Continued from Caribbean Cruise Part VI
Well, now that I’ve gotten the Cozumel rant out of my system, I think I can wrap up this cruise series with a minimum of rancor and malevolence, especially since the final Sea Day and debarkation were more or less pretty good days. I’m going to combine those two days into one post since it was mostly more of the same, and debarkation and the drive home were fairly uneventful.
Morning, November 23rd, Final Sea Day
We woke up around 7:45 after a rejuvenating night’s rest, mostly recovered from the exertion of the last two days. We intended to spend the rest of the cruise being as lazy as possible.
We had breakfast in the Havana Bar which was quite tasty; some sort of egg pie, cheese pastries, and chicken brochette. The rest of the morning was spent lounging on the balcony with a couple of cigars and soft music on my phone, courtesy of Spotify.
Around 11:00 we went to the Ocean Plaza Taste Bar to see what they had to offer, hoping to see samples from the sushi restaurant and steakhouse, but it was more of the continental breakfast found on the Lido Deck. Not that that was a bad thing. We certainly had a good meal of eggs, toast, deli meats and cheeses.
Afterward, we strolled to the picture deck to see if we could find the pictures that were taken of us throughout the voyage. We found most of them, and they were pretty ghastly; as I’ve said before, Carnival’s photographers left much to be desired. I ended up buying the pictures from the formal dinner night, because damn I looked smooth in that tux, and my date was a hottie.
The photos were, like everything else on board, horribly overpriced–I only wanted a digital copy for $10, but you have to buy the proofs before they let you do that, so the grand total for those two pictures was about $30. But hey, memories and all.
My one big complaint for the day, and I feel this isn’t just a nitpick, was that one side of the picture deck carried the distinct odor of raw sewage. I don’t know if there was a leak somewhere or what, but it was unmistakable and rather disturbing, bringing to mind the news reports of the Triumph, or as I call it, the Dookie Ship.
After returning our pictures to the room, we went out to the Lido Deck for some sun, where we met up with an acquaintance we had made on board earlier in the cruise. Jay was a single cruiser with many cruises under his belt and had given us a lot of great information over the course of the week. He was staying in one of the Cloud Nine Spa rooms and offered to show us his cabin, as we hadn’t seen an interior cabin yet. It was quite nice and roomier than I would have expected, but even so the lack of windows would have made it uncomfortable to stay in for any length of time, in my opinion. I am hopelessly spoiled by that balcony.
Later we attended an art auction at the behest of madam. I didn’t care at all about the art auction, but they claimed free champagne, so why not?
We were there with about a dozen other people, all of them looking about as cultured as we did, so we reckoned they were there for the same thing. We were greeted by young British fellow who proceeded to show us a PowerPoint presentation (Strike 1) and lecture us (Strike 2) about the merits of spending a lot of money on art, particularly with his art house. His humor came across as pretentious and I quickly realized I did not like the smarmy little jackass. He went to great lengths to espouse the merits of his art house, especially that they did not–did not, I say!–deal in posters, prints, or reproductions, only originals! I turned my head to the right and noticed a print of the old anime, Speed Racer, and turned my head to the left and noticed a poster of Muhammad Ali–although it was autographed, so I suppose that makes it art. He went on to tell us that none of the art at this auction would be sub-$100 and cracked what he thought were smashing good jokes, such as, “It is expensive, yes, because this is fine art, not Wal-Mart,” and “I’m going to tell you right now that if you’re only here for the free champagne, you may as well run, because I freely admit that we serve the worst champagne imaginable. It’s so bad I call it…” Pause for effect, “Cham-pag-nee!” Ba-da-tssss. Good one there, old sport. God save the Queen and all.
His presentation ended and he showed us some of those adhesive tabs used to mark signature lines on forms and contracts, telling us in tones of admonishment, “I’m giving you all three tags, and I want each and every one of them to be placed on a piece of art so it will be tagged for tonight’s auction. My team spent all morning setting up these paintings for you, and they deserve respect. If I see anyone with tags left, I’m going to send you back out to tag some paintings.” (Strike 3, lil dog) It was about that time that we walked out. We were bored and had better things to do than be lectured and preemptively scolded by a salesman with delusions of class and good taste.
After we left the connoisseurs to their business, I went back to the room while milady went to play Bingo to try and pay for the cruise. She won a dollar which was nice, but I felt pain when she told me about the big winner. She had the choice between $2500, cash American, in her hand right then… or a free cruise. She chose the free cruise, I’m guessing for two, probably interior cheap rooms. A cruise doesn’t even cost half that price, ya mo-ron! No one that stupid should be allowed to win anything.
