CRUISING Lure of the Love Boots

Roy MacGregor February 18 1980

CRUISING Lure of the Love Boots

Roy MacGregor February 18 1980

CRUISING Lure of the Love Boots

Roy MacGregor

At noon, the mad preacher comes to Rawson Square. Beyond him, over the weary Casuarina trees, the stacks of the Dolphin, Sunward II and Emerald Seas ripple in the heat rising from Nassau’s Prince George Wharf. There, the tourists funnel down the gangway, hands full of One-Steps, imaginations bursting with straw baskets for mother, T-shirts and tonight’s nightclub promise, direct from the cruise director himself, of gambling and “big boobs, fat boobs, thin ones, long ones, ones you blow up with bicycle pumps, even two they lower by ropes and snuggle up against your nose.” The time is right for the mad preacher to begin his street sermon. “You can run!” he shouts their way. “But you cannot hide!”

Down the gangway comes Sharon Rayworth, young, divorced, more than 2,000 miles from the shipping department worries of Gizella Pastry in Vancouver, mere steps away from the fury of last night. With her is Suzan Pike, single, nurse, career-weary of cardiac arrests and the chronically ill. Down the gangway comes Andy Lajeunesse, 21, late of Granby, Quebec, currently of Margate, Florida, and someone who rationalizes his $285 weekend with a simple: “I deserved it.” Behind Lajeunesse comes the object of Sharon Rayworth’s fury, Guy of New Jersey and his blushing wife, Anne. She blushes with embarrassment, for Guy is carrying $600 in his pocket that may or may not belong to him. That money, and more, was won last night by Sharon Rayworth, playing the dollar slot machines with( a meagre $20 “just-for-laughs” stake from Guy. He had laughed, all right, loudest when his wife had angrily suggested he at least split the winnings with Rayworth. Laughed and then refused.

All are headed toward air-conditioned buses and a $9 tour of Nassau: the Fort Charlotte dungeons, the homes of the filthy rich, the Queen’s Staircase. They will miss the mad preacher who now races about under the feverish sun stuffing tiny red cards into the pockets of disapproving tourists. “Remember— life is short,” the cards say, and then

proceed to quote the Bible, James 4:14. “It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”

It is being termed the Love Boat Syndrome. “I ask you, please do not mistake us for the television show,” pleaded Captain Paal Korner as the Sunward II sailed out of Miami. “Love Boat is shot in the studios. It is not real sailing.” He forgets that cruisers have not come seeking reality, only to escape from it. That the 1979-80 North American cruise season may carry two million passengers—a phenomenal 800,000 increase over last year—is due in no small part to the cloying television hit Love Boat, where the main ports of call fol-

low a fade-out and only the viewers come down with seasickness. “That show,” says Peter Yesawich, a Floridabased tourism industry psychologist, “is the first and foremost reason for the cruise industry success.” But many travel agents also argue that cruising— once the boring, prescribed pastime of the widowed rich—is today one of the best dollar-for-dollar vacation packages available, with an average Caribbean cruise working out to around $135 a day. At Wright’s Travel Service in Vancouver, the cruise business has doubled in the past five years. At Maritime Travel in Fredericton, such bookings are up 20 per cent in the past two years, and up 25 per cent over the same period in Mani-

toba’s Thomas Cook’s agencies. So many people phone Cook’s and ask to be booked on the Love Boat that district manager AÍ Pastars jokes that “every travel agent should contribute something toward the program.”

So healthy is the world’s $20-billion cruising industry that The Era of the Big Ship—dead, buried and forgotten a decade ago—is now returning. The Queen Elizabeth 2, self-proclaimed “last of the great liners,” will operate more days through 1980 than ever before in its 10-year history. As for the world’s largest passenger ship, the S.S. France, after having been appropriately mothballed at Le Havre’s Quay of the Forgotten since 1974 (at which time it

was losing $20 million a year for its Saudi Arabian owner) it has been sold to Norwegian Caribbean Lines. It will be rechristened the Norway this June and, with a $54-million face-lift, will begin carrying 2,000 passengers a week through the Caribbean. Another huge luxury liner, the S.S. United States, is also coming out of storage, as is Canadian Pacific’s The Princess Patricia, which had been scheduled to be scrapped. Demand for berths has become so high that some companies, such as the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, have begun “stretching” existing ships by slicing them in half and adding huge new midsections.

