Friday, December 02, 2005

Ship of Fools

Here's another travelogue from a couple of years ago. We had never taken a cruise so we decided to do a test run. All that was missing was the iceberg.

Back from our four day Carnival Cruise on the M/S Ecstasy. My daughter found it hysterical that we were "on Ecstasy" for four days. What we were really on was a floating trailer park. 2600 Jerry Springer guests descended upon San Pedro complete with T-shirts, black socks, tattoos, nose rings, wheelchairs, strollers, plaid shorts, knitting, disposable cameras, and disposable diapers (a few even for the babies on board). First we waited in line for close to an hour just to board. This would be a pattern. There were lines for everything. At least at Disneyland you end up going on the Indiana Jones ride. Here you get to the soft serve frozen yogurt machine.

Our cabin was small but at least had a window. Most of the cabins did not. But they all had curtains to at least give the illusion of windows. And some rooms had bunk beds. Four or five people living in a closet. And considering how these people ate I fully expect there are at least four cabins where the guests are now wedged in so tight that only the jaws of life will free them. One question overheard: Why do they put those little pats of butter on my pillow everynight?

Each cabin has a ships's steward. We never saw ours. He just comes around once a night and folds towels in the shape of elephants. I guess he wasn't happy with his tip. Last night's towel was shaped like a giant penis.

It was a cattle car. Instead of asking whether we were having fun they should have been asking "got milk?"

We toured the vessel. There is a large upstairs dining room (pen) that my son immediately recognized as the mess hall from his dorm. From then on we referred to the Panorama Bistro as DeWick (his dorm's name). There is the Metro Bar (pen) where from the minute they arrived till the minute they left, there were the same twelve lushes at the bar. A casino (the Crystal Palace (pen)) offered nickel slots and blackjack adding to the feeling that we were held prisoner at Harrah's Tahoe. The Lido Deck (pasture) was the pool area. The pool was the size of a bowl of Hamburger Hamlet's Lobster Bisque. But there was a water slide. A water slide into a four foot bowl? Not a good idea. I doubt if Kathy Lee Gifford, spokesperson for Carnival, would let Cody go on it. You never heard the kids screaming because of the Calypso music that was being played at deafening levels. There were upper decks (pastures) with no shade and worse: no bars! A gym and spa perched at the top level. The showroom (pen) was the Blue Sapphire Lounge, named no doubt for the Kingfish's wife because you had to be in the Mystic Knights of the Sea to want to go on this cruise. The two main dining rooms were the Wind Song (named after a cheap perfume) and Wind Star. The decor of the entire ship was splashes of bright bright busy colors. It was like living in Jimi Hendrix's head.

Just walking around the ship with all its faux glitz and neon you needed Dramamine. Who cares if it's moving?

We all assembled for the big safety drill wearing our life jackets. So thrilled was I that my daughter was wearing one that said "Ms Ecstasy 69". (her room number). Imagine the lines for the lifeboats.

They screwed up and assigned us to two different tables. The food was basically "first class airline" cuisine. Fancy titles, small portions, served in mass quantities. I think the soux chef was hired away from Attica.

Checked out the entertainment at the Blue Sapphire pen. Out came the cruise director, Simon. Picture a skinny hyper British Alfalfa who thinks he's Jerry Lewis circa 1952, He's kind of the semi-retarded cousin every family has. We got a preview of the fabulous entertainment to follow in the nights ahead. The Ecstasy Orchestra -- four guys, the Ecstasy Dancers (who were busy handing out the Bingo cards), a man/woman singing duo that serenaded us with the Carnival Theme, and finally a schleppy comedian who opened his act with "my girlfriend is half Jewish, half Native-American. Her name is Bargain Hunter". The rest of his material wasn't as good. My kingdom for Buddy Greco!!

Next we checked out the celebrated midnight buffet at the DeWick pen. Here it is the middle of the night and these people are powering down pork ribs and beans drenched in bbq sauce. Long lines to get to the grease. The salad bar remained untouched. My kingdom for a Sizzlers!!

Next morning we arrived in Catalina. I pulled back the curtains to a glorious view of the island. I said to my wife, "There's Catalina." Obviously in need of a stronger prescription she looked out the window and said, "Where?" WHERE???

Breakfast at the Wind Star trough then an hour wait to get a shuttle boat to Catalina where I had a delightful time retracing Natalie Wood's last day.

Back on board in time for a refreshing Jacuzzi. This is a TRUE story. The day before when I checked out the gym facilities I noticed in the men's locker room that they had steam, and a sauna, and in a little room a Jacuzzi. So after working out and taking a scvitz I went out to the men's Jacuzzi donned only in a towel. I dropped the towel and casually stepped into the Jacuzzi only to realize that there was a big window and I had just taken off all my clothes for the Yoga class. Now some women entered from the ladies' side. My towel was across the room. Needless to say, I know how to make an exit.

