My parents received a nice tax return this year, and with the threat of me going off to college in a year and we can no longer ‘bond’ together as one (something we haven’t done since we went to the zoo back in 1993) they decided that all five of us would take a week long cruise in the Western Caribbean.
This is why, one early morning in April 2007, the five of us are crammed in my mom’s car at 3 a.m. We arrived at Midway airport, and I got to walk through a metal detector four times to discover that my cell phone, class ring, watch, and belt were potential terrorist weapons.
So was the (liquid) coffee I was drinking. Starbucks is a licensed explosive. Who knew?A plane, bus, and taxi ride later, and we’re standing in front of the ship.
The bottom half was adorned with circular windows, while the middle section was sporting life boats that more closely resembled orange submarines. Above them were the balcony rooms, and higher still was the top deck with pool and restaurants. The lobby on the third deck (ground level to the adjacent dock) was decorated with a mosaic roof that hung almost 150 feet above the ground, putting it at level with the top deck.
Visible around the lobby was the labyrinth of elevators and stair cases, interrupted only by the strategically placed gift shops. In the middle of the entrance stood a piano and bar. This would be a recurring theme throughout the trip: if you were going to get SMASHED without validation, you would need background music.
Scurrying about the place were stewards and busboys of every nationality imaginable. They all bore pins with their name, position, and country of origin. Juan of Panama would be cleaning our room, Ivan of Croatia would be serving us alcohol during dinner, and Abigail of Australia would be dancing in skimpy outfits during the eight’ o’clock show held every night.
And let’s not forget that skippy Indonesian cook staff. My family had two adjacent rooms, the bigger of which would be housing my father, brother, and I. It had two beds and a small metal tray (‘bunk bed’) that uncomfortably held one person and a small blanket.
I slept there. The balcony was small but offered an amazing view of the Miami skyline. The next few days would show nothing but ocean, which is still exciting to one who’s never ventured out of Chicago.
The first day was just assimilation. A loud intercom reminded us to unpack (and have a good time), check your ship card to know when dinner is (and have a good time), and to be sure to tip the cleaning staff (and have a really good time). And we were having a good time until the intercom told us that we had to attend the mandatory boat evacuation drill.
If the boat were to say, begin sinking to its watery doom, all the guests would calmly walk to their rooms, put on a life vest (which in turn would involve groping your lower body until you charged yourself with molestation), and walk slowly to the third deck where you stand in the line marked by your vest and board a tiny orange submarine. Possibly yellow. Beatles shout out, anyone?
At dinner, which was eaten at 5:45 as regulated by our ship cards, we were assigned to sit with some North Carolinian family called the Sneeds, who were comprised of a father, mother and three teenage daughters. What happened next was the most awkward dinner of my life.
Our families traded stories while the six children (me included) ate in silence, having a secret contest wondering whose dad could talk more passionately about the Discovery Channel. I’d like to think of myself as an impartial judge, but… NICK CHRISTOFORAKIS ALL THE WAY.
We explored the ship for the rest of the day and the next, because we were in route to Mexico. All we noticed was that the food was free (included in the cost of the cruise), and that the drinking and gambling age on international waters in only 18. I wanted to keep up with my training to be an Olympian long distance runner (ha) so I used the jogging track on the top deck daily. I was only slightly dismayed at being lapped by a three year old buzzed up on sugar and freedom.
At Costa Maya, the men in my family ventured on a tour of the Aztec ruins. Even though I was prepared to snark my way through the day, as teenage boys are supposed to do by our secret contract, I couldn’t help but be impressed. I was standing in a spot that held cultural and religious significance to people who lived hundreds of years ago.
The tour guide asked if we wanted to climb to the top of the ruins — we could do the ‘old people’ walk on one side, or the ‘Rocky Balboa’ walk up the other. This entailed 90 very steep steps in 102 degree weather with no railings. My brother and I, of course, made it a sport to see who could get to the top first. Pride made me win, but not by much. Then photos were snapped, history was explained, and overly generous donations to the Help a Brother save the Crumbling Ruins Foundation were made.
At the market that was directly in front of our docked ship, we got to haggle for items en espanol. I think my Spanish teacher was grinning back in Romeoville, and she had no idea why. The conversations went something like this: Myself: Cuanto cuestan los tortugas? (holds two small glass turtles) Poor Mexican Local: Por ti, quince dolares. Myself: (saddens expression) No tengo bastante dinero. Poor Mexican Local: … Cinco dolares para cada tortuga. Myself: (grins) Got change for a twenty?
Next message: Jamaica and the Grand Cayman Islands, Where the Wild Things Are.
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