Sunday, June 5, 2016

Out To Sea

I have no idea that it's been so long since I posted anything to this blog. So much has changed, but so much is still the same. The job is still good, Joy's still not good healthwise. We have a new trailer, one that's much more functional than the old one. And then there's what you'll read in the rest of this post: a ten-day Mexican Riviera cruise we took at the end of February. I kept a diary of the trip, then promptly forgot about it once we got home. I found it again yesterday, finished the last few entries and edited it a little bit for clarity. Here it is!

Cruise Diary

The Preamble

This is something that at the same time I am completely unfamiliar with yet completely familiar with. I know that's a strange thing to say, but to know why I said that, you have to know me. Having lived almost half of my life out of a suitcase, driving from one casino/bar/resort/what have you to the next, I understand the nature of things here, what's going on. A cruise liner like the MV Grand Princess is very much a resort afloat with all that entails – restaurants, pools, hot tubs, cabarets, theaters and (of course) a casino. What's strange to me is the perspective. Up to this point I've always been the employee, albeit in the tertiary way that only an entertainer is. The free agency of an entertainer is liberating in some aspects, but in others – specifically job security – it can be frighteningly constraining. Now I'm a paying passenger, along with my wife Joy. Being on the receiving end of the service is something I find almost a little disconcerting. In so many words, I've never been the one that's been looked after.

But here I am, along with about three thousand other passengers and over a thousand crew aboard the Grand Princess for the next ten days, puttering down the Pacific Coast to the ports of Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas before returning to San Francisco. I'll do my best to write down the whats and hows and whys over the next ten-plus days, as well as how I'm feeling and acting in response to events and surroundings.

Day One – Traveling From Seattle To San Francisco, Boarding, Departing San Francisco

This day started earlier than either of us really planned. The day before, Joy and I drove down from Port Angeles to the southern suburbs of Seattle with her best friend Delane. She'll take our car back to Port Angeles after dropping us off at a place called the SeaTac Inn and “borrow” it while we're away. I'm not entirely sure I can trust her ability behind the wheel, because we have a running argument about how efficient her old Taurus wagon is, which by extension means I don't trust her driving. She claims it takes her half a tank of gas to get from Port Townsend and back, while I once drove it from Port Angeles to Seattle via Tacoma, then filled it up on the return leg in Tacoma on only six gallons of gas (slightly more than half a tank) with a resulting fuel economy of 31mpg – more than double her estimated fuel economy. I think I know who wins this argument, but Dee is a stubborn old mule.

The SeaTac Inn is pleasant enough to suit our needs, though the mattresses were far too firm for my liking. It's not at all unpleasant, but they could invest in memory-foam mattress toppers and do wonders for their reviews. We tried to get to sleep at about nine or ten that evening and wake up at about three in the morning for a three-thirty shuttle, but we woke up at midnight and simply couldn't get back to sleep for anything in the world. We took the first flight out of SeaTac at six in the morning, and touched down in San Francisco a few minutes before eight.

We were surprised to find Princess employees waiting for us as we left the baggage claim, and they helped us into a shuttle bus after suggesting we get some breakfast first. We were deposited at the Herman Cruise Terminal a little before eleven, and brought aboard ship a little after noon. We were surprised at this, because we thought that we wouldn't board until two. I think that this was the first glimpse of just how much Princess would spoil us.

We knew that the average cruise ship cabin isn't very big. Even plunking down the extra cash for an Extended Balcony cabin – nearly $1,300 per person, whereas inside cabins were going for rates in the five hundreds – had us thinking that we'd still have a pretty small cabin. But the surprise was on us when we opened the cabin door for the first time and found something pretty comparable to any motel room we'd inhabited over my years on the road. This was because this was more than just a regular EB cabin, it was actually a Disabled EB cabin. This means additional room for a wheelchair to maneuver about the cabin, ramps to the bathroom and on both sides of the balcony's sliding glass door. By cruise-ship standards, our cabin is pretty fucking spacious. By cruise-ship standards, the bathroom is pretty fucking enormous. And the balcony is pretty fucking glorious.

