A few months ago, a good friend invited us to join a handful of our beach buddies for a 5-night cruise to the Bahamas aboard the Carnival Ecstasy, January 5-10, 2017.
“It’ll be fun,” he promised. “And at a rock-bottom price. It sails out of Charleston, so we can drive two hours to get there – no airfare.” Cheap and easy, though previous experiences on cruise lines made Carnival our least favorite.
But there were a few roadblocks. George’s passport hasn’t been renewed –my fault, of course, because I can’t find it in the file marked PASSPORTS, and I couldn’t even find the file cabinet because of all the extra furniture piled into our house since my sister died and our mother moved in with us – don’t get me started – which is why I needed a cruise. But MY renewed passport had just arrived, brand-spanking new, with a photo of some mad-looking blonde that is supposedly me. Can’t be. But even with passport in hand, going anywhere is a bit of a stretch. I take care of my 96-year-old mama these days.
Weeks went by, and the invitation kept being repeated, but I just couldn’t see going. Finally, in December, I got another call – this time, they were desperate for an extra person to share a stateroom with one of the gals. But I said no, for several reasons. I’m too fat for a cruise. And there’s Mama. And the idea of going on a romantic cruise with no romance possible isn’t all that enticing.
But that night, sitting on the sofa, I turned to George and said, “Hey, I got invited to go on the cruise again today. Kaye needs a roommate. But I turned it down,” which I thought would make me look oh-so-self-sacrificing. And to his eternal regret, I think, my kind and generous husband said,
“I think you ought to go. You need a break.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. I decided the cruise would be the best possible motivation to keep me in low-carb prison through the Christmas holidays. My sister agreed to come take care of Mama while I was gone. And after I sweetly mentioned that I could spend $450 in a week just staying home, George decided to give me the cruise for Christmas, saving himself the pain of shopping. Soon, it was a done deal, and the best thing I’ve had to look forward to in ages.
I checked out the Carnival website for information. It wasn’t the easiest to navigate, and when I clicked on topics under the “Frequently Asked Questions” tab, I got error messages saying the content was too long to load. Over and over. So I called Carnival, and talked to a nice young fella who explained that I’d have better luck if I used Google chrome.
“Uh, I use Google Chrome. All the time.”
He answered my questions, but I didn’t know enough to ask the right ones. So I’m gonna tell you what we learned in our cat-herding, trial and error, entry-level, bargain basement, lots-of-fun cruise.
CAVEAT: If you are looking for a classy, all-inclusive, top-of-the-line luxury cruise, this ain’t it. But it is a cruise. There’s water, waves, blue sky, hot tubs, nightlife, and easy living. If you’re within driving distance of Charleston, go for it. If you’ve got to fly in from somewhere else, I’d advise flying to a fancier boat unless this is the one that best fits your budget.
PARKING AT THE CRUISE SHIP TERMINAL:
Our group is particularly proud of being frugal – some by necessity, and some just for the heck of it. When we discovered that parking at the port costs $18 per day per car, adding up to a whopping 85 bucks, we came up with a plan. We’d converge in Charleston in three cars; park two of them at friends’ homes in Charleston, then squeeze into my minivan for the trip to the port.
I drove my Odyssey from Myrtle Beach to two Charleston residences several miles apart, and the seven of us and our baggage could’ve been the clown act in the circus. Legs everywhere; luggage everywhere. On laps, on floors, between legs, under seats, wherever we could stuff it.
I entered the address of the Charleston Cruise Ship Passenger Terminal into my GPS. WRONG DECISION. We drove around several blocks, eventually finding some sandwich-style boards labeled CRUISE to find the entrance to the parking lot. ( https://help.carnival.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1039)
We drove into a chain-link-fenced area with multiple traffic lanes marked off by barrels. It looked more a deserted warehouse from the set of a mob movie than a luxury cruise parking lot, and I wondered if we were being lured into a gangland robbery and kidnapping. But we were in the right place, and soon came upon some jovial and friendly parking attendants who directed us into the correct lanes for parking. And to my delight, my permanent handicap sticker provided us with free parking for the duration of the cruise – the only upside of having failed foot surgeries and walking pain. What we didn’t know until we returned was that we were sent to an overflow outdoor handicap lot because the indoor handicap lot was filled to the brim.
DON’T ARRIVE HUNGRY
Did I mention that I was ravenous by the time we got to the port? My Myrtle Beach cohort and I had gone through McDonald’s drive-thru at 8:30 AM. After we picked up our passengers, it was after 2, and I was hungry enough to bat-turn into a hated Sonic. I boycott Sonic because of their awful commercials. But there was no time to be picky – and then, there was no time to eat the burger. When the van came to a stop in our final parking space, we bolted like Thoroughbreds from the starting gate, and I stuffed the burger into my purse. Another wrong decision, because I had to throw it away before going through the security checkpoint. You can’t bring food onto the ship. We entered the cruise terminal and got into a long, snaking line that moved fairly quickly as long, snaking lines go. So there was still no time to eat the cheeseburger. When we got to the point of no return, Kaye had to get rid of her water bottle, and I had to throw a perfectly good (no, not good, it was from Sonic) cheeseburger into the trash.
