What I Did With My Winter Vacation

I and my wife went on a cruise. 

Specifically, we went on the JoCo Cruise Crazy 3 cruise, which is the cruise that musician Jonathan Coulton heads, ably assisted by fellow musicians Paul & Storm and a coterie of fellow performers, aides and volunteers. This year the cruise was a seven-day excursion to the Bahamas, St. Thomas and St. Maarten (with an unscheduled stop in Bermuda because one of the passengers had a medical emergency — heart attack was the most persistent rumor). Above you will see the only picture I took on the entire cruise because, hey, I was on vacation. But I will now present you a digest of thoughts and observations about my vacation. Prepare yourself.

For those of you who speculated that it was all too coincidental that I removed myself from the Internet for almost exactly the time it took to get to the JCC3 cruise, be on that cruise, and then head back, congratulations! You were right. It was not coincidental in the least. For those of you who were wondering why I didn’t announce that I was going on the JCC3 cruise, there were a couple of reasons. One, I wasn’t a performer on the cruise; I was on it to have a vacation. It was private travel, and — no offense — all y’all don’t need to know what I’m doing when I’m traveling in that mode. Two, you know what, I’m increasingly less enthused about letting the Internet know when my house is unoccupied. Call me paranoid if you like.

(Although in fact the house wasn’t unoccupied; we had a housesitter because, well, pets. And daughter, who stayed at home because of school. Still, the point stands.)

One of the enjoyable side effects of not telling anyone that I was going to be on the JCC3 cruise was that when I showed up there, people seemed genuinely pleased to see me (and Krissy, whom they had heard so much about on the Internet and then there she was in real life). A few people came up to ask me if I was John Scalzi; one person come up to ask if I knew I was John Scalzi. The answer in both cases: Yes. As I wasn’t listed as a performer (because, in fact, I was not one), I ended up being a nice bit of scenery for the science fiction fans on the cruise, an extra little bit of wheee, as I mentioned to one of the actual performers.

That said, because I was around, I ended up doing some stuff. I was part of one of the crews of “Celebrity Artemis,” in which performers and their friends staffed the bridge of a simulated spaceship, flying about the universe and destroying the crap out of alien aggressors. The crew I was on featured Wil Wheaton as the captain, Kevin Murphy on communications, Jonathan Coulton as the science officer, Storm di Costanzo as the helmsman, Joseph Scrimshaw in engineering and me on weapons. We were the most delightfully passive-aggressive ship crew in the fleet; I assume there will be video of it on YouTube presently.

I also was a special guest star for JoCo Karaoke, in which JCC3 cruise guests sang Jonathan Coulton songs while JoCo and his band backed them musically. The song I sang with the band, absolutely unsurprisingly, was “Redshirt,” i.e., the song JoCo wrote as the theme to my novel Redshirts. I am happy to report that I sang it on key. I am slightly less happy to report that whilst singing it, and jumping up and down on the stage like I supposed rock stars should, I fell square on my ass in front of more or less the entire JCC3 cruise population (I have absolutely no doubt that there will be video of this particular event on YouTube very soon). However, I am very happy to say that even as I fell on my ass, I kept singing and continued to be in tune. Because I am a pro. Even when I’m not present in a pro capacity.

Additionally, I took part in the Ukulele Melee, a gathering of 30-some-odd ukulele enthusiasts on the JCC3 cruise. I brought my travel tenor guitar rather than a uke, but they accepted me into the tribe anyway, for which I am grateful. We did a song on open mike night (a JCC3-centered version of the Coulton/Roderick song “Christmastime is Wunnerful”) and I was asked to do a vocal solo in the style of William Shatner. Again, I would not be surprised if video of my particularly ham-tastic rendition shows up online.

Finally I did a reading, because people asked if I would, and it seemed like the thing to do, and JCC3 has a “shadow track” of programming where cruisegoers can sign up to do performances. I read an upcoming bit of The Human Division and some other stuff. People showed up! And seemed to like it! So yay!

Still, most of my time was spent being a spectator of the fabulous set of performers, which aside from JoCo and Paul and  Storm included John Roderick, Mike Phirman, Wil Wheaton, John Hodgman, Joseph Scrimshaw, Zoe Keating, Bill Corbett & Kevin Murphy, the Doubleclicks, David Rees and Randall Munroe. They were all really excellent to watch and listen to, and if you weren’t there you totally missed out. I particularly enjoyed Roderick and Keating’s performances, because both of them were relatively new to me as musicians. I am now inclined to seek out all their work to date (I have stuff from most of the others already).

From all this you may assume that I am a big fan of the JoCo Cruise Crazy Cruise, and if you are a person of nerd tendencies, I would highly suggest that you consider going on one if you can. As it happens, there will in fact be a JoCo Cruise next year; details will be announced on that soon. Really, for the high octane geek entertainment alone, it’s highly worth it.