Day Two – At Sea, En Route To Puerto Vallarta

We rested, mostly. I think that I slept ten hours. We moved our clocks forward overnight to Mountain Time (UTC+7:00) and will move them forward again another hour to Central Time (UTC+6:00) after Thursday night. The food here varies pretty dramatically, from high-end fare in places like the Crown Room and Sabatini's to a serviceable buffet and various themed mini-restaurants on several decks throughout the ship. We've developed an affection towards the Michaelangelo Dining Room, and have begun to meet new people and proposed to dine with them on a regular basis. During the day, we were more-or-less cornered in one of the hot tubs by a really Jeebus-y couple from Stockton. Joy handled herself admirably in what was a pretty polite religious debate. All I got for my troubles was a sunburn across my shoulders.

We saw our first show tonight, a comedy show featuring a stand-up by the name of Steve “Ain't” White. As the nickname suggests, Steve ain't white. I'd never heard of him before, but he claimed to have quite a rep. I think he struggled somewhat with his show, unable to really get his show into gear for any extended length of time without having to deal with some doddering oldster wandering to their seat or some drunken heckler. Joy thought he was hilarious to the point of a coughing fit, and when he learned that we were from Washington he opined that her coughing was due to her excessive pot smoking.

If he only knew. We still bought his CD, and finished the night watching The Martian on a giant LCD screen overlooking one of the ship's swimming pools. Here's my three-sentence review of The Martian:

Matt Damon is left for dead on Mars and struggles valiantly to escape the shadow of Ben Affleck. Which as we know is impossible, because Ben Affleck is Batman. Nobody can escape Batman.

Day Three – At Sea

We bought some trinkets today. Well, not really trinkets. The ship's stores put on sales – if that's what you want to call them – in the dining rooms during their off-hours. Joy bought a floppy hat and a neck purse, which are both pretty useful things to have for our upcoming shore excursion in Puerto Vallarta. The shawl/wrap/pashmina/whatever she bought, probably less so. And how did we pay for this? With our room keys, of all things.

It's pretty ingenious, actually. Princess has a system where charges and credits to our shipboard account can be added directly by scanning our “cruise cards”, which double as our room keys. Part of our total expenditure for the trip included placing $500 on our shipboard account in advance – if only that had collected any sort of interest in the two months between booking the cruise and actually boarding the ship. The ship does not take cash or any other sort of payments while at sea, and we'd actually paid for extra packages to cover gratuities while on board, we still tipped cash for excellent service. Another perk we paid for was an unlimited non-alcoholic beverage package, which gave us both large Coca-Cola-branded tumblers that can be refilled at any bar at any time with any non-alcoholic beverage save for tea from the upscale tea lounge/library on the Promenade Deck (Deck 7).

Tonight was the first formal dinner of the trip. The ship enforces (albeit in a rather relaxed manner) what they call a “smart casual” dress code for the main dining rooms and the more upscale restaurants that aren't a part of the standard dining package, which for me means open-necked shirts and well-kept jeans or slacks. “Formal” is a pretty alien concept to me, because my first formal-dress occasion was my wedding. I'd never gone to a formal dance in school, something that still irks me to this day. But that was then and this is now, so it's time to put on the smooth suit I bought at the Van Heusen outlet store in Bend back before Christmas. An $800 suit for $180 – not too shabby if I may say so myself. My sunburned shoulders didn't really appreciate it, but I looked good enough in the mirror. We dined with a nice couple from the Spokane suburbs that we'd met the night before, and they joined us for karaoke at the Explorers' Lounge. They have a cruise-length karaoke contest going on, and given the poor level of talent last night, I figured that I'd walk away with the show. I thought I'd done pretty well, but the night's winners were a woman who couldn't carry a tune in a bathtub but looked good doing it, and a doddering oldster singing a tuneless love song to his even more ancient girlfriend. No doubt that he got a strong sympathy vote. Perhaps I should have chosen a less obscure song. Perhaps I'll go back later to compete again. I don't think my ego was bruised that badly, but no contest is truly fair – especially when there aren't any impartial judges.