We wanted to check out some games in the casino, so off we went. there was some machine that made you push a button to try and time a key-shaped plunger so that it went through a small plexiglass hole to knock down a prize, which were actually pretty good; $200 cash, $200, $400 and an iPad Mini, some of them the iPad and cash. I wasted about $10 in that thing before giving up. We tried the slots and quickly lost another $5. We were determined to at least win our money back (famous last words, I know), so we picked one final machine–Gorilla Chief. Hey, monkeys and apes were apparently our spirit animals for the cruise, so why not?
Surprisingly, we won about $20 almost immediately. We took the money and ran. Looking like idiots, we took a selfie with the benevolent machine.
We had lunch at Guy’s and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the ship, particularly the almost completely deserted outer Deck 4, where we watched the ocean and spotted some more of those strange flying fish. It was very relaxing, and the ship’s wake made rainbows. It was the most relaxing spot on the ship thus far, other than the balcony.
At 4:00 we went to the Ocean Plaza for a towel animal demonstration, which was fairly interesting. They showed us how to make an elephant and a puppy. True to Carnival tradition, if we wanted to know more they would happily sell us a book of all their animals.
When we returned the room, we found a note from Jay, which cryptically said, “If you want a good dinner, ask for Nutuk.” Having no idea who or what that was, we thought it would make a fun scavenger hunt, so we went looking, hoping we would at least find our friend so he could explain himself. Our efforts were fruitless, as no one had any idea who that was in the Lido Deck Buffet or the Ocean Plaza, so we headed out to the outer deck, which was almost completely empty as the wind began to pick up. It howled through the wires and cables strung above the ship, whipped hammocks back and forth, and tore at the heavy loudspeakers mounted on the walls. The impression was eerie but pleasant, or at least that’s how I perceived it. But you’re talking to someone who doesn’t leave when hurricane evacuation orders are called because he prefers an empty town and bad weather to a full town and good weather.
We happened upon our elusive friend at the Alchemy Bar, and he had obviously been having some fun (which we had already figured, based on the code-like nature of his note), and he informed us that he was on his way to dinner at the main restaurant and invited us along, as he wanted us to see what the service is like when you have the same waiter the entire time. We happily accepted and followed him to the restaurant.
“Nutuk” turned out to be “I Kutut” (God I hope I spelled that right–I had had a couple of juleps at the Alchemy Bar, so perhaps I contracted the same spelling handicap as Jay), a very friendly but intense Filipino who waited his table with military precision and impeccable charm. He made a snail out of a napkin, told wonderful jokes, and made us feel very much at home. We immediately regretted not having the opportunity to choose assigned seating when we booked the trip.
As we were placing our orders, a group of Canadian ladies showed up, also friends of Jay, whom we had met in the elevator several days previous. One of them had complimented my mustache, telling me that I reminded her of her son, who was “in the Guard,” and it was then I learned that the Canadian military (is that really a thing or was she funning me?) requires mustaches to be waxed. I also learned that the stereotypical “Oh yah, eh!” Canadian accent is every bit as real as The Trailer Park Boys led me to believe.
The ladies had all clearly been having themselves some fun, and there was much laughing and flirting with the much younger Jay. I tell myself that they were just too polite to flirt with the other handsome devil because he was taken.
When Kutut came back to the table, he proceeded to entertain the ladies by making a little man out of a napkin, with a spoon for a head. “Is man or woman?!” he demanded of the ladies. “Oh I don’t know, a man?” “Yes! You know how you tell?! Put hand here!” Guiding her hand to the napkin man’s nether regions, he pressed the spoon head repeatedly, making the other end rise and fall–you get the idea. The ladies loved it, and as the conversation moved to other things, after a minute or two Jay pointed and shouted, “She’s still playing with it!” And she was. And that’s how I learned older Canadian ladies have wonderfully dirty senses of humor.
Now on to the food. The appetizer was crab cakes, and they were very good–much better than anything we had in the restaurant before. The main course was prime rib. I ordered it rare, and by God they gave it to me rare, and it was delicious.
For dessert I had the famous Melting Cake, and it was not bad. I’m not a huge fan of chocolate cake, but I was told that I should try it and nothing else looked all that great to me, as I’m not very big on desserts in the first place.
Jay was feeling impish, apparently, so he told Kutut that it was the lady’s and my honeymoon and could he sing us the Honeymoon Song? Kutut seemed so freaking excited to be able to sing this song that we didn’t have the heart to correct him (or throw something at Jay).
The Honeymoon Song was a variation of “Happy Birthday”, only they held a napkin to block everyone’s view and ordered us to kiss. Hell, why not? Everyone had a good laugh and Kutut looked incredibly pleased with himself.
As the dinner drew to a close, and this being the final dinner of the cruise, the entire staff came out and sang “Leaving on a Fun Ship” to the tune of–you guessed it–“Leaving on a Jet Plane”. It was silly but a lot of fun.
After saying our goodbyes, we went back to the room to pack and fill out our customs forms, as our booze had in fact been delivered.
