Jun 30, 2011
Jun 29, 2011
|On board the Carnival Sensation at sunset|
I've never had any interest in going on a cruise. I admit I'd always been a bit of a snob about cruises. They seemed, for lack of a better word, corny. The TV ads trumpeting the rock wall and the flow-rider did little to disabuse me of my smug sense of superiority. The experience just seemed too packaged, too limiting--literally being stuck on a ship for much of the journey. The cruise experience with it's casinos, showgirls, and man-made spectacle seemed reminiscent of Vegas, another place that's never had any appeal to me.
But now that I've actually been a cruise I can report. . .that it is a little corny. The overly-shiny decor and faux luxe details are reminiscent of a late-80's three star hotel. But it's also a lot of fun, and definitely something I'd like to do again. After all, if you're going on vacation, this is way better than flying coach on an airplane. Why not make the journey part of the destination?
The six 8th grade graduates along with Pastor Johnson, school principal Brenda Arthurs, and I met at the airport in Columbus late Sabbath afternoon, June 4. We flew to Orlando, FL arriving around 7:30 in the evening. There our group split up. Funds were tight, and I had agreed to flying rather than driving to Florida on the condition that we keep expenses to a minimum. So Mrs. Arthurs, and "The Rose", the one girl among the students (so named because our headwaiter on the cruise referred to her as "the rose among the thorns") headed off to spend the night with a family friends of Mrs. Arthurs. Most of the boys stayed with Pastor Johnson at the airport Embassy Suites, and "The Attorney" and I stayed at my mom's house. Sunday morning we all met up at the hotel for breakfast and then got a ride arranged through one of the local Adventist churches by Pastor Johnson to Port Canaveral. Herewith, some of the highlights from our time on the high seas:
|The Sensation in port at Freeport, Bahamas|
Our ship was the Carnival Sensation and it was huge (though certainly not the biggest ship out there. At the next pier over was the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas which towered over our vessel.) Walking into the huge main atrium, looking up five or six stories at the massive skylight above you're suitably impressed by the size of the ship. There's space for a jogging track, a mini-golf course, several waterpark-worthy water slides, and of course the swimming pool. Indoors there's the gym, spa, salon, casinos, various nightclubs and lounges, and an expansive entertainment stage where Vegas-style musical revues are performed each night. At first it was easy to get lost onboard, but after a day we began to get our bearings, and before long we could navigate the vessel from end to end with ease. We found the ship is big but gets smaller the more time you spend on it. But it never gets so small you feel cramped.
|The view from the top. We gathered here with a lot of our fellow travelers as the liner left Port Canaveral|
|Another view as we departed Port Canaveral|
|The atrium is a great place to get a sense of the sheer size of the ship as you can see muliple deck levels all at the same time here.|
|Looking up at the massive skylight in the main atrium. Doesn't it seem like Batman should come crashing through there at some point?|
The staterooms were much better than I expected. I envisioned a closet of a room, a place to change, sleep, and shower and that's all, especially since we'd purchased the cheapest rooms available, windowless interior rooms down in the bowels of the ship. I figured stateroom was an overstatement, a marketing ploy to dress up steerage class, but was pleasantly surprised to find we got substantially more than that. The rooms were small, yes, bu big enough to be comfortable. Our room slept four, with two overhead bunks that were folded away during the day, opening up the room a bit. I actually found the room cozy rather than claustrophobic. A nice touch was the curtained wall-space which gave the illusion of a window, which was surprisingly helpful in preventing one from feeling penned in. The only drawback is that in an interior room it's all too easy to oversleep. 9:00 A.M. feels the same as 4:00 A.M. with no sunlight to clue you in. I shared a room with three of the boys--"The Attorney" (so named for his considerable debating skills--skills he employed on me ad nauseum for reasons big and small all school year long!), "The Quiet Man" (the verbal opposite of "The Attorney") and "Asian Pop Star" (so named because of his super-trendy style). Pastor Johnson shared a room a few doors down with "Freshboi" and his son who I will call "Youngmoney" after one of his many Facebook appellations. "The Rose" and Mrs. Arthurs were quite a hike forward on the same deck as the rest of us.
