Sometimes you win, sometimes you cruise

I had my first cruise experience when I was 19 years old.

There’s something about a cruise vacation. It’s different than your typical tropical vacation to Cancun or Tahiti or Cabo.

I guess the general point — the specific mission of each trip — is pretty similar.

It’s about getting away and soaking in sunshine and sipping fruity drinks by some body of water. Paradise, right?

But if you’ve been on a cruise, you probably know that cruises are different.

You’re on a ship with the same 1000 people or whatever — and something happens during those six or seven or eight days you spend on the water.

The cruise ship becomes a sort of small town on the sea. You interact with the same people. There’s only a few places to eat. And if you go on a really long cruise, like eight or nine or 10 (!) days, other vacationers — other cruisers — start to develop reputations. You learn about the family from Michigan with three daughters. Or the creepy-nice family from Texas, with the mullet-rocking dad who always extends his fingers like guns when he sees you and says HEY!!! I KNOW YOU!

These are people you feel like you’ve known all your life. And yet, they still don’t seem real. Nothing seems real. You go eat ridiculously large meals and you go to the “Cruise club” at night — a place called the “Viking Lounge” with a disco ball in the center, a place you would never go in real life, but this is a cruise and faux-reality rules the day.

By the end of the trip, you have memories that blend together. You remember certain things, like the free soft-serve ice cream machine on the pool deck, but you’re not sure if what you just experienced really was paradise — or just some strange construction of it, designed by some marketing executive at Royal Caribbean who works in some office somewhere far, far away from the sea.

I thought about all of this yesterday when I stumbled upon a story on CNN.com about a stranded cruise ship with 3,300 passengers on board.

On the surface, the story seems mildly absurd. Apparently, the ship lost power on Monday after a small fire began in the ship’s engine room. That, of course, wasn’t the ludicrous part. The ludicrous part is this: Sure, we feel for the cruisers, who had their vacations ruined and suffered a few mild inconveniences. But the story on Wednesday made the whole ordeal sound like a national catastrophe, like a real-life version of that terrible movie “Poseidon,” with people rationing food, and guests running around the ship all frazzled, with their shirts untucked and fresh sets of stubble covering their faces.

According to the story, the USS Ronald Reagan was called in and guests were forced to eat — wait for it, wait for it, — pop tarts and cold cuts…

Oh the horror.

From CNN.com:

“Passengers said they were not told there was a fire. Guest Marquis Horace said the cruise line told passengers there was “a flameless fire. … Everybody just laughed.” And passenger Ken King said guests were told there was “a lot of smoke.”

“It was absolutely deplorable,” Horace said. At one point, the ship ran out of food, he said, and “they started making mayo sandwiches.”

“I expected a really nice time and it was like Gilligan’s Island or something,” he said.

He said he ate a lot of bananas and dry cereal, but at one point didn’t want to eat anymore because the smell of overflowing toilets, spoiled food and rotten milk was overwhelming.

Once the USS Ronald Reagan showed up to assist, passengers felt safer, he said. And the Navy provided good food — Horace said he particularly enjoyed the bean burritos.”

You serious, Clark?

Oh, we certainly have sympathy for the maligned cruisers — especially the elderly woman who rode a motor scooter and had to be carried up and down the stairs because the elevators didn’t work.

That sucks for her. And we feel. We really do.

But let’s not pretend this is some sort of tragedy.

A bunch of rich people paid thousands of dollars to go on a vacation and eat gluttonous amounts of food — and then they had to settle for cereal and bananas and mediocre deli meat* when a major snafu occurred.

*Oh, yea… thank god for those bean burritos.

Still, we’re still wondering what the heck happened to all the food that was on the ship in the first place. I know that a lot of food will go bad really quickly. But in a matter of hours?

By Tuesday, the USS Ronald Reagan had resupplied the ship. According to CNN.com, “Sailors stood on the deck in 50-yard lines, handing off boxes of water, frozen bread, sandwich meats, granola bars, paper plates and more…

“Reagan received 60,000 pounds of food, bottled water and supplies by airlift for the cruise ship, said Cmdr. Greg Hicks, spokesman of the U.S. Third Fleet.”

60,000 pounds? By my rudimentary calculations — that’s about 18 pounds of food and water for each passenger. That doesn’t include all the staff, but these people weren’t exactly starving*.

*I have a friend who watched his first episode of “Man vs. Food” a few months ago, and when I asked him what he thought, he paused for a moment and uttered the following words:

“I’m pretty sure that’s why the world hates us.”

Well, file the Carnival cruise catastrophe under the same category.

Again, I hope nothing like this ever happens to you or yours.

But if it does, and you happen to be stuck in a semi-inconvenient situation, here’s one idea:

Take a moment to think about the millions around the world who will spend the next night without power, wondering when the next meal will come. Consider yourself lucky that you’re wealthy enough to be trapped on a cruise ship. And then unwrap your pop-tart, take a bite and savor the moment.

It just might end up being the most enjoyable thing you do all week.

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