The customs forms were straightforward enough for my three liters of booze–I knew that customs allows one liter of duty-free liquor per person with duty charged on anything above that, so I counted on having to pay that. No big deal, duty is apparently not that bad.
As for my three remaining Habanos, I remembered the ridiculously observant security guards who spotted my rum and took steps to outsmart them this time. Not that I condone smuggling in those evil Communist cigars, but let’s face it, the embargo is a pathetic remnant of the 60’s-era Red Scare pissing match, and there are plenty of perfectly legal but morally questionable imports to the United States–but I digress, and I’ll get off my soap box now. I really do have soap boxes though; you have those lying around when you run a soap company.
Before leaving for the cruise, I had already decided which cigars I wanted to try, and in case I wasn’t able to buy a full box (which are easy to disguise), good thinking on my part, I had a contingency plan. I bought the non-Cuban counterparts of those cigars and brought them with me in my travel humidor, along with the receipt in case questions were asked. I then carefully removed the bands and applied the non-Cuban bands to the Cubans, hiding the original bands in my wallet. I stowed the Cubans in my humidor normally. A master of misdirection, I secreted the disbanded non-Cubans throughout my luggage, my logic being that if for whatever reason customs looked through my baggage and found them, they would confiscate them, as I’ve been told they sometimes do with disbanded cigars, and if they asked about the others, I would have a receipt to show them.
Confident in my masterful scheme, we finished packing and placed our luggage outside for checking, where we ran into Ionut, who looked harried and a bit frustrated. We didn’t want to take up much of his time, but we wanted to thank him for being such a good sport and to get a picture with the guy. He was, as with all things, very accommodating, and he was probably glad these two psychopaths were almost gone.
On the shelf with the towel monkeys and Cozumel monkey, we left him a $40 tip on top of the tip Carnival automatically charges, as well as a few bars of soap that I had left. We also left him the wooden monkey, and a final note thanking him for everything and telling him that the wooden monkey wished to remain on board to see the world, and asked if he would take care of him.
Looking back, it seems amazing that we did most of these shenanigans while totally sober; we’re just odd.
We joked that after leaving the boat we would hear a blood-curdling shriek of fury and see a tiny wooden monkey flying off into the Mississippi.
We began to feel the ship rocking quite hard, and I went out on the balcony, surprised to see that we were already heading down the Mississippi. I found the rocking very soothing, and I slept incredibly well that night.
Morning, November 24th, Debarkation
We awoke early the next morning, hoping we would be off the ship in time to finally go see those famous St. Louis cemeteries in New Orleans, which closed around noon on Sundays.
They had asked everyone to be out of their rooms as early as possible so they could be cleaned for the cruise leaving that afternoon, so we went to the Lido for a final breakfast, which was the usual stuff, not bad, not awesome. We found a table and sat down with our carry-on bags to wait for our deck to be called.
We had been told that our options were either self-carry or checked baggage, and we assumed that those with checked baggage would be called for debarkation first, as there wouldn’t be as much luggage to weigh a person down and they could exit the ship faster. This turned out to be the exact opposite, as they asked the self-carry passengers to leave first, and they started at Deck 1. We had a sinking feeling that we would not be seeing the cemeteries.
This turned out to be a good prediction. It took several hours for all the decks to be called, and our Deck 9 cabin was one of the last areas to be called. This was around 11:00, so any hope of seeing the French Quarter was pretty much dashed.
Debarkation was slow and cumbersome, with a plague victim directly behind us sneezing and coughing the entire time, not bothering to cover her mouth. We filed through the labyrinth that was the Port of New Orleans, and was greeted with a level of incompetency I had come to expect. It was a confused mass that could barely be called a line, and we proceeded to the large open rooms where the checked bags had been unceremoniously dumped (with little to no security to keep bags from being snatched), categorized by deck number. We found our bags, grabbed them, and found what I hoped was the end of the line to get out of there.
From there we proceeded to customs. Be cool, Livin’ Legend, be cool. You’ve got this. You’ve trained for this.
We got in line, which was moving suspiciously fast, with customs agents looking at forms and waving people through. I had my wallet out, ready to pay the duty for the two extra liters of booze clearly written on the form, but not seeing any credit card machine or cash-taking apparatus. I handed my form to the agent, who read it as he was chatting with another guard. “Did you buy anything that’s not on this list?” “No sir, just the alcohol.” “Have a nice day, sir.” He waved me through.
What the–? All that preparation, that sly misdirection, and not only did I get through without so much as a questioning, but I didn’t have to pay duty on the extra booze? I was almost offended. Next time I might pick up some cocaine or something. I’m kidding of course, NSA. Don’t go hacking my e-mail or anything, although you probably already do that anyway.
