Category: Travel

How to Breeze Through a Carnival Cruise

The Carnival Breeze cruise ship, moored to the dock at Mahogany Bay, Roatan, Honduras.


“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” said the warden to Luke Skywalker. Or was that Cool Hand Luke? If you’re confused, so was I, on the Carnival Cruise ship Breeze. My wife and I recently sailed aboard this ship, while on a Caribbean cruise that began in Galveston, Texas.

I’m going to tell you what you need to know, that the cruise line and ship’s crew failed to communicate, so your ride on this vessel might go a little more smoothly than ours.

The byzantine layout of this ship can be mystifying. You have to explore on your own, and pry information from the ship’s crew and passengers, to figure it all out.

First, take a winter jacket. They refrigerate the hell out of the ship, with their ubiquitous air conditioning. My wife and I expected balmy Caribbean conditions, but our indoor experience felt much more like a gelid cruise to Alaska. And even with the thermostat in our cabin cranked all the way up to a volcanic setting, cool air still poured out of the ceiling vent.

Fortunately we had a balcony stateroom, so when we hit warmer waters we were able to prop open the balcony door and allow some blessed tropical heat enter our icebox. Er, I mean cabin. It felt nice to defrost.

Passengers defrosting on an aft deck.

There were no lights in our quarters when we first moved in. My wife complained to a steward, and he said he’d look into it. A few hours later, as the tenebrous fingers of twilight were creeping in, I desperately asked another passenger if he had lights in his cabin. Yes, he claimed, to my surprise. Then he explained that you have to insert your Sail and Sign card in a slot by the door to make the lights work. I felt a little sheepish, and wished I was as smart as him, to have figured that out.

Anyways, our cruise was finally starting to feel a little pleasant, as we no longer had to pee on the floor of our dark bathroom.

A Sail and Sign card, by the way, is a little plastic credit card like thing that you are issued when you board a Carnival ship. It allows you to buy stuff and have it put on your account, to be settled after the cruise ends. And you must have it in your possession to get off the ship and back on. And it also admits you into your cabin, much like a motel room key.

Problem is, you must leave this very important card in the slot by the door, to make the lights turn on and stay on. If you happen to leave your cabin and forget to take your card with you, you’ll be locked out. So you must spend your entire cruise worrying about this possibility.

But there’s a loophole. About two days before our cruise ended, we discovered that we could fold over a piece of paper and stick it into the slot, and that kept the lights on. What chumps we were for all that angst over forgetting the Sail and Sign card. We felt annoyed with ourselves, but also gloated and delighted in the sneakiness of bypassing Carnival’s diabolical energy-saving scheme.

Our balcony, plus a couple of other cruise ships, anchored off Belize City, Belize. We discovered that many other cruise ships were visiting the same tourist traps as us, at the same time. Translation: Large crowds ashore.

If you want to protect yourself from hearing loss, avoid the Lido Deck (Deck 10). There they blast music so loud, you can receive a free ear piercing. But the Lido Deck is also where they serve food, in a smorgasbord-like setting. So if you like smorgasbords, pack a pair of earplugs.

And men, if you prefer to be served by waiters, pack a pair of long pants. Dinner is served at the Sapphire Restaurant on Deck 3, every evening beginning at 5:45 pm. Most nights, casual attire is allowed. But on two of the cruise nights you are required to wear formal attire for what they call Elegant Dining. That means long pants. They don’t seem to give a damn what kind of shirt you wear, as long as it isn’t a tank top. But they won’t let you in if you’re wearing shorts.

This Elegant Dining crap really gets under my skin. I’m on vacation and going for a cruise to the Caribbean, goddamnit, so why can’t I just wear shorts and relax the whole time? Two reasons. First, as I mentioned above, they refrigerate the hell out of the ship, and that includes dining areas. So you might want to dine in long pants every night, and also huddle in a heavy parka wrapped over your Hawaiian shirt.

