The Bud Light Port Paradise cruise is an interesting entity as prizes go, in that what you win is not a free trip but, rather, the opportunity to buy your way onto the trip for $380. Before you start getting up in arms, however, you should first look at the scenario that you get for your money.
- You – and a guest, should you choose to bring one – are transported from your home turf down to Florida to catch a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
- You spend four days and three nights cruising to the Bahamas and back, first stopping in Nassau, then at Coco Cay, a private island owned by Royal Caribbean.
- While on the ship, you get all the amenities of a normal cruise, including various shows and performances, a casino, activities ranging from bingo to rock climbing to miniature golf, and, of course, all the food you can stand.
- During the course of the cruise, several events will take place which offer free Bud Light. At all other times, however, the cost of Budweiser products is still slashed significantly from the usual rate.
- While on Coco Cay, you're treated to a concert by some major-league musical artists, though the identity of the artists will remain a mystery until the cruise actually kicks off.
Suffice it to say that by the time you're transported back home (which, yes, is included in the package as well), you won't have any trouble excitedly promoting the fact that the Bud Light Port Paradise cruise only cost $380.
In my case, however, it didn't even cost that much.
I received an E-mail from the publicity department of Anheuser-Busch, inviting me to attend on their dime so that I might spread the word about the experience to the readers of Bullz-Eye. I only hesitated long enough to ask if I could bring my wife along with me. You see, I don't know that I'm the best husband in the world, but I do know this: given that she's wanted to go on a cruise since before we even met, the odds of getting the go-ahead to take the trip solo were virtually nil. Fortunately, the good humored response I received from the publicist was, “I assume booking you in the same room won't be an issue?”
It was not.
Now, before detailing the overall experience of the trip, I must first offer a statement which, though it may make you smirk at its obviousness, nonetheless needs to be established: when you drink, you should drink responsibly…and, yes, that even includes the times when you're presented with all the Bud Light you can drink.
It will come as no surprise to you that this premise was not adhered to by all attendees of this excursion, but for these purposes, let us simply say that some chose to have as much fun as they possibly could. Indeed, if one were searching for a descriptor of the mindset of those particular individuals, the phrase “funned up” would not be wholly inappropriate. That was their right, of course, but I'm pretty confident that, given all of the leisure opportunities available during the four days and three nights of the cruise, it was the responsible folks who ended up having more fun.
Jenn and I flew from Norfolk down to Fort Lauderdale, with a layover in Charlotte, but both flights were smooth and delay-free and the layover was short. Not a bad way to begin. Better still, however, was the fact that our bus from the airport to our cruise ship – Liberty of the Seas – was filled not only with fellow cruisers but also with Bud Light. After borrowing an opener from a neighbor, we popped our tops and toasted our impending trip.
Soon enough, the beers were empty and we were at the ship. With our passports and tickets checked and our suitcase set to be delivered directly to our room, we strolled aboard to explore our new surroundings. Within moments of stepping onto the ship, we were offered…you guessed it…a Bud Light. Or Bud Light Lime. Or Budweiser. If memory serves, Michelob Ultra was an option as well. Of course, we each took a bottle, as it would have felt rude to do otherwise.
From there, we were off to get our itinerary for the next few days. We'd travel from Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau overnight, spend Friday there, then head to Coco Cay, where we'd spend our Saturday. Although I'd already learned of the acts who'd be performing for us on the island, the information had at last been released to our fellow passengers: the Silversun Pickups would lead off the concert, followed by The Dan Band, with Nelly playing the role of headliner. In addition, several noted surfers and volleyball players would be in attendance, along with former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans. Not bad. With all of the details about the trip in our possession, we headed to our cabin.
Neither Jenn nor I had ever been on a cruise before, so we didn't really know what to expect of our cabin, but it was pretty nice, earning bonus points for having a balcony. Sitting on our bed were the first of our Bud Light swag deliveries: each of us had been left a drawstring bag containing sunscreen, lip balm, and a small container of mints, along with lanyards on which to carry our beers. Better yet, each had a bottle opener attached, so no more mooching off of our neighbors.
We barely had time to soak in our surroundings before we had to make a mad dash downstairs and onto the deck to attend a mandatory safety drill. We listened intently to the safety information that was provided to us and then we headed back inside to try some of the pizza at a restaurant called Sorrento's. It didn't take us long to move past the concept of “wait, you mean we can pick anything on the menu and it's free?” and enjoy a slice of pepperoni and a bit of tiramisu. I'm slightly embarrassed, however, to admit that our next stop was our room, where we proceeded to lie down and take a nap for the better part of two hours. Really, though, it was a must-do. We'd traveled all day, stood in several lines, and had a few beers. With our stomachs now filled with pizza, we wanted a nap, and since it was ostensibly a vacation for us, we damned well took one…and it was awesome.
