1903’s “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” said “when joy and duty clash, let duty go to smash.” Or at least that is the way Alie always quotes her. When a Carnival Cruise Line representative called Saturday night to say she had a last minute vacancy on a short sold-out cruise that would leave on Monday, who were we to reject Rebecca’s advice.
Those of you who are familiar with both boating and Carnival’s recent history will understand, however, that sister Michelle asked if we knew “Sea Tow’s phone number.”
Key West was our first port of call. We had been there before as we had to the second, Cozumel, Mexico. We thought we might just read, relax and rest. We might not even leave the ship. But as is often the case, we had a much better time than expected.
Our ship, the Imagination, arrived early in the day, too early for the Key West bars on Duval Street even had we been inclined. But the dock was just a few blocks from the Truman Annex, so we walked there.
Dating back to the early 1800s when it was a base against piracy, the Navy and Coast Guard maintained this bastion until the 1960s. At its peak, during World War II, fifteen thousand military and three thousand civilians worked there. It gained its current name because President Truman spent 175 days there on eleven visits, a place where he could work without the distractions of Washington. Presidents from Taft to Clinton have visited the base. But it was abandoned by the government for about a dozen years. In a reversal of the normal pattern, rather than razing the land for high rises, a developer acquired it, restored it and built condominiums preserving the Key West look. It is a beautiful community of flowering yards behind iron fences along tree-lined streets.
The State of Florida owns the house where Truman stayed. Restored to the look as it had when Truman was there, including his poker table, it is operated by a private contractor. Steve, a wonderful guide who obviously loved the history of the place, took us and two other couples around.
Mexico created a modern resort on the island of Cozumel. There are Mayan ruins and good diving and snorkeling, but we were feeling neither energetic nor enthusiastic about going out in the tropical sun. We did go ashore, however, with our shopping list for Kahlúa and other bargains. We soon found ourselves sitting on a beach under palm tree shade next to incredibly turquoise water. We sipped cool beverages with the music of steel drums nearby, just loud enough to entertain but not so loud as to overwhelm. It was great.
Each cruise line offers something a little different. For short cruises, we enjoy the younger more exuberant crowd on Carnival. They also frequently have comedians on board, and this time we particularly enjoyed two shows by William Troxler, a funny guy from Washington, D.C.
As is often the case, we enjoyed the people we met. Ken and Christie Kosheba are a young couple from Michigan. I would not normally give their last name, but Ken, who has bowled 13 perfect games, is the “last bowling alley floor restorer” in Michigan. They also like golf and were able to attend the final Bob Hope Classic in Palm Springs.
Another particularly outstanding feature of this cruise were extended conversations we had with two crew members. Walter, a bartender, was older than most of the crew and was considering retirement after working for Carnival over twenty years. He was from Goa. He told us how he pursued his wife over several years, and when she married him, was able to buy their house in just a short time by working in Saudi Arabia . He was able to give a college education to his daughter and son now in their twenties.
On our second evening, we met 27 year-old Alexandra (Sasha), born in Serbia. Her mother moved the family to Croatia when she was four shortly before the ethnic strife between Serbia and Croatia. But she did not talk about that. Instead, she talked about how she had always wanted a career in the “hospitality industry.” Her father, a builder, wanted her to pursue a profession like law and would not pay for her education, so she started working at 15. She worked in a restaurant, bar and casino. She worked in Russia for four months and learned to speak Russian. But it was at the suggestion of a mentor in the casino, that she went to work for Carnival.
Frankly, it is not common to have such long conversations with crew, but we sought out a quiet lounge and went there during the time been dinner seatings when there were few other customers.
And now that we have returned to our duties (perhaps self-imposed), we can say, “it really was a joy.”