Cruise Archive · 2006 Review

Travelogue of a Parrothead Cruise Virgin
By Sheila Embry

· ·

I was sent across the country from my normal west coast home for several months on a job-related project. Always trying to make the most of any given situation, I signed up for Parrothead Cruise 2006 to the eastern Caribbean leaving from Ft. Lauderdale since I was on the correct side of the country. Planning was a breeze with all the informative bulletins keeping us up to date. Excitement started to swell when fellow cruisers started posting their bios for all to read as well as helpful hints for the trip.

Friday
Travel day finally arrived, and after a half-day at work which included a bon voyage lunch with friends at the Billy Goat Tavern it was time to leave for Dulles Airport. A limo had been arranged for me. The driver picked up my luggage before picking me up at work so I didn’t have to be bothered. A quick trip to Dulles and through security left me with time on my hands. So I purchased a quick airport massage and foot reflexology treatment allowing me to arrive refreshed at my airport gate. My favorite story for this day was encountering college girls who were headed to the Bahamas. There were six of them all in matching gauchos, sorority sweatshirts, and white ray-bans. They were so young and cute and fun to listen as they discussed the seriousness of their plans for the Spring Break week ahead of them. I tried very hard not to listen to them and finally had to move when one of them said in all sincerity that she just didn’t know if she could ever believe in true love anymore since Nick and Jessica split up. I made my excuses about phone reception and walked away before I laughed aloud.

An uneventful plane ride later found me at the Ft Lauderdale Courtyard Marriott Airport and Cruiseport where the party had started without me five hours previously. Within minutes there was a Corona placed in my hands, a magnetic dolphin bracelet on my wrist, pirate earrings on my ears, beer spilled down my right leg and I had been kidnapped into a conga line full of smiling faces while Jack Mosley worked hard playing for us. In other words, I felt right at home once again. The earrings and the most current Jack Mosley CD remain as memories of the evening, but the magnetic bracelet gave its life at the seaport the following day when it fell from my wrist and crashed into multiple pieces losing its beautiful onyx stones across the floor.

Saturday
Organized chaos was the term for the morning as multiple cruises attempted to leave the hotel and arrive at the seaports timely. We were very fortunate in that our group had the forethought to arrange its own busses. We had a separate hallway for easier exiting, a designated room for luggage storage, and time for a filling breakfast provided buffet(t) style. After a quick bus ride we arrived at the seaport where we identified our luggage, handed it over to porters, and queued up in three separate lines. Soon we were on the ship where we were left to our own devices until the 2pm Welcome Aboard Rendezvous Party in the Victoria Lounge where we registered, received our credentials, and supported the Chinese auction which raised funds for Breast Cancer Research that this cruise is supporting.

Since I did not have time to get a pedicure before leaving DC I stopped by the spa to get a manicure and pedicure to make me feel “dressed” for the cruise. I’ve never had one on a moving ship before. This one came complete with panoramic windows full of the ocean view and a fabulous sunset. I was relaxed enough to enjoy a very nice dinner with some LA and OC Parrotheads in the beautifully furnished Golden Olympian Dining Room. One LA Parrothead showed up at our table in full pirate costume letting me know I was with the fun group. By the end of dinner, the time had come for the Duval Crawl. The group went from one lounge to another to determine where they all were and to sample the wares.

Sunday
Since I have a huge window and a door to a private balcony I pulled back the curtains in my room before retiring allowing me to awaken to a view of blue skies, white fluffy clouds, and a deep blue ocean beneath. I had ordered a room service breakfast the night before so I was able to stay in and enjoy the experience all morning. Eventually I ventured out to do a little shopping, get a hair cut, and join the other Parrotheads camped out at the Pool Invasion party at the Versailles Pool complete with swimming, sunning, limbo contests, and conga lines. Jim Asbell played for four hours as we enjoyed ourselves and the music. It finally dawned on me why I like Parrothead groups so much – they are incredibly comfortable in their own skins. It is nice being around people who do not feel they have to impress or who are still questioning themselves. Parrotheads are comfortable just being. It’s very relaxing and enjoyable to be around. I don’t know that words or even pictures can capture the sense of camaraderie (is that the word or is there a better one?) of these normally hard working people who gather from time to time to raise money for charity, catch up with each other, and blow off a little steam to Jimmy Buffett–style music.

