Cruising with Teens
After a couple of ring tones, a voice with an unidentifiable accent came on the line.
“Mr. X, we have been watching your habits.”
“What the heck…”
“I think we have a way to save you some money,” the message continued.
“Now you’re talkin’.”
“Please come to the Beta Computer Center on deck 3.”
Kris was hovering nearby as I hung up the phone.
“What is it? What did they do? Are they in the brig?”
I tried not to smile, but I couldn’t play it straight. “It’s nothing. The computer people want to sell me a package deal, that’s all.”
I went back to looking out the window. The seas were calm, and land was visible on the western horizon. I wasn’t sure if we’d be traveling off the coast of Cuba, but the land looked flat so it was probably part of the Bahamian chain.
“I need coffee,” said Kris with a slightly pleading inflection.
I threw on some clothes, found our insulated mugs and headed out for the Ocean Cafe. I was up the two flights of stairs before remembering my elevator vow. New rule: Three flights or less, use the stairs.
When I returned with the coffee, we sat in the matching chairs looking out the window and perusing the activity guide. A verandah would have been nice right about now, but the view was very enjoyable in air-conditioned comfort.
After a period of quiet contemplation, Kris broke the silence. “I wonder if they have a brig on these ships.”
By 10:00, we were dressed and had a plan: Breakfast, sun, lunch, relax, formal tea, T-pool, relax, formal dinner, show, casino, collapse.
“Should we wake the boys?”
“Nah. Let ‘em sleep. If we haven’t seen them by lunchtime we’ll get them up. Yesterday was a long day.”
The buffet was in transition from ‘big breakfast’ to ‘light breakfast’, so we ended up something in between – medium breakfast, I suppose. We walked outside to the seating area on the stern and headed for an open table.
“Hey! Over here.” The voice sounded familiar. Dan and Wells were eating their breakfast at a nearby table. We joined them.
“So, what do you think so far?” I asked.
“This is awesome,” said Wells.
“Yeah. This is almost as good as the best vacation I ever went on,” added Dan.
“Where was that one?”
“We went hiking in Vermont,” he replied.
I almost spit my coffee. “Hiking? Did you have a breakfast like this?”
“No. But we had a lot of fun.”
Dan needed more time to adjust, I reasoned.
“You’re up early. Did you go to bed right after you left us?” asked Kris.
“No,” replied Wells. He is a great conservator of words.
“So, what did you do?”
“We were out here.”
“Listening to a guy play guitar.”
“What kind of guitar?”
“Acoustic or electric?” I piped in.
This was starting to sound like an interrogation. Thankfully, Dan came to the rescue. “Yeah, he was really good. It was nice just to sit out here and talk to people. Everybody is really nice. Seems like a lot of people came from Canada.”
“Well, you live in a place that’s a lot like Canada this time of year. Where would you rather be right now?” I asked.
“Yeah, I guess that’s true,” replied Dan.
“We had a bucket of Coronas,” said Wells, out of the blue.
“Where did you get that idea?” I already knew the answer.
“How many Coronas fit in a bucket?”
“I’ve never seen a bucket of beer offered on any of the drink menus. You just asked for a bucket of Coronas and the waiter knew what you were talking about?”
“Huh. What kind of bucket did you get? Was it on wheels?”
“No. It was silver and big. It took him a while to get it, but he said he was happy to do it.”
“How much does a bucket of Coronas cost?”
“Six for the price of five.”
That’s my boy. Quantity discounts…
“So when did you go to bed?” asked Kris.
“Two,” the boys replied in unison.
After breakfast, we parted ways with Dan and Wells, agreeing meet around the T-pool at 5:00 or thereabouts. Kris and I went back to the room and packed up for some time in the sun.
“I want to run down to the computer room and take care of that business first,” I said. “I’ll find you out by the pool.”
The computer center is on deck 3 near the excursion desk. A class of some sort was being held, so I wandered in circles for a while waiting for it to end. Eventually I was able to get in and wait my turn. People from the class had surrounded the staff members, trying to wring out more tips on digital photography.
The crowd dwindled, and I spotted an unoccupied staffer. The young man explained the options. Several fixed price/time packages were available, and I settled on one that allowed us 100 minutes of internet connection for $70. It took several minutes to get that set up.
Back upstairs, I realized that I had just spent about an hour of my vacation to save $5. That was dumb. I could have been sunburned already. I rinsed the mugs and made two G&T’s. There – I saved $10 in two minutes. Much more practical.
The pool deck was mobbed, and Kris was nowhere in sight. I made my way forward to the upper sun decks, and found her on deck 11 along the side rail.
“This is the best you could do?” The wind was blowing about 30 mph, and I had to shout to be heard.
“All the lounge chairs by the pool were taken. Hardly anybody was sitting in them, though.”