And now, a few words about doddering oldsters. When we first boarded the ship, I was quite convinced that I would be the youngest person on board. And while that was eventually proven false, I'm still far younger than the average passenger. That average passenger is much, much older than me – we're talking retirement age and up – and the vast majority of passengers are white, though there is a sizable group of Chinese-American passengers on board. Very few African-American passengers – most of them being a single extended family traveling together – and a mere handful of Latino passengers. There are a few younger adult passengers, even a couple of straight-up dude-bro types. I've only encountered a couple of teenagers, and maybe a half-dozen infants and children traveling with their parents. Let's just say that an obnoxious metalhead like me tends to stand out in this crowd, albeit more because of my lack of gray hair more than anything else. The crew is a polyglot bunch – the Captain and much of the Senior Staff is Italian, though there are officers from South Africa, Croatia and India as well as other places. The only thing the Service Staff have in common is a reasonable command of English, and while the largest contingent are from The Philippines, they're a mix of people from every corner of the globe – other than the U.S. and Western Europe. While I have been told that there are eleven Americans working for the ship, I have yet to see anyone from the “first world” in a Princess uniform outside the occasional glimpse of a member of the Senior Staff. Not that I have any problems with that. As long as they do their jobs well, they could come from Mars for all I care.

One more thing. Given that the average age of the passengers is.... well, old, why on earth does the ship have a discotheque? Who would go? I know that we probably won't go. Being a DJ on a cruise ship must be a pretty boring job most of the time.

Day Four – At Sea

Breakfast in bed for Joy for the second day in a row. We've moved our clocks forward twice since leaving San Francisco, and we'll remain on Central/Mexico City time for the next several days. Being at sea, with nothing to break the tedium outside, I've noticed a few things. Watching sports is pretty interesting. Princess' cable-TV package includes a few movie channels, several news channels, and the Caribbean feeds of ESPN and ESPN2, the latter of which is basically the US feed of ESPN. But having the Caribbean feeds gives me access to sports and competitions I might not otherwise see without paying through the nose for online pay-per-view streaming. This weekend's action includes Six Nations rugby, and had we have chosen a later date for the cruise I could have watched the ICC World T20 Cricket Championships. Cricket is not everyone's cup of tea, but I've grown to appreciate the direct ancestor of baseball over the last few years.

Joy's not doing very well right now. She didn't take her meds for three days in a row, and only got back to them yesterday, taking doses in the morning and before going to bed last night. After breakfast she went back to sleep and doesn't want to get out of bed, so for the most part I'll be left to my own devices. I can deal with that.

Today the ship passes Cabo San Lucas by only a few miles on its way to Puerto Vallarta. It's kind of odd to me, but it's not my business to tell them when and where to hit port or not. We'll be in Puerto Vallarta in the morning. Hopefully Joy will be ready to go for that. We'll be on a guided tour for most of the day, then left to do a little shopping and dining along the waterfront. Since we're talking about a tourist zone, I doubt that I'll have to use what little Spanish I remember from high school. It's really shitty, one of many bad memories I have from those days.

I need to get some air.

Day Five – Puerto Vallarta

It's a pretty fair-sized city – at least from my perspective, maybe about the size Tacoma, or maybe the Reno-Sparks area. There was a little mix-up at first, as the staff charged with letting passengers disembark from the ship kept sending us from one end of the ship to the other as though one hand didn't know what the other was doing. But eventually we made it off the ship and to the row of tour buses parked just beyond the terminal's fences.

The tour we took was a pretty straightforward tour of the city – the main square, the seawall they call the Malecón, the old Catholic church of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, a drive along the coastal highway a few miles out of town, a few opportunities to shop for jewelry (this cruise seems obsessed with jewelry) and other trinkets. I was able to steer Joy away from buying some pricey opal rings, but neither of us could pass up the sandals she bought. So what if we got hosed on the price, paying fifty bucks? At least the money went to the people who actually made them, as in the people standing right in front of us. I'll take that any day over buying another shitty shirt made in China.

