2000s Archive

Cruise Ship Confidential

Originally Published September 2003
Cooking up a storm with a celebrity chef in a floating condominium leads to tasty osso buco and perfect risotto—eventually.

It’s lifeboat drill. The elegant, silver-haired Frenchman wearing an impeccably pressed white button-down shirt looks warily at the extravagantly appointed emergency launches and, after having been apprised of the more than adequate stores, has only one question: “Is there red wine?”

The safety officers and passengers around him smile indulgently. They think he’s kidding. He repeats the question: “Is there red wine?”

Tomorrow, there will be blender drinks and citrons pressés and fluffy towels by the pool. Smiling attendants will cool us with chilled white washcloths and spray our overheated, sun-browned flesh with refrigerated mist. The New York Times—or the London Times—or the newspaper of our choice, with our names printed on each page, will be waiting in the mailbox when we wake, and if we like there will be tea and cakes, aromatherapy, a massage. We will glance at one another briefly, wordlessly, across the cigar room or the library or the whirlpool and know that we have made it, that we have put aside all cares—perhaps forever—that we have only to rest, to read, to play, to sleep, and that soon we shall be in another country, another time zone.

Tonight, though, some very rich people are pressed deep, deep, deep into their custom-made Italian sheets, squeezed down into their mattresses by the rise and fall of the rooms around them, then, as if momentarily weightless, lifted above their beds, and then pressed down again as the ship negotiates near gale strength winds and swells of up to 27 feet. Mashed and elevated, elevated and mashed, insistently yet ever so gently, in their beds, most passengers are surely sound asleep. For this ship does not protest. There are no groans or squeaks or creaking beams, even though the horizon lights up like a flashbulb as bolts of lightning hit the edge of the sea. She handles like a brand new Mercedes 600—large, yes, but solid, and smelling of new wood and new money.

I’m making osso buco. And wild mushroom black truffle risotto. I’m braced against the counter, chopping orange gremolata for garnish in my spacious and beautifully equipped kitchen as the floor pitches and rolls and threatens to deposit me face first in the pot of veal shanks simmering on my spanking new four-burner range. A load of laundry hums behind me. The dishwasher does its business beneath a long expanse of counter. And when I toss a few stems, orange scraps, and vegetable trimmings into a food disposal large enough to have handled Jimmy Hoffa, the device devours them easily. Tasteful but efficient railings keep my saucepots, plates, and glassware in place while I weave unsteadily, like a drunken Popeye, to the refrigerator, where a vichyssoise is cooling beside a constantly restocked supply of juices and foreign beer. In the sleek, comfortable, Danish Modern bedroom, my wife is watching a film. In the large, well-furnished living room, on an enormous flat-screen TV set among book-lined shelves, a CNN anchor drones on about places that seem, right now, very far away. A bottle of Champagne chills in a silver ice bucket on the suitable-for-six dining room table.

But I don’t think I’ll be drinking it tonight.

Welcome to The World, a remarkable vessel that is 644 feet long and carries 110 private homes as well as 88 staterooms for ordinary passengers. Not a cruise ship. Not a megayacht. The World—from a Norwegian company operating out of the Bahamas and cleverly called ResidenSea—is “a floating resort community of like-minded persons who will settle for nothing but the very best,” a self-sufficient neighborhood of luxury homes that continuously circumnavigates the globe.

In short, this is a big, swank, ridiculously well appointed boat where rich people actually buy their own condominiums, jetting in when they see fit as the ship wanders from continent to continent. And if they like, owners may rent their unoccupied units to people like me.

We’ll be trapped like rats,” protested Nancy, my wife, when I told her where we were going, that we just had to try this. She was watching jury instruction in The Case of the Homicidal Rabbi on Court TV, the two of us eating cold fried rice out of a white carton on the bed in our New York apartment, an unfolded newspaper serving as a tablecloth.

“The rich are more boring than you and me,” she said dismissively. “You want to be penned up in a floating prison with a bunch of mummies in cruisewear? Are you insane? I am not playing shuffleboard.”

“This ain’t the Love Boat, sweetheart,” I insisted. “And it’s free. The magazine is paying. You always say I never cook. Now’s your chance. C’mon! Let’s live large.”

The idea, I explained, was for me, loudmouthed professional utility chef and obnoxious memoir author, to take his wife aboard this magnificent sea beast—the only ship afloat that provides full-fledged kitchens for passengers. We’d board at Curaçao and spend five nights between there and Costa Rica, fending for ourselves; buying food at Fredy’s Deli (the onboard market and provisioner) and whipping up meals every day. I’d report on the experience in the kind of sober, dispassionate, objective style for which I’m known.

Residents of The World, I hastened to point out, do not sleep in anything remotely resembling a cabin. Apartments (and we’d be staying in one) range in size from 1,106 to an astonishing 4,184 square feet. In addition to kitchens, each comes with two to three bedrooms, living and dining areas, and a veranda with whirlpool bath. Four restaurants, the aforementioned gourmet market, shops, numerous bars, a nightclub, a casino, a library, a business center, a theater, a health spa, two swimming pools, and—believe it or not—a tennis court awaited our attention should we care to make use of them.

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