Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I'm on a boat with limited connectivity, so I'm writing things as they happen and occasionally getting to the computer center to cut and paste from my running Word doc into the blog, so here is the first installment (Tuesday afternoon after leaving from Cape Liberty, Bayonne, on Sunday mid-day).

And it was evening

It is post dinner and we are basking in the glow of a meal eaten out of plastic, with plastic and which tasted like plastic. Our trip began with some traffic on the highway, then we dropped the bags off and parked the car in the large, unmarked lot. Remember kids, we're in the Itchy lot.

Through the various security lines where we re checked repeatedly and pretty much superficially. Finally, it was on to the ship, so we could stand on a whole other set of lines. We borrowed a shoehorn and entered our room and proceeded to move the bed into our luggage to save space. We walked around parts of the ship to establish a baseline disdain for most everyone and found our way to the gym where Julie proceeded to learn all about one of the miracles of the high seas, Pilates.

We then met our first major success, confirming that the soft serve ice cream is kosher. We had to taste it repeatedly to be sure. We ended up on deck way up high to watch our embarking. The tense 45 minute wait was well worth it as we did eventually leave, just in time for the nausea to begin en masse. Julie and Maddie took a gym class while Talia and I stayed on deck to confirm that weren't going to turn around and redock in Bayonne. Eventually we came back to the cabin and killed a few minutes trying to fit in the room at the same time. The kids ran off to join some youthful program and Julie and I went to eat dinner. There were no signs and no one who spoke English with an accent I even recognized so we had to wait on a series of lines and explain to anyone who would listen that we keep kosher so we had to find a way to choose our food. We spoke to 4 different people and finally, Ahmet, the assistant Maitre D (which is, I guess, a Maitre E) explained in English which we all joined in in breaking about the food situation. I still don't understand most of it but the bottom line is that we change the clocks, they aren't offering breakfast tomorrow, unless you ask them to serve brunch for breakfast and then the same food is on the list for lunch and dinner. By the way, we had the brisket and chicken dinners tonight. Absolute fail. Just saying.

So we are back in the room chilling out while Talia watches Back to the Future and Maddie has yet to return. More updates as events warrant.

Mid day - 24 hours and counting

It is a bit after noon of the first day on board and the air is thick with discontent and chlorine so I'll update. I took a walk last night and found myself on deck watching the absolute blackness of the ocean and thinking all sorts of dire and romantic poetic thoughts about throwing up over the side but I resisted all temptation. I went to a bar and had an overpriced drink. The bartender compensated for the exorbitant price by reducing the side of the drink so for that I thank him.

Once I returned to catch the end of the poorly transmitted movie (extreme video and audio glitches along the way) I tried to catch some z's, explaining to my family that “boat” time is an hour ahead, so we would lose and hour of sleep. They ignored me as usual and stayed up doing who knows what while I drifted off. The room was very dark. Now that's nice and all but when there is no clock or window, it is hard to tell when morning has broken. And with the white noise machine on, we couldn't hear any hubbub in the halls. By the time I woke up to daven it was 8:45 (Boat time) and we were supposed to eat breakfast (brunch, whatever) at 9. We would be late, but dammit, I was sure we would represent! Julie asked me to go get the food and save the seats by the pool and she would get the girls up and we would all eat and swim. Poolside seats are apparently a hot commodity. In fact, it isn't unusual to have someone walk over to you and look at the seat you7 are on and say “are you using that?” or simply sit on you. So I went to the Waterfall Grill and explained that I eat kosher and needed my food. I waited, and eventually, a tray of an omelet, 2 sets of pancakes and some blintzes arrived. I walked over to the pool and snagged 3 prime lounge chairs. I scarfed down my egg tinged sponge and waited expectantly for Julie. While I did, I busied myself by looking at the sea of humanity we had unleashed on the sea of water. Men with hair where there should rightly be no hair, and women showing parts of their bodies that would make a gynecologist blush. Many of them were quite shapely but for some, the shape was of a hippo. They, too, were wearing swim suits which demand the use of the word “skimpy” even though the Union of Skimpy bathing suits has asked not be affiliated with them. The kinds of revealing clothes that would make a groom, on his wedding night say “whoa....let's take this slow...I'll get the lights and a burlap sack.” The men ranged from the geeky, tattooed anti-social to the buff tattooed to the elderly tattooed. I watched people (for lack of a better word) for two hours, each time I turned, hoping to see Julie and the girls. Eventually I ate one of the other breakfasts out of sheer boredom. By 11AM I had had enough and I took the remaining food back down to the room. It was still really dark. It was still fool of sleeping people. I tried to wake everyone up and told them that they were about to miss our docking back in Bayonne. They rattled around and arose, confused by my existence and asking why we couldn't check our email.

