All You Can't Eat Cruise

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Excited to be on a cruise ship for the first time, one passenger does not realize he has access to all the amenities. But maybe this will turn out for the best.

February 7, 2005 – Pineview, New Jersey, USA

The bell over the travel agency’s door rang as Arnold Fishback walked inside.  He looked around nervously, ready to make an escape if he was not welcome.  Three young women sat at desks behind computers.  One of them motioned toward Arnold and called, “May I help you?”

Arnold shuffled over to the travel agent’s desk and fidgeted with a button on his shirt.  “I was hoping someone could help me with a vacation plan.  It’s nothing big, so if you’re busy, I can go someplace else.”

“Please, sit down.  I’d love to help,” said the travel agent.  “Is this a vacation for you or more of a business trip?”

Arnold perched cautiously on one of the plastic chairs in front of the desk.  “It’s a vacation.  Just for me.  My wife always talked about going, but she passed away two years ago.”

“Sorry to hear that.  Where is it you want to go?”

“Our friends always talked about a cruise somewhere warm.  My wife wanted to see the Caribbean.  If it’s possible, that’s what I’d like.”

The travel agent smiled.  “It’s certainly possible.  There are all kinds of Caribbean cruises to choose from.  Any particular island you want to visit?”

“I was hoping you could give me some advice.”  Arnold’s face looked embarrassed when he added, “It can’t cost a lot of money.  I’ve been saving $40 a month for the past year, but that’s all I’ve got.”

“Okay.  Let’s see what we can find,” said the agent, tapping at her computer.  Her head bobbed as she looked at the screen.  “You can get the best prices leaving from Miami.  Maybe we can also find you a good flight down there.”

“I could drive myself to save money.”

“Alright, then that gives us more flexibility.  Here’s a seven-day trip through the Western Caribbean, visiting three different islands.  It leaves in late April, which I would recommend.  Not too hot.  No hurricanes to worry about.”

“How much is it?”

“Four hundred and ninety-five dollars.  That covers all your port fees and housekeeping.  You sure you don’t have someone to go with you and share the room?  These cruise ship cabins are really designed for two people.  They charge you almost as much to have one person in the room as they do for two.”

“No, I’ve only got me.  That’s the cheapest price?”

“It’s barebones.  No window in your room and down on the first passenger deck.  But you’ll get a whole week.  If you’re going all that way, you might as well stay a week.”

“You’re probably right.”

“And you have a passport?”

“I got one when I started saving the money.”

“Well, I think you should go for it.  Shall we book it right now?”

Arnold hesitated.  He rubbed his hands together nervously before replying, “If I don’t do it now, I might never do it.  Yes, please give me the tickets.”

As the agent was processing Arnold’s reservations, she said, “You know, a lot of people like to use the internet to book these kinds of trips.”

“Oh, not me.  I need to talk with someone,” replied Arnold.  He wrote a check for his tickets before thanking the agent repeatedly for her help.

By the end of April, when the cruise was scheduled to depart, Arnold had meticulously packed his luggage and planned his driving route.  He left New Jersey early on a Saturday morning and made it almost through South Carolina before stopping for the night.  He slept in his car at a truck stop and was up before dawn for the second leg of the journey.  He reached the Miami port with one hour to spare.

Arnold thought he was prepared for the size of the two cruise ships docked at the terminal, but when he saw them up close, he had to stop and wonder how anything that large managed to float.  The ships were like skyscrapers flipped on their sides and dropped in the water.  Arnold rolled his suitcases along the lane of palm trees which lined the outside of the cruise ship terminal.  The place reminded him of a tropical airport.

“Okay, hold out your arm,” said the employee behind the check-in counter, after Arnold showed her his tickets.  “This is your wristband and it’s very important,” she said as she tightened a plastic strap around Arnold’s wrist.  “It gets you on and off the ship.”

“I don’t show my tickets?”

“All you need is the wristband.  Now let’s take care of your luggage.”

Arnold hefted his two bags onto a platform.  The gate agent strained to lift one of them.  “What have you got in here, bricks?” she jokingly asked.

