High Seas

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

Somebody clinks a glass.

A speech? No. A chant.

Soon, all the guys in section 888 are yelling "Take it off! Take it off! Take it off!"

"Take what off?" an 8-year-old girl named Austin asks her mother on the other side of the dining room.

"Take the food off the table," her outraged mother quickly explains. She is fed up with this cruise, on which she has taken her two daughters, her husband, and her mother, all from Chicago. She doesn't understand how the cruise line could have failed to inform her that she'd be aboard a party cruise. "They are going to hear it from me," she says.

Meanwhile, Austin is still turning over the phrase "Take it off" in her head. She knows this isn't about food. Finally, her mother admits that the men want the women to take their clothes off. Austin raises her tiny eyebrows.

After nobody takes it off, a food fight breaks out. It begins with packaged butter, but soon dinner rolls sail between yellow-clothed tables. Steamed broccoli is on the fly. Whenever a morsel of food drops, the kitchen staff immediately sweeps it up, as if the problem is not the food fight but the cleanliness of the floor.

The rambunctiousness continues later at the Grand Lounge, where the nightlife activity usually involves crooning Eastern Europeans. Not tonight. The low ceiling is lined with balloons, the floor slick with spilled alcohol. A techno song keeps repeating the line "Are you satisfied?" Drinks in hand, young adults rub their bodies against one another.

Ultimate Partier Steve is there — not satisfied. He has remembered that he hates dancing, and this really isn't his music. He's more into metal. Furthermore, he's failing at his mission. The hound-dog strategy is a bust.

Interested males surround Ligia, who is wearing a strappy, gray top that hangs like a pair of open curtains over her shapely chest. She seems to be avoiding Steve and paying a lot of attention to some guy who is a friend of the DJ's. A guy wearing three diamond earrings. At one point, Ligia flippantly says of Steve, "He's just not my kind of guy."

On his way back to his room, Steve slams his fist into one of the framed, vintage French movie posters that decorate the old ship.

Around the same time on the pool deck, a bumptious Ultimate Partier who calls himself Mr. Tallahassee takes off all his clothes and assaults a fake plant. Filipinos seem to materialize out of salty air to sweep away the fallen, polyester leaves.

A relaxing day in the Bahamas helped Ultimate Partiers nurse hangovers, as did "waking and baking." (For the narcotically uninformed, that means rolling out of bed with a joint.). Then they dispersed to various beaches and activities in the Bahamas.

Now, in the late afternoon, the partiers have reboarded the ship, which is sandwiched at the Nassau port between the Royal Caribbean's Sovereign of the Seas and Carnival Cruise Lines' Princess — behemoths that make the Regal Empress look like a tinker toy.

Over the intercom, the party cruisers are summoned to the sports deck at the very top of the ship, over which the sun is hot and oppressive. The DJs have set up their booth there. They've also gotten hold of a garden hose, and the usual crowd of oglers stands by, ready for a show.

Michele Ross, the middle-aged, red-headed ex-stripper, and her boyfriend — both defectors from the regular cruise now proudly displaying orange bracelets — have wandered up. Maxim model Ericka Underwood and Playboy model Nichole Jackson have reportedly shown their faces, though they stayed in the background; neither was about to enter this wet T-shirt contest. With the help of Ross' boyfriend, Kevin, the models convince the 41-year-old that she's still got it.

After all, she's got twice-enhanced double-D's that deserve some attention.

She opted for implants 14 years ago because she was totally flat but had nipples the size of sand dollars. "I didn't even fit in a training bra," she says. "It's like God started and forgot. OK, hello? He went on to something else and just left me there."

She went for round two because after a while, the first implants just didn't seem big enough. That's an epidemic of sorts, she says. Every implanted girl Ross knows went back for more.

Today, it looks like she's going to have only one competitor — a smaller-breasted and mousy teenager — when a DJ offers a free cruise to anybody who enters. Also, free bartending school. This lures Nyssa.

The late entrant in fishtail braids scampers to the middle of the crowd. The DJ hands her a T-shirt. The three contestants rip off the sleeves and bottoms of the shirts and tie them in knots above their bellybuttons. They chug champagne and climb the wooden platform, where all can behold the already see-through shirts.

"Girl, you look good — won't you back that ass up?" blares out over the deck as a DJ's helper slowly approaches the platform, wielding the giant hose.

As it explodes onto Ross' chest, she embraces the cool water. She seems to love how it suctions to her chest both the T-shirt and the ravenous eyes of the crowd. She shakes her breasts and roars like a lion. She presses them up against her competition's smaller set as if to prove she is superior.

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