The original intent of this past Monday’s article on cruises, and more specifically of Norwegian Jewel was to allow me to discuss the ridiculous lack of hygiene and maintenance displayed in our stateroom on day 1 of the cruise. The article ended up evolving into a depiction of the first 2-3 days of the cruise and a vague analysis of it. Ultimately the idea was that it would be a one-shot article and that I would carry any other discussions of the trip over to Twitter, as to not burden our readers at Constantly Calibrating with non-nerd related stuff. Well that all changed last night when the lovely folks at Chin Chin, the “Asian fusion” restaurant located on the Norwegian Jewel, decided that it was my fault that they in effect poisoned me.
“Poisoned? Certainly you just mean a standard food-poisoning from some undercooked meat or something like that, right?” That might be what you’re asking. You also might just be asking where today’s first edition of Ultimate Back Issue is. Well that’s not the discussion right now, so come back later for our regularly scheduled programming content.
Let’s start somewhere vaguely around the beginning of last night’s carnival of horrors, shall we. The evening began with a decision: Do we go for another night of sub-mediocre food in one of Norwegian Jewel’s classless dining halls or do we check out the Italian food stylings of Mama’s Kitchen? Well before we could make that decision we were happened upon by a friendly fellow cruise guest that informed our group that Chin Chin, a place we were planning to eat at later in the trip, had absolutely phenomenal food and service. This wasn’t just any other patron of the ship either; this gentleman was like us in that he thought the food on board was atrocious and the service & attitudes of the crew even worse. With this information in mind and our appetites enticed it seemed only natural to make a reservation for a night of Asian fusion cuisine.
Dinner time rolls around and we’re sitting in the half-filled dining area of Chin Chin, the wait staff seemingly confused who is handling our table this evening. Both are incredibly rushed in their taking of orders, but at this point we’re used to it, so what’s the harm. Around the table we place our orders, including a Vegetable Dumplings appetizer that is the crucial plot point to this story. (You can tell it’s crucial because I decided to capitalize the letters and give it a starring role in this paragraph.) With the orders placed we awaited the arrival of the first course of our ill-fated meal.
Some time later our appetizers arrive and we share them around the table. There was calamari, some of the best I’ve had in years; some decent overcooked spring rolls; a pork bun product that tasted like nothing at all; and finally a reasonably delicious order of Vegetable Dumplings. In one bite I threw the entire dumpling in my mouth, chewing over it as one does when choking is not the desired goal of the evening. Biting into it I noticed that part of it was strangely chewy, but there was no way it could be what it felt like. It didn’t even taste like it.
Several minutes rolled by as we finished the appetizers up and suddenly I began to feel an odd churning in my stomach. It didn’t feel like gas and the boat was barely moving, so sudden sea-sickness was out of the question. I was only about 2-3 sips into my glass of wine as well, so alcohol related nausea was unlikely. Taking the cue from my body I decided to sit back and let my stomach settle. Within a matter of moments my wife bites into the last dumpling and her eyes go wide as she states, “Ummm, Josh…” She then tells me that she is pretty sure that there was shrimp in the Vegetable Dumplings. For most this might be something to shrug off, but for me this was a moment of fear.
At this point you might be confused, so allow me to take you on a hopefully brief trip to the Department of Backstory. Last year I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition; one that was completely treatable, but over the last year it has caused some odd changes in my body. One of the most noticeable of these is what mounts to a newfound allergy to shrimp. I barely want to refer to it as an allergy, because I don’t break out in rashes or have to be rushed to an emergency room if my food is cooked on the same surface as something with shrimp. In fact, as long as I don’t directly eat the shrimp itself I seem to be perfectly fine. However, if I do eat let’s say eat a couple of pieces of shrimp I will begin to suffer from first cramps; followed by nausea; occasional dizziness; and then symptoms ranging from an intense, but inaccessible need to vomit to violent diarrhea.
Honestly I haven’t eaten shrimp in close to 3-4 months now, so we weren’t even sure if I still had this allergic reaction. My wife and I were even considering having me try a shrimp dish when we got home to see if it was still around. On a final note in the backstory area, my doctor has told me that random and sudden allergies are common with thyroid issues and can come and go from time to time, which is also why I tend to not think about it as often as maybe I should. But with that knowledge in mind we’ll hop back into dinner.
Upon the realization that the chewy texture I noticed earlier was in fact a shrimp we decided to ask our waiter what the hell had happened. The female waiter came to our table and I asked her quite simply if maybe we had misread the menu and if the Vegetable Dumplings were supposed to have shrimp. Looking confused and with a slight hint of nervousness the waiter told us that they should just have vegetables. We then told her we discovered pieces of shrimp in at least three of the four dumplings and that I was in fact allergic to shrimp. We also made it very clear that it was not a severe allergy and there was absolutely no need to panic. Before asking if I was even ok then waiter immediately asked if we had told the other waiter, who had taken the order, about said allergy. We told her that there was no need since absolutely nothing that we were ordering should have had shrimp in it, and that my allergy was in no way severe enough to warrant fear of my food touching a surface with shrimp on it. Suddenly she walks away from us towards what appears to be the manager.
A heated discussion ensues between the two women as waiter #1 gestures towards our table. As someone who dines out a fair bit, and as such has been in situations were something goes awry with a meal I was awaiting the point where the manager kindly comes over, asks if I’m feeling alright and then checks to see if there is anything they can do to either assist or rectify the mistake. This manager was sadly not what I was expecting.
