The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 9)

I wake up and check my phone, though I’m not sure why. We keep changing time zones, but without cell service my phone isn’t always updating itself properly. The lock screen says one time, but the phone clock itself has a different time on it.

Plus, it’s not like I missed any phone calls. There is, however, a notification on my phone that it’s been activated. I get all excited until I realize I have no dial tone, no phone service, and no real activation. Wayne’s phone is working fine, except for updating the time. So, his phone is currently showing a different time than mine and we have no clue which one is right or what time it is.

But we’re on vacation so it doesn’t matter.

We’ve arrived just off the coast of Belize overnight and are ready to leisurely head off the ship and meander around in the glorious warm sunshine, remembering fondly our family and friends back in freezing Pittsburgh. At breakfast on the Lido deck, all the buffets are mysteriously closed. We briefly wonder if our phone times are SO far off that we’ve missed every meal there is, but then remember that there is always something open on a cruise ship. Literally. There is pizza available 24 hours a day, and room service, plus that damned soft-serve ice cream cone machine. (My current personal ice cream cone count [ICCC]: 4. That number will most assuredly get much higher by the end of the week.)

But no… something has happened. The water shuttles have suspended operations. Most of the crew have gone missing. It’s approximately 9:45 a.m. local time (10:45 ship time… at least that’s our best guess). We’re told absolutely nothing, and a lot of folks are meandering around looking confused, bemused, or amused. Or all three. (Those are the folks I steer clear of.)

There is a brief announcement that also tells us nothing… except that the shuttles aren’t currently operating and most of the crew members have been told to report to various stations, whatever that means. Only a week ago, a young man on a different Carnival ship fell overboard and died, so we worry that some emergency has happened.

We never do find out what caused the turmoil, but at least there aren’t any newspaper stories about it once we’re back home, so it must not have been that bad. Eventually, crew members reappear on the Lido deck and breakfast resumes. I am just petty enough to pout that there are no scrambled eggs at the buffet, and I have sausage, bacon, and coffee for breakfast instead. My life is so rough. I suffer. I suffer.

We taxi to shore in a water shuttle and Wayne wheels and deals again, this time for a city tour on an air-conditioned van-bus thing. Oh sure, we could book an official Shore Excursion, but where’s the fun in that? It’s much more fun to haggle with the locals and whittle their price down to twice what they were willing to take if you’d started to walk away.

Besides, we did buy a big Shore Excursion for our stop in Grand Cayman. I’ve miraculously talked Wayne into another experience with live animals, which he hates. The first time we were in Honduras, I talked him into an excursion involving monkeys and parrots. The monkeys and I adored each other back then…

IM000172.JPG2008: Linda has a natural way with all of God’s creatures… except Wayne.

But one of the monkeys promptly climbed onto Wayne’s arm and then bit his finger.

im0001612008: The last time Wayne touched a live animal voluntarily.

To this day I’m surprised he didn’t sue Carnival over that one. Anyway, I’m excited that we’re going to swim with adorable sting rays on Friday! Wayne’s going to love it!

Where was I? Oh yes, we’re in Belize. We’ve been to Belize several times before (we keep taking the same cruise over and over, like some infinitely better version of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day), and some of the sights are familiar, like the second-floor bar we visited last time in order to use their Wi-Fi. (Note: Do not guzzle cheap liquor in the heat and then try to use foreign Wi-Fi on your cheap phone and then try to walk down the narrow, rickety wooden staircase. It’s a disaster.)

Since I am a proofreader by trade, I notice that some places haven’t changed in the 4 years since I’ve been here, despite upgrades to their signage:

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This was the sign outside the Wet Lizard bar in 2014… So close, sooo close!

 

dscn1940The Wet Lizard in 2018. New sign! But wait… still sooooo close…

Wayne wheels and deals again—it’s really his favorite pastime while on vacation—and gets us the city tour that includes a stop at a liquor store for some rum-tasting. I begin to see a pattern developing with this man. It is a pattern that will continue for most of the week.