BAGGAGE & EMBARKATION:
I checked a couple of bags at the curb and rolled a carry-on. I knew from previous cruise experience that it might be hours before the checked bags reached the stateroom, and I wanted to make sure I had the right stuff with me right when we got to the room. It was 62 degrees in Charleston as we went through the line; I imagine it might be hot and stuffy in there in warmer weather. All kinds of junk got dropped out of people’s bags. I stepped on a wayward hair extension, and I suppose maybe my Fitbit charging cord disappeared beneath it because I haven’t seen it since the day I packed.
The lines were long. Cheapo passengers like us, who hadn’t paid the extra seventy bucks to go to the front of the line, wrestled carry-ons and shifted bags from one shoulder to another, getting grouchier by the minute, but the people who worked there were upbeat and friendly. Part of that, I’m sure, is in their job description, but the other part is that this is Charleston, y’all, where people exude genuine kindness.
DO NOT FORGET YOUR PASSPORT. Though technically, you can still go to the Bahamas with some combination of government-issued ID card and certified copy of birth certificate, one of our group was turned away and not allowed to board the ship because of some question about the documentation. He was given a voucher for a later date, so all was not lost, but it was a headache. I have some other friends who got to Florida to board their cruise ship, and had left the passports at home. There was no time to have them mailed; they had no birth certificates with them, so they turned around and drove back to North Carolina. I took my passport and passport card, but used only the passport card (which is good for Caribbean travel, but not for overseas.) Read the rules, and cover all your bases!
Once we finished with the obligatory check-in and received our Sail & Sign Cards (combination credit cards and room keys,) we had to walk up a couple of flights of stairs, dragging carry-on luggage behind. (There ARE elevators and help for people who need assistance.) And then some long ramps up a couple of floors to the ship’s entrance on the Empress Deck – which is about Level 7 out of twelve.
We hustled down to our stateroom on the picturesque-sounding Riviera Deck – and found that we were one level above the crew, way down near the bottom of the sea. I threw my stuff into the room, and took off to the Lido Deck (Level 10ish) to find something to eat. The crowded elevator lobby caused us to do some serious stair-climbing throughout the week. My Fitbit showed a staggering seventy flights of stairs per day. And I have bad feet. And a new hip that had finally healed enough to get me back to a normal activity level a month before. Good exercise.
Fifty-five minutes after leaving the car, we were on board, and people were ready to par-tay! Only I was ready to EAT. Something. Anything. And my back hurt – a leftover reminder of tripping onto my front sidewalk in Virginia on Christmas Eve, so I was less than good-natured. And just as I got to a food bar, the “CLOSED” signs went up. It was time for the mandatory safety briefing, so everything got closed down to make sure people were starved enough to keep their minds off the possibility of becoming shark bait. I repeat, if you didn’t get it the first time, DON’T ARRIVE HUNGRY!
The safety briefing has changed a little since my previous cruises, the last of which was fourteen years ago. They no longer make you wear your life jacket to the briefing. It remains in its top-of-the-closet perch in your stateroom, so you can’t trip over the straps and break your neck. You can bet somebody did that a few years back, probably sprained a dainty little ankle, and is now living large on a private island, enjoying every last million of their lawsuit proceeds, so the heck with teaching people how to put the darn thing on. It’s probably not necessary anyway. I’m pretty sure that anybody in a life-and-death situation can figure out how to don a life jacket in three seconds flat.
The lifeboat briefing finally over, we headed to the Lido deck where a band played, a conga line started, and I found pure heaven, at long last, in a cheeseburger that ranks as one of the best I’ve ever had. We watched the steeples of my home state’s gracious Charleston become tiny spires, and the new Ravenel Bridge across the Cooper River glistened bright gold in the sunset as we sailed off into the night.
DRINKS AND DINING:
The cruise gave us the option of dining room seatings at 6 PM, 8:30 PM, or something they called “YOUR TIME DINING” between specified hours. We thought 6 was too early; 8:30 was too late, so we chose the open seating. ANOTHER WRONG DECISION. What it really meant was that we had the option of standing in line for an hour before receiving a pager that might alert us in another twenty minutes that a table was available. But the first night, there was no line, and we went into the Windstar Dining Room, where we pronounced the food average – not the top-of-the-line cuisine we’d raved about on other cruises. But there was plenty of it, plenty of places to get it, and nothing really wrong with it – just not the quality we’d expected.
Well. In keeping with the bargain-basement cruise theme, there were no tablecloths, and the menu was not all-inclusive. If you wanted the premium entrees, such as surf n’ turf, you could fork over an extra twenty bucks. The service was polite and correct, but slow as Christmas. I opted for the flatiron steak, which was tough but passable, and then consumed a few bites of the first carb-laden item I’d had in three weeks. It was Nutella Tiramisu. Delightful. My back was in serious pain, so I excused myself and ran down five floors to grab some Excedrin, and ordered a Bahama Mama upon my return to loosen up some muscles.
