Dining with the Captain

This entry is part 5 of 14 in the series Father and Son Cruise

I couldn’t quite finish an installment last weekend – too busy putting summer things away before they froze in place. Received an email from our missing tablemates on the Galaxy, Mike and Jane. They’ve been cleaning out their empty nest, a task that I look forward to with some reservation.

We were early for dinner. The 7:30 seating was a one-time event. For the remainder of the trip, a single seating at 7:00 would be the norm. Rumor had it that Celebrity intended to limit this cruise to 1300 people, but the single dinner seating would imply that the population was closer to 1000.

We found table 517 in the open central section of the Manhattan Dining Room’s lower level. Two couples were already settled at the table, leaving two empty seats. Our tablemates were Brenda and Paul from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Traci and Neal from Wilmington North Carolina.

Soon a smartly dressed young man walked up to the table. I estimated his age at 14, give or take a year. My first reaction was to wonder how he got on board this “Adults Only” cruise. He launched into a well-rehearsed introductory routine revealing himself to be our waiter, Maro from Honduras. Upon closer examination, I remained convinced that he looked to be 14.

Among our tablemates, only Brenda was familiar with Cruise Critic. Traci and Neal were onboard to celebrate their 7th anniversary, and were about six months from becoming parents for the first time. Paul and Brenda had recently become grandparents. I had assumed that they were far too young for that distinction, but apparently my ability to judge age was impaired.

Maro was something of a showman. He would always begin with “Ladies and Gentlemen!” sounding like the ringmaster at a circus. His assistant, Ozgar, was the complete opposite. He operated in stealth mode, and rarely said anything more than a quiet “Pepper, sir?”

I think Ryan was a little overwhelmed by the surroundings. The dining room felt considerably darker than the Orion on the Galaxy, dominated by warm reds and rich wood accents. It was fun to watch Ryan grapple with the menu choices. I didn’t keep precise notes, but he was surprisingly adventurous in his selections.

Shortly after we sat, the propulsion systems came alive. I didn’t give it much thought, and by the time I looked out the rear window Miami was already receding into the darkness. Dinner was excellent, as was the conversation at the table. By the end, Ryan’s eyes were glazed over and my pants were too tight. He was ready to turn in, but I suggested a try at the casino. Enticed by my offer of a $20 bill, he agreed.

The atmosphere in the Casino is strikingly different from the Galaxy. On the Galaxy, the room seemed intimate and cave-like. On the Mercury, the casino is blazingly bright. Every nook and cranny is revealed in a rather stark way. It felt smaller and more crowded, although in reality I don’t think that it was either.

I looked around for a machine like I’d played on the Galaxy – the Three Little Pigs. There was nothing of the sort. All of the machines were strictly business. Ryan got us some drinks and we settled at two machines at the end of a row. Within minutes, Ryan’s $20 was history. Mine had grown to $160. I cashed out and offered him a handful of quarters, but we soon concluded that sleep was more enticing.

Back in the room, I checked again for a message from “Mr. M”. Still nothing. Out on the verandah we tried to call Kris on Ryan’s cell phone, but we were already out of range.

Ryan was asleep in no time, but I got a second wind and went out to explore. On deck, Miami was just a glow on the horizon. I watched it fade for a while before returning to the room. Tomorrow would be a relaxing sea day. Before I could even think about, I too was asleep.

When I woke at about 8:00, Ryan was gone. Two envelopes had been slipped under the door. One was an invitation to the Captain’s Table. I considered turning it down – let someone else have a chance. “No. Ryan is someone else, and he may never have the opportunity again.” Case closed.

The second envelope contained an invitation to the Cruise Critic party, scheduled that morning in the Navigator Club. I was happy to see it as my reservation number was issued too late for the on-line sign-up. Also in the envelope were two little CC lapel pins.

The late reservation had also prevented me from signing up for any shore excursions prior to the cruise. I had a few in mind, so I used the TV to book them. Ryan had given me Carte Blanche on the choices, and I went for the variety pack. On Sunday, we would snorkel and swim with the stingrays on Grand Cayman, on Monday we’d have a beach day on Passion Island at Cozumel, and on Tuesday get some cultural enrichment at Chichen Itza. Thursday’s stop was in Key West. Since that would be Halloween, I figured that the town would provide all the entertainment one could possibly ask for.

At 8:55, my Palm Pilot alarmed to remind us of Ryan’s haircut appointment. I had no idea where he was, and became concerned that he’d miss the appointment. It probably wasn’t his first thought for the day.

At about 9:30, the door opened and Ryan entered. He was visibly perturbed.

“What’s up?”

“I knew that would happen”, he said with anguish.

I immediately knew that he had missed the appointment. At least he had combed his hair this morning, so it looked fairly civilized.

“What? What’s the matter?”

“She took way too much off!”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. “I can’t even tell that you got it cut. You missed the appointment, right?”