The most popular cruises, of course, are two weeks or less in the Caribbean, but the south sun is not the only attraction. Alaska cruise ships will dock 154 times this year in Vancouver, compared to only 38 calls a decade ago, and the rather expensive ($1,675 to $5,138) trips are so popular that agents advise booking several months in advance. For a 150-day world cruise aboard one of the five freighters carrying passengers for United Yugoslav Lines, the waiting list is currently two years long, the attraction undoubtedly being the bottom-line price of $5,500. The more conventional, and about half as long, world cruises

range from $11,420 for bare necessities aboard the Canberra to $215,618 for a two-storey cabin and white-glove dinner service aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2. Gwen Johnston, an Edmonton nurse, returned in December from a 10-month world trip aboard a smaller ship that cost her a mere $4,100—but she had to work as ship nurse, clean cabins and serve two meals a day to the 70 other passengers to qualify for the cut rate. Still, she says, “After 10 months we were almost like family. We felt terrible saying goodbye.”

But most cruises are short and, generally, to the Caribbean. The attraction for Bea and Bill Kaye, a middle-aged couple from Winnipeg who have twice sailed out of Miami, is that, “you feel like somebody important because you’re treated that way.” Colleen Thompson, a Fredericton travel writer just returned from such a cruise, adds: “There’s no way you can wind up sitting in a corner by yourself. You can’t help but be friendly.”

The main lure, as Love Boat demonstrates weekly, is the chance for romance. The rolling sea, the cheap drinks and the distance from reality mean that cruisers are often more interested in where night lands them than in where the ship calls in the morning. “The romance isn’t just for singles,” says Thomas Cook’s AÍ Pastars. “Picture yourself sliding out from Jamaica next to your husband ... the palm trees, the evening sun, the calypso music, you’ve had a couple of drinks ... if you don’t rape your husband, somebody else will.” Rosanna Leman, an ex-stewardess and present manager of a Vancouver beauty salon, took a specialized cruise from Vancouver to Los Angeles which centred on a huge backgammon tournament and, in many cases, involved other scoring at night. “People tend to

take a different attitude toward sex,” Leman says. “It’s ‘Hi’ and ‘Goodbye’ because they don’t have to answer for it at home.” Leman prefers the backgammon cruise, and its younger passengers, to the more conventional cruises and their more conventional passengers. “They’re all in their middle-40s and mostly married,” she says. “And when you dance with someone’s husband, she spits at you.”

The rarest sight on a cruise is a single man, travelling alone. Two men travelling together looking for action other than each other is much less rare, but hardly as common as single women cruising in groups of two or more. “Single women meet people very easily,” says Jan Buchanan, of Toronto’s P. Lawson Travel. “And the crew will always place an officer at a single woman’s table. I’ve cruised single three times and it’s an ego booster.”

Single men too often find it shatters an ego. Lacking a white uniform, European manners and a key to the officers’ lounge, they find their sexual fantasies climaxed with the original brochure. Toronto’s Kim Jones went to the Virgin Islands in December and was grateful his girl-friend had accompanied him. “There were some single guys on the cruise,” he says. “And they got off at St. Thomas because there was just no action.”

In the afternoon following the night in Nassau, the Sunward II anchors off Great Stirrup Cay at the north end of the Berry Islands. Several passengers have paid out $10 each to rent fins, snorkel and mask for some reef snorkling and a small hint of what American writer James Jones has called the “cautious rapture” of diving in the Caribbean. In water so clear it appears to exist only as a surface film, a small grouper darts under a shelf of fire coral. Technically known as Millipora alcicor-

nis, it is not a true coral, is not, in fact, anything like the innocent beauty that meets the masked eye. Beneath the orange polyp of the fire coral hide small batteries of stinging cells, enough to burn and even scar human skin. They are not at all as they seem.

Above the undulating wake there are other discrepancies. Somewhere on this “deserted” island the band has discovered electrical outlets to plug into. Andy Lajeunesse and his friend Martin Ratthe have discovered the four young Venezuelan women who were all eyes last night suddenly speak no English today. Ratthe, at least, has the $200 he won playing blackjack at the Paradise Island Casino as comfort. Lajeunesse hasn’t even the ticket stub from the nightclub act, only the slipping memory of several dozen wiggling, jiggling breasts trying to blur the vision enough to give the illusion of talent.