Which brings me to the drink prices. A la carte, they aren’t as cheap as the scant level of luxury on this cruise would lead you to believe. Carnival offers an alcohol package for those who care to imbibe, called Cheers!, go figure. You can have all you want to drink for the astounding (to me) price of around fifty bucks per day. But here’s the catch. You can only participate in this program if everyone in your stateroom also purchases it. Though I’m not a teetotaler, I don’t drink much, so it would be ridiculous for me to get it. My cruise roomie had already decided not to get it, before we knew of the restriction, because she feared it would make it too easy to over-imbibe. But in the end, she might have come out cheaper if she’d had the opportunity to purchase it. This policy is patently unfair to people who share a stateroom but don’t share drinking habits.
But soft drinks are a slightly different story. Before we sailed, I purchased the “Bottomless Bubbles” program from the comfort of my home laptop. For only $6.95 per day (plus 15% gratuity per drink) I could have all the Mr. Pibb my sugar-loving little heart desired. On my last cruise, back in the Dark Ages, the free beverages (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, lemonade, ice water) were hidden in deserted nooks and crannies of the boat, so I opted for this plan. But the Ecstasy is a fairly small boat. The free stuff was accessible, and I didn’t want to ruin my low-carb record, so I drank gallons of water. The three co-colas I ordered during the cruise set me back a whopping twelve bucks apiece. Live and learn.
After dinner, we explored the boat, found the comedy club, the karaoke place, and the piano bar. Since my life-before-eldercare included performing music professionally, I especially looked forward to the entertainment, but overall, it was my biggest disappointment. We enjoyed the comedians, and the piano man in the Neon Bar was fabulous; the atrium musicians, bands, and music trivia games were fun. But the live shows were just plumb awful. We were astounded to hear off-pitch singing in every song. The choreography was dancing-schoolish at best, the dancers out-of-step, and the costumes….well, let’s not even go there.
The point of entertainment on a cruise ship is to sell alcohol, and the powers-that-be seem to think that music that is loud-and-fast sells more liquor. We loved the piano man, Scott, from Mobile, Alabama, who’d been on the ship for seven weeks. His repertoire was encyclopedic – but he had to keep everything at one speed, which was a few metronome markings too vivace for me. If someone requested a ballad, he had to play it uptempo. Not much fun for an artist, and it precludes the magic moments created by a musician when the atmosphere becomes enchanting.
I watched a table of ten 70-ish women stop buying drinks, get up and leave after they realized that their Sinatra / Streisand / Standards preferences were shouted down by the loud Billy Joel – Elton John – 80’s and 90’s crowd. One cute woman who was a big drink-buyer for the piano man got really upset when he ouldn’t play some of her requests because they were ballads. But I had a great time watching and listening to him. He graciously invited me to sing with him, and we did an off-the-cuff “Love Will Keep Us Together.” He quipped that he loved being The Captain to my Tennille, and he promised to play it in C rather than B flat the next time, but that time never came. Promises, promises…! Still, the piano bar was my favorite venue on the ship.
It’s SOP on a cruise ship that smoking ist verboten! A safety issue, of course. But safety considerations and second-hand smoke concerns go right out the window when it comes to the gambling casinos. We walked though there a few times, and could barely breathe amid the cigars, cigarettes, & cigarillos. Makes you wonder just how serious they are about fire safety.
We woke up the first morning ready to enjoy a day at sea. The weather was warm and mostly sunny, and deck chairs were hard to find. We eventually found space with enough chairs for our group on an upper deck overlooking the pool, and began to enjoy the afternoon. And then, the ‘entertainment’ started.
One reason we had not cruised Carnival after our first cruise (on the ancient and long-retired Carnivale) was the tasteless deck games we’d seen – for example, we once stood on deck during a beer-drinking contest, and couldn’t help but see (and smell) people throw up and pass out – even an ocean backdrop with tropical breezes can’t pretty that sight up. That was years ago, though, so I figured they’d have realized beer-drinking contests can cause people to wretch themselves overboard and aren’t great for public relations.
Music was playing; couples were dancing the shag, and all was tropical paradise for a while. And then, the Assistant Cruise Director took to the microphone. He can’t help it that his voice is particularly whiny and aggravating, so I tried not to hold that against him. But when he called volunteers up for a Chest Hair Contest and they began blindfolding women, then instructing them to feel the chest hair of strange men and pronounce it “Velcro” or “Silky,” I wanted to go somewhere else – but there was no place to go where you couldn’t hear it. And going from bad to worse, I think he had them actually smell the chest hair and determine a fragrance. No, I’m not kidding. Completely crass and tasteless. They even advertise this on their website.
There were kids on board – what a totally inappropriate activity for them to view. Can’t you see them going back home and suggesting to their playmates that they play the chest hair game? This is the kind of tactic used by predators to get victims to trust them. (“Let me teach you a new game…” and a criminal can get a child to come up on his lap and cross the boundaries of good-touch into bad touch under the guise of a game. Yuck.) And people who just wanted to relax in a deck chair, enjoying the sun, the sky, the music, and the company without having to hear this guy whine on at full volume about some drunk dude’s chest hair had no way of escape.
