Friday, November 1, 2013

A Secret Cruise -- The Rest of the Story (November 1, 2013)

The MS Westward [center] in Bermuda (May 1992)

In a post here on September 27, 2013, I mentioned a 1992 cruise to Bermuda that I secretly booked to surprise Molly for a milestone birthday we both celebrated that year. [Being a gentleman, I will not disclose here which milestone that was!]  In that September piece, I stated that I would post my version of how the cruise came to be and how I achieved what I still consider to be my "crowning achievement as a husband."

So . . .  to pick up the thread of that short post, Molly had thrown a surprise birthday party for me in April.  She hired the stage and dance hall in a local community center, a band, and a square dance caller.  Family and friends came from other towns and states and the surprise was a complete success.   During a quiet slow dance later that night, Molly made me promise not to do anything similarly extravagant for her birthday in August and I readily promised I would not plan any surprise party for her in August.  I was able to make this carefully worded promise because I had already booked a round-trip cruise from New York to Bermuda for May -- about three months before her actual birthday.

And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, here is . . . the rest of the story!

The logistical obstacles . . . 

1.  How to book and pay for a cruise several months in advance without Molly finding out about it?
2.  Molly was working as a pre-school teacher at our local community center.  How to get a week off in May while the school was still in session without Molly knowing about it?
3.  Our two sons were 6 and 8 years old and still in school during the time I planned to book the cruise.  How to take care of the boys while we were gone without Molly finding out?
4.  The cruise would involve the need for at least a couple of dress occasions at dinners on the ship.  How to pack appropriate dresses without Molly's input? [This could be very dangerous ground!]  Similarly, how could I get the correct bathing suit packed for her and , perhaps most perplexing, how could I pack a week's worth of lingerie from her dresser without her wondering where it had gone?
5.  How to get Molly up to Manhattan where our ship would be and the cruise would start without disclosing we were going on a cruise?

I realized almost immediately that this operation was going to call for stealth, trusted co-conspirators, and steely nerves.  

The logistical solutions . . . 

1.  I rented a post office box six months in advance of when I wanted to book a cruise.  The box was located at a post office within walking distance of my office, which was almost 50 miles from our home.  All communications with cruise lines would go through this undisclosed post office box.
2.  Molly has always handled all our financial payments and I keep all the files and investment records. It was clear I was going to need to arrange a short-term loan so Molly would not question large sums of money being paid to a cruise line. I had to book months in advance to get the dates I wanted, so putting it on a credit card that would not show until after we returned from the cruise was not an option.  With two young sons and other expenses, a no-interest loan was the best option -- so it was off to the National Bank of Dad.   I needed co-conspirators for other phases of this operation, so a call to explain the plan met with success.  Repayment in full would follow immediately after the conclusion of the cruise.  I received cruise materials at the post office box, made the cruise selection, received a loan check from my father made out to the cruise line and . . . booked the cruise by late February or early March right after I made a trip to the community center where Molly worked when I knew she would not be there.
3.  I knew well the people Molly worked with and for at the community center and I met with the Director of the Center one afternoon and explained the plan.  She literally beamed and said she could make absolutely sure the week we were going to be gone could be covered by other teachers and subs.  She really enjoyed being a co-conspirator and guaranteed Molly would not know a thing.
4.  My parents were also very willing co-conspirators!  They were more than happy to come down to Virginia from New Jersey to spend a week with their grandsons so their school would not be interrupted in any way.
5.  My sister and her husband were living in Manhattan at the time and they too were willing co-conspirators!  The plan was to arrange an invitation to Molly and me and my parents to come up to Manhattan for a fictional formal charity fundraiser and then to spend the rest of the weekend at their cottage in Carmel, NY where there was a pond, a sauna and hot tub.  This checked off the dresses for the fundraiser and a nice dinner out when up in Carmel.  It also checked off the bathing suit.  Molly would do her own selections and packing of these critical items -- which left only the tricky problem of how to pack almost a week's worth of lingerie!!
6.  One of my brothers and his wife agreed to extend an offer to Molly to take our sons to the Jersey Shore for the weekend we were to go to these this fictional Manhattan/Carmel events.  This would be quickly accepted because our sons would have time with their cousins who were about the same age.
7.  The only big item still left was the nagging problem of the lingerie!  I already had about 8 to 10 co-conspirators and juggling all the stories and keeping the players straight was getting difficult.  I hesitated to enlist more conspirators.  I had other sundry items to surreptitiously pack for both of us so I brazenly decided I could do this myself. Steely nerves . . . right! I would just go to a department store and buy a week's worth of lingerie and pack it up in my bags.  Colors and style -- not problem . . . and I could get the size off some she already had without her missing any.  Except, when I got to the store and strode by the women's department, it was full of shopping women! I suddenly realized this was could be a bit  awkward if I had to linger in the department and shop around as I tried to find the right style, color and size.  Who knew all the women in northern Virginia would be shopping for their lingerie really early on a Saturday morning when Molly and the boys were off on other errands??  Steely nerves . . . right?  Yeah, right.  After several orbits around the women's department without any thinning of the shoppers, I plunged in and and out as quickly as possible emerging with what I hoped was something close to the correct selections.

