Well, we are finally back. I am not saying that the cruise on the Brilliance from Miami to Barcelona was long, but while we were gone our daughter grew up, went to college and matriculated. I have no idea what “matriculated” is, but I don’t like the sound of it.
While on the trip, I met many cruisers more experienced than I, and I think I have finally
come to understand the hierarchy of cruising in North America. Apparently, at the very bottom are the so-called “cruises” to New England, Canada, Alaska, Key West and the Mexican Riviera. Technically, these are not really cruises at all, but are merely get-aways…or at best, mini-vacations. Any place that a seventeen year old suffering from acne, and his date, can drive to in their four cylinder 1990 Honda Civic cannot really be credited as being a “cruise” destination.
The real cruises are delineated by the verbs (passive to active) and the adjectives needed to describe them. At the very bottom are the Caribbean cruises. One GOES on a cruise to the Southern/Western Caribbean (e.g. Have you GONE on a cruise of the Western Caribbean?) Note the passive verb and the need for adjectives. Next up is the Panama Canal. One DOES the Panama Canal (Have you DONE the Panama Canal?). Note the more active verb, but still the need to describe the Canal. At the very top is the TransAtlantic crossing. One MAKES the Crossing (Have you MADE the Crossing?) Strong verb - no need to use any adjectives at all. Clearly, The Crossing is the king of cruises.
But I digress.
Highlights from my Cruise on the Brilliance
Day One, Life Boat Drill: I was not able to get a note from my Mother excusing me from the lifeboat drill, but as we have learned in recent weeks, cruise ships do sink, so I was what realtors like to describe as “motivated”. Before the drill I watched the emergency “abandon ship” video on the TV in our stateroom. I learned that if the alarm to abandon ship sounded while we were out of our stateroom we should not go back to get the life vests, but report directly to our lifeboat station where highly trained evacuation personnel would have extra life vests. I found this reassuring on two levels as: 1) I planned to spend most of my time outside the stateroom, and 2) there were no life vests in our stateroom.
When the alarm for the lifeboat drill sounded we went directly to our lifeboat station (N5, if you must know) and reported to our highly trained evacuation personnel that we did not have vests in our room. After considering the situation for a moment (I swear, I am not making this up) our highly trained crew member, in halting English, said, “I don’t know what to do, good thing this is just a drill.” Then it hit me……I was about to cross the Atlantic with Gilligan and the Skipper.
It was at this low point in my life that the passenger next to me said, “you do know that this is the ship that the guy went overboard on, don’t you?” My God, I was on THAT ship without a life vest! I was the maritime equivalent of being up the creek without a paddle.
But, at that moment, as we looked around and saw that we were the only ones on the entire ship without life vests, a marvelous and mystical feeling overcame us. We could actually feel the bonds of our marriage strengthening…irrevocably joining us together as never before. We knew that whatever fate befell us on this ship we would do it together – in each other’s arms.
Then, displaying a diabolical sense of humor, RCL delivered to us ONE life vest.
The sound you hear is the noise made by the breaking, like so may breadsticks at the midnight buffet, of irrevocable bonds - as I tried to reason with SailorJill why it made sense for me to have the life vest. And, as I look back on it, that was about the time SailorJill decided that our stateroom was really quite cute and lovely, what with the balcony, the TV, the good Bourbon, and (presumably) the life vest – and she would just love to stay in the room while I went topside.
Day Two, Poolside: After an international breakfast at the Windjammer (Spanish omelet, Canadian bacon, French toast, Belgian waffles, English muffins, Columbian coffee, and Florida orange juice) we came out on Deck 11 to find a glorious day: eighty-two degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We spread out our towels, took out our books and started to work on our tans. It was then that we noticed a very old gentleman entering the pool area. He could not have weighed more than 100 pounds; what remained of his thin, white hair was relegated to a thin fringe just above his sunburned ears, and he had large folds on leathery skin that hung loosely over his faded blue shorts. He walked with a cane and moved very slowly. You have seen this before…where one foot moves a few inches and then the other foot slides up next to it… taking minutes to cover just a few yards.