So, the entertainment accomplished its alcohol-selling goal, ’cause I needed a drink. A waiter came by to take orders, and I flagged him down for a pina colada. He offered to give me the one on his tray, which was inside a large orange-colored plastic coconut, but changed his mind and said, “No, I bring you a fresh one.”
I didn’t order the ridiculous coconut, just asked for the drink, but when he got back, he handed me the whole nine yards. I took a sip. It had too much coconut flavor for my taste, but hey, it was only one drink, right, and my aching back needed some relief. And then he handed me the bill to sign. The price was SEVENTEEN DOLLARS. Yep, seventeen dollars (plus the 15% gratuity) because it was in the tacky plastic take-home coconut that I had not even ordered. I figured it was futile to argue, and didn’t want to make things unpleasant for anyone, so I took it and drank to the last drop. When he came back later and asked if I wanted another, I nearly screamed at the poor guy.
“Heck, NO. For seventeen dollars? I didn’t want the plastic container in the first place.”
And the worst of it? When we went back to the room, I forgot to bring the tacky container with me — and I’m sure it got recycled for another sucker’s seventeen bucks.
Carnival Ecstasy is the oldest chip in Carnival’s fleet, and she’s a bit shabby and tacky these days. However, at the end of our cruise, she went back to Freeport for a couple of weeks to undergo multi-million-dollar renovations. Here’s a link for descriptions of new restaurant options on board: https://cruisemaven.com/carnival-ecstasy-newest-dining-options/
Our stateroom was fairly roomy, but my bed resembled a canoe. It sank in the middle. And there was one, count it, ONE single-pole electrical outlet for our kind of electricity in the room – for two women who needed hair dryers, electric curlers, phone chargers, and a CPAP machine. There was another in the ceiling of the loo – oops, better call that the head– in the ceiling, yes, so whatever you plugged in fell out. (There was also one European style outlet in the room.) SO, PACK A POWER STRIP!
There are telephones in each room – but the instructions for dialing another stateroom DO NOT WORK. I called the desk to ask how, but instead of telling me how, she transferred me to that room. The next time I called the desk, the phone rang a zillion times and nobody answered. By the last day, I figured out the combination. The problem is that each deck has both a letter and a number designation, and our information called our room R0202. However, on the phone, R really meant 4, but nobody tells you that and it is not written in the instructions.
We rarely saw our room steward. He did his job quietly and efficiently, and we had no complaints. But if your roommate has a habit of walking out with a wine glass in hand, make sure you ask the steward to bring you fresh stemware each night so you can take your meclizine before the ship gets to rockin’ and rollin’.
The expected gratuity for the cabin steward was charged to our accounts on the last night. You can dispute that if you wish, but I imagine the process for doing so is time-consuming.
Signage on the ship is difficult to decipher, and seemed inaccurate in places. Looking for the gym? We could see it from the deck, but had a heck of a time finding it. Don’t look for signs pointing to the gym – go instead into the Spa, and you’ll find the exercise equipment room in the rear. It was never over-crowded when we went, maybe because nobody could find it. It has a great view.
Since you pay a rock-bottom price for the cruise ticket, there are tons of add-ons, upcharges, and extras you can purchase separately.
Elevators were usually crowded. We often took the stairs. But one night I jumped on the lift, and someone asked which floor. A man in the back quipped, “I want to go to Deck 10, but they’ll probably charge an extra $5 for that.” My aching back really wanted a massage, but the price was about 4 times what I’d pay at home, so I opted out of that. But many amenities are available. My total purchases over and above the price of the cruise ended up being about $200 — and that included some duty-free shopping for some watches/necklaces/ties I took back home.
In keeping with the small size of the Ecstasy, there aren’t as many duty-free shopping opportunities as I expected. But you can purchase liquor, wines, watches, make-up, perfumes, etc., on board.
INTERNET AND PHONE SERVICE:
There are several internet plans available, but if you’re expecting the unlimited access that spoils us at home, you may have to hock some jewelry to pay for it. There’s also an onboard app you can download that gives you the activity schedule, and provides a way to text message others in your party who also pay the fee. To avoid extra charges and access the app, put your phone in airplane mode.
PORTS OF CALL AND EXCURSIONS:
Our first stop was Nassau. Some of our group took advantage of tour and excursion opportunities, ka-ching, ka-ching, but I’ve done those before. The rest of us hoofed it to the nearest beach and enjoyed an umbrella, some conch fritters, and drinks. I bought some homemade bottle-cap tambourines to take home to my grandkids, and loved swimming in clear Caribbean water with no jaws in sight.