The conspiracy unfolds . . . 

May arrived and Molly's class was covered for a week.  We drove to New Jersey and dropped our boys off at my brother's house with bags packed for a real weekend at the shore with their cousins and Aunt and Uncle.  My parents grabbed a couple of empty suitcases that supposedly had their dress clothes, casual outfits, and bathing suits for the weekend in Manhattan and Carmel.  I loaded their luggage into our minivan where our luggage was already stowed.  Molly had packed her own dresses, bathing suit and warm-weather clothing for a weekend in the country after a formal charity event in the city.  My suitcase contained my clothing, some sundry items for Molly, and the week's worth of lingerie secreted away in its recesses.  I also had a bottle of champagne, a birthday card, and some flowers (ostensibly for my sister, but really for Molly).  We said goodbye to the boys and off we drove bound for Manhattan.

In about two hours we emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel and at the first opportunity suddenly pulled over to the side of the street.  She asked what was wrong.  Did we have a flat tire of something?  I turned to Molly and handed her the birthday card explaining simply that we were not going to a charity fundraiser or to Carmel for the weekend.  When she asked why not, I had her open the card.  She looked really puzzled and I said, "It's not a joke, we're going on a cruise to Bermuda for a week."  To which she replied very confused, "But the boys have school and I have my class!?"  I said, "All taken care of." And then I explained the entire conspiracy.

The moment of the "Big Reveal" once we were on the streets of Manhattan (May 1992)

I told Molly that the Community Center Director and the other teachers were in on it and covering her class.  The boys were at the shore with their cousins, but my parents were going to pick them up after dropping us at the ship and on Sunday they would drive the boys back to Virginia and stay at our house with them for the week we were gone.  I told her we had a few hours before we had to be aboard the ship, so were were going to a nice lunch where I would answer any questions she had.  She could call the boys if she wanted to, and, once I told her what I had packed for her for the week, she could look it over and if need be we could go shopping for anything I got wrong.  ;-)  Molly just said, "O.K., let's go!"

And we did.

I still like to joke that when we got back, I was suddenly the romantic hero to all the wives we knew and most of the husbands were no longer talking to me.  Not true, of course, but I still like to tell it that way. After all, as I said at the beginning, this is my version of the story!

My "Biker Babe" . . . Happy Birthday in Bermuda! (May 1992)

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All photographs by the author.
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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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  1. Sneaky, John! I can tell you're the man to come to when help is needed in trying to overcome obvious and difficult obstacles relating to surprises. It's amazing everything you had to do to pull it off. You set yourself to a real challenge. Congratulations for pulling it all off. And thanks for sharing it with us. It was a fun read.

  2. I LOVE this story. I'm leaving the window open on the computer in hopes that my Hubby will notice... We are already planning a cruise for next summer but it would so nice to be surprised!

  3. Wow! What a fantastic surprise birthday gift for your wife! And so skillfully planned and carried out. Brilliant!

  4. Aren't you the romantic...lucky Molly. Your story was so enjoyable to read, not just for what you did, but for my imagining you being on "pins and needles" for the six month planning stage. You are cleaver, John. You'll have to share with us the next big surprise for her, we won't tell!