Zip Lines, Parasails and Jet Skis—Oh My!

Ambulance on Beach

Although there’s a lot to do when your ship’s at sea, new and wondrous  adventures await you ashore. Have the urge to remain on the ship and eat yourself into a coma while everyone else is wasting time in port? Snap out of it, Skipper! You’re not (just) some fat and lazy American on vacation; you’re an intrepid explorer in search of danger and excitement—so slather on that sunblock, suck up that gut and whip out that American Express card, because an intrepid adventurer such as yourself is going to want to splurge on some shore excursions for you and your family so you can actually go out and experience—not just visit—the ports. Unless, of course, your idea of a good time is wandering aimlessly around a port area that is the mother of tourist traps screaming, “No! No! No! Yes! No! Yes! Hell no! Hell yes!” to locals trying to sell you fake jewelry, cheap T-shirts, imitation leather goods, marijuana, wood carvings, prostitutes, wool blankets in summertime and Mexican wrestling masks.

So in order to help you maximize your fun in the sun, here are five of the most popular shore excursions for you to choose from:

Excursion # 1: swimming with the dolphins. Dolphin encounters are some of the most popular excursions offered by any cruise line because they allow cruise aficionados such as yourself to treat your family to an experience of a lifetime. In fact, millions of Americans are sailing to the Caribbean this year for the warm sunshine, enchanting evening breezes, sapphire waters, and the chance to swim with cute and cuddly dolphins that weigh 1,100 pounds and can crush a small child like a warm M & M. But despite what the critics might say, swim-with-the-dolphin programs are a great opportunity for dolphins, the second-most intelligent creatures in the world to bond with tourists, the least intelligent creatures in the world.

Swim-with-the-dolphin excursions have become increasingly popular in the Caribbean in the past ten years or so and the dolphins dig it, too. A former dolphin trainer, who spoke candidly with me on the condition that I twist his words around, told me that dolphins love being in captivity where they can perform the same boring tricks over and over again with overweight tourists and their snot-nosed offspring holding onto their fins as they bang their sensitive snouts on the walls of their claustrophobic pens instead of swimming free in deep blue ocean, where the only tourists they’ll meet are drunk cruisers who fall overboard.

“Dolphins are beautiful and amazing creatures in their natural habitat,” the trainer told me. “But stick them in a cage, and they become sad, frustrated and aggressive, making it that much easier for them to relate to humans.”

Excursion # 2: snorkeling and scuba diving. Snorkeling is a particularly popular activity among junior cruisers because kids are less apt to be unpleasantly surprised at how nut-tuckingly cold the water in the Caribbean can be, less apt to become disappointed or angry when unusually strong currents make it difficult to observe underwater life, and less apt to get upset when their eyes are flooded with stinging salt water because their parents were too tipsy to properly adjust their masks for them.

The primary appeal of snorkeling for parents is that it doesn’t require the expense, equipment and training required for scuba diving. But if honest-to-goodness scuba diving is more your thing, then you’ll have to get certified first if you want to dive on your own. If you’re not certified, then you’ll have to either dive with a guide or get hired as an uncertified guide for other non-certified tourists.

Shore excursion # 3: zip-lining.

Are you overweight, out of shape and afraid of heights? Then this is the excursion for you. If you don’t have fun, then your bored guides certainly will because they can definitely use a good laugh.

Shore excursion # 4: parasailing.

Each year, an estimated three to five million people participate in parasailing. This popular activity is one of the most exciting things you can do in port because it’s largely unregulated with serious accidents frequently caused by faulty equipment. There are: no federal regulations or guidelines that establish specific training or certification for parasailing operators;  no requirement for inspection of the parasailing equipment; and no requirement to shut down operations during nasty weather conditions. For these reasons alone, serious thrill seekers are sure to get their money’s worth.

If you’re still not sold on the idea of being suspended 500 above the ocean’s surface, where something as simple as a weak towline, strong winds, or a worn harness can cause a tragic accident, then perhaps the fact that there no are rules or laws preventing you from buying a half-priced bottle of tequila at the duty free shop and drinking it during your flight might seal the deal.

