The 2006 holiday season was a highly emotional one. Thanksgiving Day, my mom was given a clean bill of health after a short battle with breast cancer. A few weeks later came the Christmas vacation we all desperately needed. We sailed on a seven-day cruise onboard the beautiful Queen Mary 2 to the Western Caribbean. The ports-of-call were Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, and Cozumel. I couldn’t wait. We had to fly to Ft. Lauderdale, FL for the cruise. We were loaded down with luggage like you wouldn’t believe. We even had to pack formal wear in our bags. We left Newark, NJ a good hour late due to poor weather. We finally landed around 1pm. When we landed in Ft. Lauderdale, we got hit with more rain. What a way to start a vacation! Getting on board the ship went faster than getting to the terminal. We were sure happy for that. At that moment, it was time to relax and be ready to have a good time.
Just as we entered the ship’s main promenade, Santa was sitting in his chair. It was the sight we were all looking forward to. We paused with pictures with Santa, and we headed to our cabins. We were on deck six, just two decks up from where we boarded. At our cabins, we met our cabin attendant, Larry. He was the nicest gentleman you could meet. He showed us our life jackets, our evacuation route, our muster station, and our dining assignment. Afterward, we went upstairs to the King’s Court buffet on deck seven. The buffet on the Queen Mary 2 is absolutely incredible. There isn’t one item you ask for that they don’t have on the buffet. The buffet was that inviting! After a late lunch, it was time to sit back and wash it all down with a few drinks. Onboard the Queen Mary 2, I drank a B-52 for the very first time. A B-52 is Kahlua, Bailey’s, and Grand Marnier mixed straight up or on the rocks. It’s goooooood!! See my earlier story about cruise drinks entitled “Cruise Drinks: Straight Up And Straight Down”. The cruise was officially off to a great start.
Day two was a sea day. We were en route to our first port-of-call, Montego Bay, Jamaica. Breakfast onboard the Queen Mary 2 was awesome. That morning was kind of unusual. I was at the King’s Court breakfast buffet and I came across a rather strange situation. I was at the bacon tray. There were fifteen strips of bacon stuck together. What was I going to do, pull them all apart at the buffet and hold up the line? No! I did what every man should do. I took the whole chunk of bacon as it was. I scarfed down fifteen strips of bacon with my breakfast along with my fresh fruit and my toasted bagel. How’s that for being brave? I skipped lunch because I was so full. What a day it was! The second night of the cruise was a formal night. My dad, my brother, and I wore our tuxedos. We had three formal nights during that week. You’ll be so proud of me. Of all three formal nights, I never complained once about being dressed to the nines that often. I’m usually not a big fan of weddings and anything that involves a tuxedo. That cruise was a true breakthrough for me. I finally was a good sport after all.
Celebrating Christmas Eve onboard the Queen Mary 2 was an experience like no other. It was truly something special. Immediately following dinner time, it was time to attend Christmas Eve mass in the Royal Court Theatre, the ship’s main theater. My brother and I volunteered to give out Holy Communion to the crew and staff in the upper tier. After mass, we all assembled in the ship’s main grandeur for a Christmas carol sing-along. Members of the crew and staff also were present. The cruise director led the singing. We must have sung ten different songs including a few favorites. After the sing-along, my family and I went back to our cabins. We changed out of our formal wear and we went downstairs to the Golden Lion lounge for drinks. Yes, I had another B-52. Oh, do they taste great! It was the perfect ending to a perfect day at sea.
Christmas Day, we pulled into Montego Bay. The ship launched its own tenders to take us to and from shore. It was a gorgeous morning. There were two other cruise ships docked at Montego Bay; Star Princess and the Costa Magica. My brother and I went on the Dunn’s River Falls and Dolphin Cove tour. It was a rather long bus ride to Ocho Rios, where they’re located. The ride was just under two hours. Our tour guide was very friendly. She pointed out many key locations along the way; Montego Bay’s airport, and yes, many of the all-inclusive resorts located along Jamaica’s north shore, including Hedonism. Our tour guide was so funny when she said, “There are no kids allowed, but you can make them there!”. Oh my Lord, was everyone in the bus laughing their butts off. It was a fun drive not to forget.
