Why Free Cruises Aren’t Worth the Cost


A podcaster friend of mine recently started an annual cruise for his listeners. Since I was a popular guest on his show, he very much wanted me to attend the following year. “Come on, it’ll be great,” he insisted. “Michael Malice fans everywhere!” He was a better podcaster than he was a salesman. The idea of being surrounded by strangers who had positive preconceptions about me was not enticing.

A few weeks after he and I spoke, I was offered the opportunity to take a two-day cruise, all expenses paid. A PR firm was reaching out to writers in hopes of getting non-traditional cruise-goers to sample their wares. I figured two days would at least be tolerable. How bad could it be? It’s a cruise, after all.

My big concern was that going on a cruise would be like going to Vegas, except on water instead of in a desert. It would be tacky, saccharine, teeth-gritting “fun” that masked a soulless duplicate of any actual entertainment. Sure, some people lived for Vegas, but I was not one of those people. Everyone I mentioned my trip to in my native Brooklyn had a similar suggestion: to read David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” He was in a similar position to me and did not like his experience.

I demurred. I wanted to keep as open a mind as possible, and I wanted to enjoy myself if I could. The idea of complaining about a free cruise is pretty much as privileged as it could get. Having a bad attitude would only cause me to have a bad time, and where was the “fun” and/or fun in that? Nowhere, that’s where. So I went.

As soon as I got onboard I saw that every preconception I had was accurate. There was music blaring; I’m not sure if it was literally Katy Perry but it occupied that exact same cultural space. Everywhere I looked, people were walking around with glasses of wine, wearing the worst clothes I had ever seen. Not only that, but they were constantly cracking corporate-type jokes. When the elevator stopped on every floor—yep, you guessed it—“I guess we’re on the local!” My thoughts turned to murder.

The first day of the cruise was spent docked, and I spent time exploring the ship. People often talk about just how gigantic cruise ships are, and they are gigantic, but not in an awesome way like, say, a gigantic stuffed animal. Instead, it felt like a very long mall. The different floors had different themes. One was even entitled “Central Park,” which caused my eyes to roll so hard that I swear that I could see who was standing behind me.

It wasn’t all bad. One of the best things about the ship was how diverse the crew was. Apparently there was staff from literally dozens of countries. One of the restaurants even had a waitress from near my hometown in Ukraine. She was very tactful when she corrected my Russian, but it was still fun. And in all fairness, the food was great and it was plentiful. But still I found precious little to do.

Yes, there were comedy shows and musicals to watch, as well as rock-climbing. And I readily admit that the performers, despite the stigma of performing on a cruise, were surely top-notch. But I’m from New York. I could see a top-notch comedian or show any time I wanted to. “Because it’s there” is a reason to climb Everest, not a reason to watch Grease. So I spent a good amount of time ensconced in my room reading Emma Goldman’s 1923 classic My Disillusionment in Russia. Having completed that, I spent more time reading her 1924 follow-up My Further Disillusionment in Russia. (SPOILER: She’s still disillusioned!)

At one point I was slotted to attend dinner with a couple of other writers. One was an absolute sweetheart. A travel blogger, she had great stories about touring the world. She was having the time of her life, and it made me feel great that someone was. The other writer just got drunker and drunker and was increasingly incensed over my refusal to try polenta. “It’s just like tater tots!” she said.


“What kind of person doesn’t like tater tots?” she screeched.

“I dunno, someone with class?” Well, apparently classless people don’t like being identified as such to their face, regardless of how many pairs of sweatpants they happened to pack with them to go on a cruise.

The next day all the writers were forced to listen to the ship’s master and the CEO of the company talk about their great new ship. The CEO “joked” that the company did have female shipmasters, i.e., “mistresses.” LOL! If you’re the type of person that thinks saying the word “mistress” in mixed company is edgy and hilarious, then you are exactly the type of person who should take a cruise.

The reporters onboard were just as vapid. One asked the staff, “What is your biggest challenge?” Though he didn’t say, “The existential dread of knowing that I am a corporate automaton,” I’m sure it was at the tip of his tongue. We also had to watch a little video with a jingle urging us to “wash your hands like fifty times a day.” Yes, there was Purell everywhere, in order to stop the spread of disease. A smart way to handle a real issue, but the Orwellian corporate “fun” aspect still applied even here.

The next day one of the Jonas Brothers was performing with his new surely terrible band. I almost tweeted about being in a position to stab a Jonas Brother (was it Nick?) but realized that perhaps this would not end well for me in international waters. I didn’t want to get shanghaied or impressed or whatever awful thing they do nowadays to those who threaten celebrities on the high seas these days. What if I got scurvy?

So do I regret going on a cruise? No. Will I ever go on one again? Hell, no. I emailed my podcaster buddy and told him, very politely, that there was no chance I would be joining him the following year. Those “Michael Malice fans”—both of them—would simply have to have their supposed fun without me.