Carnival Imagination, Dec 18-20, 2014 Birthday Quickie: BOARDING DAY

Looking at something for a client, when I saw this 2 day cruise from Long Beach to Ensenada and back in two nights.  The price was outrageously low, and it was coming up on my birthday, so I decided, last minute, to jump on.

As it turns out, this might be the weirdest two days I ever spent on a cruise ship, and the signs were there, early.

I actually booked it the day before, which was a small mistake.  There is last minute, and then there is LAST MINUTE.  One of the things that happens when you book LAST MINUTE, is that TSA gets antsy.  Despite the fact that every terrorist plot to blow something up, from the Embassies in Africa, to the USS Cole, to both attacks on the World Trade Center, were later found to have been months and sometimes years in planning.  So, when you book something last minute, they assume you are a terrorist.  I've had this happen on planes too.  So, yeah...when I got there I had no key ready, and had to wait for it to be made up and THEN I was personally escorted through security for the special grope and tickle treatment.  I'm not saying he was thorough, but they should probably put a sign over that area that says "The Champagne Room".  I have paid strippers good money for less intimate contact.  I should have tipped him, I suppose.

Anyway, got thru that part, boarded the ship and found my room.  Although there were nothing but insides left when I booked, the ship was nowhere near full, and I did at least get a cabin exactly mid ship.  Like 2 doors down from the mid elevator lobby.  So that was convenient.  It took less than 10 minutes to unpack and then I headed up to the buffet for a bit of lunch, and then found a table by the pool to see who was on the ship with me.  As I said, the signs were there.  I expected, on a ridiculously cheap cruise like this to have, shall we say..."low end" cruisers onboard, and a lot of young, overdrinking first timers.  I was not, however, prepared for the diversity of ghettos/barrios/hoods/magkakapitbahay/sangkeat/khu pho represented.  It was somewhere between the Mos Eisley Cantina and a dirtbag United Nations.  But with more tattoos and piercings.

Anyway, I whiled away the afternoon until the Muster Drill.  And after that, since I had finally successfully got myself confirmed for Your Time Dining, I decided to check out the dining room.  Now, many of you know that while Carnival is not my favorite cruise line, they're not me least favorite either.  Mostly for two reasons:  There main dining rooms have always had excellent food, for a mainstream cruise line, and the piano bar.  Fortunately, the piano bar did not disappoint.  The dining, however, has gone way downhill.  Both taste and presentation have slid, and portions have gotten ridiculous.  That Cheeto commercial with the tiger and the kids in the chi chi restaurant, where the waiter set the plate with a 1/4 inch pink cube and the guy says "This is a steak?"?  Yeah, that.  I started with a "seared tuna" appetizer.  It was 3 strips (with no sear) of tuna, about and inch long, 3/8 inch wide and 3/16" thick, on maybe 8 glass noodles and a flavorless sauce.  Followed that with a thimble of soup whose only redeeming value was having been freshly nuked so it was too hot to eat for 15 minutes.  It was so insipid I honest-to-God can't remember what flavor is was supposed to be now.  Finally for the entrĂ©e I had a miso marinated salmon filet, which came with the only distinctively flavored bit of food in the whole meal - a round of rice that was bizarrely over-vinegared.  I think it was supposed to approximate sushi rice.  But apparently they ran out of rice wine vinegar and thought any old vinegar would do.  Seriously.  Oh, and on this topic, not that it's exclusive to Carnival - but when the hell did we quit preparing fish, and just throw the whole damn thing in a pan?  Honestly, salmon skin is disgusting, unless it's fried CRISP.  And that brown part that runs down the middle of a whole fillet?  That's the fishes Lateral Line.  It's not meat.  It's nervous system tissue.  It's not edible.  Like tuna, a properly prepared salmon starts with a whole fillet (side), which is then skinned, and halved again, lengthwise, removing the lateral line tissue.  So, anyway, by the time I skinned and trimmed, I had 4 bites of salmon.  Oh, and a baked potato that was cold before the sour cream showed up.  And I topped it all off with the strangest "cherry pie" I've ever had.  It tasted like cherry filling, more or less, but had a weird, jelly like texture that was off-putting.  But, hey, I did sit at a big table with 6 others, and the conversation was good.

After dinner I ran to the buffet to finish dinner, and then to the casino, where I turned $50 in to $200 in about 4 minutes.  Then back in to $100 over the next 1/2 hour.  Oh, well...I wasn't really looking to gamble, I was just waiting for the piano bar to get started.  And THAT was the high point of the evening, and the cruise.  Even better than winning money on the casino.

Most Carnival ships have good piano guys, and there are a few REALLY good ones.  I was lucky enough to find one of the really good ones.  A new kid on his first contract.  Matias Sanchez from Argentina.  He was a great piano player, a passable singer (he said he had a cold, so maybe he's better sometimes), and most importantly, an ENTERTAINER.  He really knew how to work the crowd, telling jokes, getting people to sing along, making all the girls (and some of the guys) fall for his Latin good looks and charming accent.  Most importantly, while he had a play list, he managed to fake his way through a lot of other songs with aplomb, when requested. 

While at the piano bar I met Lindsey and Leah, two nice young ladies from Long Beach.  We talked, we laughed, Leah hit on Mat, and Lindsey sort of hit on me (no big deal, I am just setting up a story here).  About 11pm, Leah, after giving her number to Mat, decided she had had a long day, and too much to drink, and headed back to the cabin.  Lindsey and I stayed, talking, and a lovely couple from Alhambra took the seats next to Lindsey.  Kyle and Natalia.  Nice kids, sort of newlyweds.  So the 4 of us chatted and sang and listened and requested and what not, til 1am when Mat called it a night and left us there with no music.  We decided we weren't ready to call it a night, so we went in search of something to do.  The only thing still open was the dance club.  So we went in.  As we were grabbing barstools, Lindsey went over and started talking to some guy she had met earlier, at dinner or something.  Then those two headed to the dance floor, and Kyle and Natalia were all over me, asking what was going on, and why wasn't I out there, and who was that guy, etc...apparently, they had decided Lindsey and I were a couple. It took me 10 minutes to convince them I had known her for about 4 hours, wasn't "with" her, wasn't really concerned with who she danced with, and wasn't feeling particularly upset.  At which time, Natalia decided her mission in life was to get us together.  So she went and talked to her, and then came back and talked to me, and then told me what I needed to do to get her.  Then she let me know I was a bitch for not doing it, while Kyle was accusing me of slowplaying it.  When she was unsuccessful in forcing me to the dance floor, she forced Lindsey to come back and sit with us.  Etc.  Etc.  Fortunately, Natalia was seriously hot, and perceptibly drunk, or it would have been quite annoying.  I finally convinced them I wasn't really interested, and was there in the club because I had only heard "Blurred Lines" 5 times all day, and was hoping for an even 1/2 dozen before I went to bed.  They finally closed the club on us, and Lindsey went right to her elevator and I went right, to mine, while Natalia threw up her hands and rolled her eyes. 

Thus ended the first day.

I'll be back later with the Ensenada part of the story...GOOD NIGHT!