I woke up this morning both excited and nervous. Remember at the end of yesterday’s trip report, I teased that I’d be doing something I’d never experienced before? Well… I’d booked myself for a hot-stone massage. This was going to be a completely new experience for me. I’ve occasionally booked the thermal spa suite on a ship, but as far as actual treatments like a massage or acupuncture, this was going to be a first.
You’ve Got the Touch
For the first time all week, I skipped breakfast, instead getting some work done before making my way down to the spa. When I’d booked the appointment a day earlier, I was told that while I was paying for a 50 minute massage, I’d be upgraded to 75 minutes because… I don’t know, I guess I’m special? (Trust me, I don’t believe that for a second… I’m sure this is standard practice.)
Arriving at the spa, I was greeted by the woman who’d be my masseuse, and she took me down to the treatment room we’d be using. I think she could tell I was incredibly nervous. She explained exactly what would happen, offered me a couple upgrades (of which I took two, at $15 each) and said she would leave so I could get undressed. Apparently I was so ready to get this started that I was down to my boxers before she could even get to — let alone out — the door.
What followed was 75 minutes of pleasure and pain. While I absolutely loved the entire experience, there were parts that hurt like hell. Let’s just say I carry a lot of tension around in my neck and shoulders. So blissed out was I when the experience was over — as was the apparently inevitable attempts to sell me various products — I think I accidentally tipped her around 2,000 percent. Whatever. It was worth it.
Pay Attention… Or Not
By the time I finished with my massage, it was time to head to the Illusionarium, where Omar — our amazing concierge — was going to explain to my fellow Haven guests the immigration process we’d go through in Norfolk the next morning. I have to say that while Omar is incredible at his job and efficient beyond words, he’s also incredibly funny. Kicking off the session, he quipped, “This whole thing will go faster if I just do it in Spanish. Does anyone mind?” And when talking about Norfolk — a port pretty much nobody wants to go to and that we’re scheduled to visit for literally four hours — he joked, “It’s a wonderful, historic town that I’m sure you’ll enjoy for the 15 minutes you’re there.”
If I could, I’d take Omar home and have him run my household. Norwegian is incredibly lucky to have him, and should immediately invest in cloning technology in order to have Omars on every ship in their fleet.
What none of us could know (although Omar may have suspected, based on a few comments he made), was that a storm was rapidly approaching Norfolk. By the time I hit The Haven for lunch, we were being told of yet another itinerary change. This one, however, I think went over pretty well: We’d be skipping Norfolk — where everyone was going to have to get off the ship at 8 a.m. to go through customs — and instead proceed directly to New York City where we’d go through customs there upon our regularly scheduled arrival.
Even as Omar was explaining the process, he seemed to be hinting that perhaps things wouldn’t go quite as planned. And sure enough, an hour or two later, the captain announced that due to weather, we’d be skipping Norfolk and would, instead, be heading toward New York City (slowly thanks to the storm) and would clear customs there.
From the beginning, people were questioning why this and other itineraries were stopping in Norfolk. After all, it’s not as if guests were dying to make a three-hour stop there in the dead of winter. There were several theories as to why we’d be making that particular port call, but here’s the one we thought made the most sense: You’ll recall that during the shutdown, Norwegian arranged for this Virginia port to provide temporary shelter for a few of their ships.
Well, it’s not terribly difficult to imagine that a deal might have been struck in which Norfolk agreed to play host in exchange for Norwegian later doing port stops there. After all, that would bring money to Norfolk, both in terms of port fees and tourism dollars. Sure, passengers had no interest in the port and would rather have spent an extra day in the warmer climes of the Bahamas… but hey.
We may never know, but it was the best theory we heard. (One thing’s for certain: I never spoke to a single cruiser who was excited at the idea of stopping in Norfolk — before, during, or since our sailing!)
The Rare Misstep
After Omar’s presentation, I headed back to The Haven Restaurant for lunch. I’d like to take a second here to thank all of the people who — upon seeing me dining by myself around the ship — offered to have me join them. I’ve been sailing solo for years and will admit that the first trip or two, I was terrified to sit in a restaurant by myself. Apparently, I thought I was so important (or pathetic, take your pick) that people would spend their entire meals staring at me. “What did that poor man do that he’s been exiled to a life of solo dining?”
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. If this is something you’re worried about as a solo diner, don’t be. Bring a Kindle if you feel the need, but trust me no one will be staring at you. And by a day or two in, you’ll find people you’ve met asking if you’d like to join them. (Unless, of course, you have God-awful table manners, in which case this might not happen… )
Lunch kicked off with the seafood fritto misto and the shrimp caesar salad which, if you’ve been following along, you know I’m a big fan of. My main course was… huh. I guess I’d say disappointing. The BBQ Veal Spare Ribs sounded like something I was gonna love, but it was probably the thing I least enjoyed this entire trip. They weren’t bad, per se, they just… weren’t good, if that makes sense. Maybe this was the universe’s way of punishing me for eating veal, something I’d never do at home for fear of a major smackdown from my friend Charlie.
