When I do get around, I write about it. If you want to read exclusively about my visits to United States presidential sites, you can do that over here.
Travel: A Cruise on the Carnival Valor
When my now mother-in-law had a big birthday, she took us on a cruise. All birthdays should be this way.
October 20, 2008
You can pick up a lot of different souvenirs on a cruise, but is there any momento better than the constant feeling that you're still on a boat? I hope it never ends! Walking to the refrigerator has never been this fun.
I was sailing for seven glorious days on the Carnival Valor. It was a great time, but I should note that of the 3,000 passengers on the boat, no one looked like the passengers from a Carnival TV ads. A few passengers did look like they had eaten the Carnival ad people, though. And yet they still wore bathing suits! Possibly the bathing suits taken from their much smaller victims. Huh.
The original itinerary: Fun Day at sea, Grand Cayman, Honduras, Belize, Cozumel, Fun Day at Sea. Unfortunately, the people of Honduras' Isla Roatan had no consideration for vacation scheduling and decided to have road-blocking civil unrest over increases in electricity costs, so that was kiboshed. It's a great plan: we have no money to pay our bills, so let's shut down the only source of income for the island! If everyone on the boat had the option of chipping in an extra $5 to help Roatan make ends meet, I think I could have had an extra day of snorkeling. Or, they could have organized a shore excursion in which cruise patrons get to fire bean bag guns and tear gas cannisters at impoverished protesters -- because vacation is about trying new things!
Also, Belize was struck from the schedule thanks to a tropical depression. So the actual itinerary: Fun Day at Sea, Grand Cayman, Fun Day at Sea, Cozumel, Progreso, Fun Day at Sea. If you've never cruised before, "Fun Day at Sea" means "you are stuck on the boat so we will try to sell you things." You have the option of having a great time drinking and relaxing on the deck, but why do that when you could be buying art? According to the brochures in your cabin, it's super fine art by modern masters. Never mind that Carnival has more than 20 ships cruising year-round and they probably have art auctions on most of the boats. The art YOU are buying is high-quality stuff. Guaranteed!
Notes on Things I've Eaten in the Last Week
Potato Ball: I ordered this item (at a restaurant in the Everglades) based solely on its name, since I generally enjoy potatoes and any food in the shape of the ball. I did not go with the picture on the wall, which showed a pile of ten or so breaded balls in cross section, each revealing a center that appeared to be uncooked dog food. When it came out from the kitchen, however, it was one fist-sized ball, and it was DELICIOUS. It was like a hushpuppy, but made from potato instead of corn, and with a hot, seasoned meat filling that was significantly better than uncooked dog food. I especially liked the garnish, which was a lime wedge with a toothpick stuck in either face. Finally, an establishment that recognizes that when you're sucking on a lime wedge, one toothpick is seldom enough. Also on the menu, but unordered by me, were "gator bites." After watching a half hour presentation on aligators and the need to protect them, you have the option of eating aligator. I love America.
Cherries Jubilee: They had great dessert choices onboard the Valor, and since I've never had a flaming dessert I made sure to try the cherries jubilee. Well, guess what? They don't burn things at your table, because boats are a "huge fire risk" and one tiny mistake might "kill everyone on board." And they have the audacity to call themselves the fun ship.
Hot Dogs: I am somewhat of a hot dog aficionado, but it's another thing altogether to have 24/7 hot dog access. When you're on a Carnival cruise, you are never more than three minutes from a hot dog, unless you are the kind of person who would take maximum advantage of that kind of opportunity, in which case it might take you five to ten minutes depending on your waddling speed. Why isn't this their entire advertising campaign? What says "vacation" more than unlimited hot dog access? Just so you know, I wasn't two-fisting hot dogs for six straight days. But it's very relaxing to know that I could have, while wearing unflattering swim wear, and I STILL wouldn't have been the ugliest person on the boat.
