For this I blame Carnival Cruise Lines. In their hyperactively schizophrenic (schizofrantic? schizofrenetic?) pursuit of every.last.penny, they provided an 11 pm until “whenever” deck party last night for their late risers. Where? On the Lido, of course, which is essentially our cabin’s roof. It was just before midnight when I decided that the THUMP THUMP THUMPADEE BUMP THUMP pause THUMP THUMP THUMPADEE BUMP THUMP pause THUMP…. wasn’t the only problem, although it was by no means the least of the problems. Nor was it the screeching WHOOOOP - WHOOOOP of the insanely vocal portion of the crowd. No, the last straw was the dancing on the steel deck. It was the rhythmic bone shaking WHOOMPS from dozens of people jumping up and down in synchronicity that broke this camel‘s back.

It was that most of all that drove me to unhappy memories of life at THE Ohio $tate University. I was considered an untraditional student, a term that mostly meant I was a little older than the norm and tool a lot of night classes because I was working full time to pay for the tuition. I was untraditional in another sense too, and I suppose I am considered untraditional today for the same reason: I am a morning person. One weekend a month I had to get up at 0500 for Air National Guard duty, a time that is routine for me now but seemed awfully, awfully early back then. That made no difference at all to the late-risers that lived upstairs. Their weekend parties would often still be going on when I was getting ready to go to drill. These were raucous parties, and many were the times that I had to re-hang pictures that had fallen from my walls from the vibrations coming from above. Those occasions were either biblical or satanic, depending on your point of view.

You can guess mine.

If one were to try to find the most blatantly discriminated against identity group in America today, one would soon come upon the morning people. Carnival is simply one of millions that discriminate against us. Ask yourself this: what do you think would happen if a few hundred of us got up at 6:00 am and went up to the Lido deck and started making the kind of racket those folks were making last night? Can you imagine the outcry? Heh, that’s nothing. More instructive would be to consider what they would universally say: “You must be crazy!!” Respond that you think they are the crazy ones for screaming and banging around well past a reasonable hour and they look at you as if they believe you should be in an asylum. And probably accentuate the point with a mighty WHOOP-WHOOP.

This is a long way of saying that I finally gave up and swallowed an Ambien. That kept me knocked out until well after room service had attempted to deliver the cruise director’s morning tea. And, as mentioned, after the sun had risen without me.

Sometime yesterday after a relaxing day at the pool and a good lunch/dinner, the cruise director blurted out a question that I know has been nagging her. “Knowing what you know now, would you go on another cruise?”

I demurred.

“Ask me later.”

The last time I answered one of her casual questions without truly thinking through the ramifications was when she surveyed my intentions and desires about getting a puppy. I took that as a statement of her wish to bring a new family member into the house and being one who likes to keep his spouse happy and enjoys the thrill of the hunt, I took the bit in my teeth and tirelessly pursued the finding and adoption for a new puppy for her.

The ornery little thing is now openly referred to as my puppy, and misdeeds of same whisked away with “Well, you wanted another dog!”

How I became the instigator in that whole thing is still a mystery to me.

I do know that I love that little bastard, though. So I guess it’s okay. I’ll take the credit and the blame. He’s going to be pissed next week when I get his cocky little ass neutered, though. I’m blaming the missus for that.

So, like I said: I demurred. I’ll have to think about it before taking another cruise. There are oh so many things to like, but there are also things that I don’t like. The “don’t likes” are small and petty, but as such they nag at me even more because they are so unnecessary. For example, we can eat as much as we like. I routinely order two appetizers at dinner, and the cruise director ordered two entrees when she couldn’t decided between prime rib and lobster tail. The buffet lines are open all day, and pizza is available 24 hours a day. Room service will also deliver 24 hours a day. There is no additional charge for any of that.

Contrast this to our experience at Grand Cayman. As we were leaving the ship, a Carnival employee was at the door handing out water bottles. It can be hot in Cayman, and I thought that this was just an instance of Carnival looking out for the health of their customers.

A charge of $2.24 was put on my ship credit card for a 16oz. bottle of water.

That’s not only tawdry and tacky, but counter-productive. How many of those do you think they sell on the second shore? The third? Once people figure out what they’re paying for the water, they’ll either do without or bring their own. In other words, the revenue opportunity was transient, but the memory of the ham handedness will linger.

It may end up costing Carnival my business. There are other cruise lines to try.

For the moment, I’m still quite content. I’ll reflect back on the cruise as a whole later. For now, it’s enough to sit on my personal veranda watching the coast of Honduras slide by as we make our approach to Roatan Island.

