Friday, December 2, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 18: No Splashing Allowed

Click Here to read the previous entry in this series…

  My eyes popped open.

  I had no idea where I was, and it was completely dark. I was lying in a bed, that was my only certainty. And I did appear to have a slumbering bed partner, so hopefully somebody had a good time at some point. Then the entire room rose in the air and plopped back down with a splash.

  Ah. The boat. It was the middle of the night, and I had finally managed to drift off for a few seconds, only to be jerked back into wakefulness as the ship slammed through another patch of rough sea. And there were a lot of those patches the first night on the boat. Far too many for my satisfaction. I have a hard enough time sleeping in a strange bed. It’s even worse when the bed thinks it’s in a scene from The Exorcist.

  Speaking of Linda Blair, my eyes finally adjusted to the dimness and I glanced over to see how things were going with Tiffany in her little Tiffany-size couch-bed. Hmmm. Her eyes seemed to be really wide-open, staring at me with giant whiteness like that Annie chick in the cartoon strip from way back in the day. Was she in shock? Did I really look that bad with bed-head?

  Suddenly, I heard a tiny, Tiffany-size snore, along the lines of a mosquito rubbing a few of its legs together. Was she sleeping with her eyes open? Girl had some madd skillz. Then I realized she was wearing a sleep mask, one of those puffy things that Joan Crawford would wear before she ripped it off and went to beat on some of her unwanted children.

  I looked the other way, checking on Terry and his snoring. We definitely had something more than mosquito legs going on over there. But at least he and Joan were getting some much-needed sleep, unlike tossing-and-turning me. Hated them a little bit. I sighed and stared at pointless things, firmly convinced that this night of unwelcome rocking and rolling would never end.

  But eventually dawn broke, and I leapt out of bed, completely un-refreshed and cursing mankind’s decision to ever leave land. (Okay, it wasn’t that bad, and after the first one the nights kept getting better until I actually enjoyed being lulled to sleep by the rocking of the boat. I just wasn’t there yet.)

  I stepped out on to our little balcony, and my mood improved greatly. The sun was shining, the water was sparkling, and the promise of a completely unstructured day was at hand. This was an “At Sea” day, wherein you could participate in tons of optional activities that were being offered, or you could do absolutely nothing other than sit in a deck chair and drink. Plan B sounded pretty good at the moment. But when does it not?

  Eventually our little trio was freshly-scrubbed and presentable, and we left the cabin in search of pleasure. We had a leisurely breakfast (duly noting that the thousands of screaming children had not disappeared over night as hoped), explored the ship some more (which turned into a daily activity, an always-surprising journey of discovery), and tried to get a status check on what the other members of the tribe might be doing.

  One thing about being on a ship this size, with hundreds of different diversions? You can go long stretches of time without seeing people, including members of your own party. (I didn’t see two of the nieces for several days in a row, and even then our encounters would be brief and peripheral, as they scurried to the disco or other places where young people could avoid meddlesome things like parents and gay uncles.)

  Of course, all this vastness made it somewhat difficult to find someone if you wanted to do so, unless you had a vague idea of where they might be. And this was not necessarily a good situation for parents with younger children, kiddos who required more supervision than the teenagers who could mostly supervise themselves, rushing to social functions and wearing trendy clothing. So, in what I considered a brilliant move, Dawn and Darrin brought along walkie-talkies to keep tabs on the youngest member of our tribe, Tristany.

  And these walkie-talkies were critical elements in what became known as Operation Super Slide.

  See, the ship featured a massive, twisting water slide that hurled occupants downwards through three decks and then plopped them next to a shallow swimming pool, which they could then leap into with abandonment and excessive screaming. Naturally, any child with the tiniest bit of adventurous spirit simply could not go on living if they didn’t get to ride this thing at least 700 times.

  Trouble is, there were some complex operational regulations involving this enticing slide, something about wind shear and ocean turbulence and the angle of the sun, some mess like that, and the slide was often out of commission. This led to extended periods of unsatisfied yearning and bitterness amongst the tempted tykes.

  For example, on the day we first boarded the ship, and after we had all gotten initially established in our rooms and were already breaking in our eventual second home on the Lido Deck, a cutely-clad Tristany appeared, sporting modest bathing attire and an exuberant grin. As we watched and waved, she raced up several flights of stairs, stood in line with other vibrating urchins, and plunged downward with pigtails flying in the wind.

  Then they shut the slide down.

  One ride. That’s all she got the first day, and then her happiness was cruelly crushed. This was actually worse than if she hadn’t gotten to ride the thing at all, because, as we all know, once you’ve tasted exotic fruit and really enjoyed it, the dismay of not getting a second bite is more painful than if you’d never tasted the fruit at all.

  They didn’t open the slide back up for the rest of that day. Or the entire next day.

