Now that the bags are unpacked, and the sleep has mostly been caught up on, I'm ready to tell you all about the cruise. I kept a little journal while sailing the high seas, and here it is, largely intact and unedited.
Day One--Embarking from Miami
Got up at 3am after a staggering hour and fifteen minutes of sleep. We didn't finish the packing until after 11 and like a kid, I was too nervous and excited to sleep after that. The 3am wakeup time was necessary to get Ainsley and I out the door at 5:15. I hate flying; I just learned that I really hate early morning flying.
During the half-hour wait from the security stuff to when our flight boarded, I took one of the Xanax my doctor gave me for flight anxiety. When I still felt anxious right before our boarding call, I took another. Assured the hubby that it said on the bottle I could take two. Don't remember anything after that until I woke up during descent into Miami. Felt strangely calm and refreshed. Decided that prescription drugs, when used correctly, are fabulous things.
Just as I was told, I was awed by the size of the boat when the taxi dropped us off at the terminal. Was also awed that we didn't have to wait long after our early flight before they started letting us on the boat.
Ate the best hotdog of my entire life onboard the boat. Toured the beast while waiting to be able to get to our room, and realized that about the time I learned my way around the huge vessel it would be time to go home.
Waited for the porter to deliver our bags. And waited. And waited. Stood on deck as the boat pulled away, all the while singing that "Bon Voyage!" song from Anything Goes in my head. Shocked to learn that I must still be under the influence of Xanax if I'm replaying a song from the musical we did my sophomore year in high school.
Went to our first dinner in the dining room. Could barely understand the accent of our head waiter. Wondered why I hadn't yet talked to a crew member who spoke in unaccented English. Our tablemates were a couple from Las Vegas with just one child, a daughter Ainsley's age, who looks enough like her that the wait staff assumed she was Ainsley's sister. Marvelled at how, an hour later, Ainsley and her little table mate were calling each other their best friend. How did you know that would happen, Carnival table arrangers?
Went to an orientatation about Camp Carnival, the children's program. Went to a big "Welcome Aboard" party for families with kids ages 2--11. Ainsley and I won a medal for "Best Chicken Dancers." Was as proud to win that medal as I was when I got my Phi Beta Kappa key. Must still have been under the influence of Xanax.
Had the best night of sleep of my entire life.
Day Two--Anniversary in Half Moon Cay
We've had some rotten wedding anniversaries in the past. Our first anniversary, we got a letter from the IRS telling us that Jason owed them taxes from the summer he worked for his mom and stepdad. Another anniversary was spent with me still mostly bald and slightly sick from chemo and days away from my second biopsy surgery. So I feel no guilt in telling you that this one, spent on Carnival's private island in the Bahamas under clear skies and in clear turquoise water, was a dream come true. We swam in a near waveless sea, walked on a white sugar beach, drank an ice cold beer, and watched our kid frolic on the nearby waterslides.
It was what heaven must be like.
Later, after another dinner with our Bizarro World tablemates, we dropped Ainsley at Camp for a couple of hours while we got a couples massage. This was Jason's first massage ever, and I had a hard time convincing him that not all massages are given by attractive foreign women with charming accents. While still relaxed, we had some drinks at the Lobby bar and listened to music led by Ana Gasteyer's and Will Farrell's middle-school music teacher characters from Saturday Night Live. When they didn't know our song, they mangled some other pop song from the nineties and dedicated it to us. Or course, we had to dance. And giggle, because it was like trying to get romantic to elevator music.
Best. Anniversary. Ever.
Day Three: At Sea
Spent the whole day at sea. Had been hoping for a whole day spent on deck with a fruity rum drink topped with a little umbrella, but had to settle instead for high winds and sometimes driving rain. Took Ainsley to the ship's version of a Build-A-Bear workshop where she stuffed Francis, a calico cat. Started feeling motion sick while in that top-deck area of the boat. Took a Bonine when the captain came on and said it would be a rough day at sea due to high waves and cross winds. Took a nap with the family.
After dinner, experienced our first cruise show. After hearing the lead female singer, decided that when Simon Cowell compares American Idol contestants to cruise-ship singers, it's not necessarily a put-down.
Turned in early, feeling the boat sway underneath us the whole night, wanting to call up everyone who ever said to us, "Those boats are so big you won't feel a thing!" and laugh at them. Fell asleep wishing we had taken a cruise before I developed inner ear problems.
