Have you ever had an event looming in the distance, cliched reminders of "planning is half the fun" ringing in your ears, and thought gloomily to yourself that if 50% of your vacation fun depends on your happy anticipation, then you might just be screwed?
Well, have you ever made a decision, surely while not in your right mind, that sharing a tiny, closet-like cabin with your husband and two other guys for a four day, five night cruise would be no problem?
How about this: You've signed up, ages ago, for this thing called The Rock Boat, knowing that there's not much of a chance you're getting on. Then, miracle of miracles, one of your group of four gets their name drawn off the waiting list and gets a phone call "we have one cabin! it holds up to four people! how many are you bringing?" You can't very well just say "there will be two of us" now can you? So you say there will be four, and you pay your deposit, and then six months later you've paid for the whole thing and you're sitting around in January thinking about how you never really did go on that diet to get skinny and hot for the cruise and also you're kind of broke and is it REALLY a good idea to go on a vacation right now? Because no, no it isn't. And even if it were, wouldn't it be a better vacation idea if we were, say, clothed the whole time? Like in full-body winter wear? So no pale or less-than-toned skin is showing? Maybe a ski vacation, right? But really, this is no time for a vacation at all. Our dog is like, high-maintenance million dollar dog with training manual-length feeding protocols, we're broke, I'm not tan (OR looking like Jessica Alba in a swimsuit!), and I'm going to be sharing a tiny cabin bathroom with three men, only one of whom is my husband, all three of whom are pushing 30 and, well. Men. In the personal hygiene sense of the word.
Also, the last time I went on a cruise ship I got kind of seasick and then my brain broke and I had to get the hall steward to bring in not just one extra set of sheets, not even TWO extra sets of sheets, but A WHOLE CART OF EXTRA SETS OF SHEETS. Because every time they would put a set down on the bed, it looked stained. See: OCD. See: Crazy.
So, with all of the above in mind, last Friday night Cody and I set out on our much-maligned journey to The Rock Boat. And eleven days later I'm sitting here, typing away with a giant scrape on my shoulder, trying to find the words to express just how incredible the trip really was.
I have video footage. Almost an hour and a half of it, actually. But does that really capture the feel? I've got pictures (or access to them) but again, do they really communicate the atmosphere? I've always been sorely disappointed by photography (perhaps because I completely suck at it myself) because anytime I've been sitting somewhere, transfixed by its beauty, or scale, or just all around amazing qualities, and snap a picture, I find myself showing the shot to someone six months later and seeing that somewhat glazed over look in their eyes; that look that I invariably get when looking at a string of photos from someone else's trip. It just doesn't do it for me. I can see that THEY were happy, or that they were having fun, or wow, that building looks really old, but you know? It just isn't the same at all. Video is better, but still, it all boils down to people you don't know, doing things that you weren't doing, at a place you've never been.
Not that I'm not going to put up pictures or video. I will, because those things definitely HELP in telling the story. They just don't and can't ever tell the WHOLE story.
So let's try words, shall we? And I can't think of a better format than to break it down by days, so here we go, this is gonna be long, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul if you reach the end before your eyes start bleeding.
Friday: I'm packing all day long, trying to get everything taken care of before we're gone for nearly a week. I have the intense pleasure of taking Lydah to the vet not once, but TWICE, just as I have for the past 6 days in a row. It's for her ACL treatment, which is so ridiculous to explain that I REFUSE TO EVEN DO IT. Million dollar dog, why did you pick us as your family? I am drinking mass quantities of grapefruit juice in a last-ditch effort to become Jessica Alba-esque. Grapefruit juice is failing miserably. Cody and I finally leave Tyler at about 10pm to drive to Stu and Phil (our Rock Boat companions) 's house in Dallas so that we can get up for a 6am flight to Miami. Nothing like starting out a vacation well-rested.
