Western Caribbean Cruise Recap (Long)

This is a very long recap of our Western Caribbean cruise, with picture thumbnails (click to enlarge) and videos embedded contextually. To be kind to your browser and my website, I’ve put it below a jump link, so click “Continue Reading…” below to see the full recap. If you just want to watch videos, you can view them here: YouTube PlayList: Cruise Videos. If you just want to look at the pictures, you can view them here: Gallery of the Org* – Cruise-2010-06

Day 1 (6/6) – Travel Day:

I had to wake up at the OMG hours of the morning to get to Midway for the flight, but I took the opportunity to enjoy the last few moments of internet. This was a trip we won, so we did not get to pick the airports or itinerary. So, we were flying Southwest. I started boycotting Southwest in 1999, when they first announced that they were going to start forcing people of size to buy a second seat. They created a policy that they enforced inconsistently and which seemed to be solely based on taking advantage of an ingrained American prejudice to get some extra profit. (Side note: airline seats are the only seats that have gotten consistently smaller over the past 10-20 years, while the human derriere has generally gotten larger. I wonder if, in the early 20th century, there was widespread anger at all of those “tallies” with their excessive height above five feet, causing homebuilders to have to re-think low ceilings, chair heights, theater layouts, etc. I have to say, though, that for us currently-considered-short folk, the stairs from that time period are far more comfortable. Okay, digression over.) I had no trouble flying on Southwest, but the inconsistency of the rule is exactly the problem. It’s worth noting, though, that Southwest’s seat belts fit me with several inches of room to spare, vs. United’s regional jets that have caused me to start carrying my own extender. Southwest’s arm rests sat lower, though, making them simultaneously more annoying and less useful.

On arriving in Tampa, we decided to grab some food, as we knew the process of waiting on the casino group to assemble and leave, then get through the lines to get on the boat, would be even more exhausting and frustrating if we were starving. Thanks to our food break, we timed it perfectly to walk down to baggage claim, have our bags waiting on us, and hop on the bus to relax and finish our food while waiting on the stragglers from the group.

At the dock, it was chaos. Casino people are not frequent travelers, as a rule. They don’t know what their suitcases look like. They don’t understand that the whole process will go better if they grab their stuff and *move* as opposed to standing next to it looking like a deer in headlights. They’re confused by things like “online check-in” and passports. DH and I happily pulled out our online check-in printout and breezed ahead of most of the other casino people.

Our first impression of the Carnival Legend was that it was opulently decorated.
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I did appreciate that, unlike Royal Caribbean, we were not bombarded with “Buy a drink! Buy a soda package! Buy a lei! Just sign here!” as soon as we stepped onto the boat. We headed to our room to drop off our carry-ons and re-group, and we were both impressed with the size of the room.
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This was my first balcony room, but it was DH’s second. He mentioned that the balcony was fairly large for a cruise ship balcony, and I was happy to find that the bathroom was reasonably spacious. You could theoretically put two people in the bathroom getting ready at the same time, and the vanity and shelves were large.

Next, we checked out the casino, lounges, and spa. Generally, every public space on the ship felt large, which was a nice improvement versus other ships we’ve been on. Finally, we headed to the lido and sun deck to get a drink from the buffet area and check out the amenities there. DH was insistent that we be up on the main deck to wave goodbye at the port.
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I was more in favor of waving from our balcony, but I let DH win this one. We took a quick look at the mini-golf area and 1/12th of a mile running track. Then, we watched as the Legend left port. The most interesting part of leaving was seeing Citgo’s giant oil tanks with marine creatures painted on them. It was like Citgo was saying, “Hey, we haven’t spilled any oil! Enjoy, marine creatures!”

We went below to have a snack. Having tried the ship’s iced tea, I had made the decision to buy the soda package, so I wanted to look into that, and I wanted to grab an excursion booklet to see what excursions we could do. Seeing Mayan ruins (since we’d blown them off in Cancun) was high on my list, and I was debating about trying snorkeling. (I ended up not doing snorkeling because I reasoned that I’d barely be able to see anything without my glasses anyways, and it’d just annoy me that I couldn’t take pictures.)