Where I will NOT buy water, and hope that there is no shopping to be done. Relaxing with a book is my plan for the day. Can I get a WHOOP-WHOOP? What? It’s too early? Are you crazy???

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cruise: Day 4 - Cozumel

With three long, deep blasts of the ship’s thunderous horn, we are officially done with Cozumel. To be perfectly honest, I was done with Cozumel just before noon. Not surprisingly, the pier area was just a glossed-up, more mature version of the area around the docks in Grand Cayman. I am starting to see the appeal of shore excursions for people that have been here before; once the shopping is done, there’s nothing much left to do. I’m fine with that, of course, since my idea of vacationing is simply to not be at work. And, quite frankly, the ship’s amenities are far more enjoyable when the preponderance of other passengers are off snorkeling with the dolphins or piranhas or whatever.

Breakfast in the dining room was interesting. We’ve been enjoying different table partners each day, but today was the first time we’ve had eight at the table. The conversation invariably comes around to where everyone is from, and just as inevitably someone will comment that they meet a lot of people from Ohio. My standard response has become “Yes, it’s a great state to get away from.”

Today’s conversation also came around to talking about THE Ohio $tate University, I think because I was making one of my standard jokes about the Cruise Director’s girl-crush on one Kirk Herbstreit. I tell people that I’ve been trying to find Rogaine for Unibrows so I can grow a competing eyebrow, the two that I have apparently being one too many for her taste. That one always gets a laugh; I really ought to develop this stuff into a stand-up routine.

Anyway, talk about O$U often involves a discussion about my father-in-law, a former professor and director of the world-renowned Concert Band. I was mentioning to a guy across the table that my father-in-law was the first and only member of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra to sit First Chair on two different instruments, clarinet and flute. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the older woman sitting next to me nudge her husband and whisper something to him. He looked over at me and asked if I was talking about Donald McGinnis.

“Why, yes. Yes I was. You know of him?”

Indeed he did. He was a former student and had played first chair in the Concert Band when it was being directed by my father-in-law.

Small world, even smaller ship.

After breakfast we went ashore to do a little shopping. As I was strolling along taking a few pictures of the tropical flowers and palm trees, I noticed that the cruise director was looking at a pair of leather sandals.

“How much?” she asked the proprietor of the open air shop.

“Thirty-eight dollars.”

“No, thanks.”

As we started to walk away, we received a better offer: “Cash? Yes? Twenty-five dollars. They’re leather!”

I got involved. “Leather? Why so expensive? We have cows too and can get leather at home.”

This is why I don’t haggle - I go straight for the jugular.

“I’ll take twenty dollars. Are you trying to kill me?”

“No, I’m not trying to kill you. How about fifteen?”

“You are killing me! Twenty!”


“Ok, Amigo. Eighteen.”

They probably cost him a couple of bucks at most. It was fun, though.

Once back on the ship I spent the day lounging around the nearly deserted pool. There are three pools, but the one on the very aft end of the ship is adults only. That apparently means age 79 and up, at least as understood by the ship’s population. I was the only person there not attached to an oxygen tank. More’s the pity, though, as it is also the only pool that’s downwind of the ship’s exhaust stacks. A little canned air would have been nice on the rare occasions when the exhaust drifted over us.

That aside, it was quite nice relaxing in the sun while reading a book. If I got too hot, I’d take a dip in the pool to cool off and return to my deck lounger for another stint in the sun. I’m not big on tanning in general, but one simply cannot return to work after a Caribbean cruise as pallid and pale as one left. It would be rude to those that had to enjoy our trip vicariously.

Returning from the pool dripping wet can be damaging to a book, so I typically won’t bring a library book due the risk of damaging or losing it. Books are expensive, though, besides which I don’t like paper backs. The print is too small and the book doesn’t ‘hold’ as well. What I do instead is buy one of the retired books from the library for a dollar and, if it survives, donate it back again for resale. At a buck apiece, it’s cheap enough to buy a couple in case one of the stinks and still be well under the price of a paperback.

As we were relaxing by the pool, dinner time was sneaking up on us. Neither of us were really ready to eat and I wasn’t keen on missing the sailing from Cozumel while being tied up in the dining room, so we decided to skip the scheduled dinner and hunt down the sushi bar instead. Doing that allowed us to catch the early show, which tonight was a very funny juggling act. All of the shows have been entertaining in one way or the other, but this one was my favorite thus far.

