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.