Dinner was formal. My friend, Marc Sedaka, remarked that "formal" on one of these cruises meant long pants. He's right. On the other hand some people dressed as if it were their prom. Some women spent all day in the hairdressers. For a Carnival dinner!! My son was the best dressed of our family. Dark sports jacket, nice tie, khaki pants, and sandals.

There were 920 crew members, from 47 different countries. I kept checking for Iraqis, especially in the dining room.

I missed the "Austin Powers" dance class. Wanted to go. Too big a line.

Tonight was the gala midnight buffet, held in the Wind Song and Wind Star pens. Our Maitre D told everyone to bring their cameras. A few salads, sliced cheese, cold cuts, turkey a la king, rice, beef in sauce, fruit salad. Yeah, you want a picture of that. A dessert table with a guy cutting the cakes. If you asked for a second slice he glared at you.

The next morning we awoke in Mexico. According to the daily newsletter (the "Carnival Capers"...I hear they're looking for a political editor) no shuttle boats were necessary. We were docked. But you did have to take a shuttle bus into town at $6 per person (432,784 pesos). Personally, I had no desire to go to Ensenada. I had seen TRAFFIC. I had seen TOUCH OF EVIL. But my son wanted to buy me a beer (you can purchase liquor at 18) so that was good enough to get me off the boat. The minute we hit the dock there was a guy with a full portable bar. Then we had to walk through a shopping plaza. Finally after our shuttle ride we arrived in town where had a couple of XX's at Hussong's. It's like Cheers except "everyone wants your money". Wandering through town we were stopped at least five times asking if we wanted to go to peep shows. What, no cock fights?! At least I knew the ship was safe. Carnival International paid a kid $5.00 to watch it.

Back in the room I watched "Sabrina the Teen Witch" in Spanish. It was funnier that way. I should have gotten a massage. An ad in "Carnival Capers" proclaimed: "Viva la Mexico. We've gone CRAZY in the Spa today. 10% off all spa treatments." They weren't kidding. 10%!!!

We missed the kitchen tour. "This is where we microwave 10,000 meals a day".

Spent some time up on the Lido pasture at the crock pot known affectionately as the "pool". How fitting that I should be reading "Snobbery" by Joseph Epstein. Didn't bother to watch the ice sculpture demonstration...too many people. I did notice kids running up to the stage to save the discarded pieces of ice. Yes, those will make lovely souvenirs. I had to get down to the Wind Star pen so I couldn't stick around for the "Hairiest Man" competition. A woman won I think.

Entertainment that night (after a rousing game of Bingo) consisted of a Vegas type review. A big dance number celebrating beating the Japanese in World War II. The fifty or sixty Japanese guests didn't find it as stirring as the rest of the guests however. Then, finally, some real entertainment. A comic named Jerome who was actually hilarious. He did an R-rated show later that night that I caught (after passing on the Mexican Food midnight buffet at the DeWick pen) which was even funnier.

The third day was traveling from Mexico. I opted for a real massage instead of the $1 massage chairs adjacent to the casino. It got a little turbulent. A happy ending to that massage was not throwing up.

Among the questions asked various crew members on Carnival cruises: Does the ship generate its own electricity? (No, idiot, they roll out a long extension cord). At the photography booth: How will I know which one of these photographs is mine? What do they do with the ice sculpture once it's melted? And my personal favorite: What religion are those people who wear patches behind their ears?

Staging game shows is a popular feature. Hosted by Social Director, Simon ("hello ladies and germs") they played a version of the Newlywed Game that was quite amusing. Among the questions and answers: "Where's the starngest place you and your husband have made love?' Answer: "the kids bed". If a parrot was in your room every night what sound would he hear enough to be able to repeat it? Couple number two: He: "Shut Up!" She: "Are you done yet?" Describe your wife's naked butt when she bends over. Couple number three: He: "McDonald's Golden Arches".

Getting off the ship was another adventure. We were all awoken at 6:30 and began immigration, based on colored tags of our luggage (which we had to have picked up by midnight last night). Everyone had to clear customs before anyone could disembark. Out of 2600 people I was amazed that only 300 were still clueless as to what to do at 9 am. We were then asked to leave depending upon our color tags. But they had no way of checking. So we just went with one of the first groups, got right off, claimed our bags in two seconds and left.

All in all it was fun to get away, an interesting change of pace, I now know where Natalie Wood had her last meal, the weather was great, learned a lot about Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, laughed a bunch, won ten bucks last night in blackjack, saw first hand why the WWF gets ratings while PBS does not, watched fat guys do the Macarana, and best of all didn't have to fly anywhere so I avoided that line!!!



Anonymous said...

Mr. Levine, My name is Norman Knoerlein and I go to LMU. For my TV programming class with Jim Kearney, I'm writing a paper on the evolution of the "Paramount writing room" starting with "Your show of shows" and then on through Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Taxi, Cheers and Frasier.

I've tried calling the paramount offices, but i found your blog while searching for further quotes and I'm taking a shot, you'll read this.

Is there any possibility that I could email you or your partner David Isaacs some questions.
My email is

Thank You


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