Thursday, March 27, 2008

Take a Carnival Cruise: Or How I Found Out What It's Like to Be Trapped in an Indoor Mall set in Perpetual Motion

My friend Rachel put it best, "It's like being trapped in a mall." That's our shared experience of a "Fun Ship." Last week, my girlfriend, 4 other friends, and myself all traveled to Mobile to begin our "Fun Ship" cruise to parts of the Yucatan Peninsula. Actually, wait, no it didn't even begin to get fun there. The fun began weeks before when our booking agent, finalizing our package, told us the wrong name for the ship we would be boarding. This was later cleared up through a phone call a few weeks after that, but we should have assumed that this was an indication of how Carnival rolls out the fun. The night before we were to depart for Mobile to step aboard our vessel, we decided to double check our itinerary. That is something that Carnival doesn't allow 24 hours before your departure. You will find that out 24 hours before your departure. There is no information explaining that shut down in the days leading up to that moment. So, at midnight that night, after having packed and taken care of all the necessary elements to leave town for a week, you're unable to just go on and double check the time your boat sets sail. We found three different 1-800ish numbers over the next hour, and I believe the third one worked. Luckily. We got in touch with a nice man that informed us that our perceived arrival time, 4pm, was actually incorrect and that we needed to be there between 12am and 2:30pm. If we weren't there before 2:30pm, we couldn't get on the boat, and "you're going to want to get there closer to 12am to make sure you make it through the line." That meant that, having had weeks to have this information sorted out, at 1am the night before we left, we were scrambling to get our dog to a place to stay for a week because we would be leaving too early in the morning to be able to get up and get her across town and back to jump in the car with the others. So, we took care of the dog situation and made it back home just in time for a thunderstorm and straight line winds to flicker the power off and on for the next hour making it even more difficult to finish packing at 4am.

The next morning we got in the car and we were headed to Mobile! It was fun, everyone was in high spirits the whole drive. Well, I was asleep mostly, but everyone else - high spirits! When we pulled onto the smaller road in Mobile, just off the highway in a rusty industrial park primarily used for ship building, we saw the Carnival Terminal - our destination. But just before the terminal was a cop car with lights flashing, stopping traffic. Then we saw that there were a lot of cop cars with lights flashing. They were directing cars to a grassy fenced-in lot under two highway overpasses across the street from the terminal. It really looked like something bad had happened so we got on the phone to see what folks with access to the tv and intrawebs knew. They knew nothing. We noticed that you couldn't see the "Fun Ship" and assumed it was full of "Fun" and therefor HUGE. We were correct, it was HUGE and it was LATE due to "intense fog." This meant that as other people pulled in and parked all around us and as Rachel kept commenting out the window to every passerby about the "intense fog" or "never seen fog so intense," that we were sitting for hours in a car under an overpass in the hot sun listening to Mariah Carey and the soft thumping of the cars passing overhead. There was no information about what to do or how to register or whatever the hell we had to be there early for, so we sat.

About an hour and a half in to this wait, Ali, Rachel, and I decided to walk into downtown to see what food was available. As we entered into downtown Mobile, near Government Street, we suddenly heard bagpipes. Coming down the road there were 8 black youths playing bagpipes and wearing green military uniforms with orange and white hats, I guess in honor of their Irish heritage. Following them were parade floats with drunk bead and moon pie throwers. We were suddenly engulfed in beads, moon pies, stuffed animals, plastic cups, sippy cups, ribbons, and one fish hat. These throwers were hostile. They were not only throwing the beads so hard that it stung, but they were trying to hit you. It was such a surreal scene.
The three of us were just walking along looking hungry and frustrated and then suddenly bagpipes started up and we were running in circles cackling, grabbing and dodging beads while stuffing moon pies in our pockets and yelling for more.
By the time we made it back to the car we were covered in beads. We each had 10 or so mardi gras cups full of trinkets and moon pies, and the rest of our group had no idea what to think of this. They thought we had just gone to find a hot dog or something. Another hour later and the women who work for Carnival, that have been registering everyone for their "Fun Pass," had made it all the way down every line of cars starting at opposite ends and finally come to us. It was as if we were the fulcrum of the entire "Fun Pass" registration operation and if they had come to us at our place in line instead of skipping over us and heading towards any Hawaiian or Jimmy Buffet shirt, it would have thrown the entire process into turmoil and no one would ever make it out from under those overpasses. I would guess we were the last group to be registered despite being in one of the earlier cars to arrive.

Another hour later, one line of cars moved forward 100 yards and then stopped. This had a lot of Jimmy Buffet shirts opening their driver side doors and standing on the floor board of their car to see "What is going on? GAh!" while waving their arms in a "come on!" motion. So, Chase and I double teamed this one. We jumped up on each side of our car and proceeded to discuss to no one in particular "what is the problem here?! Come on!" which is what I think got us to move another couple hundred yards. Another hour and a lot of standing in line holding luggage and we were stepping onto the boat.

