"So," I queried my father, "what's our objective here?" We were standing in the ship's Aloha Nu'i buffet hall, where he was loading his plate with bok choy. "The basic point of a cruise," he explained patiently, adding marinated mushrooms from the salad bar, "is this: to eat till you're sleepy, then sleep till you're hungry." Dad made this sound very sage. Looking around, I could see that our fellow passengers had accepted this premise as if it were prophecy, eating from one plate of food while standing in line to eagerly receive another. The waitstaff in their shorts and hawaiian shirts had formed a human food brigade from the kitchen to the buffet in order to provide the constant caloric supply demanded by the guests; at one point I watched them contain a near riot when rumor spread at breakfast that the oatmeal appeared to be running 'low'. Little known fact: cruise ships are actually powered by mastication. As the cruise progressed, I realized that the low-level buzz I was hearing was not the engines, but rather the constant drone of termite-like chewing undergirding the higher-pitched sounds of lounge acts and shuffle board.
At our first port of call, my brother-in-law and I escaped the confines of the ship to undertake an ill-conceived ride around beautiful outer Hilo on rented granny bikes. Twenty-five sunscreen-less miles later, I had acquired a sunburn which left me physically and emotionally unable to do much besides cough pathetically and dial for room service. Josh was, of course, for the most part unscathed. I'm not sure what northern european swamp my pallid gollum-esque ancestors crawled out of, but let's hope for the sake of any future nieces and nephews that his genetic make-up is strong enough to triumph over that of my family's. Meanwhile, the only white flakes we'll be seeing this Christmas will be the ones peeling off of my swollen purple flesh. My hands have been replaced with two squat eggplants.
I did manage to pull myself from my sick bed long enough to go whale-watching off the coast of Maui. Having left Mom and Dad back on the ship, we thought we'd be supercool and play cards on the deck of the catamaran as it sped out into the harbor. Ten minutes later, my sister Ellen and I thought we'd be supercool by merely not throwing up over the boat's railing. This necessitated putting away the cards. Which was fine, as by that point various pods of whales had begun to appear around us. Employing techniques our father had taught us on long family car trips ("Shhh! Be really quiet these next few miles, and maybe we'll see a deer!"), we managed to coax one whale calf up to the side of the boat:*
It's difficult to be sarcastic and jaded when looking at a giant sea creature lolling about in the ocean not fifteen feet from you, so I didn't try. My MTV generation world-weary indifference was so suppressed at that moment, I could have listened to the Lion King soundtrack with contentment and pleasure.
While the whales were, in every sense of the word, enchanting, I'd have to say that the nicest part of the cruise was spending time with my family; I'd have to say that, because many of them read my blog. We chose to celebrate our rare moment of togetherness by playing a lot of Mexican Train Dominoes, an activity that inevitably leads to profound discussion. I think our most heated over-dominoes conversation revolved around the question, "If you could replace your hands with any two other objects, what would they be?" My answer (two stars) was deemed 'silly'. I didn't bother pointing out that most of my extremities now appeared to be members of the produce section anyway, nor that Karyn's choice (a small monkey to do her bidding, and a Bible) was not especially practical either. By this time, my world-weary indifference had returned to the point that when the cruise director came over the intercom to announce they'd spotted an unidentified object traveling at sleigh-speed toward the ship, I was able to say with confidence that it was most likely a north korean missile.
By the way, in case you're wondering, Santa enters the US on an H2B visa.
*My sister Ellen filmed this video, so it's mostly her you're hearing. But if you listen, you can make out me saying helpful things like, "Look at him! Look at him!"