By Steve Siciliano
I think it was late summer last year when my wife first mentioned going on a February cruise with some of her New Jersey relatives and a group of their Garden State friends. I have to admit that I wasn't captivated by the idea. I love to travel but the prospect of being mostly confined to a floating hotel for a week and visiting touristy and pretentious ports-of-call appealed to me as much as a case of the shingles.
When I travel to foreign lands I like visiting locales where I can get a true feel for the culture and that usually translates into going to areas where there aren't hordes of marauding tourists. But as I've gotten older I've grown wiser and one lesson I've learned is the importance of keeping my wife happy. I told Barb that a cruise sounded absolutely wonderful.
Other than a few downsides, it was.
There was only one pool on the ship and so on the days we were at sea the pool area was unbearably crowded, it was almost impossible to find a deck chair and you had to stand in long lines to get a drink. And whether the ship was in port or at sea the massive main cafeteria was continuously crowded and you had to be as agile as an Olympic athlete to keep from being trampled by the voracious throngs trying to get to the food tables.
But the food was superb, not only in that massive cafeteria but also at the French, Italian and Japanese restaurants we dined at. There was a nice raw bar on the ship where one afternoon my buddy Mike Deangelo and I consumed three dozen oysters each along with side dishes of excellent ceviche and tuna tartare.
Barb was savvy enough to book shore excursions that got us away from the madding crowds. One was to an island off Belize where we hung out with some American expats at a watering hole called the Pickled Parrot. After leaving the bar our group got caught in a torrential but brief rain shower and we had to take shelter with some locals under a stand of low hanging palm trees. Later we found a hole in a wall café where we lunched on conch and Caribbean lobster at unbelievably low prices.
There was a cigar lounge on the ship and that's where I hung out every night with Tommy Batista from Brooklyn, Paul from Pennsylvania and a number of other cigar aficionados. While we smoked our cigars we put a good dent in the lounge's quality inventory of scotch, bourbon and rum.
On one blustery evening at sea we went to a show which featured Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins impersonators. Later that night Elvis and Jerry Lee showed up in the cigar lounge and much, much later that same night Barb and I rolled a couple of games with the two rock legends on a bowling machine in the game room.
I blamed my high percentage of gutter balls on the rocking and rolling of the wave-tossed ship.