Maddie ran off to go do some teen-thing but returned briefly to say that no other teen showed up as they were all still in their cabins fighting with their parents. Only because she argues at an 11th grade level was she e able to show up so promptly. By the time Talia and I left to go to swimming and trivia respectively, Julie was well on her way to turning the light on and Maddie was moping to beat5 the band. Trivia was fun – 20 entertainment questions which proved that Celebrity cruises has such a limited budget that it couldn't buy a Trivial Pursuit game since 1999. Julie and Maddie joined me as I got 13 out of 20 right (though I still believe that the pop singer with the shaved head as of 1999 was Sinead, not Brittney). We looked around for Talia and, though it took a while, we all found each other near the ice cream station. We asked for our kosher lunches and were told we would have to wait. 3 minutes in a microwave and 1 in the elevator up, plus the 15 minutes it took to get the order substantially wrong really add up. The girls got pizza and, if I can be so bold as to say, I no longer believe that there is no such thing as bad pizza. This was offensive. Italy is justified in hating Jews because of this pizza. It might have been good had it been labeled “tangy pancake” but even then, it would have been a crap shoot. This was some flat out bad pizza. Maddie tried the (incorrect) salmon order – Ginger Salmon. And she thinks she liked it. I happen to know that this salmon is not capable of being liked so it is a good thing that Maddie isn't in touch with her taste buds. This was some nasty salmon. I tried a bit and went back to the pizza. It was just that bad. We washed it down with ice cream and all was right with the world. There is nothing that soft serve ice cream and candy can't fix, except a fleishig dinner, so I dread this evening.

During our meal (or better, or collective punishment) we looked through the afternoon's offerings. I didn't see “nap” listed but I insisted that it was there. Julie kept suggesting that we do things that require getting up and doing things, and I had to show her my ID so she'd remember that she married me, not the guy with the interest in stuff. We went over to the pool (the light rain which had plagued the morning was near stopping but not before forcing the cancellation of the line dancing activity...thank you, God) and got chairs. Julie returned to the room and I dozed a bit while listening to the endless loop of smooth jazz. The kids went off somewhere and Julie got involved in the Music Challenge where she had a run in with one of our oversized co-cruisers. Apparently, the rule of “touch the MC and give him the right answer” was interpreted by this plus sized lady to mean “touch the MC and do nothing as long as you prevent anyone else from touching the MC.” Julie stood her ground in the face of a gravitational pull and was awarded her keepsake pen (to complement the one we had already stolen from the room).

Now the sun is occasionally out, Julie is reading and the horizon stretches out as far as the eye can see. We are over a third of the way there and we have ordered brownies as our dessert this evening. Mor news, after this.

A Late Note

I just wanted to pontificate a bit about a few other and a few of the same things that I have run into. I know I have mentioned the utter disappointment that the food has engendered thus far, and the small size of the stateroom. I have even mentioned that the activities are not uniformly my cup of tea (family Bingo was not quite my speed but it was as close as we have come to something that the whole family could endure together). But I wanted to return to the dress code here.

A word about bikinis. Now I am the first to stand up and applaud the bikini. I mean, until the internet came along, going to the beach was the best chance a repressed little kid had of seeing any part of the female anatomy aside from the Sears catalogue. Now I find myself as a scary old man, sitting on the deck of a cruise ship, surrounded by women of all shapes and sizes wearing dental floss as a fashion statement. Why would someone choose to wear so little? The best I can figure, it is because the aforesaid woman is proud of her body and wants to show it off. Super to her, I proclaim. And in fact, instead of being ashamed and averting my eyes so I won't be caught admiring what I see and imagining the rest, I should be staring openly! If I choose not to look, I am insulting her! She wants to be looked at and who am I to say no to that? It is just a matter of common indecency. Now guys are a whole other story. That stuff's just nasty.

