Life is a Carnival

I’m itching at the heels to go back to Mexico.  That got me thinking about my one and only previous cruise vacation.  This is technically a repost, but it’ll be new to most people.

Carnival Time

To say I wasn’t excited was an understatement. I was glad to be off work and to be getting the hell out of Louisiana, but the truth is, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy being on a cruise to Mexico. I had heard plenty of good things about Carnival Cruise Line, but there were just other things I wanted to do first. When my Mother, who had paid for my experience, asked if I was excited, I responded with an underwhelming “yeah…” hoping she wouldn’t notice my lack of enthusiasm. My brother Aaron and his friends Blake and Whitney were meeting me on the ship. Mom dropped me off, reminiscing about her cruise experiences all the while. I’d expected the three of them to arrive late, so I was surprised to see Aaron already in line when I got there. I’d heard the check- in process was a pain in the ass, but it went very quickly, and before I knew it we were on the ship.

It’s funny how I don’t realize how overly critical I am. I’ve spent so much time at Walt Disney World in the last five years that I have taken to comparing all other vacation experiences to them. Looking back now, I have to say it’s a drawback. There are so many things that Disney does better than Carnival, but the cruise is a different animal; a different experience. As I walked into the main lobby for the first time, I should have appreciated it for what it was instead of comparing it to a Holiday Inn. But that’s what it seemed like to me, as I looked at the rooms, pools and general facilities, a three star hotel, when I had been used to a five star vacation.

I walked around a lot on that first day. As I sat out at the pool, listening to Dierks Bentley on my MP3 and staring at girls in bikinis, I couldn’t help but think “Is this all there is?” Later on I watched two home-grown game shows they put on with the guests as their contestants; their versions of Jeopardy and Deal or No Deal. It was entertaining, and the hosts were funny, but I still wasn’t impressed. Still, I had intended to make the most of my time, so I wandered around the ship looking for things to do. We had the latest seating for dinner, 8pm. When we arrived, the line was around the block, but it was disorganized, so we accident ended up cutting almost everyone in line. They sat us at an 8 top table, which was confusing because there were four of us. I just assumed they had given us each a seat to put our feet up. Just then a family of four came over, and our head waiter informed us that we would all be sitting together. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but I introduced myself, and they turned out to be great people. The father, Jason, sold pharmaceuticals out of Tex-Arkana. The mother, who’s name escapes me (but she was hot) was interested in photography and had the same camera as me. They had two children. The eldest was around ten and was clearly the responsible one, minding his father and doting upon his mother. The youngest was four and seemed to be the adventuresome one, the one who would get into things as he got older. They were a really nice family, exactly what I want some day.

The food is my one real complaint about Carnival. It was by far the biggest disappointment. I had heard that each meal was spectacular and endless. Endless it was; you could get as much as you want and there was always something available 24 hours a day. The quality however, was another matter entirely. It was edible, but bland. They clearly spent more time worrying about the presentation than the flavor. Some have pointed out that my taste buds are used to New Orleans cooking. Be that as it may, the head chef was clearly trained at a high class restaurant and culinary arts school; no one ever told him about spices? Still, I never went hungry.

Dinner took about an hour and a half. Later, I decided to go for a late night hot tub dip. Normally the hot tubs were always full, but very few people were up on the deck at night. There were only two guys there. I had hoped for bikini-clad women, but I was just happy to have access to the hot tub. Of course, as soon as I sat down they started talking to me, which always aggravates me. They turned out to be really nice guys, but of course they have to ask about New Orleans. I told them the truth that no one ever hears about on CNN. To my surprise, they listened and understood, and told me about Missouri where they were from. After that I went to bed.

