Cruising with Teens
Our memorable first visit to Nassau is chronicled in my book, What Time Is the Midnight Buffet?
I was reclining on a white sand beach under a strong tropical sun, clutching an ice cold G&T. Wells and Dan were in the perfect blue water, surrounded by an admiring gaggle of bikini-clad young women. Kris was absorbed in a book, playing warm sand between her toes. What a perfect way to spend the last day of the cruise.
As I drifted off to sleep, I could still feel the motion of the ship. Some indeterminate time later, as consciousness slowly spread through my brain, the feeling of motion was amplified. I awoke fully with a start, surrounded by darkness.
It took a moment to get my bearings and to realize that we were still on the ship. I slipped out of bed and tiptoed out the door and into the dining/living room. It was freezing cold, the result of having the thermostat turned down all the way to ward off the heat in St. Thomas the day before.
Raising the curtains revealed a stark monotone canvas, with an indistinct horizon dividing angry gray water from angry gray clouds. It looked like a stormy November day in New Hampshire. Without doubt, though, it was warmer here than it was back home. It was already 9:00, and the last day of the cruise was slipping by.
Kris didn’t stir as I showered and dressed optimistically in shorts and a t-shirt (if I had a CruiseCritic t-shirt I would have worn it – but that’s an old story). I decided not to disturb her since she rarely sleeps past 5:00. We’d be back to the routine soon enough.
I sprinted up the stairs carrying my oversize coffee mug, which I filled before venturing out to the rear deck. Once there, I turned right around and went to the cabin for a jacket. It was as cold as it looked outside – maybe 50 degrees with a stiff breeze. It made me think about ‘wind-chill factor’.
Kris was in the shower as I retrieved my polar fleece from the suitcase where it was supposed to remain until the flight home. I told her where to meet me, and advised that she dress appropriately.
I sat out in the breeze drinking hot coffee until Kris showed up. We went in to fetch some breakfast, and were surprised by the arrival of Wells and Dan in the buffet. Fully loaded with food, we had no problem finding a table outside.
“It’s freezing out here,” said Dan.
“Yeah, I thought the Bahamas were supposed to be tropical,” added Wells.
“They are,” I answered. “Maybe it’ll clear up. It’s still early. We’re not due into Nassau until noon.”
“So, what are we doing today?” asked Dan
“I’m still hoping to go to the beach. Even if it only gets into the 60’s, as long as the sun is out it should be a good beach day,” I said hopefully.
Kris looked around skeptically. “I don’t know. It might just be a shopping day.” She went on to explain the Straw Market to the boys, and I told the tale of getting trapped in the courtyard of the commercial building on our previous visit. The boys recounted their experiences of the previous evening, which hadn’t ended until almost 5:00 a.m. Among other activities, Wells turned $20 into $200 playing blackjack.
“I still haven’t gotten up the nerve to try blackjack,” said Kris.
“Me neither,” I said. “But I’m glad you quit while you were ahead.”
“What did you think of the Grand Buffet?” asked Kris.
Dan gushed, “That was awesome! I couldn’t believe it.” Wells was suitable impressed, too. I was surprised to hear that they actually spent quite a bit of time there – long enough to sample some of the goodies.
After breakfast, we decided to return to our cabins rather than ‘chill out’ on deck. Time passed quickly, and when I began to see a number of small boats smashing through the high seas, I called the boy’s room.
A sleepy voice answered. “Huh?”
“Get up. We’re coming into port, and you should watch how they park this thing. It’s amazing.” We agreed to meet topside.
The boys found us leaning over the railing watching the pilot boat come alongside. The seas were so rough that the pilot’s transfer to Millennium was a stunt worthy of Hollywood. We went forward to watch as the ship nosed through the narrow opening of the harbor, turned 180 degrees on a dime, and backed ever-so-gently into the slip. The boys were appropriately impressed by the maneuver.
The character of the day hadn’t changed a bit. “Well, so much for the beach,” I said. “That’s too bad.”
We told the boys how to get to the Straw Market, pointing out the location along the waterfront. Kris gave them a motherly sendoff. “I guess we’ll see you at dinner. Have fun. Don’t get arrested. We have school day after tomorrow.”
Back in the cabin, I looked out the window. Way down below, a ship sat at the dock where Galaxy had tied up during our first cruise adventure. The ship looked tiny and kind of forlorn. She had the classic lines of an old ocean liner. Sadly, the glory was all but gone. The foredeck was littered with stacks of wood, metal and piles of other stuff hidden under blue tarps. I assumed that the ship was not in active use as a cruiser, and was perhaps undergoing restoration – that is until I saw a few people make their way down the steep stairway to the dock.
Kris decided to go shopping in town, but I remained uncertain about what to do.
“I’ve seen all the stores once already – that’s enough for me,” I said.
“I want to get something for my mother, and I was thinking about getting a gift for Albert’s new baby. What do you think?” (Albert, our waiter, was expecting his first child any day).
I was noncommittal in my response, as is my habit when it comes to shopping. “Whatever you think is best. I guess we’ll just meet up whenever.”
