Wednesday, January 17, 2007

By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea...

Thinking about snow (and we’re supposed to get even more snow before the weekend!) brought to mind our Caribbean cruise we took Christmas of 2004. And we did all the things pre-cruise travelers do – bought shorts, tanned, a few of us even got the spray-on tans (not that I would divulge who did that). This was a spur of the moment decision – our mom had passed away, and Christmas was her favorite holiday. And my brother and I were mourning, and…we wanted to skip Christmas. It just wasn’t going to be the same without Mom. (Like a cruise was going to fix that??)

You may be wondering - how does a cruise make me think of snow? Well, upon our return, our ship docked in Galveston. There was a record snowfall of 8 inches of snow there that day. And yes, we were in shorts. It was absolutely crazy - but no more crazy than the actual cruise. (Warning – it’s a little long. But it was a long trip.) See below.

Sounding Forth Cruise Tips from the “Party Boat Cruiseline" cruisers of my family:

Listen more closely to your friends who just got back from the very same cruise – they are wise.

It doesn’t matter how busy or how stressed out you are, if you’ve never been on a cruise, ask your travel agent and your friends and anyone you can find detailed questions. You will be thanking God for giving you the gift of wisdom, later.

Lay out your clothes to pack for a 7 day cruise and then put ½ of them back into the closet. It doesn’t matter what the
Cruise Diva website says.

Figure in the cost of dry cleaning when you get back – because everything takes on the smell of the boat (very bad when the ship is full, and you find out that three partying girls occupied your deluxe suite prior to your arrival.)

Remember – if the ship is full, (and Christmas cruises always are) there is NO place they can move you to make your room better, should there be problems.

If you like wine, take your own wine onto the boat (we have friends that say colored water bottles work out really well!). You can get away with it. Take your own bottled water onto the boat – because “Party Boat Cruiseline" charges you out the wazoo for a bottle of water.

Take your own bottled soft drinks onto the boat (one family checked their cooler as luggage – worked great! Why didn’t we think of that?).

Take your favorite snacks onto the boat.

Don’t forget meds like antacids – they’ll cost you $1.99 per roll (plus $1 gratuity). Anything you buy in the gift shops has an automatic gratuity on it. No exceptions.

The Fountain Fun cards are $44 each and only work for (duh) fountain drinks. So if you’re bottled water drinkers like we are, it’s not worth it.

“Party Boat Cruiseline" does not know what
Dr. Pepper is. They are strictly a Coke boat. My brother, who only drinks DP, took a 12 pack. In Belize, he bought more. Still ran out. (Man, he gets grumpy without DP!)

Know that if you buy liquor on the boat, it’s staying in the store until you dock, back at home. You are not taking that bottle to your room. (We were trying to somewhat defray Ben Gump’s liquor bill. You’ll meet him later in this post.) They don’t tell you that until after you sign the sign and sail card slip, and all of a sudden, the bottle is on the floor behind the counter with your name on it. Feel free to have them take it (and the gratuity) off the bill right then, no matter the language barrier. We did.

If you’re going to gamble, set daily limits. Do not exceed those limits. No matter the temptation.

As a matter of fact, don’t even go to the casino unless you’ve had multiple visions that it’s your time to win. (And did you know? Cows really can fly.) You win one hand, dealers change places. Immediately. And when there is a guy on the boat that gets his own blackjack table because he’s laying out $142,000, you are just another stupid pretty face putting bucks into their bank account. All attention is focused on Big Boy.)

Don’t fall within the rating as one of the top ten slot players unless you’re winning big bucks…all you get out of that is a t-shirt. Don’t fall within the rating as one of the top ten table gamblers (other than the $142K guy)…all you get out of that is a t-shirt and a mug.

Go to every advertised show, karaoke hour, breakfast, dinner, lunch, bathroom flushing, watch them oil down the wood railings, whatever – just stay the heck out of the casino.. You are not going to win. That casino is in there for their financial health, not yours. Think of it this way…Las Vegas pays your airfare out to their city to gamble, and comps you great hotel suites to come spend money with them…duh!!!! Get the picture?

By the way, I just checked eBay for the price of a “Party Boat Cruiseline" brand new t-shirt…there’s one on there for $2.99. Much cheaper than setting foot in the casino!!

Allow an average of $625 per person spending money on the beautiful “sign and sail” cards, no matter their age.

This is over and above the cash amount you’ve given each person to spend at will. This is also over and above the amount you’ve already prepaid for the cruise. And take cash unless you want to pay exorbitant international ATM fees.

Take your kids’ cellular phones away before you leave home. From watching commercials, they think because they’re on Sprint, and they can catch a tower, that they can talk worldwide, at the same rates. Do it quickly!!