Shore excursion # 5: Jet Skis and ATVs. Can’t decide between renting a Jet Ski or a four-wheeler, then get a package deal so you can do both in one day. That way, you can break your neck and  your back. (And then rent a Rascal scooter back on the ship.)

So don’t just lounge around Lido Deck, nursing your strawberry daiquiri; book a shore excursion today! There’ll be plenty of time for lounging when you’re in traction in the ICU.

 

Draw the Line

Long Line

If there’s one thing cruise ship guests hate it’s waiting in line to see a free comedy show. It fact, some guests get so mad they look like they want to hit me. Only reason they don’t is the line for beating me up is usually longer than the line for the show.

In all fairness, I can see why people on vacation wouldn’t want to wait ten minutes to see a forty-minute comedy show. These are the same people who’ll wait in a three-hour line at Six Flags for a two-minute roller coaster ride. The same people who’ll camp out on Canal Street in New Orleans at nine in the morning for a Mardi Gras parade that doesn’t start till noon and won’t reach them until four in the afternoon. The same people who’ll sleep outside an Apple Store all weekend just to buy the new iPhone even though they still haven’t figured out how to use their previous iPhone. The same people who’ll, on the first night of the cruise, spend forty-five minutes in a Free Liquor Tasting line that circles the lobby of the ship just so they can down a thimble-sized sample of Baily’s Irish Cream. So, yes, I can see why waiting ten minutes for a professional comedy show would be too much suffering for their fallen arches to endure.

There’s something about lines (or “queues,” if you’re British) that brings out the worst in people. On a nightly basis I observe grown adults cut the line, save spots for friends, nit-pick about who was standing where, push and shove, scream and shout, and then become verbally abusive (or “get all Parliamentary,” if you’re British) with me or my assistants when confronted about their behavior. Other guests will refuse to join the line altogether and try to start their own line at the exit of the comedy club, refusing to move as they’re trampled by a stampede of 600 departing guests in search of free pizza and ice cream. It’s nights like that that make me wish there were more icebergs in the Caribbean.

Some of my superiors believe that turning a blind eye to such childish behavior falls under the heading of Good Customer Service. I do not. I believe that when passengers pay for a cruise they are paying to travel on the ship, paying to sleep on the ship, paying to eat on the ship, and paying to enjoy the free live entertainment offered on the ship. They are not paying for the right to interfere with our operation, supplant our policies with their own, defy or disrespect our team members or infringe upon the fun of their fellow guests through rude, selfish or discourteous behavior. For that we charge extra.

In my opinion, passengers are called “guests” for a reason: the ship is our home and they are just visiting. In my cruise line’s opinion, however, passengers should be considered “part of the family.” Fine. But if you ask me, that’s even more of a reason for us to call guests on their crap. I’d love to see our more problematic passengers try to pull the same shenanigans in the home of a close relative and see what happens. Try telling their Aunt Clara and Uncle Eugene how to run their household, spill food on their furniture, leave dirty dishes on their stairs, make noise at all hours of the night outside their bedroom door and speak rudely or disrespectfully to them or their cousins and they’ll find themselves at a Motel 6 faster than they can say, “It may be your house but it’s my vacation.”

I love my job and I love my ship. I also love the vast majority of guests who cruise with us week after week. So, please come sail with us soon. I’ll do my part to make sure you have the best cruise ever. But, to echo something we’ve all heard our fathers say a million times while growing up: If you cruise under my roof, you cruise under my rules.

Got a problem with that? Get in line.

# # #

Fun as Ship

Dream

Most cruise ships offer lots of fun-filled activities such as Bingo, shuffleboard and trivia. Granted, these are things you can do at your local senior center for free. But on a cruise you can win prizes. And nothing says “I’m a better person than the rest of you old farts” like going home with a suitcase full of plastic “ship-on-a-stick” trophies valued at twenty cents apiece.