The next day, we blew into to Freeport, and I do mean BLEW. It was 70 degrees outside, but gale-force winds gusted to 60 mph. Though I don’t know the exact wind-chill factor, I can guarantee it was COLD. I got off the boat and ran to the first stall in the adjacent shopping area and bought a hooded sweatshirt. Many of the planned excursions were cancelled. We took a taxi over to the town and were among the few tourists braving the wind. I’d left the boat with only a few bucks in cash and a credit card, but realized when I wanted to get lunch that the card I’d grabbed charged a fee for foreign transactions, so I opted to stay hungry. Check your credit cards before you leave; don’t take one that charges a crazy fee. And call the 800 number on the card to let them know you’ll be traveling to an unusual place. It’ll save you some fraud alerts and possible declines.
On the way back to the dock, the Bahamian taxi driver took a van of 12 people through the Kentucky Fried Chicken Drive-Thru to order supper for her family. And we had a boat to catch!
We loved chatting with the staff when possible. Many are Indonesian, but there were people from countries all around the world. Most were kind, helpful, and hospitable. They work incredibly hard. We asked one young woman about her life on board; she misses her 5-year-old son terribly. She teared up when she spoke of him, and when she cried, I did, too. He stays home in Indonesia with her parents while she works to provide a better life. She Skypes with him every day, but we all know, that’s just not the same. We asked her to tell him that her American friends hope he has a wonderful life.
There were people of every description and demographic on this boat. We often asked people what they thought of the cruise, on a scale of one to ten. Most first-time cruisers gave it an enthusiastic ten, but those who’d been on other cruise lines or ships answered with a six. But they weren’t disappointed – it’s a cruise – it’s cheap – it’s easy. Many of the passengers were from the Carolinas, but every now and then we ran into people who’d actually flown in from distant states.
Most people are on vacation and in good moods, but whenever you mix personalities, family dynamics, romance-gone-wrong, and alcohol, there’s a potential for high drama.
One night, I saw a teen sitting on the floor outside a shop in the atrium, crying. I went to her and asked if she needed help. Her tears flowed as she nodded no, but I stayed within watching distance and kept a quiet eye on her for a long time, until a family member came along and I was satisfied she was safe. But I know I wasn’t the only one watching. There are cameras everywhere on cruise ships these days. Security was unobtrusive, but the rare times I saw them, they appeared vigilant.
DAY AT SEA:
There were two days at sea on this particular cruise. The first one was delightful, but the second was chilly, windy, and the boat pitched and rolled through the roughest seas I’ve ever experienced.
There’s only one swimming pool on the Ecstasy, along with some water slides and hot tubs. But the poolside hot tubs were often filled with kids. It took a while to find the adults-only hot tubs. From the pool, head toward the back of the boat. When you’re almost there, take a flight of steps down to the open deck on the stern, and there are two hot tubs there. (One was more of a Cold Tub.) The views from these tubs are spectacular, and I’m talking about the geographic scenery as well as some impressive tattoos.
FORMAL NIGHT AND PHOTOGRAPHY:
The evening of the first day-at-sea was designated Formal Night, and people got seriously gussied up. The dining room even trotted out tablecloths. But if you don’t want to be formal, you can go to the informal bars and dining areas.
Every which way you turn on a cruise ship, there are photo-ops. For years, I’ve looked at people’s cruise photos, and they all look sunburned, windblown, tired, and hung over. So I dodged the photographers for the first two days. And then, walking past the galleries where they display the prints, I did some double takes. There were some terrific photographers on board. People lined up for the photos; families traveling together posed for lovely shots, not only during Formal Night when they were decked out in all manner of finery, but also on the other evenings of the cruise. And the price of the prints is surprisingly reasonable. One night, as I walked past one of the photo areas, the photographer beckoned me to her backdrop. Even without fixing hair or fiddling with my dress, this talented photographer took my husband’s all time favorite photo of me. I was shocked. So don’t miss getting your ‘pitcher took.’
Whenever you’re out of your normal routine, strange things are bound to happen. I had a great cruise roommate, and we knew that we could come and go as we pleased without being joined at the hip if we so desired. Sometimes we hung out together, or with our larger group, or spent time alone, and that was fine.
But — don’t be too rushed you have to hurry down to your stateroom to grab some eye drops. You might accidentally grab the bottle clearly marked ‘EAR DROPS’ instead, nearly put your eye out, scream yellow zonkers, and end up weeping at the piano bar all night. Just sayin’.
And, don’t be macho about sea-sickness. Take the drugs. They do sell the legal kind on board these days.
On the day we cruised from Freeport back to South Carolina, the ship danced us all over the ocean. People turned green and looked miserable. We chose a table in the cafeteria only to have some poor soul stop and lose her lunch on it.
Waltzing across the boat with cafeteria trays in hand was worthy of Broadway choreography, and more than one plate went flying when a swell pitched us an unexpected way. All that pitch and roll is hard on knees and hips. Be prepared.
