The Cruise                                                             

Last week Randye (Sept. 21, 2002) and I took our second cruise (this one to the Caribbean) and - especially for family
members who have never taken one - I thought I might fill you in. But I should perhaps preface this by mentioning some
11 years ago we took our first cruise, which consisted of three days and two nights in Alaska's stunningly beautiful Prince
William Sound. I had long argued that having already taken a cruise there was no reason to take another. But Randye
always felt that this first cruise should not count at all, and was not fully reflective of her concept of a cruise. She argued
that having to help blow up the boat (we used Dick's open inflatable pontoon boat for this cruise) by itself negated the
true cruise experience. Further detractors in her mind were:
- that our only protection from the constant, driving and near freezing Alaskan rain were old ponchos
- we could not get close to the glacier for fear of our raft (I mean ship) swamping if ice broke off
- our "land excursions" were hikes in the mud
- the ranger cabin we stayed in  (we did not sleep in the open boat) had no heat, water, electricity, toilets, bedding or
even windows
- she not only had to cook on an open fire but also had to help paddle
- and she was always bothered by the parting remark of the fisherman that towed us to our desolate starting area, namely
"I'll pick you up in three days if the weather holds, otherwise look for me whenever it clears." I thought potentially getting
strained in the remote Alaska wilderness was exciting, after all Dick did bring his bear rifle. Randye thought otherwise.

So after eleven years I finally relented and agreed to go on one of Carnival Lines "Fun Ships". Our objective was to take
a trip like "normal people" take, where others cook and clean, where everything is prearranged, where all goes smoothly
and where there would be nothing to write about except our planned Scuba diving in the Cayman Islands and Couzomel,
Mexico. Well not exactly.

The first bad omen was our Airline (US Airways) declaring bankruptcy shortly before we left and canceled 300 flights.
No problem US Airways told us "the Tampa flight is still on." But on boarding we saw that our "direct" flight was now
going first to Pittsburgh. This, we were told, would only be a three-hour delay. Our ample 4-hour transfer time no longer
looked so ample. But with a fast cab ride we made it.

The second, even worse, omen was Tropical Storm Isidore was heading to the Cayman Islands. No problem Carnival
lines told us "if necessary they would just cancel the Cayman Islands and go to Key West instead." Key West was about
as welcome on our itinerary as Pittsburgh but we seemed unlikely to be able to impact this decision. At the dock we
were informed that Tropical Storm Isidore was just promoted to a category one Hurricane and was now sitting on the
Cayman Islands with 30 inches of rain expected. Key West it would be, after which we would still go to Couzumel.

Boarding the ship took forever as we slowly wound through a serpentine line in what we assumed was an upgraded, post
9/11, security check. The security check went smoothly. The real bottleneck was actually a pair of photographers (for
2000 passengers) who required each boarding couple to pose under a gaudy plastic "welcome abroad" sign and then
listen as they made their personnel pitch on why you would not want to pass up this unique photo opportunity. Getting the
photo taken was faster then trying to convince him we would not want it.

While waiting for our luggage to find its way to our cabin we thought we would check out the gym (I needed to maintain
my conditioning for my planned hike up 20,600 foot Mt. Chimborazo in Ecuador - which you will likely hear about
around Xmas). Although not yet open we arrived just in time to join their escorted gym tour already in progress. But first
we got pushed into the beauty saloon with the rest of the tour group where we were offered their "early visitor special" of
a free hair analysis appointment. Why I would not take them up on their absolutely free, no obligation offer seemed
beyond them.
"The Gym?" I asked.
Yes, but first we were all squeezed into the Weight Reduction Treatment Room where I learned that their top-secret
special treatment could reduce your waste by 8 inches in just one hour. Eight inches was hardly going to make a dent in
the grossly obese passenger who for some reason had volunteered to be their "model" for this demo. Perhaps this
treatment sounded easier then working out.
"The Gym?" "Soon" they said.
As we were now escorted into their Herbal Treatment Room where I learned that their unique treatments not only purged
your bodies' fat of all toxins like other ordinary treatments but also purged all toxins from your muscles as well.
"Do you have a Gym?" "Yes, but you will fist want to meet our masseuse."
Unlike normal massages, which last 5 hours, their exclusive approach would last an incredible 5 weeks! - Guaranteed
"The Gym?" That's next immediately after the saunas and the talk on our special exercise classes."
I now realized in just 3 hours, for only slightly more then the entire cost of the 5-day cruise, I could have myself analyzed,
shrunk, purified, and tranquilized. I also realized I could simply read the gym hours from the brochure and so we left for
the main deck to get some lunch.

