Fear & Loathing On The Princess Cruise (May 1992)

The first mistake they made was leaving the bar fridge in the hotel open and unlocked. I hadn't been given a key to the fridge because the room was being paid for by the cruise ship company and we were only supposed to be there for a few hours between our flight arrival and getting to our cabin. But there was the open fridge, fully stocked, with all the little bottles of various booze, cans of beer, some juice and pop, and a few packages of nuts, and sitting there waiting for us.

Realizing there was no point in just taking one or two, because that would be something room service would notice and find some way of making us pay for, the decision was made to completely empty the fridge. This way room service would think they must have overlooked this particular fridge and it would be properly stocked again and locked. With a little help from my friends we started off with a few good doubles and triples to get us in the mood and then used our imaginations to create some tasty cocktails out of all the other ingredients.

By the time they poured us on the bus we had accomplished our mission, leaving no trace behind (thanks to a garbage can down the hall) or witnesses. Of course we hardly knew who we were at that point but it set the stage for what was about to happen over the next week because, once we finally got on board ship, the serious drinking began in earnest. A welcoming reception, tours, four course dinner, and a session in the ships disco finally did us in and, as the Crown Princess sailed away from Port Lauderdale, Florida, we were fast asleep in our stateroom.

The Crown Princess is an enormous vessel that carries 1,600 passengers and 600 crew members. More than 800 feet long and 100 feet wide it dwarfs the measurements of the Titanic, with a gross tonnage of 70,000 as compared to 46,000 for the Titanic. Gross tonnage being some obscure nautical measurement that relates to how much the ship can actually hold. Net tonnage on the other hand is something else and, while the Crown Princess was around 35,000 tonnes, I wondered, as I looked around at the huge tables everywhere groaning under the weight of all the prepared food, if that included the 10 extra pounds each passenger would gain for the week they were on board.

Though both the Titanic and Crown Princess carried roughly the same number of people, there was no comparing the accommodations since everyone on the Crown Princess was the same class and, each couple had their own private stateroom with a window, full bathroom etc. The ship contained a grand ballroom, main dining room, specialty restaurants, discotheques, casino, gymnasium, hospital, live stage theatre, movie theatre, library, shops, swimming pools, hot tubs, a spa, dry cleaner, beauty salon, and some other services yet nobody ever felt the slightest bid crowded.

Woke up to a beautiful day in the Bahamas feeling a little dehydrated to say the least but, after a nice plunge in the ocean, some cold beer, and a little tour of charming Nassau, we were on the mend and ready to face another day of relaxation. As the boat headed off to the next Caribbean destination we lay out on the deck soaking up the sun, reading, snoozing, playing ping pong or paddle tennis, and drinking vast quantities of beer to while away the afternoon.

By evening though it was time for us to get all fancied up in tuxedos and cocktail dresses for the Captain's reception party and yet another huge dinner feast. Of course these feasts also include an unlimited dessert tray, the second mistake. After dinner there was a Vegas style floor show to entertain us before once again we drifted off for the night in blissful unawareness.

Adrift at sea, with no sight of land, the next day was spent roaming around the ship discovering there were still more bars, shops, restaurants and other amusements catering to the overfed, over watered, over pampered passengers parading around in all their beached whale glory. With nothing else to do except take advantage of the incredible service being offered by the innumerable waiters and stewards dressed in their crisp, white uniforms, we lay out on the deck chairs eating and drinking all day with occasional breaks to shoot skeet or participate in some other shipboard diversion. The ship had a no cash policy for the duration of the cruise which meant wives could shop for perfume and clothes in the boutiques while men could order drinks with impunity. You settled your tab at the end of the voyage and this no cash policy was the third mistake.

Although the cruise was a prize for making my annual sales quota, there had to be some business aspect to the event in order to please the taxman. That evening there was an award ceremony with all the reps receiving their plaques and getting their picture taken with the company President just like it was grad night. After the ceremony of course there was more feasting, drinking, entertainment, and dancing until, once again, it was time to pass out.

Woke up the next morning in the harbour of Puerto Rico where, after clearing customs, everyone was happy to have an opportunity to stretch their legs and get a little exercise. This meant wandering through the old part of San Juan with thousands of other tourists, checking out the quaint, but overpriced, tourist shops but never getting any cultural enlightenment. The place was so completely Americanized it's a wonder what's taking them so long to achieve statehood. By late afternoon the ship cast off anchor and, following yet another rapid tropical sunset, we sailed into the inky blackness of the sea for the evening.


By day four I've had all I can take of middle America, yuppies, old ladies, and other members of the low brow suburban world gorging themselves on what they think is good food and pretending they are living in the gilded age of a bygone era. The luxury of the boat was killing me and I need to get away from it somehow. Fortunately we wok up in St. Thomas Virgin Island, and I was saved just in time.

We spent the morning strolling around the duty free area shopping for luxury clothes, jewelry, and other useless baubles before escaping to Coki Beach for the afternoon. Here I could snorkel to my heart's content in a stunning location that seemed like I was in an aquarium. Feeding fish out of my hand and watching in total fascination as the incredible variety of sea life went about its business in the coral reef with little regard for me. This was my idea of a holiday and I could easily have stayed here much longer. Getting back on the boat that evening was my fourth mistake.

Another day at sea that completely baked every passenger on board. Quite a few sunburned and swollen bodies though mercifully one tans quickly in the tropics and already some people were nice and brown. But there was very little breeze and the intense heat of the sun was so overwhelming that it didn't seem to matter how much we drank. Thankfully there were bars set up in the swimming pools where everyone could sit partially submerged and try to stay cool. Yet another formal dinner followed by a big part to wrap up the evening.

When we woke up the next day it was little cloudy, much to everyone's relief, and the ship was anchored off some private beach in the Bahamas known as Princess Cays. After loading everyone into the lifeboats we were taken ashore to spend the day snorkeling and lying in hammocks. Here I had the delightful pleasure of playing with a small stingray that swam with me all the time and acted like a pet dog. That night we had our last cocktail party and dinner with the few people we had something in common with, followed of course by a show and a visit to the casino, the fifth mistake.


When we awoke on the last morning we were back in the docks of Port Everglades, ready to settle our tabs and catch a merciful flight home. The year was 1992 and, in the following years, the luxury cruise ship market would explode with even larger vessels being constructed and even more on board facilities available. The very next year the Crown Princess arrived in Vancouver as part of the fleet of ships servicing the Alaska cruise market and we watched the hordes of overweight, loud, and unadventurous Americans swarming over the streets and snapping up all the tacky tourist souvenirs for sale in the nearby shops. When the vessel's horn began to blow, announcing its departure, I wondered how many of the passengers, now merrily waiving to everyone on shore, would end up making the same mistakes on this voyage and go home 10 pounds heavier and who knows how many pounds poorer.

Cruising in the Caribbean didn't really offer much of an insight into that particular part of the world, in spite of the rich variety of culture and history that exists amongst all the various islands. I doubt that cruising in Alaska or anywhere else would be much different, cruise ship passengers can only handle so much local colour and much prefer the comfort of what is known and familiar. Still, it was pretty grand to just lay back and enjoy, particularly when someone else is paying.

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