Later, we went back up on deck to watch the ship go under the sun bridge, which is just barely high enough to let cruise ships through. It was actually pretty cool to watch the ship just barely go under the bridge.

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We also went to our first activity with Bianca. The activity was called Mindbenders. Now, we don’t expect much from cruise ship activities, but they do usually give out prizes like bottles of champagne or discount coupons for the spa, so we like to do them both for that and because they’re usually fun. This activity was being held in a public walkway. We joined in and quickly realized that we could barely hear Bianca. We moved closer to her, only to realize that she also had a thick accent and trouble pronouncing words. Mindbenders is a game of English language thought puzzles, like:

“What can you put in a bucket that will not add any weight to it?” (Answer: a hole)

“What is present both at the end of time and the beginning of eternity?” (Answer: the letter “e”)

The problem came in that these are puzzles that really require an understanding of English and they require the listener to hear them very precisely, so a thick-accented person who is also soft-spoken is completely the wrong person to run this activity. It got to the point that DH was repeating the puzzles louder and clearer to the guests on Bianca’s behalf. It got really bad on this one, written as read by Bianca:

“Is the capital of Kentucky pronounced, (long pause) a) Loo-ee-bill, (another long pause) b) Lou-bill or maybe Loo-bill-ee, or c) Loo-ess-bill?”

The correct answer is, of course, Frankfurt. But, the trick of this one is that you have to make it sound like you’re asking about the pronunciation of Louisville. Listing it using “a, b, c” implies a limited choice. And, if you don’t actually know the three pronunciations of Louisville, trying to sound them out on the fly doesn’t work, especially when your accent changes the pronunciation. I can only guess that this was Bianca’s first time running this game…I hope…but even in that case, basic preparation dictates that you read through the list of things first and make sure you know how to pronounce the words, and, for something like this, that you understand what the trick of the puzzle is. As the crowd began rumbling in confusion, Bianca glanced at the answers and said, “Here’s a hint: it’s none of them.” Which kind of ruins the point…but she was clearly confused and didn’t really get the point of the joke. And, after all of that, the prize was just a medal. No champagne, no coupon, no free work of art…a medal not unlike the ones given out to kids for participation.

There was a reception for the winners from the casino in the ship’s dance club, Medusa’s Lair. The club was really cool, with snake heads holding up the tables and big Medusa heads decorating the walls, plus snake-printed carpet:

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The reception itself was nice, with free alcoholic drinks and some light appetizers that we only had a few of because dinner was coming up soon. We didn’t see or meet anyone in our age or social interest group, but it was still a nice gathering. I should also note that the casino (whether it was Horseshoe or the onboard casino or both, I don’t know) provided us with 2 t-shirts and a tote bag in the room, and they sent treats to our room periodically throughout the trip.

On the way to dinner, we noticed a lounge singer that, especially when viewed from the side, seemed like the doppelganger of a friend of ours. The singer’s name was Ari, but I named him after my friend, V*, for the rest of the trip.

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Dinner started out pleasant, but somehow, and I honestly don’t remember how, the topic of health care came up…and then it just became tiresome. No one was rude, no names were called or anything…but it was a debate with people who won’t be convinced no matter what you say, which is just tiring. It was also a debate where a reasoned argument would get “countered” by a single anecdote from a friend…but a similar anecdote wouldn’t be considered sufficient evidence to the contrary. Oh, it was just painful. For everyone’s benefit, I won’t recap the whole thing here. To end on a positive note, it did leave DH and I energized and in love with each other’s awesomeness. J

Unpacking ended up being a breeze. The closets and shelves were very sufficient for the two of us, and there was plenty of room under the bed to tuck away our suitcases. We put out a hangtag outside our room to order room service for breakfast before bed.

Day 2 – Sea Day:

The day started with breakfast in our robes on the balcony, watching the sea go by. We decided that room service breakfast on the balcony was going to become a daily ritual.