He didn’t seem to hear me as he looked into the mirror and mussed up his hair. “AHHHHH! Way too much off.”

I distracted him with questions.

“Do you want to sit at the Captain’s table tonight?”

“Ah, gee. Not really. Do we have to? Would it be rude if we didn’t?”

That settled it. “Yea. It would be rude. We have to do it”. I had violated my own rule about dealing with children, or anyone else for that matter. Never offer a choice when there is really only one answer.

Guided by that little piece of hard-earned wisdom, I said “We’re going to the Cruise Critic party at 11:30.”

With no options given, Ryan simply nodded.

We hung around the room, and spent some time on the verandah. I brought along an MP3 player and two sets of headphones. One of the features of the Adult cruise was supposed to be Apple IPOD MP3 player rentals. I wanted to check out the music selections, but never saw or heard anything about it. Luckily I had plenty of music that we could both stand to listen to.

Once he calmed down from the stress of having his haircut, Ryan recounted his morning to me. He’d gotten up early and set out to take some pictures. By chance, he’d stumbled across the breakfast buffet.

“I wanted my eggs sunny side up, but they wouldn’t do it”

“Why not?”

“They said the eggs were too fresh.”

I never heard that one before, and could offer no explanation.

“Then this woman got really mad.”

“Why?”

“Because the waiter gave me a Bloody Mary.”

“So?”

“He walked right by and didn’t offer her one. She was so mad she got up and yelled at the manager guy. She kept giving me dirty looks.”

I wasn’t hungry and skipped breakfast. Even though a Bloody Mary (another Adult cruise feature) sounded somewhat appealing, I didn’t want to chance controversy by accepting one.

At 11:30 we made our way up to the Navigator Club wearing our CC pins. Christine was greeting people at the entrance. She made us name tags – “ChesterH” and “RyanH”. The group was gathered in the center section. Most arrived before we did, and we snagged one of the only unoccupied tables. There were at least 50, and maybe as many as 70 people present – I never heard an official count.

A waitress arrived promptly with champagne. Taking pity, we helped relieve her of the burden and passed on the offer of coffee and softdrinks. She pointed out the fruits and pastries being served nearby. I sampled some of the goods, as hunger had made a sudden appearance. I asked Ryan to take a lot of pictures.

Most people were seated and conversing in small groups. Ryan walked around taking pictures, and was soon engaged in conversation. I decided to “work” the room in a clockwise direction. At some point, an announcement was made that free t-shirts were being given out. A couple of boxes were placed at the front of the room and a swarm of people headed that way.

Before I knew it, 45 minutes had passed and the party began to break up. I’d only made it about a third of the way around the room. I found Ryan relaxing on a bar stool next to the Cruise Connections sign. The t-shirts were gone. Ryan kindly offered me his. I wouldn’t have taken it anyway, but medium hasn’t been my size in a long, long time.

On the way out, we ran into a group CC’ers on their way to the dining room for lunch. Mike and Andrienne from California invited us to join in. Ryan begged off, preferring to go out by the pool. I tagged along, and in the dining room we were seated at a large table with a couple who also turned out to be CC’ers. Small world.

After lunch, I spent some time by the pool and made a trip to the Thalassotherapy Pool. Very often on the Galaxy we had the T-pool to ourselves. This time, it was mobbed. Rather than rotate around, most people seemed to find a favored spot and stay there.

In the late afternoon, I ran into Ryan. He had sampled the T-pool, finding it uncrowded and much to his liking. He also tried the steam room and sauna. From his descriptions, I think he might be willing to try hedonism as a lifestyle. He was practically gushing.

What really impressed him was the staff.

“I can’t believe how professional everybody is. People back home could really learn a lesson here. Everybody seems so happy. “

Ryan went on to tell me about the bartenders. Ryan bartends one day a week for spending money, and he was so amazed by the care with which drinks were constructed that he used a whole roll of film on his Pina Colada.

Evening approached in a rush. The Captain’s Welcome party was scheduled for 6:15 in the theater, so after cleaning up it was time to put on the tuxes. Ryan hadn’t worn one since his senior prom, but got the hang of it. I helped with the cufflinks.

We were fashionably late to the party, which was a mistake. I should have remembered from the Galaxy that when you arrive late to a party in the theater, the open seats are way down front. The problem is that very few drinks make it down that far unclaimed. Last time I lucked out and got 3 drinks at once as the party wound down. This time we were finally offered two orphaned drinks from a waiter about 25 minutes after arriving. He named them, but neither of us caught it. Ryan took one sip, made a face, and put it down. I tried mine. It was totally unrecognizable and not very tasty.

Looking around, I realized that we were surrounded by our tablemates. Traci and Neal were immediately behind us. Brenda and Paul were right next-door. We swapped cameras around and got pictures of everyone dressed in their finest.