Back to accents. I know that internationalism is important and diversity is lovely blah blah blah. But if you are working on a cruise sailing from the US, with English as the lingua franca (and I don't even know what that means) then it is essential that you speak English with not accept that will get in the way of your being understood. I'm on vacation – I don't want to have to work at deciphering a waiter or room attendant. Aren't there enough teenagers in the US looking for gainful employment? I don't recall ANYONE on the love boat having an accent besides Charo. And occasionally a Gabor sister. But they were guests. No one on that ship had to listen attentively to the first 3 words out of an employees mouth and play “guess the accent” so as to be ready to translate into American.

Now, the water plan. While guests are allowed to gorge themselves on untold quantities of food – from the dinners to the grill to the snacks and on and on, drinks cost. Even for those of us on the “Chosen people eat from plastic” plan, we can get loads of microwaved meals and soft serve ice cream, but if we get thirsty, we have a problem. So every guest, except for one who wants to drink from a water fountain or a bathroom tap, pays for drinks. Even in the middle of a meal which is all inclusive, if you get too much peanut butter, better have your room key handy if you need to wash it down. From a plan that includes unlimited sodas, to one which allows for all the bottled water you can drink to one that allows for a wide selection of wines and liquors. The room card is encoded with some sort of drink plan and if you want something, you go up to any guy wearing a white shirt and say “gimme” and hand your card. It is better if he works on board but after a couple of drinks, it really doesn't matter.

So we signed up for a $77 plan per person for all the Evian and Pelegrino we want. This sounds great, especially because the bottles on board start at $2.50. But we really could have gotten 2 plans and let the children drink from our bottles (and fooey to those who would then accuse us of theft). Or we could have bought bottled water on board. But to drink that much water, whether still or sparkling, would require that each of us drink 3-4 liters every day. Not gonna happen. So that's more money down the drain.

Anyway, Maddie won the last round of Bingo and I bought lanyards so we can wear our key-cards around our necks. I noticed that duty-free vodka is dirt cheap and phone service is expensive. The world is a crazy place. I have now been fighting with the wireless system for an hour, and I have successfully wasted 75 minutes. True fact and I still can't get online for longer than 3 minutes to see that there is email that I need to deal with. Till next time.

Day 2, Rosens 0

The first full day on this vacation is nearing a close and before I go on my evening walksies, I'll fill in some angry gaps and lay the ground work for the next exciting chapter. When I got back to the stateroom, expecting a quit egress to another plastic dinner, I received a shock. Julie and the girls were putting on their finery in preparation for the formal evening. Now you have to understand: we worked hard last night to convince Maddie not to worry that she didn't have the proper clothing for formal night. We told her that if she didn;t dress formally, we would still be able to eat. It took a while but talked about alternatives and clothes and so on, and she was finally convinced that we wouldn't let her starve. So when I walked in and saw everyone getting dressed I became annoyed. I don't have more than clothes for shabbos and I thought we had accepted that we could dress down. I was wrong. Up we gussie ourselves and off we head to the dining room. After getting the wrong food at lunch (somehow the asst. Maitre D confused “1 eggplant” with “2 chicken”...a natural mistake) I was less than excited at the prospects. Of course, the only thing worse than getting the wrong food with these meals is getting the right food.

We walked in on the 4th floor and asked if this is where we were supposed to be. Eventually we made ourselves understood and were told that we had to enter on the 5th floor. OK, we said wearily, and we trudged upstairs. When we entered on the 5th floor, I asked where we would be eating the next night. The woman insisted that we were always to eat on the 5th floor. But, I insisted, last night we ate on the 4th floor, having been moved from the 5th floor after waiting there on line. No, she replied, you ate up here. I gently tried to convince her that I really did know where I ate. She was sure that I didn't. I find that kind of annoying. Then, just for fun, we had to go through the near pantomime of “we keep kosher.” They got it tonight and cleared off all of our silver and glasses. Then, in quick succession, they brought out our various courses. Now, nothing says formal dining more than wrestling with multiple layers of plastic wrap in order to get to some nasty food. I mean, why the facade of fanciness when we are not eating anything fancy, and sing plasticware to do it? Why couldn't we just get our food delivered to another place so we wouldn't have to put makeup on to chow down that makes airline executive say “what is this crap?” But Julie wanted to make sure we had access to the gentleman who would write down tomorrow's orders and we didn;t want to risk not giving him the chance to screw it up; and if we were going to be in the main dining room, Julie wanted to follow the suggested dress code, so we did the spiffy thing and got fancy. Tonight's abominations included dried out salmon, bad tasting shwarma, chicken cacciatore which Julie characterized as “least offensive” and Salisbury steak which might have been passable had someone simply named it meatloaf. All of this surrounded by crinkly plastic and wrappers while everyone else stares at us over their elegant salads and martinis. Yeah...the formal dress really kept us from seeming out of place while we ate packaged meals.