I really enjoyed having a sea day early in the trip. It was nice to be able to finish unpacking and organizing throughout the day instead of having to rush to be ready for a port. We did a few things during the day. We tried out the adults only pool, which was located at the bow of the ship on the lido deck. We also used our Horseshoe privileges to get drunk on free drinks in the casino while playing penny slots. The drinking led to the following notes scrawled by me on a notepad:

  • Swam in pool of pee and punch – this was because when we went back to the adult pool later, the water was *much* cloudier, and, given the drunken demeanor of the area, I speculated that the pool water was only a little bit water
  • I can’t feel my nose – self explanatory
  • Got drunk on penny slots – self explanatory
  • Sang love shack, rocked the casbah – because in drunkenness, DH convinced me to get up with him at karaoke and do the female part of Love Shack, despite it being well out of my range…but we rocked it with personality that caused the audience to forgive audible errors

Before the drinking, we made another activities attempt. We decided to try “Digital Scavenger Hunt” at noon, which we assumed would be some kind of digital camera scavenger hunt. When we got there, it was Bianca again. She handed out paper and pencils and then said, “List things that come in jars.” DH and I were like, WTF, and we shared a collective psychic WTF with everyone nearby. But, we dutifully began listing. Then, DH realized that “Scattered Categories” was scheduled in the same room a half hour later, so he went up to Bianca to check to see if the schedule was wrong or what was going on. Bianca insisted that this was, in fact, the digital scavenger hunt “only in a different way.” DH came back, and we blew off that activity. Later in the day, we decided to give “TV Theme Trivia” a try, only to discover that Bianca was doing movie trivia instead…again, with no explanation. Some friends told us that Digital Scavenger Hunt’s funniest category was when Bianca asked the crowd to “list items you can put in a cannot”…it took several minutes of back and forth to realize that she meant KNOT.

About halfway through the afternoon, we passed Cuba, and I was able to see it way off in the distance from the balcony. There was a lighthouse. That’s about all I could tell. There’s a very narrow passageway for ships to go past Cuba, so we were getting chased by other ships as we went through.
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We seriously considered requesting a different table for dinner, but, once drunk, we decided to give it another try. We were the first ones there, and the only ones there, for at least 10 minutes…which led to the following lovely video shot by drunken me:

Dinner was relatively pleasant for the rest of the trip. I think we were all being careful to avoid politics. DH and I did consider doing political iron chef, where we would each challenge the other to work a particular hot button topic (aka secret ingredient) into conversation nonchalantly, but we decided to go with peace over humor.

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I drunkenly played poker later that evening, which I don’t recommend as a general rule…but I ended up winning $35 from it. 🙂

Day 3 – Grand Cayman:

We decided to do a tour for this that combined Stingray City, the town of Hell, and a Turtle Farm. I went back and forth on doing a dolphin swim, but the decision got made for me when Aunt Flo showed up…even if it’s a myth, I didn’t want to take the chance of a dolphin rape attack. The tour was run by Kelly’s Tours. Annoyingly, we had to be off the ship an hour before the tour started, which meant we spent an hour waiting in the heat. Then, we had to pile into an overly crowded and tiny bus that had no air conditioning to head to the boat docks for Stingray City. Along the way, the driver told us a bit about Grand Cayman’s government and culture. He spent an inordinate amount of time telling us about how often children in the Caymans receive beatings, and heaven help you when you got home if you get a beating at school or from another adult during the day and your mom finds out.

I actually had no idea what Stingray City was. I thought it would be like an aquarium with sanitized stingrays in a pool, like the dolphin experiences are. It’s not that at all. Stingray City is a sandbar in the middle of nowhere in the ocean. The boat ride out to it is at least a half hour at a fairly high speed. Then, you get to this giant sandbar with all these other tour and local boats clustered around it. It’s a big sandbar, but it really is just a sandbar in the middle of the open ocean. The boat opens up in the back and you can climb off into the water. Where the boat landed for us, it was deep enough that I couldn’t touch the bottom. One woman was petrified when she climbed out of the boat and realized how deep it was (the transparent water is deceptive). She couldn’t swim, and the tour had promised shallows. DH and I helped by being her floaties to get her over to where it was shallower. A few feet from the boat, the sandbar was high enough that you were only at waist or chest deep. DH likes to call this picture the “Where’s Waldo” picture…only you should search for me instead of Waldo:

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The tour guide had warned us not to jump up and down and to be careful before planting our feet because the rays could sting us or we could hurt them if we landed on them. And there were a ton of rays. The guide grabbed a ray and held it in his arms so that we could all get a chance to touch both sides. Stingrays feel like sandpaper on one side and like a wet mushroom on the other side. Later, the guide captured a different one that we could hold or kiss for photographs.

