Bon Voyage

Days of preparation and anticipation led to a night of minimal sleep.  We awoke way too early and the morning still felt frenzied.  We were out the door while it was still dark, arriving at the airport the required hours and hours ahead of the actual flight time.  We sailed through check-in and security and finally settled into our seats on the plane on time, only to wait for the required paperwork before pulling back from the gate.  Once we landed in Ft. Lauderdale, we waited seemingly endlessly for our bags.  The buzzer would sound, the lights would flash and the belt would begin its laborious churning, only to present two or three new suitcases.  Then it would all shut down.  Moments later, the process would repeat, producing a few more precious bags.  This went on for twenty minutes before our belongings actually started appearing in a realistic timeframe.  More delays on the bus to the pier;  more delays at the pier;  finally arriving on the deck of the ship.  By this time our rooms were ready and we dropped our bags before heading to the holy grail:  the Garden Cafe buffet!  We would spend many hours here in the next fourteen days, learning how to navigate our way here even when stumbling out of bed at dawn’s crack.

Our home for two full weeks!

The buffet presented a wonderland of culinary options.  At lunch and dinner, the bounty was similar in scope:

  • two hot soups, one cold soup, with crackers
  • build-your-own caesar salad
  • four types of pizza
  • made to order pasta bar, with three sauces and a raft of add-ins
  • a variety of vegetables, steamed or sauced; mashed potatoes and several types of rice
  • a different fish preparation every day
  • several hot entrees, always different each day
  • a selection of Indian food, including meat curries, a vegetarian selection, basmati rice, dal, raita, naan or roti, chutney and pappadums
  • rotisserie chicken
  • a carving station,with a rotating selection:  steamship round of beef;  leg of lamb; veal stuffed with spinach and gorgonzola; pork loin;  roast turkey;  roast suckling pig;  baked salmon;  spare ribs;  rack of lamb;  cornish hens;  barbecue beef brisket;  baked ham;  each served with accompanying sauces
  • freshly made sushi with wasabi and pickled ginger
  • a couple of asian stir-fries, with rice
  • a station with cold sliced roast beef, steamed asparagus and chilled, poached mussels
  • a build-your-own chicken soup bar, with noodles and fresh vegetable garnishes
  • two kinds of quesadillas; one with meat, one without
  • beef burgers; turkey burgers; grilled chicken breasts; three types of sausages; bacon, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms;  sliced cheeses
  • french fries
  • a salad bar with three kinds of lettuce and twenty plus toppings and dressings
  • a couple of different vegetable salads
  • potato salad; coleslaw; bean salad
  • hummus and pita
  • shrimp cocktail
  • a bread bar with pretzel rolls, seeded rolls, wholegrain rolls, baguettes and lavash
  • a cheese board with at least six types of cheeses, crackers and a variety of dried fruits and nuts
  • mini sandwiches:  tuna on a croissant;  bresaola on a pretzel roll;  turkey on a baguette
  • a station with chicken caesar wraps

Simultaneously, there were two other buffets presenting a smaller array of options;  one by the pool and one outside at the back of the deck, with outdoor seating under a vast white tent.  This last area also provided a sandwich bar with sliced meats and cheeses; tuna and chicken salad;  condiments;  sliced breads and rolls.

And then there were the desserts.  By God, it wouldn’t be a cruise without dessert:

  • three traditional plated desserts, such as cakes, pies, mousses or bavarians, each with a sauce
  • two such options in a sugar-free version
  • three kinds of cookies
  • frosted walnut brownies
  • poundcake; banana bread; carrot cake
  • jell-o
  • a warm fruit cobbler or bread pudding
  • sliced fresh melon and pineapple
  • an ice cream bar with eight flavors, plus sauces and toppings
  • two flavors of soft-serve ice cream
  • a chocolate fountain with fruit and cake for dipping
  • a made-to-order crepe station with a variety of fillings and toppings

This is not to say that all these things were offered on this first day.  I can say that each line above was represented each and every day, though.  There were some repeating items, but never enough that we felt bored with the choices.  If we did, we could simply choose one of the nine other restaurants on board or call for Room Service.

I’ll come back to the food; it was one of the major themes of our sailing.  For now, let’s return to that first afternoon. We presented ourselves for the muster drill.  We were delighted to find our muster station in one of the bars of the ship, rather than on deck.  I  imagined slipping bottles of vodka underneath my life jacket as the ship went down.  I supposed there were worse ways to go.  Especially given the survey of our fellow passengers this stop allowed.  They appeared to be a dour group, deadly serious in their intent to sail through the Panama Canal before they left this earth. Many, many, many senior citizens with little or no apparent zest for life.   There was also a large contingent of Germans aboard and we know how much little fun they can be. (Spoken from the perspective of a German.)  After dinner and the opening night show, we crawled into bed under a veil of complete exhaustion.

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