Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Wonderful, Terrible Experience: The Planetdre Cruise Review

It was everything one could imagine, for good and for bad.  I had a great time, the most fun I've had probably in any one-week period, and I would certainly do it again.  Also, I'm sitting here with a cough and sore throat and chest that I've had ever since the next-to-last day of the cruise, no doubt an illness my wife and I contracted through the unchecked petri dish that is a cruise ship.  It will result in this post being somewhat abbreviated, since I've been so sick since getting back that I'm sure I will forget some details.  Oh yeah, and I almost passed out from the heat.  Let's get this party started!

Our adventure began last Sunday, July 21.  The wife and I packed up our suitcases and carry-on bags and headed to Memphis International Airport, where we watched her 2001 Corolla sputter and shut off the moment we made it to the airport parking lot.  Poor Bessie carried us as far as she could.  But since the car has cut off before and started right back up, we assumed (and hoped and prayed) that it would be all good for our return trip home in a week.  We chose the economy parking lot because picking the lot closer to the terminals was $5 more per day, and we didn't know how much money we'd have left by the time this trip was over.  Saving every little penny is what allowed us to take the cruise in the first place, so we weren't going to stop now.  The hustle with our luggage through the walkways and hallways was a burden, but we were making great time, so we stopped at Cinnabon, which had a burrito place next to it, and we had lunch.  The flight to Miami left and landed on time.  The approach to landing in Miami was breathtaking.  So much water!  And such beautiful looking resorts and swimming pools, especially in Doral, which we couldn't afford to stay.  I assumed the place with the huge fountain that looked like an outdoor palace was the Fountainbleau, again, out of our price range.  The wife had us set up at the InterContinental, which wasn't a fleabag at all, but it wasn't some $1,000-per-night posh castle.  As I expected from a busy cosmopolitan city like Miami, there were cabs in front of the hotel ready to be flagged down, but the first one I tried to hire asked me where we were going, heard InterContinental, shook his head, and drove off.  That was a surprise.  I didn't think this place was an unreasonable request, seeing that the wife chose it because of its close proximity to the airport and also the Port of Miami, where we would catch our boat the next day.  We nervously flagged down another cabbie who decided to take us on our way.  Something about our clothes or demeanor or something prompted him to ask, without us saying anything, "So, you're in town to take a cruise tomorrow?"  This would become a theme for our stay in Miami, as no less than four different people guessed that about us.  I guess nobody in their right mind takes big suitcases to Miami and just stays there.  Kinda sad.  I loved Miami for the night I was there.  Colorful, vibrant, everyone walking around seemed to be engaged in a loud, engrossing conversation, although half of them were in Spanglish and therefore unintelligible.  There's one or two apartment buildings in all of Chicago the pink-peach color of most of the Miami skyline.  It's awesome.  Dancing seductively on the windows of our 30+-story hotel viewable from the outside was a woman's silhouette.  A Christmas-color tour boat floated along the water outside, partying and carrying on past 10P local time.  A selfie I took of myself outside the hotel captured the overhang turning purple because it turned different colors for no apparent reason other than this is Miami.  Oh, and two women walked off the elevator as we were walking on that could not have been anything other than prostitutes based on their attire and makeup.  A guy who was with his wife turned all the way around to stare, ignoring the spouse on the other side of him.   They were behind us, so yeah, I was turned all the way around, too.  "Welcome to Miami, huh!" I said to the guy.  He smiled broadly.  In related news, I'm moving to Miami if I ever get divorced.

The InterContinental was first class all the way.  The room was gorgeous.  The minibar had a note that said they would send in a team and clear the bar out of the fridge if you want to use it for your own food, at a small charge of $25.  The tiny Pringles and M&Ms cans were $5.  Each.  So was the bottle of water.  Our room service came out to over $80, and all we had was a salad, a shrimp cocktail, two Cuban sandwiches, and a can of ginger ale.  The wife couldn't finish her Cuban, but she couldn't save it in the fridge because that note made it seem like we would be charged just for moving shit around.  She actually kept the packets of mayo and Dijon mustard and took them on the cruise because they were so big and flavorful, although she didn't use them.  That Cuban sandwich was the bomb.  We both loved it.  I figured I'd get the best Cuban I ever had in Miami, and I was right, but I didn't think it would be from a hotel.  But room service was our best option because a food court more than a half mile away and a pricey restaurant downstairs were the only other food choices, and after the walking and traveling to leave Memphis, we weren't up for the half-mile trek.  The bathroom had a two-head shower, presumably for two extroverts to get dirty and clean together.  Instead of a clock radio, there was an iPod dock with a clock.  Fancy.  There were people racing each other on speedboats in the water right outside our 29th-floor room, and we could hear them clearly through our thin windows.  We saw a yacht sail in that looked pretty big from our room and absolutely monstrous when we went downstairs and stood next to it.  It was so big, it had four tables with four chairs each in a corner of the yacht for dinners.  And the next morning, we saw four or five cruise ships pull in across the water, and our mouths dropped.  These ships were enormous!  And ours was the Carnival Victory, and it was the biggest of them all.  Twelve stories, a billion feet long, with this whale's tail design sticking up from the top that made it even taller.  We had breakfast downstairs, checked out, and caught a cab to our ship.