Click for larger image

On stage, the Captain introduced his staff. He seemed quite comfortable in the role of entertainer, and hammed it up a bit for the crowd.

After the party, we made our way to Rendez-Vous Square to meet the Captain’s Table party. As on the Galaxy, no one was in the appointed spot when we arrived, so we stood to the side and looked perplexed.

I was surprised by a male voice saying, “Are you Mr. X?”

I turned to find a tall man, hand extended. I admitted to being “Mr. X”, to which the man replied, “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m “Mr. H”, Vice President of Marketing for Celebrity Cruises.”

I was a little surprised – maybe a little more than a little. I introduced Ryan, and we made some small talk. At one point I said, “I was expecting to meet “Mr. M” on board. Is he around?”

“No. “Mr. M” couldn’t make it. Something came up.”

It might have been my imagination, but something in his inflection told me to drop the subject.

“Ah, here they are — let me introduce you.”

The meeting spot was suddenly filled with people. The only one I recognized was Christine, all decked out. Everyone seemed to know each other already, and the mix did not seem typical for this event. There was one couple, the V.P., three lovely young ladies, and an unattached gentleman. After the introductions, we sat and ordered drinks.

A while later, we entered the dining room. Ryan and I were seated at opposite ends of the table. I was across from the V.P., between one of the young ladies and the unattached gentleman. Eventually the pieces fell in to place.

The couple were both travel writers. I have since found his review  of the cruise on the Internet (link no longer valid). The other man was the head of an advertising agency that had just recently signed on with Celebrity. The young ladies were employees of the agency. None had ever cruised, and they were onboard for the experience. Mr. Giogiou, the Hotel Manager, joined us.

I didn’t even have to look at the menu for this meal. It was the same for this event as it had been on the Galaxy. I planned ahead this time, securing some breadsticks to reserve for the escargot butter.

The conversation, naturally, was about the cruise business. I found it fascinating, and offered my views to attentive ears. To me, the greatest contributor to the experience was the staff. They really have the power to make or break the whole thing.

Down at the other end of the table, Ryan was carrying on with the author couple and Mr. Giogiou. Upon leaving the theater, he said he was feeling a little queasy. He thought it was the room – dark, sloped and narrowing — that produced this feeling. The seas were so calm that there was no motion to speak of on the ship. Apparently, he spent the first half of dinner fighting off the feeling. He became more animated as the meal went on.

The Captain was flanked by women, which seemed to suit him just fine. I was too far away to converse with him — as was true on the Galaxy, the Captain’s table is a very noisy place. He was clearly in command here, and issued orders to the wait staff regularly.

Dining with the Captain

“Ms. L” was seated next to me. She seemed to be the most gregarious of the advertising people. We discovered that we shared both a disdain for flying and the solution for dealing with it.

When “Ms. L” excused herself for a while, I had a chance to talk to Mr. Giogiou. He is a jovial man, and has worked on ships for 35 years. He is going to be married soon, and his wife will join him to live on board Mercury. He inquired about our accommodations. I told him that this was only my second cruise, and that the Sky Suite on the Galaxy had spoiled me.

Mr. GiogiouAfter dinner, Mr. Giogiou took me aside and said that he thought he should be able to arrange another room. I thanked him profusely.

We were invited to the theater. Ryan begged off, not wanting to re-enter the room that apparently upset his equilibrium. I sat alone for the show, a Broadway review that had several really good numbers, though a couple of tunes were uninspired. This time, the Captain picked up the drink tab.

After the show, I made for the exit. Behind me I heard the V.P. say, “There they are.”

I glanced around and saw where he was looking. Three twenty-something men were lined up against the wall immediately outside the theater, looking very uncomfortable in their suits. On a hunch I slowly walked by the three, looking at them closely and conspicuously. I paused and said, “You look like marketing guys.”

The V.P. had stopped to talk to someone else, so I had some time to have a little fun.

“What makes you say that?” one asked, looking surprised.

“I could just feel it when I walked by – kind of a psychic thing. I know you’re marketing guys. Right?”

“Yeah. How did…”

The V.P. walked up and spoiled my fun. He introduced the three as employees of the advertising agency, counterparts to our female dinner mates. I figured that Ryan and I had displaced them at the Captain’s table.

After a short conversation, everyone dispersed. I found Ryan at the bar in the Casino. He was busy taking to Cindy(travel57) and Paula (flseagal). I joined in and we all had a nice chat. Paula’s traveling companion popped in and out. Barbara recently celebrated a birthday, and it was very difficult to reconcile the number with the wisecracking bundle of energy – if I’m not mistaken, you have to add my age to Ryan’s to come close.

We capped the evening by making a donation to the slot machines, and headed off for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, we would be on Grand Cayman.

There was no way we could have predicted a day punctuated by blood curdling screams.

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