  Poor little Tristany and her pigtails. Dreams temporarily put on hold, she constantly monitored the situation, one eye always on the distant, empty slide, whenever possible, searching for signs of official activity. If she spied something even remotely promising taking place, a hint that maybe she could finally get a chance to be happy again, she would grab her walkie-talkie and race to the twisting tower, seeking intel and updates.

  Unfortunately, for days on end, the report was the same, with her sad and dejected voice coming out of the little speaker in Dawn’s unit. “It’s still not open.” Then she would wander back our way, slowly, her head constantly whipping around to look back and confirm the horrible the nightmare was still happening. Finally, she would rejoin us, sighing dejectedly as she took a seat at the table.

  Where the adults were happily guzzling alcohol with total abandon, attacking their beverages with a predatory viciousness one usually only sees in wildlife videos, not caring at all that the damn slide wasn’t working. But that particular day, we did care about one thing, and that was the dress code for dinner.

  We had arrived on the ship, unsure about how one should clothe oneself whilst shoving food in one’s mouth. We had initially been under the impression, based on what we could glean from the Carnival website, that we were all required to “dress” for dinner.

  I was thoroughly unimpressed with that discovery. I don’t like to get dressed for weddings, let alone dinners. Additionally, this meant we had to take even more crap with us on the ship, basically two outfits per day. If I had known about this angle before we booked the cruise, I would have had to seriously think about even going. This “dressing” bit sucked. But I just sighed and threw some “business casual” gear into one of my suitcases (now that I had to take two) and hoped that was good enough.

  Then we get on the ship, and we learn several things. The “dressy” angle only applies to the fancy dining rooms onboard, of which there are several, but does not apply to the non-fancy eateries, of which there are many more. And even in the fancy rooms, the code was rather lax. You could wear jeans, if you wanted. The only things truly frowned upon were flip-flops, bathing suits, full-frontal nudity, and people who didn’t tip.

  This pleased me greatly, although I was still irritated about the extra suitcase that now no longer had a purpose and probably would never even be opened. But some of the ladies were actually a bit blue about not getting to get gussied up, having spent time picking out clever frocks and all. Surely something could be arranged that would satisfy everyone and still allow for prettiness and some pseudo high-society action.

  Several cocktails later, and after a somewhat lengthy interruption where we all stopped to study an especially-shocking example of Families Gone Bad as a troop of heathens belched and tooted across the deck in a walking white-trash dictionary, we came to a decision. We were going to put on our finery this very night and invade one of the shmancy dining extravaganzas, thusly allowing those who wanted to be belles of the balle to get their fix, and also getting the whole mess out of the way so the rest of us didn’t have to worry about it for the remainder of the week. Yay!

  Cheers erupted. Mostly from a nearby table where the people were sick of us babbling endlessly about something that could normally be decided in four seconds,  but still. We had a plan. We finished our latest round, and then the girls rushed off to get an hour or two of skin-tone-enhancing sun, design an appropriate wardrobe, and begin the intricate makeup application process that would elevate their natural beauty to even more astonishing heights. They guys just sat around and waited until it was time to change their underwear, at which point they would be good to go.

  But actually, the prep work did turn out to be more exciting and fun that I would have admitted earlier in the day. This change of attitude can be attributed, at least in part, to those swilled beverages. The golden rule of travel is that all experiences are much more interesting if your performance levels and expectations have been lowered due to intoxicants.

  Before you knew it, we were all thundering back and forth between each others rooms, fixing this and borrowing that and making critical last-minute alterations that completely changed the wardrobe from suspect-slutty to chic and swank. There was a moment of high-pressure when Crispy arrived in our room, wanting Uncle Brian to tie his tie for him. At first I couldn’t even remember the last time I wore a tie, let alone tied one. Things were even more challenging because I was standing on the wrong side of the tie. But it quickly came back to me, it really is like riding a bicycle. Backwards, in this case.

  Finally, everyone was basically presentable, and we gathered in the hallway, oohing and aahing over how sharp everybody looked. Even Roni had pimped out her ride, slapping some bling on the spokes of her wheelchair. Feeling good, we started the long tromp to the elevators, giggling and chattering and nodding at other clumps of families that had also decided to glam it up. Those other families looked nice and all, but our family was clearly going to win the sweepstakes. At least that’s what my last margarita had told me.

  As our snake of swishing couture wound past our cabin door, I did briefly glance at it, with a small voice in the back of my head advising that it might be the last time I ever saw it. Our family can never simply go get something done and then come back, mission accomplished. Something was eventually going to go wrong, we just never knew the full scope and scale of the badness until it happened and insurance adjustors had been consulted. And disaster could strike when just two of us were let loose on society.

  Yet now there were fifteen of us marching along, hungry but pretty, excited but slightly-buzzed, and headed toward a place on the ship where we were expected to behave with at least a pretense of decency. This was going to be a challenge.

  It was probably a good idea that they had made everyone on the ship do that dang lifeboat drill on the first day. Just sayin.

Click Here to Read the Next Entry in This Series.

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