Originally published May 23, 2009.
Last fall my childhood best friend and I decided to take a vacation together. Though we’ve known each other pretty much since we were born (in the same hospital one day apart), we had never ever made time for a “girlfriend getaway.” I’m almost ashamed to admit, in retrospect, the cruise was my idea. I had taken a short cruise once before with my husband and found it to be a reasonably acceptable experience, though I have to admit one “at sea” day is about as much as I can handle. I don’t care what the television ads say, being stuck in the middle of the ocean with 2,000 people you’ve never seen before just isn’t that fun, no matter how many Bahama Mamas you drink.
But wait–this was a Carnival cruise. You know the tag line: The Fun Ship.
Well, my dear friend Sarah and I really had no idea what we were in for, though perhaps we should have taken the kilted guys playing bagpipes outside our hotel the night prior to embarkation as a sign. This was going to be a very unusual vacation.
It all started out decently enough. We had reserved an ocean view balcony suite and, hence, earned ourselves the right to priority, escorted check-in. But one cramped suite later, we discovered the meaning of the term “partially obstructed view.” From our miniscule balcony that we could almost fit a chair on with room for our legs, we had a marvelous view of…a lifeboat. Yep, a lifeboat. Well, at least in the event of an emergency, we were covered. All I had to do was swing one leg out of bed and into the lifeboat….no chance of drowning on this trip at least.
No matter. We weren’t going to spend that much time in our suite anyway, right?
Time to take a tour of the ship and hit the buffet….
The particular Carnival cruise ship on which we were traveling was definitely showing some age and wear. (I’ll refrain from giving the ship’s name or the embarkation port in an effort to protect the potentially innocent.) Retro 70s was the going theme with no shortage of glitz (though the glitz could have used a little polishing). Nevermind. There’s that buffet, of course, one circuitous route past the water slide that was never operational the entire journey.
And that’s when we knew…this was going to be the cruise from hell. Sarah and I do not make any pretensions to being slender beauties, but the clientele of the ongoing ship’s buffet made us both feel, well, a little out of place…or maybe underweight is a better word.
As we glumly gathered our fare and sat down among corpulent strangers, we both looked at one another across the table and realized we were next to tears. These people were going to eat their way through the Caribbean, and we were stuck with them for the next five days.
“I think I’m going to cry,” I said to Sarah.
“Me, too,” she responded.
And I felt like the worst friend ever for even thinking a cruise was the way to go for our first annual girlfriend getaway. Sarah was never going to want to get away again.
But it wasn’t long before a glimmer of hope appeared–the safety drill! Pretty soon we were rounded up with our other suite mates, all the top deck, ocean, limited ocean, and partially obstructed ocean view balcony folks, and we saw svelte couples in tanks and trim retirees with glistening white dentures, all the comforting signs of normalcy.
“WHERE have these people been?” Sarah asked as we strapped on our life jackets. “THESE people look normal.”
And yes, yes, they did. And pretty soon a cruise attendant in white shorts and shirt advised us that in the event of a Titanic-like disaster, we would be the first ones off the boat. So it turned out that our lifeboat-view balcony suite had at least earned us high rank in the disaster-at-sea pecking order.
But after the safety drill, all these comforting strangers disappeared again, probably, Sarah surmised later, hiding out in their suites. That’s certainly what we felt like doing.
Thank goodness we didn’t, however, because we were about to have the most hilarious time of our lives. Did I mention we accidentally took this cruise across Halloween? Oh, yes, but even next to the stocky gentleman we were to see later attired as a Crown Royal bottle and a happily paired ketchup and mustard, FORMAL NIGHT was going to knock our socks off….stay tuned….