We finished the tour with a stop at a beachfront restaurant that seemed to not last nearly long enough to enjoy a plate of fajitas with chips, salsa and guacamole – all of which were pretty fucking good. In retrospect, I feel really shitty right now because in the hustle to pay the tab before the bus left without me – the whole meal cost 336 pesos, which at the current 17:1 exchange rate is about twenty bucks, I spaced out and forgot to add a tip. I think seeing the “$336” - yes, Mexico uses the dollar sign for their currency – gave me a case of sticker shock. The tour guide Jesús and his driver Nacho (a common nickname, usually for Ignácio) did a fine job of schlepping us yanquis back and forth, pointing out the sights, helping Joy in and out of her wheelchair. I hope they got a good chunk of the sixty bucks we paid Princess for the tour.

I felt a moment of sadness as a family of hawkers came into the restaurant (whose name I completely forgot) and set about to sell their wares to us, their daughter selling packs of gum, like right out of the George Lopez bits I heard on the comedy channels on my satellite radio. I wasn't too sad about it though, because in the forty minutes we were there they wound up making some pretty good money off of the doddering oldsters that dominated our tour group (along with everything else on the boat, but you've already heard me whine about that). The square that the restaurant sat on the edge of was holding an arts-and-crafts fair, and we both wish that Jesús and Nacho would've let us linger a bit longer there, because I'd seen some pretty cool stuff there, if only briefly. We thought about buying some 222's (that's acetaminophen with codeine) at a pharmacy at the terminal, but the fact that they wanted fifty bucks for a bottle of thirty tablets was a deal-breaker. So much for things being cheaper in Mexico.

We thought about going back aboard the boat to drop off our things and make another trip outside, but Joy's will was flagging, so we made a beeline for the hot tubs, and now we're watching Guardians of the Galaxy and Inside Out in our cabin. What the fuck is it with Pixar movies? Cute as all get out, but they have such depth to them, to the point where it's almost impossible to not cry once during one of their movies. At least they didn't show Up – half the passengers would've committed suicide after watching the beginning of that movie.

I'll be getting her up here in a bit to take her to a magic show, followed by dinner. And their karaoke contest has a second round coming up. Maybe I'll take another swing at it. I know that I'm a better singer than most anyone on this boat not being paid to perform. If the imbeciles vote for some other dementia case or talentless cougar over me, I'll just shut the fuck up and walk the fuck away. Yeah, I'm being a little egotistical about something I shouldn't be, but I was a professional singer and drummer for twenty years – I have legitimate talent. Squalling like a branded calf is not the same.

I should take a moment to talk about how much we're getting spoiled by the staff here. Last night, we tried out one of their high-end restaurants, the Crown Room steakhouse. Instead of paying for the individual menu items, we each paid a “cover charge” of $25. Sounds steep, right? You don't know how deep the rabbit hole goes, Alice. First we ordered lobster cake appetizers that could easily be entrees if they decided to put more than one on a plate. I got a very nice salad next, while Joy got a french onion soup that was easily one of the best I've ever tasted. I ordered a sixteen-ounce Kansas City Strip steak, while Joy ordered a fourteen-ounce ribeye, both cooked to a tender medium-rare – seriously, anyone who orders a steak any other way is delusional, and anyone who orders one well-done is a complete fucking moron. Donald Trump likes his steak well-done, for example. Need I say more?

And then they added the lobster. I saw four-ounce lobster tails on the menu and was perfectly fine with not ordering them, and I remember saying that I was fine without the lobster tails. But they brought them anyway. Four of them. Remember the scene from Jaws where Sheriff Brody is shoveling chum into the water and the shark pops up, and he says “I think we're gonna need a bigger boat?” That's what I was thinking at that precise moment. At the end of the day, we got a meal that would've cost us well north of $100 - $150 for fifty bucks. I can live with that.

