The shot girls had us in their sights as soon as we entered Senor Frog's, open in the international Cozumel cruise terminal on its first day since the pandemic began.
Brandishing a bottle of Sex on the Beach, the young woman sidled up to our table, carrying neon green shot glasses. "$6 for two," she shouted, over the din of the rest of the restaurant.
While the restaurant was far from full, there was a lot going on around us. At the table next to us, cruisers were shelling out for balloon animal hats from a server dressed as a sexy clown. Other servers were blowing whistles, as Bon Jovi blasted over the loud speaker. Huge bottles of beer -- Champion-sized -- were being carried out to tables with a sparkler-waving entourage.
Shots seemed the safest bet. We nodded, and liquor was poured quickly into the shot glasses and down our throats. The next part, though, was completely unexpected. The shot girl went to each of us, grabbed our heads and shook it side to side. She then moved her hands down our torsos, took hold of our chests and waggled enthusiastically.
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That's a lot of stimulus, after 15 months of lockdown.
But hey, that's a bit what you expected from Cozumel in the Before Times, when cruisers often became so happy and distracted at Senor Frog's, as well as other cruise favorites such as Margaritaville, that they would miss the cruise ship on the pier in front of them.
On Wednesday, Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas became the first cruise ship to return to Cozumel after the pandemic. Its arrival was greeted with a blast from the horn, and a lot of expectations from vendors, restaurateurs, beach club operators and others who have been without customers for 15 months.
They were likely disappointed by that first day, to a degree. With cloudy skies and a rainy forecast, many cruisers stayed on the ship or ventured only to the shops and restaurants within the contained port area. Because its vaccination rate is still low, Mexico has a mask mandate, and we were told to wear them at all times, inside and out, unless we were actively eating or drinking.
Because our ship had a mandate for all adults over 16 to be vaccinated, cruisers were allowed to book their own shore excursions and walk around outside the cruise ship "bubble." Popular beach clubs such as Mr. Sancho's and Nachi Cochem were taking reservations.
Still, with only a bit over 1,000 people on our sailing, there's no way that one cruise ship at limited capacity can fill up the loungers and swim-up bars that make those resorts so fun and profitable. As with the cruise industry itself, full recovery in Cozumel will be a gradual process.
Senor Frog's was also far from full. But that didn't stop the staff from giving it their all. The manager told me that while the downtown Senor Frog's had been open periodically, it was the first day for the one at the cruise terminal, allowing more people to come back to work. Even with while wearing masks, their enthusiasm was infectious.
After our surprise goosing, the shots kicked in and we were ready to pick up what Senor Frog's was laying down. We gave in to the silliness.
We ordered guacamole and chips and tacos and margaritas in bright pink yard glasses. We whooped and hollered when servers poured tequila into the throats of other cruisers directly from an Aladdin-lamp-style pitcher. We clapped and sang with the staff as they led us through a rendition of "We Will Rock You." We posed for photos, and when the photographer came around with a fairly blurry picture in a cheesy Senor Frog's frame, I spent the $26 to buy it. We overtipped, deliberately.
Around us, cruisers were all doing the same. I probably haven't heard that much laughter in one place since the pandemic began. The excess felt freeing.
We walked back to the ship talking to our new best friends, a couple of flight attendants from Dallas and L.A. All of us were having a blast on the ship, we agreed -- just having fun, letting loose. The friends have several cruises booked in the next few months.
You don't know what you miss until it's gone, the saying goes. The COVID-19 pandemic caused people to miss very serious things: steady work, a sense of security, loved ones. Some of those things will never return.
With that in mind, it's nice to know that the ability to enjoy and embrace life's more ridiculous pleasures is still alive and well.