When Heather's friend calls her on Friday morning, she answers the phone groggy. The night before, she had been partying at Hard Rock or Mansion or somewhere.
"Pack your shit," the voice on the line says. "We're going on a two-day, two-night cruise to the Bahamas."
Of course for free.
Heather, a lithe, 19-year-old nightclub darling with Uma Thurman's Pulp Fiction hairdo; clear, barely visible braces; and girlish hips, gets everything for free.
For Heather, free is a lifestyle choice.
"I don't pay for drugs, I don't pay for alcohol, I don't pay for the cruise," she'll tell anybody who asks. Well, why would she? She's got plenty of friends in the nightlife biz to hook her up with drinks and VIP bracelets and anything else she could possibly want. Her friend Freddy Volinsky, a promoter who organized the cruise, wouldn't think of charging a hot girl admission. When you're young and gorgeous and fun, free is a given.
But Heather — whose name is not really Heather — is more than that. She's nonchalant. She's effortless. She's cool personified and seems to only partially inhabit planet Earth. Heather is the ultimate hangout queen — she says she hasn't spent a night at home in Plantation in four years.
With the fey demeanor of a habitual pot smoker and the beatific solipsism of a girl who gets everything she wants, Heather is an object of wonder and envy. She mostly hangs with boys, because girls don't like Heather and Heather doesn't like girls.
Well, at least until she's downed piña coladas, liquid cocaine, shots of Patron, Bahama mamas, red-headed sluts, and multiple Xanaxes. At that point, she loves just about everybody. Flash-forward 36 hours from her friend's wake-up call and we find Heather in exactly this condition. She's aboard Imperial Majesty Cruise Line's Regal Empress with 100 other Ultimate Partiers. She's in a skimpy, flowered, string bikini, supine on a table, covered in whipped cream. She's groping the enhanced breasts of a bikinied 41-year-old ex-stripper.
All around them, guys are hooting and pumping their fists and — click, click, click — taking pictures.
The reality of the riotous goings-on aboard the Regal Empress on the August 10-12 voyage, though, is this: Guys can stare and snap all they want, but in the end, that's all they'll get. Heather is less interested in sex than she is in attention, free alcohol, and prizes. It's pretty much the attitude among all the females aboard the Ultimate Party Cruise — a first-of-its-kind, girls-gone-wild-at-sea extravaganza that could originate only in hedonistic South Florida. The pitch for the cruise is all about sex — and the payoff, it turns out, is anything but.
For Heather, this mismatch of intentions will almost culminate in disaster.
The Ultimate Party Cruise began as the dream of an Allstate Insurance salesman named Freddy Volinsky.
Volinsky lives in Weston and drives a black Hummer. Originally from Argentina, the 23-year-old bantam has wide-set, obtruding eyes; thinning, curly hair; and a simmering entrepreneurial spirit. "I believe if you want something, you go and you get it," he says.
In addition to his full-time job, Volinsky studies public relations at Florida Atlantic University and also works for Climax Event — a Fort Lauderdale-based nightlife promotions company. He's developed a reputation among friends as generous and loyal.
"He's a real sweetheart," Heather says. "He's just so nice. He loves to spoil girls. Whatever your little heart desires, he will give you." She talks about the time he took her out in Fort Lauderdale to an expensive restaurant and bought her a lobster dinner. Then there was the time Volinsky paid a bouncer $100 to get a fake-ID-less Heather into a bar. When it didn't work, she was upset — until Volinsky got her really drunk, she remembers. Sure, some people might get grossed out by him, she concedes, but she's known him too long for that. And she appreciates his honesty.
"You have to remember he has a penis, so there's two heads, " she says. "He'll flirt with you. He'll put it out there and make it known to anyone if he wants you. Just like he'll spoil you, he'll take his pants down."
Five months ago, Volinsky woke up smiling. He had dreamed that he and his friends went aboard a cruise ship. They traveled to international waters, where 18-year-olds could legally drink as much alcohol as they pleased.
Volinsky didn't want to forget this dream. In the dark, he reached for a notepad and penned "Cruise with friends." Over the next five months, he worked with his partner, Cary Rodman, at Climax Event to make it happen.
