Monday, October 9, 2006

The Love Boat, Day 1

Day One of the Post Bar Trip. My initial impression of the cruise ship was just how big the thing was. When you see it across the Miami harbor it dominates the surrounding docks. When you pull up next to it in a cab though, you find your head involuntarily craning back until it’s resting not so comfortably between your shoulders staring at the sky.

We boarded through an elaborately designed mousetrap losing only a few passengers along the way. I didn’t think much about the empty customs counters as we boarded, but those would return to viciously haunt us. The scientists running the experiment must not have liked us pausing in front of the barren customs counters because they quickly herded us on board. If you can avoid cattle prods shocking your shoulders for the rest of your life I heartily recommend it.

Once on board we rushed to our cabin on deck 8 and opened the door to behold streamers from one end of the cabin to the other. My Fair Lady had the foresight to book us a cabin with a balcony, and where the ship was docked gave us a heck of a view of Miami. Our steward showed up and introduced himself as Mauricio and I believe he was from Jamaica. I might have misunderstood him considering he spoke so fast I only caught roughly every fourth word.

After speaking with Mauricio, and by "speaking" I mean "nodding a lot while trying to figure out how anyone’s mouth could move that fast," we headed up to deck 11 where the main buffet was in the Windjammer Café. Once we piled on enough food to feed a small army between us we sat down to plan out our day. The first thing on the agenda was the mandatory revelry that afternoon on the lower decks. Wearing the life preservers wasn’t so much recommended as demanded, so at least we’d all look silly together. My Fair Lady made the observation that we had best book any and all reservations on the ship for the week immediately because if they booked up then we’d be sad.

So we headed up the spa and found a host of options. Since neither of us heard the irresistible siren call of having our faces peeled off, we opted for the massages. I have to confess one of my deepest and darkest secrets is having a great massage so we looked on the menu for those. We knew one day later in the week would be physically intensive so we scheduled a couples massage for that night. We noticed, however, that a "First Night Special" applied to certain types of massages, and the woman behind the counter sold us on the Hot Stones one.

"They drop hot stones on you?" I asked.

"Yes sir, along with hot oils," replied Spa Lady.

"And how will I find it relaxing when my skin is on fire?" I asked.

"It’s actually quite pleasant, sir, and one of our most popular choices. And it can be yours tonight for the low price of $100."

Fortunately for my sanity I didn’t ask how much it normally was.

Around this point it was time for revelry so we headed back to our cabin, grabbed our life preservers and headed several decks down. Once we fought through the hordes of other guests we were herded into lines looking out over Miami harbor. People were excited and jumping up and down, and a few right next to us wouldn’t shut up about how much they were going to party and drink. They also took off their preservers the first chance they had, which told me if the ship hit a rogue iceberg somewhere in the Caribbean at least they wouldn’t be on our rowboat for long.

By that I mean I’d personally have thrown them overboard. By "tossing them overboard" I mean "got their attention with some Bacardi then thrown it in the ocean and laughed as they chased after it."

It’s quite something to swelter in the Miami humidity in a life preserver. I’m sure they work as advertised when you’re in the water but they doth suck mightily when wrapped around your neck on the side of a ship that’s docked in a harbor. My Fair Lady and I made sure to take pictures of each other as the sweat was pouring down our faces. At this point the ship’s captain, Cruising-For-Personality, came on the com and told us that everything was good with the ship and we’d be ready to sail shortly. His voice was only slightly flatter than Jimmy Hoffa’s vital signs.

We raced up several flights of stairs, threw open the door to our cabin, threw our life preservers on the floor, raced back out the door, up more stairs and collapsed in front of the doors to the spa. When we came to we beheld the last flight of stairs leading from the gym upstairs to the actual spa so we hiked up them and fell onto the front desk.

"Skims, party of two for the Scalding Stone treatment," I said.

"Have you been with us before, sir?"

"How is that possible? We just got on the ship."

"I think she means have we done their treatment on a prior cruise, sweetie," replied My Fair Lady. It bears mentioning that she’s the levelheaded one of us when it comes to spas and spa personnel so I must give credit where credit is due. We were promptly escorted back to the waiting area where we were given release forms, ostensibly because if neither of us made it out alive then the spa wasn’t liable for using cooking oil instead of massage oil.

Our respective masseuses came in and took us to our rooms. My Fair Lady was escorted by Diego de la Fuego of Spain whereas I was handled by Donna of the Philippeans who introduced us to the nature of the Hot Stones Massage. If you’ve ever been curious about it then I suggest you try this. Douse yourself in really hot water, and then have your significant other take hot rolls fresh out of the oven and rub them all over your back. Now do that for roughly an hour. Oddly enough, it’s strangely relaxing in a sort of "oh my God my back is on fire!" way. It’s a rubdown based on extremes, and what better way to experience that than on a cruise with a small Philipino woman working out muscle kinks with her elbows?

All aboard, says I.

Unfortunately, Diego stiffed My Fair Lady by working on her wallet instead of her back. He spent some of her time shilling some suped up oils or some such as opposed to actually, you know, massaging her. We left the massage parlor and headed south to deck 5 where all the shops and the Café Promenade were. Hitting the Café Promenade proved to be a wise move on my part because they cook pretty dang good pizza until 3 a.m. They also made a heck of a tasty pastry so stocking up there would soon become the routine. We then perused the local shops each gawking at the fairly expensive prices for trivial items like... a small bottle of Pert.

"At least I don’t have to pay $10 for a bottle of shampoo no bigger than my hand," I observed. "Oh no..."

That’s when it hit me that I forgot my Right Guard spray.

"Why not use the stick?" advised My Fair Lady. "I’m sure that’ll at least be affordable."

"Because I get the luxury of being allergic to the stick. I break out in rashes and everything."

"You want to try mine for the week?"

"Yours is a stick, so no thank you. And while it may be strong enough for a man, it’s made for a woman."

"It’s not like you’re going to mutate into a drag queen."

"I would hope not, but there’s no worse time to crave tickets to Ain’t Misbehavin’ than lost at sea."

When we returned to our cabin we found a Bon Voyage chocolate cake waiting for us. One thing we knew we wouldn’t be lacking for this week would be sugar. We quickly got ready for dinner, then headed to the main dining room and our assigned table of 324. In the case of this particular ship, the dining room was three floors each named something different. In our case, the third deck was called The Nutcracker.

There’s nothing funny related to that so let’s move on to dinner.

We soon met the server, who would be with us for the week, a kindly gentlemen by the name of Leonardo. Each section is assigned a certain waiter though I think he was just for our table. He was terrific in both quality of service and speed of service, plus it was just fun talking to the guy. The rest of our table could seat three additional couples, but only two more showed up that night. A pair from LA and a pair from San Antonio were the other featured guests and while it took a while for all of us to warm to one another, we soon were chatting back and forth like chums.

After dinner, it was time to hit deck 5 for the late night Bon Voyage Mardi Gras. The staff of the ship threw a parade to celebrate us shipping out and it was filled with much raucous music and dancing. We then realized there were several rooms right above deck 5 which made us wonder whether those rooms were soundproofed. If they weren’t then I honestly don’t know how those people stayed sane let alone got any sleep. On the flip side, our cabin was filled with the sound of silence in between the sounds of us eating our cake so we relaxed after the parade.

More to come as the cruise began in earnest on Day Two. Coming attractions include plenty of shopping, meeting a Star Wars behind-the-scenes alum, and roaring through the treetops on zip lines.

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