After what seemed like an eternity he came abreast of the pool ladder, and slowly turned towards it. Conversations around the pool stopped in mid-sentence as people contemplated the unthinkable. He as actually going to go into the pool! As he laid down his cane, two men sprung forward to help him, but he had his pride and he shook his head. He slowly backed down the ladder, one agonizingly slow step at a time and then…magically…. he pushed off of the ladder and actually floated! Floated, that is, until his hearing aid shorted out. The sparking in his ear caused him to panic and he started thrashing about. Pandemonium broke out as everyone jumped into the pool to help. He was finally pulled out by two women who sat him on pool edge and held on to him to ensure that he was OK.
As I began expressing to SailorJill my concerns about him even being in the pool area, she asked me to consider what had just happened. He was, she pointed out, the only man on the ship now sitting between two beautiful women wearing string bikinis – each of whom was holding on to him and ministering to his needs. I am sure my jaw dropped as it dawned on me that I was in the presence of greatness. I had just witnessed the greatest pick-up move since Rhett swept up Scarlett O’Hara and carried her upstairs.
As I was thinking about how I could use this move on our next cruise…maybe when SailorJill was playing Bingo…a pool attendant came up to help the old man. Eventually, it took three of them to get him away from the women - and as they escorted him past me I could see the twinkle in his clear blue eyes.
Day Three, Poolside (again): She was blonde, she was tall, she was wearing high-heeled sandals, short shorts, and a T-shirt from Senor Frogs in Cancun. She picked out her chaise, spread her towels, and began to remove her shorts. She had the attention of every male (and most of the women) on Deck 11 (and Deck 12 as well). Conversations trailed off into silence, the bartender at the Pool Side Bar stopped the incessant rattling of beer bottles, and the two-piece band slid into merciful silence. You would have thought that no one had ever seen a teeny, tiny, gossamer, metallic green thong bikini before. Knowing that she had the undivided attention of everyone on the top two decks of the Brilliance of the Seas, she grasped the bottom of her t-shirt and pulled it high over her head, apparently unaware that the top straps on the bikini top had come undone. As she stretched upwards, gravity did what gravity does.
In many places on the ship that day, everything went on as usual, people secure in the comfortable routine of shipboard activities – completely unaware that life on Decks 11 and 12 had ceased to exist as we know it. As her top slid down to her waist, beer bottles crashed to the floor – slipping from hands no longer capable of independent movement, people walking by tripped over their feet, completely oblivious to pain of skinned knees and shins, grown men cried unashamedly, while others grasped their chest and sank back into their lounges – and women sprang forward to offer sheltering towels.
The medical staff never released the tally of treatments for that day, but I can assure you that every able-bodied man was at the pool the next day. Life is good.
Day Four (slightly more than half-way and still no life vest. If the ship goes down I now swim for Africa and not back to the East Coast). Another picture perfect day, but the seas are running at 12 feet and the water in the pool has whitecaps so I decide to do a few laps around the jogging track on Deck 12. I am surprised to see two Albatrosses above the ship, floating lazily on the warm breezes off the West African coast, but we have had the presence of other seabirds ever since we left Miami.
The walking has worked up a thirst and I enjoyed a couple of very good Margaritas at the Pool Side Bar when the ship’s speaker announces Skeet Shooting on the aft deck – a luxury apparently afforded on Crossing Cruises. I immediately signed up and after waiting an hour got my turn. I was given an almost new 12 gauge shot gun with six shells, a concise instruction on safety, and positioned just to the right of a little machine that threw something called clay pigeons. But, after only one shot, they grabbed the shotgun and told me I was banished from the aft deck for the balance of the cruise.
Note to future cruisers: Apparently there is an ancient superstition against shooting at Albatrosses while at sea. I mean, its not like I actually hit one, and there is nothing against it in the Guest Rules of Conduct, but it seems to be one of those unwritten rules of the sea. Oh, well…as I head for the Golf Driving I wonder if anyone has ever hid a bird with a well placed drive..humm.
