Refugee Rhapsody

cuban flag

Last cruise, we rescued 40 Cuban refugees in a small, rickety watercraft which had been adrift at sea for over two weeks. We fed them, clothed them, and gave them medical attention. They’re now proud members of our Housekeeping Department.

Just kidding. The bean counters in Miami would never authorize the extra uniforms.

We tried offloading our unexpected guests in Montego Bay, Jamaica, but they took one look around and said, “Screw this dump—take us back to Cuba!”

That’s exactly what happened, too. Three days after the rescue, our Captain announced we’d been ordered to turn over our Cuban visitors to the U.S. Coast Guard in International waters via vessel transfer. According to U.S. law, Cuban refugees who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay in the country. Those who are intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba. Can you imagine being rescued after 15 days at sea with little food and water and no cover from the elements only to be told you were being sent back?

CUBANS:

Help us!!

CRUISE SHIP:

We will bring you aboard!!

CUBANS:

Yay!!

CRUISE SHIP:

We will feed, clothe and take care of you!!

CUBANS:

Yay!!

CRUISE SHIP:

Then alert the United States Coast Guard!!

CUBANS:

Yay!!

CRUISE SHIP:

Who will then return you to Cuba!!

CUBANS:

Say what?! Um, sorry to have bothered you, but we’re OK now. Actually, the combination of sun and salt water is quite good for our skin. So you folks go ahead and continue on to Jamaica—sorry to interrupt your cruise. So what if our engine died two weeks ago and we’ve been drifting without food and water for hundreds of nautical miles? We’re in no hurry to get anywhere. It’s not like we have work in the morning. Besides, we have plenty of sandals to eat and urine to drink. We’re sure your ship is nice and all but we think we’ll stay here on this disintegrating ark of plywood and two by fours and take our chances with the freaking sharks! Hasta la vista, baby!

It’s a bittersweet feeling to know that you’ve saved somebody’s life only to return them to a life they so desperately wanted to escape. And that’s how most of us crew members felt for the first day after the rescue. But by day two we were like, “Where the hell is the Coast Guard?! We want our crew bar and crew Internet lounge (where the refugees were billeted) back!”

Although it’s natural for human nature to creep back in after the adrenaline of a crisis wears off, this doesn’t lessen the emotional impact of the rescue. It was quite a dramatic event. Once our cruise director made the announcement that the nighttime rescue was in progress, hundreds of crew members and guests crowded onto what we call the Lanai Deck to watch the little boat packed with waving and shouting Cubans bob up and down in the rough sea, the laser- bright beam of our ship’s searchlight making it look like a scene from a movie. We all cheered as the Captain, using our thrusters, positioned the ship so that the refugees’ boat gently kissed our starboard side as Security opened the gangway doors on Riviera Deck. Guests applauded in relief when they saw the refugees being led out of the boat onto our ship. What they didn’t see were all the overworked crew members who tried to escape into the boat:

“Let me out of here—If I have to make one more towel animal for a demanding and unappreciative American guest I’m going to kill myself! Cuba, here I come!”

If you were to work on a cruise ship for one day, it wouldn’t take you long to see how silly and self-involved some guests can be. Last cruise, some guests actually went down to Guest Services and complained that, since we interrupted their vacation in order to rescue Cuban refugees, they should be monetarily compensated. They felt that we had endangered their lives by bringing “potential Somali pirates” aboard and therefore they felt entitled to a free cruise.

First of all, maritime law commands us to assist any vessel in distress and to embark its passengers if that vessel is no longer seaworthy. Secondly, how exactly do 40 dehydrated Cubans pose a danger to 4,500 drunken Saints fans from New Orleans? Thirdly, we’re  several thousand miles away from the coast of Somalia. Besides, even if Somali pirates were to board our ship, we’d put them to work immediately:

SOMALI PIRATES:

We are Somali pirates! Take us to the Bridge!

HOUSEKEEPING MANAGER:

No—you’re going to swab Lido Deck just like the schedule says! So put down those rifles and grab a mop, you lazy bastards, before I put my big Guatemalan foot up your skinny African asses!

