The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 12, the Finale)

Our last full day on board is mostly uneventful (for a change). But overnight it was ridiculously rocky. Not motion-sickness rocky, really. Just Captain-Ahab-thar-she-blows–rocky. It wasn’t a gentle, lull-you-to-sleep rocky. It was a what-the-heck-was-that-we’re-gonna-fall-off-the-boat rocky.

But we survived. We’re just kinda sleepy. And I used up my hyphen quota for the month.

Wayne and I go our separate ways after breakfast. I do exciting things like hitting the gift shop for their last-day sales and packing my suitcase while watching TV in the stateroom. What’s on the TV this last day? You guessed it: The Perfect Storm. Right where I started in Part 1. And some people still wonder where writers get their ideas…

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Hello, Mr. Wahlberg, my old friend… We meet again.

 

I take a short break and sit on the balcony reading. Then I stand to take some pictures of the ocean, and I see… a dolphin leaping into the air! Three times! This is exactly long enough for me to grab my phone—I mean, my camera/alarm/solitaire device—to get some pictures. Sadly, Flipper is camera-shy. But the sight of him pretty much redeems any bad stuff that’s happened on this trip so far. Pretty much.

It’s no surprise that Wayne heads for the casino. He’s feeling lucky after his big blackjack tournament win. Casinos love when you’re feeling lucky, because they know there’s no such thing as luck. Wayne knows it, too, so I suspect his presence there today has more to do with this little card they gave him right after his tourney win:

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This dangerous, dangerous card means he gets free drinks for the rest of the cruise… (wait for it)… as long as he’s playing in the casino.

And that’s precisely how your luck runs out.

To this day, three months later, Wayne insists that his drinks would have cost more than he lost while playing blackjack. And he says this with a straight face. At least he knows not to compare his losses to the cost of our stateroom upgrade. THAT was the real loss on this trip. Plus, I find it oddly attractive that he has this ability to forget how sick he got just a few days ago while drinking. He actually smiles and even laughs when he’s drinking, so that’s a plus… well, until he throws up.

Anyway, I pack my suitcase and enjoy the large stateroom one last day. Debarkation the next morning is a hot mess, but there’s just no way to get 2,000+ people (and their unwieldy luggage) off a ship single-file without it being a mess. We’ve endured it before, so we’re used to it, and at least we’re heading to Port Charlotte to spend Christmas with Wayne’s mom, Mary, and his brother Ed.

Wayne spends too much time while we’re at his mom’s house trying to get Xfinity Mobile to fix my phone situation. He calls them… more than once. He does online chat sessions… more than once. He even drives to the local Comcast office. Nothing works. Everyone either passes the buck or suggests unhelpful things that don’t work. (“Have you tried rebooting the phone?” Gee, no, that never occurred to us.)

The day before I’m scheduled to get back on the train (alone… because Wayne is flying back the day after I leave Florida), my phone still isn’t working. I don’t want to travel without a working phone, so Wayne dons his Don’t-Mess-With-Me persona and gives Comcast one last phone call.

He lays it on the line: My wife will travel with a working phone tomorrow, or else. He invokes our 20-year history with Comcast, having forked over untold millions to pay for their services, having taken out second and third mortgages, and having sold several of our grown children into slavery… just so I can watch Outlander and just so he can tweak the settings on our router every few weeks because “the damned modem keeps resetting itself to factory defaults.”

He lays his outrage on so thick that I fear his mother will grab a bar of soap and wash his mouth out with it. (She’d totally do it, too.) Meanwhile, Ed and I are smiling, in awe of Wayne in His Wrath. It’s a beautiful thing to witness in person.

He’s put on hold (again) and is finally connected with someone far, far up the tech support ladder. This guy admits that nobody below him has the authorization to override whatever was done to my phone when Wayne called to “temporarily” suspend the service. And, lo and behold, the phone now works!

 

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I’m so giddy I almost forget to pack my suitcase! Just kidding. I totally packed yesterday.

Fast-forward a bit: At the end of the week, the train ride back to Pennsylvania is fun, as usual. And relaxing. Unlike plane travel.

Wayne flies home the day after I leave and should be coming to get me at the station around 8 p.m. tonight. Our texts this morning:

Me: I still have my phone!
Wayne: Yes, I got home.
Me: I figured.
Wayne: When you do need picked up?
Me: In theory the train arrives at 8 p.m….but I’m not on that train yet to know if it’s going to be on time. I figured I’d text you later today once I know more. But let’s start with the 8 p.m. scheduled time. I can sit in the station and wait if I get there before you do.