Lucky Charms: Before a shore excursion at Cozumel, Mexico, we skipped the cafeteria and had breakfast in the dining room, which meant I could order Lucky Charms off a menu. As in, "I will have the Lucky Charms, and the lady will have the Fruit Loops." I had to do this. About one hour later, following a violent ferry ride, most of the Lucky Charms had enjoyed a two-way journey. The whole incident has made me question the actual luckiness of Lucky Charms. If you've had a distinct lack of luckiness after consuming this cereal, please contact me at your earliest convenience. We're a few cases from a class action.
The Ocean Blue
We were sailing the Caribbean on Columbus Day, the same week that Columbus landed there 516 years ago. There have been slight improvements to shipbuilding technology since the 15th century, such as: water slides; 24/7 hot dog access; jogging tracks; sports bars; miniature golf courses; and turndown service. But aside from these tiny modern amenities, it was like reliving the Columbus experience! Yes, you might have been able to float the Pinta on one of the Valor's three swimming pools, but when you get down to the essence of it all, we're all just people on the open seas, looking for adventure, and playing video poker until we arrive at adventure. Get in touch with history. Take a cruise.
Some more cruise notes:
What the heck, here are some pictures. You earned it.
In the front is Senor Frog, a lovable scamp who inhabits ports of call all over the Caribbean. Without good guys like him providing yards of beer to people getting off of cruise ships which already have tons and tons of booze on board, vacations would not be possible. The building in the background is the legislative assembly building for the Cayman Islands. Their congress is across the street from Senor Frog's, which makes for one of the most convenient lobbying arrangements in the world, and also explains why the national motto of the Caymans is "No Fat Chicks."
This is en route to "Sting Ray City," a lovely sand bar on Grand Cayman where numerous giant sting rays will swim right up to you and then smear their evil slime all over your legs, making you jump forward into another slimy, evil sting ray. It's awesome. The guy shown on the front of the boat actually grabs some of the rays, and then puts them in your arms so that you can be face to face with the devil's emmisaries to the sea. The only drawback to Sting Ray City is that when you have your snorkeling gear on, you are forced to look at the lower half of everyone else from the boat. In many instances, this is not a good thing.
The colors are just better in the Caribbean. This is Playa del Carmen, which is a short ferry ride away from Cozumel. It's short because it's very fast -- 26 knotts for half an hour. It sometimes SEEMS a little longer, if you're puking your guts out, which I happened to be doing. You'd think the risk of extreme vomiting would be enough to prompt some kind of warning from the cruise ship travel desk, but you'd be wrong! Instead, you just sit on the ferry and find yourself asking, "Why are they handing out plastic bags before the boat starts moving?"
What makes the puking better is the video the ferry company plays for the whole trip, which includes a practical joke reel of people being scared by a guy in a gorilla suit. Even if you close your eyes, you can still hear the great music and laugh track, which is stereotypical Mexican television stuff (i.e. a notch below "Laff-In").
Do this all first thing in the morning and it's about 20 times better than a cup of coffee. We went to Playa del Carmen to catch a bus to Xcaret, which is like a Mayan cross between Colonial Williamsburg and a zoo, with an underground river that you can swim in, just like the Mayans, but with lifejackets and several stops for potato chips along the way. They have a Mayan ball court, which I'm guessing is fake. But it has neat skulls!
There are slightly more impressive Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, a majestic and crucially important site which you could walk on until a few years ago. But apparently the Mexican government finally decided that the ruins were getting ruined, because now you have to stay at the bottom. BOOOOOOOOO! BOOOOO historical preservation! I want a nice view!
A lot of people were sacrificed there, and their hearts were fed to jaguars, because this would help the crops. Wall Street should look into this. Those deaths are now honored by 400-500 vendors wandering the grounds trying to sell souvenirs for a dollar. And they are aggressive! They usually start with the "Excuse me sir!" but in the tone that usually precedes "My wife was just hit by a bus, can I borrow your cell phone?" It's hard to ignore that tone, so when you look over, they try to sell you a small figurine of a guy in a sombrero taking a nap. In the states, you wouldn't see such craftsmanship anywhere outside of South of the Border.
See the World