Ships Ahoy! Bound for Never-Never Land – Mexico &Caribbean – Odds’n’Ends

The funniest thing about going on a cruise is the inevitable question people ask when you get back: "How was it?" I wonder: Are they serious? After I returned from a week on the high seas, my stock answer soon became: "It was just like the commercials." People wanted to know what I did with my days. All I could think of was eating and bingo. "I can’t really remember what I did with them," I told people. And that was the beauty of it. For six days, my mind was a blank. And so were those of the people around me.

Nobody read the newspaper (unless you count the "Daily Planner" left on your pillow each evening highlighting the next day’s activities); nobody called home (it costs seven dollars a minute anyway); nobody considered their calorie intake (except those crazies who hit the fitness room before the boat even left the harbor); nobody worried about finances (there’s no cash on board. Everyone has an "account" connected to his or her room keys). Nobody thought at all about anything that might have seemed crucial before they boarded and might prove to be important when they disembarked a week later.

Because nothing can go wrong on a cruise, given a southern destination where there are no icebergs. Even if catastrophe strikes at home you’d never know until later. Aboard the "Vision of the Seas," Royal Caribbean’s 11-level cruise ship, I did what I thought only people on commercials were allowed to do – danced to songs that were hits before I was born, planned my schedule solely around the all-you-can-eat buffets, did not bicker with my boyfriend (except when the karaoke and "name-that-tune" time slots overlapped), and basically forgot that other people’s lives were continuing on solid ground.

But because we were not thinking as we usually would, we began to do things we usually wouldn’t. Take bingo, for instance. I don’t gamble. I hate math and anything that has to do with numbers. But who can resist a two-for-one Bloody Mary deal before 11 am? Needless to say, I became a bingo-aholic, loyally following the masses to the "Some Enchanted Evening Lounge," where "Frenchie" repeated the same corny jokes twice a day ("O-63 – the Christmas Number!" "What did O say to 8? I like your belt!") while calling out numbers that never matched the ones on my card. Finally on Day 6, during the final Bingo round (worth $9,000!), after embarrassing myself and my boyfriend’s family by yelling at an old man whom I considered to be breaking the rules, I was placed on Bingo probation.

Then there was the food. Any normal vacation (by my definition) includes a lot of it. However, I’d never before had the opportunity to schedule every hour of every day around the availability of different varieties of food. An average day:

9am: Wake up and rush to the buffet in time for breakfast before bingo at 10 am. My breakfast typically included a bagel, eggs and bacon, hash browns with gravy, fruit in muesli and a bit of cottage cheese.

10am: Bingo.

11.45am: Lunch buffet. The choices are different every day, so it is obviously necessary to have a sampling, regardless of one’s degree of hunger. God forbid I should miss a favorite like BBQ spare ribs, chicken wings or pad thai (all three were present at least once). On several occasions, I entered the dining room still feeling slightly ill from breakfast and managed to put down at least two servings (Can anyone eat just one spare rib? One chicken wing?).

12.30pm: Relax by the pool, strategically selecting a secluded area where few innocent bystanders will be forced to see me in my bikini, which is no longer flattering in any way.

2pm: Salad, occasionally accompanied by a bit of pasta or a half-sandwich.

5pm: Prepare for dinner.

6pm: Dinner is served at the Aquarius Dining Room, where my boyfriend never consumed fewer than two appetizers with his four-course meal and on one occasion ate three entrees.

8pm: After awkwardly regaining balance and composure with the extra-added weight of dinner, stroll the deck and retire to the bar.

12am: Cheese pizza and garden burgers from the all-night, all-you-can eat pizza and burger counter.

(Side note: For the 48-hour period immediately following our arrival home, my boyfriend and I ate only raw, organic vegetables. I strongly encourage this act of purification. It makes you feel as if you’ve reversed some of the damage done to your body during the past week. You haven’t, but it makes you feel as if you have.)

Bingo and food were the highlights of the portion of the cruise spent "at sea," which only made up for half of the trip. The other three days were spent in ports – Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Before disembarking in Cabo, my boyfriend and his family – perhaps regretting their decision to sign up for a scuba excursion, leaving me and his sister alone in port with very little self-discipline and essentially no bargaining skills – tried to prepare me for what to expect on shore. When they told me about the sorts of souvenirs and trinkets they’d encountered on previous trips to Mexico’s tourist spots, I didn’t think I’d have much trouble fending off temptation. I was wrong.

The first item I fell in love with was a little red guitar. I don’t play the guitar and don’t intend to learn how. But it was just so cute. And so cheap! And then there was the big mug that seemed to be made of sand, with a matching vase and serving dish; the lighters and shot glasses with little plastic turtles, salamanders or frogs climbing up the sides; beer cozies, sandals and parasols – the array of unnecessary items was endless. But necessity was completely overshadowed by random desire, and it was a miracle that I boarded the boat after four hours having purchased only one item – a straw hat with an eight-inch long brim that broke the next day. I spent the rest of the trip reminding myself that it only cost me five dollars.

I can’t say the same for the rest of my purchases – that hat simply got the ball rolling. In Mazatlan I discovered that my appetite for unnecessary crap was directly correlated to the number of Pacificos I consumed. On shore, we didn’t just order a "round of beers." We ordered a "round of buckets of beers." Amazingly, I never bought a guitar. But I did end up with quite a few shot glasses, a Pacifico beach towel and beer cozie, a complete set of turquoise jewelry, a beach dress and gifts for my friends back home. Except for the jewelry, I can’t say when I’ll be using any of these items in the future. I keep promising myself I’m going to sew the hat back together, but to tell you the truth, I’m not really sure what I did with it. It only cost five dollars!

All in all, my cruise was a dream – just like they tell you in the commercials. Sure I had to work some of the fat off afterwards. And that "account" summary at the end of the trip sure was a surprise (It was only a room key! No visa strip or anything! Could I really have ordered that many daiquiris?!?) And maybe I didn’t win anything at bingo (I only lost $150! It could be a lot worse!), but at least I put in an effort.

The one negative aspect of a cruise vacation is getting off the boat. When we hauled our luggage off the Vision of the Seas, there were 2,000 new passengers waiting to board for their own exciting adventure. I despised them, and so did everyone else who had traveled with me. But they were all oblivious. For they were off to never-never land, a self-contained vessel where calories mean nothing, cash and any hint of monetary discretion is nonexistent, and the only uncomfortable moment was when that crazy lady yelled at an old man during the final round of bingo.

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