Later, I come to regret this admission. Not that it was his fault…

Around noon, more texts:

Me: This last train (#43, the Pennsylvanian) is scheduled to leave Philly on time in a few minutes. I’ll keep you posted on whether it stays on time today. You can also check train status on the Amtrak site. Apparently it’s pretty accurate in real time.

Also Me: Plus I still have my phone.

Later:

Me: Still looks like you getting there around 8:00 or a tiny bit after is good. Easier for me to wait than you.

Boy, I am really going to regret these sorts of concessions…

Wayne decides to head to the Grand View Buffet for dinner (which is conveniently located inside Rivers Casino), so he’ll at least be within shouting distance of the Amtrak station in time to pick me up.

This amount of forethought and planning would have been a great idea (and totally unlike Wayne), had there not also been a Steelers home game within a half mile of the casino that evening. This also would have been a great idea, had there not been a freak accident involving a car catching fire inside the Fort Pitt Tunnel minutes before he left the casino to head my way.

He couldn’t figure out why traffic was stopped dead on the Fort Duquesne Bridge (which leads to the Fort Pitt Bridge, which leads to the aforementioned Fort Pitt Tunnel).

This afternoon:

Wayne: Will you need to eat? I’m planning on eating before I get you.
Me: If there are eggs in the house I can just make eggs when I get home. No problem.
Wayne: OK. Then I’m going to go have a Rivers buffet now. Rivers closes the buffet at 8.
Me: Okay. Just don’t forget to come get me because you’re at a blackjack table.

Later, from the casino:

Wayne: There must have been a football game today.
Me: Yes… Why? Parking garage a zoo? We are just leaving Greensburg.
Wayne: Yes and all the football shirts.
Me: It’s probably still on and near the end…. You might hit a mess of traffic when you leave.

Just before 8 p.m.:

Me: Am safely in the station and can easily zip out to you when you get here.
Wayne: On my way.

Around 8:30 p.m.:

Me: Are you here? There was a car on fire around the Ft. Pitt Bridge and the tunnel is closed.

No response.

He arrives around 9:30 p.m. He doesn’t have a clue whether we have eggs in the fridge (so much for that forethought and planning), so we stop to pick me up something to eat on the way home.

I’m exhausted, but at least my phone works again…

…until Xfinity suspends it sometime in February for no reason. A glance at our account online shows three cell phones, not two: Wayne’s (which is listed correctly); the replacement phone that he bought and that we’ve already returned (and for which we’ve already received credit), which still has my phone number associated with it and some of my actual phone’s specs; and a third phone, also with my phone number, but with specs that don’t match my actual phone, but which is, out of the three listed, my actual phone.

A few more irate phone calls from Wayne later, my phone is working again. But for how long? Wayne’s thinking that, if Xfinity ever resells that phone we returned, it’ll wreak havoc with my actual phone one more time.

It’s early April and my phone still works… but our account information still hasn’t been fixed.

And I’m getting on a train Tuesday night for another trip alone… with more than a little trepidation about this phone.

If you live in Vegas, let me know what the odds are on this bet, okay?

And what’s the best part of this twelve-part travelogue? 

Gee, it’s hard to pick just one thing, but I have to go with my gut:

Wayne’s first-place blackjack tournament win entitles him to play in the $100,000 Grand Tournament for free in early May… on another cruise… which is not free. The last time he won the smaller tournament, we laughed off this idea as a scam to get people to buy another cruise.

But guess who’s going to that Grand Tournament this time? Apparently he’s still feeling lucky.

We booked the cheapest rooms available: no balcony, no ocean view, not even a porthole. We won’t know if it’s day or night in our stateroom. But it’s cheap.

And Wayne has a chance to win $50,000 if he wins this tournament. And they’re already promising him free drinks in the casino again. What could go wrong?

Well, how about this email he got from Natasha from Carnival Cruise Line three days ago?

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My response?

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Wayne’s response? …  “Hello, Natasha?”

 

 

The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 11)

It’s Friday morning. We’re scheduled to spend the day at Grand Cayman, a beautiful little island we’ve been to before, on another cruise. We’ve also missed this port before, on another cruise. The port of Grand Cayman uses teeny tiny little tender boats to shuttle a handful of passengers at a time from the cruise ship to the shore. It doesn’t take much in the way of bad weather to shut down the whole day here.

Which side of the coin are we on this time? Three guesses. The first two don’t count.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m awake just before the alarm on my phone goes off. You know, my “phone” that is now just an alarm and a small device for playing spider solitaire. Really, I should be calling it anything but a phone, since that’s now the one function it cannot do.