Yes, yes, you say. But what about the rest of the cruise? The seven days in the Caribbean? The cutting through the ocean in a boat larger than the Titanic? The sun-kissed islands? The absolutely staggering piles of food one tosses down one’s gullet while on board? What about that?

In short: It was not bad at all. I came to understand that a cruise ship — we were aboard the Royal Caribbean ship called Freedom of the Seas — is a finely tuned instrument designed for one thing: To suck as much money as possible from you whilst on the high seas. To that end the Freedom of the Seas did not disappoint; one very quickly learns why cruising is the pastime of the leisure class. Along the way I also learned that a modern cruise ship is basically a hotel grafted onto a mall pushed out to sea on a floating platform — all of which goes to that whole “suck money from you” thing — so if you’re wanting a real nautical experience, I don’t know, you might try one of those Island Windjammer cruises or something.

For our part we decided to embrace the “Floating Mall Hotel” spirit, because honestly, if you go on a cruise on one of these kinds of ships and spend all your time rolling your eyes at the petty bourgeois tendencies of your fellow shipmates, you’re probably an asshole. Plus, they had these Coca Cola Freestyle machines everywhere, so I could get Raspberry Coke Zero any time I wanted. Worth the cost of the cruise, I have to say. I know. I’m pathetic. Shut up.

The island stops included a Royal Caribbean-owned island called Coco Cay, where the money-sucking was even more pronounced but the water was clear and gorgeous and Krissy and I went parasailing, which is something I never really imagined myself doing, ever, but which was fun enough; St. Thomas, which we went into knowing it was a tourist trap so were not in the least disappointed by it (we bought trinkets! For the people back home!); and St. Maarten, which a group of us abandoned to travel to the rather less populated island of Anguilla, which, I have to say, was simply fantastic and a real highlight of the entire trip.

Back on the boat, there were a number of various activities that were put on by the cruise line itself, but I participated in almost none of them because I was busy with the JCC3 offerings and/or relaxing with my wife either by the pool or on our balcony (yes, we paid extra for the balcony, and it was worth it). So I can’t report on any of that. Yes, there were a lot of old people, but there were also a lot of families, so it didn’t seem aggressively geriatric. My understanding is that Royal Caribbean caters to a family demographic in any event. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with older passengers, mind you. But it was nice to have a mix, beyond the JCC3 cohort.

In all, the cruise itself was enjoyable and pleasant but I don’t suspect it would be something I would do for its own sake. Our very nice cruise berth was more or less equivalent in accouterments to the Sheraton Suites room we stayed in the day after the cruise was done, and the cruise buffet we ate at every morning less tasty than the Cracker Barrel we had breakfast at the day we stayed at the Sheraton Suites. You could have a cheaper basic cruise experience by staying at a Sheraton Suites, eating at Cracker Barrel, walking on a trampoline for a couple of hours (to get that “sea legs” experience), and then getting on a plane and flying to the Bahamas for a day trip.

But that was fine. I didn’t go on the cruise for the cruise. I went on the cruise because a bunch of friends of mine were going on a cruise and I got to hang out with them, without worrying about the real world (or the Internet world) for a whole week — plus got to watch a bunch of them do what they do really well, which is entertain me. For that purpose, my cruise was well worth both the time and money. It’s good to be back, and I’m really glad I went.

In short: JoCo Cruise Crazy: Totally worth it. You should go, if you can.

So, that’s where I was and what I did for the week I wasn’t here.

53 Comments on “What I Did With My Winter Vacation”

  1. That sounds utterly fantastic, I am so glad you ejoyed your vacation so thoroughly.

    Raspberry Coke Zero? That sounds wonderful, no sniggering here.

  2. Glad you had a good time, John
    All that AND Zoe Keating? Dude. She rocks my socks with her cello-y goodness.

  3. Didn’t get a chance to talk to you while we shared a giant floating mall, but really enjoyed the reading, and hope the dog gets out okay! :D Hopefully you join the naval-nerds again next year!

  4. As a fellow sea monkey and relatively new fan, it was a pleasure meeting you on the cruise. I just wished I had worked up the nerve to talk to you before the last night. You and Krissy were both very kind. And your performance of Redshirt was definitely a highlight for me.

    I’m glad you got to come and enjoy yourself!

  5. I’m afraid my first thought wasn’t, “I must find out where Scalzi went.” It was, “I wonder if Steven Brust has posted anything.”
    Anyway, glad you had fun and welcome back.

  6. It was great to meet you and your lovely wife. Thank you very much for being part of the festivities.

  7. That ship is quite awesome. I speak from personal experience having spent a week on board in 2006, its inaugural season. At the time, the ship had bragging rights as the biggest cruise ship in the world, but since then Royal Caribbean has built several larger ships.