Another one place has become a regular haunt for us, the Leaves tea house and library. This another place where you have to pay for drinks, though a pot of tea for two to three bucks is hardly a back breaker, especially when they throw in the dessert tarts and cakes that come with the tea. Meanwhile, we can borrow books from their smallish but largely complete library to peruse at our leisure. The only down sides to Leaves are that while the library is always available, the tea service is only open when the ship is at sea instead of hopping from port to port, and that there are more books by professional wrestlers (a Mick Foley novel and Dave Bautista's autobiography) in the library than there are by Frank Herbert. Not good.

Day Six – Manzanillo

From what I can see from our table at the terrace behind the Horizon Court Buffet, all the way at the aft end of the ship, Manzanillo is a port city. There's a massive container port directly in front of me (behind the ship) that's from my perspective seems to be easily on a par with the Port of Seattle. The container port has its own specific inlet of the harbor while the rest of the shoreline is studded with vacation condos. Grand Princess is berthed on the south shore of the harbor, well away from the container port and its traffic. The south shore of the harbor is little more than a series of hills, though I can see a massive set of smokestacks between a gap in the hills. I can see houses climbing up the sides of these hills, and I can imagine living in one of those houses quite easily. If only.

This is the only way we'll see Manzanillo. Joy is worn out from yesterday, and just getting to breakfast – even with me pushing her wheelchair – cost her what little energy she had to spare this morning. She'll stay in bed for the remainder of the day, though a tequila tasting in the Explorer's Lounge this afternoon has her interest piqued. That won't take place until after the ship has left for its third port of call, Mazatlan. It's over three hundred miles back up the coast from Manzanillo, so the ship is leaving port at four in order to make it to Mazatlan in the morning. I think that I'm okay with skipping Mazatlan as well. Cabo San Lucas is where we both want to get off the ship and explore. We've had a running joke that maybe we'll find Sammy Hagar passed out underneath the bar at Cabo Wabo.....

One of the things you find out about cruises that the brochures don't tell you is the chance encounters with people that you probably don't know, but have so much in common with that it's almost eerie. During dinner tonight at the DaVinci Dining Room – we were sent there because the Michelangelo was packed solid – we were paired off with a couple that had moved from the Seattle suburbs to Reno, and at least one of them had grown up in the Puyallup area. We'd learned that some beloved local shops in Reno had gone out of business, their building bulldozed. We found that John Ascuaga's Nugget – sold to new owners by the Ascuaga family only two years ago – had been sold to another new ownership group, which is never a good sign. This couple were on their forty-fifth (!) cruise, and gave us sage advice for cruises to Alaska, which we may consider in the next year or so. And they were on the whole quite a charming couple. I would only hope that the others we've dined and spoken with would think of us so kindly. But between her visible tattoos and her neo-paganism, that might be something of a turnoff for the average passenger on the Grand Princess.

I find myself thinking a lot about getting back to Seattle after the cruise is over. Of course having to deal with the security bullshit will be.... well, bullshit. Trying our best to get Alaska Airlines to move our flight up from 8:30pm to something a little more humane than spending nearly ten hours waiting at SFO for our flight home. And that flight home will be crowded as fuck. On the flight to San Francisco, we were so packed in cheek-to-jowl I swear that the poor woman next to me must have felt like I was molesting her every time I so much as moved. I kept my phone out of my pocket for the entire flight because I thought she would slap me if I even considered putting it back in my pocket. But we'll have two nights in Seattle, and we both want to go do something downtown that night if at all possible. I'll have to give my old buddy Ed Durgan a call and see what he and his wife are doing that night....

