Cruise ‘party boats’ for singles are focused on fun
Cruise ‘party boats’ for singles are focused on fun
By DAMARYS OCANA
Knight Ridder News Service
Sunday, February 3, 2002
Honeymooners. Church groups on spiritual retreats. Families on reunions. Empty nesters on holiday. Portly Midwesterners in need of a tan. Hairy guys shoehorned into Speedos.
And enough food to earn your hips their own ZIP Code.
At first glance, cruises don’t quite seem like the ideal vacation choice for singles — or singles looking for singles.
Enter Carnival Cruise Lines, whose Fun Ships have earned a reputation as “party boats” with their young crowd and their three- and four-day weekend cruises popular as much for the on-board activities and amenities as the pit stops in the Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Discovery also offer weekend cruises from South Florida, but no one quite matches Carnival for party-time word of mouth.
So my friend Meg — a real-life Bridget Jones minus the drinking and smoking — and I took a three-day cruise recently on the Fascination, from the Port of Miami, to see for ourselves.
We worked half a day on Friday, boarded the ship at 4 p.m. and disembarked at 10 a.m. Monday, in time to make it to work that day. It was just enough time to have fun without taking too much time off from work.
The ship, like Carnival’s 15 other Fun Ships, features varied on- board attractions aimed at the unattached — and at the 35-and-under set, which the company says makes up a healthy 30% of its passenger list. There’s a midnight deck party, singles’ party in the Diamonds Are Forever disco, poolside games and flirtations, humorous sex quizzes and contests, a coed gym, and inexpensive drinks ($4 for a cosmopolitan or beer; gallon-size island-drink specials) at numerous bars and lounges.
3 pools, 6 whirlpools
Other perks, sprinkled among the ubiquitous cornball cruise activities like shuffleboard, cheesy musicians and revues and a passenger talent show, include a spa and beauty salon, a casino, volleyball and table tennis. Lessons from a golf pro, duty-free shops, a nude-bathing deck, a library, Internet access, three pools (one with a curly slide) and six whirlpools are also among the perks.
“It’s not a matchmaking cruise, but with the salt air, you never know what can happen,” said Paul Sheinberg, Fascination’s popular assistant cruise director, who goes by the nickname Shiny. “We’re really geared toward having fun. There’s something going every hour, activities where passengers can bond.”
That’s exactly what Ivette Llanes, 23, of Miami had in mind. “We’d always heard that this was the party cruise, so we’re just here to have fun,” said Llanes, sipping a drink and cringing at a grueling take on “Rhinestone Cowboy” during karaoke hour at one of Fascination’s lounges. “If I meet somebody, it’s just the icing on the cake.”
Her friend Angel Solari, 27, had a slightly different agenda: “Cruises are a great way to socialize, because you have a captive audience,” he said, laughing. “They can’t get away from you.”
$200 for a weekend
Like most others we talked to on the ship, the friends had paid $200 (thanks to slashed prices after Sept. 11) for a trip that includes a comfortable cabin, a jaunt to the Bahamas and all the food you can shovel down during eight meals per day. Tips and drinks are not included. If you’re feeling particularly friendly and cheap, the cruise line will even match you with a roommate of the same sex to save you money.
“It’s a good deal,” said passenger Michael Anthony, 39, of Manasquan, N.J., “because $200 is what you spend on a date anyway, between washing and gassing up the car, dinner and dancing.”
On our cruise, the revelry began when the ship was still at the Port of Miami. People holding frosty drinks were relaxing in the whirlpools, and like 33-year-old Chris Harris of Ventura, Calif., making friends with total strangers. He had sweet-talked several passengers into jumping in and enjoying the bubbles with him.
“I’m trouble,” he said, with a wink and a smirk. “I just saw them and pulled them in here.”
Realities of single life
Harris was good-looking enough, but if you board the ship hoping to meet Mr. Right, the excruciating realities of single life will be magnified in a place whose romantic atmosphere on a scale of one to 10 is through the stratosphere. Lovebirds and “smug marrieds,” as single-girl fiction character Bridget Jones calls them, are everywhere.
But if you’re looking for Mr. Right Now, for a little harmless fun, or on the other side of the spectrum, you just plain want to get away from it all, welcome aboard. At 885 feet long and 13 stories tall, this virtual floating city is big enough to accommodate all of the above.
We did a little bit of everything, from dancing and flirting in the disco and watching tipsy passengers try to keep a straight conga line at the deck party to chilling out in a more sedate part of the ship.
In exploring the ship, Meg and I managed to miss some of the activities, which was OK with us. With our hectic work schedules, the desire to escape sometimes outweighed the desire to socialize. There are plenty of places on the ship to enjoy the silence.
So sitting on a deck watching star-filled skies and warm breezes was sometimes enough of a treat for us, and we were surprised to find out how much fun losing your spending money on the addictive slot machines can be. For a while, anyway.
Also, we were busy seeing how many entrees we could get away with ordering at one sitting — prime rib AND lobster, soup AND salad, a couple of appetizers, tiramisu AND Black Forest cake. Good thing there were plenty of stairs and long walks to balance us out.
My concerns about security on the ship had faded away rather quickly, by the way, if for no other reason because it boasts 900 crew members, including burly security guards intent on making sure the casino’s take makes it safely off the ship and onto an armored car at the end of the cruise.
Passengers must produce an identification card electronically matched to their check-in pictures when boarding and re-boarding. In addition, passengers are subjected to a metal detector wand and bags must go through an X-ray machine.
So we relaxed. OK, so that’s not the whole story.
We did, as Shiny said, try to “bond.” We had what could only be termed as in-ter-est-ing results. After playing a midnight game of extreme shuffleboard with rules we’d made up on the spot, we decided to take a walk on the top deck one windy night.
Meg, who always looks cute in her impossibly well-matched clothes and who comes from the Friendly school of dating, as opposed to my own inventive approach of doing nothing to get a date, spotted a guy. She went over to say hello, and after a few minutes of conversation, brought him over.
Jerry, a soft-spoken, rugged-outdoors specimen, had given himself the cruise for his birthday. His life sounded interesting: a techie, he had his own computer business and had lived in several U.S. cities on his own since he was 18.
Meg remarked on his accent. “Are you Irish?” she asked.
The “accent,” we discovered when we moved closer to the lights, was actually a green, harmonica-size hole in his smile. That discovery and the feeling that Jerry really preferred his own company to anyone else’s, made us continue our walk.
After meeting Jerry, we headed downstairs to venture once more into the singles’ breach — and there was plenty to entertain us.
Active dance floor
Late nights, Fascinations’ disco was wall-to-wall with dancers shaking it to everything from hip-hop to salsa and merry head- bobbers watching from the sidelines. During the singles party, they play a variation of musical chairs, called musical men, and the reveling flows long into the night.
For those who can’t get enough dancing, several clubs in Nassau are popular with passengers, among them Bahama Boom, a fitting end to the perfect Nassau day of shopping on Bay St. and relaxing at the beach.
On the ship, next door to Diamonds Are Forever, at the Passage to India Lounge, one night we mingled with a group of six very tipsy friends from Miami talking among themselves and singing along during karaoke hour.
But Sunday night, we wrapped up our last day on the cruise alone and were fine with it.
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