Cruising on the Carnival Catastrophe

MIL writes:

14th Aug. The journey.

It looked like we were going to leave spot on time, as the captain made his welcome talk. 5 mins after take off time, he said there would be a delay of 10 mins as 2 people had not boarded and they had to take the luggage off. The first of his bullshit announcements. One hour late, we left. What was the true reason for the delay?
8 hours 40 mins later we started landing. Just as we were about to touch down, the plane suddenly veered back up into the sky with screaming engines. We watched the plane tracker on our screens with horror as we climbed steadily and headed due east, away from Miami. After 5 mins pilot said something about “they were a little tardy in giving landing clearance so we will try again, and we would land in another 10 mins.” But instead of circling we kept heading due east for 45 miles, before making a sharp U turn and heading due west back. We landed 30 mins later, with no further comment or apology, just the usual bland thank you for flying hope you have enjoyed the flight.
When dad complained that we had been given no proper explanation we were told it was because the pilot saw another plane on the runway. Not what he originally said.
Miami airport was even more shamble than ever. Instead of queues for customs, there was a huge mass filling the arrivals hall and all heaving in the direction of customs. In the middle of this melee was a yapping small dog in a pink jacket seated atop its owner’s luggage in a trolley. By the time we got through we and others had missed the 7.50 Trirail by 5 mins, and the next and last one of the night was at 9.40. A young man said with gloomy relish that it had happened to him before that this last train was sometimes cancelled. He also complained about pilot bullshitting – he said everyone knows it takes half hour not 5 mins to re-land.

But after a steamy 2 hour wait at the Trirail station it came. My buzzing head was further afflicted on the journey by a hippo sized woman with 3 ADHD type little girls, all ceaselessly yelling yelping and jumping on the seats. They spoke an unintelligible language which turned out to be Creole, when the mother informed me in English they had had a very long journey from Haiti – all of 2 hours. I said I had had a 10 our journey and, as a result, I said, with gritted smile, I was longing for peace and quiet. She didn’t get the hint, but lolled back herself.

At the Trirail Fort Lauderdale, a few of us waited at the deserted station praying that the shuttle to the airport would show up. It eventually did. Got taxi from airport to hotel, arriving 11 pm. What kind of Hilton has no food after 10 pm, not even room service? They gave us a menu for a take out place. our order was eventually delivered at 12.15, when we were in no state to eat it. And I was longing to take my last bath, as I knew no bath on ship, but no bath in our Hilton room either.

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Boarding the ship took almost an hour as we were lucky enough to get a woman who couldn’t figure how to log on and access our completed info on her computer, so started filling out our info in a form laboriously by hand. Halfway through she suddenly saw the info on her computer, threw away the handwritten form and started again on the computer.

Very nice lunch in the lido buffet court, but too tired really to enjoy dinner. The cruise woman of Gid lied when she said she had sorted us with anytime dining. We were still registered as 6.pm dining, and there is no anytime dining on this ship. We got 8.15 at table for 8. None of the other 8 showed up this evening. We shall see tomorrow. Nassau tomorrow. Unlikely we will go to San Juan at all because of storm, but being on the sea is v nice. Room is nice, balcony nice. Sat to Nassau tour of Sol’s resort [Paradise Island]. The tone was like a tour of Vatican and Sistine chapel being reverentially being shown the vulgar “art” works except I don’t recall being charged $50 each to see Sistine. Still the only people at an 8 person table- it was like sitting with the ghosts of cruises past with empty chairs where Mailer boys and partners used to sit.

After cancellation of itinerary and reinstatement we will walk around San Juan in morning, and then go on bioluminescence kayak in evening. I hope we manage to steer the kayak forward some of the time.

Lunches a great variety, but I stood in the stir fry section queue for 20 mins before giving up- it would have taken another half hour. Today at sea, but rainy and squally, so no deck time at all. Tried to go to art auction to see Chagalls and Picassos being sold, but gave up after 20 mins in queue to get in. Where is credit crunch hitting the poor of USA? In port at Nassau were our ship and Carnival Glory and Royal Caribbean ship with climbing wall, and the majority on all 3 were black working class.

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Am typing this from St Thomas public library where a kind man like a tramp heard us asking in the street for Starbucks guided us here. The kayak experience was worse than the plane experience. They said it was a magical trip to see bioluminescent waters. I had my doubts after the last kayaking in Abacas with dad, but this was hell.

They didn’t warn it entailed a half hour each way navigating through narrow mangroves. In the pitch dark. The only light being a fluorescent circle at the front and back of the other kayaks, of which there were very many to crash into in the narrow straights. But the mangroves are the killers- they have overhanging branches like cut off lead pipes; thick and solid and inflexible.

