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Cruising for a Bruising

Victorino Matus's cruise from hell.

Nov 29, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 11 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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Two weeks ago, the Carnival cruise ship Splendor captured the world’s attention. Following an onboard fire (resulting in no injuries), the cruise liner lost power and was stranded in the Pacific some 44 miles from shore. For three days, more than 4,000 passengers and crew members were deprived of electricity, facing a food shortage and, worst of all, toilets that didn’t flush. Eventually the ship was towed back to San Diego harbor, though by then the stories had all trickled out: windowless cabins in complete darkness, long lines for hot dogs and yogurt, no showers, and, in case you missed it, toilets that didn’t flush.

Cruising for a Bruising

Photo Credit: David Clark

Understandably, some have called it a “nightmare” and the “cruise from hell.” Yet I have my doubts—I’m pretty sure I was on the cruise from hell.

A few years ago one of my best friends announced he was getting married and that we should all plan for a cruise ship wedding. “Everyone’s invited, including your parents,” my friend told me. How generous of him—the weeklong excursion only cost $1,000 per person. (Destination weddings can be awfully presumptuous. While the bride and groom anticipate a smaller turnout than at a stateside affair, they do expect their closest friends to attend, regardless of the price. Failure to show up would risk offending them on their “special day.”) But once having accepted the cost, I found it best to focus on the good times ahead.

On our first full day at sea we hit a storm. Our ship was surrounded by whitecaps and tossed violently about, making even the sea-legged among us queasy. Sick bags lined the ship every few feet, and guests made ample use of them. I witnessed an elderly couple fall out of one elevator and get thrown into another. A friend of mine saved a husband and wife from tumbling down a staircase. During dinner service, trays of plated food and glassware came crashing down. In the middle of the night, my wife and I were woken up by a terrifyingly loud bang—a 35-foot wave had slammed into the ship, knocking our television off the shelf and onto the floor.

If you’ve never experienced this kind of seasickness before, imagine being on a plane during heavy turbulence. Now imagine that turbulence lasting an entire day. Lying on a couch on the middle deck, taking in small spoonfuls of ice cream, I had only two thoughts. One was, Let this day end. The other was, I can’t believe I paid for the privilege of feeling this way.

The following day, the storm had passed—but the nightmare had just begun. By this time, we had all gotten acquainted with the bride’s extended family. One of them—let’s call him Uncle Lou—made quite an impression. On the dance floor he liked to jump around, showing off his moves. On one occasion, in fact, I didn’t see him stop moving for at least two hours. For a while he was dancing with two African-American ladies, but when Uncle Lou got too cozy with them, they decided to sit down, prompting him to yell, “Hey, Chaka Khan, get back here!” When the two women glared at him, he replied, “Don’t you be like that! Don’t you be like that!”

None of us wanted to be anywhere near Uncle Lou, so when the ship arrived at our island destination, we studiously avoided the beach he was planning to invade. A relative of the groom did not heed our warning and later told us his day on the beach had been ruined by “Uncle Lou and his mouth.”

The wedding ceremony itself was tasteful, at least until the end. A Scottish minister presided, and when he announced that “it is my privilege to introduce to you for the first time” my friend and his bride, Uncle Lou stood up and yelled, “Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof, woof, woof! Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof, woof, woof!”

The rest of us were aghast, but I seem to remember that most of the people on the bride’s side were less than startled. Perhaps they’d been drinking to dull the pain. (Indeed, I noticed one of the bride’s cousins had brought his drink to the ceremony. He’d also conveniently tucked a cigarette behind his ear.)

Not that we should get caught up in the details—after all, as the saying goes, “a wedding is one day, but marriage is a lifetime.” Except in this case, the wedding was one week and the marriage lasted all of two years.

When the passengers aboard Carnival’s Splendor made landfall, the television cameras were there to capture the expressions of relief, tears of happiness, and shouts of joy. They were truly the lucky ones. At least they didn’t have to hear someone screaming, “Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof, woof, woof!”

Victorino Matus

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