This entry is part 5 of 25 in the series Cruising With the Mothers

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. It was a little disheartening. Although more and more people were finally posting to the forum with questions, I couldn’t get more than a couple to sign up on the roll call. I’d post comprehensive answers to various questions posed elsewhere, drop hints about the roll call, and watch as no one signed up. This got a little boring after a while.

I decided to spend the month of June on something slightly less futile, and cut back on time spent on the cruise forums. For almost three years, I’d held on to the idea of turning my first cruise “review” into a book, as many had encouraged me to do. Working in fits and starts during that time, I had reached the point where I thought I was almost ready. I spent a few more weeks driving myself nuts by making and unmaking little changes, and working with the artist to finalize the cover. Then I packed up the whole mess, sent it off to the publisher and held my breath. What a relief that was…

I finally received confirmation of our cabins in early June. Kris and I had been assigned (as requested) B220, one of the cabins that appeared to have an oversized verandah. The mothers were assigned L660. I’d booked a “K”, but didn’t argue as it probably saved them enough to cover a bottle of wine. The mothers’ cabin was located several decks below ours, but at least we were on the same side of the ship and served by the same bank of elevators. How hard could it be to get from one place to the other?

During the booking process, I’d requested late seating for all of us, together, at a big table – “so that conversation is stimulated,” I wrote in an email to the charter operator. The response I received indicated that we would be seated together – “not to worry,” they wrote.

An email directly from the APHC staff arrived one day in early June – with some curious bits of news. First, the itinerary had been flipped so that we’d hit the ports in the exact opposite order of what was originally published. The reasoning was that it simplified customs and immigration. This was fine by me, but I imagine it messed up some people’s plans – for which the author of the message offered apologies.

The second item revealed a change in the dinner schedule. The message said:

Dinner and show seating schedules have changed. It seemed that nobody was interested in eating dinner at 8:15 p.m. — go figure. Passengers who have requested the “early seating” of dinner will now eat at 5:30 and then head to the theater for an 8:00 curtain time. “Late seating” passengers will see the show at 6 and then head down for a 7:30 dinner. When will we eat dinner? Good question. Backstage on paper plates, probably, but don’t worry: We’re used to that.

This struck me as odd. “Maybe the majority of passengers are over 90, hoping for an early-bird senior citizen discount, ” I thought. No, that couldn’t be it – they would have moved early seating to 4:30. For us to eat at 7:30 would be unusual – we rarely eat before 8:30. And seeing the show at 6:00 would be different, too. No more lazy afternoons.

Kris didn’t like the idea much, either. “That’s just when I start to wind down and relax. I like those couple of hours of down time,” she said. “We’ll have to start dressing at 5:00!”

Her reaction to the dinner news was muted compared to what came next. “That’s not such a big deal,” I said, “because they did away with formal nights, too.”

“What do you mean?” Kris asked.

“No formal dinners. No tuxes. No gowns. It’s all casual.”

“What!!!. NO FORMAL DINNERS!. Who the #%$# is running this cruise?? You can’t have a cruise without tuxedos and gowns! It isn’t natural! The whole reason for going on a cruise is to get dressed up!” Kris’s face was turning bright red. I hadn’t seen her this mad since The Old Man of the Mountain fell in 2003. [Note: This claim excludes emotional outbursts during football games. I haven’t actually seen these, but I can hear them from my office, where I take refuge when the Patriots are playing.] For those who are unfamiliar, The Old Man was a rock ledge high in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It looked like the face of an old man in profile – sort of, if you removed your glasses and squinted. In defiance of gravity, the face jutted from a cliff 1500 feet above the aptly named Profile Lake in Franconia Notch. For decades, the state applied guy wires, turnbuckles, bolts, steel rods, grout and glue to keep it from falling, but one day in June, gravity won the battle.

It wasn’t the loss of the state’s official symbol that upset Kris – it was the public reaction. Immediately, the state went into mourning. News bulletins, memorial ceremonies and speeches, flags at half-staff – the whole bit. Then the fund raising to restore The Old Man began. The state pledged millions of dollars. The post office issued a commemorative stamp, and our mailbox filled with appeals for contributions. Proposals emerged for gluing a plaster replica in place or carving the mountain like Mount Rushmore. “It was a pile of rocks!” Kris fumed at the time. “It should have fallen decades ago. It’s nature, for crying out loud! It’s over, people. Forget about it. With all the problems in the world, I can’t believe that this is getting so much attention.” The depth of her anger astounded me. Nevertheless, I gave her an Old Man of the Mountain refrigerator magnet for her birthday. They were being sold at the post office, with proceeds going to the restoration fund. Just doing my part… Come to think of it, her face turned red then, too. Nice color.

Where was I? Oh yeah – no formal nights. Those familiar with the story of our first cruise no doubt remember the major role played by the tuxedo. I publicly refused to rent one – much to Kris’s dismay – but secretly did so as a surprise. It proved to be a very good move. A tuxedo is a remarkable…how should I put it…stimulant. All natural, too. Of course, I assumed that I’d rent one for this cruise – or maybe even buy one.

Kris was still carrying on. “That’s a disgrace. These people don’t know how to cruise. Just because they don’t wear tuxes in Lake Wobegone doesn’t excuse them from proper protocol on a ship…”

“Calm down,” I said. “I’ll wear a tux no matter what they say. In fact, I was thinking of getting some red sneakers to go with it.” Some may be aware that such an ensemble is Mr. Keillor’s standard for performances.

“That would be cute,” said Kris, “but don’t do it. If they don’t want formal dinners, forget it. Save the money. No tux…understand? Casual my @$$…”

Wow! This had really hit a nerve. After all these years, I have developed a special sense that allows me to know when to obey an instruction to the letter. There would be no tux on this cruise. I was crestfallen.

The next item served to squash any remaining momentum in our cruise planning activities. It read:

We know we promised you twice that excursions would be available to book soon. Sadly, the itinerary change means another delay. We’ll be contacting you in a month or so, as we finalize the daily schedules and the list of available excursions. But we swear it to you: We have blocked out the spaces we need. In addition to the great little day trips HAL has to offer, we’ll be running special kayaking excursions with Rich and Natalie, and a special trip to John’s museum in Searsport.

I suggested to Kris that she go online and look at the HAL shore excursions to get some preliminary ideas, and to talk to her mother about the possibilities.

June was almost over when another email arrived from the APHC people. This one announced the availability of shore excursion information and online booking. As it turned out, with only a couple of exceptions, all of the offerings were the standard HAL excursions.

Kris was finished with school and had already joined her mother at the camp in Maine for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday. I was home alone, and my only tool for gathering shore excursion preferences from Kris and the mothers was the telephone. I shivered at the thought…

I called the camp and had Kris summoned from the beach. Until very recently, there was no phone at the camp – a selling point for me. When I go on vacation, my workplace always insists that I leave contact information. I used to leave written instructions that went like this:

1) Call the Maine State Police barracks in Alfred.
2) Tell them to dispatch a cruiser to Limington.
3) In Limington, find the dirt road to Peqwaket Lake. Go one-half mile to the sixth dirt road on the right.
4) Proceed to the end of this dirt road, exit the vehicle, walk down the slope to the lake, and have the officer tell me just what it is that is so important that nobody else can figure out what to do.

In twenty years, the police never came to the camp. Now I have to leave a phone number, and people do call. As I said, I hate telephones…

Several minutes of silence ensued before I heard Kris’s voice.

“What do you want?” she said between huffs and puffs (it’s a long uphill climb to the cabin from the beach). “I was in the water. This better be good.”

I probably should have sent the State Police to interrogate her…

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