Posts Tagged Cruising

Some announcements

I was working on today’s post in my head starting about 8:15pm last night, halfway through a fantastic Simpsons episode (a phrase I never again expected to apply to a new episode).  However, the episode doesn’t go live on Hulu until a week from today and I wanted to link to it, so that will have to wait.  Needless to say, if you’re a writer and Tivoed it out of curiosity to see Gaiman…it will not disappoint.

So instead I thought I’d make a couple of announcements that I’ve been holding off on, but feel this is the right time for them.

DL Cruise 2012.  It’s become the thing to do the last few years, offering a cruise special for friends and fans.  I was considering offering one in 2012, with nightly flash fiction marathons and plenty of absinthe at the bars.  Then I realized two important things.  First is that I dislike cruises and what I saw of the cruise industry in general from the one I was on.  Second is that I likely lack the cache to even sell out a stateroom.  Therefore there will not be a DL Cruise is 2012.  Really, I probably shouldn’t have even brought it up.

Anthology.  I’d also like to announce that I will not be doing an anthology.  Oh sure, the thought has crossed my mind, as I’m sure it crosses the minds of most writers.  I know this first hand because I have three writers I follow on Twitter who announced anthologies within days of each other.  However I can’t read stories nearly fast enough to keep up with a slush pile, I can’t edit well enough to send stories back, and I’m not confrontational enough to reject writers who have put their babies into my hands.  It would have been an anthology of science fiction set on Venus, but it won’t, because there isn’t going to be one.

Huh.  This announcement thing isn’t quite going like I’d intended.

Nickajack.  Started, and it feels so good to be back into long form fiction again.  It’s a different process than I’ve done in the past, as this work will be a collaboration between myself and my wife.  We’ve worked together on a few simple spec scripts before, but never on anything quite so long and detailed as a novel.  The first chapter is drafted and in her hands, which reminds me of one thing: I hate the part of collaboration where I’m done with what I can do and have passed it off.  There’s this weird switch in my head that starts coming up with all sorts of new ideas just as soon as I’ve promised not to put anything new into a project.  But that’s good.  I’m taking notes on all of them, and Chapter Two should be a hell of a lot of fun to write.

One other bit of unrelated.  The favorite bit of tech that I created in my very first crack at noveling was a special purpose analytical engine called The Barkeep.  It was programmed by punch cards using codes to state a type of liquor and a quantity.  It wouldn’t always get the drink right, especially as the bottles had to be reloaded by hand, but was only meant to be a flight of fancy from the bar owner.  So I was delighted when I saw this today:

The video is a little dark, but it’s a simple bartending system run by an Android phone and using a scale it can zeroize to mix pre-programmed drinks.  It lacks a lot of the panache of the Barkeep, but it still made me happy to see.  And makes me wonder if there might be room for the Barkeep in either Nickajack or one of its hopeful followups.

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Cruise plot?

Over on Unleaded today I posted a trio of anthologies that I found in my last wander through Duotrope.  It didn’t occur to me until after I posted that one of the three might make for a fantastic outlet for my planned cruise story.  I leave it as an exercise to the reader which of queer-theme Steampunk, the end of the world, or a generation ship recently departed earth I see as the closest analogy to a cruise ship.  And I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense.  What other industry that exists today is often charged with keeping entertained several thousand people living in an enclosed space with no option for leaving?

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Cruise Characters

I’m still trying to come up with a good plot for a cruise ship.  Something horror related without going with a haunted house or a sea monster pastiche.  For the time being, though, there were more than a few characters I discovered while on board.  What follows are first my observations then my own creative license taking over.

Washy Washy:  Located outside the main buffet on the ship there were always two hyper cheerful people whose goals were twofold: get people to smile and spray their hands with bubble gum smelling sanitizer before they walked in and started touching everything.  There was one in particular who took extra gusto in his job, smiling everywhere except his eyes.  This was the same greeter they chose to see us off the boat because people absolutely loved him.

