My wife and I lead what we consider to be simple, unassuming lives.
We still live in the same modest house we bought 30 years ago in our mid-20s. That’s a time in life when many couples buy their “starter” homes.
Fast forward 30 years, and most starter homes in our area are much more spacious than the house we bought. Based on a couple of decades of conversations with young couples, I doubt the majority of them today would want to begin their lives together in a home that is a cracker box by modern standards.
We never up-sized when our family was growing and have no plans to downsize now that we are empty-nesters. In other words, our starter home will likely be our “finisher,” too.
If you were to look up the demographics of the suburban Bay Area of Houston, you would see many spacious, elegant homes owned by people much more affluent than a couple of teachers–one full-time and one a part-timer.
When our boys were growing up, it was odd that their friends were much more likely to hang out in our little place than host our sons in their often newer, more spacious houses. At the time, I couldn’t understand why our humble house served as a hub, but I now think that, to many kids, our simple abode felt more like home than the houses in which they lived.
As with our home, a pattern of modesty and simplicity covers many other areas of our lives. When we cruise, we almost always book inside cabins, which allows us to sail more frequently in cramped simplicity than once a year in relative luxury. Although I usually book small, windowless staterooms, I try to book them on floors where they are across the hall from the high-end suites. This approach mimics the placement of our home where we live in one of the most modest areas of an affluent community.
In our hometown, we can expect a responsive government and dependable services. In the same way, we know the cruise lines will take good care of the people spending big bucks on the most desirable and expensive cabins. For us, bunking in proximity to some of the most opulent quarters on the ship means we will never have to worry about being assigned to an inexperienced or inattentive cabin steward.
With that type of planning, it could be argued that we don’t want to live as simply as we claim, and I would not have you believe that we lead lives of asceticism. In truth, we like some of the better things in life, but mainly as a change of pace. Like poor Cinderella, who was allowed to attend the ball in style before the clock struck midnight, and it all went awry, we enjoy the little luxuries of cruising before returning to reality.
After watching the sunrise on day 2 of our cruise, we returned to our cabin and changed into fresh clothes before heading to the Crimson dining room on Deck 3 aft for one of our favorite amenities, the Carnival Sea Day Brunch.
Even though it is held in the same dining room as the breakfasts on port days, the brunch has a different feel. Perhaps it’s because of the more eclectic menu that includes exotic-sounding dishes like Pappardelle “Principe di Napoli” and Hen alla Diavola. We have never had any more exotic options, but their availability still impresses me.
This is our 13th cruise, and the dining room hostesses have tried to seat us with other people on every one of them. While we have never taken advantage of that opportunity, on some ships, the tables for two could only be closer together if we were seated in another person’s lap. In some ways, sitting at different tables and yet being only inches apart seems more awkward than if we were at the same table.
On the Dream, that was not an issue. For about half of our meals in the dining room, we were given tables that could accommodate four people, and even when seated at tables for 2, we had plenty of space and privacy.
We were seated quickly, with coffee and water appearing a moment later, followed by delivery of the familiar double-sided menu. A small tent card on the table gave the name of our head team waiter, team waiter, and assistant team waiter. To my memory, this was the first time we had three people dedicated to our service, which was flawless.
Long before boarding the ship on embarkation day, I had decided to have steak and eggs for our first sea day brunch. Looking at the brunch menu, I spotted my choice but was surprised to see the steak offered was a filet mignon. The previous night at dinner in the Scarlet dining room, I had enjoyed a tender and flavorful flat iron steak, and I hoped this morning’s offering would be just as good.
We always enjoy talking to the hard-working crew on cruises, and most conversations are with the staff in the various restaurants on the ship. We are always eager to talk to servers from the Philippines. Our daughter-in-law was born and raised on the southern island of Mindanao, and over the years, we have even met a few crew members who lived a short distance from her family.
Without fail, we are always asked if we have visited the Philippines. We have to report that we have not yet, but we intend to go one day with my son, his wife, and their two boys.
Before our daughter-in-law came into our lives about nine years ago, we did not know much about the Philippines or the Filipino people. Since that time, we have learned what warm, friendly people Filipinos are. They are big-hearted and love to cook and celebrate with family, something I think they share with Texans.
In addition to the steak and eggs, I ordered an appetizer of Carnival’s wonderful Flamin’ Tomato Soup, a rich, smoky concoction that shames any other tomato soup. MInutes after ordering, a waiter appears at my shoulder and places a soup spoon on the table in anticipation of the soup’s delivery.
It had been two years since I last had this soup, and it did not disappoint. When you triple scrape the bowl after it’s empty, you know you have eaten something extraordinary. After the bowl and spoon are removed from the table, another waiter arrives with a steak knife. The waiter, leaning in, said, “just in case the cow is still alive.”
It’s impressive how the servers take pride in doing their jobs well, making guests feel welcome and with a genuine smile.
There is no shortage of fake people in the world. If you allow me to paraphrase Grouch Marx, “the key to success in life is honesty and sincerity, and if you can fake those, you’ve got it made.”
When it comes to the overwhelming majority of cruise ship workers, I am convinced they exhibit the real thing. Considering the long work days they put in, I marvel at their attitudes.
When my steak and eggs arrived, the steak looked inviting, and the fried eggs looked about as impressive as any fried egg I’ve ever enjoyed. I picked up my steak knife, which seemed to glide effortlessly through the filet. Cutting into the good flat iron steak I had the night before seemed like cutting into a catcher’s mitt by comparison.
I took the first bite of the filet, and my conversation with my wife halted. Overcome by the first taste, I held up a hand to let her know I would need a moment. While I’m sure my wife’s omelet was tasty, she didn’t seem overcome by her first taste.
Once I regained my composure, I polished off the rest of the steak and the sad, pedestrian eggs that had become an afterthought. When our breakfast was over, we stood up, ready to find a quiet spot on the deck where we would spend the morning. We will happily return to our simple tastes. From my perspective, there was nothing wrong with Cinderella’s carriage becoming a pumpkin again. All that glamour could get old.
After the phenomenal brunch, we were looking forward to having Guy’s juicy burgers for lunch and wiping our mouths with his red shop rags.