Father and Son Cruise
Ryan called this morning. He is very concerned about four of his high school buddies who are about to be shipped off to Iraq. He had written them a long letter, and asked if we could print it and deliver the copies so they’d be sure and get it before they leave.
Our excursion didn’t leave until 11:00 am, so I hadn’t bothered to set the alarm. When I woke at 8:30, Ryan was long gone.
After a quick shower, I neatened up the room a little. The love seat was piled high with clothing and miscellaneous stuff – I didn’t think we’d brought so much with us. On the table, our bottle of champagne floated in a bucket of water. Ryan appeared at 9:00, just as I prepared to go topside for some coffee.
“Hey. Sleep well?” was Ryan’s greeting.
“Yup – like a baby. When did you get up?”
“Oh, about 7:00, I guess.”
“Whatch’ya been doin’?”
“Eating. Walking around. Hangin’ out.”
“I was just about to head out and get some breakfast. I want to catch up on my notes, too.”
“I’ll go with you. I could eat some more.”
We went up to the buffet. I settled for two cups of coffee and a sweet roll, while Ryan went for the full treatment. We walked out to the table area on the stern.
“Ready for the beach?” I asked.
“Oh yeah! What’s the deal?”
“We’re going to Passion Island.” Ryan gave me an inquisitive look, eyebrows raised.
“What’s the deal there?”
“We’ll see. It sounded good – lunch, open bar, floating chairs…”
I savored my coffee and took a bite of the roll. The pile of fruit on Ryan’s tray started to look really appealing, and he caught me eyeing it.
“Go ahead. Want some bacon too?”
Ryan’s breakfast was very good. I know this first hand.
At a nearby table, I spotted a woman who looked familiar. I thought it might be Babette (ocngypz), who had hosted the party on the first day aboard. Since we hadn’t really met, I was unsure.
Ryan settled it. “Yeah, that’s her.”
We made our way to Babette’s table and invited ourselves to sit. We had a long talk about cruising and life in general. During this time, the Mercury led a parade of ships to the dock at Cozumel – two older Carnival ships tailed us in all the way. If I’m not mistaken, this was Babette’s twenty-seventh cruise on Celebrity. She had a lot of interesting knowledge about the whole operation, especially the politics and personalities involved in the industry.
As we approached the dock, Ryan excused himself to get ready. I finished another cup of coffee, and opened my journal. Next thing I knew, we were sliding into the berth. The open page in my book had one word written on it. “Monday.”
Back in the room, Ryan was packing up. Same outfit as before: cargo shorts with a belt, low brown work shoes, and a tank top – just the image for Passion Island. I smeared some of the SPF 45 lotion on his back. I compared its consistency to butter before. Actually, it was much more like axle grease.
In a few minutes I was ready, and we descended the forward stairs to the exit on the third deck. Outside, a man held a “Passion Island” sign aloft, collecting passengers for the trip. We marched two-by-two behind him up the dock and through a little shopping area. A very young man in a military uniform stood outside of a liquor store, a machine gun slung over his shoulder. He eyed everyone suspiciously.
Outside a narrow gate, a bus waited in the parking lot. We boarded, but did not leave for quite a while. The bus was barely half full – maybe the guides were trying to drum up some more business. The parking lot served a rental car company, and while we waited tourists secured cars, jeeps and mopeds before heading off. I wonder to this day whether one couple who took off on mopeds made it back alive. They came very close to catastrophe more than once just trying to get out of the lot.
Eventually, we left. Two guides, one ostensibly in training, launched into their routine. We headed northeast through downtown and continued past the airport and the president’s seaside vacation home. Signs of life became less frequent. When it appeared that the main highway was about to simply end, we turned off onto a dirt road that became narrower and bumpier as we progressed. Up a slight rise and down the other side we passed what appeared to be a small factory in a state of severe decline. Around a corner, we were confronted with a pack of busses next to a small dock.
The literature said that one could choose to canoe to the island, which lay across a shallow choppy channel 1-2 miles away. One of the guides quickly ruled out that possibility, as it was too rough on this day. I imagine it would have taken a large percentage of the time allotted for the excursion, so I was glad to board the flat-bottomed ferry with everyone else.
Privately owned, Passion Island in misnamed. It is not an island in the strictest sense. It is connected to the main body of Cozumel by an impassable mangrove. On the trip over, we were informed that this was the location for filming various Corona Beer commercials. Ryan claimed to have seen them, though I had not.
As we arrived at the island we were informed that it was a little crowded right now with excursionists from the two Carnival ships. They were due to leave in a very short while, however, and then we’d have the island to ourselves. We were directed to a pavilion for an information session, and snuck around the line of people pausing for pictures with the island’s photographer. Lunch would be served just after noon.
Ryan and I made our way through the palm trees to the curving white beach beyond. It really was quite an attractive setting. The Carnival passengers occupied most of the formed fiberglass beach lounges, so we settled into a pair that were behind the main row along the water’s edge. The location was strategic – about 30 steps from the open bar.
After a quick Passion Punch, we had time for a dip before lunch. The water was warm and gentle – just perfect. On the way to eat, we relieved the bartender of a pair of Coronas.
