Prologue

This entry is part 1 of 14 in the series Father and Son Cruise

This posting serves as a prologue to the second cruise story in the series. The first cruise story, recounting our first-ever voyage (25th anniversary celebration on Celebrity’s Galaxy), was posted serially on CruiseCritic.com over a 3-week period.

The “Galaxy Story” developed a life of its own, and several thousand people awaited the posting of the final chapter. The experience was wholly unexpected and quite a thrill. The unprecedented response to the story (now in book form – What Time Is the Midnight Buffet?) motivated Celebrity Cruises to contact me and offer a free cruise in appreciation. We’ll begin with the events leading up to that offer, and then take a “virtual” cruise on Celebrity’s Mercury.

At the end of three solid weeks of writing, I had completed a 24-hour marathon to post the final chapter of the Galaxy story. At 7 a.m I flopped into bed and tried to clear my racing mind. I was finally drifting off to dreamland when the phone rang. For a moment I thought it might be Raj, the butler on our recently completed voyage. Quickly, my cruise  dream evaporated and I was conscious enough to realize that I was back on terra firma.

The fog shrouding my mind lifted slightly as I crossed the room. A phone call at 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday is somewhat unusual.  The telephone solicitors usually show their kinder side by waiting until at least 10:00 a.m. on the day of rest.

My right arm was still snoozing, so my left lifted the handset.

“Hello.”

My son’s voice came over the line. “Yo, Dad. It’s Ryan.”

Oh-oh. Trouble? I tried to sound cheery and bright, although I needed 12 hours of sleep to be either.

“Whassuhhhhppp?” I queried.

“We’re in New York on our way to Maine—thought we might stop in for a little visit on the way–maybe we could get something to eat.”

I was instantly awake. “Sure. When do you think you’ll be here?” After his discharge from the Marines, Ryan had settled in Philadelphia – a long way from our home in New Hampshire. A visit would be a rare treat.

“Oh, maybe 1:30 or 2:00.”

“What do you want to eat?”

“I dunno. Burgers, chicken – whatever you want to do,” was Ryan’s response.

I thought of one last item. “Who’s we?”

“Me, Rob and Kelly.” Non-family visitors meant more preparation.

We exchanged goodbyes and hung up. I stood still for a moment, and then glanced with dread into the kitchen. It and the rest of the house were in a state of disarray rarely before seen. It was August 25th, and because of my writing frenzy,  household duties had been severely neglected since our return from the July 19th Galaxy cruise. The suitcases were still in the family room, and the cupboards were bare.

I swung into action. In little more than two hours, things were looking pretty good — myself a clear exception. With a trip to the farm stand and the supermarket, I was ready.

Around noon, sleepy-eyed son Wells descended from his lair and looked around. Even he noticed the sudden change in the neatness level, but it was the fresh supply of food that really caught his attention. I gave him some chores to do, mainly to keep him out of the edible goodies.

Ryan and friends rolled in around 2:00 p.m. In addition to the humans, three dogs emerged from the car. Kris returned from the family camp in Maine minutes later, disgorging another two dogs into the mix.

My peaceful day had turned into a study in chaos. Thoughts of sleep were a distant memory. The five dogs were full of energy and mischief. One was a puppy — a cute yellow Lab. She dove into my fishpond, which is normally protected by an invisible fence system. The other two visiting dogs saw how much fun they were missing, and soon the whole bunch was diving in, jumping out, treating us to a shower as they shook themselves vigorously before doing the whole thing all over again (and again). Our dogs were crazed with jealousy as they watched, unable to join in because for them at least, the invisible fence did its job.

It was the first time in a long while since the whole family had been together at the old homestead. Kris and I filled our visitors’ heads with tales, pictures and video of our cruise, and their stomachs with good eats.

Too soon, it was time for Ryan and his friends to continue their journey. As they packed the three wet dogs into the car, I said to Ryan, “It was great to see you. We’ll have to do a cruise together some day—you’d like it.” He was probably getting tired of hearing about it. Neither of us could have known that we’d get the chance soon enough.

If you know what one wet dog smells like, you can probably sympathize with anyone who takes a 2-½ hour ride with three of them. I tried to block the image from my mind as I checked on the traumatized fish. There were no casualties.

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Later that night, I climbed into bed with great anticipation of deep sleep. It took a long time to come. My mind was still swirling with images of the cruise that I had been either on or reliving for more than a month. It was, finally, over.

During the week, I remembered that there was a September 1, deadline for joining the Celebrity Cruises Captain’s Club with “Founder” status. This distinction was needed to retain the priority embarkation privilege that was being withdrawn from the revised program. I faxed my application just in the nick of time. I always wanted to be the founder of something—it has a nice ring to it. The membership package arrived three weeks later. I didn’t think we’d need it for years, so into the archives it went.