Saturday: Wake up at 4:15am feeling surprisingly like I'm not going to kill anyone. I'm a little shocked by this, but no one is in more disbelief than Cody. I can tell he has been gearing up for a Day of Total Wifely Hell, and he's wondering who to thank for his good fortune. However, he is wisely not commenting on this miracle, as he's probably afraid that, much like the wind can change directions at any time, his luck will come crashing down all around him. Cody's airplane seatmates have possible urinary tract disorders. Other than this, we arrive in Miami with no problems.
We waste some time prowling around Biscayne Bay's boardwalk shops, eat lunch, I buy a swimsuit (much like the grapefruit juice, this is a last-ditch effort for the aforementioned Jessica Alba-esqueness - I love how that word is evolving), and we decide to board the ship. We walk down the hall to our cabin, all four of us audibly trying to prepare for the Lilliputian dimensions that will most certainly greet us. Cabin turns out to be even smaller than imagined. Not sure how they will even fit four beds inside the cabin. Decide to go back up and get a drink.
This train of thought continues.
We eat dinner, ponder the concert schedule (there are at least 5 bands playing at all times on board, all in different lounges or on the deck, starting at about 2pm and going until maybe 4am) and pick who we're going to see. I want to see Josh Kelley, and no one else does. We do what I want (ha! being the only girl has some benefits) and I turn out to be awesome because Josh Kelley is even more so. Josh Kelley is playing inside in the big concert hall and after he's done we head outside on the main deck to listen to Marc Broussard under the stars. I am starting to think this trip might not have been a bad idea after all. We finish up the night sometime around 3am, listening to someone, somewhere. I'm sure they were good.
Sunday: Wake up at my leisure, which is pushing noon. Go work out. Laugh about how running on a treadmill while on board a rocking ship is an exercise in extreme un-coordination. Ship is pitching wildly. I am not seasick at all. Even iron-stomached Cody gets nauseated, and I remain unaffected. I must be doing something right. It's kind of rainy outside so we grab some chairs on the deck under a big awning, get as much food as we can fit on a table, order a round of drinks, and watch what turns out to be the worst day of football ever. I would link to a video depicting Hitler's (and my) reaction to the Giants going to the Super Bowl, but I'm afraid it's just not PG material.
Well, here it is. Don't tell anyone.
Anyway, we get ready for dinner, which turns out to be formal night, and the boys are looking very suave in their suits. We meet our neighbors from across the hall and they are DRINKY, DRINKY DRUNKS. Like, they are falling into our room drunk. This turns out to be a trend for the rest of the trip. It's free entertainment, much like what rooming across from Britney might be like. After we've shoved Edward (was that his name?) out the door and slammed it for the fifth time, we head to the dining room, and are seated at a table with a group of five who have arrived just ahead of us. I am a little nervous about this because umm...what if they don't like me? My insecurities are so endearing, yes?
Our new dinner mates are hilarious and nice and fun. They're all from Pittsburgh, and we soon find out that instead of saying "y'all" (a lovely, lilting phrase that rolls off the tongue), they say "yinz". YINZ. Have any of you ever heard of that? We all fall in love with one another, and decide to do the concert rounds that evening together. Our group heads back to change clothes and we're going to meet them at the Jon McLaughlin concert, Jon being another artist I wanted to see and would have been overruled if not for the addition of the Yinzers and their girls. Yay for girls, because Jon McLaughlin is gorgeous and I had, due to an amazing burst of insight, made him my new Celebrity Dib before we boarded the cruise. During this concert Stu lets loose with the best quote of the cruise, unfortunately also not PG material. (But if you ask me I might just tell you)
After Jon McLaughlin we see some compilation of Pat McGee Band, Marc Broussard, David Ryan Harris, Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, and others. I'm sure Josh Kelley was somewhere in there because he seemed to manage to be a part of just about every act during the cruise. We head to bed at different times, earliest is about 2:30am and latest is more around 5ish.