We awoke feeling highly refreshed and headed down to one of the dining rooms of the ship, where we supped with a pair of couples from the Midwest who'd come on the cruise together. The food was delicious, the company pleasant. From there, we popped up to the pool deck for the Bud Light White Out Party – both of us wore white t-shirts – and enjoyed another beer as we absorbed the ambiance around the pool. The music was loud, the people were boisterous, and Jenn and I managed to be highly entertained and feel really old at the same time. In fact, this was the first time I began to wonder if maybe I was too old to truly appreciate the Port Paradise experience as much as I should, and it wasn't the last. I quickly realized, however, that there were lots of different experiences to be enjoyed…and one of them was the opportunity to enjoy a few drinks, a good meal, and absolutely no writing whatsoever. In the end, I may have gone to bed before midnight, but when I slept, damn, I slept well.
Welcome to Nassau! We get up, grab breakfast, and then it's off the ship and into the city. It's a bit of a hike from the ship to the downtown shopping area, but it's worth it. Sure, we have to endure the countless locals who want to offer us transportation and tour packages. And after that, we can barely enjoy the experience of shopping in the stores for all of the salespeople trying to flog their wares. But one thing makes it all worthwhile: the fact that I'm able to walk into a shop, buy a bottle of beer, and then drink it as I'm walking down the streets of Nassau. It's kind of awesome.
We manage to accomplish a little bit of shopping between being accosted, then we grab lunch. I try to make it as much of a real Bahamas meal as possible, ordering conch chowder and conch fritters. The chowder is spectacular. The fritters…? Not so much. But the chowder is so good that I still consider it a worthwhile meal. On our way back to the boat, we stop long enough for me to buy a bottle of raspberry rum, which is too cheap (less than 10 bucks) and sounds too delicious to leave behind. When we get back to our cabin, we find more Bud Light swag: matching blue shirts trumpeting the cruise, along with the words “Ship Happens.” Awesome.
Tonight's big function is a '70s party. We've brought clothes to wear which show an interest in participating without going too far over the top: Jenn's top looks like it could've come from that decade, and I'm wearing a shirt proudly emblazoned with the Lynyrd Skynyrd logo and the words “Freebird.” We can't even remotely compete with the leisure-suit-sporting disco dancers, of course, but at least we tried. One thing we notice, however, is how the '60s and '70s are apparently one big blur for those who haven't lived through either decade: there are an inordinate amount of hippies in the crowd, along with one poor bastard who's come dressed as Austin Powers. Many women have apparently decided that wearing an incredibly short skirt is supposed to signify the '70s. It really doesn't, but none of the guys were complaining, so chalk it up as a win, I guess.
We soon leave the party long enough to switch into our bathing suits, so that we can enjoy the hot tub. Better yet, it’s positioned so that we can see everyone entering the party and have a good laugh at their costumes. Afterward, though tired from all our walking earlier in the day, we muster the strength to grab a slice of pizza from Sorrento's, then we catch the 11 PM comedy show. It's sparsely attended – most folks are still at the '70s party – but it's nice to enjoy a few laughs before heading back to the cabin and collapsing.
Coco Cay Day has arrived! After a buffet breakfast, we head down to catch a tender boat over to the island. Once we're there, we head over to the VIP area, where we quickly lay claim to a pair of the few chaise lounges which face the stage where the Silversun Pickups, the Dan Band, and Nelly will be performing in a few hours. Later, we discover that our decision to stake our claim early was a wise one: there are three other chairs next to ours, and Jenn watches as several people try to sit down on them but are basically told that they are reserved for very, very important people.
Leaving our chairs covered by our personal belongings, we slip off to grab some lunch. More importantly, though, we take the opportunity to take off our shoes, stroll through the stand, and step into the beautiful blue ocean. The water is freezing, however, so we step out a few moments later, but at least we can say we've done it. It must be said that the number of breathtakingly beautiful bikini girls on the beach is staggering…and, as a happily married man, it's pretty damned frustrating, too. Still, the view ain't bad.
