Shaken awake at ten to six in the morning. Literally. My cabin is vibrating. The bed is vibrating. I’ve never heard a noise like it. It sounds like the ship is about to explode. Luckily, the pitch of the noise is constant. If it was rising, I’d be dressed and ready for lifeboats by now (it’s now quarter past six). The noise stopped at about ten past and then I had to wait for the Night Supervisor to come and tell me he had no idea what caused it but would try and find out. At least he heard it, himself, this time, so we can skip the “hallucinating passenger” section of proceedings, which accompanies every single complaint. I’m also not the only person who contacted Reception, which helps. Apparently a whole two other cabins rang up and said they too were being shaken apart. Usually, they say “it’s just you and only you and maybe it’s a problem with your cabin, we’ll send someone round”, when it quite clearly is the whole blooming ship (the church bells, for example).
It is astonishing just how vacuous and insolent the girl on Reception managed to sound when I rang her about it, and at precisely the same time. She really couldn’t have cared less if the sky was falling in. I was just another annoying passenger ringing her and making her life difficult. If I was in a more petulant mood (and at 6am, I must confess, I am fairly petulant already), I’d say the first time I rang her, she hung up on me, but as I’m feeling momentarily charitable, I’ll say she was just rushing to answer another call. I can’t help but wonder if, if the six short blasts and one long blast sounded on the ships whistles and alarms*, she’d be just as vacuous and insolent to people who called her about that, too.
Of course, it wouldn’t matter so much, if I hadn’t just had one of the worst night’s sleep of my entire life. Of all the days, I really needed to sleep through til eight, this was the one. Typical. Better try and get my head back down. Got to be “immigrated” at nine. Are you interested in how pretty Port Everglades looks in the darkness of early dawn, as seen from the webcam on the telly (turned on to make sure the world wasn’t ending)? No, didn’t think so. Me neither.
D-Day, so to speak.
Couldn’t get back to sleep, surprisingly. On the plus side, this meant that when dad rang and said “20 minutes”, I was almost already ready. Met parents for immigration. Again. First we waited with our tour group in the Palladium. Then we trooped ashore to be immigrated. It took less than fifteen minutes. Why the people of Los Angeles couldn’t do it like that, I have no idea. Miserable, selfish, vindictive morons. Then we had to kill three quarters of an hour waiting in a seating area, although, on the plus side we waited on some of the most comfortable seats I’ve ever sat on in any waiting area anywhere in the world. They were sort of leather[ette?] benches with metal armrests. Lovely.
We then boarded the coach (which had the most enormous amount of legroom for each seat) and our guide, Larry, and driver, Wendel, started our trip around Fort Lauderdale. By going the wrong way. Marvellous. We spent the best part of the first half hour going the wrong way before we had to turn around and go all the way back again. Ridiculous. Larry explained that Wendel, although a very good driver, had never driven to the boat we were headed to, and, he, Larry, was navigating [badly]. Fine, but could Wendel not have, oh, I don’t know, LOOKED IT UP before taking responsibility for getting thirty people there?! Wacky thought, I know, but I’m conventional like that. I would never dream of driving someone to somewhere I had never been before, without at least looking at a map. Good grief.
Larry was unusual for American, in that he understood the difference between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and never used the term “Brit”. He even knew about Gibraltar, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man! However, sadly, beyond that, he had only two topics: his hatred of graffiti and his own life story. He told us all about the fines for graffiti in Fort Lauderdale and how proud he was that Florida was so strict. Every time you get caught tagging, the fine goes up and even if you are on benefits, you are expected to both pay the fine and do 100 hours community work painting over other people’s graffiti. Once is interesting, twice is repetitive, five or six times is just plain annoying. Yes, Fort Lauderdale is clean, but it is far from graffiti-free – I saw some myself. All Larry said was, “Yes, but you have to LOOK for it”. Oh, well, that’s alright then.