|A view of just part of the gargantuan buffet on the Lido deck of a Carnival cruise ship. I snagged this photo from the web, and our particular vessel's buffet didn't look exactly like this, but this gives you the general idea.|
The Lido Deck
One of the great perks of cruising is the free food! Indeed one of the key selling points when we decided to go on a cruise was that once you're onboard everything is free (well, almost everything--but the food--all of it--is definitely free). The first place we all headed after depositing our carry-ons (our larger bags would be delivered by the porters later on in the day) in our staterooms was the Lido deck where an endless array of food awaited us. Apparently all cruise ships have a Lido deck, where the outdoor pool and surrounding facilities are located. For us though, the Lido deck meant a sumptuous buffet spread available at virtually all hours of the day. Even though the main buffet was only open at meal times, those meal times were several hours in length each and in between the pizzeria and deli were always open. There was so much food available that I did the opposite of gorging myself on my first meal. I began with a simple plate of grilled vegetables, olives, and a little eggplant dish. There was no need to stuff myself because I knew that a feast awaited me at my leisure.
|Another view of the Lido deck buffet. This is the serving line. Again this is a web photo and not our actual ship.|
One of the high points of each day on the ship, was our seated dinner time. It was nice to come together with the whole group and share a meal together. It was also a great opportunity for our students to learn the finer points of fine dining. The setting was quite elegant—nice china, linen table cloths, and so on. There is something very egalitarian about the cruise experience. Regular people get to feel rich (and if you're not careful, spend like you're rich). There's no Titanic-like restrictions by class. We cellar dwellers ate at the same table as the people who paid for the fancy high-end staterooms.
The menu was diverse with a couple new selections every night in addition to the “Carnival Classics” that were always available—of course everything on the menu was free. Monday night was Elegant Night and the dress code called for formal wear. Our kids turned out looking sharp and carried themselves like true lady and gentlemen. We were waited on by a team of three led by our headwaiter, Julie. Julie was a friendly and solicitous Filipina and her familiar accent brought back fond memories of Saipan and all our friends in the Filipino community there.
Each evening the entire wait staff led by the maître d presented a short performance—a song or dance or both for our entertainment. On Tuesday night, “Freshboi” provided one of the more memorable dinnertime moments of the trip. The wait staff were providing an amateur dance number to the tune of “Apple Bottom Jeans” and of course many of the dinner guests joined in the fun. “Freshboi” jumped out of his seat and started cutting a rug—and I swear, I thought this only happened in movies—the crowd stopped dancing, made a big circle for him, and cheered him on as he showed his stuff. I guess all that jiving in the hall on the way back from the bathroom finally paid off. I admit was more than a little impressed that his moves could command that kind of attention.
Another enjoyable aspect of the evening was getting to know our tablemates. You are assigned the same table for duration of the cruise and each table is filled so you usually get an opportunity to share your meal each evening with some of the other guests on board. Our tablemates were Carol, her daughter Jennifer, and Jennifer’s two sons. The family was from Orlando and had decided on the cruise as a last minute treat. Getting to know them over dinner was a pleasure.
|Passengers living it up on the Lido deck|
We cruised with Carnival. They did a great job from start to finish. I had a "personal vacation planner" who knew my by name and was my direct contact from the time I first enquired about the cruise, through our reservations process, and the months leading up to the trip. A big thanks to Roy at Carnival for all your help! Once on board, the attention to detail and fantastic service continued. The stateroom steward took the time to learn my name and always greeted me as we passed in the hall. Guest services allowed “Asian Pop Star” to call his parents from their phone free of charge (Normally, it would have cost over $5 per minute. And it wasn’t even a dire emergency—at least in my opinion. He wanted to look even more like an Asian pop star and dye his hair an Asian pop star brown. I --and the salon staff--wouldn’t allow him to do it unless I knew for sure his parents would allow it. They gave the okay, but then it turned out he couldn’t get it done anyway because the dye allergy test wouldn’t clear before the cruise ended. I was also very impressed with how the stylist broke the news to a deeply disappointed “Asian Pop Star”). At dinner the maître d arranged for us to change tables to escape smoke drifting down from the lounge upstairs and got us in for late seating when we missed our assigned early seating due to a late return from our day in Nassau. In every aspect, I found the service and attention outstanding.