This first "Fun Night at Sea!" was great. The wind was warm and the sun was setting as we pushed off from the dock and headed into the Gulf. We had a good night. We ate a huge MSG laden meal, sang some karaoke, and drank "fun ships"
(a drink also called a "fun ship" - because they are fun and you are on a ship, a "fun ship" ship. They also have a mascot called Fun Ship Freddy that is a bastardized version of the Domino's Demonoid) We met Rich, the piano man. He inhabited the piano bar, that was literally a bar made to look like a large winding piano. No matter the request from his song list, he took every song, slowed it down, added his creamy rasp of a voice and made it his own. Which also happened to sound like an impression of Bob Seger singing that song.

The next morning I had a slight hang over, nothing terrible and not something that I wouldn't normally be able to tolerate, but this mixed with being trapped in a perpetual motion machine made me feel awful. This day was called a "Fun Day at Sea!" and consisted of scheduled entertainment, bingo, and mostly being trapped on the boat. I dealt with it all day and nothing helped to feel better so I decided to take a Dramamine. It was Formal Night that night, so we dressed up, but I still felt gross. By dinner I was starting to black-out at the table and I eventually left a little early and went to sleep. I don't know the exact account of this story but what I pieced together goes like so: I woke up around 2am to Ali returning to our cabin crying and raving about some guy being mean to her. She was a little intoxicated and I just thought she was exaggerating. I made her tell me the story. She had gone to midnight buffet and being intoxicated and moving with the motion of the boat she slipped and dropped a plate. The plate broke and she bent down to pick it up. One of the employees said, "Don't pick it up, you're drunk and you'll cut yourself." She responded that she was fine and had no problem picking it up. Another employee came over to inquire what was going on and the first employee, who's name is Phil, said, "It's just another dumb drunk girl." Ali immediately responded, "Excuse me?!?" Then she went into her tirade about working in a restaurant where this happens all the time and you would never respond to a customer like that and she paid good money to come on this boat on vacation and that typically includes drinking. Well, this guy apparently kept egging her on. Our other friends were not directly involved in the interaction and Ali even went over to Brighid and said, "Get this guy away from me, he is pissing me off." Brighid thought that she was messing around because she assumed that Phil was being playful. But, apparently, he had called Ali a "stupid drunk girl" and a "drunk bitch" and Ali had repeatedly told him to leave her alone and get away from her. I really wished I had been there because I would have broken another plate - over his face. The bed in the brig is guaranteed to be as nice as the ones in the cabin. Ali left upset and returned to our cabin. Later that night when our friends left the deck going back to their cabins, they noticed that someone had smashed and smeared a banana all over the elevator. Chase said in response to this sight, "What kind of asshole would do that?" All I can imagine is Ali storming away from the upper deck thinking, "I'll show you drunk bitch!" and seeing that she had carried a banana away from the buffet, went to town.

The next morning she was hung over and angry. It was 8am when a voice came over the load speaker announcing that we had docked in Progresso. We headed into port and wandered about the tiny city for an hour. We stopped in an un-air conditioned mall and found a really racist sign for an oriental market
and a kid who spent only what could be hundreds of dollars and hours upon hours on a DDR machine to be the caliber competitor he presented. We then went to a bar across the street from the beach, ordered drinks, and had them delivered to us by a man who said, "I am not usual waiter" just after spilling the entire tray all over Ali. Ali and Lisa got some massages while Chase and I bought Cuban cigars. Then Rachel, Brighid, Chase, and I stopped in at a different bar for a few more beers. Ali and Lisa joined us when their $10 forty-minute massage was done. That is when we saw The Gazelle.

The Gazelle was this beautiful creature sitting on a bench across the street basking in the sun. It had long, flowing dark hair down past it's shoulders that was graced with a stylish straw cowboy hat. It's superb, toned, brown, hispanic body glistened as if it were rubbed down with crisco. It would look up through it's Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses occasionally to smile to what could only be angels discussing it's glory in the white ipod ear buds adorning The Gazelle's ears. The Gazelle sat shirtless absorbing the sun and sweating off tiny beads of moisture that would roll down it's built, hairless chest. The Gazelle had no sex, it wasn't male nor female, it was anything you wanted it to be. Passers by would do a double take, some simply stared in awe. The Gazelle would smile and I would have to look away it shown so bright. We watched it get up and move around the beach front. Every step was calculated and exquisite. It was like watching the most splendid gazelle on the African plains run in slow motion. Upon discussing this we decided upon that name for this fastidiously formed creature. On our return bus ride and walk up the dock to the ship, we had the pleasure of being behind The Gazelle as it made it's way home. It would glide along and softly move it's head side to side to it's angel ipod music, gesturing how glorious that music must have been and how The Gazelle never wanted it to stop. It was magnificent.