Climax launched a word-of-mouth campaign and posted advertisements on Facebook.com and MySpace.com for a cruise that would transport upward of 1,000 partiers. There would be a Playboy playmate and a Maxim model. There would be wet T-shirt contests, hot body contests, banana-eating contests.
What happens on board, stays on board, explained all promotional materials — which meant, if New Times wanted to do a story, we'd have to agree not to use last names.
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.
"We had a meeting before we came here on how to handle issues like that," he says. "If anyone thinks they're gonna get lucky, the others have to leave." To up his chances of getting lucky, Steve wears a seven charm on a black leather chain around his neck. Seven is his lucky number.
"Steve is definitely on a mission," says his friend Cynthia, a good-looking girl with sweeping black hair, another of Volinsky's nonpaying guests. She would never have paid for this, she emphasizes, within earshot of the three male friends who came along at her behest (for about $300 each). They're onboard to protect Cynthia from the inevitable mashers who will pack the Ultimate Party Cruise.
"Ghetto boys" she calls the would-be glommers her boys are supposed to protect her from — the sleazy and desperate losers who make women uncomfortable. They'll be in attendance at the wet T-shirt and hot-body events, circling around women with cameras in hand, condoms in pockets, and gelled hair spiked out in every direction, like so many shark fins.
There are apparently some simple rules for inciting Girls Gone Wild aboard a cruise ship.
Bombard participants with alcohol. Offer tempting prizes. Send out insinuating, half-joking instructions via the public-address system, like, "Hey, big tits, get your ass on the stage." Repeat, repeat, repeat. Nobody seems to mind.
With expectations high, party cruisers climb the stairs to the Mermaid Lounge, where a meet-and-greet is under way.
Although radio station Power 96 has not officially sponsored the cruise and none of the festivities will be broadcast, the radio station's assistant promotions director, Jorge Diaz, and an aspiring on-air personality and spinner, 19-year-old Jonathan Stern, have come on board and split the time as DJ and host. Both rally the crowd for the initial dance contest, but recruiting is tough.
"I need three ladies. I'm looking for three ladies," Diaz intones. Nobody wants to be first. All eyes focus on the empty stage. It could be a disaster, but the DJs know better. They emphasize the free cruise. They tell the fellas to get their cameras ready and that they will be the judges of this contest. Diaz smoothly instructs "big titties" to get her "fuckin' ass on the stage."
Whether it's because of the prize being offered or the bludgeoningly misogynistic rap from the DJs, two girls wander to the front, one in jean shorts, the other in a swirling-blue bikini, both smiling sheepishly. The DJs proceed without a third contestant. After all, they need to get this party started, riiiight?
"Take it off," Diaz chants, as "Hoochie Mama" blares over the speakers. "Show us your fuckin' tits." The girls dance at about 60 percent, rocking their shoulders and staring at a fixed point just above their audience. Digital cameras flash. Nobody is even close to taking it off. For the attention deficient, songs are cut and layered on top of one another so that, in what feels like just 30 seconds, the crowd is treated to "Face down ass up!" "Me so horny!," and "Head, head, and more head!" As quickly as it started, it's over. One contestant books it off the stage, supposedly just informed that her mother is on the cruise. Eyes rolling from the DJs. Uh-huh.
More drinks, and the next crazy contest, a girl-on-girl make-out, scores a lot higher on the enthusiasm scale. A free cruise is available for anyone who participates, Stern announces.
A small brunet approaches the stage, asking for more information about the prize. How long is the cruise? Will it be just like the one she's on now? The DJs avoid the questions, merely insisting the prize is a cruise. Apparently satisfied, the brunet makes out with her friend for an agonizing 22 seconds. They don't grope each other. There's no evidence that anyone is having fun up there. The exhibition is just a means to an end, and the crowd isn't buying it.
"Can anyone top 22 seconds?" Stern wonders aloud, and suddenly the rules have changed. This is now a competition. The promise of a cruise for any contestant seems to have gone out the window.
