Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I'm back from the Bahamas and what a story I have to tell you all. The highlight of the trip was seeing an escape route for soldiers carved by 600+ slaves. They used hammers and chisels to create this 90 foot gap in what was solid rock. It took them over 13 years to complete the task and they created a step-way to go from the street above to the one below. They put 66 steps in it to honor the queen, who they thought reigned for 66 years. They were off by two as the reign was only 64 years.
There’s your brief Bahamian history lesson. Now, on to the the story. Those of you who have been on cruises will get a good laugh behind this. Let me try to take it from the top and not leave anything out. When I got married, my wife's best friend gave us a voucher for a free cruise... three days, two nights to the Bahamas. Apparently, she went to Massanautten and received this voucher and was kind enough to pass it on to us. My wife decides that Easter weekend will be a great time to use it and she's taking care of all the arrangements and expenses, airfare, etc. So she calls to book this cruise and the pitch goes something like this, "We'll give you a reduced rate on lodging if you stay the night before and/or the night after. The ship will leave Friday and come back Sunday." So we plan two extra nights, but they won't send her any confirmation via email or anything. All they say is they'll send the travel documents about two weeks before the cruise. (Clue #1) When the documents arrive, they indicate there's a 2-hour resort tour scheduled before the boat leaves (Clue #2). We're guessing they're gonna try to sell us something at the resort they're putting us up in. Ha! We have to report to the Welcome Center when we get to Ft. Lauderdale.
We arrive on Thursday and find that the Welcome Center is about 30 minutes from the airport and outside the city limits. We're forced to take a shuttle... $44 one way. We arrive at the Welcome Center and find it to be the Ramada Inn, on a highway near nothing but a pottery and a grocery store. What's worse, that's our lodging. We're told only then that we've got be in the lobby Friday morning at 8:30 where we would be taken to the resort by shuttle. There we would receive breakfast and get a 2-hour tour, after which we'd get our cruise voucher; and a shuttle would take us to the port... for $70. So we're there, we're stuck, we go. We are shuffled off to a resort about 30 minutes away. Breakfast consists of bagels, apples turnovers, coffee, and juice... semi-continental. It’s still lacking a little to be a continental breakfast if you ask me. We get the 2-hour timeshare presentation after which we get in the car w/ an agent and drive to the models, 15-20 minutes from the property where the presentation was. They bring us back for lunch where we choose from ham & cheese wraps or tuna wraps. We opted for tuna, each of which had more salt than a Morton's factory. Five hours later, after telling two people no about 5 times each, we get our cruise vouchers. The shuttle comes to take us to the port... $50 one way, $80 if we wanna pay for the trip back, which we do. So we get to the port, go through customs and read the signs that say, "Due to the rise in fuel prices, a $30 fuel surcharge will be assessed to each passenger." Damn! This free cruise is getting more expensive by the minute. So we go through customs and there it is, The Regal Empress, part of the Imperial Majesty Cruise Line. "Wow, boat looks kinda old," we say to ourselves. I could hear the Gilligan's Island theme playing in the background. But I thought it was my imagination. So we board the boat and make our way to the A deck where our cabin is. Sniff, sniff... I can smell gasoline in some locations of the corridor... which made me feel good 'cause now I know my $30 surcharge is actually being put to good use. To the cabin we go; and as soon as I open the door, my wife looks at me and says, "Oh.... I'm so sorry." This is what we see:
A small, full-sized bed covered with two twin spreads that have been sewn together. There's a recessed porthole behind the blinds. That's the oceanview upgrade. And it really is oceanview because that porthole was only a couple feet above the water. There's 12" color (I think) TV to the right that got about 8 channels, all of which had more snow than Canada in the winter time. Unfortunately, black, white, and gray w/ pink undertones are the only colors the TV actually displays. About the bathroom, does anyone remember McHale's Navy? It took only a couple trips to realize that the best way to be comfortable (sitting or standing) at that toilet is to put one foot in the shower. There isn't even enough space to put the seat up. You can stand against any wall in there and touch the opposite wall. The water runs from the shower and covers the bathroom floor after each use. Even those of us living on this craft for a few days couldn't appreciate how small it was until we arrived in the Bahamas and saw it docked next to some more respectable vessels. Compared to the Carnival cruise ship, ours looked like a tugboat. "We were on a riverboat compared to the others." I pulled a baseball cap over my face just getting on and off this thing so that not even strangers would see me. I could go on and on about this. But this is getting long and y'all are probably laughing hard enough by now. I won't tell you about the folks getting sick because the boat swayed so much. I won't talk about dirty little kids running around all over the place. One of 'em came up to my wife while she was eating and she literally lost her appetite immediately. Did I mention that 3 days and 2 nights was actually 39 hours? We set sail at 5:00pm on Friday and had to be out of our cabins by 8:15 Sunday morning. I won't talk about the swimming pool smaller than a backyard pool and the jacuzzi that was little more than a plastic kids pool (above deck) with a motor attached.
I told my friend David Beasley the story. He quickly went to the internet and found that this boat was built in 1953 and is the oldest cruise ship currently operating in North America. He found a host of scathing reviews along with it. Drinks weren't included w/ the meals. Even soft drinks were $5.50. Friendly, efficient staff and decent food in the main dining room. (Other food was pretty bad.) But you'd be better off taking the Spirit of Washington. If there was ever a Nautical equivalent of the "Soul Plane," this was it. Mo'Nique and Snoop would have been right at home on this boat. Everyone we spoke to had the same opinion and everyone got hit with a timeshare presentation that they weren't expecting. Did I mention that they lowered the price of the timeshare from $47,900 to $9,900. I guess we said no too quickly because one group got 'em down to $4,400. Anyway, the Bahamas was beautiful and the weather was great. We spent the day (actually 5.5 hours) at Breezes Resort. And that little trip off the boat cost us $109 each. When all was said and done, with airfare, transportation, gratuities and surcharges, the free cruise probably cost us close to $2,000 and my wife is still apologizing. I told her to get over it, but plan to be clowned for about a month 'cause this was one of the funniest things I've ever experienced... and I plan to laugh about it even if she doesn't. The good news is that they did decommission this boat in 2009 because they couldn't bring it up to code. They asked everyone to fill out comment cards and at the end of the cruise, they drew one. The lucky winner got a free cruise for two. I had a lot to say, but I didn't fill out a card. I was afraid with my luck, I'd have won the damn thing and had to go back. What a way to spend Easter weekend.