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Are cruise ship vacations really a day at the beach?

CarnivalTriumphAs of this write, the massive Carnival cruise ship Triumph is adrift and powerless in the gulf of Mexico, its compliment of 4,500 passengers and crew essentially without air conditioning, working toilets, running water, and on thin rations of food.  A fire on board the ship damaged its climate control, electrical, and propulsion systems, and now the ship has to be towed back to Mobile, Alabama for relief.  in the meantime, the ship smells like an overflowing porta-potty as it lists at an angle of 4.5 degrees, unable to level itself without its engine power.

http://gma.yahoo.com/passengers-text-dire-conditions-cruise-ship-081005868–abc-news-topstories.html

Okay.  Okay.  So maybe it isn’t the perfect vacation.

We’ve all been at the point where we’ve finally scraped up enough time and money for a vacation, but had no ideas.  And then someone pipes up:  “Hey!  Why don’t you go on a cruise?”

And on the surface, it sounds like a terrific idea.  You sail into tropical waters.  You enjoy the breeze.  You swim in the pool.  Continental breakfasts every morning.  Community activities like shuffleboard, tai chi, limbo contests. Exotic ports of call.  Lots of other fun sentence fragments, and most of the expenses are all-inclusive.  A cruise ship vacation sounds almost perfect.  It’s like popping open a can of vacation.

And let’s be fair, the vast majority of the thousands of cruise vacations that are conducted every year go off and return without so much as a hitch.  Obviously, the current saga of the Carnival cruise ship Triumph is an isolated incident that is far, far outside the law of averages.

With that said, here’s what’s unsettling about the whole idea of a cruise ship vacation:  It’s not that something like this could happen; it’s more of “What IF something like this happens?”  Let’s try to place all this into perspective by envisioning a hypothetical cruise.

You’re on a large cruise ship, and you’re in the open Caribbean.  All is well.  Well, except for the fact that you’re nursing a bit of a sunburn, but hey.  Whose fault is that?  You didn’t put on enough lotion, you silly, silly goose!

There you are, on your cruise ship vacation, staying under the patio umbrellas, wearing very light, very loose clothing, and hoping you don’t peel or freckle.  You hear the announcement over the PA system that the ship will be making its next stop at St. Someplaceorother at 11:00 AM tomorrow.  And then, for whatever reason, it occurs to you:  “Holy shit.  If something happens way out here, we might be screwed.  I mean, sure, we’ve got doctors and first responders and security staff and all that on board.  But that’s only for isolated emergencies that might come up.  What if something happens to the entire ship?  What if the power goes out?  Can’t call 911.  There’s no cell towers out here.  Cell phones are only useful for contacting other people elsewhere on the ship even when the on-board cell towers are functional.  So no 911, no fire departments, no police, no paramedics, no hospitals, no volunteers, no 24-7 quickie marts for supplies, no fast food joints, no public toilets, nothing!  There’s FREAKING NOTHING out here!  Holy SHIT, man!”

You feel your pulse racing, and you quickly realize that you’re making yourself hysterical, and you calm yourself down.  “Hey!  You’re just working yourself up into a big froth over something that is simply not likely to happen,” you say to yourself.  “Go to the snack buffet, get yourself some watermelon balls, and get yourself back into the vacation groove.”

On your way to the fruit buffet, you start to look around at the other patrons.  And then it dawns on you:  “Jaysus!  LOOK at these people!  Fat retirees wearing t-shirts with pictures of their grandchildren printed on them.  Starchy forty-somethings locked into cookie-cutter professions, bringing their over-valued kids and being hideously uninteresting.  Cougary single women walking around with bug-eye sunglasses and cigarette breath, looking for their next death benefit to write themselves into.  Lonely, shirt-wienery computer geeks wandering around, guessing at how to have fun.  And all of them, crowding the gangplanks like human cattle at every port-of-call, buying stupid trinkets.  Holy SHIT, man!  If something did happen to this ship, and we were adrift out here in the middle of nowhere with no immediate prospects of rescue, I’d be stuck at sea in a cheesy hotel with 4,000 factory-stamped assholes!  And if they were so lacking in imagination that they couldn’t plan their own vacations, you can bet the fucking ranch that they won’t offer any brilliant ideas in the event of a shipwide emergency.  SHIT!  What did I get myself into?”

“Damn it!” you say to yourself.  “There you go again, getting yourself all worked up with pointless fear.  You’re supposed to be on vacation, forgetting your worries!  What’s WRONG with you?  You spent a king’s ransom on this vacation, so get your watermelon balls, and clear your head!  Go enjoy your cruise, you dummy!”

Once you’ve gathered your dish of watermelon balls, you head back to your lounge seat on the deck.  On the way there, you pass a framed picture of the very ship you’re standing on:  A tall, majestic, multi-decked vessel of enjoyment sailing in a calm, highly-reflective dark turquoise ocean amid a backdrop of billowy white tropical clouds.  That’s when you finally feel all your anxieties and your worries and your concerns just melt away into one big, fucking panic.

Holy hopping moose shit!  Look at how top-heavy this tub of shit looks!  This thing looks like it’s one rogue wave away from becoming the Poseidon Adventure, and I’m standing on it!  How is this thing supposed to resist getting capsized?  It’s ridiculous!  All we need is one earthquake, one tsunami, and then it’s Glub City, Jack!  I mean, really!  Whaddaya gonna do on a cruise ship if there’s a tsunami coming?  Flee inland?

“What was I thinking?  This is the fucking ocean, man!  The same ocean that’s killed millions throughout human history!  Floods, hurricanes, shipwrecks, tsunamis, whirlpools, undertows, riptides!  And shark attacks!  Holy SHIT, man!  That’s right!  We’ve got cold-blooded killing machines in the ocean that can maul you in a split-second!  Boy!  What a vacation!  One minute your sunning yourself on the deck, enjoying your stupid watermelon balls!  The next minute, a massive wave hits, and now you’re a shark turd!  I don’t need that!  Not when I’m on vacation!  Not when I’m anywhere, come to think of it!  I mean, I wanted to go to a nice resort in New Mexico, but noooOOOooo!  I had to let that guy at work with the back hair poking through his shirt talk me into this!  Why do I let any human porcupine talk me into anything?”

I guess the point of this scenario is that a cruise ship vacation could be a steady stream of headaches and worries, and that’s even if nothing happens.  And that was pointed out without considering pirate attacks.

Wait a minute!  Pirate attacks??!!

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