Day Seven – Mazatlan

Another day on the boat, another chance for the crew to spoil us. Neither of us planned on getting off the boat to explore Mazatlan in the first place. Breakfast in our cabin, a little sun on the Lido Deck (Deck 14) before a couple of cheeseburgers from the Trident Grill. As the sun went down over the horizon and ship left port, we watched a James Taylor concert on the giant video screen above the pool on the Lido Deck. From there we watched vocal impressionist Tony Pace sing his way through several decades worth of music in the Princess Theater. We capped the night off with another of the ship's high-end restaurants, Sabatini's. Their Italian cuisine was simply awesome, and another server left with a large tip for his exquisite service and good humor.

I'm cutting this entry short because we have to get up early in the morning to get ready to debark for Cabo San Lucas.

Day Eight – Cabo San Lucas

I think that we left earlier than absolutely necessary. We were off the boat a little after eight in the morning, well before most of the shops had opened. But the hawkers were out in their full fury, and between them and the tourist shops we spent well north of a hundred dollars on jewelry and clothing. Mostly silver bracelets, which we'll give to the kids and granddaughter, and a couple of caftans for Joy. I only wanted a hat, and that's exactly what I got. I'd also wanted to get lunch at Cabo Wabo, but it wasn't open yet, and even then it looked kinda run down. The heat began to get to us about then, and we made our way back to the tender dock after maybe an hour and a half on the ground.

However, things didn't necessarily get any better. Exhaust fumes from the tender on the return trip got to Joy, and I was able to get her back to our cabin before she got too sick. She's been asleep pretty much ever since. That's the sad truth about traveling with her – her limited energy limits everything we do. Everything.

We got our debarkation advisories delivered to us while we were away. We'll have to have our suitcases packed and tagged before 8pm Thursday night so Princess can collect them and get them ready for sending them ashore, and we'll need to be out of our cabins for good by eight the following morning. They included some tourist information about San Francisco, but we won't have much time for any sightseeing unless we can find an alternate means of getting our stuff to the airport. Which does actually bother me a bit, but not that much.

We got to see our first production show on board tonight, a Motown review called Motor City. It was a good enough show, but I was more interested in the band. This was the same house band that had played the night before for the vocal impressionist, but now they were rolling through classic Motown tunes with tons of energy. And naturally, I found the drummer to be focus of my interest. Dude was killing it. The dancers were okay, though I scarcely paid them any attention. At one point in time I apparently had a dancer in my close vicinity, and Joy asked me if I liked what I saw, and I told her I simply didn't notice her because I was completely focused on the band. The show's two male singers were okay, though my old bosses Mike Hill and Arthur Hayden would've wiped the floor with them as both singers and dancers. I'm quite sure that if Mike were sitting there with Joy and I watching the show, he would've enjoyed it, but he would've given me a few “child, please” looks as the male singers took a few liberties with lines to avoid singing notes they couldn't hit. The other passengers may or may not have noticed, but I did, and I'm sure Mike would as well. The two female singers had no such problems with vocal ranges or capacity. I did notice that they were actually stronger singers than their male counterparts – either that, or the guys' microphones weren't dialed in right by the lounge's sound tech.

Now if only the sound crew could have done something about the ventriloquist we'd seen a few hours before. Joy had told me that “hey, not everyone can be Jeff Dunham”, and I told her that she was right. Watching this guy's act was like watching him converse with a psychotherapist that existed only in his head yet had somehow leaked out into the real world. I tuned him out after about the first ten minutes of his act, when he trundled out a dummy tied to a child's lawn chair – who knew that we'd get an impromptu demonstration of the Japanese rope-bondage art known as shibari along with the act?

Day Nine – At Sea, En Route to San Francisco

Today was a good day – there's really no other way to describe it. The Leaves tea lounge and library reopened, giving us ample time to relax and read while sipping mint tea. Thank the spirits and totems that I have the Kindle app on my phone. With its Kindle Unlimited service – think of a streaming service like Rhapsody and so on, only with books instead of music – I'd started a free trial just before boarding and downloaded several books in a variety of categories to read at my leisure. Dad let me borrow a few books as well – Ready Player One was too depressing to get past about thirty pages, and I haven't gotten to the book about the rowing squad from the 1936 Berlin Olympics – so I was pretty much set. Joy found a few novels that she read for hours on end. I do like reading, but I swear that I've read more in the last week-and-change than I have in the last few months leading up to the cruise.