The concert proves to be as enjoyable as I'd hoped it would be. The Silversun Pickups put on a great show, with frontman Brian Aubert seeming rather bemused throughout. Later, I met the band, and I learned from Aubert that they'd actually passed on the gig at first because it wasn't really their scene, but they ultimately couldn't resist the lure of visiting a private island in the middle of the Bahamas. Or the not-insubstantial paycheck. But I'm sure the island was first in their thoughts. Aubert proves to be a really nice guy, and we have a pleasant chat about the band's experience playing at The NorVA, further bonding over our respective appreciation of Harry Nilsson.
From there, the Dan Band takes the stage, and it will not surprise you that a crowd holding aloft bottles of beer can readily find themselves charmed by the concept of an all-male band singing profanity-laden covers of female artists. If the performance is a bit rough, the band's enthusiasm and the crowd's deafening cheers certainly make up for it.
Finally, it's Nelly's turn, and although I will admit that I walked into the show only knowing the song that I presume is his biggest hit (“Hot in Herre”), he definitely kept the crowd in the palm of his hand the entire time. Many asses are shaking simultaneously. If you're wondering, yes, many ladies in the house did take him up on his suggestion that they take off all their clothes, and just in case they didn't get the hint during “Hot in Herre,” he follows with a brief number called “Pull Yo' Titties Out.” Some do. It's kind of awesome. Like walking down the streets of Nassau drinking a beer, but squared. Possibly cubed.
As Nelly begins the final songs of his performance, we decide to high-tail it back to the tender boats in order to beat the crowds. It's another wise decision on our part, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect: as our boat is departing, we see Nelly and his crew heading out on their own watercraft.
Back on the Liberty of the Seas, we have dinner. The theme of the evening's event revolves around attendees watching various NCAA games and sporting the attire of their college of choice. Great concept in theory, but in practice, it leads to one of our dining companions getting into a high-volume, obscenity-laced discussion with a gentleman at a neighboring table about their respective teams of choice. Thankfully, their tempers soon die down and conversations around our table resume a more reasonable volume. The woman sitting next to Jenn is in her late fifties, which makes her decidedly older than the average attendee on this particular cuirse, and yet she’s already wondering what she can do to win a spot to attend next year’s event. “I’m having the time of my life,” she says. She’s not the only one.
It's been a long day out in the sun, and we probably would've retreated to our cabin earlier if it hadn't been the last night of the cruise, but since it is, we try to make the most of the rest of the evening. We finally get around to playing miniature golf on the deck, but since it's cold and windy, we play our nine holes and quickly retreat to watch a couple of folks test their mettle on the Flowrider. Given that we were freezing while fully clothed, we can't even begin to imagine how chilly these guys – and one girl, now that I think about it – must be. Still, it's fun to watch them try to maintain their balance on this thing. From there, we go down to the casino and lose a few bucks (though we had fun while doing so), then we grab a last piece of pizza from Sorrento's. With our stomachs once again full, sleep beckons.
Not much to say about the last day of the trip, really. We get up at 7 AM, giving us time to grab a final buffet breakfast on the ship, then we retrieve our bottle of Nassau-purchased raspberry rum from the front desk (it was supposed to have been delivered to our room the previous evening but for some reason never was) and head off to pass through Customs. As we take our final walk through the ship, we see crew members removing the various Bud Light banners from the windows and walls. Although the Port Paradise cruise is a recurring event with Royal Caribbean, it still feels as though they could’ve waited until everyone was off the ship. As it is, it feels like they’re saying, “Bud who? Sorry, we're on to the next client.”
It’s a long, quiet, and conspicuously alcohol-free ride back to the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, but that’s actually fine with us, as it helps with the transition back to the real world. Unfortunately, we’re not quite back there yet: we find ourselves in a position at the airport where we’re stuck waiting for two hours before we can even check in for our flight home, then another two hours before we can board. By the time we finally make it home, it’s almost 8 PM and we are exhausted.
We do, however, manage to pick up one last fond memory of our trip while sitting in the Ft. Lauderdale airport.
A young man in his twenties sits next to my wife and I. He’s intently studying a copy of Mitch Albom’s Five People You Meet in Heaven, which would seem to be an unlikely choice of reading material for someone who’s just returned from Port Paradise, but he’s wearing some of the swag that was doled out during the cruise, so he’s definitely one of us. Jenn asks him what he thought of the weekend. He looks up at her, his eyes wide, and says, “It was epic.”
Oh, sure, he says more than that, praising the parties and the concert and other events during the course of our four days and three nights, but it’s the look on his face and the earnestness of his voice as he utters those three words that stay with us. To him, this wasn’t just a cruise. It was an event, something he’s going to remember for the rest of his life.He’s not the only one.