We're Cruising Now

The four of us stood on the small balcony of our stateroom, leaning over the rail, watching the ocean ripple past us as the three-dimensional view of the Florida coastline diminished into a thin line. We had actually done it. Despite our fears and all of the obstacles that had cropped up, we were on a cruise and Char hadn’t passed out yet or caused a panic.

With our adventure finally underway, only one thing occupied my mind. Food. I was finally hungry. We had stopped at McDonald’s on the way to Port Canaveral and picked up a couple of cheap burgers from the dollar menu, because we weren’t sure if they’d be serving lunch on the ship. Poor Char was so nervous, she was afraid to even eat a French fry for fear of puking it up. Besides, that McChicken had been four hours ago.

“Okay, girls, it’s time to eat. They said lunch was served by the pool.” It seemed an odd place for a buffet line, like a giant tease to kids who have been told, “You can’t go swimming for thirty minutes after eating.” Personally, I think it’s a great time to teach children the importance of making wise decisions. “Sure, you can go swimming, but if you get a cramp and drown, I’m not jumping in after you. I’m enjoying my key lime pie.”

When we arrived I realized that the buffet wasn’t exactly by the pool, just within close proximity. There was a stage between the two that was used for nighttime frolics and family fun.

The grill, however, was perfect for us. On one side were piles of what Char classified as normal food: hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries and chicken strips. On the other side steamed several Mediterranean dishes that Teri and Sarah relished. I helped myself to a little of everything. What can I say? I’m easily pleased.

And with the amount of food on the cruise, I was more than pleased. At home, even though we try to eat three good meals a day, it doesn’t always happen and most of us are lucky if we eat two. However, on the cruise we ate four times a day. We usually woke up at eight and were eating breakfast by eight-thirty. Lunch was gobbled down at noon, but since our fine dining experience wasn’t supposed to happen until eight-fifteen, it was important to grab a meal at five to keep starvation at bay. Usually that’s when Teri and Sarah had sushi for three while Char and I either had pizza or another hamburger. One day I had a hot dog, but it was nothing like 7-Eleven’s, so I didn’t do that again.

The hamburger and hot dog buffet was an every day availability while the other buffets usually changed to a different international cuisine. There was a salad bar, a deli, and a dessert buffet as well that seemed never-ending. You could also get pizza and ice-cream twenty-four hours a day. Ice cream for breakfast, now that’s a vacation! With all of this food at my fingertips I was going to need a bigger life preserver.

One of my biggest pastimes is people watching and I was able to do that quite a bit on the Sensation. There was actually 2,000 people plus crew to steal characters from. Outside of the individual oddities that roamed the decks, I knew of three different groups sharing the cruise with us. The first was some sort of Bible group having a retreat on the high seas, hopefully not based on Jonah’s adventures. Then there was a wedding party on board for a couple getting married in Nassau, and the third group I noticed was an after-wedding party. This couple actually brought their family on their honeymoon!

Now, there are quite a few trips I would take with my family, and upon arriving home the first thing the girls did was price a cruise for the eleven of us, which with Disney it’s cheaper to purchase a kidney. However, I couldn’t imagine going with Nathaniel and Christina on their honeymoon. It kind of gives me a creepy West Virginia feeling and makes me think of several Criminal Minds episodes I’ve seen. Of course, it could probably spin into a nice mystery-romance, so I stole the family in my notes.

After lunch, I started thinking about dinner. However, we had opted for the late dining experience, which meant I had three hours to go. So, the girls browsed our handy “Things to Do Today” list that had been waiting for us in our room while I continued to scope out the scenery.

We had chosen not to sign up for any excursions while on our vacation for two reasons. The first was cost. Expensive! The second was because it was our vacation and we didn’t want to be told what to do and when to do it. We had turned the schedules off the same time we had flipped our phones to AirplaneMode, which was confusing enough since we weren’t on a plane, but phones don’t have a “Bug Off, I’m On Vacation” mode. With the way technology is nowadays, I’m sure our phones knew the difference and were laughing at us going, “Silly humans.” Yet, shortly after we had boarded and bought our first Funship Special, I snapped a photo of the girls enjoying themselves, posted it to Facebook with a “Bon Voyage” and the four of us turned the phones off. There would be no outside contact for four days and we were ecstatic about it.