Lunch was in the thatched-roof pavilion, and we were among the first to partake. There was grilled chicken and marlin, rice, fruit, salad, guacamole, salsa and fresh bread. Ryan took a mound of guacamole and a lesser mound of salsa, which he mixed with the rice. “I love this stuff. We used to make it when I was in the service.”
At a nearby table, a woman sat looking somewhat annoyed. She turned our way and said, “Aren’t they supposed to have hot dogs and hamburgers here?”
Ryan looked amazed and said under his breath, “How could you not like this? It’s delicious.” I had to agree.
I expected Ryan to turn green after his second helping of guacamole. We sat for a while to digest before heading back to the beach. The Carnival passengers showed no signs that they had to leave anytime soon, so we got more Coronas and went back into the water.
The crowd on Passion Island was remarkably non-passionate. I had imagined Ryan being besieged by lovely young women, abandoning me to make the return trip with his new love on another ship. Not even close. There were a couple of children and a few elderly folks, and a lot of people in their 40’s.
It was not until after 2:00 that the horn sounded for the departure of our island mates. Everyone got up at once, and suddenly we were almost alone on the beach. Access to the bar was unfettered. Eventually, a few of the Mercury passengers filtered to our vicinity, but everyone kept to themselves.
About 2:30, a passionate-looking young couple came strolling down the beach. The woman stopped and asked “Did they call the Carnival people yet?”
I looked around. I could count the number of people visible on two hands and a foot.
“Yeah. About half an hour ago.”
“I knew it!” She turned to her companion. “I told you this would happen!”
They turned and ran toward the dock. I wondered if there was a canoe waiting for them.
Ryan swam to shore. “What was that about?”
“They missed the boat. Must have been occupied.”
He smirked. I smirked back.
We did a little Corona Beer photo shoot. I still haven’t seen Ryan’s pictures from this trip, but he took dozens. He was lining up a shot when we heard from behind, “May I take your picture?”
I turned and was confronted by passion personified. A young Mexican woman with long black hair and burning eyes stood in the sand on the slight rise behind us. She wore a tiny bikini, and had a camera slung around her neck.
“Are you father and son?” she asked.
“Yeah” said Ryan.
“Will you marry my son?” I asked, in my head.
She posed us, snapped a picture and rushed off. “Strange,” I thought.
A few minutes later the horn signaling our departure time sounded. I headed for the restrooms for one last time. As on my previous visits, the facility was occupied and I waited outside with the attendant. I never did figure out if the attendant was a older man or a woman, but between each use he/she would enter the room, clean it, and emerge a minute later to direct me inside. A large tip jar sat next to the washbasin. I added to it.
As we walked to the dock, the bikini-clad girl ran up and breathlessly said, “$10 each, or two for $15.” I was a little taken aback, being propositioned so brazenly. To think, I had wanted Ryan to run away with her just minutes before. When my mind emerged from the gutter, I saw she was holding our picture. Two copies. I handed over the money.
I looked at the picture and wondered once again if Ryan had really gotten a haircut on the Mercury.
Reversed hair roles. Father and son 22 years earlier
Magens Bay, St. Thomas
When we got on the boat we were treated to a tipping ritual like I’d never before witnessed. We honored the shore staff and the boat driver before being introduced to the cook, a young man in a crisp white apron and chef’s hat. We were led in a chorus of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” while the cook passed his hat around the boat. Since I had learned my lesson about carrying money on excursions the day before on Grand Cayman, it was no problem to keep up with the demand.
After the boat ride, we boarded the bus. “I’m beat,” said Ryan. “You don’t mind if I just close my eyes. Do you?”
“Sounds like a great idea to me.” There are certainly proper times for a nap – after a few hours in the sun on a beach with an open bar is certainly among them. “Wake me up when we get back to the ship.”
Once we were rolling, the guides – who sat in the shade and drank water all day – had other ideas. It was party time! They told jokes, sang, led the passengers in song, told stories, promoted shopping – the trip back was anything but peaceful. Ryan looked at me every minute or so and rolled his eyes. “Can’t they just be quiet? Does this get them better tips?”
I looked attentively out the window to avoid being singled out for some charade. Along the dirt road, I noticed some strange things. In places, side streets could be seen peeking from the overgrowth. They were paved with intricate patterns of interlocking stones, and had high curbs. Here and there were little utility buildings. Was this a failed development, or a former resort destroyed by a storm? I never found out.
The bus stopped in town to discharge a few people who wanted to go shopping. We passed on the opportunity. On the dock we passed another young man sporting a machine gun.
“Don’t even look at him,” said Ryan. I followed his advice and we went directly back to the ship, arriving around 4:00. I opted for the T-pool, while Ryan stayed behind in the room. Once again the pool was filled, and the people were stationary. This was turning out to be a great disappointment after the Galaxy experience, where we usually had the run of the place. I went to the sauna instead. I never saw anyone else in there.
When I got back to the room, I was surprised to see that Ryan was not sleeping. Instead, he was eating – the next best thing. The TV was on, tuned to CNN. Two room service trays sat at his feet on the bed.