If 11 people are in your family group going on the cruise, allow for 11 different personalities, likes, dislikes. Or maybe 22. Or 33. It varies, exponentially – and does not cover any potential schizophrenics that may be lurking in your closet.

The 10 and under kids we saw that were in the “Party Boat Cruiseline" Kids Club had a blast – and they were so cute!! Unfortunately, our kids ranged from age 11 – 23.

The two youngest kids that were with us were pretty well homebodies – they wanted to stay in their room and read or play Game Boy. (Which kind of grounded their Mom?) They did have fun on the howling monkeys tour in Belize.

And mi esposo and the big boys had a blast on the zip-line rain forest canopy tour in Belize. Matter of fact, all the tours were great!

All of the shows were great – except we allowed our 16 year old into the R-rated comedy, with us. That comedian was so intimidating when he threw out the kids he busted, we hid ours. We should have all stood up and left, and suffered through the harassment. It was way more than R rated – it was XXX.

We now know that if your kids are over 10 (we had six of those), it’s probably best to keep them chained in their rooms…

Because everyone else has also had the great “walkie-talkie idea”. And there are no “clear” channels left. Kids out of sight means parents are worrying, not relaxing. So you don’t have to roam the entire 855’+ ship to find them…And when you do find them, you might know the crowd they’re hanging with.

Why chained to their room? So they don’t act like they’re Ben Gump and buy drinks for “the gang” repeatedly at $6.25 per drink, plus gratuity.

And you don’t have to worry about how many times your 16 year old son gets kicked out of the casino. And the only reason he thinks he can be in there is because his 17 year old cousin is already at a table gambling like an adult, with parental permission.

Nor do you have to worry about your 17 year old nephew hooking up with the 23 year old drunk girl and her crew, then not being able to locate them. Anywhere.

And you don’t have to cringe on the next to the last day when your 23 year old, who by the end of day one has lots of friends on the boat, starts identifying the drunk girl’s crew by the name the “Trifecta”. (We still are afraid to ask.)

Know this one thing for sure – the cruise line is there to make money. They don’t want you spending money anywhere else but on that boat. Ports are short called – there are no night life scenes at the ports…and if you’re not there when it’s time to leave, they will leave without you. (Ask the parents of another 17 year old (not ours, thank God!) who decided he wanted to go on the other Carnival cruise line boat with a girl he met in Cozumel – and he missed the boat on purpose, and ended up in New Orleans, as opposed to Galveston.)

When you are in the ports, pay your taxi driver to hang out with you – that way, you can ensure timely return. (And they know a lot of places and people.) Due to a lack of taxis, some crew members didn’t make it back on board in Cozumel. And again, the boat did not wait.

Be sure to know all the fines that customs can charge you before you get off the boat – or better yet, before you even shop in a port!! A Cuban cigar quickly reaches its economic limit when a $100 per cigar fine is levied. Same with bottles of alcohol (not that we tried – we gave up while we were ON the boat.)

Don’t buy Cubans in port unless you intend to smoke them before you get off the ship – it’s just not worth the stress. No matter how the cigar shop owner dresses them up to make them look like Mexican cigars, and tries to cajole you with “Si, senor, ju can geet these ceegars through de customs, I do it many time, no problema, senor. Ju want 3 boxes of the Romeo Juliet, or 4? I fix them for ju big time, es tal bueno?!”

About the food - if you’re a meat and potatoes guy, you might have a hard time. We thought the food was great, though we had a little trouble meeting all their “dining hours” and often times had to make do with hamburgers or hot dogs or the great free (?) room service. But the 24 hour pizza was awesome – the absolute best pizza we’ve ever tasted. My brother, however, had some trouble with the food…he’d go to the buffet and not be able to identify one single thing – not even the fruit. When we hit Houston, needless to say, it was nine-oh to the Saltgrass Steak House for a steak or burger…limo driver and all!

In our best estimation, the very best room for the bucks is the one like my brother had. It slept four, had a king size bed, a huge balcony, and lots more room than our pricey, higher up on the boat (thus feeling every movement of the ship in an exaggerated way) verandah suite. And when you figure in the next item, my brother’s room was way steadier in the bad weather. (Exception: the glass divider, separating the living room from the bedroom .)