My uncle, who arranged this whole thing, was texting me that morning, as he and his family were staying in Fort Lauderdale, about 25 miles from Miami.  But they actually beat us to the boat.  Official departure was at 4P, and we got there at just past 1, but they were already on the ship and eating lunch.  And we thought we were early.  Embarking the boat, we got separated from our luggage.  The process is such that you have to give up your big luggage to the crew so they can deliver them to your room later, allowing you to take your carry-on luggage through the embarkation without being weighed down.  It went very smoothly.  We showed our passports, went through screening, received our stateroom keys which doubled as our on-board credit cards, bought the Bottomless Bubbles program which allowed both of us to receive endless soft drinks for the whole cruise at a cost of about $36 each, took pics, and wound up on the 9th floor, where a pool was already being utilized by early boarders and where food was being served.  And that right there is probably why we got sick--the 9th floor, where there were lines for deli sandwiches and pizza and burgers and buffets, also contained swimming pools and whirlpools, where anyone could get half-naked and spread their germs around.  One could jump in a pool, pick up something disgusting from a fellow cruiser, and then immediately get in line for pizza, dripping and leaving sweat (and other fluids) on the counters and walls.  I almost pulled a muscle walking through the pool area to get to the food because I kept slipping on all the water (and other fluids).  Ick, ick, ick.

Anyway, we found a mother and daughter who used to bowl with my uncle and me, and we sat with them for an hour because they told us that our rooms would not be ready until 1:30.  An announcement came over the speakers that said our rooms were all now ready, and it was indeed a little after 1:30.  After my uncle and his family found us and greeted us, we made our way to our room on the 1st floor.  Great, if this ship goes down, we'll be the first ones wet.  The room was a nice size, with two twin beds shoved together to make a king size bed, and also a couch and a chair with footstool facing a mirror.  The bathroom was small, with only a stand-up shower, a toilet, and one facebowl.  The TV, which was not a flat screen and had a fuzzy display, was tuned to a repeating 10-minute tutorial to prepare us for a mandatory boat-wide safety demonstration scheduled for around 3:30, right before our 4:00 sail.  This turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.  The tutorial warned us that elevators would not be available during this time, so once we figured out that our section of the boat would have to go to the 4th floor for this thing, I became concerned about climbing three flights of stairs.  I wasn't thrilled about the possibility, but I was worried about my 5-foot-3, not-so-thin wife, who really struggles on stairs.  She didn't seem to think that the elevators would be out for this exercise, but indeed they were, so there we were on the stairs, climbing to the 4th floor and standing next to other sweaty, out-of-breath vacationers wondering how long this damn thing was going to take.  I could feel the sweat dripping off of my head.  We stood for a good ten minutes waiting for late stragglers to arrive.  An asshole behind us actually yelled, "Hey guys, thanks for coming on time!"  I didn't think that was necessary.  We get it, you were here on time and now you're being inconvenienced waiting for the others.  Who fucking cares.  Yelling at them won't solve the issue.  We finally watched the crew execute the drill teaching us how to put on life jackets in case of emergency, which took about 15 minutes because there were so many steps.  Then we were dismissed by section over the loudspeaker, prompting a big cheer by everyone as if we were 8th-graders who had just been told we had been let out of school for the summer.

My wife then made the first of several moves that proved once and for all that she is in the better shape between us two and that I am the lazier of the two:  We waited for elevators for a couple of minutes to take us to the 9th floor, where we could watch the boat sail off and take pictures, then she started up the stairs.  I thought she was just going to the 5th floor to catch that elevator, but she didn't stop.  She kept going, floor by floor, stopping to catch her breath at the 8th floor, and when I started walking towards the elevators to get to the 9th, she scoffed and headed up the stairs for one more flight.  I followed behind, and our pics of us as we set sail show a perfectly fine wife and a smiling me just drenched in sweat and worn out.  I honestly was shocked that she decided to do nine flights of stairs in all.  Just on a whim.  Between this day and running through the airport the day before, my vacation was off to a very tiring start.