“Chairhogs. Common on cruise ships.”
“I can’t hear you.”
I gave up and walked all the way to the front of the ship where a big glass windscreen provided shelter to dozens of empty lounge chairs. I hogged a chair with my bag, and went back for Kris.
“There’s a better spot up here,” I shouted.
She put a hand to her ear and gave me a puzzled look, so I just waved my arms and pointed until she got the idea.
This turned out to be our spot for the rest of the cruise. It was pleasant – just enough of a breeze to keep us comfortable. I applied some sunscreen to the tops of my feet and ankles – the areas that always get burned. Kris was taking no chances, and repeated slathered SPF 45 everywhere.
The view over the bow was neat. The view in the other direction took in the topless deck (deck 13). The railings were covered with canvas material, so the occupants could not be seen from below. That did not entirely eliminate the potential for spectacle, however. Every now and then, someone would go up the stairs for a look. After I while, I started to categorize them:
*The Blunderers – this type, often elderly couples, would take the stairs up to the topless deck simply because they were there. They failed to read the big sign at the bottom advertising the purpose of the deck. Invariably, they got to the top and did an immediate about face.
*The Peepers – this type, usually men wandering alone, would pretend not to see the sign and march up the steps knowing full well what was up there. At the top, they shaded their eyes and carefully scanned the scene, ostensibly looking for their wives who were no doubt saving them chairs down on the pool deck.
*The Newbies – Sometimes people would actually go up there to sunbathe. This type included groups of two or more women (usually youngish) and couples of all ages who would reach the bottom of the stairs and deliberate about actually going up. About 50% of this group never got to the top, and therefore never got topless. The other half probably got painful sunburns.
*The Pros – These people knew exactly where they were going and moved with purpose. No doubt, they had strategically applied sunscreen to sensitive areas one hour earlier.
I turned to Kris and interrupted her reading. “Want to go up on the topless deck?”
“No,” she answered.
And that defines the fifth and final category, the Not Interesteds.
I was listening to some Dave Matthews on my MP3 player, drinking my G&T and glancing through a New Yorker magazine when a man walked briskly onto the deck. Two children, a girl of about six and a heavyset boy no older than 9, followed him. The man shaded his eyes and scanned the crowd on our deck
“Wrong deck,” I said to myself.
The boy was very animated, jumping and spinning in place. He spotted the stairs.
“Hey dad, can I go up there?”
“Sure. Go ahead,” said the distracted father, who immediately started a march to the opposite side of the ship.
The boy began the climb as a Blunderer. When he reached the top he stopped in mid stride and froze in place. He put his hand to his forehead and completed the transformation to Peeper.
Eventually, he turned and shouted to his father below. “HEY DAD! YOU GOTTA COME UP HERE!”
The father was now looking over the side of the ship, his daughter clinging to his side. “NOT RIGHT NOW.”
“DAD! COME ‘ERE. YOU GOTTA SEE THIS!”
The father turned and walked briskly by the ‘topless’ sign without notice. “Come on, let’s go.”
The boy turned for one last look, and them ambled down the stairs after his father. “Dad. Dad. Wait up. Dad. You should’ve…Daaad!”
When we returned to 8106 to get changed for lunch I was pink from head to toe, except for oddly shaped patches of white on my feet and ankles. Kris looked like she hadn’t been in the sun in six months.
“It’s not fair. How come you always get color and I don’t? I was out there twice as long as you were.”
I couldn’t think of a low risk answer.
After lunch, we relaxed for a bit and then dressed for tea. An invitation to Formal Tea in the Olympic had materialized the night before. On the Galaxy we never made it to teatime, much to Kris’s disappointment.
Kris double-checked the invitation.
“Oh, no. You have to wear a jacket.”
“You didn’t bring a jacket. Remember?”
We had worked out a strategy that eliminated the need for the three men to bring suit jackets. We would wear the tuxes 3 times — twice for formal nights, and again on the single informal night, when we had reservations for the Olympic. I was proud of the plan. Simple. Elegant. Besides, neither of the boys even owned a jacket so we saved a bundle, too. When I was packing, one of the little voices in my head said, “You’d better bring a jacket, just in case.” So I did.
“No problem. I’ll just wear the tux,” I said.
“Don’t you think that’s a bit much for tea? You’ll look silly.”
“Well they call it ‘formal’ tea, don’t they? You’re going to wear a gown, aren’t you?”
“No. I was just planning to wear a nice dress….Don’t you think that’s good enough?…Do you really think I should wear one of my formal outfits?…If you’re in a tux, I’ll have to wear something really nice. I don’t want to wear the same thing twice, though. Do you think anyone would notice?…”
I went in to the bedroom to dress. With the separate rooms, Kris could not see me as I changed into my jacket and decent slacks. Her quandary over dressing continued until I emerged dressed and ready to go.