While we waited for Ahmet to come and write down what we didn't want for meals tomorrow, we looked forward to dessert. As the time grew, we became more and more frantic. Brownies, we figured, could not be screwed up. A waiter came over and explained the delay (“On a scale of 1 to 10,” Julie asked, “Where is my brownie?”) – it seems that the brownies are kept in a separate area and they had only taken out 1 for us (even though we ordered 4) and so a special trip had to be made, to fairy land, I think, to get the other brownies. Then they showed up, recently nuked. That's nice and all but these brownies were not packaged nor designed to be eaten hot. OK, I can forgive this trespass. But while I was thinking, I decided to check for nuts. With a nut allergy, I usually shy away from desserts in anticipation of an attack but I thought it might be nice to eat tonight. I took the one brownie that looked different from the others – fancy and labeled “with sauce.” The kids, I resoned, would not be able to appreciate it. So I looked at the ingredients and noticed the non-fat dry milk. I rechecked and say the OU Parve marking on the other side. I didn't know which marking was correct. SO I looked at the other brownies. They didn't have a company name, nor ingredients, but were from the same city as the one I knew was a problem, so they were out as well. So the brownies might end up being good, but who can tell yet? Tactical mistake – while I brought peanuts to nosh on, and we have chocolate health bars which are dairy, we have no parve chocolate chips. Argh.

We came back by way of the internet cafe and logged onto the web through the local computer instead of the netbook. It was slow but it worked, so I hope to upload this at some point on Tuesday. Julie is taking Talia to a movie and Maddie is going to a teen event, so I may walk into the casino and beg. I figure if these fools want to lose their money so much that after handing it over to the cruise, they are willing to hand it over to the casino on the cruise, maybe they'll just give me some. I might head to the library or the botanical gardens, or just sit outside and watch the nothingness. As the gentleman in the internet room said, “to appreciate the ocean, you have to lose sight of the shore.” Except I don't think he was quoting anything, just making a literal observation.

Julie and I walked around last night before bed and discovered he “Card” room. It has tables and cards and board games. Pleasant enough so we planned for shabbos afternoon there. And if the a capella group is singing outside then also, that'll be nice, too. We tried to catch a Beatles sing-along but arrived with Talia too late. The only thing we heard was the singer being a bit strange as he confided in us about how tough it is to make photocopies on a boat. We did stumble on the big song and dance revue. Medleys of a variety of performers with fancy costumes and high kicking dancers, plus women. Ttfn.

Pool sideways

I couldn't sleep last night. Julie was watching a movie and Maddie stumbled in at 3AM just in time to stay in her bed and read by the light of the flashlight. Her bed and the intermittent flashes of light are about 3 feet from me so there was no chance for me to sleep. At around 3:30 I got up and went out with all my stuff to the pool. The night was windy and clear and I was out while some revelers from the evening before had yet to retire. There weren't many people around but some still dressed formally drunkards were stumbling about trying to bum smokes and matches. I read a bit and wandered around, making sure to visit the all night free coffee where I met the mashgiach for the kosher contingent. We chatted about life and stuff and drank coffee (if we were to plan this now, we wouldn't pay for food or drink packages – we would live on free coffee and ice cream) from paper cups and then I went to the front of the ship to daven and watch the sun rise. Of course, I was an hour early because there was some confusion about the time of sunrise and its relation to NY time or ship time so I think God might have still been asleep when I was saying all those important things. I left a message at the divine beep so I'm hoping I'm clear.