After the show we stopped by at the casino. We’ve been playing penny slots because it’s pretty hard to lose your life’s savings no matter how bad you are at it. The way it works is that you take a $10 at a time charge against your ship credit card and use that as your betting money. The problem is that I have failed to lose all of my money. I still had $14.28 left to my credit. Where’s the problem with that? Well, we don’t know how to get it back as real money. The cruise director suggested that I just sit down at a slot machine and lose it all. Easier said than done, that. I finally walked away with almost $16.00 of credit.

I can’t lose for winning, sometimes. A lesser woman would have berated me for just not being able to do anything right.

A bigger man would have refrained from gloating about it.

After the gambling, the buffet was still open so we went to the (finally quiet since the drunks had all passed out in their cabins) Lido deck for dinner. I hate the Lido during the day when it’s crowded with smokers and drinkers that believe to their very cores that the way to tell a singer that you appreciate his or her work is to yell over the top of it as loudly and screechingly as possible. But when it gets quiet in the evenings, it’s a great place to be. The buffet food is not quite as good as it is in the dining room, but only because it has been sitting in a warming tray for a few minutes. And it’s hard to beat for convenience, too.

As we settle in for the evening, we’re making 20 knots down the coast of Mexico on our way to Roatan Island, Honduras. I’m about to repair to the veranda, quite possibly with a glass of vodka for company. If I can hear any music from there, I’ll be sure to pass along a appreciative screech now and then.

There’s no shopping at Roatan, as far as I know. In fact, I don’t know if there’s anything there at all, but it’s enough for me just to know that there’s no shopping. (Update: Wow! Was that naive!) The pool will be quite enough for me.

Cruise: Day 4 - Morning

I will enjoy this morning’s sunrise from the comfort of my chair on my private veranda. I had been calling it a ‘balcony,’ but veranda sounds ever so much better. Elitist that I am, I prefer the mildly exotic description with its rollable ‘r’ and soft, drown out ‘a’ over the more pedestrian description with its guttural ‘b’ and hard ‘c’.

The veranda is, ironically, both more and less private at the same time. It is more private in that it is far cozier, my field of view limited to a thirty degree arc by the walls on each side of it. It is less intimate than the sky deck, though, because when I’m up there all I can hear is the wind and the ship’s engines. The veranda is loud with the sounds of other early risers. If I was the only one out on my veranda and there were no other people out on their balconies, I would predominantly be surrounded by the hissing and splashing sounds of the water rushing by at 20 knots. There is still a bass undertone from the engines, but it is muted by the sounds of the water.

If, on the other hand, and as is the case this morning, anyone drags a chair across their balcony floor or has a conversation while sitting with their cabin mate, the sound is amplified and transmitted by the sounding-board floor of the steel ship. Should anyone in hard-heeled shoes walk across the floor of the deck above, I hear their sharp, staccato passage. While it’s cacophonous at first, all of that eventually blends into the sub-perceptible background noise of shipboard life.

The motion of the boat is the same way. The first day feels strange indeed. Even with the smooth waters that we’ve enjoyed thus far, there is a vibration that can be felt through the deck that reminds me of sitting next to someone with nervous foot syndrome. Until you get used to it, you’re looking around for the foot tapper so can ask them to PLEASE JUST STOP! As the water has been calm, the rolling motion is very subtle - you have to be sitting in the same place and same position for awhile to even notice it. I’ve found that if you can get the unsteadiness associated with having partaken in an alcohol-laced beverage in synch with the motion of the ship, it nets out to a rock steady platform.

Get those two out of phase, though, and it’s watch out below!

The sun is finally rising above the horizon off to the right side edge of my restricted view, just out of the corner of my eye. We’re headed just a smidgen north of west, so the sun rising in the east is perfectly positioned for my needs. And to top it all off, just in front of me is the Celebrity cruise ship, probably the Solstice that joined us at Grand Cayman yesterday, which we have just caught up and passed. Left it in our wake, literally.

The Captain must be reading this blog.

As this is the beginning of our third full day on the relaxing ride across the water, I find that I am finally becoming acclimated to Cruise Time and losing some of the overwrought tension and stress one associates with Eastern Daylight Get The Hell Outta My Way Time. That said, if those folks a few balconies down from my veranda don’t stop letting that door slam, I’m going to explode.

I think it takes a few more days to get over that kind of thing.

