I woke up and kicked myself.  I slept until noon!  That’s one of the pitfalls of not having to wake up early for a tour, I suppose.  So, after I woke up and watched a Fred Astaire movie called “Daddy Long Legs” while I got dressed, I went outside on the deck.  We were surrounded by only the deep blue sea, no land in sight.  We were cruising along at top speed, 22 knots, so it was quite breezy outside, and fairly cold as well. I had thought ahead and brought the Princess Patter with me, the daily program of all the events on the ship for the day, so over lunch I mapped out everything I wanted to do. The first order of business was to go to the International Cafe and have our daily coffee.  On our way there we took a different route through the art gallery on the ship.  There are several hallways filled completely with art, much of which is auctioned off on the cruise.  We made it to the cafe and had our coffee, and I decided that I wanted to go to a traditional British high tea that afternoon.  My mom joined me, somewhat reluctantly, and we were seated by the host.  And wouldn’t you know it, we were seated right next to Brian and Thelma!

I’ve never been to a high tea before so I wasn’t expecting to be fed such massive quantities of food.  They brought out little finger sandwiches, and the one I selected had some sort of fruity caviar on it with avocados.  It was really good, actually, after I took off the avocados (I’m allergic).  I also had a small orange cookie of some sort and a delicious scone with clotted cream on it, and British-style Earl Grey tea with cream.  After about an hour had passed, Brian and Thelma invited us to afternoon trivia, which I jumped at of course, and my mom decided to go with us.

We headed over to Club Fusion on Deck 7 aft (where I would come to spend quite a bit of time) for trivia.  Brian and Thelma had another couple joining us, and we soon met them–Al and Linda from California.  They’re both incredibly vivacious and Al in particular was hilarious, reminding me much of the men in my family.  So, we had our little game of trivia and lost miserably to a team from Scotland.  I remember that one of the questions we were asked had to do with some obscure fact about the United States, and none of us knew it, which probably perpetuates some “Stupid American” stereotype that we’ve all grown to know and resent. But hey, at least we had fun, right?

After trivia we all parted ways.  My mom and I wandered through the photography hall and looked at all the pictures that the professional photographers had taken of everyone.  We found a few of us but were uninterested in purchasing them at that moment, so we moseyed along through the photography hall, past the Crowne Grill and the Explorer’s Lounge, until we came to the piazza.  It was at that point I realized we had almost forgotten that that evening was formal night, as many people were gussied up in their finest.

Formal nights are a tradition at sea, and how many you have is entirely related to how long your cruise lasts.  Ours was 11 days, so we had 2 formal nights.  What happens at a formal night is as follows: You drink copious amounts of free alcohol (I promise I don’t drink much at home at all), eat obscene amounts of food, and generally engage in merry-making with a massive throng of people.  I realize my word choices may have made it seem like I’m describing a Viking feast after a day of pillaging, but I can assure you that everything was quite civilized.

At any rate, we made it back up to the room to get fancier clothes on.  I had brought a black dress with white/gold flowers on it that happily never wrinkles, and a pair of stiletto heels that I figured I’d break my legs wearing (fortunately, both legs are intact). I wore those and walked (maybe “stumbled” is a more accurate term) downstairs to Deck 7 once again.

The Piazza was hopping with elegantly dressed people, including the captain of the ship, who was the host of the evening’s festivities.  My mom and I took seats in the Vines Wine Bar to watch the excitement.  I had a glass of Pinot Noir and some sushi; Mom had a glass of wine and tapas.  The waiters in the area were handing out mimosas and we had those as well.  The crew had set up a champagne waterfall in the middle of the Piazza and the captain was helping serve the champagne.  We watched this all with great fascination before deciding it was about time for dinner.

I got up and commenced the ongoing search for the elusive Botticelli dining room, feeling for the world like Columbo on the heels of a very smart criminal. Eventually though, we found it.  We were late for our usual eating time (6PM) but they accommodated us at the late sitting (it was after 8:30PM) at a different table. Mom found this out the hard way as she had originally gone for the original table and been dismayed to find strangers there.

The waiter handed us our menus and I was not expecting the obscene profusion of choices available to me.  Many of the words on the page I couldn’t even pronounce, and most of the offerings were very exotic. I suppose chefs like to do that when they can–offer up their customers something completely new to their experience, thereby making themselves the initiators into a larger, more exquisite culinary world.  And why fight The Man?  What’s the worst that could happen?

I went head first into this new world that had opened up, and ordered the escargot, chilled tamarind soup, some sort of salmon concoction, and a dessert that I don’t recall.  And after all the alcohol I had just imbibed, I decided I’d better cool it and just order a lemonade. They brought me a Sprite and I learned a valuable cultural lesson: Some cultures interpret “lemonade” as “lemon-lime soda.”  And even though I’m not much for carbonated drinks, I was pleased with the Sprite anyway, and even more pleased to have learned something new (and really, everything tastes better on a cruise ship anyway…even Sprite).

They brought out the escargot and I looked on with some trepidation at the little cups filled with what appeared to be a puddle of butter and some garlic in them, and in the center were these greyish-black creatures that looked a bit like hollow-point bullets.  I skewered one of the bullets and shook my head at the thought of eating something so rubbery, so creepy, so….snaily (that’s not a real word, is it?), but I steeled myself and chewed that sucker up, contemplating with each chew what I thought of the creature.  I liked it, much to my infinite surprise!  After I had finished all six, I was quite sad that my plate was empty. Snails. I’m still surprised.

The tamarind soup came out next (I still don’t know what a tamarind is) and it was delicious.  Then it was the salmon and dessert.  All exquisite!  And all very, very filling.  That was a common feeling on the ship: fullness. It makes one wonder how the chefs onboard could possibly keep up with the Great Eternal Maw out in the dining room.  Yet keep up they did, and then some!  Not only was the food ubiquitous and constant, it was also presented in a way that intermingled the food business with show business.  Everything was about quality and presentation in an aesthetically pleasing way.

I like aesthetics. I like show business too, so we decided to keep the theme going and go see one of the onboard productions.  It was called “I Got The Music,” and was basically a medley of all sorts of different pop songs. The singers and dancers were incredible, and we had cocktails as we watched.

We went out on the deck to enjoy the Sun (it was still up at 11:30PM when we got out of the show…gotta love the North!) and sea.  I really enjoyed walking the deck, so while my mom sat and smoked, I moseyed around, catching the sights from as many different vantage points as possible.

I wandered for quite a while, contemplating life. My ego may make more of myself than I am, but the horizon tells no lies–I am small, and will remain so. But I’m content in that fact, living in my small world with the people God has ordained to be in my life, new friends and old. And for all this smallness, I still get the infinite pleasure of exploring the vast Earth. This feeling will never leave, because in that moment I felt that this trip had broadened the horizons and emblazoned on my heart a new fervor to explore and experience the newness of what I had found. I walked up to the Lido Deck 15 and prepared myself a British tea with cream, the memory of the horizon still in my mind.

I grew tired and made my way back down to the stateroom, where I watched Four Weddings & A Funeral before drifting off to dreamland, knowing that on the other side of my closed eyelids, we were passing into Estonian waters.

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