We got the chance to talk to Tony Pace in the Piazza, the vocal impressionist we'd seen a few nights before. He's a pretty good guy, and I think that he appreciated the chance to talk shop with a fellow professional musician instead of just making idle chit-chat with another tourist. We told him we'd catch his act again tomorrow night, and I'd make damn sure to yell “FREEBIRD!” at the most appropriate moment. That or maybe “ZEPPELIN!” or “BOWIE!”

We had our second Formal Dinner tonight, and I wore a silk jacket that had once been my grandfather's over my white dress shirt and black slacks while Joy wore a long tangerine-colored dress. We dined with our friends Jay and Joan (!) from Deer Park, and I swear to god that I've never eaten this well before, though I noticed something kinda funny. With the exception of that memorable I-think-we're-gonna-need-a-bigger-boat night at the Crown Grill, we've eaten a lot less than I was expecting to. The meals have actually been smaller in terms of portion size, which naturally allows for more courses. Appetizers every night, salads every night (though the Dining Room's interpretation of blue-cheese dressing leaves a little to be desired in my opinion – too much blue and not enough cheese), and don't forget dessert. Even their buffet was better than we were expecting, with surprisingly good Indian food available just about every night we were there, though their breakfasts were at best so-so. Most days we've had breakfast in our cabin. Nothing extravagant, breakfast muffin sandwiches and bananas with coffee and orange juice, and Joy has a bowl of cereal on top of that. Lunch is usually just a cheeseburger and fries from the Trident Grill chased with a Coke. When we're at sea, we usually follow up lunch with long sessions in the library sipping that lovely tea, a bite of cake or tart here and there while reading or playing Monopoly – Joy usually wins. We're at the point where we don't really want to get off the boat now, but at the same time I'm really looking forward to getting home and getting back to work – by the time I get back on the job, I'll have been off work for nearly three weeks. Time to get back on the horse. Time to summon the forces and get the band ready for a gig next Friday, then dive into writing new music for MCFD II: The Wrath of Crysys.....

Day Ten – At Sea

Time to say goodbyes to our favorite crew members, our fellow passengers. Time to leave tips for our steward, a patient Eastern European (Ukrainian, IIRC) named Tsvetomir, and Oni, an Indian we first met at Leaves and eventually saw waiting tables in lounges throughout the ship. The dining rooms were packed to capacity, and we were wise to make reservations well in advance. There was a final show in the theater, the impressionist and ventriloquist doing brief shows. There was a show featuring the talents of various crew members, but we chose to skip it to get an early night's rest.

Coming home from Cabo San Lucas, the seas were a little rough, six-foot rollers almost all the way back to San Francisco. But the ship handled the swells quite easily, and I found it remarkably easy to sleep in, as though Poseidon himself was rocking me to sleep. I knew I was going to need that sleep. I sure as hell will miss this ship.

Day Eleven – San Francisco, Then Flying To Seattle

I woke up a little before seven in the morning to find Grand Princess already tied to the dock at the terminal in San Francisco. We were ready to go, but they weren't ready to let us go just yet, so while we were out of our cabin by seven-thirty, we had some time to kill and availed ourselves to a last trip through the buffet for breakfast. We finally disembarked some time around nine in the morning, and by ten-thirty the shuttle bus deposited us at SFO.

And there we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Did I mention that we waited? You see, when Joy booked the trip she figured that we'd have some sightseeing time in San Francisco, and booked an evening flight back to Seattle. But the sightseeing simply wasn't going to happen, because there wasn't really an option for it. So now we were stuck with a ten-hour wait at the airport. We did our best to find an earlier flight, but were only able to move up three hours, from an eight PM departure to five PM.