“Aren’t you dressed yet?”
“No, I don’t know what to wear because you…” Her words tapered off as she shot me a look. I’m always amazed when she fails to detect one of my ruses. I’m such a tease…
We found the Olympic on deck 3. We were early, so we examined several displays that recounted the history of the restaurant’s rooms, salvaged long ago from the Titantic’s sister ship. A couple walked past us and into the restaurant. We followed them.
Winnie, the social hostess, greeted us at the door. We exchanged pleasantries before being seated at a table for two. I was surprised that two big tables for eight were already filled, and somewhat disappointed that we were seated alone. Most of the fun to be had at shipboard eating events is getting acquainted with some perfect strangers.
The restaurant was quite beautiful. An ice carving stood melting behind us. A violin and piano duo played requests in the corner of the room, and they sounded quite good. We selected teas from a carved box, and waiters delivered dessert items from a big cart.
“There are only twenty people here,” I remarked to Kris.
“I know. It’s unbelievable. This is so nice, why would anyone not come?”
The invitation came from the Captain’s Club, so probably half the ship was eligible to attend. We’re still just ‘classic’ members, so this event was apparently not restricted to the more advanced levels.
After tea, we wandered into the forward room of the Olympic and found the wine ‘cellar’. It is about 16 feet square, with one large table in the center and walls lined with wines.
Kris picked up a menu from the sideboard, opened it, and drew a sharp breath.
“Look at this!” she exclaimed.
I did, and drew a sharp breath. Why? See for yourself in the picture below (click it for a readable image).
Swinging doors at the far end of the room opened, and a man briskly walked through and out into the main dining area. “This is a private dining room,” he said without breaking stride. I didn’t take it as an invitation to leave, but thought it better to get out of there nonetheless — before one of us fell over and broke something. We’d have to sell the house to pay the damages.
There was no one around as we left the Olympic. As we stepped out into the lobby, I heard a strange mechanical noise and felt a rumbling under foot. I looked around just in time to see a heavy steel door slide fully closed, blocking the entrance to the restaurant. Like Ft. Knox, there’s gold in there…
At 5:00, we stepped into an empty hot tub in the t-pool area. Right on schedule, Dan and Wells showed up. For the next 90 minutes, we relaxed in the water and talked. The boys spent the day mainly around the pool, and it sounded like they had made some friends.
Sunset provided us with our cue to head back to the room to prepare for formal dinner. I took a few pictures on the way back to the cabin, and was surprised at how fast the sun disappeared behind the horizon.
I put the goodies that Paul had left in the fridge, and took my sweet time getting ready. When the boys arrived dressed for dinner at 7:45, I called for a round of espresso.
Ever observant, I noticed something odd about Wells’s attire. The tux fit fine, but he was barefoot.
“Forget something?” I asked.
“I didn’t bring any black socks, and you guys packed my shoes in your big bag.”
I remedied the situation. When Kris joined us, her eyes did the sparkly thing again. There’s nothing like an escort of three men in tuxedos to put a twinkle in the eye.
Paul rang the doorbell and entered with the espressos.
“Oh, can I have a cappuccino please?” asked Dan.
I tried to talk him out of it, but Paul said “Certainly sir, it will be my pleasure,” and he was gone in a flash. It couldn’t have been more than 3 minutes before he returned with another tray.
I retrieved the goodies from cold storage, and we sat at the dining table to eat and drink. It must have been quite a sight – the Celebrity Suite Hillbillies all dressed up, sipping caffeine-laden beverages and eating canapés.
At 8:20 we marched out of the room. Kris and I took the lead, and our ‘Formal Charges’ fell into step behind us. The glass elevator whisked us down to deck 4, and we entered the Metropolitan. Our table was still empty, and the remainder of the previous night’s wine was waiting. Albert brought the menus, and we took our time deciding.
After five minutes, I was pretty sure about it.
“Out tablemates are dining with the captain,” I said to Kris.
“How do you know?”
Wells made a grab for the wine.
“Hey, you’re supposed to wait for the sommelier to do that.”
Hmmm… “I don’t know. That’s just the way it is. Pour me some, too.”
Everyone got a little wine before the bottle was empty. I was looking around for our sommelier when a commotion arose nearby in the open area of the dining room. Kent came around the partition brandishing a drink, a thumbs-up and a big smile. He almost made it to the table before the social hostess redirected him to the group being seated with the Captain.
“Oh, that’s so great. They’re going to have a wonderful time,” said Kris.
The maitre’d appeared at our table, I suppose to console us over the loss of dining companionship.
“Ah, your lucky tablemates are dining with the Captain tonight.”
