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Serenade Of The Seas: Part One

By Scott Gordon

The first of a five-part series.

This past June, I took my first real vacation in nearly three years. I joined my parents, sister, little brother, and grandmother to seal myself away from work and the laid-back comforts of home in a container called The Serenade Of The Seas. A pompously named vessel "Godmothered" by Whoopi Goldberg and operated by the Royal Caribbean International cruise line, the Serenade churned us through a week-long journey from the port of Vancouver up to a few beautiful spots in Alaska. Of course, before I took off on the cruise, all my friends told me I should bring along David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and compare notes with Wallace's infamous account of mind-numbing quasi-luxury aboard a Celebrity Cruises ship in the Caribbean. I'd already read this and brought it along on the trip, but never once cracked it. Because once you step into the world of a cruise ship, not even such a monumental iceberg of bad PR can pierce through. People are dropping a lot of money to be there (thanks, family!), often with their family units in tow, generating a fixed mini-society with a weird balance of elderly couples and mid-40s parents with middle-school-aged kids.

The cruise industry probably never had to worry about how Wallace's essay played with readers in general, because cruise-ship culture is not a culture in which objections can take root. Even while I noticed that little has changed - the cloyingly attentive service, the inescapable, almost surreal tackiness - it's mostly not even about that. What follows is merely an attempt to record the stimuli I experienced each day, but ultimately these thoughts are separate from what's important, which is that I benefited from a change of scenery and catching up a bit with my family. One way or another, the Serenade helped me do that, so I can't exactly stay mad at it. Plus, Alaska and British Columbia are stunning. So, indeed, I had a good time, but I also had way too much time to think about what exactly a "vacation" is and what it reveals about the vacationer. Since I've got to obsess over something at all times, I banged out the following ship's log of sorts.

DAY ONE: Into the Well Of Cheese
The Serenade Of The Seas is not designed with the loner in mind, nor the young single fellow. In several of the public areas I've found, some kind of subpar background music is halfheartedly forced upon you. The outdoor pool deck is always playing some song that invariably sounds from a distance like Cher's "Believe," but never actually is. The central atrium has more of an indiscriminate smooth-jazz kind of vibe, and at dinner the Reflections dining room's muzak brought us an instrumental version of (no shit) Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" - you know, the most famous song ever inspired by a cruise-ship tragedy - at dinner.

Speaking of the central atrium, you can step to one of the balconies on each deck above it at any time, peer down, and watch something tacky as hell going on in the lobby bar below. I have dubbed it the Well Of Cheese. Our first night of sailing, a mixed group of middle-aged folks watched as a procession of staffers gave them a silly revue summing up all the different services available on the ship. I noticed a guy in a bear suit was involved, so I came down to sit and watch. While at the bar, I meet another younger guy named David, out on the prowl and asking me in frustration, "Where are the honeys?" I'm usually not inclined to hang out with dudes who refer to women as "honeys," but the environment's definitely a bit surreal for anyone who would want to meet girls at all. You see some pretty ones, but chances are they're 16-year-olds with their parents or, well, half of the kind of couple who goes on a Royal Caribbean cruise despite being young.

Most lunch and breakfast is enjoyed at Deck 11's cock-tastically named Windjammer, a huge clusterfuck free-for-all of a buffet. It is divided up into many stations with names; my favorites are the condiment stand called "Ketchup please . . . " (their flowery itals) and the breakfast counter called "The Egg Harbor." The best part is the dessert area, which includes two self-serve frozen-yogurt machines. During lunch on our first day, I saw a man with a piece of chocolate pastry and an apple tart on his dessert plate come up and start drooglin' chocolate soft-serve all over it. I will increasingly observe this kind of behavior throughout the cruise: People in line for soft-serve, about to gloop it next to or on top of whatever they've already got, and presumably spoon it into some kind of sense-clogging dessert-trank-goulash. I'm pretty sure I would've gotten yelled at for such behavior as a child, but apparently a "luxury" cruise just frees people up to do that. For our purposes here, "luxury" is "fun" living in its own filth.

We have the same table and same waiter, Michael, for dinner every night. Like just about everyone else on the crew, Michael really has to suffer us and kiss ass hard. Ideally, as far as I can tell, the actions, words, gestures of each crew member are supposed to beam the message, "Aren't you just fucking delighted to be on a cruise right now!?" Still, the waiter helps me out with David (my little brother, not the guy from the bar - Mom and Dad are doing a separate "wine dinner" tonight so it's me, sister Marie, and Grandma with David). An enormous painting looms over the dining room like an angry pastel sun. I'm pretty sure it's "Cheek To Chode," (1993, Jollabee McTitwhipple Vs. Gallagher), the medium being barf and windshield-wiper fluid on pizza crust.


Later on, after David-at-the-bar and I share a drink, I walk around one of the upper decks. We're passing between the mainland of British Columbia and Vancouver Island, and the view is incredible after dusk, especially when the ship turns down a rather narrow channel, probably only a couple hundred yards from shore on either side.


Tomorrow: Douchey young people on Deck 14.


Posted on July 13, 2009

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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