Monday
Monday started with a stroll about the boat that ended at the Tapestry Room checking out the great silent auction items for our charity. As I am finally starting to feel relaxed, after a quick visit on the Lido deck with the Parrotheads, a quick lunch of watching the water roll by and a happy 50th birthday to Scott Sperber, an LA Parrothead, it was time for a short nap in my room. How nice to set the television to Parrothead Cruise Radio and drift off. I awoke from my nap when the cruise director encouraged us to go the deck to see the fort of San Juan as we approached. A short time later we docked and I enjoyed an evening out on the town topped off by a concert of flamenco guitar and dancers. The music was beautiful and educational as Juan Carlos showed the difference between Spanish guitar, flamenco guitar, and popular guitar. He also showed us the difference between Spanish, Paraguay, and other countries from Latin America. It was amazing to watch one guitar create so many different sounds.

Tuesday
Tuesday’s wake-up was set for 7 am – much too early for this sleepy Parrothead. However, it was worth it because we knew a great day waited for us. We docked in St. Thomas early. After getting our wrist band, our “ticky” and our water, it was time to go to our “taxis” for the ride to Magen’s Bay. A taxi is an interesting name for the vehicles we rode. These ingenious folks had taken fronts of Fords and matched them with the bodies of Dodge trucks and created 26-seat open-air “limos.”

Magen’s Bay is simply beautiful – a soon to be very over-used word. The day quickly accelerated. Jimmy’s music was playing from big speakers. The caterer’s were firing up the grills, and the bartenders were hard at work. After staking out my own little salty piece of land I was off to the gift shop to rent a chair and a raft. Once the high finances were behind me, I jumped on the raft and headed out to explore the bay. The day passed too quickly with good food, laughter of new friends, Jimmy music, and live music.

While paddling along, I discovered another reason it is cool to hang with Parrotheads is that they are so big and so big-hearted and always ready for a party. In Fort Lauderdale, the local Parrothead club hosted/attended our bon voyage party with local Parrotheads in attendance. Today, the Virgin Islands Parrothead Club was hosting/attending the picnic and beach bash with their club members in attendance. I talked with a guy who had moved to St. Thomas 35 years ago. He is an architect. He had that burned out island look about him, but he was also totally at peace. So begs the age old question – burn out at work or burn out on an island or figure out a way to balance the two.

After my best attempts of sun block had failed and a roller coaster ride up and down the hill and back to the ship, it was time for a shower and a nap. A couple of hours later, I awoke to the all ashore that is going ashore announcement to discover that a day of sun and water makes one hungry. Rather than dressing for the formal dining room, I headed for Emilie’s buffet where I carb-loaded while wearing jeans and a tee. Some of my formal dining partners found me as they had the same idea. Afterwards, they headed for the disco where the ship was playing a tribute to Jimmy, while I headed for my appointed massage and facial. The sunburn ruled the back massage out, but the lady placed several cooling aloe ointments on it and spent the rest of the time performing the facial and foot and leg massages. Too relaxed to join the group for the midnight Jim Morris concert, I called it a night.

Wednesday
If it’s Wednesday, we must be in Antigua. Despite my sun burned shoulders and back I was looking forward to another day on the water. This time, I was on the MS Excellence Catamaran. The water is the deepest turquoise I’ve ever seen. The views are indescribable. It is a beautiful place where I hope to return often.

We left the safe waters of the islands and went out into the rockin’ and rollin’ Atlantic headed to Emerald Cay -- whose name tells you all you need to know about the beautiful color of the water. Here we dropped anchor for snorkeling. After an hour or so, it was off to Green Island (next to Bird Island and in the shadow of Montserrat) for a lunch of grilled chicken and snapper, rice and coleslaw and some beach time. Too soon, it was time to head back to the ship. However, rather than being sad, we congaed and danced our way back into port.

Another day in the sun equated to another shower and nap. I turned on Parrothead Cruise Radio again which is a special station complete with Buffett and Parrothead music and was quickly asleep once again.

