Sunday, October 29, 2006

Peabody of the Caribbean - Pt. 1

Sunday, October 22 - Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Arrive at the Fort Lauderdale airport after an uneventful flight from Charlotte. This is one of the most uninspired, utilitarian airports you will ever see, you'd think you were in the old East Germany or something. Proceed to the Royal Caribbean desk to get to our transfer bus to Port Everglades, a whopping 3 miles from the airport. While waiting for the bus, we meet a 50-something gay couple from Pennsylvania who are going on our cruise. We tell them it's our first cruise, they have been on 8. They tell us we will love it, but then proceed to tell a horror story about a ship they were on that sailed thru a tropical storm, 14-foot swells, they said that the passengers all went to the central area of the ship and slept on the floor. They reassured us that we probably wouldn't run into anything like that in the Caribbean. After a 5-minute ride on the bus, the ship comes into view. 962 feet long, 195 feet tall, 105 feet wide, 90,000 freakin' tons. This thing is massive. Glass everywhere, deck after deck of balconied staterooms. We breeze thru the terminal proceedings, board the ship. Our stateroom is ready, we head back. We are on the stern, the hallway from the central lobby of the ship (the "Centrum" it looks like a 10 story shopping mall atrium) to our room is about 150 yards long. Lots of exercise this week..

Stateroom is great, oversized with an oversized balcony. Balcony has 2 loungechairs, 2 sitting chairs, and a little table. Bigger than any hotel balcony I've ever had.

After several hours of checking out the ship, we head out. I'm standing on the 12th deck, the upper deck of the pool area, breeze in my hair, I tell Dana "I'm hooked already, this is awesome". Cruise down the Florida coast, non-stop highrises on the beach for miles and miles and miles. Sunset over Miami is killer.

Monday, October 23 - Key West, Florida

Awaken to bumping of ship against dock. I walk out on the balcony, can see industrial, longshoreman, shipyard-looking stuff, but town is beyond. All this to my left. It is still pretty much dark, also to my left I see lightning. Great...

We walk up on deck, can see the whole town, hear rooster crowing. Hmm, methinks that odd in a "city". Nice view of the Customs House.

After breakfast at "the Trough" as we call the buffet (we managed to avoid getting trampled by the 300-pound food-crazed West Virginians Glenn Love warned us about), we notice it is raining cats and dogs. Our "Conch Train" tour is scheduled for 10:30, we go ashore in our cool UNC windbreaker jackets we bought just for this purpose, people are walking around barefoot and with plastic bags over their heads. We manage to find an awning to stand under, finally right as we board our train (one of those open-side little trams like they have at amusement parks, zoos, etc) the rain lets up. The train tour is nice, it zips you by everything you would want to see in Key West, but unless you get lucky and hit a stop sign or light right at a point of interest, it is next to impossible to take decent pictures of anything. Apparently if you buy a ticket yourself (not a packaged excursion from the ship) you can get a ticket that will allow you to get off and back on, that would be the way to go.

Of course we saw the aforementioned chickens all over town, I'm not sure what the folklore behind that is, but they are everywhere. Not to many "alternative lifestyle" folks in sight, apparently they are all getting ready for "FantasyFest" the next week, their Mardi Gras-like festival, where things get pretty flamin'. LOTs of acid casualties, and characters straight out of Buffet songs.

After the train ride, we have enough time to wander over to Duval Street area, we go into Capt Tony's near the corner of Greene and Duval, the "original" Sloppy Joe's (1933-1937), apparently this is where Hemingway actually hung out. This place makes Troll's Bar look like a 5-star restaurant, it re-defines the word "dive". Bras hanging from the ceiling, not a bare square inch anywhere not covered in all sorts of crap tacked up on the wall.

I want to hit the current Sloppy Joe's, we walk in there, 50-something ponytailed wild man playing the piano and titillating the buzzed-on-one-drink (it's 11:45 in the morning) housewives from the cruise ships with raunchy songs and Dr. John-style piano. The housewives loved "Who Put the Pepper in the Vaseline", you get the idea. I sidle up to the bar, order a draft Key West Sunset Ale, decent but nothing to write home about. Suck that down, go in to the Sloppy Joe's store, buy a bumper sticker and T-shirt, head out. As we walk back past Capt. Tony's, there is an ancient hippie chick in the corner with an amp, an acoustic guitar, and a tip jar. Dana says "My God, she's petrified!"

Next door to Capt. Tony's on Greene Street is a kite, windsock, etc. store in a little house with a white picket fence. A guy I take to be the proprietor is in the yard. He spots my Carolina Panthers hat, says "hey, nice hat, I like that hat". Dana asks him "what do you know about Carolina?". He says "only that I had season tickets to their inaugural season, I was living in Chapel Hill at the time". Turns out he's from Kinston, graduated from UNC, went to Key West and never left. Dana asks him "would you ever go back?" "No way!" is the expected reply he gives. As we are walking away, I say to Dana "think about what you just asked him - if he would leave Key West and go back to Kinston??" I don't think so.....

That about wraps up our day in Key West, we decided we will come back for a long weekend when we can wander around.

Next up......Cozumel, Mexico