Carnival Spirit: The Third Sea Day

When last we left this tale, I had just finished the Behind the Fun Tour and was rushing to meet Mike outside the dining room for lunch.

Mike wasn't there. Well, I was running late, so he'd probably gone to Plan B - start without me.

I craned my neck around the podium, trying to peek all around the dining room without stepping foot inside. There? No. There? No. Hmm.

Maybe Plan C was in effect, and he was still at trivia?


Okay, this is Mike. Maybe he slept in and never made it to trivia. Time to check the room.

Grrrr - this wasn't in any of the contingency plans. The combination of being hungry after four hours of tromping around the ship with only a cookie in the crew bar for sustenance, plus my general belief that Mike sleeps too much (compared to my too little), plus the fact that We Had a Plan, Mister, was starting to brew stormclouds.

But then I saw Mike, coming towards me. "Did you walk past a bit ago?" Turns out Mike thought he saw me walk by, so he hurried away from the end of trivia to catch me. Or "me." Then he lost me, so he checked the room. Now he was on his way to the dining room. "Mike, we had a plan!" "But I was sure I saw you!" "But we had a plan! It was a foolproof plan!" "But I thought I saw you!" "But we had a plan!" And so it continued all the way to the dining room, where - having both ultimately achieved our objectives of finding one another - we settled down to a meal of I-forget-what, because I didn't have my camera with me, what with just having come from the tour.

Mike had spent the morning in trivia, losing narrowly on the music questions and more widely on the cartoon questions, but still having fun as always.

"They sent something to the room," he mentioned. "What?" "I don't know. It's on a plate."

Ah, I thought. The chocolate-covered strawberries. I knew from reading posts on Cruise Critic that other people had received these after their BTF tours.

Later, though, when we were back in the room, I discovered that it was more than that:

Carnival Spirit - Behind the Fun Treats

Delicious! I really enjoyed the chewy cookies in particular.

On the Capers (sigh, Fun Times), I'd highlighted Arts & Crafts for 2:30. But, back in the room, I cast an eye on some of the junk mail. It's the same thing every day: spa specials, golf clinics, jewelry sales, and - always - an ad for some art gallery event.

Today they were advertising a "Lightning Fast Art Auction" at 2:30, with free registration, free champagne, and a free piece of art for all attendees. You know, why not try something new?

We went downstairs to the Versailles Lounge a bit before, just to look around. Oh, no, sorry guys. We're still setting up. No looking until 2:30. Okay.

We went outside and stood in a short line to register - basically turn in the flyer and get a number to hold up when bidding. Ha, as if that was going to happen. But hey, we're trying new things here, so okay. We then re-queued to enter the lounge at 2:30.

The doors opened and in we filed. Perhaps you remember this cruddy pic I took of the Versailles Lounge on the first night, when Mike was hunting the karaoke book?

Carnival Spirit - Mike on Karaoke Prowl

Now those rows of cushy seats were covered in propped up paintings. To tour the gallery, one moved up and down the rows. (Not unlike Isaac in Children of the Corn.)

What we quickly realized is that these were prints. Not works of art that the artist's hand actually touched. Disappointing.

Maybe it was the post-BTF mimosas, since I don't usually drink, but I started narrowing my eyes in search of the free champagne. Dangit, didn't these people want to get me liquored up and ready to bid $600 on a really well-made poster?

After we dutifully looked at everything and declared most of it "not to our taste," which was just us being in character at this refined occasion and not wanting to say "crap," Mike felt a bit off and went for a lie-down up in the room. Now that we'd wasted almost 45 minutes with the the registering and the waiting and the looking around then sitting in the chairs up front and waiting some more for the auction to start, I was determined to see this through. Gimme my champagne and show me an auction! Yeehaw!

The champagne made a brief appearance at the back of the room, and I hurdled chairs and frames like the alky I know I could be if I really tried. (This is just hyperbole. I remember, in the early nineties, a summer when I was very depressed and thought I'd see if I could spin the spiral downward even faster with some willful attempts at boozehounding. Alas, the control freak within prevailed. Also? Loading the fridge with Zima in an attempt at alcoholism is a bit like planning a trip to the mountains... via a Yugo.)

