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This entry is part 11 of 25 in the series Cruising With the Mothers
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Today, Kris and I celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary. Seems like yesterday…

“Are you checked in?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Pat, waiving her ticket book and welcome-aboard folder. “I didn’t have any problem.”

“Good. Kris is right over there,” I said. “Why don’t you keep her company while we get this straightened out?”

“OK, good luck,” said Pat, and she wandered off.

I opened my portfolio to the mother’s section, and extracted the entire transaction record for their booking. My mother finally noticed that I was there. “Sheesh, Chester. Nobody had trouble but me?” she asked.

“Just you,” I said. “They probably heard you were taking the bus and didn’t think you’d make it. What are they doing?”

“I’m not sure. He said he had to talk to a supervisor – that’s quite a conference going on over there. Are they going to let me on the ship?”

“I’m sure they will,” I said.

The three clerks broke their huddle and one of them came back to our position. “We’re very sorry about the confusion,” he said. “Here’s a temporary boarding pass. You’ll need to go to the Front Office after you board and get a regular card. Enjoy your trip.”

We thanked him, and joined Kris and Pat at the entrance to the ramp connecting to the ship. I paused to put the paperwork away. “OK, ready?”

“I’m ready,” said Pat. “Let’s go!”

We zigzagged up the ramp. I kept an eye on Pat out of concern that she’d have second thoughts about getting on a boat, even if it was bigger than a city block. I saw no hesitation at all as we struggled to keep up with her.

I’m not sure what deck we entered on. There was no fanfare as we stepped through the hatch and were immediately ushered into a waiting elevator, without time to even glance at our surroundings. A uniformed staff member was operating the self-service elevator, no doubt to keep us from wandering about unchecked while the ship was made ready. The man looked at me and started laughing. I glanced at my reflection in the mirrored wall, and saw nothing out of place. “What time is the midnight buffet?” he asked in broken English. “That is very funny.” Only then did I remember the slogan printed on our shirts.

In a few seconds, we emerged into a glittering lobby. More staff members directed us aft, tittering excitedly and laughing as we passed – the only words I could make out were “midnight buffet.” Through some doors, we traversed the Lido Pool area and entered the Lido Restaurant. Kris forged ahead, dumped her bags at a table on the starboard side and made a beeline for the buffet. “She’s hungry,” I said to the mothers.

“Shouldn’t we take our things to the rooms first?” asked my mother.

“The rooms are still being cleaned – they’ll announce when they’re ready. Hand me your stuff – I’ll put it over here.” There was a nice wide sill between the window and the table, and I stacked everything up neatly. “Time to eat,” I said.

“We’re not on the ship two minutes and we’re eating all ready,” said my mother. “So it’s true what they say – all you do on cruises is eat.”

“Well, it’s certainly the first thing you do,” I said.

“Are you sure we can just leave our things there?” Pat asked. “Is it safe?”

“They’ll be fine,” I said. “We’re with a good group.”

We wandered over to the buffet line and began to load up. “Good Lord,” said my mother, “this is more than we have at the musical club luncheons. I don’t know what I want.”

“Try some of everything,’ I said. We progressed slowly, with the mothers examining and commenting on the offerings. We all had a full meal on our trays before we even reached the hot entrée section.

“I didn’t know they had all these things, too,” said Pat. “I don’t have any more room on my tray. I’ll have to come back.”

“You’ll get the hang of it,” I said.

We eventually arrived back at the table, where Kris was already settled in. “Sorry, I couldn’t wait,” she said. “Oh, here comes the waiter. I wasn’t sure if anybody wanted a drink, so I asked him to come back when you got here.”

The waiter arrived promptly, only to be waived off in turn by Laura, Kris and me. Pat chimed in. “Well I’ll have a beer, please.” She was settling in just fine.

I took orders from the teetotalers, and set off to find the drink dispenser. As I passed a table just a few away from ours, I heard someone say “Chester.” I turned, but no one was looking my way. On the way back to the table carrying three glasses, I was surprised to see a familiar face.

“Chester!” said the face, which belonged to Mary, a coworker. Though we’ve known each other by sight and name for a decade, we’d never had the occasion to exchange more than a word or two. Mary introduced her husband, Steve. “We were just talking about our friend, Chester. Not you – another Chester. Then I look up, and there’s Chester. Isn’t that weird?”