“Only supplies for the trip,” replied Arnold cautiously.  “Don’t I take my bags myself?”

“No, we’ll have them waiting for you in your room.”

With his wristband showing, Arnold walked across the ramp leading into the ship.  As soon as his feet touched the carpeted interior, he stopped to marvel.  He was surrounded by sparkling glass and mirrors.  The polished wood paneling reminded him of an elegant hotel.  A swarm of passengers followed arrows pointing in every direction.  Arnold shuffled in the direction of the open deck.

Sunshine poured down on the deck, which towered over the water and dock below.  Arnold stared at the Miami skyline and the vast ocean in the distance.  Party music played in the background.  A crowd gathered to wave at the dock as the ship blew its deep horn and pulled away.  Arnold gripped the rail in front of him and felt the tug of adventure pulling him out to sea.

The farther from shore they got, the more the crowd around Arnold thinned out.  He heard many people say they were hungry and should find something to eat.  Arnold figured it was time to locate his cabin.  He walked to a flight of stairs and descended one level at a time.  Away from any windows or natural sunlight, he reached his room.

The space was longer than it was wide, and two single beds were pushed against the left and right walls.  The miniature bathroom held a shower, toilet, and sink.  There was a closet for clothes and a small table under a wall-mounted TV.  As promised by the gate agent, Arnold’s luggage sat on the floor.  He grabbed the lighter of the two bags and transferred his slacks and short-sleeved shirts onto hangers.  He placed his extra pair of sneakers, socks, and underwear on the closet’s shelf.

The mention of food from his fellow passengers reminded Arnold just how hungry he was.  He had driven most of the day and only eaten a late breakfast of beef jerky and cheese sticks.  He turned toward his second bag and unzipped the cover.  Cans and boxes of food were neatly packed inside.  Arnold lifted a hot plate and metal pot from the bag.  He needed a substantial, high calorie meal, so he decided to cook up a pot of macaroni.

Bringing a pot of water to boil took a while and pushed the hotplate’s limits.  Arnold flipped through the TV channels while he waited.  In addition to dramas and comedies he recognized, he found one channel dedicated to information about the ship.

Arnold realized that cooking in his room was probably frowned upon, but it was the only way he could afford the trip.  He had spent his savings on the tickets and would have to get by on his normal food budget.  There was no way he could afford the extravagant prices the ship must be charging for meals.  When people were trapped aboard, without any other food options, they were at the mercy of the cruise company.  Arnold had been to a few amusement parks and noted that their food prices were two to three times as high as prices charged outside the park.  He naturally assumed the ship operated the same way.

When his water was hot enough, Arnold cooked his macaroni for eleven minutes and drained the extra water into his bathroom sink.  He added a can of chili into the pot and mixed the ingredients together.  This was just the kind of low-cost meal that would keep him going for a while.  He ate every bite as he enjoyed one of the TV’s comedy shows.  Then he rinsed his spoon and pot thoroughly in the sink and hid them back in his luggage.

When Arnold left his room, he was careful to take the empty chili can with him.  He slipped it into a trash can he found in the hallway.  He did not want someone discovering it in his room and questioning him about bringing his own food aboard.

The return trip up to the observation deck took Arnold past restaurants where passengers were enjoying lavish meals.  Arnold smiled to himself as he calculated what their bill would likely be by the end of the night.  With so many people focused on eating, he had the outdoor deck mostly to himself.  He claimed one of the reclining deck chairs and watched couples occasionally stroll past, holding tightly to one another.

More than anything, Arnold liked the feeling of the ocean breeze on his face and the way the water churned and swirled behind the boat.  He knew his wife would have liked to feel and see it too.  They should not have put off the vacation for so long.  Everything wonderful he had heard about life at sea had turned out to be true.

Arnold stayed outside long after the pastel-colored sunset had faded to black.  He spotted lights on the dark, flat horizon that were likely from other ships or tropical islands.  Arnold stood up from his deck chair and began a slow, aimless exploration of the interior of the upper decks.  He wandered past a theater where posters advertised a live show for that night.

“You coming to the show?” one of the crew asked Arnold as he passed.