Our dinners were scheduled in the main dining rooms by time, so we always had a choice--eat dinner on the 9th floor in the cafeteria with the other disease carriers, or join our people in our assigned seats in the main dining room with a classier menu and dress code.  We chose to eat with our people every night at 8:15, but the first night, there was an issue:  We decided to be early so as to make sure we were seated on time because we heard that the table may not get served if everyone isn't there at the assigned time.  However, the staff decided that punctuality was important to them as well.  So we stood in the lobby of our main dining room at 8:10 with everyone else, waiting for the doors to be opened.  It got humid quick as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other hungry people.  I could see workers cleaning and setting up tables in the dining room, so it looked like this wasn't just an issue of making us wait until our assigned times, but also, they weren't quite ready yet.  Finally they let us in, but the head chef, a native of India with a thick accent, tried telling us all where we were supposed to go according to our table numbers.  It was a fail.  Almost everyone wound up walking up to him and asking him where to go.  This guy was also our personal waiter, as it turned out, so the language barrier continued to be a problem.  Many times during the week someone from our party requested something from our waiter, only to have him bring something else.  But his overall service was very good, and the food was exquisite.  Prime rib, salmon, Mahi Mahi, shit I can't pronounce--it was all good.  He even played some magic tricks on us, dabbing some chocolate sauce on the backs of my older cousin's hands, putting a handkerchief over them, saying some kind of incantations, and winding up with the chocolate off of the back of her hands but now on the palms.  We decided that we shouldn't criticize the food at that point even if we didn't like it, because who knew what this chef dude was capable of.  He also brought out a congratulations cake for my uncle, who got his Master's and retired.  He still doesn't know who arranged the surprise cake, but he's going to get that person, because it was a big surprise, with the other waiters coming over and singing "Happy Congratulations to you!" and embarrassing him in a major way.  I wish I could take credit, but I'm not bright enough to think this one up.  The one other memorable thing about our dinners in the main dining room is that the waiter didn't bother himself with fetching our drinks.  There was a clear hierarchy where the other waiters under him got water and lemonade for us, and if we wanted something else, he would send over the bartender.  Well, the bartender found out what every other drink server found out during the cruise:  My wife and I don't do booze, and we have the Bottomless Bubbles sticker on our card, so not only do you have to fetch us soft drinks, but you're not getting paid for them, and you're not getting tipped.  And why aren't they getting tipped?  Oh, I didn't tell you that they charge tips to your room key/charge card automatically, in bulk, up front, for every day on the cruise, all at once, to the tune of about $60 per person.  Yep, they take the tips up front regardless of service.  Oh, they encourage you in the literature to go to the front desk and adjust the tips up or down depending on quality of service, basically daring you to take money away if you have a crappy staff.  That bartender in the dining room tried to ignore us the first couple of days once he figured out that we weren't going to be big spenders, but eventually I would get his attention and he would make his way over and take our soft drink orders, and you could see the disappointment on his face every time he found out that we weren't ordering the $10 margaritas or glasses of wine.  Hey, sorry pal, but I have to get my Coke from you and no one else, so I'll patiently wait until I can get your attention and call you over.  That's just how it goes.