I found some lifesaving peace on this cruise, and spent quiet moments admiring beautiful sights.

The second reason has to do with the fashion police. Some folks on cruises have a thing about clothing. I suspect that dressing up is some sort of competitive sport for them, and they want to compete against as many participants as possible; even if they have to force those who just want to relax and be casual, to participate in this sick competition.

Well, I showed those snobs a thing or two. Yes, I did bring along a pair of long pants, and yes I did wear them during the goddamned fucking Elegant Dining nights. But while eating and engaging in table talk, I employed words such as “ain’t”, “y’all”, and “shaddup”, while deploying my thickest redneck accent. In this manner I demonstrated that while this rebel could be forced to be elegant, I could not be compelled to be eloquent.

By the way, to find the Sapphire Restaurant, go to the fore elevator, and ride it to Deck 3. Don’t take the mid elevator. That’s a trap they don’t tell you about. You can’t get into the restaurant from there, and have to brave crowded elevators to get back to a different deck and walk to the fore of the ship.

Learn the elevators. They have their ups and downs. There are three sets of elevators, at the fore, mid, and aft areas of the ship.

Breakfast is served at the Blush Restaurant, Deck 3, near the aft elevator. Elegant Dining never occurs at the Blush, thank God. (I wonder if that’s why they named it Blush?)

Plan your shore excursions before you cruise. Just get on Carnival’s website, and you’ll find descriptions for all the excursions available, and that should help you choose. Excursions are important. After all, why would you sail a thousand miles to a foreign port to just stay on the ship, or browse through the souvenir shops on shore? If you really want to see something, you must book an excursion.

We waited until the second day of the cruise to actually book our excursions. We knew what we wanted way before the cruise began, but we worried that we might have to cancel our cruise, and then lose our money from booking excursions too early. The tickets are nonrefundable, you see. But because we waited, some of the excursions we wanted had already been taken. So we were left with alternate, mediocre choices, for some of the tours we went on.

Don’t let that happen to you. Book on the first day of cruising. You can book your excursions at the Carnival Adventures desk, near the fore elevator, on Deck 3.

Mahogany Bay, Roatan, Honduras. If you want to see more than this at the exotic foreign ports you visit, I advise that you book an excursion.

The night before an excursion, buy some water at the Plaza Cafe, on Deck 5. It only costs $1.44 for a one-liter bottle. If you don’t take this precious chemical with you, in the tropical heat, you may find yourself humming a certain Sons of the Pioneers tune the entire day. (Can you name that tune?)

Do you get seasick easy? Then reserve a cabin that’s situated in the middle of the ship. That’s where the least amount of pitching and rolling motion is felt. Vacations are always more enjoyable when you find a way to minimize the vomiting.

Do you have ochlophobia, like me? That’s a fear of large crowds. If so, you might want to reconsider going on a cruise. The Carnival Breeze is very populated, accommodating over 3,000 passengers. You may often find yourself being herded around with other passengers, like a parade of elephants.

I say elephants, and not cattle, because I noticed that most of the passengers are overweight. I suspect that the appeal for many people to cruising is the “all-you-can-eat” dining feature. Fatsos are in food heaven, on a Carnival cruise ship. And their sheer numbers and individual sizes can make it challenging to navigate down narrow aisles, or stand in elevators. You sometimes must contort your body in weird positions, to avoid contact with big bellies.

I think that’s also why they keep the air-conditioning cranked up. Fatsos can’t tolerate any amount of heat. They must always have cold air blowing over them to cool their adipose-insulated bodies, and they howl like tormented souls in hell whenever a hypothermic skinny person inches the thermostat up.

I remained in my cabin as much as possible, due to my ectomorphic frame, ochlophobia, and misanthropic nature. Several times I relied upon room service for a Reuben or BLT sandwich, to avoid cold, crowded dining areas.