Of course the champagne was nasty. (Rather like Zima, actually.) It was probably the same stuff we were winning at British Pub Quiz; later that night some of our BPQ companions said the crew wouldn't even accept those bottles as tips. But, I sipped in determination, living the fancy dream of attending an art auction, wondering if someone would scratch their nose and be $12,000 the poorer for it.

The "Lightning Fast Art Auction," scheduled for 2:30, began sometime after 3 p.m. It started out someinterestingly, with the Park West guys - a third party that handles the auctions onboard - showing little movies of Peter Max and discussing some of his work. "Oh, how nice," I thought. "We'll learn a little bit about each of these paintings." The auctioneer kept reminding us to let them know which paintings we were interested in, and those would be the paintings (why do I keep calling them paintings? PRINTS.) he'd show us.



Even I knew who Peter Max is, so the first five times his work was trotted out, then re-trotted out, for bidding, I kind of understood. Plus, they had actual paintings from him, and prints that were processed beyond just the photocopying stage.

Carnival Spirit - Peter Max, Umbrella Man

(I took this the next day. Peter Max's "Umbrella Man" hangs in the casino. Or, you know, one of his jillion versions of it.)

I also understood why the Thomas Kinkades got their own section of sofa cushions. I'm embarrassed to admit it now, but the very first time I saw a TK, I thought, oh, so pretty! Flowers! Light! Now to look at a Kinkade is like pouring damp sugar in my eyes: I want to claw the sweetness out. I don't know if it's just oversaturation in the marketplace or some developing snootiness on my part, but I can't enjoy them at all now.

The auctioneer was running a "Thomas Kinkade Special," which is a blur now, but it basically amounted to the paintings not selling until he slashed the prices and made some "buy one get three" or such combo offers, then they started to sell. At this point we'd had very few bids on anything, but many, many, many paintings had been shown.

"We're only going to let you bid on the ones you expressed interest in, so let us know!" Shyeah right. As the twenty of us sat silently in the room for painting after painting in which no one had ever expressed interest, I found myself listening to the presenter's attempts at persuasive rhetoric, wishing my seniors could be there to analyze it. (Ooo, have I finally found the angle that justifies a field trip on a cruise? Meh... as if I'd spoil cruising by bringing work along.)

One technique I liked was when he had us all hold up our numbers and "practice" bidding. Then he'd offer a small print for, say, a dollar. Surely we could go a dollar. Five dollars? Six? We had a few of these, as if he was trying to get our arms into the habit, and sure enough - I ended up bidding $10 on one I sort of liked. That champagne! The lure of new experiences! Oops, outbid. "Miss, do you want to get back in on this?" he eagerly asked. I couldn't help grinning as I shook my head "no." As if.

By the time the first hour of the "lightning fast" auction had passed, a few people had plonked down serious money. (Serious by my tender pocketbook.) Some of the tiny Max prints of the Statue of Liberty went for around $4000 each (the opening bid), and one couple bid $8000 (the opening bid) on a painting they'd picked out beforehand. (Hint: except for when we did our group exercises, no one ever outbid anyone.)

I don't think the $8000 couple should count, though, because they were either a weird plant or too insane to reflect the general audience. I don't care that they'd pay $8000 for the art; that's their purse and their preference. No, the loony-evidence comes from when the woman said to the auctioneer, "The frame alone is worth that!"

Bingo had passed. Tea Time had passed. Trivia Rumble had passed. We were deep into the four o'clock hour and my glass of yellow fizz was long empty. When would it end? No one is bidding on your "very collectible steal at $15,000," mate. Every now and then a number would be drawn for free art. ("See Thomas after the show.") But what about the free art just for attending? I had to hang in there. Surely it would end soon.

At nearly five-something (you read that right) the Lightning Fast Art Auction drew to a close, and we were directed to see Thomas for our notebook paper-sized envelopes with a free print inside. AT LAST. Never. Again.