Day Four: St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
Still gray, still raining. But we didn't plan an excursion at St. Thomas because we wanted to shop and play on the beaches, so shop and play we did. It wasn't bad, even when a short but immensely powerful thunderstorm came by and forced us all off the beach and into a little beach-side resort restaurant. Had a Corona while overlooking a Caribbean beach, and while it wasn't quite like the Corona commercials, it was still pretty cool. Somehow, Ainsley and I still managed to get a little sunburned even though it was overcast at best and rainy at worst. I guess the sun is just that strong at that latitude.
Went to another show after dinner and then put the worn-out family in bed early while I did some laundry. Don't feel bad for me, though; while the clothes were in the washer, I went to the casino bar for a "Thriller" dance lesson. Yes, kids, I learned how to be a ghoul.
Day Five: Puerto Rico and My Precious
Of all the places we went, I most looked forward to Puerto Rico. My dad, the former merchant marine who visited harbors all over the world, praised its natural beauty and talked in particular about the fort that guards the waterfront. Our excursion saw us taking a tour of Puerto Rico's breathtakingly beautiful capitol building, the fort in all its majesty and centuries of history, new San Juan, and some shopping in old San Juan.
We're not much big shoppers, but we still had to get my mom the souvenir bracelet she had asked for. We had read that the tax and duty free jewelry stores recommended by boat staff had incredible deals on fine jewelry as well as inexpensive souvenir stuff, so I decided to shop a little for a new wedding band.
When my left arm and hand first swelled from lymphedema over 4 years ago, I stopped being able to wear my original wedding and engagement rings. I didn't want to resize the wedding band; it had been engraved on the inside, and I am senitimental enough that I wanted to preserve it in its original form and pass it on to Ainsley for safekeeping after I'm gone. For years, Jason and I have been talking about getting me a new band so I didn't have to wear my grandmother's anymore and could wear something all mine. Preferably, something simple that would fit under my compression glove when I need to wear it.
For some reason, on that day in the Puerto Rico heat and sun, a place my dad had told me he wanted to go back to someday, a place we had enjoyed so much, it seemed right.
I found a recommended store and haggled just as I had heard you're supposed to. I walked out with a shiny gold band on my left ring finger that looks gorgeous by itself and will look perfect alongside my engagement diamond. When I tried it on, it was the right fit in every possible way.
Hours later, sitting at last on the boat deck with a fruity rum drink in my hand, supervising Ainsley's playing in the pool, I couldn't keep my eyes off my new piece of jewelry. I don't go nuts over jewelry, and it's just a simple and plain gold band, but its perfect fit and its weight and shine kept catching my eye.
"Oh, my God," I said to Jason. "It's my...precious."
Yes, Lord of the Rings fans. My new wedding ring bears an eerie resemblance to The One Ring. Just call me Gollum. I have been tempted to throw it in a fire to see if something Elvish can be seen, but Jason wisely holds me back.
Later, Ainsley went to a kids' party that went on until one in the morning while Jason and I went to the biggest adult party of the cruise. We danced, we shouted for our "team" (Ooh! Aah! You wish you were the red team! Ooh! Aah!), we got our faces on the big screen above the party. And then when it was time to pick up Ains and she was more alert and awake than we were, we realized that we're getting old.
Day Six: Grand Turk Isn't All That Grand
Someday, I will look back on the events of our Grand Turk excursion and laugh. I don't know how many years that will take, but I know I will get there someday.
It could have been perfect. We awoke to the most beautiful weather we had had since Half Moon Cay day: not a cloud in the sky. We had our biggest excursion planned, the one we told people about when we told them about our cruise. We wanted to take Ainsley, our little water fiend, snorkeling. There was only one snorkeling excursion the whole trip that was open to kids 6 and over, and its description had something in it for everyone in the family. A catamaran would take us out to the reef where we would snorkel, then we would get back on the boat where we would be served rum punch (Jason and me, not Ainsley) and ridden to a secluded beach for beachcombing. How could anything go wrong?
Ainsley is the strongest swimmer of all of us; she's been comfortable in water over her head since she was 4. We figured she would love snorkeling, even though one of us (my slightly water-phobic hubby) was a little worried about how it would play out for the rest of us.
It started off great. Bob Marley was blasting on the sound system as the catamaran sailed us into water a color that had to be handpainted by God. I leaned over the Jason and said,
"Oh, yeah, this is totally worth it. We'll remember this little trip for the rest of our lives."
