The Saratoga Sun -

Aboard the SS Buffet-n-stuff

Retro Blog

 


I had dreamed for years about going on a cruise. Names like Titanic, Lusitania and Poseidon (maybe there’s a weird theme there) have always conjured romantic images of rolling about on a boundless ocean.

Finally I got my chance.

My best friend Phil, who lives in Houston, and I planned to take a sea voyage.

While scanning for prices we found that while kids are in school is the time with the lowest rates—and January worked for me.

During the booking process, I talked with Mom about cruising since she had done it before. During these conversations I invited Mom and my step-dad, Paul, to join us—an invite they took us up on.

That worked fine with me since I actually like hanging out with my parents.

Several cruise lines use the near-Houston port of Galveston. and the port building itself is a huge concrete monolith. As we walked up to it we could see the tops of several ships, including ours, moored behind the structure.

COMING TO

AMERICA VIBE

Entering the terminal building, which is a faded concrete warehouse looking affair, I immediately got an “Ellis Island” feel (though I have never been there). Lines of people carrying bags and, despite a general Hawaiian shirt theme, looking like they are eager to enter the land of opportunity.

In reality, we are lined up to get through a row of homeland security officers and their metal detectors just to get upstairs to join another line where we finally present passports to get boarding passes and our ship “Fun” cards.

I don’t know if other lines do this, but ours issued us each a “Fun” card to be used for purchases made aboard ship. It must also be presented during disembarking and re-embarking the ship (I assume to keep track of everyone). Unless you plan to buy a lot of stuff aboard ship, the only things that really rack up on these cards are drinks and souvenirs since food and tea, lemonade, coffee and water are included in your cruise price. You can put cash on the card up front or they will bill a credit card on file later. I elected to put $100 on the card and got most of that back at the end of the voyage. Oh, the card is also the key to your cabin.

EAT UP

We make our way across the gangplank, head to our cabins to get rid of luggage then get to the “Welcome Buffet” which is their main buffet set up with the usual buffet offerings of roast beef, fried chicken, veggies and the like.

As far as food goes, for breakfast the main buffet was set up with a fairly diverse variety of wake-up food.

Lunchtime though is a whole different world. You can choose the main buffet (which is fine), or you can choose from several niche stations. They had a deli, a Mongolian barbecue station, a Guy Fieri burger bar, a burrito bar, a pizza station, a comfort-food buffet, a fish and chips place and probably some others that I’m not thinking of. There are also other restaurants aboard that you can pay to eat at—but I listed the free ones.

Everything I had for lunch was at least good and you are free to visit each station as much as you like.

Dinner is a more formal affair. We found ourselves assigned to an elegant and well-decorated dining room where we were presented each night with a choice of appetizers, a selection of entrees and an array of desserts. Honestly, every selection I made on our voyage was excellent.

STUFF TO DO

Between scanning the horizon for icebergs and huge tidal waves, I spent a lot of time just walking around the ship. That’s fun for someone who has never been in the middle of the ocean — and scads of people chose to spend their days basking in deck chairs.

There are a few other things to do with your time though.

There is a putt-putt course up on top of the ship by the funnel that Phil managed to whip me on.

There are volleyball courts and a basketball half-court.

There is an arcade (games take the “Fun” card) where I shot up some aliens.

There are two swimming pools and five or six hot tubs where people who must have been kin to mermaids (or prunes) spent the entire cruise submerged in.

There are several bars spread about and even a casino (featuring “Fun” card slots) amidship.

The ship boasts an opulent three-story theater in which they present their “get acquainted” show (a thinly-veiled attempt to help you find “your best value” on duty-free items in “cooperating shops” ashore) and some “Broadway-Style” shows which weren’t completely horrible.

One of the more interesting things for me was to watch a movie on a movie-theater-sized screen while reclining on deck chairs. I wouldn’t have thought I would be able to hear while on deck, but I could hear well enough to enjoy a few newly-released movies under the stars.

I spent some time in the ship’s sauna and steam rooms. For me, that was really relaxing (and free). You might enjoy a massage (you’ll have to use your “Fun” card for that).

There was a comedy club in the back of the ship (that’s aft for you land-lubbers) that had some good comedians. The only problem is each comedian only did a 30-minute set and they spaced the shows by at least a half hour. We went to leave one with a plan on returning but when we saw the crowd waiting to get in, decided to skip the second comedian that night.

GETTING OFF

Our first port of call was Progresso. Progresso is a nothing little dock with a few duty-free shops. Past the shops is where we found busses to take us on our excursion to Chichen Itza. After a two-and-a-half hour ride past a modern city, several poor villages and a tourist trap where we stopped for lunch, we arrived at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. The pyramid was awesome, the ballfield where warriors competed for their lives (it is still unclear to me whether the winners or losers were decapitated) was impressive and the other associated ruins were also very interesting. The only vaguely irritating thing were the vendors throughout the site who hawked all their wares “for a dollar.” If you think you are going to actually get anything “for a dollar,” you would be wrong.

I do recommend getting an excursion if you do go though. Our guide was pretty good and they make sure to get you back to the ship on time to set sail again.

Our next stop was Cozumel. We had no excursion planned for Cozumel but figured we could find a beach in a place famous for them.

That was both wrong and right.

I made it through the tourist trap area the ship pulls up to (nowhere near a nice beach) and start walking through the town proper. Phil gets tired of this after a while and we finally get a cab which takes us to a nice beach. We pay to get in and have wristbands attached to us, pay to get some drinks (they have this paying thing down) and settle into reclining chairs on the beach.

While sipping my mojito I notice people frolicking on huge inflatable toys moored out in the surf.

Eventually I decide to take a dip in the warm waters (which was nice because it was January in Wyoming) and swim out to a large floatie with a ladder on one side and a slide on the other. No sooner had I slid off when some lifeguard-type on a stand paddle surfboard comes up and tells me I have the wrong type of wristband to play on the inflatables and that the right one would cost $20 more.

I swam around a bit more, went back ashore, watched others use and fall off of inflatables, finished my drink and decided it was time to head back to the ship.

THE VERDICT IS:

Overall, I had a really fun time. The whole thing costs about the same as staying in a decent hotel and you don’t have to pay for food the whole time.

In talking to others, I have found that some people love cruises and some people hate them. The biggest complaint I have heard is that you only get to sample the places you visit. This is true. You only get to spend a limited amount of time in any port you visit—but to me the ship is a destination and you spend a lot of time there.

At least we didn’t hit an iceberg.

 

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