Did I mention that the flight sucked? That both flights sucked? That getting through security sucked? That buying a steak sandwich for twice the price I can get anywhere else sucked? Seriously – FUCK Ronald Reagan and the trickle-down economics cult for turning the romance of air travel into something that makes cattle in a trailer en route to the slaughterhouse seem luxurious by comparison. I'm actually kinda glad that Joy's health will pretty much preclude us from taking trips like this again – air travel sucks great big floppy donkey dick. At least the hotel didn't disappoint, though I found myself walking from the hotel to the nearest grocery store late that night to buy TV dinners for the night and instant oatmeal for the next morning.

Day Twelve – Seattle

One big advantage of our hotel is location. All of about two blocks or so to the Sound Transit LINK Light Rail Terminal, where a measly twelve dollars bought us day passes between the airport and downtown. Seriously – why the hell did it take so long for people to agree to build light rail? Fast, clean, reasonably priced – who loses from this? As the train headed north, then east from the airport and down the hill toward Southcenter Mall, I felt kinda like I was watching flying a small airplane down the narrow valley, or watching video shot from a drone's camera. We spent the day wandering around the International District, getting lunch in the food court at Uwajimaya before finding our way to the Seattle Pinball Museum. Joy wasn't nuts about it at first - “what do you mean I have to pay fifteen bucks to be here?” - but after a few minutes she found that she was totally loving it the experience of playing pinball machines from the most ancient to the most modern.

It was a pretty awesome trip, I thought to myself as I lay in bed that night. My first trip to another country – I know, I've been to Canada a few times, but Victoria, BC is visible from Port Angeles damn near everyday – that barely qualifies. And with all due respect, the MV Coho is no Grand Princess. The ship was luxurious like I'd never seen before, the crew cheerful and attentive to a fault. The sights and sounds, new and unique to my eyes and ears. Just the simple act of walking out to the balcony to see the ocean slip past us, gazing out to the horizon at sky, land and ocean felt exotic beyond belief. The trip went off without a single hitch, allaying all my fears that I'd kept hidden from Joy, fears fed by lurid internet headlines of illnesses and accidents at sea.

My only complaint would be that we didn't spend enough time in Puerto Vallarta. We could have spent more time there, but I didn't trust what little of the stuffy high school Spanish I remember - “¿Donde esta el baño, señor?” - to get us anything other than mugged in an alleyway. I think we both entertained the thought of moving there, living in some little place in the hills. But the fantasy didn't last for long. I know better. Joy couldn't really handle being anywhere other than the Pacific Northwest coast for any real length of time.

Looking Back On It

It's been a few months since we got home. In fact, it's the beginning of summer now. The cruise seems like it was a lifetime ago. It almost feels like a dream. And it's a dream we both want to experience again. We're cautiously optimistic toward the possibility of going on another cruise – possibly next summer, up to Alaska. We know what we want, and what we don't want. Unlimited soda, coffee and ice cream? Oh hell yes. Do we need a balcony cabin again? Not necessarily. Flowers and fresh fruits delivered to our cabin? We can pass on that. Do we need to take as long a cruise? No, not really. And I've never been to Alaska. A big bonus to an Alaska cruise is that we have friends who have been there, and more who live and have lived there. They can give us suggestions on where to go and what to do that no guide could tell us. Another big bonus to an Alaska cruise is not having to fly to our port of embarkation. Driving to Seattle or Vancouver is infinitely cheaper, easier, and safer than flying in some overloaded sardine can. Factoring in the flights, the shuttle buses, the perks, the excursions, the tips and side trips, we spent somewhere around four thousand dollars for this trip – we figure that an Alaska cruise could probably be done for at most half that much, if not less. I think fifteen hundred bucks could get it done. Our tax returns could probably pay for it with room to spare.

And out of nowhere, my dad floated the possibility of taking us as well as my sister on another cruise to Mexico in the next few years. I could handle that – just as long as we don't have to share a cabin. Joy says I need a CPAP machine of my own now, my snoring has gotten that bad. There's no way in hell Dad or Julie could handle that.....