Other than that, he talked about himself. I can tell you that he used to be in the army and was stationed in Germany. When he left the army, he stayed in Germany and ran a discotheque and a fast food stall to cater to the other American GIs. He is bilingual in German and even drove us past the best German restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. No, really. He holidayed in Florida nine years in a row, which is how he fell in love with the place. He left Germany in 1992 after reunification robbed him of his clientele. Once he and his German girlfriend went to the Shetland Islands for their holiday and he got to shake hands with Prince Charles (who didn’t have an ounce of fat on him, apparently, and Diana was much more beautiful than her pictures). That’s about it. He is now 71 and drives buses when he is not wittering away at the passengers. No age discrimination here. As long as you’re healthy, it’s easy to find work. Apparently, it’s just done on a first come, first served basis. According to Larry, anyway. All of the above added no little irony for the fact that his surname is Grosskopf. Bighead. I kid you not. Read his ID badge.
The only other things he talked about in the several hours he dragged us around Fort Lauderdale were people losing their homes and small businesses due to foreclosures (cheerful stuff) and how there are no safety checks on cars in the US – everyone can maintain their own vehicle and no one checks them (comforting stuff). And everyone needs a car because there is no public transportation in the United States. I nearly piped up that San Francisco has nine different sorts of public transportation, but I couldn’t face dealing with the response, so I let it go. It was easier. Apparently even people on welfare need a car in Florida, just to go and collect their cheques, because there is no public transportation. Sweetie, this is not something to be proud of. [Neither were the occasional spit spots of gratuitous generalisation racist comments that dropped into the rhetoric every now and then, although the ones about Germans hogging sunloungers did raise a smile.] Seriously, after a few hours of Larry, I now understand why the right to bear arms is so important in the United States. Although if I did, Larry would definitely be an ex-Larry by now. Dear heaven, he was boring. In fact, he was so repetitive that when he told us about the canal and road that both run from Key West to Canada, which he did, SEVERAL times, people started reciting bits for him, word for word. After a while, I would happily have done him in, myself. Puzzlingly, he was very insistent that there is absolutely no public transport in Florida whatsoever. If you’re wondering why I’ve repeated this, remember that, although he is a [rubbish] part-time tour guide, his day job is that he is a BUS DRIVER, himself…
Mercifully, we then went on a boat with a fake paddle wheel and a really loud engine, but at least it was well away from the mindless Larry and the incompetent Wendel. We sailed around the man-made canals and man-made port of Fort Lauderdale, while the guide told us who owned which house and how much they were worth. Not exactly inspiring stuff. Barely interesting, frankly. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant enough little jaunt, and the three of us each had a kosher hotdog and some homemade lemonade to pass the time, before we had to go back to the bus and the interminable Larry.
To be fair to both Larry and the boat bloke, briefly, there is nothing to say about Fort Lauderdale. It’s a man-made port in a man-made bay with 350 miles of man-made canals. The rest is beaches and shops. There is absolutely nothing else. Fort Lauderdale may be a great place to spend Spring Break flashing too much skin and drinking too much alcohol, but that’s it. It’s a beach resort. There is nothing else. No history, no culture, no industry, no public art, no notable architecture, no theatre or art galleries. We didn’t even see a cinema and, with all the detours, we saw a fairly large proportion of the place. Furthermore, Larry seemed oddly proud of the fact that there is no “centre”, no Downtown, per se. Just shops and shops and clinics and shops. Larry assures us that if you drive down the road past a McDonalds, for example, in 3 miles there will be another. Likewise with malls. He describes the weather as ‘6 months heaven, 6 months hell’, but what he didn’t say is that the place is utterly soulless. I’m not sure its even possible to like Fort Lauderdale. What is there to like?
Note to anyone from P&O reading this: don’t go to Fort Lauderdale. It may be very easy to park in the largest and best organised cruise port in the world, but it’s a rubbish place for passengers.