Now, if you ever get bored of arguing over dining room attire or chair hogging on the cruise boards, discussing Park West is guaranteed to be a hot topic. As in, "flame war" hot.

I didn't bring it up, but I did look up old threads when I came home and, yes, you could definitely say there are two camps when it comes to Park West.

Camp A: Rip-off. Slimy. The champagne isn't even worth it.

Camp B: Shut up! I've gotten great deals on art!

I'm sure that both camps are right. Well, I'm sure that Camp A is totally right, and Camp B is sometimes right. If people are buying art that makes them happy, art that they couldn't get at home or online for a better price, then hooray for them.

I hate when people tell me that something I've purchased is a rip-off: the Kindle, my World of Warcraft subscription, cage-free eggs, purty bath gels, whatever. A "rip-off" is when you're misled or taken advantage of, like paying a guy $100 for something that costs $50 around the corner, but you don't know it. Something isn't a rip-off just because you, personally, think the price is too high. Art is subjective, and although I may think to myself, "You paid what for what?", I know that I'm not the Queen of the Consumerverse who gets to decide what everything "should" cost. I love capitalism!

That said... Park West is so slimy.

First, we have the auction that was the opposite of fast. Second, we have the lies - sure, they're only going to show the paintings that the audience wanted to see. LIE. Third, let's talk about this "free" artwork from the raffle, shall we?

The next day, outside the dining room at lunch, an older woman asked me if I'd gotten my free artwork from the raffle. No, I explained, I wasn't one of the five or so people who had won. Oh, well, she and her husband had a story for me. As directed, they saw Thomas after the show to get their special free art from the raffle. Turns out, this art isn't actually on board. (By the way, neither are many of the prints - unless it's a specified "walk off the ship with it" deal, the art will be sent later to your home.)

So, Thomas told them that the art would be shipped to them... as soon as they paid a $35 shipping fee.

At no time during the raffle was a shipping fee mentioned. It's probably in the fine print, and of course there's no obligation to pay (this couple walked away), but it's slimy to omit this.

But okay, even if you have no issue with that, beware of the so-called "fast" art auction when on your cruise. I can't imagine what the regular ones are like!

I rode the elevator to our deck with two gentlemen. One was on the wiser end of middle-aged, the other was... would it be rude or just observant, or maybe even a compliment?, to say, "not the typical cruise demographic." It's not that he was black, although cruising out of southern California has so far been a very white and somewhat Hispanic experience. (To me, and the census, Hispanics are part of the multicultural blob we call "white," but I'm going for a rare moment of clarity over correctness here.) It was that he looked... "ghetto."

The puffy tattoo on his upper arm could have been carved with razor blades. The sagging pants. The wifebeater. Hey, I know my own fashion choices mark me as sad case from a hundred paces away. It's not fair, but I'd rather be judged harshly for being "clean and comfortable" than spend money and suffer discomfort to convince people to give me a chance even if I am wearing shapeless jeans with an elastic waist and a cotton print top made in China. (To say nothing of the worn-down Birkenstocks.) But you don't expect to see the gangsta look at an art auction, that's all.

Feeling bad for mentally pigeonholing the guy - hey, anyone on a cruise has to be at least a little bit Our People, right? - I piped up with, "Well, that was interesting." The older man nodded pleasantly, and Mr. Ghetto gave me a shy smile and agreed. To be honest, I was kind of hoping for someone to erupt with "WTF, TWO AND A HALF HOURS IS NOT 'LIGHTNING FAST'!", but apparently I was in better bred company than whoever writes dialogue for my brain.

"I'm glad I went, though," I continued, not lying. Ghetto started nodding. "I'd never been to an art auction before." Ghetto's face opened up, maybe with relief, and he said yes, he hadn't either. "Did you buy anything?" we asked each other at the same time. "No." "No." I sensed that Ghetto was now holding back the same comments I was. "I did," said the other man. "Oh," I cooed, "Which one?" "One of the Statues of Liberty." "Ah, the Peter Max," I replied brightly. "Very good!" No harm being happy for others.

