Of all the vacations available to you, the Tropical Cruise ranks among the most surreal. Like a casino lost at sea, the shining multitiered ship promises excitement, wraps you in comfort, and imprisons you in tedium. At any moment, there are 7 events eager to dazzle — miniature golf, anyone? climbing wall? ice skating?! — and 11 waiters killing each other to attend to your temporal needs. We were fortunate in that our waiter was none other the President of the United States Barack Obama (see below). If his leadership skills turn out to be anywhere near as good as his beverage-fulfillment abilities — and I for one have high hopes that they will be — this country is in great hands!
In fact, the whole cruise experience goes swimmingly so long as you kick back and let it happen. Imagine your grandmother’s idea of “island time.” But God forbid you should happen upon an actual objective. (The need to catch up with two darting children, for example.) That’s when you encounter your fellow travelers: vast, entitled, largely immobile souls, plugging the narrow corridors like inoperable arterial clots. Until the seas get rough, when they list like rudderless dirigibles, blocking even the most adept student of the old dodge-and-weave.
Such is the nature of paradise: A garish blend of reservation-style gambling, 24-hour buffets, formal dress-ups, poor-folks’ paparazzi (photographer’s hound you at every turn), shitty art auctions, and a dozen other glitzy attempts at some sort of eternal New Year’s Eve celebration. All made somehow palatable by salt breeze, rum drinks, and the convenient appearance of a new port-of-call every morning. Toss in the occasional oil derrick, some overcast skies, and sudden explosions of relentless rain, and you have a blissful week in the Western Caribbean, the left edge of the most beautiful ocean-filed impact crater on Earth.
Permit me to elaborate, not to mention annotate with lots and lots of full-color photographs, all captured in glorious JPEG with an Olympus Stylus 1030 SW.
We set sail from Galveston aboard Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, an immense leviathan of a vessel that measures three football fields in length and 15 stories in height, topped like a layer cake with a tiny chapel designed to scrape the very belly of God. Here’s the V’ger (as we lovingly called it) lording its measure over a neighboring ship at the made-up Mexican resort “city” of Costa Maya. That’s the shapely ass of our great girl on right.
Here’s the main pool deck. It was often empty on account of rain. (The absorbent tourists are highly selective about their brand of moisture. Never cool from above, always warm from below. And I can’t says as I blames ‘em.)
The grand promenade cleaves a chasm four stories high. Rooms with windows enjoy an eternal view of the promenade’s joyful parades and enchanting shopping opportunities.
The grand dining area (pictured here with our 13-person group lowest of the large tables) is a comparatively puny three stories tall. Still, it inspired me to fantasize about toppling over so we might all enjoy a blood-curdling, Poseidon Adventure-style flight-of-terror to the ceiling.
What online scrapbook would be complete without the obligatory night shot of the Outrageously Colossal Beast?
For those who live in hope that I will one day update the photos of my children in my books, here is a somewhat maniacal Sam as captured by Max.
And here are me and Max — the latter forever providing direction —as captured by Sam.
When my progeny combine forces, they make it clear they are not to be messed with. Especially Sam, who really will destroy you.
Among our shores excursions was a glorious family day at the Mexican nature preserve Xel-Ha (pronounced shell-ha), along the rough-and-tumble Mayan Riviera. Here are my wife, Elizabeth, and a smugly satisfied Sam tubing down the main river. Honestly, I can’t recommend this place highly enough. Wish I was there right now.
I also managed to get in a few dives, twice off Roatan (Honduras) and twice more off Costa Maya. The weather topside was nasty, pelting rain with temperatures dropping to the high 60’s (F). I know, doesn’t sound so bad, but seriously, bad. Based on my copious dive experiences in the Caribbean — weeks spent in water the precise temperature of amniotic fluid — I wore nothing more than a gossamer-thin skinsuit. Alas, it was no match. As recoiled into a fetal position and shivered in misery, my dive buddy — cozy in his 5 mil wetsuit — labeled me “officially pathetic.” Here I am soaked in tropical sleet, steeling myself to depart the boat backward. Oh, how I envied Ernest Shackleton.
The moment we hit the water, life warmed to a balmy 80+ degrees. My camera, the Stylus 1030, is rated to 33 feet, good for snorkeling but insufficient for scuba. Still, I elected to take it on the shallowest of the four dives, a mere 50 feet. I managed to fire off a few photos, including the following:
I should mention, the color in the diver image required a fair amount of Photoshop manipulation. (The first few feet of water filters away natural light’s longer wavelengths, leaving the Red channel nearly black.) And that’s coral at the bottom of the fish image, not malignantly bumpy knees.
Hardly dazzling, but decent snapshots for a point-and-shoot. Happily, I had a flash, auto-focus, and zoom. Best of all, no housing required. I could stick the camera in my sleeve when I wasn’t using it.
Sadly, at 40 feet — right about the time a comely sea turtle joined the festivities — the camera couldn’t take the pressure and locked up, complaining that the memory card door was open. (The door was fine; it was a sensor error.) Back on land, I washed the camera in fresh water and blasted the memory and battery slots with a hose attached to an air tank. That got the camera working again, but the main settings dial never worked right after that and I lost control over review, flash, and white balance.
Still, the camera survived to take many more chummy pics, including this of Max, my dive buddy and bro’-in-law Jim, and Elizabeth celebrating our newfound dryness with a few Port Royal Exports, an agreeable pilsner brewed in Honduras.
Of course, as with any family vacation, there was more.
But I sense your interest waning. So I’ll limit myself to the following conclusions: First, the Stylus 1030 did best in shallow sports situations. This camera loves the splash, the rain, and the pool. Here are my offspring testing their gear in one of the many hot tubs. Damn, my fearless boys make me proud.
Second, I’ve never been a fan of formal nights or the big overwrought dining hall. But this leather sports jacket from Barney’s (below, as captured by one son or the other) changed my mind and ultimately encouraged me to join in the gluttony. On every cruise I’ve attended (this was my eighth), the food is free and you are encouraged — nay, commanded — to order multiple dishes. Can’t choose between the soup and the pâté? Please, Sir, don’t mess up your mind with choosing. Get both! Which is how our table arrived at the idea of an appetizer competition. Whoever ordered the most won — provided that person ate all of each appetizer, and at least one entire entree and dessert. I won with eight — one salad, some kind of chips-and-dip thing, one cheese plate, two escargot (not even on the menu that evening), and three different soups. My son Max would have easily beat me, but I cautioned him that it was my desire to see Daddy win and we was cut off at seven. Yes, I am a diligent parent.
In other words, what you’re seeing in my eyes is not wicked cool. Not fashionable confidence. Not even calm appraisal. But rather, a look that says, “Please steal that table’s ice bucket. Your father needs to be sick.”
Thanks for sharing the memories.