Note to passengers arriving in Fort Lauderdale: when you get off, go to Miami. I know it’s an hour each way, but, trust me on this.
Second note to passengers: if you can’t face food first thing in the morning before going ashore, each peanuts, not crisps. They contain protein and will fill you up for longer. You can’t take food ashore with you in the US.
Wendel, under instruction from Larry, took us to a shopping centre we’d been to before called The Galleria (P&O are nothing if not creatures of habit), where we could do some shopping and then catch a free shuttle bus back to the ship. [For those of you with good memories, and we are going back a few years here, it was the one with all the loos at one end] Larry was under the impression that the tour was a full half hour longer than we thought, and NO ONE wanted the extra half hour, so we legged it off the bus with as much alacrity as we could muster.
Once in the mall, we just shopped. Nothing exciting, except a few prices that, even with the sale reductions, caused a little hyperventilation among the parents. The loos were dismaying, particularly by the standards we have come to expect from the United States, and had those automatic flushes that go off while you’re still sitting down. There was an attendant present, but she was doing as near to nothing as makes no difference. She was standing around, but moved so little, it was only the movement of the eyes that reassured me I shouldn’t call for help.
But the cafe on the top floor of Nieman Marcus was wonderful – I think it was called the Mermaid Cafe. Good coffee (when it was hot), superb apple pie and delightful service. We were even offered a free “popover” to try, by our server, William, which turned out to be, oddly enough, a fairly large Yorkshire pudding served with strawberry butter. No, don’t ask me. You now know as much as I do. Dad ate it. I have photographic proof. Virtually all of it, so it can’t have been too bad.
Word to the wise: if you wish to shop at Nieman Marcus (and you shouldn’t because they are REALLY expensive), you will need to be aware that they have an exclusive deal with American Express and do not accept any other credit cards whatsoever. In order to purchase something with a different credit card, you have to go up to the top level and purchase a Nieman Marcus gift card in the total amount of your purchases, including tax. This you then take back downstairs to pay for your purchases. You couldn’t make this stuff up, no one would believe you. Go to Macy’s instead. Not only is it cheaper, it is nowhere near as difficult to pay for things.
We went into Dillards to see if they had Dad’s aftershave. First, we were ignored and then helped by a woman who didn’t know the products. Then we were served by a woman who had absolutely no clue whatsoever about anything at all, not even how to scan a barcode to ascertain the price. Then another man came over to offer to help, but when we asked for his help, he walked away. Eventually, we gave up. They didn’t have it on display, so they probably didn’t have it all. And if they did, tough. They need to hire better staff.
In total, in the mall, I bought two pairs of denim shorts and three tops, so nothing mega. Around 3.45pm we made a mad dash back through the mall to the shuttle bus and to the ship. Dad is annoyed that we are leaving so early – 5.30 BOB for 6 – (last shuttle left at 4.15pm) as we have so little distance to travel before Port Canaveral tomorrow. He’s right. There was absolutely no reason we couldn’t have stayed another hour or two, which would have given us time to explore more widely and maybe even visit Miami itself, which is an hour each way from the port. But, oh no, not with this Captain. Not a chance.
In retrospect, Larry did tell me one fact that I (a) found interesting and (b) didn’t know already, that being that Florida and Great Britain are about the same length. So now you know. That’s it. That’s what I learned today.
In the evening, the shift supervisor came to explain to me about the noise and vibration. He said it was a problem with the fire extinguisher system in the engine room beneath my cabin, and he couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t happen again. What nonsense. Dad pointed out it was probably the air bridge pushing against the side of the ship, which, frankly, makes much more sense, including the timing. Fire extinguishers? Seriously? It’s as if they don’t care how ridiculous they sound, as long as they are saying SOMETHING, anything by way of an excuse. If you have nothing valuable to say, say nothing.
My ankles are swollen for some reason. The end.
* The ship’s emergency signal. It means muster stations, bring medication and a coat, we’re probably leaving the ship.