Monday, December 28, 2015

Winter Vacation Day 1

December 19, 2015
Although it was a Saturday, today started like any other school day. The whole house was up by 6:00 a.m. and going through the routine. Shower, breakfast, brush teeth and out the door by 7:30. Instead of getting backpacks ready, we had suitcases. The kennel that Dude is staying at during our vacation didn’t open until 8:00 and we had a four hour drive ahead of us. We pulled up at 7:59. Emery helped me bring Dude inside and held him while I filled out the regular paperwork. She told me that she missed him as soon as she left.
Leigha woke up anxious and nervous. She was afraid that we were going to arrive at the vet and they wouldn’t have our reservation on file, or the down payment that I had made over the phone. When I got back in the car, she was able to check off one more thing from a never-ending list of things that need to be done. As we started driving, I could see her looking up into her mind, scrolling through her checklist, worrying that she forgot to do something.

“We’re packed. Dude is dropped off. We’re on our way,” I said. The farther we got from home, the more she relaxed, either certain that we had done everything or appeased by the fact that it was too late to do something about the as-yet thing that we inevitably forgot to do.
In the past, we have relied on a set of dual screens that play the same DVD to occupy the kids’ time in the car. This time, I took them to the library and had them each pick out a book and a playaway. Playaways are essentially an MP3 player that has a book loaded on it. It is a great resource for kids that aren’t quite comfortable reading everything that they would like. I had them each get a physical copy of the book so that they could follow along with the narrator.
Ten minutes into the ride, everybody was happy and the car was quiet.
“I’m really sold on this over the movies,” I told Leigha. According to Google Maps, the drive from Round Rock to Galveston was roughly four hours long. Certainly long enough to get bored or a bathroom break was required. The kids were as good as you could expect. Emery alternated telling how good the book that she was reading was and how boring it was to read it.
The most stressful part of the drive was going through Houston. As one of the largest cities in America, we knew that it would be busy. The fact that it was a Saturday morning was offset by the fact that it was also the weekend before Christmas. There would be people coming out in droves, searching for last-minute gifts. Once we made it through the downtown area, we lifted the mandatory reading/quiet time and kept driving until we hit the Gulf of Mexico. Once we made it to the port, we were without the guidance of Google to tell us where to go and the signage wasn’t clearly marked. After stopping twice to ask where we should go and getting yelled at by a police officer, we found the parking lot that we had pre-paid to leave our car during the trip. It was a considerable distance from the ship, but there was a shuttle that immediately took us to where we needed to go.
We wheeled our bags inside the dock and started our series of lines. We timed the drive and our check-in time perfectly as we arrived just as our times started. We gave our passports and had our luggage scanned. We smiled and had polite chatter with other people in line. The woman in front of us, a retired teacher said that she could identify excited children from a mile away. It didn’t seem too difficult to identify people starting their vacation.
It didn’t take too long before we were done with lines and on the ship. Once we were on, we had half an hour before we were allowed into our rooms, which was fine because we were more interested in eating lunch that getting to our room.
Going on a cruise is like spoiling yourself with the mediocre. There is an overwhelming amount of things that you can do that may be fun but you normally wouldn’t get too excited about such as bingo, hot tubs and soft serve ice cream. And buffets. Cruise ships are filled with a never-ending supply of food that I wouldn’t normally pay for.

As we made our way to the pool in the middle of the ship, we were offered a glass of champagne. In our previous experience with cruise ships, we knew that upgrades and additional costs were everywhere. Despite being allowed to bring on a bottle of wine or case of soda apiece, we didn’t want the hassle that was associated with them. While happy hour is generally a part of our vacations, not when we are cruising. That is, unless you can find the free champagne events. As it turned out, the champagne that was being offered near the pool was complimentary. Leigha was all over it. She stayed at a table and began to collect champagne glasses as I took the kids to get some food.
First off, I got a burger from Guy Fieri’s burger joint. Next to the line was an ice cream machine, which the kids helped themselves to. The kids weren’t interested in burgers, so I took them to the buffet area and they filled a tray with jello, cakes and Asian stir fry. When we got back to the table, I helped gather more glasses of champagne.
“Your mom would be so proud,” I said as I looked at the five empty glasses at our table. Leigha’s parents are notorious for taking advantage of the free deals.
“Live it up,” Leigha said. I agreed.
When we were done eating, we took our bags to our room. The kids were equally disappointed with how small the room was and exited at the idea that their beds would magically get pulled down from the ceiling.
After dropping off our bags, we explored the ship. Leigha really wanted to hear the ship sound off as we left the port, but we missed it because I was in the bathroom. As we were leaving the dock, I told the kids that we needed to keep a lookout for dolphins once we were out to see. This was something that I was always looking for on our honeymoon but never saw.
“I saw a dolphin,” Tate exclaimed.
Those two dark spots? Dolphins.
“Yeah right,” I said. “I believe that you thought that you saw them, but there’s no way.” Then he pointed out the window. I looked and sure enough, there were dolphins jumping in the water. I was able to get a few pictures, but when we show them to people, people will have to simply accept that the little black specks are dolphins.
We went to the kid area and confirmed that Leigha had successfully registered them online. We played a few games of giant connect four on a mounted board that was nearly as tall as the kids. The saw that the rooms had dozens of screens that had PS4s and Tate said that he would be spending plenty of time there. We were in no hurry and the kids found a stack of magnetized plastic building blocks and quickly constructed a tower.