The next day, Tuesday the 23rd, was the Fun Day at Sea, meaning we would be on the water the whole day trying to make it in time to the first stop, Grand Turk in the British property of Turks and Caicos.  So we'd all have to entertain ourselves on the boat all day.  There were enough activities on the ship to keep you busy between the comedy clubs and pools and deck chairs and casino and sports bar and spa and gym.  After breakfast at the buffet, where we discovered that the omelette station with the real eggs were much more preferable over the powdered scrambled version, the wife and I spent a while in a whirlpool, where the instructions included "Please take your children on frequent bathroom breaks" and "Only spend 15 minutes in whirlpool to prevent overexposure."  We put on some suntan lotion and caught some sun.  Then I would take out my iPod and find my way to something called the Serenity Deck.  When I read about it online, it seemed like this would be a great place for me to go to get away from all the activity on the main deck and escape with my headphones on, watching the ocean go by as I listened to relaxing music.  Well, it wasn't as secluded as I hoped it would be.  The main swimming pool was about 25 feet away and so was the pool's DJ, thumping bass-heavy tunes to shake your booty.  I had to turn my music up so loud that it ceased being soft and relaxing.  Also, it was very hard to find a chair.  Granted, the wicker chairs were generally more comfortable than the deck chairs (one of which I broke), and the hammocks looked very serene.  But the hammocks were always taken, and sometimes so were all the chairs.  There was more walking and stairs involved in trying to find the damn Serenity Deck, so take all of this exercise and heat into consideration when I get to the part where I almost pass out.  I found out the night before that the casino's poker offering consisted of one measly table, one no-limit cash game, and the table was electronic, meaning no cards or dealers.  Bogus.  And the tournament had a $150 entry fee, with the winner earning a shot at $150,000...wait for a bigger tournament on a different cruise in November.  Bullshit.  So no poker for me.  The dinner on this night was Formal Night, for which men had to have dress shoes and a shirt and tie.  I didn't bring a sportcoat because I thought it was ridiculous enough that I was bringing real shoes and a shirt and tie on a fucking cruise.  But I looked pretty good.  The wife did too, and the boat's hoping that you think you look really good, because the staff went around taking pictures of everyone individually and as a couple, and they had a whole floor of the boat set up for you to look at the pictures and buy them for $15 a pop.  And we actually bought a few, because no one at the table thought to get our own pictures on our own cameras.  After I went back to the room and stripped off those clothes, I joined my uncle in the casino, won $60 playing blackjack, and retired for the night.

Wednesday was our first stop, at Grand Turk.  There was a beach where you could set up and enjoy the sand and the water, but the wife and I chose to venture into the souvenir section, which leads to Margaritaville, the Jimmy Buffett-themed restaurant with the huge pool.  We got off the boat somewhat late in the morning, so finding two deck chairs to sit on around the pool was a task.  We noticed people hanging out in their own private cabanas, but renting those things was too pricey for us.  Eventually we sat poolside and had some water and a Coke for me.  I even stepped in the pool for a second, but only waist high.  Can't risk getting the shirt wet.  Then I might have to take it off, and I'm so ashamed of my body that the one thing I knew I wouldn't do on this trip is take my shirt off.  We bought T-shirts in 4XL for $10 each, marveled at how cheap they were, and made our way back to the boat.  I made another gambit for the Serenity Deck, intent on enjoying what little serenity it offered, and I even had a fruity drink--a pomegranate lemonade.  Don't know what was in it, but it was strong.  Everyone finds the thing they enjoy the most on a cruise, and mine was sitting in the wicker chairs watching awesome bikini bodies get in and out of the whirlpools and walk by.  I managed to enjoy the Serenity Deck even with the swimming pool DJ pumping up the jams.  The day set up to be largely relaxing, but the wife had other plans before and after dinner.  She really wanted to take part in a Latin dance lesson scheduled for an hour before dinner, so we got dressed and made our way there, where the Dominican instructor worked us up into a sweat for a half-hour before we bailed and went to supper.  My relaxed vibe was gone.  So what did the wife want to do after supper?  A Caribbean line dance on the main deck at 10:30.  Whoo boy.  And this is out where there's no air conditioning or anything.  I indulged my spouse and slogged my way through a couple of dances, then I stood aside and dripped sweat for a few songs.  I noticed my uncle and some members of our party on an upper deck looking down at us, and I could have ran up there and abandoned my wife, but I wanted to be a good sport, so I stayed close by.  I was too close.  The dance turned into the Wobble, decidedly not Caribbean, but a dance for which my wife and I had actually practiced.  And so we Wobbled, and I sweat, and then another steppin' dance started and I tried to slink off, but the wife grabbed me by the shirt and made me do that dance too.  Have I mentioned that I now see that my wife is in much better shape than me??  And I didn't know she desired to dance this much in public!  I went to bed that night sore and exhausted.