We will arrive at Cozumel, Mexico in a couple of hours. We have no real plans, but will probably go ashore anyway. I imagine that if we don’t leave the pier area we will find that in comparison to Cayman, it will be a lot like going to a mall in a different city - same stuff, different accents.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cruise: Day 3

The wind blowing off of Grand Cayman is whistling through the window at my side as I sit on the Lido deck looking like a totally work-obsessed geek typing away at my Netbook. I had thought this would be a better compromise between writing and full-bore vacationing than sitting in my cabin recording the events of the day (so far), particularly since there had been a two-man calypso group singing on stage when we first alighted here. They have since been replaced by a live trivia game, the primary challenge of which is trying to understand the questions as read through the obfuscating filter of a deep eastern European accent. The band is just taking a break; they will soon return to imbue a Caribbean flavor to my mid-afternoon sojourn.

Oh, they just started again. Much as with the trivia questions, the lyrics sound familiar but I can’t quite identify precise words after the island accent is applied to them. Oddly, that makes it all the more appealing. I think the current song is something about ‘waiting in vain for your love,’ but it could be about ‘surviving the pain of a dove.’

It doesn’t matter.

Off to my right is a thin strip of Grand Cayman. It’s very flat, the highest elevations being the two- or three-story pastel-hued houses and apartments. Between my Lido perch nine decks up and the coast of the island is a quarter mile or so of deep blue water, punctuated by the white contrails of a constant stream of tenders running from the ship to the pier. We will be sailing away in an hour and a half, so the tenders have reversed their morning loading pattern; they are now leaving the ship nearly empty and returning with every seat filled.

I am not sitting alone - my cruise director is sitting across from me enjoying a post-lunch / pre-dinner slice of Veggie pizza and a plate full of nachos. Once finished with her current prandial endeavors, she will either listen to the music or pick up her novel and do some reading. We’re enjoying a relaxing afternoon after our morning excursion to the island.

I started the day early, having awakened at 0600 and deciding that trying to sleep just a little longer would be futile. I knew we were going to be arriving at Grand Cayman within just a few minutes and I thought I’d rather head up to deck to enjoy the arrival from there.
Grand Cayman Sunrise

The ship that felt so gigantic when we first came aboard now feels, if not small, at least more comfortable. I no longer get lost for more than a few wayward steps before regaining my sense of direction or happening across a familiar landmark. It takes a lot less time to get to places now that I know more direct routes. A case in point is my favorite vantage point. Those that know me will not be surprised to learn that I have found a place on a 3,000+ person boat where I can be alone. I’ve found that few people, at least early in the morning, will climb up to deck 12. Deck 12 is where the iconic Carnival funnel rises above the ship to exhaust the diesel fumes from the two massive engines deep in the bowels of the ship. I used to walk around all over the place trying to find my way up to it; I now know that it is nearly directly above our cabin and I can be up there in no more than just a couple of minutes.
My Personal Bridge

There is a coffee machine right on the way, so I also have a hot, fresh cuppa with me when I arrive.

As I stood there sipping my coffee and watching a glorious sun rise, I couldn’t help but laugh at how many times I do just that from behind a sheet of glass when I have my first morning cup at work. I’ve often stood there pretending that I was on the bridge of a ship looking at the sun rise over the ocean; this morning was even better than that! The wind blowing through my hair, the sound of the water flowing past, and the perfect 75 degree temperatures were everything that I had hoped for. The unexpected solitude was simply icing on the cake.

The ship had slowed to what seemed to be a crawl by the time I got up there, but we must have still been moving along pretty well because the island coast that was merely a row of tiny lights on the horizon when I first climbed to my personal crow’s nest quickly grew to something far more substantial. It kind of snuck up on me because my attention was divided between the approaching island and the other cruise ships making for the same destination. We in the Legend were to be joined by the Carnival Valor and the Celebrity Solstice. The Carnival Destiny also pulled in later this morning.

The Valor in particular caused me the consternation that one feels from a frustrating impotence; the impudent Captain of that ship started out some distance behind us but quickly overtook and passed us. My circadian clock still being set for Eastern Rush Hour Time, I was loath to allow myself to be passed - such a thing would never be tolerated on my morning commute. My shouts towards the bridge to “GET A MOVE ON, YOU IDIOT” apparently went unheard; they were certainly not acted upon. Sigh. There’s no place for Type A drivers on cruise ships, it would seem. Especially as a mere passenger.
Passed by the Valor

Breakfast was prefaced by a couple of strong screwdrivers (orange juice and vodka, for those uninitiated in the ways of vacation imbibing); one for me and one for the cruise director. Funny how the ship kept rocking in most disconcerting way all morning, even while moored in a glass smooth port. Breakfast itself was in the dining room again where we were joined by a nice couple with whom we shared dog stories.