On the lunch line a cheery hostess offered us the drink of the day. But on finding out that the souvenir glasses they came
in were going to cost us $15 we passed.

Rumor had it that Isidore was upgraded to a class 2 hurricane and was leaving the Cayman Islands, but heading toward
our route.

Trying to get in the spirit of things we decided to attend their 1st evenings show (along with most of the other 2000
passengers). The cruise director immediately announced they would be selecting 8 "real party people" to be join the show.
Well, I figured I was safe.
But he then announced his staff were expert at finding the eight-non party people whom least wanted to be dragged up
on stage.
Well, I knew I was in big trouble.
My stage appearance started by being the foil for the usual embarrassing interview: "So you’re a NY drug dealer
working out of New Jersey; So you've known your wife 20 years but have a 24 year old daughter, etc." It then
proceeded to the even more embarrassing process of winding a spoon on a string through various clothing parts with my
fellow victims. (You get the idea). The only "good" part of this was everyone on the boat now seemed to know me and
wanted to get additional clarification on my confusing life. At least I was awarded a bottle of champagne for my pain.

The next morning I skipped the gym and went to their 1/10 mile "Olympic" jogging track on the top deck. Near hurricane
winds had apparently caused cancellation of the Power Walk class so I had the deck to myself. Lap after lap, fighting the
howling winds, the swirling fog, and the rocking boat made me feel as if I was getting a lot closer to Chimborazo like
conditions then I ever could have expected on a cruise ship.

In Key West with our catamaran excursion cancelled (due to wind) we spent our time in the local museum with treasures
from Spanish galleons that evidently had even more hurricane trouble then we did.

Isidore was upgrade to a class 3 hurricane and had now unexpectedly veered west and was directly over Couzumel,
70,000 people were being evacuated from the Yucatan peninsula. The captain sent us a nice weather map with the
"wonderful" news we were now headed to Nassau in the Bahamas. (Just where Randye and I had been two years ago to
get our Scuba diving certification).

We had a pleasant day, in good weather, cruising toward the Bahamas but I realizing there could now be a real shortage
of Scuba diving spots on their excursion packages. To boost our chances, the next morning I forced myself to sit (in the
front row no less) through the cruise director's entire hyper enthusiastic 60-minute lecture on shopping opportunities,
tricks and techniques for Nassau. However, the payoff for this was we got two of only ten scuba diving spots that they
could reserve as other ships had also diverted to Nassau.

The dive was stunningly beautiful as we spent 45 minutes under water in a magnificent coral reef among hundreds of fish.
See attached photos of Randye scuba diving). Just to make things interesting the dive boat's motor failed, but they finally
got their backup going so we could putter back to port and not miss our departure back to Tampa.

The number one activity of most passengers was clearly drinking. On leaving there were long lines at the purser's desk
with people holding their 4 page liquor bills. They were desperately trying to remember if they really drank that much,
where all these bars even were on this ship, and how could their liquor bill be so much more then the cost of the cruise.
The next activity, before even the casino gambling, was having your photo taken at one of the 8 locations with special
backdrops, manned night and day by a horde of ship photographers. One must then add to this the photos taken at
meals, in lounge chairs, at shows, during formal night and on every occasion of entering or leaving the boat. The three
ping-pong tables and two shuffleboard courts, perhaps left for old time sake, where usually empty. As for me I was
simply looking for a nice quite place to read. It took awhile but I found a small top aft deck not on the map that they hand
out. As you also had to go through a barrier to get there it was pretty deserted, very quite and had a lovely view.
Randye, however, questioned my motivations as it turned out this was the only place they allowed topless sunbathing. But
that was hardly my fault.

All together we had a wonderfully relaxing time. At the beginning we passed on things like the hairy chest contest, but by
our last day we were anxiously attending - and actually enjoying - the knobby knees contest. Who knows, a few more
days at sea and we might have actually joined the waiters daily rumba dance through the dinning room.

September 2002 - Martin Friedrichs                                
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