This is the casino. Photo was taken around 6:00 am, when most of the passengers were snoozing like beached whales. I did very well at this casino. That’s because I do not gamble.

At the end of the cruise you will receive printed and oral information concerning Carnival’s highly organized, well-thought-out-plan to disembark its 3,000 passengers from the ship in a safe and sane manner. This orderly plan involves disembarking manageable groups of people, one-by-one, by assigned zone, and by deck. You will be warned repeatedly over loudspeakers to follow the plan.

We’ve learned to ignore the warnings. We suspect it’s just Carnival’s way of paying lip-service to maritime safety regulations.

We do like it seems everyone else does, and stampede for the elevators. The crew doesn’t seem to actually care about, or enforce its complex disembarkation procedure. Hell, they want you off the ship more than you want to get off of it, so they can make room for a fresh new load of elephants.

We’ve learned that the sooner we start running for the exits, the sooner we get off the boat before the rest of the stampede, and the less time we have to wait in line at Customs. Believe me, those Customs lines can be murderously long. So take my word for it. Run like everyone else runs! Beat the crowds and get the hell out of there, quick!

Galveston Bay, with the full moon setting, on the last day of our cruise. True to this astrological sign, it was lunacy getting off the ship.

And finally you’ll be heading home. Perhaps in your very own car. An uncrowded car, where you can breathe easily. A comfortable car that will leave you wondering if you could have had more fun on a road trip, rather than a cruise. A responsive car where you have control over everything except the price of gas.

And a car where you can finally remove your parka. Because you also control the air-conditioning.

Nixon Vs. Reagan (as Librarians)

My wife and I ventured forth and found a unique experience. We visited two presidential libraries over the past three months. First we toured the Richard Nixon library in September, and then the Ronald Reagan library just last week.

We were enamored with the Nixon library. That’s what motivated us to see how Reagan was doing as a librarian. But although we enjoyed it, we didn’t love it. It was just okay. This left us feeling kind of disappointed. Our high expectations were unmet. I guess Tricky Dick is a hard act to follow, even by a former movie star.

This was as warm a welcome as we received at the Reagan library.

I mean, here’s a president who fell from office in disgrace and dishonor. For years, he was the most reviled man in our country. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan left office riding a massive wave of popularity. Since then he has been idolized, oft-quoted, and used for reflective glory by aspiring politicians who never seem to come close to actually matching him.

So naturally we expected Reagan to outshine Nixon in the library department. After all, a presidential library is intended to celebrate a president’s legacy. And Reagan’s legacy far outshines Nixon’s, most would agree.

A segment of the wall that Mr. Gorbachev was told to tear down. Here is one of the few exceptions where Reagan’s library outclasses Nixon’s. You are allowed to touch and feel this exhibit to your heart’s content. Whereas Nixon’s exhibit includes a sign that reads, “Please do not touch Berlin Wall”. Er, kind of chilling, don’tcha think, Mr. Nixon?

Yet we still found ourselves more intrigued with the Nixon library. It detailed his presidency, and historical events surrounding his presidency, in an informative and painfully accurate manner. And it put Watergate and other Nixon scandals, on full display. It whitewashed nothing about this man, but instead seemed to give equal time to both his successes and failures. The open honesty disarmed us, and we liked and respected Nixon better after leaving his library.

But the Reagan library seemed artificial. It emphasized his successes, while making little or no mention of his failures. For instance, it celebrated his success at tax reform. It highlighted his ideology concerning the evils of big government. And it hailed his victories in the Cold War. This left us with the sense that Reagan was proud of his achievements, proud of his ideology, and proud of his country. Quite possibly in that order.

Remember this enthralling game in the 1980’s? No?! Why just think of all the fun-filled wholesome nights your family missed. This byproduct of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign had interesting rules and strategy including the movement of tokens by rolling a . . . a . . . snnxxx . . . zzzzzzzzzz.