We miss our babies, both biped and quadruped.

Once our appetites had been sated, we gathered our shore-going supplies (mostly in the form of photographic equipment and various internationally recognized forms of personal ID) and applied liberal doses of sun burn preventative lotions. We had to then find the spot on the ship where the tenders belly up and take aboard riders. That turned out to be nine decks below our cabin, nearly straight down. Not surprisingly, right on the waterline.

The ride to the pier was short, probably no more than five minutes. We spent an hour or two (I lost track) wandering along the shore line looking at expensive jewelry and cheap T-shirts in the shops. The big win was a great ventilated hat that I found - I have been looking for just such a thing in preparation for Oshkosh. There were some other fun things we bought, but most of them are surprises for folks at home and are therefore best not mentioned here.

Back on board the ship, we settled in for the relaxing afternoon I’m currently sharing with you. The walk on the island left us hungry but tired, perfect for trying out the legendary room service sandwiches. A grilled Reuben for me, and a BLT for the cruise director, brought to the door by the same waitress who served us a couple of nights ago in the fancy steak restaurant. The staff works very, very long days on the ship; she will probably be working in the steakhouse again tonight.

The Island Sounds band is on break again and what would normally be a relaxing empty void of sound is being filled with a movie trivia contest. The questions are much easier - the girl reading them is a far superior English speaker to the trivia girl. I know a few of the answers; I’m going to set aside the Netbook for now and see how I do.

Cruise: Day Two - Fun Day at Sea

I’ve learned something important to know about cruises: you never go hungry. The time between meals seems to fly by, mostly because there are a dozen or so meals per day. Or so it seems, anyway. We had seemingly just finished our pre-breakfast room service when it was time to hurry up and get to the main dining room for the real breakfast. The room service breakfast was really more about getting a cup of coffee delivered to me, but as it turns out that the walk to the coffee machine from our cabin is actually shorter than the walk from my office to the coffee pots at work, I think I will forego the delivered cup in the future and just go get my own. That allows me more control over the timing of my comings and goings as I walk around the still sleeping ship.

Not entirely asleep, though. There were a few other morning people sharing the decks with me as the sun rose over the eastern horizon. It’s still quiet, though. We’re all up there for the same reason: a nice cup of coffee with nothing more than the sound of the wind blowing over the decks, the whoosh of the ocean waters being rendered asunder by the bow, and the deep thrum of the engines to disturb the peace. The rubes with the irritatingly loud blasting radios are still below decks, hopefully suffering equally irritating booming hangovers. If there is a cruise karma, this is where I hope it gets applied.

Breakfast in the main dining room is a sedate affair. For the life of me, I cannot fathom (heh, nautical term!) why people stand in a lengthy line at the buffet when they can just as easily be seated in the dining room and have food brought to them. Better for me that they do, I suppose. There was no wait at all for a table. We shared a table with a couple on their honeymoon, the tenure of their marriage being naught but four days long. They were from Utah (and all that that implies) and stoically tolerated my ponderings as to whether the ship was moving about more than it had been, or if the mimosas enjoyed at pre-breakfast were at fault.

Or, again, both.

They were more taken aback by my choice of not-quite-so-healthy breakfast items: corned beef hash with a side of bacon. I considered also having a slice of ham and some sausage links, but decided to keep those as something to look forward to tomorrow.

There was nothing more important to do after breakfast than to begin our preparations for lunch, and no better way to do that than to find some deck chairs in the shade and read our books. Shade has a way of moving, though, so before too long we had to abandon that pursuit in favor of some indoor sport. Which in this case was to be found in the casino. While my personal cruise director was burning through our liquid assets at the prodigious rate of $.18 per pull at the slot machines, I was enjoying a more cerebral game of Jacks or Better video poker. She quit after losing a little more than $6.00 of her $10.00 stipend, while I increased my investment by 2.5% on the strength of a three of a kind.

Eights, I think it was.

We also had some shopping chores to take care of to replace a couple of my personal dress items. In one case, we needed to buy a belt. I’m sure I remember reminding myself to pack a belt for my dress-up attire, which virtually guaranteed that I would not. Perhaps I did pack it and it simply got lost in transit, or perhaps the mere act of thinking about packing it was enough for me to consider it already done. In any event, a belt was needed.