I watched from a deck chair as the attendants opened the various pools, and I stared out of an open window at the endless ocean and got a quick panic attack. The idea that I was surrounded by all of this potential death and hopelessness really got to my very soul. I moved away before I did something rash like spit out the window. That'd be gross. At 6:55AM, I got into a hot tub and proceeded to cook myself at about 100 degrees (F) for 45 minutes, turning occasionally. I was the only one in any of the pools and I enjoyed the absolute silence. The wind was still kicking up so whenever I lifted any part of my body out of the Dan Soup it dropped in temp quickly and that felt really neat. At a bit after 8 I called the room and no one answered to I went back to my chair and read some more. My quiet reading 7 decks up also didn't wake anyone up so I went back to the room at 8:15 to get everyone's day started. That didn't go over so well. I did get Talia up and secured a promise that, were I to call back in an hour or so, the others would arise and seize the remainder of the day. Talia came out with me and I went back in to the hot tub to reheat as she ate her rubber pancakes. Afterwords, she came in with me for a bit and we talked about life and boys and ponies and rainbows. I then took a series of power naps as she rested and went to some sort of child based events including arts and crafts. The rest of the morning was a series of phone calls, sending Talia to the room, getting in and out of the hot tub and trying to wake Maddie and Julie up. Eventually, Julie found us in the hot tub and said she had been looking for an hour. As she hasn't seen me in a bathing suit in a hot tub, it is no surprise that she didn't recognize me. Talia left so I sat with Julie and we worked on a crossword puzzle. As she had only recently awoken, she was not hungry for lunch, but by that time (12:30) I was. We got our food poolside and I chowed down on two servings of Eggplant Parm. It was actually quite edible, not award winning, but I could actually distinguish that it was a specific food product so kudos to Weberman for their Eggplant Parm. We went back to the room after lunch so I could shower and get dressed for real and Julie expressed concern about the lack of coldth of our minibar (into which she had placed all of her yogurt). We walked over to Guest Relations (not at all what I thought it was when I first saw the name) and explained the situation so they said they would send a technician to adjust the fridge. They said it, but after an hour of waiting, I decided that they didn't actually do it. I called back and they said they would send a technician. I resisted the sense of deja vu and waited some more. It took another 30 minutes but then, a gentleman with an accent Imagine my surprise) knocked on the door and very po9litely asked to come in to check the fridge.

A word about politeness.

It is everywhere. Everyone who works for the cruise checks to make sure everything is OK and wishes us a good day, a good evening and a good night. When someone asks you “how are you doing?” you almost certainly smile and say “everything is great.” Does the average pool attendant want to hear me complain about the internet connection? Does the waiter want to hear that the food which he did not cook and over which he has no control or interest is considered a crime against humanity? So we fight politeness with politeness and get into the habit of wishing every one and thing we see the best day possible so that the circle of insincere well wishing remains unbroken. Now, back to the story.

The technician took a quick look and said “it's working just fine” (or something to that effect) and explained that this is not a fridge with a compressor, but a minibar (which, without a compressor, keeps things cool through wishful thinking and the Fonz's leather jacket in a central facility). He suggested that we put our food int e”pantry” by giving it to the steward. I asked at the front desk and they explained that the pantry is an ice chest so any food placed there would freeze. Our choice was frozen yogurt or no yogurt so Julie chose the former. Other than that, the day has been uneventful. The soft serve ice cream machine isn't currently working so I have had to forgo the snack that I usually schedule between my post lunch snack and my early evening but pre-dinner snack. We are calling for a team meeting at 5:30, dinner at 6-ish and a stand up comic at 7:30. Then a night of dancing and avoiding dancing. We dock at 8:30 AM so I hope to be up early to see that happen. Maddie is already making plans to stay up till 1AM. I expect that tomorrow will be a complete fiasco which is good because it will fit right in. I'm hoping to stop by the internet cafe and move this file to a memory stick so I can upload it later this afternoon. I know you wish me the best of luck. Did I mention that we met another Jewish guy who is just a bit to weird for my tastes? He has told me about his family, his birthday and anniversary, his uncle and all that. He keeps starting conversations with me about everything, and he throws in a bissel Yiddish to establish some kinship. Sweet in a desperate sort of way. I'm sure his wife loves him.

End part 1. Please remove tape and turn over for part 2.

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