Carnival just offered me a look at thirty photos of their largest cruise ship ever, so I looked. In a few words, they were horrifyingly unappealing. The thought of spending a week with six thousand others in a floating hotel complete with an oversized McDonald’s play land is frightening. I don’t think that’s going to bother them. I’m not in their target market anyway.
It does bring up some interesting questions about what these ships are all about. I think it has to do with creating a temporary make believe community intended to fulfill fantasies about what fun, friendship, and community are supposed to be? Remember the television show Fantasy Island? These are fantasy islands that float and move, except with Carnival you can’t be sure about the moving part.
There is a moderately serious side to this. I wrote an article a few months ago about functional and dysfunctional families, and regular readers, both of them, may recall that the most common complaint I heard during pastoral counseling sessions was how dysfunctional one’s family was. It made me wonder what a functional family might be, and whether anyone actually lived in one. Too often, I suggested, we have been misled by popular shows of decades past to believe that others live in perfectly functioning families such as the Cleavers and Cunninghams while our families are complicated messes, and, therefore, we have been shortchanged.
We have these myths about the perfect lives that others, but not us, enjoy. Giant cruise ships promise seven days of fantasy fulfillment. Friendship, community, romance, it can all be yours, and, as a bonus, you get to eat and drink whatever you want, all you want, anytime you want. Who could ask for more than that? If it doesn’t remind you of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, it should because we are encouraged to leave our pesky Jiminy Cricket consciences at home. It can, I suppose, provide a few moments of believing, and maybe that’s not bad. These giant ships have an advantage over land based resorts that try to do the same thing. They encapsulate their customers in giant ocean going containers from which there is no means of escape until home port is reached again. Escape might not be the right word, but you are there for the duration just the same. That has its advantages. For seven days you can escape from emails, phone calls, meetings, relatives, traffic jams, and unpleasant world news. What’s more, it’s a marketing dream come true. Who could ask for anything better than six thousand customers captured for seven days of nonstop selling, especially if so much of it appears to be free. The customers love it. The marketers love it. Wow!
The ‘they’ behind these ships know very well that the illusion they have created on board and in their advertising entices the delusion that one’s hopeful expectations about a seven day adventure at sea will actually turn out as advertised. I doubt that it ever does, but it won’t be for lack of marketing prestidigitation to make it appear that it could and it has.
Having said all that, we have enjoyed more than a few cruises ourselves, but on smaller ships catering to a somewhat older crowd with fantasies of being wealthy, elegant and sophisticated, perhaps a little like Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.