|One of the neat things the stewards do each night when they turn down our beds, is leave a towel folded in the shape of an animal. On this particular night, I think it was Wednesday night, June 8, they left us a towel crab.|
For the first two full days of the cruise, we were ashore for most of the day. Still we ate on board the ship and there was plenty of time in the evening to take advantage all the ship had to offer. The last day of the cruise, Wednesday, June 8, we were at sea for the full day and we were able to take full advantage of everything on board. The kids spent most of their time revolving between the Lido deck and Circle C, a youth club for kids 12-14 that provided a steady stream of activities and games throughout the day and well into the night. They also made occasional forays to the gym, where I’d supervise them while they tried out the various machines. Their main goal was social—to make new friends, particularly girls. (“The Rose” was content with privileging some of her classmates with the pleasure of her company as she saw fit—you can imagine the drama among the fellows on that count!)
|"The Attorney" above and "The Rose" below, working out in the onboard gym|
Surprisingly the kids didn’t utilize the pool or the waterpark very much at all. The boys swam briefly a few times, but complained that the water “didn’t feel right.” I’m not sure what they meant by that, as I didn’t swim myself. The pool and the two whirlpools on either side of it were usually pretty crowded anyway. I did try one of the slides in the waterpark though on our last day and found it quite refreshing after reading on a sunny deck chair for an hour or so.
On the full day at sea, I also popped into see one of the short shows/contests they had throughout the day. The one I saw was a version of the newlywed game featuring one couple that had been married 51 years, one couple that had been married 26 years, and one couple that had been married for four days. The game was hosted by Skip, the ship’s Australian cruise director. It was quite funny, and I enjoyed trying to guess what Babs and I might have replied to the questions. Unfortunately I missed the reveal of the couple’s responses as I was called away to deal with “Asian Pop Star’s” hair dye drama.
It’s quite possible to fill your day onboard the ship and never spend a dime. It’s also possible to spend quite a lot. If you want to drink soda, you can pay three bucks a pop plus gratuity or spend $24 for a soda card that allows you to drink unlimited soda for the duration of the cruise. Carnival also employs a small crew of ubiquitous photographers who take pictures of you as you board the ship, as you disembark at each port of call, and as you eat dinner. In addition they have a multitude of backdrops set up along the promenade deck where you can have professional portraits of all kinds taken. The pictures are displayed on a wall of photos in the main atrium and you can pick and choose which ones you’d like to keep. A full-size 8 X 10 will set you back well over $20, so buying pics can add up fast. At our last dinner, the students presented Mrs. Arthurs and me each with a leather bound professional photo of my students and me that we took during the Elegant Night. It’s a beautiful photo, I must say—everyone looks like the most beautiful versions of themselves. I’m sure it must have set them back a pretty penny, and I was touched that they used some of their personal funds that way. Carnival also offers to book shore excursions for each of the ports of call. The cheapest of these excursions, the basic tour of Nassau runs about $45 per person, with activities such as the Dolphin Encounter in Freeport or the visit to the legendary Atlantis resort in Nassau costing over $100 per person. If you can’t be away from the web for four days, you can pay a hefty fee to use wi-fi or connect using one of the ship’s computers. Likewise, cell-phones are functional throughout the cruise, but you’ll be charged exorbitant international rates when you make or receive calls (and, I’m told, roaming charges that are assessed even if you never make a single call). We just turned our phones off for the duration of the trip.
In addition to these optional expenses, expect to be charged $10 per person per day for gratuities. These funds go to the wait staff that serve you at dinner, the steward and other housekeeping staff, and other behind-the-scenes workers. To be fair, if you’re going to leave a fair tip you’d probably spend that much or more anyway, but the $160 for gratuities that our room was charged sure hit the wallet hard. You’re also expected to leave a generous tip in cash for the maître d on the last night of the cruise. I don’t begrudge any of the gratuities but in the future I’ll be prepared for the added expense. Even though I knew we would need to tip, I was still caught a little flatfooted with the amount we ended up spending.
