Navel Maneuvers

A fat guy who swam in Jell-O, a Grand Canyon of female cleavage, and enough Wesson oil for a fried-chicken cookoff. We watched it all so you wouldn't have to.

What the boat lacked in football players, though, it made up for in young, nimble women. Thirty-six inches of the dancers' collective 6824-inch bustline belonged to Sherry, a blonde from Georgia who stripped her way through college and is now a medical assistant for a group of gynecologists in Atlanta. Sherry, who continues to dance one night a week at one of Peter's clubs, said that when she was offered a chance to join the cruise, it sounded like fun. Like all the women who came from out of town, Sherry had to pay for her own airline ticket and hotel room. As the boat left Port Everglades, she seemed a bit anxious. The night before, she recounted, she had visited Solid Gold -- Peter's strip club in North Miami -- and was startled by what she saw. "They do that thing there, you know, those friction dances," she confided in a hushed Georgia accent. Recoiling back in her chair, she shook her head. "I'm not doing those." At this the rest of the Atlanta contingent shook their heads in agreement.

Because a majority of the women on the cruise were more than willing to friction-dance -- a ritual in which an undressed woman sits on a man's lap, wriggling, gyrating, and bouncing for the duration of one song -- Sherry and her fellow Georgians were worried that they wouldn't earn much money. None of the women onboard had been given any guarantees as to how much they'd make; all their income was to come from tips.

This led to a blatant philosophical/financial clash between the strippers and their male patrons. Many of the men, who had paid large sums of money to board the cruise, strode up the gangplank with certain expectations. Namely, they believed their tickets entitled them to more than mere admission onto the ship.

It didn't.
Though the numerous advertisements for the cruise made it seem as if erotic encounters would be bestowed willy-nilly once the ship left port, the truth was that everything cost extra. No free Jell-O encounters for those who'd ponied up for general admission. No additional nude coed swims for "silver level" ticket holders, and no nude massages for the big-money "platinum" patrons. (Ticket prices were set at $750, $1500, and $2000, but eventually dropped to between $350 and $1150.)

Beyond admission to the ship and a complimentary buffet, a ticket didn't entitle anyone to anything. In fact, it was not at all clear what special treatment was afforded the platinum-level ticket holder, aside from access to a piano bar and a sit-down dinner instead of the more plebian buffet. The cost of a friction dance was $20, as was the minimum tip for a one-on-one strip session. When the oil wrestling began, several men paid $50 to $150 for the privilege of squirting oil on a female wrestler. Those who wished to engage in actual wrestling matches with the dancers had to come up with $200. Everyone -- even the men who spent $2000 on a platinum pass -- were made to pay for drinks (can of coke, $4; can of beer, $5.50; mixed drink, $7.50).

And some promised events never seemed to materialize at all. Far from overflowing with bathing beauties and paying customers, the pool remained empty throughout the cruise A and bone dry. Two men sporting platinum-level tickets were seen wandering around the ship, inquiring of SeaEscape crew members where they should go for their nude massages. When asked, the woman at the information desk merely shrugged, "I have no idea."

The majority of the men who took the cruise were white, in their thirties or forties, and, as a random survey revealed, mostly well-paid professionals: attorneys, stockbrokers, accountants, physicians. A number of undercover cops were more than likely onboard as well, which prompted stern warnings from Peter's staff to all the dancers: no drugs, no prostitution.

"I don't understand any of this," opined Seth, a security-alarm specialist in his mid-thirties. "You really didn't get anything for your $2000. You got to see a lot of tits and ass, but that was about it. I knew I wasn't going to get laid, although I bet some of the guys thought they were. But I did think there was going to be more than just what was here." The only saving grace, said Seth, was that his ticket was a gift. (It appeared that a large number of guests had been given complimentary passes as a way of promoting the cruise and guaranteeing a packed house for the film crews that were shooting a promotional video to advertise future cruises. Organizers would not reveal exactly how many free tickets were given away.)

Free tickets or not, Seth was amazed at the amount of money people spent aboard ship. "I saw one guy give a girl $100 every time she danced for him," he imparted incredulously. "People just have money to throw away. I don't understand why someone would waste so much money here when for $200 you could get an escort service to send a prostitute to your house and you would actually get laid."

But the cruise was less about sex than it was about excess, the illusion of being part of something forbidden and exclusive, which is precisely what Michael J. Peter sells. "We had 50 movie and rock and roll stars onboard!" the promoter exclaimed during a frantic interview. "Howard Stern's people were here! We had Stuttering Dave," he added, misstating the name of occasional Stern cast member Stuttering John -- who wasn't onboard, either.

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