Several years back I was offered the opportunity of joining a three-day cruise sailing from Los Angeles to Ensenada, Mexico. It was a specialty cruise designed for belly dancers and featured onboard belly dancing, Flamenco dancing lessons, and Middle-Eastern musical evening entertainment. The cost, which included airfare from Reno, Nevada and meals, was really low. Although I am not a dancer, my friends needed another roommate to secure the stateroom at that low cost and I thought it would be a great adventure. Belly dancing aficionados are fun-loving women who adore colorful costumes, Mediterranean music and a good time.

The air flight (this was back in the days before luggage fees and overweight charges) was filled with women wielding bulging trunks of coin-trimmed harem pants and hip scarves. Today’s Victorinox Mobilizer NXT 5.0 Expandable Upright could handle such weighty packing, but the heavy nature of the costumes resulted in lesser-quality luggage spilling their contents in the baggage areas of two airports in two different states.

On board the ship, I was somewhat disappointed to see that our stateroom, which I would be sharing with three other women, was about the size of a jail cell! (Not that I’ve ever been inside a jail cell.) Three twin beds lined the walls. The fourth was a bunk-bed, which I lost a coin toss to avoid because it required me to climb a ladder to retire.

I was sharing the room with my best friend, her sister, and an artist from New Mexico, whom we had just met. They were all very gracious roommates and we all made the best of the tight quarters.

As the cruise got underway, we were offered the “free” cocktail of the day. I only remember that it was neon yellow, sweet and thick, and not something I would drink. The buffet lunch featured equally “un-eatable” offerings of mystery meat and cold pasta salads. It reminded me of a 99-cent casino meal enticement of years past. The on board pizza bar was available 24-hours a day and the very popular chef stayed busy with long lines for the on-demand requests.

Evening dinners required a sign-up for times from early-bird to late-night suppers, however they too were under- whelming. Remarkably, there was no effort to to offer a Mediterranean menu. Most of the food was pre-packaged, pre-prepared, processed, heated and served. By the time we disembarked in Ensenada on the second day, we were so hungry that we headed for the first restaurant that offered fine dining, and ate like hungry coyotes.

I’m embarrassed to say so, but after the four of us gorged ourselves on burritos, taco’s, carnitas, rice and beans, our tiny stateroom that evening was nearly unbearable, especially when we realized that the porthole didn’t even open.

On that same outing, we chose to visit a Mexican winery, which required an extra fee. It was at the top of a long and winding road. We asked about the roadside floral displays which were present about every quarter mile. Tributes, we were told, to those who had lost their lives at those spots. On the return trip down the hill our driver and guide were sharing a bottle of wine from the vineyard we had just toured. Apparently there were no drinking and driving laws in Mexico at that time, and we wondered how many of those floral tributes commemorated bus accidents.

At our last evening’s meal the ship’s housekeeping crew, mostly Filipino men, donned some of the belly dancing costumes, on loan from the ladies, to perform an impromptu chorus line through the dining hall. Now, the cruise was practically 99-percent women, most of them over 40 years old. The few men on board were either musicians, hapless husbands, or the ship’s crew. The women, fueled by the day’s free drink specials, and, as they had already done earlier on the top deck of the ship, tore off their tops and joined the spontaneous conga line.

On our last morning, we were again hungry and foraging for food. By then the lavish centerpieces on the buffet table of fruit and flowers in the dining room were torn asunder. The real bananas and pineapples had been pilfered from the display and the idea of pizza for breakfast had lost its appeal.

To this day, our recollections of the belly dancing cruise remind each of us to question the food provided during an all-inclusive offer. Although I enjoyed the company and our laughs, I would have packed my own snacks. A couple of duffle bags full of comfort food would have made various portions of the excursion that more enjoyable.

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