Spending is dangerously easy on the ship. Each guest is given a Sign and Sail card when they check in. This card is used for any and all purchases on the ship—the soda card, gift shop purchases, photos etc—and the amount charged is assessed to your credit card automatically when the cruise is over, or you can pay in cash if you prefer. Because charging is so easy, I imagine it would be easy to rack up quite a bill without realizing it.
|The Sensation, right, in port in Nassau. In the foreground is a Royal Caribbean vessel, the Majesty of the Seas, I think.|
When all is said and done, I have to say that I wouldn’t mind cruising again. I think it would be a lot of fun with my family. I might be interested in trying another line like Royal Caribbean, but I’ve heard that some of the other cruise lines skew towards an elderly clientele, and I like the variety of activities available for kids and families on the Carnival Fun Ships. It’d be nice to splurge abit and get a room with a view or even a balcony. There’d be lots we could do with the Feller and could even leave him at Camp Carnival (the kids camp/day care for children from ages 2-11) for a little while and spend some time together just the two of us.
Congratulations, Carnival! You’ve converted this cruise skeptic! Hopefully sometime in the near future, I’ll have the chance to hit the high seas again.
|Unfortunately, the only photo I could get of an entire cruise ship was of the Royal Caribbean vessel, which was blocking our ship. You can just make out the water slide of the Sensation peeking out from behind the mammoth RC ship.|
Jun 25, 2011
|CAA's 8th grade class of 2011 set sail for the Bahamas Sunday, June 5, 2011 from Port Canaveral, FL. In this photo class treasurer, "Freshboi", looks out to sea as the Carnival cruise vessel Sensation leaves port.|
My first 8th grade class trip was to Bali, when I was just 25 years old and a new teacher at Saipan SDA School. It was a learning experience. The kids were so terrified of the aggressive vendors on the streets of Kuta that they begged to just stay in the hotel. I lost $75 of the class’s money to quick-fingered money-changers. A group of my boys had to be moved from their hotel room because their loud horseplay in their room led to complaints. I learned a lot that year and since then, I’ve taken groups of 8th graders to Australia (twice), the Philippines and Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Singapore and Orlando and the Bahamas. All of the trips have been fantastic experiences.
Here in America I’ve encountered a question that was never asked during in our years in Saipan: Why do the 8th graders get to go on such extravagant trips? (Well, actually no one has ever asked me that question directly, but I’ve been told the question was asked a lot this past school year. The board votes at the local, conference, and union level were close, I’m told). A typical 8th grade class trip is a visit to a neighboring city, a day at the local amusement park, and maybe a night or two at the Travelodge. The kids have a good time and go home. Some schools might even pull out all the stops and make the trek to DC for a few days of national heritage touring. The kids get to see history first hand, learn a lot, and go home. But riding an elephant by day in Thailand and sleeping in a five-star hotel in Bangkok at night? White-water rafting in Bali? Learning to throwa boomerang from an Aborigine and petting a kangaroo in Australia? Attending a Broadway-style musical on the history of South Korea and hearing a world-reknowned pianist play in a beautiful concert hall in Seoul? Experiencing three national cultures in one city on the island nation of Singapore? Taking a cruise to the Bahamas? Isn’t it all a little much? After all why should mere kids get to experience all that?
My response is simple: Why shouldn’t they? The kids shouldn’t just have a little fun and learn a few things and then go home. They should have an experience of a lifetime, a trip they’ll never forget.
I think 8th grade is an ideal time to take students on a major trip—whether it be to one of the great cities of America or to an exciting international destination. Public and private schools are beginning to offer opportunities for kids as young as fifth grade to go to places like France and China. This website has an ongoing discussion among teachers a few years ago discussing taking their middle school students to places like Mexico and Spain! I’m proud to say that at the schools where I’ve taught we’ve been ahead of the curve instead of playing catch-up.