Tuesday was a full day at sea. I awoke at 7 am to find the ship rocking back and forth. To tell the truth, I was unprepared for that. It never occurred to me that the currents were so strong that they could make a ship that size rock so much. With Whitney still asleep, Aaron, Blake and I went to the buffet for breakfast. It wasn’t bad. Most of Tuesday was more of the same. I went out to the deck for some hot tub time, then laid out with my MP3 (one of my favorite personal items ever) to take in the scenery. Then I explored some more in order to familiarize myself with the ship. I got Aaron and I a pair of watches to keep us on schedule since our cell phones didn’t work. When I went back to the room, I found the daily newspaper which Carnival used to inform their guests of the daily events and schedule. I noticed that the first of two Captain’s Receptions (one before each dinner seating) was about to begin. I had no idea what it was, but I figured it was better than sitting in my room. When I got upstairs to the Universe Lounge (the main stage and meeting room) I noticed everyone was dressed up. I was aware that Tuesday night was formal night, but had assumed that was primarily for dinner. I asked what was going on, and was informed that this was a cocktail party hosted by the Captain. I immediately went down stairs to shower, shave and put on formal attire. I arrived during the last half of the party.

I’m not vain. I’m well aware of my physical appearance, but I love dressing up. I know a lot about style, and I’m a great dresser. More to the point, I look sharp in a suit. Sure, everything I put on was from Target, but I looked better than almost every guy there. Yeah, I get the irony. It sounds vain. But it isn’t clothes that make the man; it’s the way he feels in his clothes. When I put on a coat and tie, I feel like I could take on the world. Most guys turn into ten year old boys when they put on a tie. They hate it and it shows. But I digress.

When I got there, the band was playing and a young woman was singing a Sinatra song while several couple danced on stage. I stood there, watching them dance and taking in the music; you couldn’t help but feel the magic and romance of the moment. When the song ended, they began the Captain and crew introductions. I only half listened, because I really didn’t care who my Purser was or who yelled at my cabin steward. I sat there by myself, feeling lonely and thinking about those couples, thinking about how I had no one. “Not tonight” I thought, “tonight I’m going to dance.” I surveyed the audience and chose my target, a pretty brunette, sitting with her friend. Shortly thereafter, the Captain finished his introductions and the band started the final dance, playing Fools Rush In. I gathered my wits about me and walked over to her. I leaned over from behind her, tapped her on the shoulder and looked her in the eyes. “Excuse me, Miss,” I said, “I’m a horrible dancer, but I’m all dressed up. Would you do me the honor?” And she looked at me and smiled. “Sure.” And just like that I was up on stage with a girl from Michigan. When it was over I thanked her for the dance, and went back down stairs. I got the other three dressed and showered, then we all went and found a booth for the next reception. It wasn’t really the kind of thing they enjoyed. I suppose I should have figured that. The thing is, I was born and raised white trash, and typically, I love it, but I’ve always had a taste for the finer things in life. I think it’s good to be raised in the dirt, it gives you strong roots; but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fly from time to time. I enjoyed the whole party this time. And when the Captain got up, I looked again for another girl. I handed my brother the camera and told him if it worked, that I wanted pictures. I used the same line and approach. Amy, the girl, informed me that she had a fiancé’, but she would be happy to dance with me. And there I was again.

Afterwards we all went to dinner. Aaron had been developing a headache all day from the ship’s constant rocking. Jason, our table mate, gave him some Dramamine, but it didn’t work fast enough, so I took him back to our room where he fell asleep. I felt guilty for leaving him, but there was nothing I could do but let him sleep it off. I had noticed in the paper that karaoke started at 9 pm. Anyone who knows me can tell you, I love singing. I know I suck, but nothing makes me happier, except maybe for a fast car. I was excited to find out it was a country crowd. I got up twice, singing Midnight Rider and a Dierks Bentley song. After an hour or so I went to check out the Disco down the hall. It was fairly hopping and there were plenty of hot girls, but they were playing rap, so I left. About midnight, a comedian from Tennessee (Tim something or other) was doing an R-rated show. I went and met Whitney and Blake on the balcony of the Universe lounge. The show was pretty good, but I was as aggravated as could be, because a 6 foot something frat guy (I call him Yeti) kept walking in front of us and talking loud. By the end of the show, I was ready to throw him off the boat. “If this motherfucker gets in front of us one more time,” I said to myself, “I swear to God, I’m’a whoop his ass.” (I get real southern when I’m pissed.) It didn’t come to that, though. I was tired, so I called it a night. We were due to arrive in Costa Maya around noon the next day, and I wanted to be well rested for my first time in another country.