That night we ate an ass-load of MSG and then moved about the boat participating in the different events and entertainment. By midnight, they whipped out the show stopper. He was this HILARIOUS comedian. I could not get over how FUCKING FUNNY he was! I laughed and laughed, and yelled and laughed. "IT'S FUNNY CAUSE IT"S TRUE!!! HAHA HA HA HAHA HA!!!!" Man! He had this one joke about women being different from men - OMG!! HA HA HA!!! So, the entertainment was beyond sub-par. But, honestly, I knew that. That is really why we went on the cruise. The environment would be cheesy and hilarious and every vacationer would be a specimen to study and enjoy. But I, and we, had no idea.

The next day at 8am the load speaker kicked up saying, "The wind is pretty strong and is creating large waves that have made it impossible to pull to port on our own. We are requesting help from a towing service to pull us to port at Cozumel. Your safety is of our utmost concern." Fifteen minutes later the announcer came back to say, "Your saftey...(bullshit, bullshit, bullshit)...the towing service is unable to accomodate us, so we will be unable to port in Cozumel. We have created a new list of entertainment and we will be having another "FUN DAY AT SEA!" The next 48 hours was our ship trudging through enormous waves, throwing the ship left to right. People were sick all over the boat. The wind was so strong you couldn't go outside and really all you could do was lye in your cabin and try not to vomit. Stuff was sliding off of tables, you couldn't walk down the hallway, it was bad. Later that night, during our impromptu "Fun Day At Sea!" we found out from an employee that we had befriended, that the reason that people on deck saw all the other boats pulling to port, despite the large waves, while we sat at sea was that half the propellers on the ship weren't working. Carnival knew this before we left the terminal in Mobile. They decided not to have us towed to the dock at Cozumel because they would have lost money paying for the towing service. Instead, they decided to head into choppy, choppy water and submit their passengers to miserable conditions for 48 hours, all the way back to Mobile. It was so bad that the roulette table hit 0, then some numbers, then 00, then some numbers, then 0, then some numbers, then 0, then 0 again. The odds of 0 and 00 being a pay out of 70 to 1 are that way for a reason. That shit never hits 0. The table would go all red for a long stretch or all black. We sat down and made some money real quick, but then it would switch suddenly and you'd lose everything you won. I'm pretty sure the violent motion of our vessel had something to do with that.

Our impromptu "FUN DAY AT SEA!" lead to an impromptu variety show that night. I must say one of the acts was a highlight of the trip. The lovely, smooth, happy under-toned voice that we had been hearing over the intercom presented itself in a tall, thin man in his early 50's dressed in all black. He had this enormous "stage face" smile and then it disappeared and his face went serious. Cue "The Final Countdown" and this guy suddenly had 3 glow-in-the-dark balls. He started juggling with a fury. Their answer to not going to Cozumel: the cruise events director's juggling act. I am not kidding. The show crashed and burned when it was immediately followed by a prototypical sorority girl that worked for the cruise who belted out "Somewhere over the Rainbow" in a nasally, slightly sharp voice. She is the type that sings covers of peoples songs to her webcam and posts them to youtube to promote herself. I can handle a lot gone wrong, but this had our entire group racing to get out of the red, white, and blue Americana Lounge. The worst part was you could hear it on every floor of the ship all the way down every hall. It was the kind of voice that brought the house down for little league national anthems, the kind that every Miss America aspires to, the kind that they play over the loudspeaker in purgatory.

The next day was another "FUN DAY AT SEA!" and the entertainment that night was their award winning musical show that consisted of horrible hits from all the decades of popular music since the 50's. After a few "Fun Ships" my asshole self volunteered for the audience participation segment that involved me doing the "Macarena" on stage with a bunch of other assholes. I tried to look as sleazy as possible while I was up there, but I had a lot of competition.

The Gazelle was a performer in the show. Turns out The Gazelle was entertainment staff on the boat. It had the best "stage face" I've ever seen. We actually went into the Americana Lounge during an off hour the day before and discovered The Gazelle teaching 30 miscellaniously aged people how to dance "hiphop." In fact, at one point The Gazelle noticed the rigid pupils trying a move and said, "That's not hiphop. Hiphop is loose and low, like this" He proceeded to lean forward and sway his arms around loosely like a bad gorilla impression. "That's hiphop."

We had a good time because we made it a good time, but what a miserable existence it has to be to work for one of these boats. It was like being trapped in a mall, built in the 70's, that is set in perpetual motion and the only restaurant, Applebees, can't serve the "Appletini's" quick enough as you drink, vomit, and burn money.

In my new found fascination with the bleak existence that is cruise crew life, I found the video below. A new crew member to the Carnival line has her video camera on as she checks out her new home, the crew cabin. Basically, in summation to this entire post, she says in a heavy accent, "We are going to die here," as the water pours brown from her sink.


brasschalice said...

Or "don't believe the hype" because cruises are floating atmospheres of suburban misery. I always thought the Disneyland atmosphere equally canned. Seaside towns in Europe can be this way.

Hylonome said...

OMG. I always knew cruises were plasticized wastes of money, but I never imagined them as being quite so bad... those "hiphop lessons" closely resemble my nightmares. The Gazelle would have definitely been the highlight of that trip for me, lol.