“Do I need to take two pairs of jeans, or only one?” I asked my husband, Brett. I was doing some last-minute packing adjustments to the delicate balance of my suitcase – deciding black pants come with, extra blue jeans stay home – while watching the news unfold on CNN. The Carnival Triumph had finally arrived in Mobile, Alabama, although it would take hours before all 4, 229 of the ship’s passengers were off the boat.
“Could you maybe turn that off?” Brett asked, inhaling and exhaling slowly. “And did you get me those wristbands at the pharmacy?”
I clicked off the television and handed him a small brown paper bag.
We were packing for a cruise.
Before this latest at-sea fiasco had happened, Brett reallyreallyreally did not want to go on a cruise. And now that it had? To get him on the plane that would take us to the boat, I thought about slipping a tranquilizer into next morning’s coffee.
The trip was a gift to us from Brett’s dad, who thinks he is a pirate, which is a long story. Bottom line: the trip had been planned with love and much fanfare for almost a year and Brett couldn’t back out now.
“Fine. I’ll go,” Brett said, anti-nausea bands securely placed on his wrist’s pressure points. “But I’ve learned some things from the Carnival Triumph, so we’re bringing diapers and cigarettes to barter with should anything go wrong at sea.”
While boarding the airplane the next morning, I spoke to my mom on the phone one last time. ““I won’t be able to call you from the ship, so, if you don’t see us on the news, you can assume all is well!”
And, alas, in spite of the worrying, all was indeed well. We had a great vacation at sea. Even Brett enjoyed himself. (We made him swim with dolphins and pet a lettuce-chomping manatee. And then we made him buy all the photos of the experience for posterity!)
There is so much to say about taking a cruise that it’s hard for me to know where to start. There’s the sheer size of the thing, since we sailed on The Oasis of the Seas, which is right now the world’s largest boat. There are the myriad opportunities for physical activity that I did not partake in although my kids certainly did, from the zipline to the rock climbing wall to the FlowRider. There are the hordes of adults who drink beer all day in the pool, their backs getting sunburned, my kids playing underwater games around them.
On a cruise ship one can find former Broadway shows and formerly funny comedians. You can find formerly small women who still wear their smalls-sized bikinis. You can find people decked out in formal wear on captain’s nights, posing on the polished staircases for professional photos as if the cruise is a floating prom. But even with all of that, the topic that must be discussed more in depth than the others – beyond the duty-free shopping, the flash sales of Royal Caribbean logo wear at 1:30 on the Promenade, the tropical drink of the day in a collectible plastic glass that’s yours for the keeping, and, of course, the bingo and shuffleboard games – is the food.
Yes, because as everyone surely knows, cruising really is all about the food.
One thing Brett and I swore we wouldn’t do was gorge onboard. We signed up for spin classes and boot camps in the boat’s gym to stay fit at sea. Once we witnessed the pig-out-fest known as the breakfast buffet at the Windjammer Marketplace – I dare you to find an open table at 9:00 in the morning — we ate museli and fresh fruit bowls as often as possible in the more health-conscious, spa-like Solarium.
But, reader, I was not always good. It turns out that staying “good” on a buffet-bonanza boat – the world’s largest, remember – is not as easy as it seems. There are temptations everywhere. Oh, I started out fine, willpower intact. No, I won’t have a free ice cream at 11:30 just because it’s there. No, two trips to the buffet are more than enough for me, thanks. A third would seem gluttonous. But as the week progressed, I started to slip. One morning, waiting for the children and their pirate guardian to awaken, I found myself standing in front of the (free, all you can eat) donut shop on the boardwalk, cinnamon-sugar-covered confection in hand, crumbs on my face.
How I got there, I couldn’t tell you.
Then, while escorting the children to the Wipeout café for tacos, nachos, pepperoni pizza and pretzel dogs – a well-balanced lunch – I decided to have a “snack” before meeting Brett at the Solarium for salmon and quinoa. The snack was a cheeseburger.
At dinner one night, I found that my divine meal of lamb chops had not properly sated me. So Romeo, our waiter, brought me another. Another entire lamb chop dinner. And I ate it.
“What does it matter? It’s all free!” My father-in-law explained, helping me make my way through the seconds. “They keep the portions small on purpose.” He pointed to another table where diners had piles of bones on their plates like archeologists. “See? Everyone gets more. And if you don’t like your meal? Order something else!”
And so, the following night, when one lobster tail didn’t quite do the trick, I ordered a second. “Romeo, Romeo, where for art thou?” I called out to my perky waiter.
When in Rome and all that.
But I felt…embarrassed. For one, I don’t like to think of myself as just “everyone.” I like to think I’m not like that guy drinking a Bud in the pool, or like his wife with the fake bazoombas. I go to openings at the Met! I read literary fiction! I don’t gamble and I don’t misuse subject and object pronouns, and so, by acting thusly, I think I am somehow above the fray. But on the Oasis, a thought came upon me as I let Romeo pour three spoonfuls of melted butter atop my second lobster tail: maybe I am the fray.
Maybe, at heart, we are all the fray. Perhaps, far away from home, when we let our hair down, allow our waistlines to expand, and set free our bacchanalian natures, maybe we are indeed all the same: jolly, and loud, and hungry all the time.
Being good could wait until I was back on dry land, where I would surely remain forever and ever after this one week on the high seas. I felt fairly certain that one cruise in this lifetime was all Brett would ever concede to.
So I ordered a second glass of Sauvignon blanc. And two desserts.