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Swimming around in the ocean water was fun. DH took the camera (he was tall enough to hold it safely above the water) and tried to catch some pictures of rays.

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After the boat ride back, we piled back in our bus for the trip to Hell, which was underwhelming. Basically, it’s a section of exposed limestone that looks like a volcanic occurrence but is actually just the same eroded limestone that makes up all of the Cayman islands. The tour guide did tell us all about various plants that grow on the island while we were there and how the islanders use them for home remedies. For example, periwinkle in a tea is good for menstrual cramps and headaches. Honestly, the best part about Hell was the nearby air conditioned gift shop. I stood directly under the AC for at least five minutes.

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Our next stop was the turtle farm. The Turtle Farm is a breeding area for giant sea turtles. The first part of the turtle farm is a giant pool with a faux beach that is the breeding area, and that houses the biggest sea turtles. We learned that turtles accumulate in piles:

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Next, we learned that turtles enjoy hexagons, as all of the other pools were hexagon shaped.

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We got to see and hold baby turtles at various ages. It was wild to see how the turtles learn. The youngest turtles didn’t understand yet that people by the tank meant they’d be picked up (a clearly distressing experience for the turtles, but the guide assured us that it’s necessary to socialize them to humans), whereas in the older turtle ponds, they’d swim away as soon as they saw us coming.

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The turtle farm was really fun, but at the end, the guide made us go to this restaurant, onsite at the turtle farm, where they had turtle soup and turtle fritters on the menu! I suppose it’s not that different from serving hamburgers at the zoo, not that far from the wild cattle and dairy cows, but it still felt odd.

DH and I noticed that we were running behind. We knew that, since we booked the excursion through the ship, we didn’t have to worry about being left behind, but we wondered why the guide wasn’t rushing us through things. He seemed very lackadaisical. I mean, we spent a half hour at the restaurant and another twenty minutes in the gift shop. Our tour was supposed to be 4.5 hours, but it ended up closer to 5.5 or 6 hours.

Sure enough, when we got back to the boat dock, they were radio-ing our guide asking how far away he was because the ship needs to leave. So, we got no time to spend in the city there in Grand Cayman because the tour ran long, but it was a really fun day. I don’t know that I would have wanted to wander around anyways, but some folks were definitely upset that they didn’t get a chance to shop.

Day 4 – Cozumel:

So, this was the best excursion. 🙂 We did the Amazing Cozumel Race, a team race around Cozumel patterned after the Amazing Race.

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I was definitely the most out-of-shape person there, unfortunately. We had thought there’d be some families doing it, but it was actually almost entirely people in their early 20s that are fans of TAR. There was one other group of two women who were older than us (well, definitely older than me, maybe older than DH). But, the awesome part about races like this is that you can make up for physical ability in brain ability, and DH and I have that going in spades. 🙂 The first part of the race was a 1/4 mile sprint from a mall to the first clue. Most teams ran it. DH and I walked, briskly but still just walking. We were at least five or six minutes behind the last of the other four teams in getting to the first clue, but by the second clue, we had caught up to everyone else, though we walked the whole time.

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Over the course of the race, I got a henna tattoo on my ankle, and DH had to snorkel at one point. We solved clues in the Cozumel history museum and we visited a local market.

