A friend posted some photos on her Facebook page a few weeks ago. She was touring the luxury liner on which she and her husband will sail later this year. About the same time, the news was filled with unsettling stories about vacationers stranded and suffering on a similar vessel.
I remember hearing a similar story back in the early 1980s. A newlywed couple, customers of mine, told me they had just returned from a honeymoon cruise they won as contestants on a game show. Their tale of people pooping in pails and plastic bags, rotted food and the aura of anger manifested by fellow vacationers made my stomach churn.
That's why, when my husband told me about a week-long cruise to Mexico he had won courtesy of Chevrolet, I didn't clap my hands and jump up and down. "It's all free," he said. "They even take care of tipping the boat's employees." The only thing we would pay for was drinks and gambling.
We didn't do much of either so that wasn't my concern. It was the pictures my customers had painted years before that kept flashing through my mind. Even so, we left Minnesota for Los Angeles on a sunny August morning. From there, we would board the big boat.
At the airport we became acquainted with a couple from Saint Cloud. Also a manager at a Chevrolet dealership, he and my husband had spoken on the phone but never met face-to-face. We agreed to meet in the bar once we got settled on the ship.
The first thing we did when we boarded was get our room assignment and a key. Once they recorded our credit card number, we received a numbered pass to be used whenever we ordered an alcoholic beverage.
In the bar a bit later, Mike, our new best friend, suggested piña coladas. My husband agreed. I stuck to my usual: a wine cooler. Mike's wife refrained. We later learned she was expecting
Meeting this couple in the bar or on deck by the pool became our mode of operation and the coconut-flavored drink became mandatory for the men. Pretty soon, after one or two, they would stand up, make a sweeping gesture with their arms and announce, "Piñas for everyone." Day after day, they took turns paying for the drinks of Chevy people from all over the country and for those of strangers.
We disembarked for side trips to Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. The others were game to eat the local food and order a drink but I played it safe with crackers and a warm Coke. On the way back to the ship from one of the locales, a street vendor held up tee shits with bright designs. "How much?" I asked.
After some bargaining he offered seven tees for the price of five. When we got to our room, I opened the bag and found only five shirts inside.
All the way home, we talked about the trip, our new friends, the fun we'd had. We even laughed about the t-shirt vendor saying his subterfuge added to our colorful experience. Our high seas' happiness ended the moment we stepped foot on the concourse at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International, though.
That was when my husband heaved a big sigh, groaned a bit and said, "I wonder when that bar tab will show up on the MasterCard bill. Piñas for everyone. What was I thinking?"