Wednesday started off the same: breakfast, pool side, exploration. We were at port at by 11, and I went to get a lay of the land form the top deck. I’ve been in both oceans. I’ve seen the beaches of Clearwater and Santa Monica. I know what beauty is. So when I tell you that the water in Costa Maya was the most amazingly beautiful, bluest water I have ever seen in my life, I hope you understand the weight of that statement. Being from Louisiana, I’m so used to nasty water, but there I was in the Gulf of Mexico and I thought I was looking down into a pool. At 11:30 I went and ate lunch by myself. The three of them were due to go snorkeling, and I had no interest, so I booked a sightseeing tour of the beach and town. I was supposed to be at the dock for 12:30. I just barely made it. After signing a few “its okay if we kill you” forms, we were off in a military-style transport. The first stop was the beach. We were supposed to have access to kayaks, which I really wanted to try, but the water was too choppy, and they wouldn’t let us take them. Instead, I put down my gear and got in some splash time. Then I found myself a hammock, turned on some Kenny Chesney and enjoyed one of the most peaceful hours I’ve had in a long time. Next we took a tour of the area. It was interesting, but after a while, if you’ve seen one poor hut, you’ve seen them all. Curiously, some of these people had houses with straw roofs, but drove Chevy Trailblazers. I didn’t really get that. Our last stop was the Costa Mayan village. It was pretty much a giant flee market. When I got back to port, I looked around at the port shops, which were much cleaner. I got some quesadillas at one of the bars. The really cool thing was that I was right across from one of those Mexican pool bars, where the girls stand around half naked and drinking in the pool. When I was done eating, I got myself another cowboy hat and went back to the ship. I took another nap by the pool, and then went to my room to change.

The bad thing about having a late seating dinner is that there’s usually something going on at 8 o’clock. I noticed that there was a ballroom dance class going on that night. Now, I know what most guys will think when they read this, but I don’t care. I’ve always wanted to learn to be a good dancer. Someday I hope to be married, and I would actually like to dance with my bride on that day. I don’t think there’s anything effeminate about that. So I skipped dinner. It turned out to be a class on how to Cha- Cha. Not exactly what I had in mind, but I stuck it out. A very nice girl named Rene agreed to be my partner. After half an hour, I knew how to cha-cha, not very well mind you, but I have the basics down. When it was over I went back down to my room to rest. As I lay there, a girl of about nineteen walked into my room holding a disposable camera. “Ready for a picture?” she asked. I thought it was a little weird, but I agreed. As I tried to take the camera from her, she said “no.” Then she pulled me close to her and held the camera in front of us and snapped it. Then she ran down the hall giggling with her friend. “If I had known she was going to do that”, I thought “I would have kissed her as she took the picture.” And that’s when it occurred to me. I was proud of the fact that I had asked those girls to dance. It wasn’t something I would normally do; I’m just not wired that way. But I did it. I didn’t back down. That was the important part to me. Success and failure are irrelevant; all that matters is that I don’t give up. And as I went over what just happened, I realized I couldn’t stop with those successes, I couldn’t give up there. I had to top myself. Despite the condoms I had bought just in case, I didn’t expect to actually have sex. That would have been expecting a lot of me to try and sleep with someone. So instead I determined to get a kiss. Two kissed actually, from two of the prettiest girls I could find. Thursday would be spent all day in Cozumel, but Friday was another full day at sea, and that would be my chance.