SOMALI PIRATES:

Oh, did we say Somali pirates? We meant to say Cuban refugees—take us to the crew bar instead!

I’ll tell you how we should have compensated these people: we should have kicked them into the Cubans’ rickety piece-of-crap boat and then told them to drift aimlessly without food and water until another cruise line stops to pick them up: “I’m sure just about every cruise line will pass you eventually, so take your pick!”

With any luck, the Cuban Coast Guard would pick them up and return them to Idiot Island.

Ship for Brains

jerks

Although Cruise Critic reviews can tell you which ship offers the best bang for your buck, one thing they can’t tell you is what your fellow passengers will be like on any given cruise. Pick the wrong sailing date with the wrong guest demographic and your vacation can go from Cape Canaveral to “Cape Fear” faster than you can say, “Here comes Honey Boo-Boo!”

Even if you book the most poorly reviewed ship in the fleet, the biggest negative surprise of your cruise will be what troublemakers some of your fellow cruisers can be. Those tan lines above their feet? That’s where the house arrest ankle bracelets used to be.

Although TV commercials always make cruising look like a care-free adventure, take it from me:

  • No matter how luxurious your stateroom may be, you won’t get any rest if your quarrelsome neighbors sound like they’re auditioning for “The Jerry Springer Show” on their balcony every night.
  • No matter how incredible the food and service in the dining room may be, you’re not going to enjoy dinner if the family next to you lets their sugar-addled rug rats run around the table, screeching their heads off as if taping a telethon for Planned Parenthood.
  • No matter how efficient and understanding the pursers at Guest Services may be, you’ll never get to the front of the line if 20 members of the same Idiots Anonymous chapter “didn’t know I had to pay for them items in my mini-bar!”
  • No matter how funny the comedians in the ship’s comedy club may be, you can’t enjoy the show if the trailer-park CPAs behind you are fighting over the check, trying to figure out who the hell ordered a drink called “gratuity.”

Sure, everyone has to put up with troublesome neighbors at home or work alongside first-class boneheads in the office; you expect that. What you don’t expect is to pay thousands of dollars to embark upon the vacation of a lifetime only to have it ruined by a handful of inconsiderate knuckleheads whose foster parents never taught them how to behave in public. Expect loud drunks to swear repeatedly in front of your children. Expect giggling morons to drop ice on you from the upper decks. Expect thoughtless jerks to light up cigars in the hot tub. Expect complete idiots to leave their empty coffee mugs in the middle of the stairs so your mother-in-law can fall and break her hip. Expect selfish pigs to swipe the last four slices of banana cream pie from the buffet without asking if you or one of your kids would like one. (OK, you can expect me  to do that, too.)

Bottom line, if you think you’re getting away from the Real World by going on a cruise, you’re wrong. Thanks to an abundance of affordable fares on the Internet, the same blockheads who make your life miserable on land are going to follow you up the gangway, dragging their knuckles behind them. They will cut in line in front of you at the buffet, chat loudly during production shows, and hog a big block of deck chairs for relatives who are never showing up—all the while being totally oblivious to how uncomfortable they’re making you feel or how badly they’re intimidating your children.

These days, cruise lines are doing whatever they can to fill every ship to capacity. The more empty cabins, the more money they lose and the harder it will be for them to keep their prices down. Unfortunately, reduced fares and on-board credit incentives mean more people who’ve had their campers repossessed are trading camping for cruising, meaning more people to heatedly debate the verisimilitude of Pro Wrestling right behind you while you’re trying to enjoy a romantic sunset with your special someone.

Fortunately, the majority of people you’ll meet on your cruise will be friendly, helpful and entertaining. You might even make a few new friends for life. In fact, the number of nice people you’ll meet will allow you to suffer the fools more gladly and, more than likely, encourage you to book another cruise right away.

But as for the imbeciles, nitwits and pinheads? Remember, it’s not a crime to push somebody overboard as long as nobody sees you do it. Besides, that won’t be the first time somebody’s “gotten away with murder” while cruising.