“I heard there was a problem with the Vegetable Dumplings…?” The manager asked brusquely as she neared our table. I proceeded to explain to her the situation in nearly exactly the same way I had explained it to the waiter. As I’m trying to explain the nature of my allergy and that there is no need to panic she interrupts me by asking in annoyed tone if I told the waiter of my allergy. Again I tried to explain my allergy and why there would be no need to alert them to it. Once more she interrupts me to ask her question, which causes me to ask her to stop interrupting me so I can answer her. An eye roll or two later and I’m allowed to finish my statement. (Note: at this point she has been at our table for several minutes and not once checked to make sure I’m ok or even consider an apology.)
“Well sir I’m going to need to escort you down to the medical center so they can help you.” I sit there staring blankly at her, fully aware that she hasn’t listen to a word I said. If she had, she would be aware that I don’t need a doctor; at most I need something to settle my stomach and then to maybe lie down. I again try to explain this to her before she again parrots her previous comment. It’s at this point that I sadly lost my temper, which I feel was within reason considering most of my concentration was focused on trying to quell xenomorph preparing to eviscerate my stomach.
I raised my voice, trying to still keep our conversation restricted to our table to the best of my ability, and told her I didn’t need to see a doctor; to which she replied with her previous question of why I didn’t alert the waiter to my allergy. It was at this point I offered my own question: “Why was there shrimp in a Vegetable Dumpling?” Without missing a beat she repeated her question of why I didn’t inform them of my allergy. (Again it should be of note that she has shown zero concern for my well-being, aside from demanding I see the shipboard doctor.) My dad, who up to this point had been making comments here and there, snaps and tells her that as far as we’re concerned they’re not liable; we’re not going to sue; and she can simply leave us alone. She completely ignores his comments and again asks about why I didn’t tell the waiter of my allergy. I tell her that I’ve already explained to her why, but that I would still like to know why she wouldn’t admit that their chef made a mistake and accidentally put shrimp in a vegetable-based item. She tells me that there was no mistake, but still refused to answer the question when my father, who at this point has had more than enough of her lack of candor, near bellows at her to leave us alone, we’re not her problem anymore. I then tell her that I’ve had enough of listening to her and that I would simply like to finish eating our meal.
Look, I know we should have gotten up to storm out, but at this point we were paying $15 a person and the beef dish in front of me was looking incredibly tasty. (It wasn’t.) Plus, I knew from experience that eating something else sometimes quelled the beast within, which was needed for both my nausea and for the rage seeping through my pores. On top of that, aside from the putrid pile of garbage they served my dad, the rest of our party was enjoying their meals, blissfully avoiding the conflict erupting around them. (Oh how I envy them.) So the manager wanders off and we continued our meal, hopefully in peace and with little vomiting.
See this is where the story should end. We should at this point either get a partial refund on our meal, after all nearly any real world restaurant would most certainly comp my meal even if they thought I was in the wrong, or we should be able to finish our meal and wander off to our next adventure. That is not the ending to the story sadly. 10-20 minutes later I’m looking around the restaurant, debating if I need to head to the nearby restroom when I notice the manager walk over to waiter #2, who up to this point hadn’t been part of the story. The manager then proceeds to tap him on the shoulder, point to our table, subtly make some sort of gesture while mouthing something I was not able to read. Both of them immediately fell into a brief fit of laughter as another waiter walked by, giggling as she entered the kitchen.
Now I have absolutely no idea what they discussed, but what I do know is that when we asked for the bill at the end of the meal waiter #2 told us that there wasn’t one. We asked what he meant and he said that we needed to pay for the drinks, that’s all. Thinking they finally came to their senses we paid the bar bill and prepared to depart. Suddenly waiter #2 resurfaced, apologized for his mistake and told us that we did in fact need to pay, BUT that our coupon for buy three meals, get the fourth free would be honored. “And what about the person your kitchen poisoned?” My dad asked immediately afterwards. “Does he have to pay for that privilege?” The waiter, looking honestly terrified, said he would get the manager.
The manager again came over to us and my dad repeated his previous question. This time dropping what little pretense and hint of sympathy she had shown before, the manager accused me of creating the problem and said I was at fault. I genuinely don’t know what was said next because my stomach lurched and I walked over to a nearby railing to brace myself against it. A minute later I watched my dad sign the check and we left.
Nothing else has happened with this since last night, though Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Twitter account did respond back to an off-hand comment I made about being poisoned with a statement that someone from Bar & Restaurant management would be contacting me soon. Whatever that means. I’m suspecting it will probably just end with my picture being passed around to all restaurants with a sign stating: “Spit in this gentleman’s food.” Then again that might just be the conspiracy theorist in me, but hey he’s given me some good information in the past.
What I ask of you reader is what do you think happened last night at Chin Chin, aboard the Norwegian Jewel? Was I somehow in the wrong or did I bring this on myself? From my perspective all I did was accidentally eat some tainted food which led to both emotional and physical torture.
All I can say of the events of this past evening is that myself, and my family will not be traveling with Norwegian Cruise Line ever again. This goes for the Jewel and every other ship they have in their line. They have lost customers willing to spend money on a suite on one of their mediocre ships for what would have cost them $15 and a simple apology.