I get up and head for the shower, and only then do I hear over the loudspeaker that high winds have canceled our entire port day here at Grand Cayman. As an avowed night owl, my first thought is, “I could have slept in.”

My second thought is, “Wait, no sting rays!”

I secretly wonder who Wayne bribed to shut down the port so he wouldn’t have to touch sting rays, or any other living animals, on this cruise. And did the bribe cost more than the puddle-upgrade we paid $600 for?

These are all purely theoretical questions, of course. He’d never admit it. When we had to fix a buried terra-cotta plumbing pipe in the yard in 2006, he surreptitiously bought three ugly gnomes and placed them on the mound of dirt in the front yard. Thirteen years later and he still hasn’t admitted it, even after I found the box hidden in the basement a few months later.

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IM000857.JPGThey’re creepier than the average gnome…

 

Anyway, nobody’s getting off the boat today. Unless they want to swim back to Tampa. Pretty sure none of us do, so we’ll now have two “sea days” in a row. Except for the no-sting-rays thing, I’m okay with this. I love just being on the ship. If they put me on a cruise and just sailed around in a very large circle for a week, I’d be happy as a clam. Well, as long as it’s not too tight a circle. I get motion sickness easily. Plus, I have no idea just how happy a clam really is. Apparently they’re cheerful little chums.

Because we didn’t find out about the cancellation early enough, Wayne and I are showered and ready a full hour sooner than  we’re used to. We head to the Lido deck for breakfast … along with approximately 2,000 other people who are now stuck on the ship and still need to eat breakfast too. Everyone’s still chipper and content, though. Carnival is still feeding us like kings and queens, and none of us have to do the dishes. For me, that’s always vacation enough.

But this will teach me not to book a one-opportunity shore excursion for the last port, especially if it’s one that uses teeny tiny little shuttle boats. Lesson learned.

After another yummy breakfast, I grab ICCC #6 (chocolate-vanilla swirl, as usual) midship on the Lido deck and walk back to the stateroom. I mostly walk in the right direction this time. Because the cruise is almost over. By the time we debark on Sunday morning, I should know exactly how to get to our stateroom.

Another towel animal has appeared. I’ve kept all our animals intact all week, because it just feels wrong to disembowel the towel and then use it to dry off after a shower. “This used to be the beautiful swan towel animal…. Well, at least my butt is dry.”

Yeah, that’s just all kinds of wrong.

Besides, they’ve been keeping Boris the squirrel company on the sofa.

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I think all the towels are named Terry…

At the end of the week, I plan to blind all the towel animals, and take their plastic googly eyes off and bring them home. There have to be dozens of ways I can use these things once I’m home.

I spend most of the day either meandering around the ship, enjoying the fact that it’s now a few days till Christmas and I’m wearing capris and sandals on deck and sitting barefoot in a deck chair on our balcony, reading to my heart’s content and soaking up the sun while listening to the waves.

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A deck chair, a Kindle, and the sound of the sea…

It’s beautiful.
It’s glorious.
It’s refreshing and inspiring.

But it still ain’t worth an extra $600. Sorry, Wayne.

Next installment: Don’t rock the boat… except with Xfinity Mobile.

 

 

The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 10)

It’s Thursday, I think. We’ve docked in Roatan, Honduras, and the weather is ultra-warm. Gosh, I love cruise vacations in December.

We pack up all our gear into our oversized tote bag. Wayne packs three cans of Diet Coke, two bottles of water, and one bottle of “water” (meaning, of course, the cheap rum he bought in Mexico and has kept in the wall safe in our stateroom). We’ve eaten another leisurely breakfast on the ship, so now we walk the long, winding sidewalk from the pier to the beach, which seems about a hundred miles away, possibly two. Wayne decides not to spend $14 per person to use the sky chair lift, which carries you right onto the beach. After all, he’s carrying cheap rum and cheap Diet Coke and he bought himself a cheap straw hat. The man has to keep up appearances of being a skinflint. (Note: they ain’t just appearances.)

About halfway between the ship and the beach, as we trudge along the never-ending sidewalk watching the chair lift overhead, twenty-eight bucks starts to seem like a bargain, but we soldier on.

DSCN1953Even with my fear of heights, this starts to seem like a good idea.

 

On the beach, we find two empty deck chairs under a palm tree—but the palm tree has very few branches and only about two or three square inches of our chairs are shaded from the sun.

DSCN1954If only our palm tree had that many branches…

We slather on the SPF 2000+ sun block. (We use a lot of this stuff. The man is blond and bald and carries around a lot of surface area.)

