The drive down to Galveston with my family is stressful. “What if we miss the boat?” and “What if our passports are denied?” are among the many concerns that fill the tiny Toyota Corolla stuck in heavy Dallas traffic.
We finally see the massive boat with the words Carnival Ecstasy elegantly written on the side.
Finding a spot among the many cars in the gravel packed parking area is an issue for my dad. After a 15 minute discussion, it is decided that my mom will park the car, while my dad, sisters, and I went to find the check-in station. We leap out of the vehicle, excited to see the vessel that will take us on our highly anticipated adventure.
My dad hurries us across the street occupied with shuttle buses and pedestrians. We wait for my mom outside the building where all of the check-ins and screenings take place. As we wait, elderly people in Hawaiian shirts and sun hats walk past us. There are a middle-aged couple looking terrified and a family of six standing next to us. The large family consists of two little girls running around while their teenage brother looks sullen. The dad, wearing a “Don’t Mess With Texas” shirt, tries to control his kids, while the mom loudly chatters on her iPhone. Suddenly, I have a nightmarish thought: What if this boat isn’t the vacation from busy life we had all wanted?
I look down and see my phone ringing and my mother calling. I try to answer it, but my phone switches to roaming and I lose the connection. Frustrated, I try calling her and finally after 20 minutes of playing phone tag, I get hold of her and lure her over to the automatic sliding glass doors, which we are in front of. With all of our “We are going on a cruise” gear in tote, we venture off into the bleak, fluorescent lit tunnel to the check points that are necessary to board the boat.
There are six different lines to wait in and get processed through. In anticipation, I look outside the window to see the massive ship. My heart leaps. “The adventure of a lifetime!” I think to myself. But no sooner had I thought that than a young unattractive couple starts to rattle on loudly. “How fun is it going to be to get wasted on this boat? Huh Huh!”, chortles the buck-toothed biker. His frizzy-headed companion doesn’t respond with words, just a bizarre giggle that makes her look like she is trying to act much younger than her skin and hair imply. “Oh crap,” I think.
My family and I are finally processed through the final line. Immediately after, a Carnival cruise employee points us in the direction of a fake tropical backdrop. “Time for happy family pictures!” he says in a fake happy mood. Our parents bookend us kids in the photo, while imitation palm trees stand behind them. A few clicks later, and we are dragging our luggage up a tunnel similar to a jet bridge to board a plane. However, this one zigzags up and down around five or six flights until we reach the opening of the ship.
Finally! The moment my family has dreamed for, for months! We all have huge expectations for this enormous trip. We step into the atrium and see orange carpeting and cheesy neon lights everywhere. A singer sits at a piano next to the bar. The red headed entertainer, dressed in a sequin covered dress, sings a rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me.” We board the elevator to get to our rooms and see signs like “Crystal Palace Gambling Center” and “Windstar Dining Experience.” My older sister, Katie, and I see a neon sign that reads “Club O2: for pre-teens” and we sarcastically recommend that our younger sister, Ellen, who is 14 years old, check it out.
My sisters and I find our room that is the size of a storage closet. We see a curtain that covers what we think is a window. I run to see the view and am unhappily greeted with a beige wall. It slipped my mind that we had a room facing another partition. We explore the room, which doesn’t take long, and look into the bathroom. This bathroom is the size of a closet that would make Harry Potter seem like he had quite a bit of space in his cupboard under the stairs.
Katie grabs the phone and dials the number of our parent’s suite. “Our room is tiny… We are coming up to see your state room! No, we are coming now!” We scurry up the four flights of stairs it takes to get there. We furiously knock and we figure, this room will obviously top ours. And it does, but not by much. To say that they had space would be true, but to call it a spacious state room would be the understatement of the year. Add a few feet, a closet, and a deck to our room and that would be the State Room. “It’s nice,” I mumble.
My mom shoots me a look. She is obviously extremely underwhelmed.
“Well gang, let’s go see if we can find something to eat,” says my dad optimistically.
My family and I locate the lido deck of the ship. There is a buffet line we cram into and find an assortment of greasy foods to choose from. We each get a burger and sit down to eat it at, what looks like, unwashed lawn furniture. We go to get some sodas and the smoke from the grilling food on the lido deck wisps our way. Jamaican Reggae music plays on the speakers next to the disgusting pool filled with screaming children.
Suddenly, on the loudspeaker there is a voice. “Hello everyone! This is your cruise director, Steeeeeeve Castle! Here at the Carnival Cruise Line we hope you have a wonderful vacation on the amazing Carnival Ecstasy! We hope you find relaxation during this time-”
“That’s not happening,” whispers Katie.
“And tonight there is a very special performance with the Ecstasy Dancers! Be sure not to miss this wonderful show and have a fabulous evening!”
We all stare each other, sullen and horrified. Is this what we signed up for? My mother looks like she will wring the neck of anyone who says anything negative.
We walk back to our room in a stupor and get ready for dinner. We finally make it to the Windstar Dining Room and there is an immense change of atmosphere. No screaming kids, no drunken idiots, no cheesy music. A nice meal, with appetizers, wine, and a dessert that is to die for.
We suddenly find ourselves laughing about this afternoon and how wretched it seemed to be. This conversation seems to lighten the mood to our horrific realization that this is the reality of this cruise.
“Oh well! We’ll find a way to have fun!” shouts my mom.
And from that night on, we embraced all of the cheesy photo-ops, gambling in the Crystal Palace, and tacky themed shows in the Blue Sapphire Lounge Theater. This isn’t the cruise we expected, but it is one we will remember.