Meanwhile, we found no mention of the Iran-Contra scandal in his library. Perhaps it was in an exhibit hidden in some shadowy corner, but we sure couldn’t locate it. I believe a man with more pride in this country would highlight what makes it so great. And that is our freedom to debate anything and everything, and our liberty to challenge the authority of our leaders, including the highest leader of the land.

Nixon’s humility and honesty, compared with Reagan’s ego and elephant-in-the-room elisions, left us respecting Tricky Dick better than the father of our modern-day GOP.

The much ballyhooed Titanic exhibit was visiting the Reagan library, so we eagerly flocked with the crowd to see it. Turns out, most of it contains props from the movie, Titanic, such as this reproduced debris field in underwater illusion lights. We felt disappointed to find that the exhibit features very few genuine artifacts from the ship itself.

We were also unimpressed with the panhandling we encountered at the Reagan library. While standing in line to buy our admission ticket, a nattily attired library employee introduced herself and began a friendly conversation. She was personable and demonstrated an inquisitive interest in us, leaving us feeling flattered. Then she handed us a flyer and made a pitch to get us to donate to the GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship Program. We politely declined, then proffered our $29 per person admission fee, and quickly slipped away from her in the least awkward manner possible.

While perambulating through the library, we encountered more panhandlers. This was usually in the form of photographers, trying to persuade us into having our photo taken in front of an exhibit. I don’t know what these photos cost, because we always declined their advances.

However at the Marine One exhibit, I found I could not refuse the persistent paparazzo. She would not allow me into the helicopter until I stood before the door, held a flag that she handed to me, and waved, saluted, and performed other poses for her camera. I finally got rid of the fucking bitch and made it inside the stupid aircraft to see where Reagan always planted his ass when flying off to Camp David. Perhaps it was my mood, but I felt much less impressed than I felt while touring Nixon’s helicopter.

By the way, we encountered absolutely zero panhandlers and professional photographers at the Nixon library. This left us feeling much more welcome and free to enjoy his premises, than we felt in Reagan country.

Our favorite part of the Reagan library was the Air Force One exhibit. Here it is hanging out where airplanes hang, in a hangar of course. Or as they call it at the Reagan library: The Air Force One Pavilion.

We found that the most impressive aspect of the Reagan library was Air Force One. The complete, full-sized, original Boeing VC-137C that seven presidents used, from Nixon to Bush 43, was on full display in a hangar. And we were actually allowed to stroll through it, from the cockpit to the rear exit (after circumnavigating the photographer stalking us at the front entrance).

The view outside the Air Force One hangar was pretty spectacular.

We also loved the view. The Reagan library is constructed atop a hill that affords a panoramic vista of orchards, fields, and settlements in Simi Valley, California. The weather was mild and the pellucid air felt delicately cool that day, and we found ourselves more inclined to tarry outside and enjoy the view, than return inside and endure more dry, dull showcases of Reagan’s perpetual successes.

One of the many gorgeous perspectives in the viewshed of the Reagan library includes this path that leads to a white cross. I kind of wonder if hiking this trail would have created better memories than hiking through the Reagan library.

All in all, we left the Reagan library with a lesser opinion of the man than we held when we walked in. But I still like Ronald Reagan. In spite of my semi-liberal attitudes, I believe he was an overall good influence for our country. But I wish his library possessed the same honest humility we witnessed at the Nixon library.

Perhaps Reagan had been steeped too long in Hollywood before entering politics. Perhaps for him it was more important to put on a good show than to bare himself as a fallible human being. And perhaps that’s why he rarely excelled in Hollywood beyond being a “B” movie actor.

As president he was, in my opinion, Grade A. But as a librarian Reagan seems to have retrogressed into the same “B” status as his old movies. In my view his caliber as librarian falls far short of that master Grade A librarian, Mr. Tricky Dick.

Ronald Reagan farted here.