At least I knew I wasn’t hearing things. From Mary and Steve, I gathered that this was their first cruise and that they were big fans of APHC. Were it not for this special charter they probably wouldn’t have ever thought to go on a cruise.

“I really don’t know what to expect,” said Mary. “I know we’ll like the entertainment, but I’m not sure about the rest. Have you been on a cruise before?”

“Yeah – this is my fourth in three years,” I said.

“So you must like cruising.”

“You could say that. We like it so much that we thought our mothers should try it – so we brought them along on this one.”

“You’re brave.”

“Either that, or crazy,” I said.

“They must be fans of the show, then – your mothers.”

“My mother-in-law certainly is. I’m pretty sure my mother has never even heard it,” I said. “She told me she listened once after I suggested it, but then she described what she heard and I think she might have been listening to some other program. She didn’t like it much.”

“Really? And she still wanted to come?”

“Sure – it’s an adventure,” I said. “I think the moms are going to love it. And you will, too.”

We bid our farewells, and I returned to the table with the drinks. We ate a leisurely lunch, and just as we finished, an announcement declared that the cabins were ready.

“Let’s get the moms settled first,” said Kris. I retrieved the bags from the windowsill and handed them out. I got my bags comfortably arranged and turned to join the ladies – only to discover that they were gone.

I figured I’d find them in the aft elevator lobby, which was no more than 50 feet from our table. Bad assumption. I fought my way through the crowd and found them at the forward elevators. “You went the wrong way. Our rooms are at the back.”

“Well, I didn’t know,” said Kris.

“No big deal. We’ll just take one of these elevators down, and walk back,” I said.

“Do we want to go up or down?” asked Kris.

“Down,” I answered.

Kris pushed the button, and an unmanned elevator arrived moments later. “What room are they in?” she asked.

“660,” Pat said. Kris pushed the button for deck six.

“660 is on deck four, the main deck.” I said.

“Why? Shouldn’t 660 be on six?” asked Kris.

“That’s an excellent question,” I admitted, “but they just don’t do it that way on this ship.”

“What room are we in?”

“220.”

“Deck two?” asked my mother.

“Eight,” I said. “The verandah deck.”

We arrived on deck four by way of deck six, and rounded the corner to enter the hallway. “Start walking,” I said. The mothers led the way.

“558, 562, 566…we’re on the wrong deck,” said Pat.

“Trust me,” I said.

“Oh, here – 602,” said Kris.

“Are we almost there?” said my mother.

“Not even close,” I said.

“Does this ever end?”

“If you hit water, turn around,” I said. “Actually, this is a small ship. You should see the big ones.”

“They need a people-mover like they have at the airport.”

At long last, we came to cabin 660. The key was a thick plastic card punched full of holes. Pat stuck it in the slot and tried the handle, but the door would not open. “Try pulling it back out, and then do the handle.”

“It still doesn’t work,” said Pat.

Kris got into the act. “Here, let me do it.” She tried the key every which way, to no avail.

Time to come to the rescue. “I’ll get it,” I said. Mechanical things are my specialty…

A short while later, I went in search of help. After walking half the length of the ship, I decided that the staff was hiding and returned to the cabin door. After what seemed like an eternity, a man carrying a bucket appeared. He didn’t understand the spoken explanation of the problem, but a demonstration got the point across. He stepped up, tried the lock with similar results, and said in universal sign language, “I’ll be back in a minute.” He returned with two more men. There were now seven people crowded around the reluctant door in the narrow hallway. Some of the neighbors chose this moment to show up, leading to a lot of jostling and “excuse me’s.”

Neither of the new recruits could get the key to work either, so one of them finally pulled out a master key and opened the door. At last we were in. The cabin was a pleasant surprise, spacious and well appointed. A clever curtain arrangement on the far wall fairly well convinced me that there was a window underneath, though I knew better.

“Oh, isn’t this lovely,” I heard my mother say. I looked up to see a huge flower arrangement on the vanity. Mom picked a card off the arrangement and read it aloud.

“With love to the moms. Bon Voyage! Kris and Chester.”

There – everything was perfect…

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