Wednesday, 16 August 2006:
Matthew was hopeful of going on a scuba excursion this morning, but of course it had to be scheduled for 8:00 am. Oh, the pain. His alarm turned on at 7:15, and I'm not sure I fell back asleep after that. So eventually when my alarm (aka mobile phone) started dinging at me at 8:50, I was ready to get up. After a short shower in the claustrophobically small bathroom, and after being unable to raise anyone else in the group on our little radios, I went on my way up to breakfast alone, and proceeded to have a most wonderful conversation about school, life, and Christianity with two of my table mates (a couple from New York, also on their first cruise, as I learned).
As I was ordering my meal, Matthew happened to beep me on the radio, which was inconveniently hiding in my pocket not within easy reach. Turned out his scuba excursion had been canceled because no one had signed up (he was going to sign up this morning right before hand), so he, Chad, and CJ were out on the deck watching the rain (yes, it has rained for part of the day every day so far). I finished breakfast then set out on my way to find them (by way of the purser's desk, whose system was still down and thus unable to fix my key card), eventually running into Matthew, who talked me into coming with them to the beach.
And when I say beach, I mean that we shuttled from the boat (or "tendered", if you will), anchored a fair distance from shore, to the Royal Caribbean privately owned island of Coco Cay. Though it's a relatively small island, there was still plenty of beach for all, and for today they were also serving lunch there. We walked around a little bit, saw a sting ray and some other fish swimming about in the near pristine water, then went to eat. Well, the others ate; I was still stuffed from breakfast, so I subsisted on a mere glass of watery fruit punch.
After lunch, Allen, Rob, and I cruised the small shopping complex of stores (at least they were selling different things from the stores yesterday!), then got back on board one of the tenders heading for the Majesty.
Coming back on board the boat is always an adventure for me, having so many things, specifically metal things, in my pockets. And for that reason I really dislike having to go through security checkpoints - it just takes so long to empty and then restock. Some day I'll learn to just carry less stuff.
I stopped by the purser's desk again in the hopes of getting a new key card, but the system was still down. Now I'm a little irritated, as I'd been told this morning that it would be functional in only a short time (ie, before I returned from shore). They called room service again, and this time they actually showed up to let me in. How kind. A little journalling later and I was off to take a quick nap before the afternoon.
Allen came by the room at about 3:15 or so, and we headed off to the Art Auction. After registering, we took the next half hour to walk around and look at the art pieces, which were sprawled over two entire levels of the centrum. Hundreds of pieces, some of which looked very nice, others of which looked, well, not to my taste. The way the auction was set up, only requested pieces actually made their way to the block, so we used our sticky notes that came with our bidding card to mark the pieces we were specifically interested in. There pieces there ranging in value from $50 to $50,000, so there was plenty to choose from. I only marked the cheaper ones (not that they had price tags, but you could ask one of the suits to look up the price for you). Then we took up prime standing spots, centered on the balcony level overlooking the auctioneer and his display, and waited for the event to begin.
The first piece up for auction was valued at around $3000, and the auctioneer started the bidding at $1. Yes, $1. And no one raised their cards. He dropped his microphone and walked off the stage, then returned a moment later to try it again (it was a joke, and people laughed). This time the bidders responded, including Allen. When the bid was up at about $120, Allen raised his card again, then leaned over to me and whispered that he didn't really want it, he was just raising the price against the woman in the front row downstairs. But then all of a sudden he was the only bidder left. The auctioneer kept asking the audience, "Should I let him have it for only $120?", and everyone shouted "Yes". So the auctioneer pounded the gavel and said "Sold!" and Allen was taken by surprise. But, not to despair, the auctioneer followed this up by saying he would do us one better - he'd let him [Allen] have the piece for free! Seriously, Allen won the piece for free, just for being the last bidder. So that was exciting.
Allen placed bids on a number of other items, and, for better or worse, won about 5 of the auctions. And in the midst of that, he also won a $500 certificate to use on the art, just for laughing loudly at one of the auctioneer's jokes! And then the auction was over and it was time for the raffle drawing. Three $2500 art prizes. We knew our odds were getting to be pretty good, since you had to be present to win, and a majority of people had already left, so we were happy campers going into it. But then Allen won!! We were both stunned, but really excited. He has an appointment tonight at 10:00 to go pick out his free art from the gallery (this segment of my journal being written at 7:30, I don't know the results of that yet).
Not only was the experience downright fun (especially once the auction staff started paying special attention to Allen, giving him some heads up on upcoming pieces, etc), but it was also educational - we learned all about some of the up and coming artists, like "Max" (full name is Peter Max, but everyone just says "Max"). He's the European-born-now-American-citizen who raised millions in donations to refurbish the Statue of Liberty not too many years ago, and almost all of his recent paintings (of which there were quite a few brand new ones in the auction) combine images of the Statue, American flags, and hearts. And their colourful and nice to look at. That was my culturing for the day. But in addition, those several hours proved to be good friendship-building time for me to get to know Allen better, and vice-versa, which, him being one of Matthew's best friends, and me also being one of Matthew's best friends, seemed duly appropriate.
After the auction, I stopped by the purser's desk again, and this time they were finally able to re-magnetize my keycard so I can get into the room again. Then it was time to run off on my own with my computer, write this (sitting in yet another seating area that I haven't tried before), and just relax before dinner.
Dinner time was fun. Or rather, the dessert time was fun. About half an hour before dinner started, I approached our table's waiter in the dining room and asked him to deliver a special present to Matthew at dessert time tonight - the Mickey Mouse hand lotion gag gift that has been going back and forth between us ever since New Year's Eve. So at dinner time, after we were done stuffing ourselves (in my case, with shrimp), our waiter delivered our dessert menus, took those orders, then proceeded to bring out the special dessert. At first Matthew didn't see it coming, but as our waiter cleared around the corner of the table with the Mickey Mouse hand lotion prominently centered on an elegant white plate, he said something to the effect of "no way", and then started with a combination of laughing and blushing. Everyone else who had been at the New Year's party and knew the story, once they saw what was coming, also started laughing, very hard. I got a few compliments on how clever a delivery that was.
After our real desserts (chocolate cake for me), we went up to the ship's library where the art people had set up their displays for the evening, to watch Allen pick out his winnings. Turns out he won a total of 7 paintings! Unfortunately, it wasn't "pick any painting", it was "choose a quantity from this selection of 4". But still, not bad at all for a day's winnings, and it was fun to listen to the art dealer describing some of the other, more expensive pieces, that were available for purchase.
After the art show, I took a moment to fill out the automatic gratuities form for our servers - though I had come into the trip grousing about having to pay these added expenses, after the exemplary service we've received, I'm gladly throwing in the extra few dollars per day. The way it works, I filled out the form last night, so they will charge my credit card on file and then give me vouchers to put into the envelopes to give to the servers. Then, tonight, when we deliver those envelopes, I also have the option of throwing in a little extra in cash if I want, which I think I will.
And then the would-be highlight of the evening (if I hadn't been so absolutely stuffed from dinner): the chocolate buffet! An all-you-can-eat buffet of chocolate and other sweet delicacies, held in the lower dining room. Go through the line, take what you want, then indulge. Except I was too full to enjoy any more than two and a half small pieces. Drat.