Thursday
Thursday equaled Tortola. I believe that Tortola is my favorite island thus far. It is so beautiful. (There’s that over-used word again.) I separated from the Parrotheads for the day and took a great open-air limo ride of the city given by Crabby. Cane Garden Bay is as beautiful as Jimmy sings about as are Apple, Carrot, and Long Bays. I definitely see me coming back and spending some time here. By the way, Tortola is Spanish for brown dove, not tortoise as I assumed. Too soon, it was time to head back to the ship and say goodbye to Tortola. It is simply beautiful and has stolen my heart, I say goodbye to this island with much regret. After a shower and nap, it was time to get ready for toga party. A note of explanation is needed here. It was listed only as a casual night because we’ve been in port all day. However, the Parrotheads had taken it upon themselves to determine that casual night means toga night. So 450 Parrotheads in their best toga wear strolled, congaed, and Junkanoo’d their way through the decks of unsuspecting diners and other guests. It was quite a show. I don’t think I can even begin to describe the spectacle of togas, feathers, headdresses, fish nets, seashells, etc. Everything from Allen’s authentic toga costume of John Belushi fame (complete with Belushi button…rest in peace, John) to the most outrageous mermaid shimmer set and, of course pirates everywhere could be seen and admired.

A conga line of hundreds of Parrotheads entering the formal dining room was quite a sight. To their credit, the non Parrotheads stood and applauded and clapped in time to our kazoos, casino tub drums, and shouts of Toga! Toga! Toga!

Friday
In a moment of charity some LA and OC Parrothead guys offered to have their moustaches and facial hair shaved for the good of fund-raising. Some of these guys hadn’t seen their lips since puberty. One LA Parrothead topped this by saying for X amount he would also shave his head. It all occurred today at the Lido deck pool. First though, I attended the Songwriters Showcase which was a 3-hour event with the entertainers who had been playing all week, (Jim Morris, Jim Asbell, John Frinzi, and KD Moore) playing their original music and talking about how they created their songs…sort of like VH1 Unplugged. It was very casual and fun and the stories were even better than the songs.

Once over, I headed for the party, which was in full swing on the Lido deck when I arrived. There were even two security guards bearing down and looking very serious. I’m unsure what or whom they thought they were protecting. As I approached the encouraging crowd, I saw Linda (the lady I “saved” at Magen’s Bay earlier in the week—another story for another time) busily clippering, scissoring, and shaving Mr. LA Parrothead’s scalp. The moustache and other facial hair were already gone. To his credit, he kept giving the Hawaiian high sign to the group throughout the event. At one point, he had several bikinied women taking shavers to his head. Two pairs of clippers, 4 pairs of scissors, and 12 disposable shavers gave their all for this endeavor, but in the end, the deed was done and $800 had been raised for Breast Cancer Research. Someone gave him a Rasta hat complete with long braids and beads. Ladies and gentlemen, the prior pirate turned a Bob Marley.

This was our second formal night in the Golden Olympian Dining Room. How very strange to see the guys at my table and those around it without their moustaches and facial hair. Some looked better, some looked younger, but no one looked more different than Mr. LA Parrothead when he walked into the room (to a standing ovation) with his shiny white head which is home to more than a few abrasions compliments of the event.

After dinner and a change into jeans, I headed to the Victoria Lounge for the Jim Morris and Big Bamboo Band midnight show, which was being simulcast on radiojimmydreamz.com. I thought I had seen it all; however, tonight I experienced flying rubber chickens on the dance floor. (Don’t ask; you have to experience it.) Dawn came much too soon.

Saturday
Another beautiful day in paradise beckoned. We arrived in Nassau at noon. I did some power shopping at the straw market, had lunch at Señor Frogs complete with a banana daiquiri, and headed back to the boat for a seaweed wrap and massage. When I was asked by the technician which group I was with I answered “the Parrotheads” and she replied “oh…the happy group”. The afternoon was for packing…no napping today. Dinner was bittersweet. The service staff sang goodbye to us with specially written words to the tune of leaving on a jet plane, “you’re leaving our fun ship….” you get the idea. They gave us pictures of the ship in a tropical setting to take home with us. It will be a permanent reminder of some good times.

Sunday will have us back in the upper 48 and flying in all directions. Has it been eight days already? Thanks for coming along on my sea cruise with me. Hope you had a good time. I sure did.

Fins!

Sheila aka Hurricane, Trouble, Diva She and Southern Comfort
3/11/06

P.S. A week has passed since this trip. I miss the people more than I would have imagined. I attended this cruise alone but never felt lonely in this group. They were gracious, kind, funny, and all that I expected and more. They have ruined one thing for me though -- I cannot imagine ever taking a cruise without them.

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