Which brings us to Thursday, when we sailed to Half Moon Cay, described as Carnival Cruise's own "private island," with no other vacationers there except us several thousand occupants of the Victory.  There would be a midday barbecue, and beach games, and sand castles, and it would just be awesome on top of awesome.  The previous activity of the last four days had me worn out at this point, but the wife was excited to get into the water and enjoy the sand and surf.  All I kept thinking was, there's no air conditioning on the beach.  We had to catch a "tender boat" in order to get to the island because they didn't want to pull the ship all the way to the sand, for some reason.  We arrived the the Cay at 7 in the morning, and because I thought there would be a mad scramble to get on these tender boats, I persuaded the wife to join me in breakfast, and we'd get out there at about 9 or 10.  The problem with that was, it was hot as blazes, and there are these "clam shells" (big polyester circular tents) you can rent to shelter yourself from the unrelenting Caribbean sun, but you better get there early, or else you're going to have to walk in that sun a long ways down the beach to find an open one.  We had to walk a decent amount to get to the sand, and then we hit that soft white sand, and oh God, it's so soft and you have to have good working muscles in order to slog your way through that stuff, and we both wound up having to stop and catch our breath before we even made it to the customer service booth to see if we could rent a clam shell.  I finally made it up there, only to have to take a chair and suck some wind in order to get the question out of my mouth.  And the answer, unfortunately, was there were some still available, but they were all the way down at the far end of the beach, and we weren't in condition to attempt that walk.  So we settled on a couple of beach chairs, which offered no protection from the sun, and the wife dipped in the water for a few minutes, then she let me go in the water.  (We couldn't both go in the water because our beach bags with our money and IDs would then be unprotected.)  My trip into the water lasted three minutes because I refused to go more than waist deep, and because my muscles were so sore that I felt I was going to fall face-first with every wave.  The wife encouraged me to go farther and get the full effects of the cool water, but I refused.  After I walked to the nearby pirate bar to get a bottle of water, we watched a Baywatch Slow Run contest, then we went to the barbecue lunch.  I discovered that because the island belongs to Carnival, my card with the Bottomless Bubbles sticker was valid, and I could have free Coke with my burger and chicken.  This was not a good idea.  I was already feeling dry and dehydrated from the heat.  I needed water.  Instead, I sucked down two Cokes with my heavy food and carried on.

While walking back from getting my second Coke and looking for my wife, I came across my uncle and his family, and his wife decided to come hang out with me and my wife for a while.  What she didn't know was that I was feeling more and more sluggish and hot, and I wanted to get back on the boat.  But she and my wife were enjoying the beach and wanted to go in the water more.  I didn't want to disappoint them, and I wanted to go farther into the water, so I agreed to rent a board on which I could float and go into the water.  But first, we would have to walk in the noon sun along the beach and find unused chairs, which were becoming harder and harder to locate.  We finally plopped down on our towels in a plot of sand.  My uncle's wife went into the water and encouraged me to come along, but I was pooped, so I said I'd come later, still intending to go rent a board.  But as the minutes in that sun went on, and the effects of the heat and no water and that big lunch took its toll, I started feeling all kinds of bad things.  Nausea.  Shortness of breath.  Very hot.  Eventually, I started blacking out, or at least I assume that was what blacking out felt like, where I was looking up straight ahead with my eyes wide open yet things were going black.  My wife asked if I needed the paramedics, and at first I declined, thinking this would go away so long as I stayed sitting down.  Then I decided that I have no idea if I'm dying right now or what, so yeah, get the paramedic so I can go back on the ship.  My legs went numb, but I think that was from sitting on that soft sand.  My wife helped me sit up on a chair that a stranger brought over, and I was amazed at how everyone else on that beach seemed to be able-bodied and running around giving up chairs and dragging them over and not laboring at all, and I felt like a beached whale.  My whole life of being out of shape had caught up with me in a major way.  The men who helped me arrived after about ten minutes, which felt like eternity.  They were big, muscle-bound guys, and each took one of my hands and lifted me onto my feet, and just that resulted in a better flow of air through my nose and mouth.  They sat me in a two-person cart which had air conditioning, and that really made me feel better.  One of them drove me to the tender boat, which would have been the longest walk ever had I tried to make it on foot, and he dropped me off on the hot concrete, where I struggled to put shoes on and wait for him to bring my wife.  We then fought the waves of the smaller tender boat, which wasn't helping my nausea, and made it back on the Victory.

My wife spent the next few days lamenting having to leave Half Moon Cay early.  She says that she thinks being in the water and cooling off would really have helped me, and she was looking forward to also getting back in the water.  I was and am disappointed that I messed up my wife having a good time by being such a fat blob.  I slept hard once we returned to our stateroom.  I felt like I went as hard as I could go for my wife, between lugging the luggage and hitting the stairs on the boat and dancing before and after dinner the night before, and I gave out in the end.  I exerted all the energy that I had, but it wasn't enough.  Next vacation, I have to be in better shape than this, for my own joy and for my wife's.  Dinner that night saw a more subdued me.  With everyone asking if I was okay, I felt like the spark was gone and I needed to chill and take it easy the rest of the trip.  I played face-up blackjack by myself after supper and dropped a quick $40, then I went to bed.