  8. The weird thing about cruising is that ordinary economics seem to be reversed; the upfront costs of a cruise on a much more expensive ship are much higher, but it works out cheaper in the end. On the other hand, I have never even heard of raspberry Coke, much less seen it served on a ship, so maybe you do need to pay a premium price for it…

  9. A coworker of mine was on this cruise (his third time). Can’t wait to ask him if he knew that you knew you were Scalzi.

  10. My extended family is going on a cruise in November to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

    My husband has decided that the pirates of yore are now running the cruise lines. It makes them more money. This after discovering that internet access will be $3/minute should we find ourselves in need of using it. And that pop in the machines near the rooms is $4/can.

  11. Having never been on a cruise ship before I am led too wonder, are those ships so big they have spare theatres to hire out? or do you all turn up, flash mob like, and take over the dining hall? Though probably a good thing you didn’t use the real bridge for celebrity Artemis…did you?

  12. Heh, I went to 70.000 Tons of Metal a couple of weeks back. It’s a heavy metal festival on a cruise ship. It is exactly as awesome as it sounds. It’s a similar idea as the it seems as the JoCo cruise only with more hair and a different type of geek :D It appears like you had exactly as much fun on your cruise than I had on mine, so yey us!

    I also had similar thought as you had concerning the money sucking nature of the giant floating hotel-mall and that I probably will never do a regular cruise, but at the same time it was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had. Saw some of my favorite bands perform, chatted with them in one of the bars afterwards, met some nice people, and ate an incredible amount of food. (They had a 24 hours pizza bar upstairs of the buffet!) Oh, and I went diving, saw some pretty fish and an octopus! Did the parasailing thing a couple of years back in Saint-Tropez already! ;)

  13. Please tell us more about your visit to Anguilla, as you feel inclined. (Did you know that Donald E. Westlake wrote his only nonfiction book about Anguilla?)

  14. Sounds like a splendid week with your wife and good friends! Well deserved! Too bad my husband didn’t have a book for you to relax with on YOUR vacation! ;)

  15. I have cruised several times (the benefit of a well-off grandmother who loves to travel with her family) and did the first JCCC (gifted to me as a 40th birthday present by my awesome parents). I really regret that the timing has been such for the other two that I couldn’t make the trip, and I’m hoping that next year’s cruise shifts away from my conflicting event so I can at least THINK about going.

    Also: raspberry Coke Zero is the bomb.

  16. BethC

    I am really sorry to hear that; there are a fair number of cruise lines which charge a lot higher upfront but which are all inclusive and therefore you don’t have to pay extortionate sums for cans of drinks, or wifi, or tipping or whatever. It’s such a shame that the monoliths have managed to convince people that you have to pay for all of these, because they have such a vast advertising budget..

  17. John, Count me among those cruise-goers who was delighted to see you there. Thank you for signing my copy of Fuzzy Nation and for your reading, singing, and dancing!

  18. This post flashed me back to an earlier conversation about punctuation and order-of-operations in parsing sentences because I first read “30-some-odd ukelele enthusiasts” as “30-something odd ukelele enthusiasts.” Fortunately, I then realized that odd ukelele enthusiasts was redundant and I must be reading it wrong. (Some of my best friends are ukelele enthusiasts. ALL of my best friends are odd. ‘S why we get along.)

  19. You left your daughter with a sitter for a week? You’re lucky she’s a good kid and didn’t leave the house full of arrows :) (J/K, from what you write I would expect the animals to cause more destruction)

  20. I am really glad to hear that you weren’t on the Sewage Cruise.

    And secondly, I hope that being asked if you knew you were John Scalzi was as adorable as I imagine it was, because in my mind it is totally adorable.

  21. I really like cruises that act as magical hotels where I wake up each morning in a new, interesting place I probably wouldn’t get to otherwise. Being on JCCC1 verified that Caribbean cruises really don’t fit that description (for me, at least), but the JCCC activities more than make up for the otherwise uninteresting trip. I look forward to a future JCCC finally happening on another week that fits my work schedule.

  22. I don’t suppose John Roderick mentioned anything about a new Long Winters cd coming anytime soon…?

  23. Hey John,

    I was the guy who asked if that was you on your way to your room that very first day (whose wife then dragged off before I could be too much of a fanboy) and the one with the Cthulhustache. It was a blast to have you on board and I’m glad you and Krissy had fun.

  24. I am always genuinely pleased to see you (and Krissy, although I only recently met her). The JCCCs are scheduled at an absolutely horrid time for me. so I’m unlikely to actually be able to go on one any time soon. :(

  25. Oh, man, I wanted to go, but couldn’t pull together the money or time for this one. Maybe next year.

    However, one of my friends went, and snapped a zillion pictures, so it’s almost like I was there. (I did see you in his pics, but not Krissy.)

