from Sandy Needham

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cruise Dispatch

We made it onto our cruise ship, the Carnival Splendor, without Jake’s “rum runners” being detected when our luggage was x-rayed. These were sturdy plastic bags with caps that can be filled with liquor using the most adorable little funnel, then packed surreptitiously in suitcases to ‘beat the system.’ Jake discovered this solution to the cruise’s edict against bringing liquor on board, though we were allowed to carry on one bottle of wine each. This did not prevent Elise, Jake, and his girlfriend, Larissa, from sampling the ‘drink of the day’ that first evening and entering the “Mixology” contest. Each of them devised and named a special drink from a long list of available ingredients: Elise, the Banana Boat Float; Jake, the Sweet Pine Splendor; and Larissa, the Frozen Beach. Both Elise and Larissa received notices in their rooms that night that they were finalists for the Mixology contest the next day. I complained to Jake that ‘Sweet Pine Splendor’ sounded more like a toilet cleaner than a drink. Elise and Larissa were told to show up at 12:30pm. We all arrived for the contest together, but when the other finalists did not appear, the activity director decided to let Jake’s toilet cleaner back in the contest. Elise’s drink wasn’t quite sweet enough and Larissa’s was too thick to drink, but Jake’s: just right. It even turned out green, so the pine part worked! He was the winner and the drink was available at any bar on the ship for the whole week.

Jake had woken up that morning with a terrible pain in his ankle from a jump off some ship stairway the night before. He couldn’t put any weight on it, so I called to see if he could have it looked at and get some crutches. The doctor wouldn’t be back till late afternoon and only a wheel chair was available till then, so a wheel chair was delivered to his door.wheel chair






Now I’m not saying that his drink wouldn’t have won, but his arriving at the contest in that wheel chair may have softened the judges’ hearts! The contest was projected up on the huge screen by the pool and the video was replayed on cabin TV’s all week. Also, Jake’s name and his drink appeared in each daily info pamphlet for the week, so he was getting famous. The problem was, I gave him homeopathic arnica for the foot and it recovered before time to see the doctor, so no more wheel chair – and lots of explaining to people who recognized him! He won this hat, modeled after the ship’s chimney, and several drink coupons. Winning hat





splend Our group started buying up Sweet Pine Splendors, which instantaneously appeared on many waiters’ trays. They went down very easily and swiftly, tasting basically like pineapple juice and rum, so before long we were exhibiting the effects:







splendor effects 1

splendor effects 2

I kept making Elise repeat the lines from “Titanic” in perfect accent: “There are not enough life boats on this ship”…“enough for the better half.”Jake had already won a nice load of money at the Texas Hold’em table in the ship’s casino the night before, even though he would lose half of it later – to the same guy. I will admit to dreading an affordable American cruise. polka dotsI’m just not one for glitzy interiors, and this one superseded my wildest expectations with metallic pink polka dots closing in on me in every lobby. To add to the sensory onslaught, there were loud announcements being made in our room, loud music in the main pool area, and activity directors who shouted out at intervals, “ARE WE ON VACAAATION?” to which plenty of willing celebrants shouted back. I wore some handy ear plugs when I passed through that area, but had to venture to the outer decks to replace the pink polka dots with the hazy seascape. I could envision getting into Cuba from Brazil, a cruise on the North Sea or to Croatia, perhaps? I actually crossed the Atlantic in 1967 on a 9-day Holland-American Line cruise. barThat had no polka dots or shouting;





some avant-garde people enacted a “happening” by throwing something overboard in a most serious fashion! But this cruise fit well into Newton’s LA trade show schedule and my family was loving everything just fine, so I willingly acclimated. Besides, we shared an assigned table in the dining room with a most elegant and friendly family from Spain, and had a very sharp and funny Czech waiter, Martin, who participated whole-heartedly in the waiter-entertainment segments. What we liked best about him was that he moved so




rapidly serving bread, drinks and plates, he would just say “you’re welcome,” or “my pleasure” as he set items down and moved on, before “thanks” was even possible!








puerto vallerta


We made three stops in Mexico over the week.  The first one was Puerto Vallarta.  We were suckers for the expensive taxi at the dock, which whisked us past wh-what? Every known American chain restaurant, including Chili’s, of Mexican food fame. We arrived at Playa Los Muertos on an overcast weekday, so it was not crowded. We chose a simple beach restaurant and enjoyed really excellent food, such as this shrimp ceviche:


shrimp ceviche










Too bad they doubled the price when they brought the check as if they had not quoted anything less…so our first day off the ship we were obviously wearing “Kick Me” signs on our foreheads. I found a beautiful tote bag. I do love this photo of me going wild over the colors and designs and my Sugar Daddy pulling dollar bills out of his wallet! I bought the wide-striped one in my hand:

Sugar Daddy

lovely place Our second stop was simply wonderful: the town of Mazatlán. I had read online that one could forgo the extremely touristy beaches here and head straight for the old center of the city which was being restored. Besides the art school, galleries, beautiful cathedral and nice little restaurants, there were several lush plazas, feeding my starvation for green from which I had been suffering since Las Vegas. This reinforced me well to head back to the ship and face the pink polka dots!