But if you’re too busy establishing your intellectual superiority over your fellow passengers by taking first place in “TV Theme Song Trivia,” you might miss out on some more satisfying cruising experiences (such as “Movie Theme Song Trivia”). So here are some tips for getting the most out of your next cruise:

  1. Attend the shopping talk.

The Shopping Talk is a brief (six to eight hours) seminar given by your shipboard shopping specialist “Chet,” who will provide you with valuable pointers for shopping in your ports of call. Pointers such as:

  • Only shop in an “approved” store so you’ll get the best deal possible—and Chet will get a commission, a bonus, and a hot oil massage with a happy ending.
  • Never shop in an “unapproved” store because you’ll be kidnapped by Somali pirates and/or ISIS.
  1. Choose the buffet over the dining room.

You can’t go wrong eating in one of your ship’s fancy dining rooms, where you can feast on steak, lobster, fine wine and exotic deserts; however, the high-quality food and superior service may cause you to relax and enjoy yourself (even though you’ll be expected to wear shoes). And since finding things to complain about makes cruising much more enjoyable, you’ll be better off heading up to Lido Deck where you can fight your way through the gluttonous throng in your bare feet. Besides, later on, when you’re down at the front desk complaining about the long lines and limited selection in the buffet restaurant, not to mention the fact that you paid good money for this cruise yet nobody from the Miami offices ever called and advised you to pack footwear for formal night, the Guest Services associate on the business end of your vitriol will be more likely to offer you financial compensation if you have chili-dog breath.

  1. Camp out in the casino.

Screw Las Vegas; spend as much time and money in the ship’s casino as possible. Cruise-ship slot machines are looser than a biker chick with a meth habit. Especially on my cruise line. In fact, you’re going to need a duffle bag to haul all those shiny silver dollars back to your cabin. And I’m not just saying that because the more money my cruise line makes off of delusional chain-smoking gambling addicts like you, the better chance I have of getting a raise.

  1. Luxuriate in the all-ages hot tubs.

What better way to relax on a luxury cruise liner overrun by unsupervised eight-year-olds than with a nice hot urine bath?!

  1. Book an interior stateroom.

Sure, you can spend the extra money for a balcony or at least a porthole if you want, but cruising is so much more adventurous and exciting when you cram your entire family into a tiny windowless cabin the size of your kitchen pantry at home.  You’ll never know what time of day it is when you wake up, and the lack of fresh air with five people in the room will keep things interesting. And, better yet,  you’ll be that much more excited about reaching the Bahamas.

  1. Rent a mobility scooter.

Why should old folks with bad knees have all the fun?  Rent a scooter for your cruise and skip to the front of every line.  Crew members will take pity on you and wave you past the long parade of upright losers waiting to be seated for dinner or a production show, without so much as a second glance. Thankfully, it will never occur to them that the last person who needs to be advanced to the front of a line is someone who is—wait for it… SITTING ON A MOVING CHAIR!

What does it matter if Grandma has to wait a few extra minutes to sit down for dinner or a show if she’s already sitting down?! Allowing someone to cut in front of you because they have a scooter is like trading your seats behind home plate with somebody in the bleachers because he has binoculars hanging around his neck (or something like that only funnier).

So rent a scooter. You’ll get special treatment and you can zip around the ship drunk, running into stuff and knocking over people with actual mobility problems.

  1. Use your cell phone as much as possible.

If there’s someone in your family whom you couldn’t afford to bring along on your cruise, be sure to call them every day that you’re at sea. The amount you’ll rack up in roaming charges will make it seem like you paid their way.

  1. Book a cruise with one or more “tender ports.”

When a port lacks a pier big enough to accommodate cruise ships, it’s what we call a tender port. A tender is a boat that takes you from the ship to the island in the time it would take you to swim. Tendering is lots of fun because you get to wake up early, report to one of the ship’s lounges with hundreds of other tired and impatient guests, and wait for hours on end watching CNN on the big screen with the sound off (so you can hear all the screeching babies and screaming toddlers sprawled out around you) until you decide to jump overboard and swim ashore.