The next morning Aaron and I got breakfast together. I had booked us on an off road kart excursion; basically it was a big two-seater dune buggy. Cozumel’s pier had been destroyed by hurricane Wilma, so we had to take a ferry to the port. Our tour representative put us in a Suburban cab to their business, which was several miles down on the island. Unfortunately she didn’t happen to mention two important facts. One: Mexicans drive like they learned phonetically by watching Nascar races. Two: there are no speed limits, stop signs or traffic lights in Cozumel. I have never been so scared in a vehicle in my life. We nearly hit 8 people and 12 cars. We were introduced to our tour guide, Adrian when we go there. After a short speech, we got in the karts. Aaron took the wheel first. It was… a bumpy ride… and he nearly rammed one of the tour guides. It was really fun though. Later we switched sides. It turns out the wheels on our kart were severely misaligned. When I tried to drive it, I hit it a slick patch of dirt and we went flying off to the left. The kart nearly flipped over, but I managed to stop the tires with my foot just in time. The tour guide switched karts with us, which greatly improved the steering. I let Aaron drive for the last third of the trip. When we got back to our port, we went shopping, which is pretty much all there is to do at the port. We met up with Blake and Whitney, and Aaron went off with them, while I went back to the ship to lay out by the pool. That night at dinner, Whitney surprised Aaron with a birthday cake. He was embarrassed, but he was a good sport about it.

Aaron went to bed again, while the three of us went to see Phat Kat, the comedian perform. It was actually pretty funny. Thursday night was also the night of the big party on the pool deck. I figured that was as good a time as any to start on my promise. Whitney went to sleep while Blake walked around with me. I was nervous, so I held off for a while before talking to any girls. I really didn’t want to be there, because all they were playing was c-rap, but I made a promise, and I was going to stick with it. Eventually I said screw it and walked over to one of the cuter ones. Unfortunately, when I tried to get her attention, she gave me a really dirty look and walked off. Bitch. But then I ran across a really hot girl with black hair. I gathered my nerve and walked over to her. “Excuse me,” I stuttered, “I made a promise to myself that I would kiss two of the prettiest girls on the ship; could you help me out?” “I’ll kiss you on the cheek.”, she said. Then she grabbed her friend who was dancing and they each took a cheek. Unfortunately Blake screwed up the picture. So I fulfilled my goal, but I had no evidence, which in my mind meant that I needed to start over. It had to wait until Friday though, because I was tired.

Friday I woke early, because I had a 9 am massage and I wanted breakfast first. I let Aaron sleep and went by myself. The massage was kind of rough to be honest. I’m glad I went and did it, but I prefer soft touches in a massage. I want to relax. This chick was out to inflict pain. I feel sorry for the guy that left her. I went out for a little more pool time, hoping to run across a girl I could talk to. No such luck. I met up with the three of them later for lunch at the buffet. Afterwards I went on a scavenger hunt with three strangers. We lost… badly. I went to a couple more shows in the Universe Lounge. Later I got hungry again and the four of us went to eat by the pool. While we were waiting in line for our food, Aaron disappeared. When he turned up again, he was doing the limbo with a margarita in his hand. Then he started dancing with a girl on stage. It was the most life I’d seen in him since the trip had begun. I was sort of shocked.

After that, time seemed to run out very quickly. We had one final dinner with our friends. Aaron and I dressed up again for our final night. We took pictures and talked. At 9 I went to sing for the fourth night in a row, but this time the 3 of them came with me. Whitney even sang. I looked around for a girl to ask, but I couldn’t find anyone that wasn’t with a boyfriend or a big group. There was one final R-rated show with Phat Kat at midnight, which Aaron also went to. Afterwards I walked around the ship into the wee hours of the morning. I stopped in on the Disco and ran into “Yeti”. He saw me standing there and flicked my collar for some reason. I didn’t exactly have a sense of humor about the situation. I looked him in the eyes and told him “You need to get the fuck away from me right now.” He did it, but I was already pissed and left. After a while, I decided that I just wasn’t going to meet my goal. I was disappointed, but I have to learn that it’s okay not to meet every expectation.

I had a pretty great time. To tell the truth, I could have used a few more days. As I talked to a friend about it earlier, I realized just how great it actually was. For five days I stopped worrying about all my problems, I stopped cursing, I slept well, I did things I’ve never done before and I had a good time. I can’t remember the last time that happened. I think I’ll sleep well tonight, dreaming about a beach in Mexico.

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