Dearest Rachel –
I’ve said more than enough times how weird it is to be traveling on my own these days. Yes, you have the freedom to go wherever and whenever you want to at any moment, I’ll not deny it. But it still doesn’t feel right, especially since leisure travel, in particular, seems to be made for… well, not specifically families or couples, as such, but definitely not for individuals.
Maybe I’m just self-conscious about the whole thing. I see (and hear) people talking with each other, making comments about how things are going as they make their way through the airport. I see things, too, that I would once upon a time make some offhand remark about, only now, there’s no one to do so with, so I have to hold my tongue. Bad enough that I’m out of my element; no sense adding ‘talking to myself’ to the checklist of things that prove I shouldn’t be doing this. Let me just collect my things, and find my shuttle, and get on with the rest of the day (and night).
As I get to the baggage pick up, I spot someone with a Royal Caribbean sign. Sure enough, they’re here to pick me up – as soon as I grab my suitcase. Which takes a little longer than I expect; maybe it was too short a trip from the gate to baggage claim, but they’re clearly not ready to distribute the luggage right away. I tell the lady with the sign that she ought to go look for the rest of the people she has to pick up, as I may be a while.
She tells me I’m the only one that she’s there to pick up today – or more to the point, I’m the last one for her to pick up. It is between three and four in the afternoon, after all; the end of the day is just about upon us (that becomes more obvious later in the story). So, she stays at my side while I wait for the carousel to fire up, even offering to keep an eye on my backpack once I spot my suitcase. I demur, and carry it over to the edge as I lift the case off of the conveyor belt.
“Okay, I’ve got everything; let’s go.”
I follow her over to a kiosk, where I’m asked to wait until a few others are expected to join me on the shuttle to the hotel. But after some fifteen or twenty minutes, no one’s come by. Finally, I’m approached by an RCL staffer, and invited to follow her outside… to a full-sized bus.
Talk about rubbing in the fact that I’m traveling by myself; do they have to bring a vehicle this big for just me?
The guide (I guess that’s what I’ll call her, to distinguish her from the driver) insists that they were already in the area. It would’ve taken more time and effort (and gas, most of all) for them to go back to wherever they consider their home base than to send a small shuttle. I don’t really have much choice but to relent, do I?
Ultimately, I don’t wind up being the only rider in this bus. Just as they’re about to pull out, a couple comes running up, and the driver stashes their luggage beneath the bus, as one does. Their flight from Toronto had been delayed for over an hour due to de-icing procedures. And that hadn’t been their only flight of the day, no – they’d transferred at Pearson from a flight out of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
I chat with them for a little bit (they’ve been cruising since 1989, as it so happens), before I realize we’re not going south like I expected the bus to (and where my hotel is). I look at the compass function on my phone, and realize we’re heading north and east. It’s at this point that the ships practically burst into view, and I realize we’re here to drop this couple off for the sailing of the immense new ship, Wonder of the Seas – and not a moment too soon, either, as I expect the ship pulls out at five. They’ve gotten here with barely an hour to spare, and they scramble off the bus like they know just how close they’re cutting things. But it looks like they’ll make it, so there’s that.
It takes almost half an hour to drive from Fort Lauderdale to Aventura, but some of that appears to be due to the fact that we’re dealing with rush hour traffic (and let me tell you, Florida drivers seem to have a death wish, considering how willing they are to cut in front of just about anybody – even a bus). They don’t even bother to pull into the parking lot, but rather, the driver stops the bus on the street, gets out and removes my suitcase (at which point I tip him), and rolls it into the hotel. I follow him for the briefest moment, before I reach for my phone to take notes, and discover it’s not there, causing me to double back to the bus, where the guide is holding it out for me. I take it gratefully before returning to catch up with the driver.
Checking in is fairly simple; they aren’t even asking me for the voucher, as apparently my name is in their computer system already. They do ask for a credit card (to cover incidentals) and a photo ID. The first thing the clerk talks about as he hands me my key is where the pool is located, and I wonder if you’re taking notes. It’s just one of those things that used to be so normal, and now just pains me to hear about.
I ask about local restaurants – in much the same way as my dad would back in the day – and am referred to a number of places right across the street.
Indeed, a few small blocks directly south of the hotel contain office buildings and other hotels, and are chock-full of swanky restaurants. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Graziano’s, that sort of thing. The kind of places you would take a date to, but simply doesn’t make sense to go to on one’s own. While I could afford any of them, I’m going to have the opportunity to eat fancy dinners for the next whole week – why bother to splash out now?
I wander past the fancier places, and find myself amidst a fairly drawn out strip mall, complete with a number of alfresco restaurants of its own: Japanese, Italian, Greek, Latin. Is this where I can find something?
Again, I can’t see myself doing so. All of these genres are things I could find back at home. Besides, these tables are made for conversation; I’ve no one to converse with. Why bother?
I finally settle on a fast-foody type place that I’ve never seen before. It’s a little nicer than that place we went to back on our anniversary cruise – which stands to reason, as the whole neighborhood seems considerably safer than the area that hotel was in, to be honest, but it does mean that it generally lacks an level of authentic local color. Still, this is different:
The spices on the shrimp are a bit milder than I would have expected from something referred to as ‘creole,’ but it isn’t as if they’re bland or anything. The tostones they’re presented on are just ever so slightly crisp, just enough that you worry about breaking the plastic fork trying to cut a bite out of them. They’re like a potato pancake, made out of corn mash. The black beans are served piping hot (temperature-wise, not spicy), but they’re otherwise nothing more than exactly what they claim to be.
As for the key lime pie, I haven’t had enough of them to ascertain what makes a good one. This one tastes like lemonade pudding on a crumb cookie crust; I like it well enough, for something that clearly is basically a fast-food interpretation of the concept.
The area was lit when I walked it; as I finish up and head out, it’s dark out. I’ve missed the entirety of twilight, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of chances over the next week.
I can’t help but find myself puzzling over the fact that I’m deliberately avoiding the ‘nicer’ places. You’d think that I thought I didn’t deserve such nice treatment. And yet, at the same time, I’m splashing out on a weeklong cruise, so clearly I’m plenty self indulgent. It’s just so confusing.
Wish you were here, honey, so I could justify it a little bit better.