Then two enthusiastic young women burst onto the stage in a blur of skin and long blond hair. One, who calls herself Paris, is squeezed into a short white dress; the other is in a pink bikini. They begin to attack each other's mouths, eliciting fist pumps and shouting from the crowd: "Take it off!" "Get it on!" "Eat her pussy!"
When their mouths separate for a few seconds, Diaz instructs that the clock will start over. Then Paris pushes the other girl to the wood floor and climbs on top. She's straddling her friend. Paris grinds her hips above Pink Bikini, then pulls her up to lotus position. Their tongues avoid each other like two positively charged magnets, but getting horizontal has done the trick. The crowd explodes. Paris and Pink Bikini win the cruise.
"Did you get wet? That's what we want to know!" Diaz asks as they exit the stage.
The sexual energy doesn't end with the contests. At dinner, it crackles through the Caribbean restaurant, where 100 partiers are eating alongside grandparents and young children.
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.
"Titty fight!" DJ Diaz encourages. Then he instructs the contestants, "Show us your monkey!"
Nyssa has become self-conscious and is barely dancing. She does not smile. In fact, her face is completely blank until Ross saunters behind her and rips her T-shirt down, exposing her nipples. Nyssa's eyes pop out, and she grabs at her shirt, desperate to conceal her chest. She is abruptly booed offstage. Contestant two has some mediocre moves, but really there is no contest here. Ross handily outboobies two girls half her age. For the remainder of the cruise, enchanted Ultimate Partiers follow her everywhere.
To celebrate her win, Ross and boyfriend Kevin head over to the body-shots demonstration.
Heather has been taking body shots with a bodybuilder she met on the first night of the cruise when Ross and Kevin approach. Heather gets up, and Ross lies down. But Heather decides she isn't finished. The two women, covered in whipped cream, begin taking body shots and licking the whipped cream off each other.
"She was really young and really cute, and we went to second base, and it was really cool," Ross says afterward. But Heather's blond friend, who is supposed to watch out for her, apparently doesn't like the direction things are headed. She scowls in Ross' direction.
"Don't worry about me," Ross tells her.
"I'm not worried about some 50-year-old bitch," the blond counters.
"First of all, I'm not 50," Ross says calmly. Then she snaps Heather's bikini. Before Ross can see what's coming, the blond girl punches her just above her right eye.
"She was jealous because we were getting the crowd going," Ross says afterward, sporting a bruise. "It was her turn next, and she didn't know what she was going to do to top that."
Kevin isn't amused. He yanks Ross' arm, then storms off. When the two finally reunite a few hours later, Kevin pretends nothing happened, but the miffed Ross decides to ditch him. That's when Robert, a young party cruiser originally from Nicaragua, begins following her everywhere.
"He has been so sweet," she says of the 20-year-old. "Like, he's totally up my butt. And he's not the only one. The guy hosting the Climax show — Freddy. He's up my ass too. Freddy is like, 'You don't understand. You have the hottest body. You are smoking.' I was like, 'I have a child your age,' and he was like, 'I don't care. You need to know. Oh my God, you are so hot.' "
The desperate boys following Ross around — they're amusing to her. And they don't have a snowball's chance. Like the rest of the women on the party cruise, Ross has a look-but-don't-touch policy. It's something she picked up as a stripper. She worked in 42 clubs in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Washington D.C., she says. When the champagne room became the rage, Ross became a house painter.
"These guys want lap dancing, they want coochie grinding, they want blowjobs in the back. Oh my God. I don't do that stuff," she says. "I like to perform. I'm a very sexy dancer. I know how to perform on stage and off stage, but nobody better ever touch me or I'll break their freakin' arm off, OK?"
On the final night of the cruise, Volinsky stands guard in front of the Grand Lounge in a Hugh Hefner-esque black bathrobe, admitting women only if they have complied with his dress code.
A promising idea but one that not too many of the girls seem comfortable with. To get in to the party, though, they oblige. After all, this party is serious.
The guys are clad in pajama pants or boxers and T-shirts, some with adorable slogans like "Don't worry, I pull out."