There is not light from the sky getting as the mangroves meet overhead. So dad was hit by a branch, knocking his nose, which swelled, and knocking his glasses into the water. We then had to proceed for another hour with him almost blind. In the end the tour leader towed us with his kayak. This was literally like the ride to Hades on the river Styx, stygian dark with many cries and shouts and yells of people coming in the opposite direction warning shouts and crashes – as busy as the M25 at 9pm at night.
An Indian couple in our group tipped their kayak and fell in, adding the general chaos and mayhem. Young fit guys were yelling get me out of here, when is this going to end. They said afterwards man that was extreme.

We have no insurance it seems for personal effects. It will have to be household insurance like last time he lost glasses in the Cam if they pay for abroad at all. It takes weeks to manufacture glasses so it is to be done ASAP, as dad can’t use computer with his spare glasses he has here. Ronald Brown has the prescription and all necessary data to do this.

We went to see the sand shul again as don’t do shopping for diamonds, this afternoon magens bay tomorrow to a special swimming spot in Tortula swimming through caves- I hope that will be not as disastrous.

By ferry to island of Virgin Gorda. So called by Columbus because it looks like a fat virgin. The Caribbean guides of course use the politically correct ‘when Columbus REdiscovered the islands.’

The book of the tours gave the impression you were delivered to the beach and after a 15 minute descent over rocks you got to beach, put your stuff down and then could explore caves at leisure.

In fact after the descent we were waved in the general direction of the caves, and found we had to find our own way to the beach THROUGH the caves with all our stuff. She assured us it would be through knee-deep water max- for me waist deep. Squeezing through fissures or bent double at times.

Very pretty climbing down one large rock formation which of course is v slippery under water, I advised dad to follow my practice if sliding down one foot carefully down the side of the rock till you could feel the solid sand. But dad preferred the leap of faith, so slipped backwards into the water. Luckily backwards so he didn’t lose his second pair of glasses, and only all our stuff in his backpack got soaked, but the dollars dried out ok in the sun. It was a lovely little beach.

Our fears about noise specifically related to being in a cabin near the main stairs was unfounded. The walls of the cabins were very thin, so you could hear people next door jangling the hangars in their wardrobe, so general quiet owed more to people being very well behaved and heeding the notices not to make a noise in corridors and not disturb resting or sleeping people. None of the English drunken rowdiness.

The main reason I would never go on carnival again is unexpected. It is the appalling layout of the buffet courts. Instead of different islands for hot food, salads and other categories, it is all in long canteen stretches. So queuing is long.

No such thing at breakfast of getting your yogurt and then coming back for eggs or toast to keep hot, unless you want to start all over at the back of the line. If you try to nip in and just take a yoghurt, as you don’t want anything hot, you will be lynched. So much for brits being the ones fanatical about obeying the queue- the yanks are much more so. So you are stuck behind the somnolently slow people heaping their plates and ordering full breakfasts.

I tried asking abjectly and apologetically if they minded if I just nipped in to get a yoghurt and sometimes they allowed with a resentful glare, but usually the response was a curt, get to the back of the line.

The response at the shows is much more enthusiastic. It is not that they are wide-eyed first timers; they are just as much veterans of cruising, but carnival vets. Good shows.
I befriended an old man from Jerusalem who could speak no English. He had come to his nephew’s bar mitzvah in Miami and then due to cruise with a friend who fell ill. He relied on me to translate all the disembarkation info etc we met when I overheard people next to me in deck chairs talking. The woman was saying she spoke 5 languages including Hebrew. Turned out she was Armenian, born in Armenian quarter in Jerusalem but fled during one of the wars to Lebanon, then lived in Canada and now Boston? A yank reading Erik Daniken said the Jews killed everyone living in the country and that’s how they got to own the land.

I bristled, and said carefully through gritted teeth – I am sure its a lot more complicated, although I am sure everyone has their own story- looking at the Armenian. Yes she said, but she didn’t want to talk ab0ut politics but there had been hard times. I said I wondered where the yank had read this version, but I could assure him it was not true. ‘Not true?’ he repeated, sounding confused. He then said he didn’t remember where he read it- but he read this all happened thousands of years ago. Not in this book, he said, pointing to his Daniken, in case I was confused.

I then realised mortified he was referring to the biblical slaughters and take over of the eretz. So I narrowly avoided an embarrassing confrontation.

There were quite a few South Africans aboard, and quite a few Israelis and a party of 40 French Jews. There was no mention of a Shabbat service in the daily schedule, but a US Jewish man (he identified me when I queried and then refused the eel sushi at the sushi counter and said he had gone through the same inquiry process for the same reason) told me he heard there was going to be one but didn’t know where.

I asked guest service desk and after making a phone call they told me it was a room reserved by the French and I was not allowed to know anymore details as it was only for French people who had booked it. When I saw the huge group coming in late to dinner- the table next to us was 20 teens and children- the kids still wearing their kippot and hai necklaces, I realised they were the French. I asked them in French and they said it was not true no one else was allowed and that Americans had also joined in. they wished me Shabbat shalom. I had assumed they were Mexican or something but could now see they were Algerians etc.

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