Here’s what I’ve found from more than ten years of touring the world with middle-schoolers:
8th grade students are old enough to appreciate the experience and are able to handle being away from home, but young enough that they can’t get into adult-style trouble. With my 8th graders I don’t have to worry about my kids trying to sneak out at night to find the local nightclub. I don’t need to worry about the kids trying to take advantage of another country’s lower legal drinking age. Onboard the Carnival Sensation, I knew none of my kids were going to have much interest in or the ability to sneak their way into the casinos or night clubs. The kids, despite the already raging hormones and their belief that they know everything, still retain a certain innocence that precludes trouble and also can make more open to the new experience. To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever want to volunteer to take a group of high school seniors on a major trip—too much stress and worry! I’ll take my 8th graders any day.
|On Tuesday, June 7, 2011 we visited the new campus of Bahamas Academy of Seventh-day Adventists on New Providence Island, which is still under construction. Eventually this $10 million complex will house over eight hundred students.|
|We also visited the current campus of the Bahamas Academy of Seventh-day Adventists. The kids were amazed to learn that the 8th grade class at Bahamas Academy has more students than our entire school!|
|The kids originally wanted to go to California, but they ended up here instead. Bummer. (Lacaya Beach, Freeport, Bahamas. June 6, 2011)|
ahhh 8th grade class trip, by far the best week in my life! Australia was amazing. Memories of it are still fresh in my mind. Arriving at the airport, waiting for the bus driver, getting to the hotel, arguing of beds, going to church, e...ating those LARGE mangoes, switching hotels, laser tagging, tube riding, that aboriginal park, that skyrail that was VERY scary, kei learning how to wash clothes, SHOPPING, white water rafting, and the four wheeler stuff. AND POOL, i wasted alot of money playing that. It was so much fun and we learned so much from it. All the fundraisers and all the hard work to get there was all worth it. Learning about the aboriginal people was cool too, I did not know they even existed and I bet they didn't know what chamorros or carolinians were. Imagine that, one week in Australia and I discovered a new race--Kono Remeliik (Class of 2008, Australia)
#3. Learning is always on the itinerary. And by that I don’t necessarily mean museums (though those are often included too). A zoo, a classical music concert, a centuries-old fort, a cultural village are great academic learning experiences. But I also want my students to learn about the larger Adventist organization our school belongs to. I make it a point to visit an Adventist institution on every class trip. I also want my students to learn how to conduct themselves while traveling whether right here in America or abroad. Whether on a plane, train, or cruise ship I want my students to learn how to travel, how to make their way in a new place with courtesy, curiosity, and dignity.
I absolutely love the fact that I fell in love with Thailand. It became to me more than just a trip. The people were great and I really enjoyed the food, the stores, the culture. It was very good at impressing me. Learning some things and learning social norms in different places is also a very cool and neat thing to experience-Wilfredo Paez (Class of 2005, Philippines & Thailand)
Blogging the Bahamas Beaches: Onshore in Freeport and Nassau
The Endorsement: WonderWorks, Orlando FL
More photos! Pastor Joel Johnson, the father of one of our 8th graders, traveled with us as a chaperone and took lots of photos. He promised us all copies of all his pictures, and as soon as I collect on that promise, I will add a lot more photos to this entry and the others to come. Also, I'm going to work on getting written permission from all my students' parents so that I can post photos of the kids on the blog. After all, it's a bit odd to have blog entries about my trip with my students and never see the kids!
|Pastor Johnson armed with multiple cameras. With this kind of equipment, I think you can expect some pretty outstanding photos!|
Jun 14, 2011
Too often in our world it seems that wrong is rewarded. We try to teach our kids that it’s important to be humble, to be unselfish, to be loyal. We tell them that’s it’s not “all about them.” We tell them it’s important to work hard and pay your dues, stay in school, go to college. But then all around them they see people who are arrogant and selfish, and who, as a direct result of their choices, are showered with success, money, fame, and power. They see so-called role models in sports and entertainment who make it clear that’s “all about me.” They see people for whom the regular rules seem not to apply—they didn’t really need to bother with boring hard work. They didn’t need to stay in school or even go to college. The good life seems to have come to them simply because they demanded it.