Monday: We're supposed to dock in Grand Cayman today where my uncle lives and he is meeting us at the dock at 8:30am to take us all over the island for snorkeling, yachting, and eating. Hence the early bedtime night before. I am up bright and early, just in time to hear the announcement that we won't be docking at all; the Grand Cayman Port Authority has shut down all ports due to rough water. I am crushed. Seeing my uncle and spending the entire day with him was by far what we had all been looking forward to the most. I try, in my normal way, to find out if there is any way to get off the ship. I ask about 15 different staff members. There is no way. I call my uncle, who is also very disappointed, and head back to the deck to try and secure some beach chairs which are being descended upon like locusts on a field. I try to carry two chairs down a stairwell and almost fall to my death. I am thinking this is going to be a bad day.
The company responsible for The Rock Boat, Sixthman, has made a revised schedule for the day, since we will no longer be docking. The day looks fun. There are bands all day long starting at noon. There is a Guitar Hero competition. My spirits start to rise. I've snagged premier seats on the deck, right in front of the stage. I go wake up the guys, deliver the bad news about Grand Cayman, and we all settle in on the deck. We don't move for maybe 6 hours. Bands are playing 5 feet away. Drinks and food are being served to us. I feel like royalty. I am having a great time. I join the Guitar Hero competition and after about three hours, take a solid fourth place. FOR THE WHOLE BOAT. I am elated, and wonder aloud to Cody about whether he had noticed that maybe all my fellow competitors were kind of dorky. He rolls his eyes at me and tells me that I found my people. I don't care. I love Guitar Hero.
It's White Trash Night and we've all brought costumes. After Cody finishes eyeliner-ing a C-section scar on my exposed midriff, we head up to dinner to meet the Yinzers. A great time is had by all, and we start wondering if our dinners are ever going to come in under the two hour mark. Decide that we don't care and head out to do our concert runs. We see a bunch of people, as usual, but the definite highlight of the night is inside in the big concert hall when Stephen Kellogg and his band impulsively go unplugged and come out into the middle of the crowd to stand on the benches and finish the set. Maybe three feet away from me. Later, on the main deck outside, Josh Kelley puts on his best show of the trip and ends up with about fifteen different artists all coming up to do little cameos. Our drunky neighbors are making quite a scene on the other side of the deck, and I feel famous by proximity. Around 3am I start to feel poisoned and sneak away to bed. I have no idea when the guys come in, but Phil was the last one for sure. Ahem.
Tuesday: We're supposed to dock in Jamaica. We're also supposed to wake up in time to get breakfast and make our 10am shore excursion. We do dock in Jamaica, but our timeliness suffers. We somehow make it onto the bus, clutching napkin-wrapped bacon in our hands, but we are the last ones on for sure. We're slated for a bike ride and a snorkel, and as the bus drives us up the mountain for our bike ride, I can tell that we're all wondering what exactly we signed up for. It's raining, the mountain is extremely steep, and Phil looks like he might have to ask the driver to pull over. Everyone else on the bus is chatting animatedly. I am wondering what is wrong with everyone. Doesn't this look like a mistake?
We get to the top of the mountain and get our bikes and gear. Cody is unhappy that he has to wear a helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads. I am hoping for more safety gear. This pretty much sums up our relationship. We start down the mountain, and quickly find out the reason for the gear. The trails are all super slippery, and everyone's brakes are in some form of disrepair. My brakes are kindly choosing to simultaneously not work at all, while Cody's back brakes are non-existent and his front brakes are uber-sensitive. This is unfortunate for him, because every time he tries to stop himself from barreling down the mountain, his front wheels lock up completely and threaten to buck him over the handlebars. I just can't stop at all, and at this point Stu and Phil are up ahead, lamenting about their hands going into cramps due to the constant braking. We all catch up to one another as we ride through a small village, and I promptly steer into a pothole and fall off my bike. Directly in front of the Jamaican villagers, who are standing under an awning, out of the rain, and bemusedly watching the stupid tourists try to ride bikes down a slippery, rocky mountain. I am nothing if not a good stereotype enforcer. I fell, however, not on my padded knees or elbows, or even on my helmeted head. I fell, somehow, on my right shoulder, and legend has it that if you look at my shoulder even now, you can still see rocks and dirt embedded just under the skin.
We finally, blessedly, reach the bottom of the mountain, but not until after I, in a misguided attempt at small-talk, ask the tour guide (who I'm sure was assigned to me after my spill) if people didn't fall off their bikes all the time. He says no, almost never. Guess it's just me, then.
We don't get to go snorkeling (rough water again) but we do go to the cliffs for some cliff diving. Everyone jumps, so I have to, and it's not that bad, I'm glad I did it, etc, etc, other vacation rhetoric, so on and so forth. We ride the bus back to the boat, wander through the town a bit, buy some excellent rum, and arrive in our room just in time for a really nice nap.
Then, after my post-nap shower, I find it. A little speck on my inner thigh that I try to brush off, and then pick off, and then pull off, and then when it won't PULL off, I examine it more closely and find out that it is a TICK. A tick! From Jamaica! Surely I don't have to explain how distressing this is to me. I can hardly think about it even now. Cody assures me that it isn't a big deal; that there were hundreds of times in his childhood when he would discover an errant tick. But I don't care. How does it help me if Cody led a disgusting childhood, chock full of ticks? That knowledge certainly doesn't take away the blood-borne disease the Jamaican tick almost certainly has given me. I am consumed with my disgust for the tick, and have a hard time recovering. I say something mean to Stu. We all go to dinner. I apologize to Stu, and Cody tells the Yinzers about my tick. One of the girls tells me she had a tick once, and she is still alive and appears healthy. I begin to think that maybe I will survive. I douse the area once inhabited by the tick with vodka. I feel better.
The whole group, us and the Yinzers, embark on a concert night to end all nights. I try to shout, during a concert, that the people I'm standing nearby said I have an accent. Instead my group hears that my newfound friends think I have a head tick. We all find this hilarious. I extract promises from several band members we end up hanging out with that I will be allowed to play on stage with them the following year. At one point in the evening I have declared myself the Queen, and I don't see my bed until well after 5am. It is the most fun I have ever had.
Wednesday: It's the last day, and it's going by way too fast. The Yinzers, all but one of whom have been on The Rock Boat before, have entered themselves in a Flip Cup Competition; one for which they have uniforms and a team name and have been practicing all year. We make signs out of discarded cardboard and makeup and cheer them on. Josh Kelley hosts the tournament. Yinzers come in third place. We all go crazy. The day is nearly over, and we're getting sad. The night comes before we're ready, as does our last dinner together. Everyone is talking about next year, and the air of this whole thing being over just won't go away. The concerts are great, as usual, but we all just really want to hang out. We go to the deck to chat, but all the bands have set up in the middle of the ship; just inside the giant atrium they are playing so that everyone aboard can stand on any level of the ship and see and hear everything. Every artist on the boat comes out to do at least one song; usually one of theirs and then a really fun cover. There is a lot of Neil Diamond and Janis Joplin and Fleetwood Mac being sung. It's beautiful and loud and I think every single person on the ship is here. We hit the midnight buffet after the last band is done and no one wants to go to bed, but at this point, it's just delaying the inevitable. We all drop off, one and two at a time, with promises to see each other next year (because not going again isn't even an option at this point) and a reunion meeting in the works.
Thursday: Flurry of last minute packing, debarkation, customs, security lines, travel, and real life. It's all significantly less fun than the previous four days. I miss the boat. I miss my friends.
How am I going to live without live music every night and food and drinks brought to me on a platter? We've begun our countdown for next year. And the thing is, so has everyone else on the boat. As ridiculously long as this post is, I could have written one twice as long just recounting our dinner conversations. Talking about the crazy Arkansas zoo, the famous boy band D*Voted, what we did and did not know about our closest friends, and forgetting what we were talking about five or six times in the course of one topic - that's the sort of thing that gets lost in photo translation. And I know I didn't really do it justice here, either, but I hope that next year, or even a few months from now, I can read back on this and recapture something of that atmosphere.
Best vacation ever. Can't wait til next year.