Noah’s Art

Note: This post about a museum first appeared in my erstwhile blog, “Golden Daze”, in March, 2015. I’m reposting it, with a bit of an update, because the docent of the museum has appeared in the October 30, 2016 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

"Welcome". It's an anagram of sorts.

“Welcome”. It’s an anagram of sorts.

Desert rats worldwide have a common problem. They are landscape-challenged. Arid conditions prevent cultivating broad greenswards that require careful and tedious manicuring upon riding lawnmowers. The scarcity of water discourages weeping willows that droop over emerald ponds teeming with carp. And the sylvan pleasance and backyard woodlot are just east coast fantasies to dream about, for your average desert rat.

Instead of grass and trees, desert rats have junk. They adorn their barren yards with detritus such as colored bottles, old tires, and rusty retired automobiles. Some desert rats are sloppy, with hardscapes surrounding their shacks that are downright depressing. Others have moved up the scale, to a level of kitschy, with a little artistic planning and arrangement. And some desert decorators have talent that lifts them into a league of their own.

Noah Purifoy

Noah Purifoy

Noah Purifoy was that kind of decorator. In fact, he was legendary.

Noah Purifoy was born far from the desert, in Alabama, in 1917. He was a pretty smart guy, and earned a bachelor’s degree before serving in World War II, and a Masters of Social Service Administration shortly after the war. In the 1950s he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Chouinard Art Institute. He was gifted at art in a peculiar way. He developed the uncanny knack to turn junk into something interesting and provocative to gaze upon and admire.

In the 1960s he became the founder and first director of the Watts Towers Art Center, in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. But he didn’t sculpt the famous Watts Towers himself. That was the work of Simon Rodia. Noah’s star of fame didn’t really begin to rise until after the Watts riots of 1965. He and six other artists collected several tons of debris from the riots and created the ground-breaking 66 Signs of Neon traveling exhibition.

Noah created many other works of art, following this, and is credited with re-defining black artistic consciousness through assemblage sculpture.

The left sign says "White" and the right says "Colored".

The left sign says “White” and the right says “Colored”.

In 1989 he moved to Joshua Tree, California and became a desert rat. He was 72, but not at all retired. He continued his work in the humanities by collecting all kinds of junk, including many old toilets, scrap wood, scrap metal, and discarded tires. And then he began adorning his acreage with odd sculptures designed to awe and inspire. He quickly showed even the most veteran desert rats the true art of desert landscaping.

"No Contest"

“No Contest”

Over the next 15 years, he sprinkled his property with dozens of junk sculptures. It opened to the public with the name, The Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum. But most folks just call it Noah’s Art.

the-white-house-4

By 2004, Noah’s health had failed to the point where he was confined to a wheelchair. And he was drinking and smoking heavily. One evening he dozed off in his wheelchair with a lit cigarette in hand. His little desert shack ignited and he burned to death.

But Noah’s Art remains. It’s still open to the public. Admission is free, but you are welcome to leave a donation. An 81-year-old lady named Pat Brunty maintains the grounds and serves as docent.

Pat is a friend of ours, and a very sweet person. And she’s a hard worker, which is amazing for someone her age. She does much of the manual labor required to keep Noah’s museum open and presentable to the public.

Pat Brunty and her dog Freckles.

Pat Brunty and her dog Freckles.

Pat is also pictured on pag 54 of the October 30, 2016 issue of The New York Times Magazine. There’s a short article in the magazine about this unusual museum, with several pages of photos.

Pat can give you an impromptu tour if she happens to be there when you visit. She knew Noah personally, and has some interesting tales to tell about this character.

Noah’s Art is an outdoor museum, subject to the destruction of the elements. It is slowly falling into labefaction, grinding and sifting back into the desert sands under the oppressive Mojave wind, sun, cold and heat. If you want to admire it before it disappears completely, you can find it near the corner of Blair Lane and Center Ave, in Joshua Tree, California. And you can learn more about it at noahpurifoy.com.

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