I settle into a deck chair to read on my Kindle. As I glance around at the crowded beach, I’m relieved that I am, by far, NOT the fattest person in a swimsuit, which is really saying something. And frankly, some of these people clearly did not know what size they really are when they bought these swimsuits.

The beach is packed because there are two full ships here today: ours and the Rotterdam from Holland America (which is owned by Carnival).

DSCN1948Don’t get back on the wrong ship later!

 

So, up to 4,000 people are crammed onto this beach today. No wonder we’re sitting under a palm twig. We could have rented a canvas clam shell to shield us from the sun, but, again… skinflint.

Wayne heads to the bar to get a drink, but he just wants the plastic cup they’ll give him so he can be his own mixologist of Diet Coke and “water” for the rest of the day. He gulps the beverage he paid good money for and then pours Diet Coke into the cup, followed by some “water.” The woman watching him from the neighboring deck chair wonders briefly why this man is pouring water into his Diet Coke, but then smiles and says, “I take it that is NOT water.”

Wayne says slyly, “What do you mean?” We all just laugh.

It is the last time I’ll laugh for the rest of the day.

Wayne takes his drink (which now his second if you’re keeping count, and you should be keeping count) and heads into the water for a while. I’m sweating on my beach chair but still enjoying it, reminding myself that it’s five days till Christmas and I am on a beach in the Caribbean. I read and sweat.

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At some point Wayne comes back, drips water everywhere, and mixes another drink or two. By this point, I’ve lost count and the “water” is disappearing fast. Later I will regret not keeping count. He heads back out into the water again. This time he is in the water for more than an hour. I’ve moved our things from the exposed deck chairs to a little wooden “boat” with a thatched roof just behind where we were. This is shaded, at least, though the bench seats with no backs aren’t all that comfortable.

After about 1.5 hours (give or take ten minutes), I decide it’s time to call it a day. We’re supposed to be back on the ship no later than 2:30 anyway and it is now 1:45. Plus, I have to use a restroom, and, as any woman who’s worn a one-piece swimsuit knows, that gets complicated. I’d rather be back in our stateroom for that little presto-change-o act.

I can’t go back to the ship alone, though, because I have Wayne’s ID and room key, and he can’t get back on the ship without them. So I pack up all our gear and head down to the beach to the edge of the water to get his attention. Unfortunately, he is waaaaay out near the rope… and he’s facing out to sea, gabbing and gesturing with a younger couple, who are just nodding a lot. He’s never this chatty when he’s sober. I start counting the drinks he’s had with my fingers, but I run out of fingers.

I can’t get his attention, despite waving his large hat in my hands. I start trying to will him with my mind to turn around. He stubbornly just won’t turn around. I’ll never have a career as a psychic at this rate.

A woman who is here with the couple he’s serenading offers to go into the water to get his attention. I hang onto our several tons of gear and Wayne’s straw hat, thank her, and wait on shore.

She returns and says, “He’s three sheets to the wind.” Tell me something I didn’t know. She also says that his response when she told him I was waiting on shore was twofold: “My wife gets nervous” and “She’s just a woman.” Apparently he then looked at her and added, “Oh, so are you.”

Nice way to make friends, Wayne, you sexist.

He takes his time getting out of the water—well, he was probably going as fast as he could, given his state of inebriation—and I tersely remind him that I was stuck with all our stuff until he decided to come back on shore.

When I tell him what time it is, it’s clear he had no idea he’d been in the water that long. I hand him his hat and his T-shirt, and as he’s dressing he’s talking too loudly and making jokes about how much the ship is rocking. (Note: we’re standing on the beach.)

He’s hit that point where he thinks everything he says is hilarious… and where I think nothing he says is hilarious. We’re like a bad family sitcom from this point on.

We begin the long walk back to the ship, and he mentions more than once that we’ll have to walk uphill the whole way. I keep saying, “No shit, Sherlock.” I try to say it nicely, but there is really no way to say “No shit, Sherlock” nicely. Besides, he’s not really listening to me anyway.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking the walk may sober him up a little. Instead, he walks erratically and keeps mentioning how much he’s had to drink. The walk back seems twice as long as the walk down. With the way he’s walking back and forth, it probably is twice as long for him.

As we’re finally boarding the ship and showing our ID cards, Wayne loudly asks the crew, “Will you guys let me back on board if I’m drunk?”

I answer: “I’m pretty sure it’s ME you have to ask, not THEM.” Everyone laughs. Except Wayne, because my jokes aren’t funny and he’s still not listening to me anyway.

