Cruises, While Awesome, Are Also Filthy Liars

I admit that I’m an outlier case, but I still feel wronged

Time To Read: 12-15 mins | June 1, 2017

If you make it deep into the casting process of Survivor, you’ll be required to take a full battery of mental and psychological tests. IQ, reasoning, personality profiles, etc. This takes place over the course of several hours in a crowded hotel conference room full of other questionably-sane humans, ostensibly to filter out the people too crazy even for reality television. Although one or two still occasionally slip through.

The results of this process are two-fold. First, you form ungrounded opinions about a bunch of strangers based on nothing more than their outfits and how quickly they can fill in a scantron.

Secondly, it means that a psychiatrist hired by CBS knows everything about you. And if you end up appearing on the show multiple times, you’re required to retake all of these tests, giving him/her even more data. On top of that, you’ll often have to deal with the network-appointed shrink in person (“How did getting voted out for a third time, and so early, make you feel?”), which means you form a relationship outside of those tests.

All this is to say that the Survivor psychiatrist knows you as well, if not better, than anyone else on the planet. So just hours before the most recent finale of the show, when I was sitting on a bus next to said shrink and told her I was leaving on my very first cruise in a few days, I was interested to hear her thoughts on the matter.

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“Oh no,” were the worst two syllables she possibly could have responded with, and also the first two out of her mouth.

She further explained, “I don’t think you’re going to like it,” before rattling off a litany of reasons why I wasn’t suited for such a situation – cramped quarters, minimal privacy, a strict agenda of activities, so on and so forth. And as she’s the foremost expert on me (if not bedside manner), her opinion carried some weight.

Luckily, she was wrong. It turns out cruises are my happy place. There’s something about not having to plan a single thing that I find very appealing. I very much love the freedom that my current vagabond lifestyle affords, but it does require an awful lot of organization & scheming. A cruise is the exact opposite:

You wake up whenever you want and eat a buffet breakfast. The printed schedule left under your door lets you know that there’s a dance party on the Lido deck at 11, an art auction at 2 and a poker tournament at 5. You’re occasionally taken off the boat into exotic cities and hand-held to the most tourist-friendly (read: overpriced) restaurants. You have assigned seats at dinner with only a few options on the menu. All of this leisure requires just 3 functioning neurons to manage, which I found to be delightfully relaxing.

And then – you knew this was coming — there’s the drinks. At any point during the day, all you have to do is hand one of the dozens of bartenders on board a plastic card with your name on it and viola, you’re given alcohol. And yes, I realize I just described the process of buying a cocktail with a credit card literally anywhere on Earth, but on the boat you’ve pre-paid a flat rate for all your poison. So you’ve already spent the money, and in exchange you receive unlimited beverages for the entire trip.

Or so they claim.

It was morning four of the 4-day cruise, and so far I had no complaints save one: I was having to work every day at 6:00am. Because I’d told one client I needed the previous week off (finale, remember?), they’d slammed me with projects during my oversized boat ride. So while the other thousand people on board slept, I was banging away on my keyboard for several hours every morning with no company outside the Thai cleaning ladies — who, by the way, were perfectly charming and almost knew my name by the end of the trip (“Good morning Macome”).

Now, while WiFi availability has expanded by leaps and bounds in recent years, it’s still not lightning fast when you’re 100 miles off the coast of Mexico, and of course my very last assignment before signing off for my last cruise day required several large uploads. For the technologically illiterate out there (this usually includes me), uploading materials to the internet is a significantly slower process than downloading files or simply loading webpages. This meant I wasn’t actually doing anything labor intensive for the last hour of my work day, I was just watching a progress bar move slower than the Cleveland Brown’s offense.

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So I decided to start drinking.

If by this time I was friendly with the cleaning staff, I was BFF’s with the bartenders. The lady opening the nearest drinking stand recognized me and knowingly asked, “Bloody Mary or whiskey?”

The words “Isn’t a bit early for Jameson?” left my lips, but she must have heard the doubt in my voice and so replied, “Never.” Thus I started drinking straight liquor before most people had gotten out of bed that day. And because the uploads ended up taking a full hour and a half, I eventually consumed several more fingers before starting my day in earnest.

After work, the day continued as most cruise days continue: I became way too aggressive about a game of bingo, lost a bit of money on a craps table, dumped even more cash into a Jurassic Park arcade game (on which I now hold multiple high scores), then peer pressured some new friends into drinking tequila and watched one of them unload a surprising amount of vomit onto a child’s Dora the Explorer towel.

In between these adventures, naps were had. Two, actually, on account of the fact that work had allowed me only thirteen hours sleep over the first three nights, and I was being told that this, the final evening of the trip, was the most important.

So of course I slept straight through dinner, only waking up well after they’d stopped serving food in the main dining halls. I threw on the clothes that smelled the least foul and quickly scarfed down whatever pre-frozen pizza was still being served at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Which, on the very last day of a cruise, is bell pepper and sadness.

But now with something in my stomach, I could continue drinking. I’d slept away most of the afternoon and thus was stone sober — understandably in stark contrast to seemingly every other passenger, most of whom were returning to their real lives the next day.