“I hope the Captain is prepared. Who is the gentleman at the far end of the table?” I was referring to a striking man of East Indian descent who I had seen several times around the ship.
“That is Anand Armitraj, a famous tennis player. He is giving paddle tennis clinics while on board.”
The name rang a faint bell. Later, I looked him up. His brother Vijay Armitraj was better known, but both made their mark. Vijay actually had roles in at least two James Bond films.
We had a fine dinner, but the table was kind of lonely.
“Kent finally found somebody to buy him some wine,” I said.
Kris smiled. “He must be lovin’ it.”
“Don’t you think you might regret that later?”
“Nah,” he replied.
We all moseyed on down to the theater for the night’s show, a Broadway Revue. We sat along the side in the Balcony. I started taking pictures, and a couple from Texas sat down next to me and began asking questions about the button-covered digital camera I was using. We got wrapped up in tech talk for several minutes. When I looked back at Kris and the boys, they were all drinking champagne.
Kris gave me a response that might have been honest, but it was not entirely satisfactory. “I don’t know,” she said.
The show began with a tribute to a couple who were on their 100th Celebrity cruise. They had been at the Captains table, and the man was summoned on to the stage and introduced as Roger. I guess his wife Shirley was too shy to make an appearance. Roger sat in a chair while scantily clad performers danced around and on him, much to the crowd’s delight.
The regular show got off to a roaring start and kept up the pace for quite a while. One uplifting old favorite after another kept everyone’s appreciative attention. Then it happened…
The set was changed and the cast began to perform selections from Phantom of the Opera. It is a fine show, but the switch in genre had a hypnotic effect on many in the audience. Hypnotic as in “You are getting sleepy”.
I was fighting the feeling, and when I looked over at the boys their eyes were glazing. I began watching the band for distraction – they occupied the end of the balcony just 40 feet away. After several long numbers, the Phantom segment was over.
“OK,” I thought. “Let’s kick it up a few notches.”
I could not believe what happened next. The cast launched into a number from Les Miserables. Another fine show, but the 1-2 punch was a sure knockout. Kris is always reduced to tears when she hears ‘Les Mis’. I looked in my pocket for some tissue, and came up with a paper napkin.
I went to hand her the napkin, but she appeared to be in control.
“I can’t believe they’re doing this after Phantom,” she said. She pointed to the boys, who appeared to be in a trance. The sugar load had hit Wells, and he was sweating profusely. Dan must have dozed momentarily, because his eyes rolled up and his head pitched forward. He caught himself before his chin hit his chest.
I gave Kris the napkin.
“Give this to Wells. He needs it.”
Wells wiped his brow and removed his jacket.
The cast did several tunes from the show, nicely staged and capably performed. It was, however, the wrong material at the wrong time. The only feeling we all had when it was over was relief.
The relief was short-lived however. Edwin, the cruise director, took over the stage and launched into a lengthy promotional speech. When he concluded thanking the performers, thanking Roger and Shirley, thanking the crew and the Captain, describing every bar and lounge on the ship, the spa, the dining options and the entire Celebrity fleet I was very thankful. I figured if I didn’t get to the men’s room in less than a minute, something bad was going to happen. I prepared to applaud and scram.
Nope. Time for another ‘2 punch’ – highlights for ‘tomorrow’, which had actually been ‘today’ for quite a while now. It all led up to a pitch for Casa de Campo designed to make everyone salivate at the prospect of getting off the ship and doing something there.
The house lights came up as I crossed my legs for the hundredth time. I was glad that no one thought to grab a drink for me earlier.
Before I could attend to my own needs, I felt obligated to address the boys.
“Gentlemen, thank you for being good sports tonight. I’m sorry if it was like Chinese water torture. The CruiseCritic party is at 11 am in Michael’s Club, and I expect you to make an appearance. Dismissed.”
I walked out with my knees together and located the proper place for relief. Feeling infinitely better, I found Kris waiting outside.
“Special treat tonight. It’s James Bond night in the Casino,” I began. Kris cooed, and her eyes twinkled. “For the occasion, I have brought not one, but two twenty dollar bills. We’re living large tonight.”
We made our way aft to the casino and for the first time entered it during business hours. It was absolutely mobbed. Traffic was not flowing at all. Entering on the port side, a craps table was situated so that only one person at a time could squeeze around the spectators. This was a main passageway for the whole deck, and I was surprised that some inspector hadn’t insisted on a reconfiguration of the fixtures.
We found perhaps the only two unoccupied slots in the place. I handed Kris a twenty, and said “Good luck.”
Within 10 minutes, she was broke.
“Well, you got 3 more minutes out of it than I did. C’mon, I know a better place to play James Bond. There’s chocolate candy there.”
We took the express elevator…