Once on the island, you’ll be free to slouch around in the scorching heat for ten minutes trying to find a discount T-shirt shop with functioning air conditioning until you finally realize that you’re in a third-world country that doesn’t really have all that much to see or do so you might as well get in line for a tender back to the ship, where you can be laughed at by all the experienced cruisers who stayed on board.

  1. Purchase a shore excursion from a local vendor not in any way associated or affiliated with your cruise line so that you can either miss your non-refundable tour due to the ship arriving late or miss the ship after your tour ends because the bus carrying you back to the pier is ambushed by guerrilla fighters.

Fun times!

         10. Complain. Complain. Complain.

If you really want to have fun on your cruise, don’t spend your days laying out by the pool or relaxing at the bar. Instead, make frequent trips down to Guest Services and complain about anything that comes to mind. If your complaints are inventive enough, the ship’s Guest Services associates will often offer you financial compensation just to shut you up. If you’re unlucky enough to cruise on an awesome ship like mine, however,  you’ll be hard-pressed to find many legitimate issues to complain about. In that case, here are a half dozen doozies to get you started:

  • “The sound of the ocean keeps me up at night. Can you turn it off?”
  • “My cabin doesn’t look the same as the photo on your website. That cabin had blue carpet; mine has red. Can you please make the switch while I’m upstairs in the ship’s gift shop complaining about merchandise I bought on land?”
  • “It’s too hot on the open decks. Can you ask the Captain to turn on the air conditioning outside?”
  • “It’s too long of a walk between decks. Can you shorten your stairs?”
  • “The midnight buffet is too late at night. Can you reschedule it for noon?”
  • “I hate discos and disco music. Yet every time I go into the disco all I hear is disco music. Can I have a free cruise?”

So there you go. Use my tips and your next cruise is guaranteed to be your best vacation ever.

If not, you can always walk the plank. Make a big enough splash and you just might win a prize.

Heckler Skelter

hecklers

Repeat after me: Heckling does not help a stand-up comedy show!

To get an idea of how unhelpful hecklers are, imagine if you were forced to read the above sentence while trying to read something else for pleasure. Let’s say, a Dan Brown novel:

“That’s it,” thought Langdon. “The answer was right in front of me the whole time. If one translates Beowulf from the old English into Portuguese using a code key hidden in the original handwritten lyrics of Francis Scott Keyes’ ‘Star Spangled Banner’, then the name ‘Grendel’ changes to ‘Dick Cheney’, which means the murderer has to be…” –Repeat after me: Heckling does not help a comedy show!

See how frustrating that was? Just before you could confirm your hunch that George W. Bush is the scion of Jesus of Nazareth, hell bent on destroying the Catholic Church so that he can paint over Michelangelo’s  work on the Sistine Chapel with a giant portrait of himself dodging a flying shoe thrown at him by a rogue Iraqi assassin as revenge for the time he tried stealing the original Declaration of Independence as an initiation prank for the Skull and Bones Society in an attempt to uncover the conspiracy to murder General Patton, who was actually a high-ranking secret member of the Free Masons, the Druids and the Illuminati—I had to go and ruin it by thinking that what I have to say is more important or entertaining than the carefully written and edited prose of the bestselling author you paid good money to read during your valuable free time.

Why? Because I’m disrespectful and self-centered. And a member of the Illuminati.

Although the average headliner can make crushing a drunken redneck under an avalanche of well-rehearsed stock lines look easy and fun, as well as therapeutic, comedians don’t need hecklers to help them get laughs.

That’s what jokes are for. Jokes: you know, those things comedians write and perform every day for a minimum of five years before becoming a paid professional?

Hecklers always think they’re helping the show. Sometimes, they even feel as if they are the show. Unfortunately, hecklers want to be part of the show without putting in any of the hard work required to prepare, produce or promote the show. Most hecklers are so egotistical they actually think that the interplay between themselves and the comedian is somehow superior to the material the comedian has spent the past decade or so honing.