Day Five (Poolside). The poolside games today include something called “The Mans’ ***y Legs Contest”. They were successful in rounding up five women who would be judges, but were having trouble finding enough idiots to actually volunteer to show their legs. So “Rick, from the Cruise Directors Staff” started walking around the pool badgering innocent sunbathers to get up and embarrass themselves. “Rick, from the Cruise Directors Staff” stopped in front of my lounge and asked me to volunteer. I politely declined. He asked again. I declined more strongly. That’s when “Rick, from the Cruise Directors Staff” turned to the building audience and yelled into his microphone, “You’re not afraid are you? Come on people, let’s give him a little encouragement!” SailorJill said in would be “fun” and after being assured that all I had to do was go up and walk in front of the judges, I said I would join the other idiots.
When we got up front “Rick, from the Cruise Directors Staff” said we should dance and “show our moves” when our turn came. That was not what I had signed up for. When my turn came, I walked by the five judges and “Rick, from the Cruise Directors Staff” started yelling into his microphone “Shake your Booty, SHAKE YOUR BOOTY”. To this day I have no idea what a Booty is, but apparently it is not your middle finger.
Needless to say, I lost the ***y Legs Contest. Actually, I think I was disqualified because I was told I wouldn’t be getting a ShipShape Dollar.
So Day Five ends – 1,200 miles out into the Atlantic with no life vest, banned from the aft deck, a self-destructive urge to buy SailorJill a metallic green thong bikini, and a loser in the ***y Legs contest. But I have discovered ShipShape Dollars
Day Six. After researching them, I have found out that you get one ShipShape Dollar for participating in any ship-sponsored activity that involves pain, embarrassment, or strenuous activity. At the end of the cruise, you turn in the dollars for free valuable merchandise. Today, SailorJill and I participated (sort of) in Walk-a-Mile (twice), Morning Stretches, Build-those-Abs, Fun Fitness, Aquadynamics, Longest Drive Competition, Ping-Pong, Pathway to Yoga, Wheels-in-Motion, Line Dancing, Tango Lessons, and Belly Dancing. I was initially told that Belly Dancing was for ladies only, but I pointed out that it did not say that in the Compass (the ship’s daily newspaper), but as a compromise I would be willing to forego this activity that I REALLY wanted to do…for three ShipShape Dollars. I should have asked for only two.
While I think I did pretty well, I was a little uncomfortable every time the instructor yelled out, ‘Ladies stick out those chests.” Of course the ribald comments from the men watching didn’t help at all either. Now I know why many of those dancers wear veils.
Now, as you might expect, many of these activities occurred simultaneously, which you would think would limit your ability to participate in all of them. However, I found that if you squeeze up to the front of the line after one event, get your dollar and then run like crazy to the other event that you couldn’t do, you can get in the back of that line to get that dollar. If the instructor begins to look at you like he can’t remember you participating, you say something like, “that was a lot of fun, you were great!” and stick out your hand for the dollar.
It was a lot of work, but by the end of the day, we had 26 ShipShape Dollars. Only 48 more to go and we qualify for a free key-chain!
Day Seven, The Azores. Our first port! We arrive at the largest city in the Azore Islands - Ponta Delgada - on a Sunday. I’m not saying this was exactly a small island, but they were going to greet the ship with the Island’s marching band, but one band member was ill and the other one refused to march alone. And, because it was a Sunday, the three stores in town were closed. Some people elected to play golf on the island’s three-hole par three golf course, while others went over to the city park to watch the grass grow. After a thirty-minute tour of the island, we went back to the ship. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Azores, don’t go on a Sunday.
After the Azores, we visited Lisbon, Cadiz, Valencia, Malaga, and Barcelona. Great Ports! The Brilliance was a fantastic ship and the crew was outstanding. The food was among the best I have had on a cruise, and some of the entertainment was quite good. If you have the opportunity to take this cruise, do so – you won’t be disappointed. And, if anyone happens to stumble across where “Rick, from the Cruise Directors Staff” lives, please drop me a line.
PS. I made up the skeet-shooting thing.