None of our group experienced any illness or injury on the ship, but one night, we walked past a medical team attending to an elderly woman beside the pool. She remained there, on a stretcher, for a couple of hours. I had no idea what had happened to her, but after the cruise, I read that the Coast Guard had airlifted a woman off the Ecstasy early the next morning. The boat was about twenty miles off the coast of Florida, and radioed for help when they realized the passenger needed more sophisticated treatment than they could provide on board. There’s no place to land a helicopter on the ship, so I wish I could have seen how they transferred her to the chopper. But I was impressed that they did it, and it made me feel a little better about medical care for people on cruises. Here’s the link to the story about the airlift: (Apologies that is not clickable. You’ll have to cut and paste to your browser to see it. I’m new to blogging logistics.)
GETTING OFF THE DADBURN BOAT:
When the boat stopped moving when we docked in Charleston Harbour, the lack of motion woke me up far earlier than I’d planned. I grabbed all my stuff, packed it, and tried to get out fast. But you get off the ship from a top deck, not a bottom one, so we had 10 flights of stairs to haul our luggage up. There was a long line, but it moved fairly quickly. Once back in the terminal where we’d boarded, we went through Customs. There were drug-sniffing dogs, & all kinds of policemen, so it felt a little invasive for a moment. But I guess I didn’t fit the drug mule profile, and got waved through quickly.
I boarded a shuttle that took me to the parking lot – only, instead of going to the outside lot where my car was actually parked, they stopped in a large garage and told everyone to get out. When I explained to the driver that my car wasn’t in this garage, she took me to another van, and that one drove me to the ‘outside handicap lot.’ The others in my group weren’t so lucky. They were made to walk from the garage to the overflow lot. The personnel at the port weren’t nearly as gracious on debarkation as they were when we arrived, Charleston or not.
And there you have it. Probably more than you ever thought to wonder about the Ecstasy.
Would I take this cruise again? Yep. Every week. It may be cheaper than staying home.
Mama sits in her rocker-recliner, watching the news or basketball much of the time. But the program showing on TV this morning was some kind of detective story, and she asked me to change the channel. I told her the remote was sitting right next to her, so she could change it anytime she wanted to.
“I tried, but it wouldn’t work.”
I went to look. The remote was sitting in a pool of spilled coffee, and it won’t work for me either. We’re hoping it’ll dry out in a day or so, but there’s no way of knowing. Groan.
Taking care of an elderly person often requires fixing or replacing stuff: toilet tanks that got wrenched off the wall, plumbing pipes that were broken when she grabbed the faucet for a handrail, ditto for towel bars — all when REAL grab bars are within reach!
I was able to find a replacement remote pretty cheap on Amazon, and they’ll deliver quickly. Downloaded a remote control app for my iphone, and we’re back in business.
I’ll try immersing the wet remote in rice – but I threw out all the rice during the Invasion of the Pantry Moths, and the onset of my low-carb-high-fat ketosis plan. Something else to replace!
The holiday season of 1999 was a whirlwind for our family. I was still fairly crippled from surgeries that failed to help plantar fasciitis. With two sons in college and another in high school, there was plenty going on – foxhunting, firefighting, Christmas parading, Christmas pageanting, et al. And we added to the complications by going up to Leesburg for a difficult pony club prep, but we got to stay in Shelly’s mountaintop cottage with spectacular views even if we did have to get up at the crack of four am. A week later, we went to Wrightsville Beach, where we stayed in cousin Cattie’s fabulous oceanfront villa with its own incredible view. We were brokenhearted when we learned that George’s dad had cancer, and when a childhood teammate of Chip’s was killed on a fire engine rushing to put out a blaze. And another fire destroyed some local apartments – one of our 4H girls lived there. Each night, the moon was brighter than normal – I read that it hadn’t been that bright since during the Civil War, when soldiers were able to see clearly due to the bright moonlight on the fallen snow.
We had good times, bad times, sad news, bad news, and my emotions were all over the map. A few days after Christmas, as I sat at the kitchen table recovering from it all, the idea of a poem came from out of the blue. I ran upstairs to the computer, and within about an hour, it was done. Unusual, as I don’t generally write poetry, but I wish I’d done this every year. So many Christmases have come and gone, and the memories have melted into each other, but the Christmas of 1999 is clear as a bell in my mind’s eye because of the poem that takes me back in time every time I re-read it. A time machine. Take a ride with me, back to the turn of the century. (And I have no idea why WordPress will not copy this with the correct spacing and formatting!)
A MEMORY OF CHRISTMAS, NINETEEN NINETY-NINE
BY BETH HOLT
The month of December flew in with a flurry
Of places to go, songs to sing ~ life got blurry!
To decorate early, I had great intentions
And ideas for baking and crafty inventions
Soon school was out, boys were home, life was fine!
The Beginning Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine
Each weekend was fraught with activities grand
David with shotgun sought deer from a stand
And astride a bay Thoroughbred prancing in loops
The parade route he traveled ~ 4h’ers scooped poop
From my golf cart the village main street looked sublime
As We Called “Merry Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine.”
