Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Opposite Corners

We took a trip---my husband and me. If it were up to me, I would probably stay right here in Mukilteo with occasional trips to my beloved Montana. Since we are newly emptynesters, hubby thought we should take a Valentine trip in the form of a cruise. He had never been on a cruise. I went on a cruise years ago with my Mom to Alaska to make up for all of the times Dave left me with the kids to travel and to fish in Alaska. At the time, after a terrible winter of chicken pox, colds, flu and the grand finale of me being diagnosed with pneumonia complicated by severe asthma while Dave was somewhere on the east coast, I decided I desperately needed and deserved a break. Watching for and seeing orcas and humpbacks and viewing gorgeous glaciers worked wonders for my physical and mental health.

My feeling is that one cruise a lifetime is extremely fortunate. Dave did not like the idea that I had been on a cruise and he had not. Besides, Dave's sister lives six months out of the year 15 minutes away from the Bahamas cruise port in Port Canaveral, Florida. Our plan was to fly to Florida and stay with Dave's sister in her oceanfront condo for a couple of days before and after a short cruise to the Bahamas. So, this is what we did. Unfortunately, it was colder in Florida than it was in Seattle. Fortunately, It was nice and warm in the Bahamas.

As always, I am a cultural observer and use travel opportunities to come up with my completely unscientific conclusions. The following list contains a few items I learned on this trip to the opposite corner of our country and beyond to the Bahamas.

1. Meeting Strangers. Having the double whammy of English parentage and living most of my adult life in standoffish Seattle makes meeting people on a cruise a little painful. The first day I noticed a loud American woman being overly friendly and introducing herself to fellow passengers left and right. My reaction was to go the other direction every time I saw her. My hope was that she would not be placed at our dinner table. She wasn't.

2. Communal tables. At lunch one day, Dave and I sat at a communal table for eight people. One couple was at one end so we placed ourselves at the other end. I admit it! I am Seattle cool and I didn't feel like talking to anyone but my own husband. Another couple approached the table and they could have sat next to us or next to the couple by the window. To my relief, they cozied up to the window folks. Within seconds, these people had introduced themselves. One couple was from Iowa and the other from Illinois and within minutes they knew each other's grand children's names and were sharing pictures like they had known each other for 30 years. I was completely amazed at this little cultural exchange. Seattleites are reluctant to engage other human beings in such an intimate way.

3. Dinner Seating. We had requested small seating for the evening dining room in hopes that we would get a rare table for just the two of us. But no. The cruise powers that be assigned us to a table of 10. We were going to eat dinner every night with eight people we had never met before. Yikes! I feel so proud of myself because this Seattleite overcame anti-social behavior. One of the highlights of the entire cruise was our evening dinners with four other delightful couples. It turned out to be a good mix. Two couples were from New York---one from Yonkers and the other from Long Island. Another couple was from Toronto. The Toronto husband was Italian and first generation North American. Finally, the remaining two people were from San Francisco. We laughed about being fellow left coasters. I found everyone to be endlessly fascinating and loved being able to ask question after question. Stories from the dinner table will probably be another blog topic.

4. Food. Americans eat too much. Cruise ships have tons of food available all of the time. I could not believe how passengers would pile their plates two feet tall and make pigs of themselves. On the flight back from Orlando, the plane was filled with so many folks that I would call grossly obese. When we switched planes in Minneapolis and reached the gate for the flight to Seattle, I noticed the passengers were for the most part much slimmer. I believe there is a problem in the South. I really felt sorry for folks who could barely fit in an airplane seat and struggled with carrying luggage and walking.

5. Drink. Americans on cruise ships and in Florida for the Daytona 500 drink way too much alcohol. Beginning at 9 in the morning, whether on the beach in the Bahamas, a beach side bar in Cocoa Beach, or on the ship poolside, they start coming around with Coco Locos or Bahama Mamas or as much beer as you want. I probably witnessed more drunken behavior on this trip than in my entire life. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy a rum drink now and then and wine with my dinner and I have been known to be tipsy a time or two but wow.....!

6. Anna Nicole Smith. Along with overdosage on everything else, Florida and the Bahamas were/are overdosing on this tragedy. We even saw protesters in Nassau, Bahamas at the immigration building demanding that the Immigration Minister be fired because of photos of him with Anna Nicole Smith. Ugh!

7. Daytona 500. I got a little taste of America's obsession with Nascar when we went to Kansas in October but I got a huge dose of it in Florida. Dave's sister had friends and relatives from all over the country including Philadelphia, Boston, Tacoma and Seattle in Cocoa Beach for the weekend just to go to the Daytona 500. I had the privilege of meeting seven delightful successful young men in their 30's who left jobs, wives and children behind in order to attend this car race.

8. Dave's sister. Seven years ago Dave's sister lost her husband of over 30 years to a brain tumor. It was wonderful to see how her life has turned around. She has a great man in her life who has lovely sons and nephews (obsessed with Nascar). Her condo is right on the beach with views of Cape Canaveral. We even watched a satellite rocket be launched. She enjoys her friends and her life there. And I learned that her best friend who we ate dinner with the first night was Richard Gere's high school sweetheart. Now how cool is that??!! Evidently, he was involved in high school theater with her. As a senior, he played the king in "The King and I" and brought the house down.

9. Photos. On cruise ships, they take pictures of you doing everything. Most of them we didn't recognize ourselves but we did have a couple that turned out and here they are:

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First day!

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Formal night!

More pictures and photos will come later. As I look out of my window in Mukilteo at this moment, it is raining with a little snow mixed in. A week ago I was worried about sunburn!