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Our 2006 Road Trip, Part 6: The Worst Pirate-Themed Anything of All Time

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

Day 2: Sunday, July 23rd (continued)

After a long, hard day of amusement and soaking came another long-preplanned stop, dinner at a restaurant named Crabby’s Seafood Buffet. Not just all-you-can-eat seafood: every ad we saw from the Internet to brochures to local posters pictured a pair of clean-cut geeks pretending to be surly pirates in satin, posing beneath a caption vowing “Free Pirate Battle!” This promise was in every single ad we saw, more of a mantra than a motto. To us, this sounded like Medieval Times with a different angle and more food. We expected to improvise our meals on the run all vacation long, but Crabby’s was the only restaurant specified on our itinerary because it just sounded that promising. They even give each patron their own paper pirate hat to wear all through the meal. As with the Jelly Belly Factory, my son protested his hat and refused to don it.

We, on the other hand…

Crabby's

Beyond these doors were sights that would’ve made Spongebob Squarepants shred himself with fury.

Pirate Face

My wife’s pretend-angry-pirate face paled in comparison to expressions that ensued over the next 90+ minutes.

We saw our first clue that something was amiss when we walked in the door and took a gander at their posted meal prices: thirty bucks a meal. Incredibly, my son still qualified for children’s prices, but just barely, and for a negligible price difference. Sticker-shock took us aback momentarily, but we tried to keep it in perspective by reminding ourselves that Medieval Times charges over fifty bucks a head. Technically, if we considered them as competitors in the same sort of dinner-theater business, Crabby’s seemed to have the advantage. Besides, the hostess’ wench costume — which included a stuffed parrot on her shoulder — seemed like a good sign of authentic, pirate-y things to come. So we forked over way too much money, entered through the curtained doorway beyond the gift-shop foyer into the restaurant proper, and prepared to be dazzled.

The far end of its darkened red dining room is a recreation of a random section of pirate boat — some rigging, some props, a wall or two, not enough to make you feel you’re on an actual pirate ship, but just enough to suggest the possibility of a ripping knockdown pirate slugfest. Maybe some swords clanging, some authentic keelhauling, or at least a crowd of bikers in Ben Cooper Halloween smocks having an ARR!-hollering contest.

Beside all this was the actual buffet itself…two islands’ worth of buffet choices, smaller than your average Ponderosa buffet. Any strip-mall Chinese buffet would scoff at it. To their credit, over half the selections were actual seafood. The remaining food was fried and/or dessert. Most of it was lukewarm or warmer.

The buffet area included additional decorations like a skeleton in a pirate costume and a fish tank with Pirates of the Caribbean knickknacks in it. Mounted on the walls by the dining tables were several TVs showing the same looped footage, what appeared to be one large boat running into an ocean liner — no living beings on screen, just careening boats, over and over. It looked like a dramatization of an oil tanker accident. The sound was turned down so we could hear their themed Muzak overhead…and even that was repeating, unless I’m supposed to believe that “Margaritaville” was played twice because the other customers demanded an encore.

We each dined on a plate or two for several long minutes without a pirate battle visible anywhere on the horizon. Anne finally did what I wouldn’t’ve and flat-out asked our waitress, “When’s the pirate battle?”

The serving wench smiled and replied, “Oh, there’s no pirate battle. It’s just a pirate-themed restaurant.”

Stunned silence on our end.

No. Pirate. Battle.

In an alternate timeline, my son and I rose from our chairs, whipped out our cutlasses, and proceeded to run roughshod over the waitstaff, parrying and thrusting and tossing chairs about, generally terrorizing anyone in sight and bringing on the Free Pirate Battle to any and all comers. The waitresses ran screaming out of the restaurant, the manager wailed in agony from his stab wounds, the butter flowed like rum from the overturned buffet pans. Chandeliers were flung about, a mizzen-mast was knocked down onto a helpless crowd, and fires erupted spontaneously here and there because those are a key part of any real pirate battle.

Meanwhile, back in this timeline, we three just stared at each other. Unless the Exxon Valdez snuff clips were meant to suffice as our “pirate battle”, we’d been had.

As if nothing of consequence had just happened, the waitress brought us a giant pile of crab legs, included gratis in every family’s buffet package. My son wasn’t that impressed by the food to this point, was disappointed at the lack of chicken teriyaki that the website promised (though it’s since been removed from the online list), had no love for crab legs, and was more than ready to leave. Too bad for him that I was now bound and determined to get my money’s worth out of this dive. Even though I’d had little experience in eating actual crab legs (I’m more a fan of crab rangoon and other dishes where the crab meat’s been pre-shelled for me), I decided I wasn’t leaving until every single crab leg on that plate was plucked and devoured.

The process was awkward going at first. I clumsily alternated between working the pliers and digging with my fork. Anne eventually lent me a hand and, after several attempts, found herself a system that yielded much more meat than mine. One solid hour and three dozen crab legs later, we finished at last. The waitress cheerfully dropped by one last time and offered to bring us another plate of crab legs, same size. Our lips said “No, thank you,” but our hearts said, “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” like Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast.

We paid our bill once she bothered to bring it after a long wait, we tipped minimally, and we bailed with nary a second glance at their gift shop. Well, okay, maybe one glance — a giant foam hat in the shape of Nemo from Finding Nemo is hard to overlook, mad-on or no mad-on. All in all, I wish in hindsight that we’d checked out the log-cabin McDonald’s down the road instead.

Weary and irritated, we finally located our hotel for the night. It was surrounded by other hotels that each provided their own mini-water parks for their guests. We were almost jealous, but we were still fresh off the twin frustrations of Mt. Olympus and Crabby’s, so more opportunities to spend money didn’t hold much allure. We checked in at the front desk, whereupon we learned that the hotel offered a free perk that AAA certainly hadn’t mentioned when we made the reservations.

Along with our room keys, the clerk handed us free passes to the Waterworld at Riverview Park, one of Mt. Olympus’ competitors.

Anne and I stared at each other, dumbfounded. We thanked the clerk, tossed our stuff in our room, then spent some time at their dinky, crowded indoor pool before retiring for the night, all the while discussing how best to rearrange the next day’s plans.

To be continued!

[Historical notes:

1. Crabby’s reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor from recent times confirm that little has changed, except now the crab legs are an extra charge above the basic buffet gouging. Reviews from forgiving, longtime diners also confirm the “Free Pirate Battle” did indeed exist at one time, but was apparently discontinued sometime before our visit and before the ad campaign could be pulled. We were[/em] not [em]imagining all those ads after all.

2. To this day, whenever my wife and I look at each other and think of the worst restaurant experiences we’ve ever shared, this still tops the list. The trauma ran deep.]

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

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