We are sitting at the back of the bus. We find the bus driver funny and entertaining, despite the fact that the air conditioning seems to reach only the first 1 or 2 rows of seats. As I start sweating profusely, I remind myself that it’s about 10 degrees back home. This doesn’t help much. I keep sweating.

Belize is the only officially English-speaking country in Central America. We pass a call center that handles calls from all over the United States, and suddenly every tech support phone call I’ve ever made makes a lot more sense. Sadly, this happens because the minimum wage here is something like $1.75 an hour. So next time you call for tech support or customer service, just be nice to that poor guy at the other end of the phone. It’s not his fault. And that call center where he works is ugly.

At the rum factory, we each get about a thimble full of rum to taste. That’s plenty for me in this heat. Plus, I’ve always been a cheap date. It’s one of the reasons Wayne still loves me. There are also larger cups of various flavors of rum to sample for a buck apiece, so Wayne is standing at the back buying one after another. He’d have to buy 16 of them to equal the price of a single watered-down drink on the ship. I can almost see him doing the math in his head… well, until it’s obvious his head is getting a little fuzzy. Then, it’s all smiles and to hell with the math.

I take some photos in the little museum room off to the left as Wayne continues gulping plastic cups of every kind of rum they have. Dollar bills are flying everywhere, and I hear him say he’s trying to decide which ones to buy. I can hear him because he’s talking a little more loudly with each plastic cup.

Click… click… I’ll just stay over here taking photos where it’s safe.

dscn1925I don’t quite know what happened here in the past, but it was roped off and looked antique so I took a picture of it.

dscn1930These don’t look very sanitary, but they do look authentic.

dscn1927If Wayne tears himself away from the plastic cups long enough, I’ll ask him what all of this means. It looks like an engineer’s dream.

We’re told to head back to the bus, just as Wayne settles on two bottles of rum to purchase. He’ll be allowed to take these onto the ship, but he’ll have to surrender them to storage until the end of the cruise. God forbid we should actually drink legally purchased rum on the ship when they can sell us cheaper rum for ten times the price.

But I digress. I’m outside now, having told the driver to wait for Wayne, who is inside paying for his two bottles of flavored rum. He’s sampled so many that he probably doesn’t remember which flavor he bought. The driver has no problem remembering Wayne—that tall guy with the straw hat who looks like the guy who starred in Cocoon. I stand outside the bus, waiting for Wayne and taking pictures of the local parking lot wildlife:

dscn1939It was either this or a picture of a chicken. 

Back at the terminals in Belize, we use the rest of our time in port to sit at a bar called Better Belize It. I grab a sugar-laden strawberry daiquiri and Wayne orders the Belize Special. He doesn’t know what’s in this drink, either, but at least it isn’t fluorescent blue like the one on the ship. These 2 drinks are a bargain at $18.

Side Note: Most of the bars have funny signs out front that say things like “Husband Day Care.” Oh, what those locals must think of us wacky Americans…

Perhaps it’s the effect of guzzling the strawberry daiquiri, but it feels weird to carry 2 large bottles of rum onto the ship proudly instead of in plastic water bottles hidden in Wayne’s cargo shorts. The bottles are tagged and sent away. Wayne gets a tear in his eye as he waves goodbye. We’ll be reunited with them the last night of the cruise, just in time to pack them in my suitcase.

We’ll eat an early dinner tonight and look forward to tomorrow’s port of call, Honduras, where we’ll soak up the sun on Carnival’s private beach before Wayne participates in the blackjack tournament on board the ship tomorrow evening. Four years ago to the day he won their blackjack tournament, so we’ll see if he can duplicate that amazing feat…

But last time he wasn’t plastered when he entered the tournament…

Next installment: Can an engineer still count to 21 if he’s drunk? Asking for a friend…

The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 8)

We eat a leisurely late breakfast up on the Lido deck around 10:45 a.m. This is my kind of schedule.

Back in our stateroom, we see that today’s towel animal is a lizard. I think. I pose Boris the Squirrel with him on the bed for a portrait.

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News flash:  THE PUDDLE IS STILL GONE. 

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We are optimistic this time. But Marvin keeps apologizing every time we see him. We try to make it clear that we know it wasn’t his fault, and that there was nothing more he could have done for us than the things he did. He keeps apologizing. We’ve already pre-tipped everyone before we got on board the ship, but we’re going to tip Marvin again before we leave. The poor guy.

