Free cruise to nowhere

My wife and I, along with all my in-laws, went on a one-day cruise this past weekend, courtesy of her parents. All we had to cover were a few drinks and gratuities, which totaled about $40. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s about $40 more than I earned last week (thanks for asking). Unemployed and living large is how I roll.

The boat was so huge that when docked, New York actually has a sixth borough. It makes the USS Intrepid – the battleship come museum docked just south – look like a Happy Meal toy. We left the west side of Manhattan in early afternoon, passed the Statue of Liberty and made our way along the south coast of Long Island during the evening before circling back. There were no stops, so passengers didn’t disembark at Fire Island or anywhere to explore the local culture through its gift shops.

I’d never been on a cruise before, of any length. Aside from Love Boat episodes and stories from my wife about her other cruise experience, I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out that the weekend version is a lot different from the Love Boat or the week-long Caribbean version. For starters, Isaac‘s been replaced. I didn’t ask, but I like to think that he earned enough from Ricardo Montalban‘s tips to retire to a beach bungalow somewhere. That story is much more comforting than the likely truth – that he lost his job to someone younger and willing to work longer hours for less money. Further, travelers on the boat weren’t terribly relaxed. They seemed anxious to cram a whole week’s worth of excess into one day.

If you’re imagining a P. Diddy commercial-type scene – with everyone wearing white suits, drinking champagne and acting beautiful – then you have the wrong idea. But people definitely were there to revel in excess, spend money and have a good time. Not being much of a drinker or spender (and essentially broke anyway), the whole thing made me a little uncomfortable. I felt like I was crashing a party and everyone knew. It also made me doubt humanity’s ability to not obliterate itself from the planet (but I digress).

From an economic standpoint, the whole scene was very curious. How can people afford to spend all this money? Or is the economy really not so bad?

One possible answer is that the current financial climate reflects the public’s panic more than it does actual employment conditions. People are worried but still gainfully employed, for the most part. Weekend cruise takers are just less worried or more financially secure. Economic conditions be damned, they’re having a good time.

Another possible answer – one that jibes better with current thinking – is that these were all people who would’ve taken longer, more expensive vacations. They’re feeling the crunch, but still want some enjoyment. They opted for a weekend cruise as a mini-escape.

Still a third possibility is that Americans still have no idea how to manage their money, even when faced with tough times. So they just keep doing what they’ve been doing.

As is often the case, the answer is probably some unknowable combination of the three. Some people are worried, but willing to spend money. Some people downsized their vacations. And some people just spend freely without regard to the economic climate. Everyone feels the recession crunch differently.

Feel free to disagree, of course. The comments link is right there…

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5 Comments

  1. Tina wrote:

    Right now the travel industry in general is hurting and cruises/tours especially. There are a ton of cheap cruise deals going on and many people are taking advantage. Disney recently ran a special where you pay for one cruise and get a voucher for another cruise of the same type for just $99. That’s just crazy!

    Here’s one example of a cheap cruise from Google. These are rates you would never see normally:

    Caribbean Cruises
    7 Nights Cruises Book today!
    From $399 with upgrades & Free Kids

    Kind of nice that they’re giving away free kids 🙂

    Glad you got to experience it though. I was planning a cruise with my kids since the rates are so cheap…then I lost my job! There next vacation is a trip to the Grandparents!

    Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink
  2. David wrote:

    Interesting post. I think you’re right that its a combination of all three, although I suspect the downsizing of other vacations is likely to be the smallest factor as I think people going on weekend cruises are usually looking for different things than people going on longer ones.

    Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  3. Andrew wrote:

    Sorry, I don’t have time to comment on this post. I have to go complete my latest purchase — Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Belt.

    Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink
  4. Norm wrote:

    Bastard! I was going to buy that, then I got laid off. Now I can’t even afford to pay Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart to insult me for 10 minutes.

    Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  5. Jean wrote:

    You bastard!!!!, you are traveling instead of looking for a job… however instead to enjoy more your cruise, you ruin it ctitizising the people that trow away their money, money that they have because they got a job. Obviously you feel like a crashing in a party. You should feel shame to have your in laws paying for a ticket. Stop loosing time in internet writing stupid blogs and find a job bastard!!!!

    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink