My parents aren't wealthy, but they are pretty smart and exceedingly patient. They would have trumped all the other kids contemplating their marshmallows in the classic delayed gratification experiment believed to predict future success. They live modestly, which for them is a big step up from their prior frugal lifestyle. Now, thanks to a small inheritance and compounding interest they are having a bit of fun in their 51st year together and inviting us along.
Since my mom isn't much of a walker and my son isn't much of a lounger, when my parents offered to pay for our vacation it seemed logical to take a cruise. We could meet in Florida which had direct flights from both Phoenix and London, and was the jumping off point of any number of trips to warm waters. Plus, cruises have something for all types: those who like naps, those who like pools and those who like eating from a buffet every 15 minutes. Even though my parents vowed never to go on a cruise again after 20 days on a comfortable, though ultimately tedious, trip through the Mediteranian a few years ago, they somehow agreed to indulge my belief that a cruise was a great way for us to spend some family time. What was more likely motivating me was the fact that cruises are a great choice for a mother who wants her child amused every waking minute while she catches up on her reading and vitamin D synthesis. Not to mention someone else does all the cleaning, shopping and cooking.
To be sure, we were so ready to get out of the English Rain Apocalypse of 2014. I also needed a break from the the black-clad, buttoned-up, pointy-shoed, fast-walking, cell phone scanning, rail-thin British Metrosexual. I wanted to be somewhere slow, where I could walk barefoot, where I didn't slip on a veneer of algae growing on the pavement. And even C, who had been working long hours during the build up of his team's project launch, was ready to concede that a cruise didn't sound half bad.
Now, Florida is hardly West Coast USA, but what impressed me most after disembarking the plane was the amount of hair cascading from the heads of men. The guys in the Tampa airport looked downright hippie. That's a rare site on any male around here older than the age of 12. And striking, but not unexpected, was the size of my fellow Americans. At the breakfast table I pulled out my chair and had to step back to make room for the flare of the seat. Certainly my butt is not tiny. However this chair was clearly designed for a butt much larger than mine, so while eating breakfast I felt as though I were perched on the edge of a piano bench.
We waited at the hotel for hours before our transport to the dock arrived. Z did his best to flatten the landscaping gracing the front entrance of the Hilton Garden Inn. Mom and I drank iced berry tea in plastic cups while Dad sat in the shade with hands behind his head watching the other passengers fret about having been forgotten. Maybe he was hoping we had been forgotten. But eventually the coach came for us. Z raced to the back and implored his grandparents to join him next to the toilet. Perfect. Clearly his allegiances had shifted and my vacation had begun.
I'll never forget the first time I saw a massive cruise ship. We had just moved into a condo on the 18th floor of a new highrise in downtown Seattle. One morning I looked out our windows and was stunned to see that overnigt an enormous white building had sprung up on the waterfront. After coffee I realized we had a new cruise ship dock and a 12 story floating city had pulled up overnight. Where once Sleepy Seattle had a weekly ferry chugging to Alaska, now we were hosting two ferry-dwarfing cruise ships nearly every day of the summer. What an absurd way to travel, I scoffed. How crazy is it to willingly vacation with thousands of strangers, eat cafeteria food and risk a bout of Norovirus? I decided to blame my child and a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder for convincing me I would enjoy a cruise.
The way cruise lines these days combat the threat of Norovirus is to assault you with a spray bottle of antiseptic before you even step foot on the boat. As I was stumbling across the terminal bridge to the ship, a perfectly pleasant Asian woman approached me with said spray bottle and chimed something in a sing-songy voice that I couldn't make out because I was shielding my face from her poised trigger finger. Only after I heard it a third time and my parents had both been hit did I actually understand what she was saying: "Washy, washy. Happy, happy!"
"Washy, washy. Happy, happy!" came to be a recurrent response to any number of casual questions such as, "What was the best part of your day?" or "What should we do while Z is in Kids Club?" It became less funny the afternoon we sat near the entrance to the cafeteria (excuse me, The Garden Cafe), and heard "Washy, washy. Happy, happy!" repeated over and over as each person crossed the threshold, holding out their hands for perhaps the fifth time that day, like lab rats accustomed to pulling a lever in order to be fed. (I'm not excluding myself from that disparaging remark.) And how many times could one human say, "Washy, washy. Happy, happy!" with a smile on her face before she fantasized about beating her head against the wall back in her subterranean cabin?
I'm glad to report there was no outbreak of gastrointestinal distress, at least not publicly. If anything, we were all going to need a laxative and a lot of prune juice to get things moving again after a week of meat, gooey desserts, and laying prostrate in the sun. That's enough for now, though. I've got so many photos, and so many impressions to share, that I dare not overburden your patience any longer. So next week I'll tell you where we actually went.