Saturday, May 11, 2013
Monday morning was always going to be the true test of how well the ship could organize itself and its passengers. Because of some long-time maritime law, non-American cruise ships are not permitted to leave and arrive at American ports without stopping at a foreign port.
The ship was full of the sort of people that cable news calls "experts," people who present themselves as knowing a lot and make things up when confronted with something they don't actually know. So we had theories swirling around that the law had to do with everything from preventing Chinese ships from going up and down the California coast using cheap labor to undercut American ships, to laws regulating that the onboard casino could not operate unless they docked at a foreign port. Mind you, these were the same people who had stated categorically that we would not be allowed to dock in Honolulu because a couple dozen of our passengers had the norovirus.
Whatever the reason, one thing was certain. The second leg of our trans-Pacific journey had originated the American state of Hawaii (you know, where Obama moved shortly after being born in Kenya - at least if you believe Donald Trump). And our cruise was terminating in Ensenada, Mexico - where lots of people who work in America should be deported back to, again thanks to the Donald for that idea.
From Ensenada, almost all the passengers were being given a free bus ride to San Diego Airport, about 80 miles north and, oh yes, on the other side of the US Immigration Border Control. Given the absolute horror of the disorganization and massive queues in Maui and Honolulu, we were all facing our most extreme nightmares about getting several thousand people onto buses early in the morning. And then getting that bus past US Immigration only two weeks after the Boston attacks.
It was a charm. How the ship could have done such a good job here and such a lousy job at the beginning of the trip remains a mystery, but some magic happened on the way to North America. All our luggage was stored early on one of the 6-dozen buses and then the compartment was sealed so bags didn't need to be checked by Immigration when we crossed. We were all told which bus to be on and when to show up, and the lines were short and the wait was sweet. (OK, there's always a couple of 75+-year-olds who try to cut in front of everyone, but since this wasn't the last of the bagels and lox at the buffet but a bus waiting for everyone to get on, it hardly mattered.
The cruise line had even paid for US Immigration to have 50 extra people work the buses to check passports and declaration slips. Too easy all around.
From San Diego we rented a car and drove across the desert to Las Vegas. The drive is easy since there are no turns in the road for about 200 miles and if you can stay awake you tend to have no problems.
Vegas itself, of course, is the same as it ever was. It remains a place where the big gamblers can lose massive amounts of money (some guy named Sheldon Adelsen lost over $100 million in just one day last November). But of course, the grease that keeps all those neon wheels rolling are the smaller amounts that the little punters put on the tables and in the machines. We did our best to help the city continue its recovery from the Global Financial Crisis.
Thursday we hopped on a plane (actually, LK just got on as normal. It was me who was hopping because my knees seemed to be suffering from temporary cartilege loss.) Connecting in Houston, we landed at Tampa Airport that night. I could write about how we had to wait more than half an hour to get the car from Hertz that we had booked more than two months ago, but that sounds too much like complaining.
So let's just say we checked into one of the world's all-time great b&bs in Dunedin that night and had the absolute pleasure the next day of catching up with my sons, Ben and Tom and Ben's partner Jennifer and her two kids.
Last night Jennifer pulled school fair duty and couldn't join us but we went to eat at a very good Italian restaurant not far from where we are staying. Tom is a good friend of the chef, having worked together in the past. The chef came to our table, we were told not to order starters or desserts and then were fed just about every starter on the menu until we were begging them not to bring more food. (OK, that last bit is a lie. We would have kept eating whatever was set in front of us.) We had artichokes, buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes, truffled buffalo mozzarella, baby octopus, fried octopus tentacles (there were only 6 on the plate, and I have no idea what happened to the other 2). There were stuffed peppers and 1 or 2 other things that I have erased from my memory because I had to use the available oxygen just to have enough energy to chew.
And rememeber, those were the starters before we were served huge portions for our main courses. Dessert (again unordered) was more moderate. Everyone had a parfait glass full of strawberries with whipped cream on top. Oh, yes, and the family-style, full dinner plate of tiramisu. But that doesn't count because it was light and we all agreed that no matter how much you ate you could always have a bite or two of that.
This morning the lovely man who cooks the breakfasts here (and they, too, are massive and superb) came over after we were done to ask Linda what he had to do so she would finish her meal. I guess he thought she didn't like the 3-cheese omelette with sauteed onions, arugula and asparagus with a huge bowl of fruit, toast, homemade yoghurt topped with nuts and berries, fresh-squeezed orange juice and coffee.
She told him she loved the food but she just needed smaller portions.
Strangely enough, he didn't have any concerns about me leaving food on the plate.
In a little while we are going over to Ben and Jennifer's for a barbecue.
Fortunately, we are passing quite a few malls and stores on the way. I figure when you're my shape already, no one is going to notice if you go up a pants-size or two anyway.