Before we head off the big boat to see Cozumel (in the rain), Wayne’s phone rings. Of course, my phone doesn’t ring. My phone still cannot ring. We’re a little unused to any phone ringing, though, since cell service on the ocean is sketchy, but we’re now in port, in civilization. Civilization that sells cheap rum. But I digress.

Turns out it’s Guest Services right here on the ship. Apparently a 6’4″ hulk of a man who looks like Wilford Brimley, complete with a big bushy mustache and a perpetual frown, showing up at your Guest Services desk gets some answers on this ship. The woman from Guest Services asks if they can send us a bottle of wine for our trouble with the puddle. Wayne semi-nicely explains to her that:

a) his wife has diabeetus and really shouldn’t be drinking wine;
b) we don’t even like wine.

This is where Wayne’s bold lack of shame comes in handy, because he wheels and deals to get us a free internet package for the week, which typically costs $85. More than a bottle of wine probably costs. (Probably.) He’s still slathering hand sanitizer everywhere (and I do mean everywhere) as a result of the germ trauma he suffered, but he pats himself on the back for this result.

Now we’re ready to head to Cozumel, so we grab 2 bottles of Carnival water (since we’re no longer allowed to bring our own bottled water on board and must buy theirs), our phones (mine is really just a camera with Spider Solitaire on it), our wallets… and an umbrella. It’s really raining out there.

Because we’ve been to Cozumel 3 or 4 times before, you’d think we’d just skip heading out in the pouring rain to see the tourist traps right off the ship. But, Wayne is a man on a mission. This is his one shot at getting more cheap rum on the ship, in order to avoid paying $16 for a single Skinny Captain on board. We start feeling like drowned rats as we head through the town, with Wayne using his GPS to find that same liquor store he’s visited several times before (“It’s next to a gas station” is only marginally helpful). I swear they’re going to recognize him and call him by name this time.

I can’t bear to accompany him on his illicit journey, so I sit in the covered pavilion amid the shops and start guzzling bottled water. Wayne returns with his contraband, and we empty both water bottles.

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Guess what’s in that white plastic bag? A local purchase, perhaps?

Now, whatever shall we do with these empty water bottles?

I take a stroll around the shops while he casually pours rum into our water bottles. I cannot be party to this rum-smuggling operation, though I still find it hilarious. I just don’t want to end up in Carnival Jail when we try to get back on the boat.

I find a shop selling cute, colorful wooden toys (which probably all have splinters in them) and buy a few for my grandson, King Arthur, whose intelligent mother will never let him actually play with them if she knows what’s good for her. Which she totally does.

dscn1904I brought these back onto the ship legally

When I get back to the table, Wayne is sipping some of the extra rum he hasn’t managed to get into the empty water bottles, and he’s smiling. Of course he’s smiling. He’s on vacation and having rum for lunch. And no, it doesn’t affect him at all…

dscn1900Why is he always hugging inanimate objects more than me?

It’s full-on raining now as we head back on board. I’m soaked, and I beg Wayne to let me board 10 or 20 seconds ahead of him through security to avoid the embarrassment of seeing his ass hauled off the ship when he gets caught with “water bottles” of rum in his shorts pockets.

But the line to reboard is long, and most of us are stuck waiting outside in the downpour, so security is rushing people through without much thought (unless you clearly have a weapon, which we don’t). We make it to our stateroom safely, and Wayne stashes his two “water bottles,” grabs 2 more actual water bottles, and heads back out the door, grinning. It’s like a game to him. I can smell the testosterone from clear across the room.

He arrives back at the stateroom about 45 minutes later, with two more “water bottles” and a new straw hat he purchased. His transformation into Wilford Brimley is complete.

 

dscn1945
2-brimley-1-wilfred-brimley-600x450It’s uncanny…

Between the straw hat and his Duluth Trading “Ask Me About My Underwear” T-shirt, he looks like such a tourist that I can see why he successfully got back onto the ship with rum in his pockets… again. He’s confident the rum will now last him the rest of the cruise. (He is correct. We end up having to smuggle one of the “water bottles” back OFF the ship when the cruise ends.)