At the start of the evening, a middle-school dance aura predominates. Guys stand silently near the dance floor. Girls go to great lengths to isolate themselves. "I can't believe I'm wearing this," says a tall blond in a yellow lacy bra, thong, and fishnets. She's folded into a corner, unsuccessfully trying to hide behind skinny friends. Another voluptuous, thong-clad partier refuses to stand up from her barstool. But drinks are flowing, and more people in lingerie arrive. Barely clothed girls wander into the open. Arms are grabbed and bodies dragged to the dance floor, which turns into a pelvis-grinding station.
Heather floats in wearing Hot Topic black and hot-pink boy shorts and a hot-pink, sequin-covered Victoria's Secret bra. She's fucked up, having polished off a seventh bar of Xanax and enough liquor to intoxicate a small army, she tells New Times. Xanax — a tranquilizer and prescription drug for anxiety — allows Heather to feel exponentially drunker on the same amount of alcohol, without the vomiting, she explains.
Heather is the dark princess of the cruise. In her own words, a spoiled little bitch. Her anything-goes attitude and tiny, hipless frame have guys reaching for their wallets as often as she says "Hello." She's driving them wild. Maybe too wild. What she later refers to as "the bad thing" is about to happen.
A guy who had been taking photos the night before approaches Heather on the dance floor. He tells her she is beautiful and says he has pictures of her that she should see. Then he leads her out of the party.
"I was already in lingerie," she says, recalling the incident a week later. "It was just really stupid."
The man, whose appearance she can't recall, brings Heather down the stairs and into a room with mirrors on the walls and a DJ booth, she says. She looks around and thinks, "Where the fuck am I?"
He says, "Come on, come on — nothing is going to happen."
"I'm stupid and gullible," Heather says, looking back. "If you tell me gullible is on the ceiling, I will look up."
She remembers there being a laptop computer on which the guy begins to show her pictures. They are very good. She writes down her MySpace name in hopes that he will post some there and begins to make an exit.
That's when he places a hand on her leg, she says.
Heather says "no" and gets up out of her chair. "I didn't like what he was doing," she says. She tries to get to the stairs.
"He pushed himself against me," she says. "He had one of my arms against the wall. His arm was against my arm. He wouldn't let me go."
From there, it gets worse.
"He tried pulling my pants down," Heather says, her voice shaking. "He pulled his pants down. I flipped out. Eventually, I slid my way out of it."
When she arrives back at the lingerie party, friends notice something is wrong, she says. The girl who seemed so weightless, so free, now looks horrified. And she is missing jewelry. In the scuffle, stretchy pink Claire's bracelets broke off Heather's wrist. Her friends ask what happened, but Heather is reluctant to talk about it. She's afraid that the guy she was hanging out with — the bodybuilder — will start trouble. They had shared a bed the night before, and he hadn't even tried anything, she says. He knew what it meant to be a gentleman. That didn't mean he wouldn't throw a scumbag off a ship.
"One, he's Italian. Two, he's a Capricorn. Three, he's from New Jersey," Heather says. "I didn't want to see someone die in the middle of the ocean, which is exactly what would have happened."
She did wind up telling her friends, including Volinsky, what happened to her, but she couldn't identify or describe her attacker. He had disappeared.
"We looked into it, and her story didn't make sense," Volinsky says. "She was very drunk. I'm not saying I don't believe her, but most of the night, she was there at the nightclub."
Heather was also walking around half-naked, flirting with everyone on the cruise, he adds. "There's just no way to know what happened," he says.
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In the end, Heather regrets going on the cruise, she says. In addition to the assault, a guy she likes has seen unflattering pictures of her and now refuses to speak to her. "It makes me not want to get fucked up ever again," she says.
As for Volinsky, he's looking forward to making the next party cruise bigger and wilder. Should the alleged assault give pause to other females thinking of coming on board next time?
"Honestly, I'm not concerned," says Volinsky, whose cache of 300 condoms apparently went untouched despite the debauchery of the cruise. "That's why we have security on board. Anything can happen anywhere. As the cruise gets bigger, we will have more security. It will be there. We are there to have safe fun."