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By the end of the race, we finished in fourth, only a minute out of third (the third place team actually ran past us to the endpoint, but it was so hot and I was dehydrated-feeling, so I didn’t want to race them for it) and only nine minutes behind the first place team. It’s worth noting that the first and second place teams were running the whole time, so us only being a little bit behind them over the course of a 1.5-2 hour event is not too shabby. The organizers told us that a typical time is around 2 hours, and the slowest team during our event (ten minutes behind us) was at 1 hour and 46 minutes. The last place team was the two middle-aged women, mainly because ½ of their team was clearly in even worse shape than me, possibly because her teammate made her overexert herself. She was so hot and overdone that she had gotten sick a few times, and she looked sickly when they got in. While I was tired and hot (oh and Aunt Flo *so* did not help in this respect, as I always get exhausted more easily at the beginning of my period), I was not sick, and I was completely rejuvenated after drinking some soda and a frozen lemonade at the end point.

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Our team name was, “We’re coming, Phil!” Everyone got the reference, which was awesome. 🙂 We had some time after the race for shopping. We browsed souvenirs and t-shirts and saw nothing that interested us. We did stop at a Pharmacia and pick up some OTC amoxicillin and prednisone…always handy to have around, and while the pills weren’t cheaper to us ($30 a bottle), avoiding the doctor visit to get a prescription is cheaper.

This was also the night of the Carnival Colors party. The party starts with a lounge hop. All the even cabin people meet up in one lounge, and the odd cabin people meet up in another. Even cabin numbers are the blue team and odd cabins are the red team. Then, the teams cycle through the lounges, performing silly tasks at each lounge to get points for the team. At the end, the teams meet up on the lido deck for a massive dance party and to hear who wins. It was silly and fun, and I totally killed my throat shouting “Blue! There it is!” at the top of my lungs. (The cold that I caught started on this day, so my throat was already sore from sinus drainage.)

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Day 5 – Isla Roatan:

We decided not to book any excursions for Isla Roatan. There weren’t any that interested us. Isla Roatan, for this cruise, was a leased area of the island with a private beach for the cruise guests, accessible by footbridge or “Magical Flying Beach Chair” aka re-purposed ski lift. They had snorkeling and scuba around a couple of wrecked ships, but since neither of us are big on snorkeling, that didn’t interest us.

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But, after wandering around in the mini-mall, DH spotted a zipline company across the street. He found out that they were offering a zipline tour for $40, cheaper than most equivalent cruise excursions. It seems like this company, Clip n Zip, has set up shop just outside Carnival’s leased area. They’re not associated with Carnival and don’t advertise with them, but they’re right there. DH ascertained that they did not have a weight limit; so long as you could fit the harness (which I definitely could have), you could go. However, I’m a scaredy cat, so I opted to stay on solid ground. I ended up finding an internet café where I paid a mere $3 for 15 minutes of internet access (on the ship, it was $3-5 a minute).

DH really enjoyed the ziplines. He said it was incredibly fun to fly through the trees.

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(Lots of videos posted on YouTube. The longest one is below.)

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I, on the other hand, enjoyed a mani/pedi on the ship…well, partially enjoyed since the technician cut my cuticles to bleeding and then tried to sell me $200 in products. ::eyeroll:: I also made some progress in the book I was reading, Watership Down…excellent book, by the way. 🙂


Day 6 – Belize:

For Belize, I had decided that this would be my trip to ruins, to visit Altun Ha. DH wanted to find a local bar that was showing the World Cup opening game, so he could enjoy it with an enthused crowd. He ended up watching it at the nearby Radisson (which he says is the equivalent of a Days Inn or Motel 6 in the US), while I took a tour to Altun Ha that finished with a speedboat ride down the Belize river. The pictures really tell the story on this one, so I’ll leave it to that, with captions.

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The ship had to park really far away from Belize City. This was the view of the ship from the shore.

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This is the first mound at Altun Ha. It’s just basically a big hill with stairs now.

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This is another structure, probably the priests’ dwelling.

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This is the main sun temple at Altun Ha. The tour guide told us that we could climb this one. She said that the Mormons like to climb it and pray at the top because they think Jesus walked through Altun Ha.

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These are the stairs on the back of the sun temple to climb up to the top.

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This is the view from the top of the sun temple. There’s another structure through the woods to the left, but the guide said it’s got a pool in it as and as such, it’s full of mosquitoes in the summer.