Shortly later, we arrived at Dunn’s River Falls. The tour guide gave us a few safety instructions. One of the most important was stay together and not venture off without telling anyone. Secondly, we were told not to buy anything from the street vendors. Some of them are not to be trusted for many reasons. We all had to wear aqua shoes so not to slip on the rocks. Climbing up Dunn’s River Falls was not hard at all. As long as you climb up the ledges that are sound, you’re good. Dunn’s River Falls was the location used for the 1989 Tom Cruise/Elizabeth Shue movie “Cocktail”. Remember the romantic love making scene there in that film? I do! Great movie! While my brother and I were climbing the falls, we came across the utmost grotesque scene ever. I thought Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Shue had it going good at the falls. We saw this fat lady in a bikini climbing the falls. I am not sure if she was from our ship. She was probably from one of the other two ships. She was so chunky, and so heavy-set, that she needed two men to hoist her up the falls. Oh my Lord, was it out of place. I could barely look. It looked like Jaba The Hut on a forklift. We got to the top of the falls without vomiting. After watching a fat lady in a bikini with two athletically toned guys hoisting her up with their hands in her crotch, yeah, that made me want to keep my breakfast down. I was happy I was able to keep all fifteen strips of bacon, my toasted bagel, and fruit down. Phew! It was a tiring climb, but a whole lot of fun. They even took pictures of us climbing the falls. I never bought a copy. I kept away from those vendors as we were told. Without a doubt, it was truly a fun day I’d tell everyone about it, like now!
The last part of our tour was Dolphin Cove. There we got to swim with the dolphins in a closed in lagoon. There we also had lunch. The lunch special, barbequed jerk chicken. Oh, was it awesome. No one does jerk chicken better than the Jamaicans. While we were walking around through the forest, there was a guy challenging people to have a snake sit on their head. Oh, God, he put this green tree snake on my head. I froze up like an Eskimo. I like watching snakes on TV, but not wearing them. It was quite the experience!! We then headed back to the tour bus, to take us back to the ship. It was a long hour and forty-five minute ride back to the ship. I wanted to stop in and stay hello to the people at Hedonism, but I picked up a brochure at the cruise terminal. That is definitely a must-do on my list. Back onboard the Queen Mary 2, we got suited up in our tuxedos once again. It was dinner time, and time for the Christmas Gala Buffet. After dinner, we all went to the Royal Court Theater for the Christmas celebration show. It was an amazing show, featuring many more Christmas carols performed by the guest performers and the Cunard singers and dancers. It was an incredible program, well put together. Another great day onboard had come to a close.
The following morning, we arrived in Grand Cayman. It was not a pleasant morning at all. When I woke up, the swells outside in the harbor were fierce. Many of the ships that had arrived that morning were struggling to get their tenders into position. Many of them scratched Grand Cayman and left. The Queen Mary 2 and a few other ships stayed to tough it out. Tender service was limited due to the horrific sea conditions. When we finally boarded a tender, we were being tossed around like dolls. It took a good hour or so to reach shore with the rough waves. When we finally arrived on shore, we visited the Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville restaurant. We visited the gift shop. My brother stocked up on every single album he didn’t have. When we were finished there, we took a taxi cab ride to the town of Hell. Yes, I said “Hell”. Why is it called Hell? Just behind the post office, there is this shallow body of water. There were these jagged rock formations jutting out of it. The gentleman who first settled the town and saw these formations commented wondering, “Where am I, Hell?” I even bought a t-shirt that said “I’d Rather Go To Hell Than To School!”. The taxi driver took us back downtown so we can board our tender to the ship. By the time we re-boarded the ship, the Queen Mary 2 and Star Princess were the only two ships remaining in the harbor. The sea conditions were indeed that bad. At six o’clock, we were underway again. Next stop, Costa Maya, Mexico!