As hounds heeded sounds from the huntsman’s brass horn,
Horsemen in scarlet rode hard through the morn,
And later spun tales of the fox and the fun
Of galloping after the hounds of Deep Run
Glimpsing the chase through green forests of pine
‘Twas A Picturesque Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine
An old country church with the light of Christ beamed
As our llamas spiced up their nativity scene
Doubling as camels with Bryan disguised
As a king from afar beneath starlit skies
Retelling the birth of the child so divine
The Message Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine
Enthralled by the grace of a grand arabesque
The great hall resounding with Tchaikovsky’s best
Spellbound we gazed while the pas de deux danced
We watched as the nutcracker Clara entranced
A feast for the eyes was the ballet’s design
The Magic Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine
One night at one-thirty the fire alarm sounded
Chip answered the call ~ down the long stairs he bounded
And pumping the engine all night long he prayed
That the homes and belongings of some might be saved
The apartment fire raged through nine homes all in line
The Heartbreak Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine
And sadness was with us ~ an illness revealed
We prayed that our Opa would quickly be healed
And grieved for a family whose firefighter son
Once played on the diamond with Chip having fun
With comfort from trusting in God’s sovereign mind
The Sorrow Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine
From our small congregation we molded a choir
And planned a church pageant our Lord to admire
Rehearsals were frantic, attendance sporadic
But even with passages quite melismatic
We sang to his glory with voices refined
The Praises Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine
As sixty young choristers mounted the stage,
I prayed that the wildest young boys would behave
“Children, Go Where I Send Thee” they sang with delight,
and recounted the story of one “Silent Night”
The church was uplifted ~ the joy was all mine
The Music Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine
On a steep mountaintop as the winter sun rose
We gasped at the beauty of valleys below
And several days later we saw on the ocean
The sun rise again in its endless devotion
To lighting our world with bright hues intertwined
The Blessing Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine
The days passed too quickly, the twenty-fourth came
No tree decorated nor presents to claim
I dashed out to get the last tree off the lot
The boys put it in the traditional spot
And dressed it in ornaments aged like fine wine
The Splendor Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine
My plans to bake cookies, send cards, and write letters
Might have worked out had my tootsies felt better
But though I was late, Christmas came right on time
Bringing hope to a world needing reason and rhyme
And the nights were aglow with a bright moonlight shine
The Wonder Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine
Copyright 1999 – Elizabeth F. Holt
So, for once, I get my 96-year-old mama up, dressed, fed, medicated, and looking cute as a button for a trip to a funeral in Raleigh; and we’re actually gonna leave early rather than lat. I place her at the kitchen table with instructions to stay put while I get dressed.
And while I’m dressing, she grabs a hot bottle of forbidden nail polish and sneaks out to the car with it.
I come down the stairs and out the door to find her painting her nails IN MY CAR, and she has spilled half the bottle down her very favorite dressy top.
I cuss, (which I rarely do) and yell “Dammit, Mama” while pulling the top off over her head, leaving her half nekkid in the car with Micah hiding his eyes in the back seat.
I rush inside for acetone, & pour it all over the shirt, but it’s like tinkling in the ocean. Not enough acetone in Virginia to break down that stuff. The top is permanently damaged. And our extra half hour plus 10 more minutes disappears.
I’m completely undone that I lost my patience with her, because I’ve promised myself that I won’t do that.
And then I think about the switching I’d have gotten for pulling such a trick in her lavender ’65 Bonneville Broagham with the purple satin seats and I’m glad I have not yet spilled a bottle of nail polish down my favorite shirt.
And when I do, I hope my sons will yell “Dammit, Mama” at me and not feel bad about it.
THE MARGUERITE CHRONICLES, DECEMBER 7. 2016: It happened seventy-five years ago, and the day still lives in infamy. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was bombed by the Japanese. Last year on the anniversary …
THE MARGUERITE CHRONICLES, DECEMBER 7. 2016:
It happened seventy-five years ago, and the day still lives in infamy. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was bombed by the Japanese. Last year on the anniversary of that heinous act, Mama had an appointment with an eye doctor, and he asked his elderly patient what she was doing that day in 1941. A young woman answered, with vivid detail. I’m so glad he asked, because I had never thought to.
On December 7, 1941, Marguerite was the wife of Captain George H. Van Hoorebeke, US Army. He was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and they thought they had the world by the tail. He was handsome; she was beautiful; they were both intelligent, accomplished people with great work ethics, personalities, and a bright future ahead. They lived in a duplex close to post, with their first-born daughter, Virginia, who was just shy of 9 months old. (Yes, ‘post’ is correct. The army has posts; the other services have bases. Those of us who speak army cringe when someone says ‘army base.’ There’s no such animal. Thank you.) Anyway, Ginny woke up feverish that morning, and was covered with red spots. Measles. And of course, this was years before any vaccine had been developed. Although it was a Sunday, George was out on manuevers at Camp Bullis, and Marguerite started calling the post dispensary to see about taking Ginny to see a doctor. She tried and tried, but for some reason, got one busy signal after another. She couldn’t get through.