Somehow we get back to our stateroom intact, and Wayne heads to the bathroom first. Meanwhile, I’m calculating how long it’s going to take me to get out of this swimsuit once I’m in the bathroom. You have to be Houdini to know how to get out of this thing.

Just as I’m wishing Wayne would hurry up in there, I hear the shower running. Now I’m stuck here in my sweaty swimsuit waiting for a drunk man to shower on a moving ship.

Eventually I get my turn. By the time I come out of the shower, Wayne is nodding off on the bed.

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It’s 3 p.m. It’s our second formal night for dinner, and tonight is the blackjack tournament at 8:00, so I need to wake him up by 5:30 so we can head to the dining room around 5:45… so he can make it to the blackjack tournament by 8:00.

This cruise involves too much math.

I awaken Wayne at 5:30 and get dressed myself. I’m done and ready to go, and he’s barely getting up off the bed. I nudge him some more, reminding him about the blackjack tournament and dinner. He stumbles into the bathroom and is in there a little too long for someone who has already showered.

Eventually he appears and announces that he feels better now and that he threw up while he was in there. Now, I’ve seen him slightly tipsy before but I have never seen him get sick. That’s been my territory in years past.

Nothing says good decision-making skills during a card tournament like a hangover. He can kiss his chances at winning goodbye. I wonder if he’ll make it through the tournament without getting sick. Or even through a formal dinner with rich food. (Tonight is filet mignon. I swear if that makes a reappearance on his plate, I’m going to ask for a different stateroom.)

We leave for dinner around 6:30 instead of 5:45. There’s a note tucked into our mailbox in the hallway saying something about our stingray excursion tomorrow being canceled due to “inclement weather.” Figures. The ONE port for which we’ve booked an excursion.

Wayne looks tidier in dressy clothes (without the hat), and we have a lovely dinner that doesn’t involve vomiting. Win-win.

Last night, when the waiter asked what flavor of ice cream Wayne wanted with his dessert, he said, “Surprise me!” And, the waiter did not disappoint. He came back with two scoops of every single flavor of ice cream and sherbet they had. (I counted: that was 16 scoops. Wayne ate them all.)

48391253_10157248193277214_8962206869565210624_nI couldn’t fit them all in the picture…

Tonight Wayne shows a little more restraint and does not order ice cream. This is a wise choice.

While we’re still at dinner, Wayne checks shore excursions online and finds that only OUR excursion has been canceled but that others are still available. I really wanted to do the stingray tour, so he finds a similar one that is still open—and it’s actually $20 cheaper per person. We book it. They’ll deliver the tickets to our stateroom, probably sometime overnight.

We get back to our stateroom around 7:30. Wayne stays dressed up but dons the straw hat and heads to the casino for the tournament. He’s a lot quieter than he was this afternoon on the beach. Gee, I wonder why. I haven’t a clue how he’ll do in the tournament in his current state. Is that math-brain functioning at 100%?

I head to the balcony with my Kindle to read. I’ve finished Howards End so I pick up The River Widow where I left off back home.

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At about 9:15 Wayne comes back to the stateroom. Miraculously, he didn’t throw up on the blackjack table, so that’s good. He did, in fact, come in first place on the leaderboard and needs to dash back to the casino in a few minutes for the final round. I wish him well and go back to my reading.

Wayne comes back about 10:30 with a winners T-shirt and a second “Ship on a Stick” trophy.

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He won the tournament! This nets him $500 cash and a spot in the grand tournament next May on another cruise. So, his cash winnings mean that the bathroom puddle has now cost us only $100 in theory. This brief foray into math doesn’t make me feel as good as I would have hoped.

First place in the grand tournament in May is $50,000. I can tell he’s already plotting out another cruise in six months. I can almost hear the wheels turning in his head. But at least he’s no longer sick. Once the math-brain kicks back in, I know all is well.

We have a lengthy, animated discussion about how to set alarms on our phones. Mine is still showing two separate times (ship’s time and Central Time, where we currently are). We do everything by ship’s time but my alarm app is showing Central Time so I have to adjust the alarm to make sure it goes off at the right time to get up, get fed, and get in place to meet our excursion in the morning. I can’t figure out if that means I set the alarm an hour earlier or an hour later. This quickly turns into a philosophical discussion.

I’m stifled by the amount of math on this vacation.

We responsibly go to bed early, which is easier for Wayne since he’s still under the semi-lingering influence of today’s rum. I mean, “water.”

Next installment: And they call the wind Mariah… but I call it inconvenient.