Kris was gone in a flash. I stayed behind and studied the ship below for quite a while. Unlike most cruise ships of today, she showed a lot of the business end of sailing. There were ropes, cranes, trap doors, pipes, wires, crates and winches all over the place. Plastic lounge chairs surrounded a tiny pool on the large rear deck. A hot tub bubbled to no one’s pleasure, and a bar was set up under a canvas shade – manned, but with no customers.
After a while, I decided to go down to the dock and identify our neighbor. It turned out to be the Regal Empress. I guessed that she dated from the 30’s, but later found out that the ship was built as an ocean liner in the early 50’s – originally christened Olympia – now in use for short trips from Florida to the Bahamas
Millennium completely dwarfed the smaller ship. I tried to imagine how different the experience must be, and wished I could board the ship just to look around. It would have been like a museum visit, which, given the weather, would have been a perfect activity for the day.
The wind was howling and the skies threatened, but that did not stop throngs of people from pouring out of the 5 or 6 ships in port. I meandered toward town, and paused to watch garbage being unloaded and carted away from another ship. I could feel the excitement building…
In town, I walked exactly one block before making my decision to turn around and re-board Millennium. Just to add a little spice to the day, I stopped and withdrew some cash from an ATM as some unsavory characters watched from the street corner. I walked away unmolested, fighting the tide of new arrivals as I returned to the ship.
Much to my surprise, Kris was in the cabin.
“What are you doing here? I asked.
“I got what I needed for my mother, and really didn’t feel like fighting the crowds.”
“Did you go to the Straw Market?”
“No way. It was crazy with people.”
“Did you get something for Albert’s baby?”
“I didn’t think you wanted me to.”
Huh – I thought it was a great idea. I’ll have to be clearer next time…
We decided to put on bathing suits under our winter coats and get some lunch at the pool grill. Amazingly, as we gathered our food, the sun came out. There wasn’t anyone at all on the pool deck who wasn’t working, so we had our pick. I took three lounge chairs for myself – one for sitting, one for my pack, and another to use as a table. The ultimate chair hog…
We had a good hour of sunshine, during which time another half dozen people joined us. The hot tub was marvelous. When it clouded over again, the wind carried a distinct chill and drove us to seek shelter.
“Let’s go to the t-pool,” Kris said. It was a quick trip, and the cavernous glass roofed space was warm and inviting. Among the few people present were Wells and Dan.
Kris greeted them. “Hey guys! How was it? Where’d you go? What’d you get?”
“We went to the Straw Market,” Dan answered. “I hated it.”
“Yeah, the people were pushy and their stuff wasn’t very good,” said Wells.
Both boys sported new Bob Marley shirts and some trinkets. “Where did you get those?” Kris asked.
“In a regular store,” said Dan.
“You didn’t buy anything at the market?”
It is some comfort that my family is not addicted to shopping. We all agreed that the ship was a great place to be on certain port days. We spent a leisurely afternoon eating goodies from the adjacent café and swimming in the warm pool.
At about 4:00, a noise that sounded like a jet’s roar arose. I found the source by looking up, where an intense downpour hit the glass roof and cascaded in rivers off the edge in a good imitation of Niagara. Within minutes, everyone must have returned to the ship and half of them gravitated to the t-pool.
“Well, gentlemen, looks like it’s time to go. You need to pack your bags before dinner – everything you don’t need tonight or tomorrow.”
“Why?” Wells asked.
“Because they collect the luggage tonight.”
“Why?” asked Dan.
Such inquisitive youth… “So they can get everyone off the ship in a hurry tomorrow morning and get ready for the next bunch.”
The boys headed back to their cabin looked dejected, and I knew exactly how they felt. Kris and I spent more than two hours packing, leaving the bed covered with suitcases. We had a few minutes to prepare tips and then relax before the doorbell signaled the boy’s arrival.
We looked around to make sure that nothing was left behind. Before leaving for the dining room, Kris said to the boys, “Can you please put our suitcases by the door so they can turn down the bed?”
Dan looked puzzled. “Wow, you guys have a heated bed?”
It took a moment for me to make the connection, and a moment after that, both Kris and Wells joined me in a good chuckle. Dan still looked puzzled until Kris explained the meaning of her phrase.
Dinner was subdued, but as usual our table was the last to empty. We exchanged information and farewells with Betsy, Nickie (fully recovered), Dave and Kent. Kris advised the boys to take it easy as they headed off for one more night’s carousing.
Kris and I went to the casino, and depleted our $20 allocation in about three and a half minutes – a new record. Back in the cabin, Kris was asleep in minutes. I sat and stared out the window. A reddish glow stood out on the horizon, and the televised map suggested that I was seeing Freeport.
Tomorrow would feature nothing more than a routine trip home – or so I hoped. It wouldn’t be long before Millennium docked in Florida, and I decided I’d rather sleep through it. In the bedroom, I ate both chocolates and slid under the covers. Pretty soon, we were all back on the beach in Nassau…