The Assistant Assistant Cruise Directors:  There were at least two of these who I met.  One was a gangly American, the other was a stocky Canadian.  Both were in their early twenties and clearly on low rungs within the cruise staff organization.  These two directed people to the gangways going ashore, and helped the Assistant Cruise Director run the bingo game, nightly at port and twice a day at sea.  The ACD himself was only a few years older, and I just felt that for the first time in his professional career he has underlings after being the AACD himself for so long.  I can smell the makings of a petty dictator a mile away, and when the actual Cruise Director wasn’t there, I’m sure the ACD had no problem reminding people who was in charge.

The Shopping Consultant:  This was someone with a job to do.  That job, however, involves helping the stores at each port of call to separate travelers from as much of their money as possible.  For that reason, he’s hawking the Diamonds, talking up the rarity of Tanzanite, and generally is the closest thing to a used car salesman that existed on the ship.  What I’d be curious to find out, though, is whether he was a nice guy who was just doing a job he happens to be good at, or whether he’s someone who actually enjoys his job perhaps a little too much.

The Youth Counselors:  Being neither a child nor a parent, I had little interaction with the youth counselors.  The only reason I ran into them at all is that they had the reservation right after mine at the Teppanyaki table.  They were all uniformly early 20s, uniformly attractive, and uniformly American.  The latter was an abnormality on the ship, this was the largest group of any kind I encountered who all had United States on their name badges.  Also one of the only groups who only had first names on their badges (with the exception of the Latino member whose name tag read, and this is no joke, “Tex-Mex”).  Four guys, four girls, all young and attractive, working and living together.  Strikes me as the perfect combination for pairing off.  They were all sun dresses and khakis for their reservation, but don’t let that fool you that there aren’t some shenanigans going on with this group.  Side note: when I observed the youth counselors to my wife, she swore I said “grief counselors” and was shocked that, even with the older-skewing demographic on board, that eight grief counselors were necessary.

The youth counselors seem the easiest targets for a horror plot, but just because twenty-somethings-in-peril is such a well established sub-genre of horror.  There was even the one requisite ethnic member of the group.

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I will cruise again no more, forever

I want to start out by saying that I would not give up the fact that I went on a cruise for the world.  I did a cruise in what I feel was the best way I could.  It let me see two of my absolute dearest friends get married, let me hang out with a bunch of people I knew, and several whom I didn’t know but immediately liked.  That’s the fun thing about friends-of-friends, you end up having something in common from the get go, and you’re almost pre-screened in terms of getting along by being vetted by the same central people.

Day.  Renee.  Thank you so much for inviting us on the cruise, letting us be a part of your big day and week, and know that none of what I’m about to say about cruises should in any way be construed to say that I regret going on this particular cruise for an instant.

That said.

There’s something about the reality of cruising that I wasn’t entirely prepared for.  I was prepared for a certain amount of commercialization of the experience, sanitization of the cultures we were visiting, that sort of thing.  But I’m not sure I was prepared for quite the onslaught that we got by cruising.  It started almost from the moment that we got onto the ship as the first person we talked to was someone trying to get us to attend the art auction that evening.  It turned out this was an ongoing theme of the entire cruise, the idea that people out at sea could make wise investments (yes, both the word “wise” and “investment” were used) in art in setting that is designed to make people forget that money is actually money.  The only place on the entire ship where little green piece of paper change hands is in the casino, which are already designed to appeal to those who don’t mind seeing their money go flying away in the hopes of making a small return on their investment in the end.  On the rest of the ship, the ever powerful cruise card was god.  It bought you drinks.  It provided your cover charges.  Properly swiped it even got you a game of air hockey.  It’s a nice numbing sensation until you get your bill at the end of the week and you’re reminded that every swipe of that card actually was tied to a credit card account that you were required to provide on check-in.

The auctions were a daily event.  Sometimes multiple times daily.  I never attended one, though I did wander around the gallery of hotel art from unknowns and undated lithograph prints.  The descriptions just built on my normally healthy level of cynicism.  The most egregious was the speed auction, 40 pieces of “art” being auctioned off 30 seconds at a time.  Come watch your fellow passengers wisely build their art collections.  Yes, this was one of the times that “wisely” was used.