“Ah no.  I didn’t buy a ticket,” Arnold replied.

The crew member laughed.  “You don’t need a ticket.  Anyone can walk in and take a seat.”

Arnold was shocked to hear they were giving away entertainment.  He detoured into the theater and hurried to an empty seat.  He clapped and laughed along with the rest of the audience as the performers sang and danced.  He returned to his room and had trouble falling asleep.  He had not experienced such a wonder-filled day for the past twenty years.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of oatmeal cooked on the hotplate.  Arnold did not want to waste time in his room with a whole ship to explore, so he was out on deck at first light.  He watched the waves and then people around the pool and shuffleboard court.  He discovered the ship’s library and found a quiet, shaded spot, perfect for getting lost in a mystery novel.

The next morning, the ship arrived in Jamaica, the first of its island destinations.  Arnold was one of the first passengers to disembark.  The area immediately around the harbor was filled with shops selling tourist trinkets, but Arnold walked deeper into the town.  He visited churches and museums and spent a few dollars on a fish lunch in a café filled with locals.  The meal complimented the crackers and granola bars he carried.

Arnold repeated his exploration when the ship landed on the islands of Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico over the next two days.  He admired the natives fishing and making handicrafts for sale to cruise passengers.  In Cozumel, he paid $5 for a ride to a Mayan ruin in a VW Bug.  It was fun to communicate using the bits of Spanish he knew.

All that walking around the islands hurt his feet, so at night Arnold rested them by catching multiple shows in the ship’s theater.  Each night the cast put on the same performance three times in a row and no one seemed to mind that Arnold stuck around.  On the night they left Mexico, the crowd in the audience seemed unusually light.

Arnold had one more full day at sea to enjoy the ship while they sailed back to Miami.  He spent most of his time on the warm exterior deck, soaking up the sun and breezes.  Strangely enough, he felt almost alone.  The deck chairs which used to be full on the first days of the cruise, were practically empty.  Arnold wondered if many of the passengers had permanently disembarked in Mexico for a longer stay.  Perhaps they were completely worn out from their island adventures and were resting in their cabins.  Whatever the reason, he was the only person around to watch the final sunset and admire the moon reflected on the dark water.

The next morning, in order to make sure he was ready for departure, Arnold was up early cooking oatmeal.  He had barely cooled down the hotplate and hidden it in his suitcase when there was a knock at the door.  Arnold answered to find a uniformed crew member holding a clipboard.

“Good morning, sir.  I’m checking on your cruise experience,” said the clipboard man.

“I had a great time.  It was better than I imagined.”

“I’m very glad to hear that.  May I ask about your health and your experience with our onboard dining?”

Arnold did not want to lie, and he figured it was too late to be penalized, so he made a confession.  “I didn’t pay for any of the food in your restaurants.  I brought my own.”

The crew member acted confused.  “What do you mean you didn’t pay for any food?  All your meals were complimentary.  This is an all-inclusive cruise.”

Arnold’s face clouded over.  “The food was free?  You mean I could have eaten as much as I wanted.”

“Yes sir.  That’s the way modern cruises work.”

Arnold thought about all the crackers and beans he had eaten while he could have feasted on steak and lobster.  All that food was built into the cost of his ticket.  He had wasted half his money.  “Is it too late for me to grab something before I leave?  Do you have restaurants serving breakfast?”

“I’m sorry.  All the restaurants are closed.  I’m here to explain the norovirus outbreak onboard.  Nearly everyone who has been eating has complained of food poisoning.  I’m here to ask you if you need medical attention.”

“No, I feel fine,” replied Arnold, looking dumbfounded.  “Everyone else is sick?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Do I have to stick around or can I get off the ship?”

“If you aren’t feeling any symptoms, you’re welcome to leave.”

Arnold finished packing and dragged his luggage to the exit.  He was one of the only passengers who walked past the line of ambulances and medical tents ready to treat the suffering horde behind him.

“All you can eat,” Arnold mumbled to himself.  “I guess I’m glad nobody told me.”

 

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Submitted: August 12, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Aaron Hawkins. All rights reserved.

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