I, however, was a little apprehensive leaving the boys in the house unsupervised and worried what I would return to. They had jobs, which meant there was a cash flow of sorts, and at least two of them could buy liquor. They also had a thing for my fire pit and were loud as well as messy. Okay, I was a little more than apprehensive. Would I have a house to return to?

Before we had left for our four-day getaway, Teri had done her best to ensure a clean return. On the kitchen counter, taped so that it wouldn’t get “misplaced,” she stuck a note titled, “For Anyone Who Stays at This House Longer than Four hours.” She then listed several chores that had to be done before our return, such as dishes washed, trash taken out and floors vacuumed and mopped. It was a gallant effort, but I had seen the squalor the boys call their bathroom and I wasn’t holding out much hope.

To be honest, the no-schedule aspect of the cruise was one of my favorite parts. I loved not having to be anywhere at a certain time. Even though our dinner reservations were at 8:15 every night, we didn’t have to be there if we didn’t want to because the buffets were always open. Of course, the girls wanted the experience, so we did it, but that was our choice.

I could truly live my life this way, free of clocks and calendars. If I wanted to kick back and stare off at Mother Nature for awhile, or get lost in a novel or something I was writing, I could. I understand the need for deadlines being a freelance writer, but I also think that the fewer there are the more relaxed the human race could be to explore and enjoy the life around us.

It is within the freedom of those moments that we experience things that simply take our breath away. We had finished eating our lunch and ridiculing the other passengers when we decided to just retire to our stateroom and rest. The girls really wanted to take their time getting dressed for the evening and I wasn’t opposed to some peace and quiet.

As the girls rotated showers and blow dryers, I poured me a scotch, grabbed a cigar and headed for my little piece of Heaven, the balcony. It was in the solitude of that moment that I enjoyed one of those breath-taking experiences.

Sitting on the balcony, surrounded by the Atlantic, I watched the spectacle of colors that made up the sunset. There were no city lights, no honking horns, and in the solitude of my cabin, no screaming kids. Only the peaceful music of the ocean and the giggling of the girls as they were getting ready surrounded me. This was tranquility.

As the sky changed its colors like a slow moving kaleidoscope, I would knock on the glass and make the girls come out and watch, make them breath in the changing view. We had a VIP booth to one of the longest running shows to exist and I wasn’t going to miss a second of it.

Once the girls were all gussied up there was still plenty of time before dinner for some exploring, so we decided to see what the Atrium had to offer. Atrium, I discovered, was the name they gave their shipboard mall. There was your typical gift shop with tons of items that were stamped Carnival Sensation on them, but there were other specialty shops such as jewelry, cologne, tobacco, and liquor. It was the liquor section I found rather annoying at first; because you weren’t permitted to take your purchases back to your cabin and imbibe. No, you bought it and they held onto it until the final night of the cruise when they would then bring it to your cabin in a sealed box that you weren’t allowed to open even then. I didn’t see the point.

“I can buy booze back home. Why do I want to buy it here when I can’t drink it until I get home anyway?”

“Because it’s tax and duty free,” Teri answered. “It costs less.” She is always great at trying to save us money, because that means they can buy more stuff – especially shoes.

Tax-free I understood. The other I didn’t have a clue about. “What is duty?” It even sounded weird. Duty. It almost sounded like something you say in regards to newborns. “Coast is clear! His diaper is duty free.”

I found out later that “duty” is really just another word for tax. It’s a fee attached to goods by governments. If the merchant doesn’t have to pay these fees then we, the consumers, get the savings as well. I’m surprised there isn’t a Wal-Mart Ship floating around somewhere.

However, they did have some great deals on popular liquors, so I figured what the hell and bought six bottles, two of which we were tol