We were hoping that returning to the Freedom on the early side would give us a good chance of snagging one of those delightful hot tubs, but no. Nope. They were all full, even though most of the passengers were still milling about at the port, gorging themselves on Key Lime Pie. Even the ones that had a little space weren’t inviting, as you’d have to interrupt some family’s lively conversation and squeeze yourself between arms whose tattoos had been stretched to the point of becoming unrecognizable. Like a smiley face drawn on a balloon trying to tear itself apart to end its miserable existence.
I don’t wanna complain too much though- the cruise ship packed in as many things to do as seemed possible. We had a whale of a time, man. But a cruise isn’t a vacation to take if you’re big on privacy. It’s a misanthrope’s worst nightmare.
So we found ourselves a nice shady place to sit and decided that the most logical course of action was to drink our bodyweight in sangria. The particular bar where we were set up served five different types of sangria and we got pitchers of each one. The afternoon disappeared in drunken laughter, and we didn’t even notice that the ship had started moving until we were already far from shore.
When the waiter came to collect our used cups I asked him if he wouldn’t mind letting me hold onto them for a while longer. I was building a tower and had just reached a critical point. Five pitchers with five cups each meant a structure that was twenty-five cups high. I had to see it. The rays from the setting sun seemed to catch in the translucent plastic and refract colors in all directions. I gazed in wonder at what I had created, watching the trapped sunlight change at various heights in the tower. Fuck, I’d created beauty.
It was time to further capitalize on the sunset. A hiccupping Anne-Marie took photos of me looking out at the sea and trying to appear contemplative. The sun had lost its shape at this point, pulled by the horizon into a formless orange that was soft and dark enough that you could look at directly. You might think that the Caribbean horizon would be a busy one- but this was not the case. I expected to see a lot of maritime traffic and faint outlines of tropical islands. I expected it to feel like a sea enclosed on three sides by two continents, dotted throughout with islands, the way you imagine it when you look at a map.
However the view was always that of an ocean, not a sea. An ocean without end. An undisturbed, infinite expanse of blue. The water was always calm and the sky that mirrored it always clear. It was the most disconnected I had ever felt in my life. And the vast emptiness all around us definitively made for some good photo opportunities.
That was one of the things that had occupied a lot of real estate in my head prior to the trip- how I would go about documenting it. Whenever I travel it’s important to me to put the seal of eternity on it. I like to freeze everything in place so that I can return to it for comfort in the future. But you can take these things too far of course, and I swore to myself that whatever happened I wouldn’t fret about the amount of pictures I was taking. I would document the trip yes, selecting vivid moments for preservation, but the most important thing for me was to simply have fun.
Compared to other trips I’ve taken, I didn’t take that many photos at all. Ever since we started talking about the cruise I’d had an idea to make a short film or vlog about it, but as our sail date approached I found myself becoming less enthused with the idea. I didn’t want the film to be constantly on my mind throughout the week, and I didn’t want too many encumbrances on my person either. I had my phone, my dSLR, and my Go Pro, and I rarely carried all three at once. I didn’t want to be thinking about all these things, managing pictures for the blog, clips for the vlog, candid shots for my Instagram stories, et cetera. And I figured the more I had on me, the more limited I might be if we suddenly decided we wanted to go swimming or whatever.
I took what I could, when I felt the timing was right. I didn’t force my friends to pose if they didn’t seem interested in it, and I didn’t bother with the more advanced Go Pro equipment like the chest harness or the selfie stick. Everything was done on the fly- improvised clips I’d take whenever the moment struck me and the time allowed, with no setup required. Sometimes the Go Pro would misbehave and freeze for several hours, for no purpose it seemed other than to annoy me. There were a couple times I’d be taking videos of things and Aaron would do something spontaneous, like make a funny face at the right moment or whatever, but then the clip would become corrupted and delete itself and I’d have to ask him to do it again.
I kept thinking about how we only had these seven days. We had been planning this thing for so goddam long, and now it was finally here. I was desperate for time to slow down, for the cruise to be as long as the wait leading up to it.
I’m someone that’s never been big on naps. Aside from the fact they leave me feeling like ass afterward, I become convinced that I’m wasting precious time. So I was hesitant about the idea of napping while on our vacation, but they ended up saving us in the second half of the week. During the first few days, we found that once we finished dinner (which lasted on average from 8:30-9:30pm) we became incredibly drowsy. There were some activities we wanted to do after dinner that were more tailored toward adults, but we kept finding ourselves unable to summon the will to keep our eyes open.
It was really quite sudden. Within minutes we’d go from lively conversation to feeling the crushing weight of a day’s worth of margaritas and seafood upon our eyelids. We trotted off to our cabins while the party raged on through the night behind us, agreed what time we ought to wake up the next day, and fell asleep instantly upon climbing into bed. It’s funny how you always seem to fall asleep easier when you’re on vacation- or at least I do anyway. You’d think that a day at work would make you more tired than a day of lounging around in the sunshine, but I don’t think it’s that simple. For one thing, work brings with it a certain amount of stress and anxiety for almost everyone, and that can fuck up your ability to fall asleep. A chef I used to work with at the pub said he grills ribeye in his dreams. The day’s work tortured him, and he’d find himself bolt upright in bed, convinced that another ticket for a ribeye had come through.