As we’re getting ready to leave Cozumel, 6 young folks in a hot tub on the cruise ship next to ours see me on our balcony and wave. I stand up, yell and wave back, and they cheer. Clearly they are drunk if this entertains them.

We skip the dining room dinner, and I continue reading on the balcony while Wayne naps and does a lot of nothing inside the stateroom. When I awaken him around 9:30, asking if he wants to just sleep, he says, “No! I want to get up and DO something!”

So we head to the Lido deck for a bite to eat and he sits in the restaurant using our free internet package to putz around on Facebook for an hour.

You know… stuff he could have done at home. For free. Without paying $600 extra.

Next installment: “This is not a drill…”

 

The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 7)

Marvin tells us that he’s called the plumber, so at this point there is little to do except wait … and continue to use Marvin’s three hundred towels to mop up the recurring puddle. The next morning we have a lovely late breakfast on the Lido deck and then split up. I head for a quiet spot on the Atlantic deck overlooking a beautiful view of the ocean.

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Unfortunately, staring at all that wild, uncontrolled water keeps reminding me that there is too much uncontrolled water in our stateroom right now. So I use the time to jot down notes about the vacation so far. That book ain’t gonna write itself.

Then again, it kinda is writing itself. I can’t make up shit this good. (I’d say “make up shit this funny,” but it’s not funny yet. Maybe once we’re home. Maybe.)

Speaking of shit, Wayne’s biggest concern is that the water might not be coming from the tub, even though the puddle seems to always end up there. He reminds me that we’re on a moving, rocking cruise ship and that the puddle isn’t necessarily going to stay where it started out.

He has a point.

His concern is that it’s water from the toilet. Which completely freaks him out. But, I raised four kids and changed diapers for years. I’ve been blanketed with pee, poop, and projectile vomiting. A small puddle of toilet water isn’t freaking me out.

What’s freaking me out is that we paid $600 extra for this small puddle of toilet water.

But then again, unknown toilet water is gross. At least the pee, poop, and projectile vomit were all from cute little babies who share my DNA. I rethink Wayne’s concern.

He has a point.

Then again, when he bought the sleeves of Diet Coke and the Ace bandage, he also picked up a little something he never travels without: a large pump bottle of hand sanitizer. He has a thing about germs.

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I never ask him why he doesn’t just buy a travel-size bottle, because to Wayne, this IS a travel-size bottle. In fact, he’s concerned that he might run out. And at this point, I think he might. He’s going through this stuff in a panic, mumbling things I can’t quite hear but that sound like “toilet germs” and “bubonic plague” and “lawsuit” and “refund.” Those last two are becoming a sort of mantra for him. I think he mumbled them in his sleep last night.

So, while I’m taking notes on the Atlantic deck, he’s at the customer service desk on the Promenade deck. Since this is still early in the cruise and tomorrow we will be in port for the first time, all the customer service lines are jammed. People are ironing out stateroom issues and dining room issues and sea sickness issues and shore excursion issues and probably Oedipal issues, too. In fact, half the ship’s passengers are in that line this morning, so I’m grateful he’s willing to take one for the team.

Plus, we both know I’d knuckle under and walk away from that service desk placated with another half dozen VIP Club pins. I have no backbone.

The other half of the ship’s passengers are on the Lido deck getting another soft-serve ice cream cone. That ice cream machine is going to be the death of me yet.

As I’m enjoying the view and scribbling in my notebook, I realize my Birkenstocks are killing me. They’re fairly new, and I hadn’t worn them for any serious length of time before. Now I’m walking 3 or 4 miles just to eat breakfast. Well, more like 6 or 8 miles since I keep heading to the wrong end of the ship.

I finish my notes and then stop in the gift shop to price a pair of softer sandals. No go. We’re a captive audience, so a pair of sandals in the gift shop would mean refinancing our mortgage and putting my grandson up as collateral. I’ll look for sandals when we’re in Cozumel, Mexico, tomorrow.