Friday began with someone from our party calling our room expecting us to be up and at 'em at 7A as we entered Nassau in the Bahamas.  Neither my wife nor I were fully awake, although I was halfway up.  My wife decided not to go into Nassau.  She had finally hit her limit:  A nagging Achilles tendon injury was flaring up.  I actually wanted to go into Nassau, not very far or very long, mind you.  I just wanted some T-shirts.  The Victory staff had put a scare into everyone by slipping a note under our doors warning us to be very careful in Nassau due to rising crime, so I had no intention of going beyond the first place where I could buy a shirt or two.  My uncle and his people were looking forward to an excursion to a resort called Atlantis, because there was more blackjack to be played.  I wasn't interested.  I found a T-shirt outlet and paid much more than the $10 I paid in Turks and Caicos, but I like my polo shirt and navy blue tee.  I even got the wife a sky blue shirt (out of her own money, of course).  That hour in Nassau was it for me.  It wasn't too hot, I stopped any time I got a little short of breath, and I survived the crime threats.  My cruise experience was done.  I didn't try the whirlpool or the casino or anything else.  Five days on that ship felt like five months.  It was back to Miami and off the ship, thankful for the experience and at the same time taking some fantastic and horrible memories.

The adventure didn't end Saturday, though.  American Airlines has not been good to either my wife or me throughout the years, and this was an all-timer.  They canceled our flight due to mechanical issues, then they couldn't find a flight with a one-stop layover back to Memphis until 5 that evening.  The only nonstop Miami-to-Memphis already left at 11 that morning.  The wife and I were in the rescheduling line getting ready to have a fight about whether we should come back that night or stay in Miami and take the nonstop at 11 the next day.  Luckily, she heard the attendant in her thick accent (everyone in Miami seems to have a thick accent) say that American would pay for the room, which made me relent and stay in Miami.  I wanted to go back to work on Sunday to show off my tan and brag about the cruise, but I was already starting to feel sick, so that probably wasn't a good idea anyway.  The room was at a Holiday Inn, a step or two or fifty down from the InterContinental, and the wait for a shuttle bus to the hotel was a half-hour on foot, so this segment of the trip wasn't a walk in the park either.  But American also paid for three meals at the hotel, so at least once we got there, we had a king-size bed and food.  We also had a dusty wall air-conditioning unit, which didn't help my illness.  I had another Cuban sandwich for dinner, not nearly as good as the first one, then we had a breakfast buffet and skidaddled.  Side note:  This guy, a monster baseball fan, was in Miami a few miles from the new Marlins stadium, and they played a game that night, and the events of that week wiped me out so much that I never even checked the schedule to see if they were playing.  Only when I saw the highlights that night on ESPN did I realize that I could have been there.  You know what I thought about more?  What if I were single in Miami on a Saturday night in a situation where I was leaving the next day, maybe never to return?  Would I go out on the town and tear it up?  This is me, so nah, probably not.  But I'd be awful tempted.  The adventure finally ended Sunday afternoon as we made it home and predictably our luggage did not.  That was delivered to us Sunday evening.

I covered my big takeaway from the excursion, which is, I recommend a cruise experience in general and Carnival specifically, and man, I need to get in better shape to survive relaxing like that.  There's one more observation I had that I didn't talk about, and that's my uncle's oldest son.  I guess there were some comments last week about race by Bill O'Reilly while we were out of the country, something about how blacks need to start cleaning their own proverbial houses.  My uncle's son has the messiest house you could imagine.  With him on this cruise were both of the women who have had his children, his three children whose ages range from about 2 to 3 (that's not a typo), and the teen daughter of one of his babymamas.  It was almost comical how many times I heard my uncle's son stomp through the hallway on the ship chasing after one of his running kids or arguing with one of the babymamas.  Once, my wife and I were eating on the 9th floor, and we saw one babymama and some kids go by with food, then my uncle's son 15 minutes later looking for them, then the other babymama and kid, then him again still looking for the first group, then all of them as he yelled, "Why didn't you stay where you was??"  Unbelievable.  I assume scenarios like this happen all the time with white people.  But for fuck's sake, I don't see it in front of my face like I do with black folks.  Seriously, people.  Get your shit together.

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