So, with a fussy infant on her shoulder, Marguerite sat down to read the morning paper over a cup of coffee, and turned on the radio. She spent the morning trying to soothe tiny, red-spotted Ginny. Sometime after lunch, regular programming was interrupted, and she heard the terrible news — news that would affect every day of her life as long as she lived. Japanese warplanes had attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, and our country was at war. The Sunday paper was left, half-read; lunch went uneaten. An elderly couple lived in the other half of the duplex; they didn’t own a radio. So, with Ginny in her arms, Marguerite ran around to their back door to tell them what had happened in Hawaii. Everyone was shocked. No wonder she couldn’t get through to the dispensary – the entire post was caught up in preparing for war, and nobody had time to see an infant with measles.
On that unforgettable morning, war had come to change the world, and her personal circumstances were suddenly precarious. The idyllic lifestyle she’d enjoyed as a peacetime officer’s wife and young mother was going to change, and change it did. George anticipated orders for Hawaii, but soon, those plans changed. As the young infantry captain readied for combat, Marguerite got a civilian job handling payroll at Camp McCain, Mississippi, not far from her family home. Her mother and young sister, Polly, came to live with them. In June of 1943, a second daughter was born. Carole was about six weeks old when her father went overseas. She missed him the rest of her life.
George landed in Normandy on D-Day Plus 5, with Company I, 39th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, and was awarded the Bronze Star for what he did in battle. We don’t know exactly what happened that day. Place names and units were redacted from the text, as this was wartime, but the citation reads:
For exceptionally meritorious achievement in performance of outstanding service against the enemy in __________ on June 11, 1944.
And on September 13, 1944, somewhere near Brest, Captain Van Hoorebeke died a hero for the freedom of France and the world beyond. For his actions, he was awarded the Silver Star. Mama and my sisters received his awards in a ceremony at Camp Crowder, near Joplin, Missouri. The citation accompanying that award reads:
On September 13, 1944, Company ___, ____Infantry, was attacking the city of _____. Due to the large number of casualties sustained, the second platoon, led by a squad leader, had failed to advance after repeated attempts. Captain Van Hoorebeke, going forward in an effort to remedy the situation, found that two enemy machine guns were holding a platoon back. Completely disregarding his own personal safety, he went to the front of the platoon and directed fire on the hostile positions until they were silenced. Just as the guns were knocked out and the situation seemed favorable for an advance, Captain Van Hoorebeke was killed by a sniper. The gallantry, disregard for personal safety and unswerving devotion to duty displayed by this officer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.
So, the attack on Pearl Harbor was the beginning of the end of George Van Hoorebeke’s life. But it did not end his legacy. His daughters never knew him, but they knew about him, and today, I take care of his widow ~ the Marguerite who lost the man who loved her and the hopes they shared.
Mama’s never been a signs-and-wonders kind of person, but she told me that through the years, whenever she faced the toughest trials of life, George appeared in her dreams with words of love and comfort.
Their daughters – my older sisters – are both gone now. But shortly after Ginny died in 2012, Carole had a dream. She saw Ginny walking down a heavenly street, holding hands with George, her father. Walking towards them from the other direction was my dad, who married the widowed Marguerite and her two daughters in 1946. Ginny’s eyes lit up when she spotted him, and she said to her father, “Come over here — I want you to meet my daddy.”
Pearl Harbor Day. Seventy-five years since the world went to war. It might be possible to calculate the costs of planes and warships in dollars, but the personal price paid by the Georges and Marguerites of the nineteen-forties can never be totaled.
And Marguerite lives on, at age 96 — with love, with wit, with humor, and grace; a character shaped by the wounds of war. I’m proud to be her daughter.
The Memomma Chronicles, Saturday Edition, July 30, 2016:
Yesterday, Marguerite got a great hairdo from sweet Louvenia over at Hair Worx in Odee. Louvenia does a great job with an old-fashioned roller set, just perfect for an old lady who likes to sit under a dryer and flip through a magazine.
So, last night, before Mama went to bed, she asked for a plastic shower cap to put over her head so her hair wouldn’t mess up overnight. I told her that wouldn’t work,we’d fix the hair in the morning, and she went to bed.
But she’s like a rebellious teenager these days, and no matter how many times you explain principles that she knew long ago and has forgotten, she is bound and determined to prove you wrong. And that’s why she’s 96.
So, ’round midnight, I heard her get up and went to check on things. All was well, except that the new curls were plastered, flat as a pancake, to her head, like they’d been glued there, and I was ready to cuss again.
So she explained. She’d gotten a plastic grocery bag out of the trash can it lined, wrapped it around her head, and went to sleep, not remembering that plastic on the head makes ya sweat if it doesn’t smother you first. Sweat+hairspray is one mean combination. So now, we have unlocked the secret formula for superglue, and poured a thirty-dolla hairdo down the drain.
The Marguerite Chronicles, August 22, 2016, 7:29 AM:
Mama’s voice came from the dining room.
“Somebody come help me!”
I ran towards the voice and nearly tripped over her. She was on the floor with her head pointing north – her walker was cattywampus, on the floor, heading east, a dining room chair was turned over, pointing west.
Once we determined that she was fine, I had two questions: how’d she do it, and why’d she do it??