The following weekend included Labor Day. Kris had returned to the camp in Maine mid-week. The camp has been in my wife’s family for almost 45 years. It consists of two simple wood frame cottages sitting side-by-side about a hundred feet from a sandy beach on a small lake. During the summer, it is common for as many as 25 relatives and friends to be in residence at any given time. It tends to be a very noisy place, and the regular visitors have developed a competitive style of communication characterized by shouted conversation. You would have to hear the sound accompanying a game of cards, Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit to believe it. I do not fare well in a competition to be heard, and usually retreat to a peripheral position and observe.

By Monday noon we had officially put summer away and braced the cabins for the coming load of snow. When we got home, I sat and for the first time read the whole Galaxy story from beginning to end. I have to admit that I got a little choked up from all of the reader comments. That hadn’t happened since I saw the movie Titanic, and then only because a group of teen-aged girls in front of us wept and wailed non-stop for well over an hour.

The school year began. For Kris, that meant a return to the seven-day workweek. For Wells it meant the beginning of the football season. I was left to go through a form of withdrawal from the cruising and writing experience.

Q, the Cockatoo and Wells

Life quickly returned to normal, with the four of us together at the dinner table each night—Kris, me, Wells, and Q, the cockatoo. Our idea of normal probably differs somewhat from most. Q is particularly fond of cheeseburgers, tomato soup and chicken legs. Apparently, he does not identify with the latter.

On Tuesday, September 24 — just shy of one month after the last installment was posted — I checked my email in the early afternoon. There was one new message. The return address was celebritycruises.com. The subject line read: YOU ARE THE CELEBRITY. Somehow the message passed the scrutiny of my junk mail filter, which normally would have flagged this as a solicitation to sell me pictures of my favorite celebrities caught in compromising positions.

I quickly scanned the message. I figured it was a pitch for another cruise, and although I was at least partially correct, this message was clearly not a mass mailing. I had to read it again more slowly and a third time for it to sink in. Here is an excerpt:

…It seems that you may still have a bit of a case of island fever (Irie mon), and might be tempted to step aboard another one of our cruise ships (let’s say the Mercury, for sake of example), and I know you can’t take too much time, so let’s assume seven days might be about right, and it seems as though you’d like to go fairly soon – so I’m thinking October 25th – out of Miami, Western Caribbean Itinerary… and since it does not appear that you have won the Powerball Jackpot as of this writing…I’m thinking FREE might be the right price… Any of this sound interesting?

This email was offering us a free cruise, although another possibility crossed my mind — an elaborate hoax. It is a very simple matter to make an email appear to come from anywhere you’d like. I dismissed the possibility and chose to be a believer, which did little to enhance my productivity for the remainder of the workday. I was shocked, and felt like I was walking on air.

Unable to concentrate, I printed a copy of the email, folded it and placed it in my pocket before leaving the office well before my customary departure time. On the way home I visualized Kris’s reaction.

When I entered the house a good hour before normal, Kris eyed me warily. “Is everything alright? Did you get laid off?”

Without words, I removed the folded paper from my pocket and handed it to her. I kept a straight face with a somewhat serious expression locked in place. Kris thought it wise to sit before reading whatever it was I had handed her.

The scene played out just as I had envisioned and was fun to watch. First Kris’s brow furrowed, and her eyes narrowed—she was confused and unbelieving. One eyebrow raised slightly, followed shortly thereafter by the other as she read on. Once synchronized, her eyebrows ratcheted up a notch at a time until they could go no higher. At a key phrase a big smile crept across her face, and then her mouth fell open as she looked my way.

“I can’t believe it. Is this a joke?” she asked.

“I don’t think so” I deadpanned.

It only took another moment for the inevitable letdown to arrive. She glanced back at the paper, confirmed the dates and said with anguish “Oh my God, you know I can’t go then”. In fact I did know. You see, Kris teaches High School Biology and has no latitude at all over scheduling her vacation time. She gets time off when the school is closed.

We brainstormed for a while trying to come up with a solution. Kris would ask for the time, but we were essentially 100% certain that it would not be granted. I suggested that we auction her ticket on Ebay, with the proceeds going to Make-a-Wish. For some reason the idea was soundly rejected.

The next day, I wrote back to Celebrity. I included the little story of Kris’s reaction, and concluded with this:

…I had hoped to one day hear from someone at Celebrity, but my expectations have once again been exceeded. I figured a 10% discount on my recently applied-for Captain’s Club membership would complement the Cruise Critic tee shirt I still hope to receive some day.