I don’t spend hours at the computer perfecting a piece of material just so an audience member who shows up five minutes late to a show can interrupt me and force me to make fun of the lime-green tank top he’s wearing on Formal Night just so he can feel like a superstar for the rest of the cruise every time somebody yells, “Hey, look it’s ‘Lime-Green Tank Top Boy’!”

We comics don’t slam hecklers in order to get laughs; we slam hecklers in order to embarrass them into silence so we can get on with our acts. Problem is most hecklers have a simplistic sense of humor. So, when a comedian whips up a witty comeback right off the top of his head, what most comics would consider a run-of-the-mill heckler slam comes across as pure comedy gold to the heckler. Therefore, the heckler reasons that in order for a comedian to drop the boring crap and start with the real jokes you have to heckle—or help—him. This reasoning is illogical because it totally ignores the opinions and preferences of the other three hundred people who paid to see the show. Without having any affiliation with the comedy club other than clipping a free coupon out of the newspaper, the average heckler decides that he knows what’s best for both the comedian onstage and the rest of the audience. The product of a perfect blend of narcissism and Long Island Iced Tea.

If heckling is so integral to an act’s success, then why don’t comedy clubs audition hecklers and book them six months in advance just like comedians? When was the last time you walked into an Improv or a Funny Bone and saw a poster that advertised: “Tonight: Marc Maron! With special guest: ‘Some drunken redneck in a Nickelback T-shirt’ ”?

Once a heckler opens his mouth, the show’s focus transfers from the performer onstage to a member of the audience who may or may not have paid to be there. Most people who pay to see a comedy show do so because they’re either a fan of stand-up comedy in general or a fan of a specific comedian:

“Jim Gaffigan is coming to the Civic Theater next month. I love that guy—let’s go online and buy tickets… (so we can sit in the front row and shout, ‘Hot Pockets’ every five seconds until Jim throws the microphone at us before running offstage to put his head in a microwave oven).”

Nobody who buys a ticket to a comedy show is paying to see the audience:

“Gee, I hope that same drunken redneck in the Nickelback T-shirt who heckled Brian Regan at the Hard Rock Casino last month shows up at the Jim Gaffigan show tonight. His non-sequiturs about Bud Light and bass fishing were way funnier than anything two of the best joke writers in North America who make millions in ticket sales every year have to say. Better yet, I hope there’s a loudmouthed bachelorette party sitting front row center. I pray that, as soon as Jim launches into a hilarious bit about how much money he spends on groceries every month feeding a family of six, some barely coherent bachelorette does one too many shots of tequila and tells Jim straight up how unfunny he his. That way he can abandon the material he’s spent the past year perfecting in order to make some hysterical, off-the-cuff comparisons between plantains and the giant penis hat that demure flower  is wearing.

“Now that’s comedy, cousin!”

# # #

 

 

Shut Up and Laugh!

No Talking

My main duty as a comedy club manager is to monitor table talk and heckling during a show. The reason “policing the room” is so important is because stand-up comedy is a delicate art form. In fact, the only thing more delicate than stand-up comedy is the ego of a tipsy redneck who thinks stand-up comedy is neither delicate nor an art form. That means I constantly have to be on the lookout for potential disturbances that can interfere with a comedian’s performance. A skilled comedian’s punchlines are so precisely timed that distracting him for even a second can cause the funniest joke in his act to become painfully unfunny and then, before you know it, Larry the Cable Guy’s doing it on TV.

They say that dying is hard but comedy is harder. Harder still is trying to get cruise ship passengers to shut the hell up for half an hour. The difference between a well-rehearsed joke killing or dying can be caused by the slightest change in the inflection or pronunciation of a single word in the setup or punchline. Believe it or not, a comic can’t concentrate on the nuances of delivery if his inner technician is being drowned out by a bachelorette party seated ten feet from the stage arguing over who has the classiest tramp stamp.

So it’s my job to go from table to table begging the self-centered and inebriated to act like grown-ups for thirty short minutes. But, on a cruise ship, where guests have paid a pretty penny for the privilege of being obnoxiously drunk in public, getting them to give their respect and attention to a professional entertainer is sometimes a mission even “The Expendables” would turn down.