Then the elevator reached deck seven and we all said goodbye. Ghetto stayed on my mind as I walked to the room, though. Shy, warm smile, curious but restrained, not what you might expect from his clothes. (Just like when I get a bit more involved in a conversation than usual and someone gives me that look. The "Oh, I thought you were just this washed-out obese thing whose days are probably filled with empty pork rind bags and Wheel of Fortune reruns, but hell, you're smart?" Which I suppose is the opposite of the look I get from people who've only met me on the phone or online, the "Crap, you're not what I expected at all" look.)

I found myself hoping that he had a great time on the cruise. Literally - yes, I mean literally - hundreds of bad experiences with people who emulate ghetto fashion have put me, I think quite rightfully, in a wary position. But this didn't stop me and this guy from becoming elevator pals for a short time, and that was reassuring to me. I may have experiences that will lead to private concerns when I see someone dressed that way, but those experiences haven't closed my mind or heart yet. I'm still waiting to see what comes out of the mouth. Sometimes, after a long day of babysitting gangbangers, I worry that I'm getting shoved into an "Us versus Them" mindset, so that little ride in the lift made me feel better. There's still hope for all of us.

Besides, the only "Us versus Them" worth discussing is people who stand to wipe versus people who sit. Did I ever bring this up here before? I think so, but here's a link to one of the best MetaFilter posts of all time. Until I read it, I thought everyone did this the same way. Amazing! And while I try to respect the other point of view.... I'm sitting with the sitters, thank you very much.

Back in the room (that was a long detour down the corridor, huh?), I checked out my free art. "Memories of Florence II," by Peter Nixon. You can see it here. That link is asking $50 (mustn't chortle after the diatribe about not putting a value on art), but this person is giving it away for free. Actually, that's Memories of Florence I, but I can't tell the difference without mine in front of me. Tell you what, if you want the matched set, forget those $50 folk. I'll sell you mine for half that. Plus $35 shipping, of course.

The next day I did step into the crevice by the casino that serves as the Art Gallery to look around some more. Or, more honestly, to take a photo of some print so I could feel slightly reimbursed for those 150 minutes spent in the name of trying something new. (I could do the same thing in Las Vegas and at least get free show tickets out of it.) So, here is my acquisition, a Kinkade after all:

Carnival Spirit - Thomas Kinkade in Art Gallery

Park West should be more careful about pissing people off. The Art Gallery is usually unmanned, and next time I'm bringing a tripod. Oo, burn!

I can't remember now if I hustled Mike down for Know and Show It at five and we didn't win, or if it was too late to go, or if we just hung out on the balcony. I'm pretty sure it was just balcony time. Next time, better notes, pinky swear. (Next time has been booked, actually. Carnival Spirit again. I love Splendor - love love love adore kissyface smoochiewoochie 4ever Splendor - but the twin lures of a new itinerary and a cheaper price made me submit to Spirit's call. Early Saver rate, even. Wow, our first cruise planned over 30 days in advance! No anxiety over getting Your Time dining! Also? Alsoalsoalso? Cabin 7258. If you don't know what that means, look at the deck plan. Now look at the Verandah deck. Now look at the Old Spice guy. Now look back at the deck plan. Cabin 7258. Also known as "triple the balcony for the same price." Now look at this photo. Now look at me. Now put on your sunglasses before my grin blinds you. 7258!)

We did make it to British Pub Quiz, though, which - due to an employee recognition event (for Carnival) in the Shanghai Bar that night - was taking place down in the Fountain Cafe this time. It felt odd, being with the BPQ gang somewhere new, like we were now in a traveling production. Competitors, sure, but also comrades. I won't pretend to have traded more than chitchat with most of them, except maybe Pam since she ran Arts & Crafts, but I'd come to recognize them and of course respect them for their part in making this trivia so interesting.

So, um, yeah, we did win again that night.

I hope my beaming delight was humble, I really do, but I just looooove those ships on a stick. And the medallions. And the champagne.