Truer words were never spoken.
Ainsley got freaked out by, of all things, the mask. Yes, the mask. She could breathe okay through the snorkel, but when she tried the mask on at the advice of our captain to check for a good seal, she panicked that she couldn't breathe through her nose. Take it off, and she would breathe through the snorkel. Put it on, and somehow her brain could not compute the possibility that one can breathe perfectly fine through one's mouth. It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen.
It caused a meltdown of proportions I have not seen since she was in training pants. She wanted to get in the water and do what she saw everyone else doing, but every time she would try the mask it caused something I can only guess was a juvenile panic attack. This created a conundrum: she wanted to snorkel, but was deathly afraid to snorkel. Because snorkelling and not snorkelling are two diametrically opposed states of being one cannot possibly do at the same time, it caused a conundrum that none of mom or dad's solutions could satisfy. Eventually, we decided that Jason and I would divide our time in the water and one would stay with her and try to calm her down. This means, by the time we decided to do this, I got about 10 minutes of snorkeling time, and Jason got about 5. Ainsley got none, which as people started coming back on the boat, caused the meltdown to worsen. Late-coming epiphanies are a bitch when you're six.
And there's not much you can do in the way of discipline on a crowded catamaran. I couldn't take her unwillingly to the bathroom below deck for corporal punishment without risking both of us landing in the drink. There was no safe place for a time out. She just melted down right there in front of dozens of people who paid a good chunk of change for a relaxing time.
If the rum hadn't started flowing as soon as the boat started back up, I think I might have jumped into the drop off and just let the sharks have at it.
Thankfully, snorkelling was just one portion of the excursion and Ainsley eventually calmed down. We docked close to a gorgeous private beach and all jumped into the water with noodles where we floated around in the water while one of the boat staff kept our cups filled with rum punch. Ainsley started having a really good time floating in the water, and for some reason that made me angry.
So I just kept drinking punch.
We got back and spent some more time at the public beach next to the cruise ship, where I started feeling better once I found two pieces of sea glass (one of which I promptly lost out of my pocket an hour later.)
That night was "Elegant Night", cruise ship code for, "Ladies, please show some cleavage and wear lots of makeup." Having no cleavage, I donned my favorite sundress and pulled Ainsley's hair back into an elegant twist with a little drink umbrella in the side (resisting the impulse to pull every hair out of her head as payment for turning all mine gray just hours before) and we had formal pictures taken, pictures that turned out surprisingly joyful and beautiful considering we had all been so mad at each other earlier in the day.
"Just look at it like this," I said to Jason later that night, after Ainsley had drifted quickly into sleep as only a kid who has had a meltdown earlier in the day can. "If that excursion was just a snorkelling excursion, it was an epic fail. But it wasn't! It was a party at sea! We saw a gorgeous beach and there was Bob Marley and an open bar and a ride on a catamaran! It wasn't a complete loss!"
I don't think I convinced him.
Day Seven: Last Day At Sea
We were sad that vacation was coming to an end. And we were sadder that the Caribbean heat had fully caught up to us at last. To stay cool, we slid down the waterslide, dipped into the pool, and had our last fruity umbrella-topped drink. Ainsley and her new best friend traded addresses to become pen pals, and we let Ainsley spend some time at Camp Carnival after dinner to hang out with her little doppelganger before they went their separate ways. Jason and I listened to the middle-school music teachers mangle the biggest hits of the 70s, 80s, and 90s one last time (on a dare, I requested "Muskrat Love", and they were sad that they didn't have an arrangement of that in their pre-recorded backing tracks). We said goodbye to the Caribbean.
The next day, we flew home after waiting for 3 hours at Miami International. About a half an hour before the flight, my fingers started going numb. I was sure it was a stroke; Jason had a feeling it was flight anxiety. I took one Xanax, and to my surprise the feeling came back. We got back to Kentucky each of us in one piece, even though the thunderstorms we dodged the whole way north shook the plane like a paint mixer.
All things considered, it was a great vacation. We will definitely cruise again, though probably not for a few more years. And we have been inspired to go to the Bahamas someday after the beauty of Half Moon Cay. Our few other beach experiences on the Atlantic coasts of Florida and South Carolina did not prepare us for the crystal tranquility of a Bahamian beach.
We're ready to go back to Titanic. I mean, Carnival.