And, as mentally-draining as work can be, you get used to any routine in life. I find that new routines tire me out more. Whenever I go to the U.S.A I always fall asleep easier. I’m more tired at the end of the day, and maybe that’s because I’m in a constant state of excitement. I’m talking with my friends all day long, as opposed to sitting in my room staring at a screen like I do back home. I feel active and engaged, even if I’m not doing something that might constitute “work”. Kinda like when a kid gets excited and tires himself out.
Aaron and Anne-Marie really wanted to check out the comedy club. They’d been before, on their previous Carnival Cruise, and said the comics were usually pretty good. There was also a mysterious blue cocktail that you could only get at the club. Aaron had it last time and was determined to get it once again. I’d never seen him so excited about a particular drink before- especially a cocktail. Aaron is a solid beer-drinker. Usually it’s me that gets the fruity flavors.
“What’s in this cocktail?” I asked him, wondering what it was about this elusive drink that had cast such a spell over him.
“Nobody knows. It’s a complete mystery,” he said. “This drink is my white whale. I gotta find it.”
The drink in question is named The Punchliner, after the comedy club in which it is served. Determined to get a hold of this cocktail, we began implementing a system of strategic pre-dinner naps to give us the strength to attend the non-pussified comedy shows that took place late at night. These tactics proved to be a stroke of brilliance on our part, if I may say so. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but even without Gibi’s tingly unintelligible whispers in my ear, I was able to fall soundly asleep in the late afternoons. When I woke up, I did feel a little disorientated, as though the afternoon were a long time ago, but I solved this by taking a screaming hot shower and slapping myself in the face.
After we finished dinner, we still had an hour to kill until the comedy club opened. I mean, I get it. On land a comedy club would have someone manning the door, whereas in this place anyone could wander in. It would be a terrible shame if some apple-cheeked boy scout had to ask his parents what an interracial creampie was during their family vacation.
We ended up going to the ship’s Piano Bar while we waited. I’m just gonna say it- I enjoyed the piano bar more than the comedy club. I don’t care how lame it sounds. It’s a pretty intimate setup, where everyone kinda sits around this one bespectacled little kid who plays song requests on the piano. He was British as well. He didn’t look more than 16 years old, but he could play a piano version of any song you suggested to him and sing it pretty well. He was surrounded on all sides by thirty-something blondes that coveted his troubadour talents, but no matter how much these drunken Texan ladies sassed him, he always had some cool-mannered, witty retort. This kid was the absolute don.
“Little shit hasn’t even finished school yet and already he has women fawning over him,” I grumbled with naked jealousy.
“Yeah, but has he completed The Witcher 3 on Death March difficulty?” Aaron said encouragingly. I shot him a look of thanks, wondering if I should walk over to the bar and announce this fact to all of the kid’s fans. Way I saw it, that bar wasn’t big enough for the both of us.
But the kid won me over with a cover of one of my favorite songs, “House of the Rising Sun”, and after that I couldn’t help but respect him.
We moved on to the comedy club and made sure to get The Punchliner. It was pretty good, but I still have no idea what its ingredients are. We all asked Aaron if it was as good as he remembered and he sighed. He didn’t know if the bartender had simply fudged up the cocktail or if he was a prisoner of his own nostalgia. It wasn’t the drink he remembered, and now he began to wonder if it had ever really existed that way at all. It’s kinda like when you replay one of your favorite childhood games, and realize years later that the engine is poorly optimized, the dialogue is pure arse, and you have precisely 10 minutes before it crashes to desktop. Poor Aaron didn’t know if the drink had changed or if he had changed, and I feel like there’s something profound about that.
The comic we had on our first night at The Punchliner was good, but his particular brand of comedy didn’t appeal to me too much. He was one of those old, plainspoken kinda guys, and his bit consisted mainly of observations on everyday life. “Don’t you hate it when…” and “What’s the deal with…”, that kinda stuff. He’d talk about him sucking at golf or make fun of the latest trends. It was funny and delivered well, but like I said it wasn’t my type of humor. I’m big on political satire and shock value these days, and this guy was only offensive in the sense that sometimes he swore, and personally I don’t think saying “fuck” is that risqué anymore. I prefer those controversial routines that make everyone feel really tense and uncomfortable. But that’s just me. I get that most people on vacation don’t wanna be reminded of the dividing issues of the day. As much as it would have pleased me personally, it wouldn’t have been right if Carnival had booked a comedian to outline how organized religion is the root of all evil, or how Trump supporters have less self-awareness than an Elder Scrolls NPC. There’d be a goddam riot.
It was a fun experience and we all enjoyed ourselves. Ted and Sylvia bid us good night, but the rest of us weren’t done quite yet. We had been determined, right from the beginning of the trip, to go on a midnight pizza run. It’s been something of a tradition of ours down the years, and we do it more for the thrill than out of hunger. It brings to mind classic memories like the Mole Lake Pajama-Slipping Incident of 2015. Anne-Marie always gets extremely giddy, and her excitement is utterly infectious. We marched up to the top deck and found that the pizza place still had a massive queue, even in the dead of night. The pizza is free, but it’s actually really good quality. You stand there and watch them hand-toss it from scratch. Everything fresh. This wasn’t the college dorm arrangement where you had to pay money for them to heat up a pizza from the freezer. These pizzas were delicious.
And that’s as good a place as any to end today’s post- chewing on crispy crusts of nostalgia, on the eve of our next port of call.