In the corridor to our stateroom, I see our door is open and I hear noises. I pass a guy in coveralls carrying a toolbox as I head to our room. I use my super-sleuthing brain to deduce that he is the plumber. And he’s leaving.

In our room, I find Wayne chatting amicably with a woman who has opened the safe for him. Marvin is also here, still apologizing, in several languages I don’t know. I nod a lot and smile. The entire metal front of the whirlpool tub is off.

Wayne and I try to discuss our activities for the day, but two more crew members arrive with a loud shop-vac and cleaning supplies. Wayne tells me the plumber will be back. I look at the torn-apart bathroom. Gosh, I hope so.

Tonight is our first formal night for dinner. Carnival calls it “Elegant Night,” but clearly they’ve never seen me in a dress.

I realize Wayne’s brand-new dress shirt needs to be ironed (it’s still in the package), as do several of my cotton capris, so I grab a handful of items and head to one of the laundry rooms.

There’s nothing I’d rather do right now than some ironing. I don’t even iron things when I’m at home. I hate it twice as much when I’m on vacation.

There is a drop-down ironing board like you see in vintage comedy movies, and the iron is hanging from a metal hook about a foot over my head. I say a prayer and get it down without poking my eye out or dropping it on my foot.

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Grateful that the ship isn’t wobbling around too badly, I iron the items without burning myself. But, getting the now-hot iron back up on that hook over my head strengthens my prayer life in ways you can’t imagine. The dual mantras of “lawsuit” and “refund” spring to mind. I envision another design engineer getting fired.

I bring my laundry back to the stateroom and hang it all up neatly in one of our $600 unused closets. We haven’t eaten since breakfast, so we head to the Lido deck to grab a quick burger. Wayne orders a $10 drink of the day, a concoction called Ocean Blue Cocktail. It’s bright blue, and he has no clue what’s in it. This doesn’t seem to bother him, though.

This is the same man who was freaked out over some possibly-but-probably-not-toilet water on the floor. Now he’s drinking chemicals from Monsanto, for all we know. Expensive ones, too. But at least they’re blue … the same color as the toilet water, by the way. Once he makes that connection too, he’ll head back to the stateroom to gargle with some of that hand sanitizer.

Back in our stateroom, we find the tub put back together and everyone gone. Wayne calls poor Marvin to say that the bathroom floor was not properly cleaned after the crew workers left. We’re told it was a sink leak, not tub or toilet, but I suspect Wayne isn’t convinced.

I sit on our balcony and read instead of watching yet another crew member clean our bathroom yet again. Wayne tries to nap, but of course the cleaning crew shows up as soon as he starts to nod off.

Later, we head to dinner, all dressed to the nines and without a clue what that even means. We try not to make eye contact with all the photographers on the Promenade deck coaxing people to have their pictures taken in their finery. Pictures they will sell back to you for twenty bucks.

Two young women are having fun with their photographer and posing on the furniture in “cheesecake” shots, hamming it up, and then another photographer without a customer runs into the shots and poses with them. It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen since I got on the ship.

Then again, I lost my phone and we’ve had not-toilet-water all over our bathroom floor for 36 hours. My standards for humor might be a bit off.

In the dining room, the maître d’ asks us our names and our stateroom number. Wayne gleefully announces, “Stateroom 7296. We’re Dixie and Steve!”

The maître d’ doesn’t get the joke. That’s okay, though. I get the joke, and I’m not laughing either. That won’t prevent Wayne from saying this every time we enter the dining room all week long.

We end the day after our lovely dinner with another soft-serve ice cream cone because we’ve walked past the machine on the Lido deck again (accidentally on purpose), with a clean bathroom and a dry floor, and with a cheap rum and Diet Coke. Wayne bemoans the fact that Papa Bert’s Sippin’ Seat doesn’t hold nearly enough rum for a 7-day cruise.

Tomorrow, though, we’ll be in Cozumel. Wayne has a 100% track record for getting cheap Mexican rum back onto the ship from Cozumel.

We’ll see if he can maintain that perfect score. They’re calling for rain all day tomorrow.

Next installment: Jack Sparrow taught him everything he knows about rum smuggling…