I tracked down a friend and proceeded to the nearest bar. For the first time in days, I didn’t recognize the man serving drinks, but no matter; when he asked, “How are you?,” I replied, “Sober,” and we were off and running.

I ordered whiskey, my friend a glass of rose. The drinks were brought over, our magic plastic cards taken, and we were already discussing where to get the next drink when the bartender said, “I’m sorry sir, I can’t serve you.”

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“Perhaps you missed my line about being sober,” I replied, confused. “This is a condition that needs immediate fixing.”

I’d soon realize this was the worst possible line because, according to the computer system, I was completely and utterly smashed. Or in the bartender’s words, “You’ve reached your drink limit.”

The cruise line, I learned moments later, only allows someone to have fifteen drinks a day. “Unlimited” was actually limited “for my own safety.”

This rule was as upsetting as it was unjust. On account of my multiple naps, I was the most sober I’d been since boarding the boat. I wasn’t only able to walk a straight line or speak clearly, but I could do both in an utterly boring fashion. My last night of the cruise was quickly turning into a dry disaster.

Fortunately another bartender, who no doubt had been trained to deal with unruly drunk passengers demanding more alcohol, had some common sense and realized this was not the case tonight. He walked over, leaned in and gestured to my friend. “Does she have more drinks left?”

Swiping her card revealed that she, a responsible member of society, had plenty, so we were covertly instructed to simply walk to a different bar and use hers for the rest of the night.

This we did — although my friend wasn’t pleased about my mooching her remaining cocktails. So as we waited for my whiskey, now in a different section of the boat, she inquired as to just how in Bukowski’s name I had managed to mow through 15 drinks before 9pm.

I half-truthfully tried to do the math. What I mean by that is, I grabbed a pen and a napkin and started tallying all the drinks I could remember while ommitting my morning whiskey session. Since all the other drinks I recalled only totaled up to nine, I didn’t see the need to describe my slightly aggressive morning. I should, by any calculation, still have several adult beverages left.

“Let’s go complain,” she insisted, and I agreed. The night was young and mistakes needed to be made, so we began hiking towards the guest relations desk. Which, as fate would have it, meant passing the bar that’d rejected me just fifteen minutes ago.

This gave my friend a less appealing idea. “We can ask the guy who helped us to double check your drink list, before we make a fuss.” A perfectly reasonable suggestion that I fought at once, considering a cursory cocktail count would reveal all that whiskey I’d made disappear down my face before she’d even woken up.

— I realize this would have happened anyway. We were on our way to complain; a real count of my day 4 intake was inevitable. I just didn’t expect it to be announced out loud to a crowd.

In order to mitigate the oncoming embarrassment, I asked the bartender to quietly print us a list of my drink orders from the day. This was impossible for a reason I’m sure he explained but I’ve since forgotten due to the subsequent trauma of his announcing my entire drinking list out loud.

I suppose I could have stopped him, but we were too far gone to turn back now.

“OK… 8:52am. Jameson.”

My friend’s jaw landed on the bar top. Both of my hands covered my mouth as I started laughing out loud. A pair of complete strangers sitting nearby looked up in surprise.

“9:25. Jameson.” My friend smacked me on the shoulder.

“10:04. Jameson.” One of the strangers next to us, now having realized what’s going on, decided to chime in with an “attaboy.”

“10:14. Bloody Mary.” To which I proudly exclaimed, “That one wasn’t for me!” Which was true – I’d picked it up for a friend who was still in bed. Although they hadn’t wanted it, so I ended up drinking it anyway.

“11:50. Templeton Rye.”

Oh. That’s where my count had gone wrong. I’d forgotten a few (for the purposes of this sentence, ‘a few’ means 3) whiskies that landed in my belly just after bingo – which I’d argue is understandable after the trauma of losing an old folk’s game of chance. Add that to my strong morning and, it was true, I’d ordered fifteen drinks.

But as I explained to my friend (and unwilling sugar mama for the rest of the night), at least the shrink wasn’t completely wrong: there was now one thing I didn’t like about cruises.

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photo: throwback to dia de muertos in mexico city. which is in mexico.

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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.
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4 Comments

  1. Laura

    True story: I was on a cruise that caught fire at 3am, and I was in fact sober. They had us sittingcasino with all the machines turned on but disabled for play and with only those uncomfy stools with no backs to sit on. It was awful.

    Most memorable moment of that experience was a guy strolling in who had clearly maxed out his drink limit 30 minutes prior, crashed in his bed, got woken up by the alarm, grabbed a few things, and was now seated at the poker table. In his drunken haze, he had remembered to grab his wallet and watch but had forgotten shoes, pants, and a shirt.

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth

    Props to you, sir. Did you leave out the part where you spent the next day vomiting, or are you really that impressive?

    Reply
    • Scott

      Its Malcolm, he’s part god! Of course he’s that impressive!

      Reply
  3. MarthaAnne

    This exact same thing happened to me, and I was nowhere near sober when I demanded my list of drinks for the day. The bar applauded, and snuck me at least 5 more drinks before I decided to “visit” someone’s room who was 11 years my junior, and thankfully 21.

    Reply

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