Now we had four bottles of champagne, and as the end of the cruise was reluctantly in sight, we realized that we had to get these things off the ship. We could manage, packing-wise, but what about customs? There's such a fuss about how much alcohol you can bring back, but we didn't buy any of it. Must it still be declared? Mike fretted to Sam, the trivia host, asking for advice on handling all of our liquid winnings. Sam gave him a funny look.

"Just drink it!"

Not a feasible plan for Mr. Three-Drinks-In-His-Life and Ms. Can't-Finish-A-Whole-Bottle-of-Zima-Let-Alone-Champagne, but we'd think of something. Then Mike had a terrible thought. "Oh no! What if we win another one tomorrow?!"

Back up to the room to unload our prizes:

Carnival Spirit - Mike Drunk with Power (Knowledge is Power!)

Look at that young man, drunk with power... the power of knowledge!

As you can see by Mike's shirt, we decided against the second elegant night. It wasn't the dressing up but the menu that was uninspiring, plus playing hooky for one night from a drawn-out dinner had its own appeal.

Carnival Spirit - But Wait, There's More

Above you can see the winning champagne, John Heald's champagne, our monkeyhead (next time: whale tail), the soap swan on top of the Zihuatanejo dominoes before the poor thing crumbled, the medallions, the Behind the Fun goodies, our fun hairbrush with the squishy gel handle (is it weird that we share?), and a parade of seven ships on a stick... and yes, I did keep track of which came from where. Someday these babies are going to be on Antiques Roadshow, and the little sticky notes underneath will firmly establish their provenance.

I can't remember how we spent that evening, honestly, except for two things.

Late that night, I got room service:

Carnival Spirit - Grilled Cheese from Room Service (Eventually)

You also see the two sodas Mike got (in two trips) on his soda card, as a special treat. He did have a sip of each, so it's not like he abused the system by sharing with me, right? I was just drinking leftovers? Okay, it's no use, we're bad people. But, karma got us because, by the time room service arrived an hour later, the drinks were just flavoured water. Touche, universe. Lesson learned.

The other thing we did, actually right before the trivia, was go to the early show.

I, with twenty years of "on-again off-again but mostly on-again" dance classes lurking in my early past, like to watch dancing. I'm too inept myself to be critical, but I spent enough time mucking around with it all to be very interested and appreciative. I always support the dance team fundraisers at school. You'd think that I'd be highlighting the shows with my little pink marker every day.

Nope. We tried to watch one of the "Vegas-style" shows on Elation. It was like a loud pep rally with feathers. We left. I think we may have watched a few minutes of one now and again from the back on Splendor? Not sure.

But despite this negativity, we are still "Why Not?" people, so we decided to kill some time before British Pub Quiz and watch some of the 7 p.m. show.

The title of the production was "The Big Easy," and on each little table were ropes of Mardi Gras beads. Do you know how many of those beads you can wrap around your wrist? Well, I don't, but only because I started showing some restraint after grabbing up the sixth or seventh one. (Maybe because it was Elegant Night, the showroom was only half-full.) Anyway: beads!

When the show started, it was fine. Then it was good. Then it was impressive. Nothing stands out in my memory, just the professional quality of the sets, the singing, the costumes, the choreography... wow! People would definitely pay to see this in Vegas!

Still, aware of Mike who - despite knowing a startling number of show tunes for such a butch guy ("Mum had the record," he always says), not to mention frequently singing them around the house with revised hamster-friendly lyrics - is not always show-oriented, I started to ask him if he wanted to go. Before I could, he leaned over and said, "This is good!"

Neither one of us had a watch or phone, though, so we had to guess when to leave for the pub quiz. "I kind of don't want to go," said Mike. That, Carnival, is an A+ testimony. Feel free to slap it on your website, perhaps along with the photo of Mike above. Passenger considers skipping the trivia for watching people prance about.

And that's all I remember, from the last night before the last day. Even with a future cruise booked, I'm sad to almost be done talking about this one. Did we win the final pub quiz? Tune in next time...

Carnival Spirit - Towel Animal - Mardi Gras Thing

19 July 2010 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)