I assume that this was not a spur of the moment offer. You left the door open to other future possibilities, and I hope that we can arrange something. If not, at least I have the satisfaction of being recognized, for which I heartily thank you and the rest of the Celebrity team.

So, I’m ready to take a great adventure of some sort – just not (most likely) on October 25th. I look forward to speaking with you…

Several days later, I spoke with the Celebrity representatives on the phone. By then we knew for sure that Kris could not get the time off. When I revealed this, the Celebrity folks asked if there was any way I could still take the trip, the second trial of the “Adults Only” concept.

I suggested that I could take my mother, but jokingly admitted that we would have a difficult time occupying the same room for seven days. I also suggested my son Ryan, who at the age of 23 met the requirements for the “Adult Only” cruise. The idea was received enthusiastically. I thought it would be a great opportunity for father and son to hang out and have fun. A bonding trip.

I called Ryan and asked if he would like to take the trip with me. After a long pause, his response was not among the top 10 possibilities I had considered. “People aren’t going to bug us all the time, are they?” he asked.

I tried to assure him that I thought we’d pretty much be left alone. After another long silence Ryan said, “O.K., I guess so.” Only a parent could detect the enthusiasm bubbling near the surface.

I made the commitment to take the trip about three weeks before the sailing. Celebrity put me under no obligation, and I made it clear that if I wrote about the trip I would tell the good with the bad. I was impressed by their respect for this position, and at their desire to use the feedback to make improvements. A member of the staff advised me that he would be making the trip, and we mutually looked forward to meeting.

Kris did not want me to miss the opportunity, but she was obviously sad not to be going on the cruise. For the first time since changing careers, she wished she was still a nurse (with at least some flexibility in scheduling vacations). When Lobsterlover (a CruiseCritic member) made the suggestion that I bring her a special gift from the trip (seconded by Larsen), Kris really perked up. “Yeah! Now we’re talkin’,” she said upon reading the posts.

On Columbus Day weekend, Kris and I fought the tide of leaf-peepers heading north, and drove down to Philadelphia. Kris’s mother was getting ready to put the house on the market in preparation for a move to a nice facility in York Harbor Maine. It has an Alzheimer’s care unit for Kris’s father, attached to a residential unit for her mother. Strange how a situation like this can be filled with joy and sorrow simultaneously. Kris will miss her childhood home, but we will all welcome her mother back to a world where pleasure is among the possibilities.

While in Philadelphia, we met up with Ryan. We took him shopping for some cruise clothing, and it was a lot like shopping for school clothes way back when. Ryan was a good sport. Since he is scraping by at the moment, I left him with the price of a haircut and a few other incidentals.

Back home, there was little time to prepare for the trip. Thankfully I did not need much – some prescription refills and toothpaste. My clothes fit better than they had at the end of the last cruise.

On Monday, August 21, the travel documents arrived, as did a Captain’s Club package for Ryan. We had been assigned a Category 2 cabin, #9135. I was flying from Boston and would arrive in Miami just before noon on Friday, August 25. If all went well, Ryan would arrive an hour earlier from Philadelphia.

I did not want to drive to Boston’s Logan airport, so I reserved a spot on an airport shuttle while on-line that evening. I copied Ryan’s ticket information and emailed it to him with instructions on how to hook up with the cruise line representatives at the airport. I also reminded him to get a haircut – this seems to be a natural part of fatherhood.

October snowThe next day I awoke and went down for the morning newspaper. When I opened the door, a surprise met me. Winter. I wanted my next cruise to feature an escape from winter, and nature moved her schedule to accommodate me.

Later that day, I received a phone call from a woman at Celebrity. She was checking to make sure the documents had arrived, and wanted to let me know that a car would pick me up at 5:15 a.m. on Friday for the trip to Logan. I sheepishly cancelled the reservation I had made.

Ryan seemed to be a bit nervous every time we spoke. I imagine he was. I know that in spite of all the preparation and reading, Kris and I boarded the Galaxy with a fair amount of trepidation. I advised him to relax – the trip was all about enjoyment.

Everything was in place. Kris found a nearby deli that offered fully prepared heat-and-eat meals, so she and Wells wouldn’t starve in the chef’s absence.

Wednesday evening, I began to gather my stuff for packing. With another night available for the activity, I quit partway through and snuggled into bed with Kris. My sleep was deep, and visions of blue water and white sand alternated with images of pina coladas and piles of food.

Someone was persistently nudging at my arm, encouraging me to take another dessert from the buffet line. I realized it was Kris, and I became annoyed when she wouldn’t stop. As I came out of the dream I opened my eyes to darkness and a faint image of Kris desperately trying to wake me.

She was saying something over and over again, but it made no sense to me. When I finally understood it, my heart jumped straight into my throat and I leapt out of the bed.

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