April 13, 2009

Dreams for sail: A vacation observation

The reality of cruises

The reality of cruises

Think of any Caribbean cruise TV commercial you’ve ever seen. Most likely you’d envision endless “beautiful people” cavorting in sky-deck swimming pools, working out in floating fitness centers and toasting each other in seagoing gourmet restaurants. After spending a vacation day aboard a well-advertised cruise line ship, I’m here to tell you: Nothing could be further from reality. During the last week of February, I attended a wedding aboard a colossal pleasure craft that sat docked in the Port of Tampa, which gave me a few fleeting hours to drink in the surroundings. The ship was about to set sail and wedding guests were granted temporary access to witness the ceremony.

This gave me the opportunity to spy on the hordes of excited passengers boarding the ship—and each was more than ready to cannonball headfirst into the party atmosphere that awaited them on this week-long trip for the budget-minded. Some groups arrived draped in Mardi Gras beads. Most of the male passengers I saw wore T-shirts proudly promoting every sports franchise from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Knoxville Ice Bears. And instead of nonstop beautiful people, I saw dozens of folks in wheelchairs, on oxygen and strapped to what appeared to be hand trucks. (I’m guessing there may have been a few machines free in the fitness center during this cruise.)

I learned that each cruise ship has its own unique theme. My ship was created to honor the “legends” of Hollywood’s cinematic past. The boat’s interior design can only be described as Studio 54 disco meets Graceland, with a heaping side order of RuPaul thrown in. The soaring main lobby featured four glass-enclosed elevators that were every bit as ornate as one of Loretta Lynn’s engagement ring settings. Everything on the ship – from the piped-in dance music to the air conditioning to the beer taps – was already pumping full blast.

The universal currency of this entire enterprise was the English language. Talk about a floating United Nations. One thousand crew members of almost every nationality scurried about in an effort to serve the 2,000 newly arrived passengers. And every worker had a specialty. The more menial the task, the less likely the crew member was to speak English. For example, the instant a tropical drink accidentally hit the deck, along came a young foreign kid with a wet mop, followed by a damp mopper, followed by a dry mopper. Just don’t ask these moppers where the sky deck is.

I figured most of the guests had probably never been near a body of water as vast as the Gulf of Mexico, nor been waited on by such an army of eager-to-please cocktail servers. The actual cruise experience may be worlds away from its upscale TV depiction, but this crowd didn’t seem to mind. You could readily tell that the majority of these partying passengers bought the cruise ship’s sales pitch hook, line and sinker.