After my brilliant deception, we went outside to wait for the shuttle back to Fulton Garage. There was a small crowd there, so we were pretty sure we wouldn’t make the first bus, but the driver was a Tetris master and managed to pack an amazing number of bags into his luggage area, and we had the last two seats on the bus.
Arriving at the garage, I left the bags with milady and went to get the car. At the machine, I inserted the ticket and waited for the price. I had briefly wondered how it would just know I picked the discount rooftop parking and charge me the $8 a day instead of day-to-day parking price of $20.
The answer: it doesn’t. I found that out the hard way when it charged me $140. I put on my flashers and called the number on the box, and an attendant came down to reset it the $8 rate. Apparently to get the cruise discount you have to book online. That was probably made clear someplace on the website that I never paid attention to. So if you plan on going the cheap parking route, book ahead of time and save yourself some trouble.
I found my wayward girlfriend on the sidewalk with the bags, loaded them up, and we were on our way home, the French Quarter decidedly abandoned.
Traffic was light most of the way, and the weather was nice. We stopped in Baton Rouge for lunch at TJ Ribs at the recommendation of a coworker, and it was amazing. If you’re in the area, go there and have the baby back ribs, and make sure you try the coleslaw.
The rest of the voyage home was mostly uneventful, except somewhere between Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, on the side of the road I noticed a brown speck and as I approached, I saw that it was a large owl. I knew there must have been something wrong with it by virtue of being out in the daytime and just sitting there. As my car drew nearer, I made eye contact with the beast. We regarded each other in a moment of timelessness and I remember thinking, “Don’t do it!” But it did. At the last minute, the bird launched itself directly at my car. There was no time to react. Before I knew it, the owl had disappeared in a cloud of feathers. Something was very wrong with that owl and I felt sorry for it. Rest in peace you majestic, suicidal, dumbass creature.
We finally arrived home as it was getting dark. I dropped off the lady at home and went home myself, exhausted from the long ride, glad to be back in my own space. In a way, the best part of a vacation is the coming home where you can sleep in your own bed.
During the course of these posts I’ve tried to keep things humorous and light, even when it didn’t go according to plan or was just infuriating in general. Sometimes I have a bad habit of focusing on the things that annoy me at the cost of enjoying the good things, although as I’ve aged I have managed to limit that fairly well. It is not more than two months since the cruise, and looking back I find my mind drawing to the good things more readily than the bad. Like everything, the little annoyances fade with time and they don’t seem so important when they become memories.
I was never under the delusion that any vacation would be perfect; it’s a fact of life that something will go wrong, things will annoy you, and you know what? I prefer it that way. I once read that perfumers would include a subtle bitter note in their formulas which, while undetectable consciously, would combine with the whole to make the overall impression richer and fuller. That may be complete garbage, as I never verified it, but I like to think of life in those terms. If everything were perfect, with no negatives as offsets, things would be boring and soulless. So while there are aspects of the cruise I didn’t like, and some I actually hated, it all made for pretty good stories and experiences I’ve never had before.
Will I go on another cruise? Honestly, I’m not sure. While I did enjoy myself on the whole, there are definitely pros and cons. I liked that a cruise allows you to see several different places in one vacation, but on the other hand it doesn’t allow you to actually experience those places. I can honestly say I didn’t much care to be cooped up on the ship for more than a day, especially with Carnival’s nickel-and-dime tactics, constantly trying to get you to buy things. That said, the ship itself was very relaxing, especially the balcony.
My biggest deterrent from future cruises is Cozumel. That is one place I never wish to visit again, and I’ll avoid any cruise that goes there. The problem is that cruises from the two ports that are most accessible to me, Galveston and New Orleans, almost without exception visit Cozumel by default, unless you spring for a 7 to 10 day cruise that goes to the Eastern Caribbean.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that for me the ideal cruise length is no more than 5 days. A 6 day cruise with three ports of call might be acceptable, but only two ports just leaves too much time cooped up on the ship.
I would also like to experience another cruise line just to have something for comparison. Carnival’s idea of a good time usually did not mesh with my own, being more of a party ship with activities geared toward loud party music and other things of that type. Not really my scene.
I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned with the recent rash of norovirus outbreaks that seem to be happening more frequently. I’ve had food poisoning before, and it was literally the worst pain I had every experienced.
So in short (yeah, I can do that sometimes), I’d consider a shorter cruise, perhaps from a different cruise line for comparison, as long as it didn’t go to Cozumel (also, I’ve heard Progreso is about the same, so no to that one as well), but more likely I’ll stick with single-destination vacations or road trip vacations where I control the destination and have more freedom of movement and time to savor.
And finally we come to the conclusion of the Caribbean Cruise series. I’ve managed to drag this one out an impressively long time thanks to the holidays, and by now I’m sure you’re all sick of reading about it, but thanks just the same for being my audience. I hope you enjoyed it and even perhaps came away with some useful knowledge for your own voyages.