Our next two days were in Mexico. After Grand Cayman, we docked in Costa Maya. We went on a shore excursion to the Mayan ruins of Chachchoben. Wow, what a well preserved Mayan village! We took tons of pictures left and right. There was so much to see there. Chachchoben, in the Mayan language, means “City of Corn”, because it was the crop which made the village flourish at the time. There was so much to talk about back aboard the ship later on that night. Later on around midnight, there was a pirates party on the stern deck. It was a lot of fun. From the stern, I could see all of the ships following us to Cozumel. It was sure quite the sight. After the party, it was time to split the sheets. Another great day of cruising was over.
The second to last day of the cruise, we docked in Cozumel. I looked out the window, and I could not believe how many cruise ships were docked there with us. I counted eighteen in all. Royal Caribbean and Carnival made up a vast majority of the count. That morning, my brother and I went on the Atlantis submarine excursion. Now, that was awesome! The ocean there dips as deep as four thousand feet. The many species of fish and undersea life was unbelievable. It was incredible and plainly breathtaking. Don’t think that the submarine excursion was the only thing we did in Cozumel. We also browsed around the duty-free shops near the cruise ship pier. We didn’t buy a single thing, but it was fun to just walk around. Afterward, we headed back onboard the ship. Our time kicking around in Cozumel was done.
Remember what I said that the submarine and duty-free shopping weren’t the only things we did in Cozumel? Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of The Seas docked right next to us. It was also docked next to us in Costa Maya. Early in the morning, I got to watch this young and good looking lady wearing nothing but her bathroom towel, combing her hair over the edge of her balcony. Girls doing that hair bob thing is so mesmerizing. The really funny part was that my brother and I were able to keep up with the schedule with everyone onboard the Grandeur. There was this one cute girl in her twenties, in a red bikini who had to be caught up with her color on the sun deck . She was in the same chair the day before, so we knew when she’ll be there the following day. To all you guys out there, girl watching on a cruise, or on another ship is an amazing experience. It’s something you don’t want to miss out on. Aside from girl watching, we even watched the belly flop competition on the Grandeur. The Queen Mary 2's top deck is a good fifty feet higher than the Grandeur’s. It was a type of day that I hope to experience again very soon. Fingers crossed!
At six o’clock at night, we cast off from Cozumel. We were on our way back to Ft. Lauderdale. We had our third and final formal night of the cruise. The food on the menu that night was fabulous. I don’t know how I managed not to get cocktail sauce from getting on my cummerbund, but I didn’t. That’s why I cannot stand tuxedos on any occasion. The following morning, we were speeding along at sea. Late that morning, I read in the cruise program that they were doing sign ups for the passengers’ talent show. When I showed up at the Chart Room to sign up, the cruise staffer recognized me right off the bat. She said, “You look familiar!”. I told her that I had performed in the show back in July, doing my comedy bashing on wedding traditions. Five o’clock came along. It was show time once again in the Queens Room. There were a lot of other fascinating performances. One young lady did a belly dancing routine. Another family did a group performance of the song “High Hopes”. Well, I did my comedy performance doing a bashing on birthday traditions. It went alright, but not my best. I got a good applause, but it wasn’t my strongest. That cruise was a bit different than the July cruise. There were many people from other countries onboard. To this day I ask myself, “When on earth am I going to learn to play the guitar?”. The farewell show later that night was of the variety type. The stand up comedian, Jeff Wayne, did a short performance. The acrobatic duo, The Moosen Men, did a short routine of their own. The two female guest entertainers, Suzanne Godfrey and Jeri Sager, did their final routines on stage. The grand finale was performed by the Cunard singers and dancers. One of the best cruises I’ve ever been on had come to an end. Unfortunately, it ended too soon.
The next morning, we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale. We went to breakfast upstairs and then we finished packing our carry-on bags. While waiting for our luggage number to be called, we watched the longshoremen load the endless pallets of food provisions for the upcoming trip. What stuff they need to keep twenty-eight hundred people well-fed! Finally, our color and number was called. We went downstairs to the main deck. We shook hands with many of the staff as we left the vessel. Leaving any ship during disembarkation is an empty feeling. We went through customs, got our luggage together, and headed for our airport bus. I don’t remember much from the rest of that day, but I do remember asking my dad one big question. While we were leaving Newark Airport’s long-term parking lot, I asked my dad “Can we do that again?”.