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We had lunch at a local resort (and I use the term resort because that’s what they called it…it was little more than a motel by our standards) and then got into a speedboat for a trip down the Belize River.

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A light cloudcover kept it from being oppressively hot.

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We saw insect bats, and lots of iguanas and birds.

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This iguana was trying to steal eggs from a bird nest. The birds were divebombing him while we watched. It was pretty awesome.

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We also saw this crocodile for a little while. Then, he dropped under the water and hid from us. We saw manatees later, but they were too fast for my camera.

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Then, we hit the open ocean to head back to our ship. We were zooming so fast that my hat was really little more than a headband. 🙂

All in all, this was one of the better tours that I went on. The bus was air conditioned, and the food was good at the lunch break. While I’m sure we paid a premium for the lunch, it was worth the money and was cheaper than a similar lunch in the US. Plus, I liked getting to have a local style lunch in a trusted environment.

As we left Belize, DH and I spotted this little private island from our balcony:
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It was also another formal night, and our towel animal for the night was a hanging monkey:
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Day 7 – Sea Day:

Just like the first sea day, I really enjoyed this sea day. It gave us plenty of time to get packed. I kind of wish the ship had more activities planned. DH was particularly upset that they did no planning for the US-UK world cup game. The ship’s sports bar ended up overflowing with people, and DH said that at least a hundred people walked through the sports bar trying to find a seat and then giving up. I saw a group of people watching at the pool’s bar, so I’m guessing the overflow went there.

DH had promised to let me rest during the day so that we could stay up late and party that night. The cold along with the early wake-up time required for excursions had made me exhausted generally such that I was crashing as soon as possible each evening. But, we did play one last game of shipboard mini-golf! The wind from going 16-20 Knots made it especially challenging!

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I got fancied up for dancing. We headed to the main atrium (the Colossus lounge) to listen to V*’s doppelganger one last time.

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This was our first encounter with The Man in the Orange Shirt, henceforth known as TMOS. Another entertainer, Aretha, was performing before Ari went on, and TMOS was swaying back and forth conspicuously with his eyes locked in a stalker-esque way on Aretha. Aretha, notably, made no eye contact with TMOS. DH and I speculated as to whether TMOS was mentally challenged or mentally gifted, because really, based on his social behavior, you could have dropped him into either group and not known the difference. But, we chalked it up to drunkenness and headed to dinner.

We had one last fiery political discussion at dinner (topic: taxes), and then we headed to Medusa’s Lair to dance. Guess who was on the dance floor, alone? TMOS! And TMOS either had a hunger that could only be satiated by more pointing, or he had learned all his dance moves from Xbox 360 avatar moves on 1 vs. 100. He would point at everything and everyone in rhythm to the music. A crowd of folks our age came in, and people would go up briefly to dance, but TMOS kind of made things uncomfortable. He wasn’t directly interfering, but he’d stand a little too close to a dancing couple and point at them, as if to say, “Yeah, I like that, do that more.” It was a train wreck. Also, the DJ was ignoring requests, which meant that no one there was enjoying the music. The Cupid Shuffle got everyone onto the dance floor, but when the DJ followed it up with the chicken dance, he lost all of us again. He played a few songs I recognized, but between TMOS and them not being my favorite tunes, I was not inclined to dance. DH and I left. We swung by the karaoke lounge, and no one was there, so we ended up crashing.

Day 8 – Departure:

Our group from the casino got to gather and leave the ship as a group, which was kind of nice. We spent an hour sitting on the bus waiting for people to get through customs. Three buses of people were held waiting on two people who were very slow getting through, no idea why.

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Then, at the airport, it was the same mess of people having no idea how travel works again. Plus, we were all paper ticketed for Southwest, so we couldn’t use the kiosks. We had to wait on a person to help us, which makes everything take longer. But, after awhile, we got through. Tampa’s airport has free wi-fi, so DH and I caught up on the world while waiting around. A friend picked us up at Midway and amused me by going with me to Shrek in 3D while DH was running casino errands.

Pancake was very happy to see us at home. He went into super-adorable kitty mode the minute we walked in, being unwilling to leave our side and headbumping us every chance he got.

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