Simon Says… Not Much
Slowly but surely, it became clear that we were going to see a major change in the weather. I wandered around the ship, exploring a few areas I hadn’t really checked out yet such as Spice H20 and the pool deck. (Yes, we’re six days in and I hadn’t visited the pool. I mean, I don’t swim, but also, I found it tough to justify leaving The Haven for… um… pretty much any reason, I loved it so much.)
Around 1:30 p.m., I swung through the lobby to pick up a Deal or No Deal ticket. On past cruises, this has always been one of my favorite activities. There’s something about a worked-up audience cheering as loudly as if it were their own mom up on stage competing for money as opposed to a total stranger. But here’s the thing: How well this game (or really any other on a ship) works is going to depend on the host. And in this case it was our cruise director, Simon.
Look, I’ve never really found that a cruise director makes or breaks my cruise. I’ve had good ones, bad ones… but I have to say this was the first time I’d had one who was practically invisible. I mean, he was on the TV all day long, but rarely did I see him anywhere else. So when Deal or No Deal started, I was looking forward to getting a feel for his style. I don’t know if it was just this cruise (hey, everybody has an off week) or this was Simon in full-blown cruise director mode, but he was not a great Deal or No Deal host. He barely interacted with the players chosen to play, and he didn’t really hype up the audience the way a good host does.
Let’s put it this way: So disinterested was I in the whole thing that I walked away after the first of two games, despite having paid for the two-game ticket.
All week long, Doug had wanted to check out the Shanghai Noodle bar which is nestled into the back corner of the casino. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open for lunch (even on sea days, which sort of surprised me) and we were fully-booked, dinner-wise. Tonight I realized I had no dining plans and could finally hit the noodle bar. Doug was no longer on the ship, but at least I’d be able to eat some dumplings in his honor.
Shanghai Noodles is a complimentary venue, and whenever it’s open, it’s usually pretty busy. Despite having sailed on a few ships featuring this restaurant, I’d never gotten around to trying it. Man, was that my loss. From the dumplings to the fried rice to the lo mein noodles, it was all delicious. And did I mention free? I mean, that’s a pretty good combo right there!
Earn That Swag!
Remember earlier I mentioned that the assistant cruise director was top-notch? Well, that became obvious during the Perfect Couple gameshow. For those unfamiliar, this should not be mistaken for the Newlywed Game-style event, as it is definitely its own creature. In The Perfect Couple, three pairs compete in a series of activities for the top prize. It is a wild, fun event — bordering on raunchy, despite being held in the main atrium — and the young woman who presided over it (whose name I didn’t catch) was everything Simon had not been during Deal or No Deal.
She engaged the audience, brought out the best in the contestants, and navigated the tricky territory between snarky and obnoxious beautifully. By the time the games had ended, she’d proven to be someone I wanted to see more of. #SorrySimon
No Money, More Laughs
While normally I’d be exhausted by this point in the evening, I’d noticed something in the Freestyle Daily which caught my eye. The Movie Sketch Comedy Show was beginning at 10 p.m. in the Illusionarium (which you’ll recall earlier this week I described as being almost Disney-esque in its decor). Like the rest of the audience, I had no idea what to expect. Suddenly, out came six or seven entertainers, lip-syncing to “The Greatest Show,” aka one of the big numbers from the Hugh Jackman hit The Greatest Showman. The lip-syncing would have probably gotten them kicked off RuPaul’s Drag Race and the dancing was… uneven at best. “What,” I wondered, “is this?”
It turned out to be an absolute blast of a show in which for 45 minutes, members of the crew recreated scenes from famous movies with what amounted to handcrafted props. We’re talking a piece of cardboard with the word “iceberg” written on it sinking the Titanic, here represented by two folding chairs. The audience had to “guess” the movies, but that was part of the joke, given that within about 12 seconds the music cues gave away the answer. If this is offered on your sailing, go see it. Trust me.
Putting the “Service” in Room Service
After a bit of gambling, I headed back to the suite. It was 1 a.m. and I was starving… which is when I remembered that Haven guests get free room service. I called up and ordered a pizza. And since I was being a glutton, I asked if they also had wings. Sadly, those were not available on the room service menu. But two minutes later, the phone rang, the voice on the other end asking what type of wings I wanted. Apparently, when Haven guests order room service, the order goes to their butler. And as I’ve mentioned before, butlers go above and beyond, so mine swung by O’Sheehan’s to pick up wings.
I should mention here that it wasn’t actually my butler. When I realized that room service was arranging for “my” butler to deliver the food, I was mortified. I didn’t want them to wake up Renato at 2 a.m. just to bring me a pizza! But it turns out that there is a “night butler” on call, and it was he who wound up bringing me the food, which I gorged on while watching House of Gucci since Haven guests also get free pay-per-view movies. (Good thing I wasn’t paying for them, because I slept through about four movies over the course of the week.) The pizza was… meh. Not nearly as good as what you’d get on Carnival. But the wings? Well, if you’ve ever had O’Sheehan wings then I don’t need to tell you how good they were!
As I started to fall asleep, I could hear the winds howling outside and realized I could feel the ship moving more than usual… the storm was definitely letting us know it had arrived. But it had only just begun to rock us…
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