“Yeah. I can’t believe this is all free.”
“You didn’t know that?”
“No. I heard some guy on the bus say that you didn’t have to pay for room service. I didn’t believe it, but they didn’t make me sign for this.” After a pause punctuated by chewing, “It is really free, isn’t it?”
“Yup. No charge.”
I immediately thought back to a camping trip we made when Ryan was about 3 or 4 years old. We had been in Fort DeSoto park on an island off Tampa when a surprise storm blew up in the middle of the night. We got off the island just before it went under water, and sought refuge in a motel in St. Petersburg. I’ll never forget little Ryan all snuggled up in the bed, eating cheese curls and watching TV. He looked like he was in paradise. I knew that we had a picture of this event, so I went for my camera to record the modern day re-enactment.
“DON’T TAKE MY PICTURE WHEN I’M EATING!”
I thought he was kidding, but when no smile followed the warning I backed off. It would have been a classic.
Reviewing the Mercury Daily, I spied an event that was just minutes away at 5:00 – Complimentary Cocktail Celebrity Escape Sail Away Pool Party.
“Great,” I said to Ryan.
“Another open bar. Just what we need. This is another one of the special things for the Adults Only cruise.”
“Oh, I don’t know…” Ryan responded warily. “You go if you want. Maybe I’ll come up later.”
He switched channels on the TV, stopping at a promotion for tonight’s show in the theater. Joel Bauer, Mentalist and Perceptionist. The promo showed him appearing on various mainstream television shows as well as CNN.
“Sounds interesting,” said Ryan.
“Yeah, we’ll have to stay up somehow.”
I changed and made my way poolside just in time for the festivities. I expected that drink choices would be limited and that it would be difficult to get served. When I marched up to the Sky Bar and asked for a Pina Colada, I got it right away. No questions asked. No signature.
I met fellow Cruise Critics Donna and Harry (NJ Cruisers) at the bar and we got to chatting. Soon their lost friends Alison and Philip happened by, and we sort of took over one end of the bar. At one point, Harry leaned over and said “Is that a ball?”
I wasn’t quite sure what I’d heard. “Yeah, this is a great time.”
Looking at my hand, he said, “No, no. Is that a Ball watch you’re wearing?”
“Oh, no. Timex. Drug store special”
Harry collects watches, in particular pocket watches. I guess I got a good imitation of something special for my $20.
The band (Opus) cranked up right below us in the stage, and soon the place was hopping. I must say that in contrast to the band on the Galaxy, these guys were a pleasure to listen to.
We talked and drank, and drank some more. Three bartenders worked non-stop at this small bar, and waiters with tray-loads of drinks appeared from back rooms to dispense their wares to the crowd. The pools and hot tubs remained open until 11:00 pm every night on this trip – they usually close by 7:00. This really made for a more lively atmosphere, and I would have welcomed a swim under the stars on the hot, hot nights of our summer trip.
As 6:00 approached, we all ordered what we thought would be our last drink of this event. The ship sailed at 6:00 sharp, the horn drowning out the band momentarily. The sight of the lights on shore as we maneuvered out of the berth and away from the island was stunning. I caught a glimpse of Ryan milling around taking in the sights.
Instead of winding down, the party picked up in intensity. We all thought it ended at 6:00, but the weary bartender informed us that the open bar went until 6:30 as she delivered another round. And so it went. People were clearly having a great time.
The band approached a new peak, and Donna said, “There’s a picture for you.” She nodded over my shoulder. Behind me a young woman, moved no doubt by the music, appeared to be performing some kind of mating ritual with the hand railing. It was just as well that my camera battery was spent.
I hooked up with Ryan at the dinner table. He said he really wasn’t very hungry. I feigned surprise.
I noticed that when anyone got up from the table for a minute, Maro would appear and carefully fold their napkin into some exotic shape. I made a mental note to bring the video camera some evening and get this on tape. When it came time for dessert, Ryan said, “Nothing for me, thanks.” Simultaneously, everyone at the table looked at him as if he were an alien.
Later, as we were about to leave, Maro swooped in and placed a silver covered platter in front of Ryan.
“I am very sorry sir that it has taken us so long to prepare this very special dessert for you.” He lifted the cover and we all craned to see. The platter was elaborately decorated with swirling chocolate sauce. Along the top edge, the sauce spelled “No Dessert”. In the center, a pouting face with the tongue hanging out.
The show was a disappointment. Although Mr. Bauer did some interesting things, he did them at the rate of one every 40 minutes or so. By 11:00, we had seen three. In between was endless and pointless hype. I came dangerously close to dozing several times. Later I questioned whether the interesting things deserved the label. I theorized that performing for an audience after they’d been to a 90-minute open bar was an integral part of the strategy. We probably all did doze off, at which time Mr. Bauer rigged the outcome of his “tricks”. It was definitely time for bed after the show.
“So, what are we doing tomorrow?”
“A little culture. We’re going to see some Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. It’s kind of a long bus ride, though.”
I waited for a comment. I didn’t know what his reaction would be. Silence.
I turned in Ryan’s direction. He was asleep.