In the welcome shade of a palm, Guy of New Jersey burps a salute to yet another beer. It was a long night and Guy missed breakfast, a small blessing to his tablemates who heard him brag, first night out, that “I used to be in sewers” before the parcel trucking business took off. He still has the $600 Sharon Rayworth won, though he still thinks it should have been the full $800 that spilled from the slot machine. The wrath of his wife forced him to turn over $200, and the only consolation for that act had been the way he had done it: conspicuously peeling off two $100 bills at the bar and handing them over with an ambiguous grin. “How do you think that made me feel?” a humiliated Sharon Rayworth asked as she coated herself again with Tropic Tan. “I don’t like to be used.”

Back from the beach the ship is throwing the “Bahamarama Picnic,” and the prepaid cruisers, who have mysteriously come to regard food as the only return on their investment, are lin-

ing up for seconds and thirds even if it means throwing the food away. As the picnic breaks up a shabbily dressed barefooted woman breaks from the trees and makes for the nearest garbage can, lifting the half-eaten hamburgers before they have even cooled. Barely visible behind the trees, her child waits for dinner.

The psyche of the cruiser is most curious. Given a capsule that encloses both time and space, the opportunities are endless: try on a new personality, suspend worries, no Khomeini, Afghanistan or Canadian election. “Taking a cruise,” says Dr. Kingsley Ferguson, chief of psychology at Toronto’s Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, “is a regressive

fantasy. Every need is met. Doesn’t this smack a little bit of life in the womb?”

Safe, snug, slightly silly—today’s cruise bears no resemblance whatsoever to history’s first package cruises, which were organized by the Venetians during the 14th century and carried pilgrims to the Holy Land for a mere 60 ducats. What was gained in price was compensated for by delay (the average trip took 150 days), the discomforts of a two-foot-wide berth in a single passenger room, the smell of live poultry and the 50-50 chance each passenger had of surviving shipwreck, pirates or the plague. Felix Faber, a German monk who took such a cruise and returned in 1480, was still not without his complaints over cabin-fighting, which often included “some hot-tempered passenger emptying his chamber pot over another.”

In 1980, there is no discomfort that can’t be cured by Gravol or Dramamine. And cleanliness has even reached the point of absurdity on Soviet cruise ships. Adel Gaba, an elementary-school teacher from Surrey, B.C., sailed on the Odessa from New Orleans to Havana in December, and says, “It was spotless. The girls who did the cleaning got down

on their hands and knees and they scrubbed every inch. They even washed the shower curtain every day.”

As for the future of cruising, it may be as difficult to predict as the return of the big liners was even five years ago. Cruising associations confidently predict a 30-per-cent increase in berths over the next five years, and they point to the recent American adaptation of the “time-sharing vacation plan” from the Florida condominium to the open sea. For amounts ranging from $13,400 to $175,000 a family can contract 14 cruising days annually for the next 20 years, and the initial offering of 2,500 memberships may actually sell out.

But cruising’s future dilemma will be that, although the brochures call it sailing, power comes from oil fields rather than the wind. And nothing more needs to be said apart from this single disturbing fact: the Queen Elizabeth 2 burns up $16 million worth of fuel a year.

Off the starboard deck this final night, the sea is calm, the moon a thin yellow lip above the bow. There are two sounds, the soft saltiness of the wake and the random bursts of laughter from the Bahamarama Lounge. Inside, Tony Adams and Lou Marsh, two comedians from Miami, are taking verbal dropkicks at homosexuals, fat people, stutterers and nose pickers. “Are you wearing a beard?” Marsh asks one passenger. “Or is that an armpit with eyes? Hey! Over there! Where do I get one of those haircuts with the hole in the middle?” Tony Adams tries the old one about Queen Elizabeth asking Prince Philip if he’s still on the throne. Lou Marsh asks if Mr. More is in the audience saying he just passed a stateroom with a woman inside screaming for “More! More! More!” Later, Guy of New Jersey will light up a fat cigar and say, “Talent like that don’t come cheap, buddy.”

In the morning the Sunward II will pull into Miami, a stubborn sun working on the dawn haze. Andy Lajeunesse will lean against a railing and say the lack of single, English-speaking women bothered him, but will announce he’s going to save for a longer cruise next year. Sharon Rayworth will kid Suzan Pike about becoming stowaways. And in a deck chair by the pool Guy’s wife, Anne, will be sitting in the warm sun wearing a mink stole, the theory being that mink must be seen to matter. Some of the other cruisers will point and laugh, but neither Guy nor Anne will notice. They know there are still a few minutes left in their cruise, and that for those few minutes truth will continue to be suspended,