And we met this reason-to-live Mexican girl in the cathedral:

mexican girl 

We had left a message for Elise, Jake and Larissa to meet us at a locals-only restaurant in Mazatlán at 3:00 since they stayed up late on the ship and slept late. After lunch, we were lucky to flag an open pick-up truck/taxi with padded benches along the sides. He could take all five of us to the puerto (we had to return to the ship by 5:00pm). We had a rollicking ride when he turned up the rock-n-roll favorites to which neighboring bus drivers and motorists heartily sang along with us! After quite a stretch of time, the astute Larissa asked the question, “Is he taking us to the airport instead of the port?” Sure enough: the aeropuerto. And we had no luggage? The driver turned a new direction and flew. We boarded the ship at 5:55 with the gangplank at our heels and the ship beginning to move immediately. Jake’s fifteen minutes of fame was enhanced by our having been paged beforehand, just in case we had returned to the ship without our cards passing through the machine.

Here we are, missing the boat as they say:

Our third stop was in Cabo San Lucas, a manufactured resort like Cancun, set beside a beautiful stretch of rock formations and beach. This required a ferry ride from the ship and was the shortest stop of all, so we were determined to return to the ship in a timely way. After enjoying the beauty and witnessing intrepid Newton and Elise sample the ice cold water, we headed back in our hired boat to the ferry dock one hour ahead of boarding time. Because the entire cruise population ashore decided on the same timing, all returned late in the end. We did receive special congratulations upon embarking for not being the last ones that day!                  

Here is the Carnival Splendor:   


San Lucas












Our time on board was spent eating, reading in deck chairs, soaking in hot tubs, pretending to be interested in buying expensive paintings to get free champagne, watching the early World Cup soccer games, playing Boggle (how many words can you make in all directions from these scrambled letters in three minutes?), playing organized trivia games, attending the Broadway-like musicals, dancing in the disco, and listening to many types of live music. The motion of the ship was strange and sometimes headache-inducing, as was the smoke we tolerated in the piano bar to hear the indomitable singer/piano player/comedian and to partake in the most happening nightlife with our kids.reading










cruise show












portrait elise












j&l portrait





s&n portrait King

Piano Bar











We met a wonderful old man at a trivia game. He was sharp and informed and a great conversationalist. He had been a career sailor; then came the divorce; then the dog died, so his children suggested he try a cruise. This was his twelfth cruise this year, and he took twenty in 2009! I think he likes the sea.

The ship’s crew came from every-which-where, though Indonesia was the most represented. We had vacationed in Bali during our year in Japan in the late ‘80’s and already knew how gentle and lovely Indonesians typically are. Their faces would really light up when we said we had been to Bali and Jakarta. The most talented dancer in the musicals was a darling Indonesian who looked as if he had been born dancing! I am sure they were responsible for the ingenious towel-folding that left a different animal guarding our cabin each night:



The crew’s assignment on the ship is of such duration that the ship goes to Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska in tandem for the sake of the crew’s sanity (this from the Trivia mariner).

By Friday night, I would say I was completely in the spirit of the cruise. There was a rowdy contest held in the large ‘Moroccan’ lounge where teams of four (five in our case) competed to arrive at the dance floor first with the required action or item, waiving the sign with their team number for the M.C. to call out for scoring. I flew to the dance floor and landed in a splits, as requested, though the M.C. kept looking the other direction and didn’t call out our number 16 till I leaned all the way over to the floor… always graceful and dignified:


all nightThe last night Elise, Jake and Larissa stayed up all night with their new friends, among them a bar captain who spirited a bottle of rum into their room. To avoid losing his job when a cruise official arrived about the noise complaints, he hid in the bathroom! Very Marxian, I thought, as in Brothers. Here is Elise in a borrowed sport coat awaiting sunrise:








My best friend, Lenna, just went on a cruise of the Black Sea and the Dnieper River in Ukraine. It was sponsored by an alumni association of America and Canada and offered various lectures and excursions about Ukrainian language, cooking, poetry, history and culture. They boarded at the foot of the “Potemkin” steps in Odessa and ended up in Kiev, the beautiful city of Lenna’s late father. As I told her after reading the fascinating and very moving account of her trip, my cruise dispatch would offer the ridiculous to her sublime: ridiculous (At least Jake and Newton refused to do this!)

Next, my beloved New York.




  1. OK, my first observation is that you can actually do the splits!!!! I find that totally amazing and impressive. We have been asked by friends to go on a cruise with them, but have thus far declined, mostly for all the reasons you describe in this Dispatch: pink polka dots, loud announcements, somewhat crazy events, etc. So this is something we have not and probably will not experience. But is does look like fun prevailed for all of you and the interesting ingenuity of Jake. And by the way, the video proved it, but you actually did do the splits!!!!

  2. I will giggle on night at the tale of your adventure. And Don didn't mention that his brother Bill (late brother Bill) loved Cabo San Lucas- they went most every year at least once or twice until his health precluded that. And he loved it!
    and I must, must have that bag. I just love the colors from the "south". So often here things are so muted...
    As for Don and a cruise- there are none who know and love him that believe he could make "nice" to random people. In fact I have been know on more than one occasion to totally carry the conversation in one of our stays in a B&B as he sits mute in his chair!
    I'm glad you had the time with your beautiful children...


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