As long as we were shopping, I also decided to find a new tie. I haven’t bought a new necktie in more than a decade, and that fact is glaringly obvious in the dated look of the abomination I brought along. Lucky for us, both the belt and the tie were found in one of the ship’s shops (they were in ship shape, those ship’s shops!) for the eminently reasonable sum of $10.00 each. As you can imagine, a 100% silk tie costing a mere $10.00 was in a fashion that was all the rage just two or three years ago. Good enough for an old gray beard like me, or so said the young gal that picked it out for me. “I pick out ties for my Dad,” she told me.

Her dad was not available for a testimonial.
The New Tie

Okay, she didn’t call me an old gray beard in actual words, but it was in her eyes.

Lunch was again in the main dining room, and again we had to wade through the masses standing in line at the buffet only to be seated with no wait at all in the dining room. I just don’t understand it.

I started with a very good California roll (I only eat sushi because I love the wasabi) and followed with a Mongolian Beef salad. The meat was the star of the salad and deserved the acclaim afforded by its prominent placement in the title. It was tender and flavorful, and the supporting mixed greens made perfect companions. I finished with a caramel crème thingy that I had hoped would be similar to crème brulee, but was more like a bland lump of flavorless custard. I don’t think I’ll get that again.

The all-too-brief post-lunch / pre-dinner period was filled with a nap. It’s amazingly tiring, this doing nothing but eating thing. That, and I haven’t been sleeping very well. I miss my trench in the mattress, I miss my pillows, and the vibration of the ship somehow manages to influence my dreams in the most outlandish ways. I’m thinking an Ambien might be in order some night very soon.

After the nap, the cruise director departed to a lower deck for high tea with the ladies, while I went in the opposite direction and climbed to the highest publicly accessible deck to get a glance at the coast of Cuba off to the port side. The ship is doing a steady 20 knots, so there’s a nice breeze up there. Unfortunately that particular deck is where the kitchen exhaust vents are, and the smell of frying food pretty much negates the therapeutic qualities of the ocean air.

Still, high tea?? Not for me!

Tonight’s dinner was our first in the main dining room, last night’s repast having been enjoyed in the swanky steak house. It was elegant night, so we arrived resplendent in our best rags, me sporting both a new belt and a vibrantly slightly-obsolete tie. Our table was set for four, but the other two didn’t show. That was okay by me as we had shared a table for both breakfast and lunch. In both cases it was nice to meet and chat with new people, but it tends to complicate the pace of the meal. On the other hand, I always appreciate the chance to share my banter with folks that aren’t yet sick of it. One sitting is usually enough.

Dinner started with a bread service. That afforded me an early opportunity to soil my brand new tie with a healthy plop of butter dropped on it. Next were the appetizers, which in my case was a dish of baked white cheddar mushrooms and a shrimp cocktail. The mushrooms were superb in and of themselves, but the cheese sauce was exquisite. It was so good that I was mopping it up with bread long after the mushrooms were gone. It also made a nice companion stain with the butter when I dripped a big glob of it right onto my tie.
Baked Mushrooms (and tie decorating sauce)

I’m returning that darn tie to the shop tomorrow. I‘ll tell them it’s the wrong size or something more believable than the truth, which is that it is clearly cursed.

My entrée was a nice, juicy prime rib. The social director had the same, but paired her rib with a lobster tail for her second surf & turf in as many days. One could get used to this in a hurry, I think.
Prime Rib (and special "cow" knife)

We both had baked potatoes. Our waiter brought a nice tureen of sour cream for her potato, but offered none for mine.

I think he was worried that I’d spill some on my tie. He certainly had been given ample reason to think so, after all.

After a dessert of cherries jubilee and a few chunks of a good Gouda cheese, the waiter asked me to move over to the other side of the table to sit by my personal cruise director. I wasn’t sure what he was up to, but I played along. Soon after I finished moving to the other side of the table, our entire team of waiters brought out a small piece of cake with a candle on it and sang Happy Birthday to us, but replaced ‘birthday’ with ‘anniversary.’ I also heard another set of waiters singing the same tune using the word ‘graduation.’ It seems to be their one-size-fits-all tune. That said, it was a nice gesture and we really appreciated it.

After dinner we walked all the way to the other end of the ship for an after dinner show. It was a jazz orchestra supporting a group of lithe, young, scantily clad dancers in a very well produced show. The only issue was the 7 foot tall guy that plopped down in the seat right in front of me and obstructed my view. Why is it that those guys always have ramrod straight posture? A little slouching would have helped with my view.

“So what,” you say?

“Why do you need to see a musical,” you ask?

Did you miss the part about the lithe, young, scantily clad dancers?

Yep, definitely a fun day at sea!