That’s why the average audience member gets defensive when I shush them. Rarely does anyone ever apologize for getting caught up in the moment and not realizing how loud they’re being. Rarely does anybody say, “Oh, I’m sorry. This is my first time in a comedy club. So when I heard your offstage announcement asking me to keep my table talk to a minimum, I thought you were joking. And so when the comedian onstage told me to pipe down and the entire room erupted into thunderous applause, I thought he was joking. And so when the table of half-deaf blue-hairs in front of me turned around, screamed ‘Shut the @#$% up!’ and started pelting my abnormally sloped forehead with gin-drenched ice cubes, I thought they were a geriatric flash mob. It never occurred to me that I’m not actually supposed to chit-chat at full volume while others are trying to enjoy a professional comedy show. Thank you, sir, for inspiring me to become a better—and quieter—person. I beg you to reach deep within your heart and find the mercy to forgive me for breaking the unwritten social contract of “he talk, me listen” which has existed between a boat act and his audience since time immemorial. Now may I please have a glass of water to take my lithium with?”

Actually, nobody ever says that.

Instead, they say: “What do you mean I can’t talk in a comedy club? Oh, so only the comedian is allowed to talk, is that right? I’ve never heard of that before. What is your name, sir? I’m going to have you hung, drawn and quartered for ruining my cruise and scarring my soul with your unreasonable and unthinkable demand for silence during a live presentation in a theatrical setting! How about crying—is crying OK in a comedy club? Because that’s what I feel like doing now that you’ve embarrassed me in front of my equally drunk and inconsiderate friends by politely and gently reminding me of a policy you clearly mentioned a dozen times in your preshow announcements!”

Although I can understand somebody not knowing how to behave in a comedy club, what I can’t understand is how a grown adult can argue with somebody who works someplace about something only a person who works at that place can possibly know anything about. I was raised Catholic. Not once did I have to take off my shoes or put on a yarmulke upon entering my church. Therefore, it wouldn’t occur to me to take off my shoes before entering a Buddhist temple, just as it wouldn’t occur to me to put on a yarmulke before entering a Jewish synagogue.  But even though I’m not a religious person anymore, I wouldn’t think twice about losing my shoes or wearing a yarmulke upon entering another’s house of worship. I’m a guest on their turf and, therefore, good manners dictate that I respect their traditions and customs without question. You’ll never hear me say to a rabbi, “Sorry, dude, but I put a five-dollar bill in the collection box before entering, so that means I paid to be here, Chuck. And since the customer is always right, I’ll waltz into this dump wearing a Nazi helmet and a Speed-o if I want to. A man wearing a yarmulke in a synagogue? I’ve never heard of that before.”

Policing the room is normally much easier in a land-based comedy club. At my home club, Hilarities 4th Street Comedy Theater @ Pickwick & Frolic, in downtown Cleveland, there’s always a showroom manager and anywhere from two to six ushers in the showroom at any given time. The moment customers start heckling or chatting too loudly, Usher #1 goes over and says something. If the behavior continues, it’s Usher #2’s turn. If that doesn’t work, the showroom manager asks one more time—very politely—for the customers to settle down, sometimes handing them a business-card-sized note explaining the club’s No Talking / No Heckling policy. If that doesn’t work, the showroom manager radios for backup in the form of an off-duty uniformed policeman, who then escorts the guests out of the showroom. The guests then have their choice to continue their conversation out in the martini bar or upstairs in the restaurant. If, however, they give the cop a hard time, they can continue their conversation in the back of a squad car.

In the Punchliner, on the cruise ship I’ve called home for the past five years, it’s just me. What the showroom manager, doorman, ushers and off-duty police officers at Hilarities do in unison, I do all by myself.

The only thing I don’t do is put talkers into the back of a squad car.

Instead, I just throw them overboard.

Getting thrown overboard for talking during a comedy show? I bet you never heard of that before.

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.