Cruising 2003

So Many Decks, So Little Time

By John Deiner, Steve Hendrix, Andrea Sachs and K.C. Summers
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 2, 2003

Weekend cruises are hot: According to a recent study, the number of people sailing for two to five nights has grown more than 600 percent since 1980. And why not? You get all the perks of longer voyages (excursions, shows, nonstop food) and are home in time for dinner on Monday.

But with as few as 70 hours between the first walk up the gangway and the last walk down, is there enough cruise in a quickie cruise to make it worth the effort?

Four Washington travelers flew to the Port of Miami to find out. And they came with a second question: Is an 880-foot, 74,000-ton ship big enough to entertain four workmates with widely different views of what constitutes fun? Stepping out of the yellow taxi into the shadow of Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas were four archetypes of the oceanborn holiday:

• Joe Cruise, a longtime enthusiast of the big ships who never met a Michigan retiree he wasn't ready to drink a frozen mudslide with.

• His cabinmate, the Sophisticate, a creature of the cocktail hour who would rather pâté than par-tay.

• Turbogirl, a high-energy vegetarian multi-sport princess whose idea of kicking back includes an hour in the gym and scuba tanks at 60 feet.

• And the Curmudgeon, a bookish cruise misanthrope who comes aboard with expectations about as low as a sunken galleon.

On a fall Friday afternoon, fresh from a flight from Reagan National, this odd quartet entered the embarkation hall to begin their 2.5-day voyage to the Bahamas and back.

• 68 HOURS TO GO: Big Boat, Small Cabins

The agent at Cruises Only had promised a good shot at upgrading out of the two steerage cabins the quartet had booked, but a sign at the crowded counter cuts them short. "The Ship Is Full" is what it says. "Don't Bug Us About Upgrading" is what it means. Worse, their cabins are on different decks, with no hope of changing to two closer together. And they are mistakenly assigned to two different tables at dinner.

The Curmudgeon shivers at the prospect of actually talking with strangers at table. She warily eyes a photographer who works the line in a doofy party hat, rousing everyone to sing to any passenger claiming a birthday.

Turbogirl spies a sailboat in the distance and wonders if she could crew to the Bahamas instead.

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