On our first day at sea there were also seminars offered on how to shop once one got to port.  I also didn’t attend one of these, but got a full report from two friends of ours who did.  And were, at that time, instructed that the single most important thing you could take on shore was not your passport (never needed anyway), was not your all powerful cruise card.  No no no, it was in fact your shopping guide that told you all the approved places to shop at the port of call.  Not that you ever needed it.  Each port of call was a little village ringed with walls and with controlled access in and out, any of them could have been completely traversed by foot in just 15 minutes.  And all of them had the same stores.  Diamonds International.  Tanzanite International.  Del Sol.  In fact, one of the main selling points in that shopping seminar was the fact that the controlled access to the areas meant that locals couldn’t get in.  Because, you know, you certainly don’t want to be rubbing elbows with brown people while you’re on vacation in the western Caribbean.  And the last bit of advice from the seminar?  Buy diamonds.  They’re the best possible souvenir from a cruise, you know.  Plus, remember that you’re going to be in each port only a few hours, so if you see something you like, there’s no time to think about it.  Buy it!  Buy it now!  You might not see the same setting at the next port, don’t you know!

Ah, the ports of call.  Each was a little enclave meant to provide people visiting from cruise ships the most American experience possible while in foreign countries.  Now, I won’t fault that they all accepted the American dollar exclusively, as we visited three countries in four days so currency conversion would have been a bitch.  But a lot of tourist towns like that will accept dollars anyway.  Even the little shopping that I did outside of the controlled little enclaves I had no problem paying with green pieces of paper and getting the same in return (in spite of warnings that the locals might try to give us change in local currency in order to game the exchange rate).  In the end there was nothing about the ports of call that made the bustling island of Cozumel different from ex-pat friendly Roatan different from sleepy Belize different from recovering-from-Hurricane-Dennis Quintana Roo.  Everything was bright colors, diamonds and tanzanite.

In the end we decided that we wanted to go back to Roatan, hopefully to the beautiful Anthony’s Key Resort where we had a dolphin encounter.  But then we want to be on our own to decide where we should go, what we should do, and what we should see.  We don’t want to be high pressured into making bad monetary decisions by people with titles like “shopping adviser” or being told we should go wisely buy some bad art.  In the end, we’re probably just not the people that the cruises were set up to entertain.  I know this because a lot of people were entertained.  At the close of the cruise we attended the tail end of a question and answer session about the hows and whys of running a cruise, and every other question was:

“I just think we should all give a big hand to the people who planned those wonderful shows!”  (half-hearted applause)  In the end we went to two-and-a-half shows.  The two were both Second City shows, known quantities and about the quality that I was expecting.  They’re also something that the cruise ship can just book rather than having to come up with on their won.  The half was a dance show that was poorly choreographed with bad sound quality and had a “grand finale” of the crew of the ship walking out, waving flags from their nations of origins, singing “We Are Family” then applauding the audience.

“I just want to say that all the food this trip has been just so wonderful!”  (half-hearted applause)  The food was better than I expected.  We had some pretty good all-you-can-eat sushi the night we pulled out of New Orleans (which turned out to be good timing, as everything was still fresh, people who went later reported everything tasted frozen) that included sashimi in the cover price and waitresses who insisted we eat more, more more.  The other was the teppanyaki table, the toughest reservation on the boat since there was just one 10-person table that did three sittings a night.  Those were the only two places we ate that I would actually go to and pay money for if they were on the mainland.  The main buffet made Old Country Buffet feel classy, both the casual and formal dining rooms were serving food that wouldn’t have felt out of place in Chili’s, and the French option was way oversalted and one entree had to be sent back for inedibility.

In the end the cruise let me hang out with some people who are very dear friends.  Which is good, because bitching with them is the one thing that kept me sane.  It let me see two people I care about greatly and who love each other as much as anyone I’ve met get married.  And it gave me enough of a taste of Roatan that I know I want to go back.  Otherwise, what it left me with was the idea that a lot of the problems I had might have been just my ship, but a lot of them felt like ingrained problems of the cruise industry, since all of the ships end up going to the same docks at the same time, and I can’t imagine that the people one ship over are having that different of an experience when they’re being herded ashore the same place I am.

It also provided me some interesting characters, which will be my next and rather more writing-related post.

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