But every now and then, the values that we strive to teach are vindicated in the flashy world of popular culture. Every now and then hard work and teamwork triumph over exceptional talent and individual superstardom. Every now and then humility and selflessness triumph over braggadocio and self-interest. Every now and then those who paid their dues get paid back at last. Such was the case Sunday night when the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat in the sixth game of this year’s NBA championship.
Of course, most readers know that I’m the farthest thing from an avid sports fan, but this season’s contest piqued my interest. As I bantered with my students about the game as we cruised the Caribbean on our 8th grade class trip, I sensed that more was at stake than a mere game.
Like most Ohioans, I was familiar with basketball star LeBron James' ungracious departure from the team of his youth, the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer. For months before his decision James let the rumors swirl about whether he would stay with the Cavs or sign up with another team. The intense anticipation culminated in an unprecedented one-hour primetime special on ESPN entitled “The Decision.” Like Results Night on American Idol, James milked the full hour, before dramatically revealing to the world (and his former team) his decision to leave Cleveland and join his friends Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. Together this powerhouse Trinity would chase the championships James had been unable to snag with his less talented teammates in Cleveland.
The Cavs were horrified, Cleveland was devastated, and basketball fans quickly divided into two camps. There were those that felt that James showed tasteless arrogance in the way he left his home team (all but the most die-hard Clevelanders respected his right to choose another team, but many objected to the self-indulgent way he unceremoniously dumped his former team before millions of viewers). And then there were those that felt that “King James” had the right to do what he had to do in whatever manner he chose to get a championship ring.
And for much of the year, it appeared that LeBron James had made the right move. Any hopes that Cleveland would somehow beat the odds and succeed without him quickly evaporated. Meanwhile, Miami proved a dynamic force in NBA basketball, muscling their way through the playoffs and into the finals against the Mavericks, a team with only one big star Dirk Nowitzki, oldsters such as Jason Kidd, and a bunch of relative unknowns. The outcome of this matchup seemed a foregone conclusion.
But something strange happened as the finals began. Miami won the first game at home, lost the second, then won the third game which was played in Dallas. Game Four, last Tuesday, is when I began watching—following the action an TV poolside on the deck of our cruise ship in port in Nassau, Bahamas. It was noted that LeBron was having difficulty, especially in the fourth quarter when his outsize talent was especially crucial. He just couldn’t seem to deliver when he was needed most. Was it nerves? The pressure of the game, the media, his own exorbitant expectations? No one seemed to know, not even LeBron himself. In a sense, it didn’t matter what the reason was—the fact was James was virtually scoreless in the fourth quarter of the fourth and fifth game. The games were close with both teams just points a part right down to the buzzer—had LeBron been himself, there’s no doubt Miami could have won.
By the time Game 6 rolled around and the action shifted back to Miami, Dallas definitely seemed to have the momentum and while the two teams remained close in the first three quarters, in the fourth, Dallas pulled away opening up a lead that Miami was powerless to chase down. The final score was 105-95.
Granted, if the Heat had won and James’ choices had been seemingly vindicated, as a teacher I still could have carved out a teachable moment of sorts. I could have made the argument that though LeBron might have won the basketball championship, in the game of life personal character is what really counts, blah, blah, blah. But the argument would have been a tough sell against the obvious tangible benefits LeBron would have been reaping.
I’m not here to make a judgment about LeBron James as a person. I don’t know him personally. I’m sure he has many fine qualities, and I dare not claim to know his heart. However, we can and should judge his actions, and we can decide whether his public image is worthy of emulation. This is the critical thinking we want to teach our students to engage in. The critical question is not: “Is LeBron James a good person?” The question is: “Were his actions good? Is his public persona worth imitating?” The lack of payoff for his choices makes answering those questions just that much easier.
Count this week’s win for the Dallas Mavericks, a win for teachers and parents as well.
This post by Andrew Sharp on the SB Nation website provides some great insights into why "King James" failed to live up to the hype as well as several links to some other great articles on the subject.