Back outside, we came across a game area where we played a game of foosball, boys versus girls. Then Tate and I started playing a game of giant chess. The pieces were nearly as large as he. But before we got to finish our game, we were interrupted with the mandatory safety presentation. For some reason I grew incredibly irritated by not only the people that were late, but more so, the woman that they kept telling to get off of her phone. Each time, she held up her finger implying that she was just finishing up with whatever emergency that she was dealing with. Then she made a grand gesture that she was turning off her phone. Only to pull it back out once the employees stopped paying attention. I started fantasizing about hitting the phone out of her hand. I think that I was equally annoyed that she was explicitly ignoring the simple request to stay off the phone during the presentation and the fact that people can’t stay unplugged for such a short amount of time.  I was actually looking forward to being off the grid for an entire week. A week without the distractions of wi-fi, Facebook and cell phones.
After the presentation, we went back to our rooms and looked over the list of daily activities and excursions for when we port. The kids got a bit stir-crazy and we decided to go sit in the hot tub before going to dinner.
As we walked onto the pool deck, we were all a bit skeptical about getting into the hot tub. By that time, it was dark, windy and cold. I thought of our trip to Colorado this summer. Often times, we sat in a hot tub or heated pool as we stared up to a snow-capped mountain. We each stripped down to our suits and ran to the hot tub. As soon as I put my foot in the water, I knew that it was a bad decision. The water couldn’t be classified as hot, but lukewarm. We should’ve taken heed by the kid shivering in the water by himself. We were committed to staying in the pool not only because we said that we were going to do so, but because it was still warmer than standing on the deck.
When we decided to go to dinner, we threw towels over ourselves and rushed back to our room. We changed clothes and made our way to the dining area the floor above us. As it turns out, that dining area is only for people that have selected a specific time to eat. We did not. We were told how to make our way to the alternate dining area for those that opted for open seating. Unexpectedly, there was a wait. Emery was really upset that we had to wait and threw a tantrum, claiming hunger. I suspected that she was tired.
We were given a buzzer to let us know when a table was available to us. While we waited, we sat at a table and listened to a trio singing music in Spanish. From our seats, we could see nine floor above us and watched the glass elevators transporting people up and down. Leigha and I enjoyed the fact that we had nowhere to be with nothing to do. Tate enjoyed watching the people. Emery sat in her chair, arms crossed and upset about having to wait. It was a rare moment of silence for her.
As our buzzer went off, a woman approached us asking Leigha to take her picture for her. The woman was wearing an incredibly tight dress that accentuated her considerable bust. As the woman handed her camera to Leigha, she pouted her lips, thrust her hips to one side and leaned forward. She wanted her whole body in the picture, especially her boobs.
At our table, we were greeted with a dining staff that was hustling, polite and attentive. It seemed to be worth the wait for Emery as she said to Leigha, “I feel like I’m a Queen.” We reviewed our expectations with the kids for table manners. While the kids were impressed with the dining experience as a whole, they were tired and wanted to go to sleep.
Tate waiting patiently outside our room for the rest of us to catch up to him.
We went back to our rooms and got ready for bed. I stayed up later than anybody else, circling activities that I was interested in doing the following day and reading my book.
In the middle of the night, Leigha was coming back from the bathroom and was irritated.
“This is terrible, I can’t sleep,” she said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“First off, the ladder to Emery’s bed keeps squeaking. Secondly, the people next door have been having sex all night and are really loud.”
I had heard noises, but I didn’t associate it with knockin’ boots. I went to the bathroom and when I came out, I noticed the sound again. I opened up the closet and realized that hangers were shifting with the sway of the ship and bumping into each other. We pulled a towel through them and the neighbor’s sexy time was over.

Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7