High Seas

Lots of drugs, drinks, and titty fights, but the Climax Cruise ends in clammy anticlimax

Imperial Majesty, a small cruise line with only one ship, agreed to host the affair. The 54-year-old Regal Empress is known for its Love Boat-style charm, mayonnaise-plumped food, a musty odor, and a friendly, mostly Filipino staff. A veritable Kmart of cruise ships, it appeals to not-so-finicky, budget-conscious cruisers.

Although Imperial has done music and party-theme cruises, such as blues and rock 'n' roll cruises, for which large groups chartered the whole ship, this would be a little different. The Ultimate Party cruise would take up little more than a tenth of the cabins, and the cruise line would accommodate them just as they would a conference of cardiologists.

"An experiment" is what a member of the cruise line sales staff called it, for she had never booked party cruisers and regular cruisers on the same vessel.

About 900 regular passengers arrived at Port Everglades, unaware they'd be sailing to the Bahamas with drunken, cigarette-smoking, pill-popping, lingerie-wearing, food-fighting post-pubescents. Likewise, the youngsters were unaware there would be, as one put it, "so many fucking families."

Volinsky's crowd got the group rate and exclusive use of certain decks and rooms. The Mermaid Lounge, typically a site for business cocktail hours, would be a venue for the party high jinks, and section 888 of the dining room would seat the partiers. But partiers' cabins somehow wound up, instead of being concentrated in one bloc, scattered around the ship.

It may sound like a disaster in the making, but cruise director Jim Ward says the Ultimate Party fit in with the company's strategy to appeal to younger passengers. "If [the Ultimate Party Cruise] catches on, there could be a lot more of these coming down the line," he says.

At the gangplank, passengers came upon the Ultimate Party desk, manned by Volinsky. Fast-talking and eager, he distributed hot-orange bracelets that would identify partiers and give them access to Climax Event.

If regular passengers desired, they could defect from their mundane world of regular cruising and buy the Ultimate Party Package for $30. This included entrance into all of the Climax Event — the meet-and-greet, the crazy contests, the lingerie party, and more. They could also feel free to dip into Volinsky's supply of 300 condoms.

That's something of a hard sell. From the get-go, lumpy middle-aged couples, laid out on deck with globs of sunscreen on their faces, tend to deflate the mystique of the Ultimate Party.

But nothing was going to ruin the welcome-aboard festivities.

Not for Steve, anyway. Through his Ray-Bans, Steve is watching a group of six recent high school grads dressed only in string bikinis, very high heels, and cascading hoop earrings. They sip $7.50 Bahama Mamas — purchased by somebody else, of course. They blow kisses to no one in particular. They toss Ping-Pong balls haphazardly at cups filled with vodka and pop their pelvises to Pitbull's "Ay Chico (Lengua Afuera)," working their way around two bubbling Jacuzzis and an eerily green swimming pool. They are each an eyeful, but one stands out.

That would be 18-year-old Ecuadorian firecracker Ligia. Lee-HEE-ya. Ligg to friends. Liggy to lovers. She's statuesque in three-inch sandals, tanned, and she's casually perched in an ever-so-slightly bowlegged but nevertheless come-hither stance. The bikini, dear God, the bikini, is lavender with pink palmetto designs. The hands are soft, freshly manicured, and wielding Bahama Mama number two. Or is it three? The ponytail is dark and sleek, the lips crimson and full, the eyes oval and huge, with or without a skillful application of Mac cosmetics.

When the hip-hop music instructs, "Bend over girl, show me what you're working with," Ligia obliges. She dips down, rests two fingers on the glistening white deck, and skillfully gyrates her curvaceous ass. She body-waves back up, raises a number-one finger, and pumps it to the beat. Pirouetting around a makeshift beer pong slab atop a plastic table, she is fully cognizant of all the eyes taking in each step she takes, each turn, each sip. Behind her sunglasses, she scans the crowd, wondering if anybody on this cruise will be worth her time.

In truth, she's not really here for guys, and she's definitely not here for sex. She says she's here to have fun with her girls, who have begun referring to themselves as "the Lethal 6." Three have serious boyfriends. Three, including Ligia, are single but picky. Really, they're here for one last hurrah, and of course a little harmless attention from the opposite sex, before dispersing to different colleges. Back in June, they heard about this cruise, the Ultimate Party Cruise, on Power 96, and there was no doubt about it. This would be the perfect end to the perfect summer. It would be serious — the new, vaguely positive word that should be used whenever possible.

The Lethal 6 booked two cabins.

For Steve, the mission is different. At 23, he is older and, when it comes to scouting out women, strategic. Like many of the males on this cruise, Steve is woman-starved, and he's got to be ready for any contingency. The fact that he's got three cabin mates — not a problem.

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