Friday, July 12, 2013

Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend... Or... Ava's Vaca from Hades and Beyond

This last Christmas, The Scientist and I gave our children a cruise vacation for this summer. My son is in traditional school, while his daughter is in “year-round” school. With the track she was on, the two of them actually only had one week off all summer that matched up.

I’ve been waiting for this vacation for months – MONTHS, I tell you! And as it got closer and closer, I needed it more and more. Before I left, I experienced a horrible case of road rage, I lost checks I needed to put in the bank (only to be found later in the refrigerator, of all the ridiculous places), and my temper was shorter than normal at work (“Excuse me” was shorthand for “Leave me the $#@% alone.”) I needed this vacation like I’ve never needed one before.

A private cabana on a private island, snorkeling in The Bahamas, and my first Royal Caribbean cruise as a “DIAMOND Member”. (That’s right, C-Gayle and JerricaKC…I’m no longer a mere Emerald Member. What riff-raff those people are.) What does “DIAMOND Member” mean, you wonder…? That I’ve spent nearly two months of my life aboard various Royal Caribbean’s vessels, that’s what. Hi, I’m Ava, and I’m addicted to cruising…

But life wasn’t ready to let me board the ship and go along my merry way…No, life wanted to stick it to me first. The day before we flew to Florida, The Scientist and I came home from walking the dog only to realize that my air conditioner wasn’t functioning. In North Carolina. In the middle of the summer. So I called an emergency A/C guy, but he couldn’t come out until the next day…when The Scientist, our children and I were all supposed to be on a flight headed for Miami.

How can this sweet
face have done
something so
And then…I realized that Lord Catsby had decided to use my suitcase as his own personal litter box. (My theory is that he knows what a suitcase is and wasn’t happy that we were going to be leaving him.) He had no idea that doing so would only make me want to throttle him.

On both counts, however, Catherine Gayle came to rescue. She brought me two suitcases to use for our trip and she even offered to wait for the A/C man the next day. So in case anyone is wondering…she truly is an angel.

But life wasn’t through with me yet. Ha! Life was just warming up. Before I woke the next day, a “friend” came for a “visit” and I suddenly had to pack some Midol, if you know which “friend” I’m referring to. And that particular “friend” can go hang, just in case anyone was wondering. 

Did I mention that I really needed this vacation? But life still had me in her clutches! Oh, we flew to Miami and we even made it to a nice hotel near the port. That night, the four of us even enjoyed a nice leisurely dinner at one of the five restaurants on site. However, we apparently chose the wrong one.  Yep – LIFE.

I was up the ENTIRE night with food poisoning. (Luckily, no one else ate the same dish I did.) I was in excruciating pain, worse than childbirth (but then I’m a believer in “pain free childbirth”- had an epidural and took whatever drugs they wanted to pump me full of. Don’t judge. I have no regrets) Thankfully, The Scientist and my son took a cab to a 24Hour Walgreens at 2:00am to get me some medicine. My heroes! What would I do without them?

Truly, it was one of the longest nights of my life. For a while there, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to make it on the ship the next day. And that made me feel even worse. Neither The Scientist nor his daughter had ever been on a cruise and I was about to ruin their vacation.

So I sucked it up, downed more Imodium and Midol than was probably healthy and boarded the ship as early as possible. Grin and barely bare it, that was my new motto. I suffered through the blasted Muster drill (a tedious chore one must do on every cruise, regardless of the line) in the hot Miami heat. I had to will myself to remain conscious, to not pass out on the Promenade Deck, standing there with the rest of the other 2,000 cruisers.  If anyone spoke to me, I bit their head off. I was in too much pain to be courteous, and pleasant was out of the question. Besides it took me repeating over and over in my mind, "Don't pass out. Don't pass out. Don't pass out," to remain on my feet. Being conversational only distracted me from my purpose.

Don't they look like they're
having fun? 
I spent the rest of that first night in my cabin, sleeping in a fetal position and trying to recover from the blasted food poisoning. To say I wasn’t a ton of fun would have been an understatement. My poor traveling companions. At least there was plenty for them to do, other than sitting around listening to me writhing around in pain.

The next morning, I awoke feeling a little bit better. The four of us boarded a catamaran and snorkeled the waters off Paradise Island in The Bahamas. I wasn’t in the water long, as my stomach was still in a huge Imodium-induced knot, but I did get to see a school of zebra fish and I got to take several pictures of my loved ones who were having a splendid time.

The following day, we tendered in Royal Caribbean’s private Bahamian island – Coco Cay. This has traditionally been one of my most favorite destinations. We always get a private cabana and seclude ourselves to one side of the island, away from the majority of the other cruisers (or the riff-raff I mentioned above). That’s right, I’m exclusionary. And this trip was no different. Although I was still wracked with pain, I was able to lie down on the sectional under the cabana most of the day and listen to the breeze and waves crashing up on the shore.
Doesn't it look peaceful?
It is. Trust me! 
VIEW FROM the CABANA The ocean, the sky, the palm
trees! I could stare out at this view for weeks at a time.
WEEKS, I tell you, and never get tired! I just need a cabana boy,
lots to drink, a variety of cheeses, shrimp cocktail, and
mounds of fresh fruit. Oh! and a charger
for my laptop. I could write and write and... 

Even I felt a little better in the cabana.
But who wouldn't with this wonderful
man to keep me company?
At one point, my son dragged me to the DIAMOND only lounge because I had to see it. The first day he went up there, he said they were going to turn him away because it's for DIAMOND members only, and he's just 15. When he flashed his DIAMOND card, they suddenly bent over backwards to welcome him. Imagine my surprise when every waiter/ess in the lounge knew my son by name (think Norm from Cheers) and asked if he wanted his "usual". Yeah, my 15 year old son has a "usual" in a DIAMOND lounge. (He was definitely having more fun than I was.)

Thanks to a dosage of Dulcolax, the Imodium finally left my system sometime in the middle of the night, so I was recovered enough to do the “White Knuckle Thrill Boat Ride” with my son in Key West the next day. It was a blast. Something we’d wanted to do on our first trip to Key West several years ago, but my mother and brother were too chicken to participate back in those days. This time we went by ourselves, and I was very happy to be able to enjoy it with my son.
My son and I are in the front row next to "Doug" the Captain.

Here's my son wearing his recovered
sunken treasure pendant.
We then boarded a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus ride around Key West with The Scientist and his daughter - spotted Mile Marker 0 and the Southernmost point of the Continental United States. (We were closer to Cuba at that point than even mainland Florida).

We finished up Key West at the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum where sunken treasure from the Spanish Galleon the Nuestro Senora de Atocha (which was sunk during a hurricane off the coast of Key West in 1622 and discovered in 1985 by treasure hunter Mel Fisher) is on display. The four of us got matching pendants made from salvaged silver in the gift shop, which we thought was a pretty nice way to end our trip.

The next morning, we woke up as the ship was arriving in port. We were among the first dozen people to disembark as our flight back to North Carolina was fairly early. I am happy to report that the return trip was much less eventful than the outbound. At least for now. And I intend to see that it stays that way.

Are you a cruiser? If so, what is your favorite port? And have you ever had illness or some other unforeseen event derail a well-planned/needed vacation?

*Previously published at LadyScribes July 11, 2013