Check the weather forecast as much as you can. Spray on tans or even no tans at all are good this Christmas time of year – because the weather was too cold to swim, and even lay out, until you got into the ports. And high winds make it cold up on the pool decks. And even with anti-nausea patches, 18-22’ ocean swells for 28 hours are absolutely no fun at all. Unless you’re an engineer, into physics, and want to figure the stress factors of the force of storming ocean versus a huge ship, not to mention 55 mph winds. Are you ready to calculate? 855’ long, guest capacity 2052, speed 21, tonnage, 70367. If your answer doesn’t include most of the glass breaking on the Sports Deck 12th floor and the crew ratcheting metal covers over the port windows in the boys' rooms so they couldn’t be opened (and water couldn’t come in), you might want to recalculate. I don’t think anything we could tell you could even accurately convey what that was like. Mi esposo told me at one point during the cruise that he should probably go present himself to the Captain, and ask to be thrown from the ship in order to salvage the cruise for everyone else (apparently, he was suffering from the Jonah complex).

No one told me we’d be shuffled from room to room on the ship like cattle for 4 hours when we finally got back into port. Moooooooooooooooooo. Mooooooooooooooooooo. From immigration to customs, the time to disembark took a full 4 hours. Taking the “self-assist” route does not make you get off the boat quicker, no matter what they say. Neither does the “Those who have to catch flights will be first off the ship”. Several people missed their flights. We were lucky. We had a 5 p.m. flight, and docked at 9 a.m.. We got off the ship at 1pm. We were in phone communication with our limo driver from 8:30 am until we got off the boat. Thank God he was patient. Limo driver, you say? 11 people = limo driver. We did treat him to lunch at the Saltgrass Steak House .

Remember our goal for this cruise? To skip Christmas. Goal accomplished - we did it. Most of us were trying to hold on to our beds in our rooms to ride out the storm on Christmas Day. It was the safest place. And, now we have yet another funny travel story!!

"Happy seas to you...until we meet again!" (to be sung to the tune of "Happy Trails to You")



Karen said...

Well, that sounds like quite an adventure. Trips at Christmas seem to be quite normal for grieving families. A dear friend of mine and her husband lost their 15 yr old (only child)2 yrs ago in a skiing accident and have traveled both Christmases.
The year her father died, her mother and her siblings and kids and her went on a cruise.

Rach said...

Some great advice! If I ever go on a cruise...

I take you spent some time in the casino then hehe.

Trace said...

I'm wondering here; should I re-evaluate my great desire to go on a cruise? The tips you offer are good, however. If I ever have the opportunity to go, I will be carrying a copy of these with me.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I can guess what cruise line you were on. We've done cruises for 20 yrs with one line and never a problem. As for the casino, place a limit and leave on the third day of a seven day cruise.

beth said...

See now - I keep thinking that I want to go on a cruise (Tim desperately wants to) and then I read stories like this. Though Carnival - er, Party Line :) - isn't on my list of lines that I'm considering.'s the seasick thing that scares me the most.

Geo said...

Wow! That's simply amazing. I had no idea.

Thanks for that!

Janie said...

Karen - it was an adventure, at that! About the grieving - in retrospect, we should not have tried to escape that. The cruise pretty much separated us, by right of separate rooms, etc., and the storm worsened it all. We weren't together at Christmas, at all. Now we realized we should have all stayed at home, and walked it on out.

Rach - yes, ma'am, as to time in the casino. Sun wasn't ever out - shows were at night. Bad excuses for bad behavior, right?;)

Tracy - just pick another cruise line. And take my cruise tips with you. You'll do fine, lassie!

Anonymous - you're right...We went on Holland America on our next one, and had a delightful time - to Alaska!

Beth - seasickness won't be a concern if you utilize the anti-nausea patches. Even with the huge waves, I never got sick.

George - no idea about what? the cruise? the casino? my stupidity? the weather? just teasing! ;)

Will Humes said...

While this cruise accomplished what you wanted it to, your post makes any deisre that I had to go on a cruise to vanish as quickly from my mind as my sermons do in the minds of my parishoners as soon as I utter the final amen.

BTW, thanks for stopping by "One Thing I Know." I have added "Sounding Forth" to my Blogosphere.

Gwynne said...

Oh. My. Goodness! I can so relate to the many ways that teenagers might "enhance" the cruising experience (I especially like the story of the one that jumped ship because of a new love interest). The storm sounds positively breaking?! Windows barricaded?! Can you say Titanic? Yikes! I've exceeded my exclamation point quota so I really must be going, but this just confirms for me that I will never (NEVER) go on a Party Lines Cruise! Ever!! But thanks for sharing the is funny in retrospect. Isn't it? ;-)

Janie said...

Will, please reconsider. Remember whom you serve - it will all be okay! - and walk in wisdom (i.e., pick another cruise line)...and thanks for visiting!

Gwynne, it is, and was funny. I look back, and smile. My brother called me, told me that he was not a DP freak, but he was laughing, nonetheless. (he is, too)He said he had forgotten most of what happened, and it was good to remember. Thanks for stopping by!