    The thing that blew me away the most was not the Ukelele Melee (although that was cool) nor the Recorder Group nor the game room BUT THE SCIENCE FAIR!!!! My friend was telling me that one of the younger Sea Monkeys was missing their science fair so folks put together one for them, and ten people showed up with their projects. It warmed the cockles of my heart.

    So glad you guys weren’t on the Br0xored Cruze.

  26. Anguilla? As in Under an English Heaven by Donald Westlake? So you say it’s a nice place still, now?

    I sort-of like the idea of ships, but have never tried cruises. Have done three Atlantic crossings in my youth, late 50s and late 60s, what are probably considerably different from modern cruising (on the other hand, we got butter from a different region of France each day in tourist class on the S.S. France). Modern cruise ships just look unstable, anyway; too tall, too much surface for the wind to work on.

  27. I spent a week on St Maarten, but mostly on the north side, which is French. The cruise ships dock in Philipsburg, on the Dutch side. I think you were smart to abandon it for Anguilla. It’s crowded and touristy. Marigot, on the north side, is nice though.

  28. Oddly enough, I know about Anguilla via a rather odd pathway. I’m in IT Security and one of the more famous “cypherpunks” from the late 90s/early 2000s, Vince Cate, adopted the island as his home. Always wanted to visit…

  29. As a former Navy man, I’m always amazed at people who come back from cruises talking about “sea legs.” On the civilian cruise I was on, the motion was nearly imperceptible.

    You want sea legs, spend a weekend off of Cape Hatteras during a northeaster! (We were taking green water over the bridge, 63 feet from the waterline.)

  30. Dude, I love Artemis. There are a few bugs that still need ironing out (our last game had a space station inside an asteroid, making it un-dock-able), but the developer definitely captured the simple fun of pretending to be a Trek-style bridge crew.

    Did Captain Wheaton say ‘engage’ and ‘make it so’ a lot? Because pretending to be Picard is 70% of the fun of being in the captain’s chair.

  31. Surely in a ship bigger than the Titanic, they could set aside a steerage space for lower-income passengers. An empty cargo hold, sleeping bags, beef jerky and trail mix; it could be done. Perhaps one could get an additional cost break by waiving your space on a lifeboat.

    Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with older passengers, mind you.” I can’t speak for other old people, but I find myself getting increasingly grumpy with age. (“Get off my lawn, everyone!”) Also, when old people fall down, they break. If you’re past 60, don’t get into a fight with a concrete sidewalk; the sidewalk will win. (My blog has an ongoing series of posts about recovering from a spectacularly broken arm.)

    But it sounds like you had fun. Always a good thing.

  32. Sounds like you had a lot of fun. Often wondered about taking a cruise. That sounded interesting even taking away all the food and drink and soft cushy chairs and waking up whenever the hell you want. I’ve heard the Disney cruises are a whole other level of cushiness. Think it costs an arm and a leg too, but that may be suspect.

  33. Personally, I’m surprised folks in your circumstances share as much as of your personal life as you do, although I suppose it’s good for business. Speaking as a long time prosecutor, I think not telling people you’re going to be out of town for a week or more isn’t paranoia so much as it is wise.

  34. Two questions and a statement.

    Q1) Have you ever read David Foster Wallace’s essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again?

    Q2) What did your daughter do?

    You’re not pathetic–those Coke machines are wicked awesome.

  35. Brian DeLue: Thanks for the follow-up, the description helped me get why John Scalzi specifically called it a freestyle machine, and the two together helped me get the right results from Google. I have a lead on the location of one of these Freestyle machines in Toronto that I’m going to check out at lunch tomorrow…

  36. I’m still catching up on the entire internet… John, it was so great to meet you, and lovely to have you and Krissy on the nerdboat. It was so much fun the first couple of days, hearing people everywhere go “IS THAT JOHN SCALZI? OMG!”

    I’m glad you had a good time. See you next year? ;)

  37. John, I thank you from the bottom of my little nerd heart for being on the cruise (it was my first) and being SO wonderfully nice to me. I was the rilly rilly short woman in the back who had to shout her question because you couldn’t see me.
    When I saw your name on the shadowcruise board I was so excited! I was vaguely familiar with some of the performers and very familiar with about oh, two of them but YOU have been a hero of mine for some time now. So you were actually my lagniappe.

    Not only that but I got to use the reading as basis for a creative writing report this semester: Write about an event or performance connected to professional writing. My teacher hadn’t heard of you (though he pretended he did) but he gave me permission to write about your reading. So thanks!!
    (and your wife was awesome. I hope you bought her a few nice petty trinkets)

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