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When a friend called Heather Friday morning, she answered the phone groggy. The night before, she had been partying at Hard Rock or Mansion or somewhere.
"Pack your shit," said the voice on the line. "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. 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. A queen of nightlife, Heather says she hasn't spent a night at home 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 Patrón, Bahama mamas, redheaded 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 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 Michelle, 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 last month aboard the Regal Empress, 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 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 in a dream of Freddy Volinsky's. The Allstate Insurance salesman 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.
Volinsky studies public relations at Florida Atlantic University and works part-time for Climax Events, a Fort Lauderdale-based nightlife promotions company. "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." Sure, some people might get grossed out by him, she concedes, but she has known him too long for that. And she appreciates his honesty.
"You have to remember he has a penis, so there're 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."
Five months ago Volinsky woke up smiling. He had dreamed he and his friends took a cruise to international waters, where 18-years-olds could legally drink. Then he worked with his partner at Climax Events, Cary Rodman, to make it happen. Climax launched a word-of-mouth campaign and posted advertisements on Facebook and MySpace.
"What happens on board, stays on board," explained the promotional materials — which meant, if New Times wanted to do a story, we'd have to agree to not use last names.
Imperial Majesty, a small cruise line with only one ship, agreed to host the affair. Although Imperial has done music- and party-theme cruises, this would be a little different.
The "experiment," as a salesperson called it, would combine about 100 party cruise passengers with 900 of the more conventional type. Cruise director Jim Ward says the Ultimate Party fits 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.
The cruise took off from Port Everglades August 10. Over the next two days there would be girl-on-girl make-out sessions, body shots, and beer pong. But that didn't mean anybody was going to get laid. Michelle, a middle-age, redheaded ex-stripper who won a wet-T-shirt contest, had guys all around her. However, she wasn't about to do any coochie grinding, lap dances, or blowjobs in the back. "I don't do that stuff," she says. "I know how to perform on and off stage, but nobody better ever touch me or I'll break their freakin' arm off, okay?"
By the second night of the cruise, nineteen-year-old Heather is in no condition to break anybody's anything.
Around 11:30 p.m., Volinsky is standing guard in front of the ship's Grand Lounge in a Hugh Hefner-esque black bathrobe, admitting women only if they have complied with his dress code.
It's a promising idea, but one that not too many of the girls seem comfortable with. To enter, though, they have to oblige. The guys are clad in pajama pants or boxers and T-shirts, some with adorable slogans like "Don't worry, I pull out."
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 more drunk on the same amount of alcohol, without the vomiting, she says.
Heather's anything-goes attitude and tiny, hipless frame have guys reaching for their wallets throughout the cruise. She drives them wild. Maybe too wild. What she later refers to as "the bad thing" will soon 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 recalls a week later. "It was just really stupid."
The man, whose appearance she can't recall, brings Heather down some stairs and into a room with mirrors on the walls and a DJ booth. She looks around and thinks, Where the fuck am I?
"Come on, come on, nothing is going to happen," he says.
"I'm stupid and gullible," Heather says, looking back. "If you tell me gullible is on the ceiling, I will look up."
They sit down, and the guy shows her pictures on a laptop computer. They are very good. She writes down her MySpace name in the hopes he will post some there, and she begins to make an exit.
That's when he places a hand on her leg.
Heather says no and stands up.
"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. The girl who seemed so weightless, so free, now looks horrified. She's 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 a guy she was hanging out with — a bodybuilder — will start trouble.
Later she tells her friends, including Volinsky, what happened, but she can't identify or describe her attacker. He has 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.
Heather is angry with Volinsky. "He didn't do anything," she says.
Volinsky denies that. "We had security look into it," he says.
Glen Ryerson, Imperial Majesty's director of marketing, didn't know anything about the claim. "If we thought there was any type of incident, we are obligated to report it to the FBI," he says. "We don't take this stuff lightly ... it's a serious accusation."
In the end, Heather regrets going on the cruise. In addition to the assault, a guy she likes has seen unflattering pictures and refuses to speak to her. "It makes me not want to get fucked up ever again," she says.
Volinsky is 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," he says. "That's why we have security onboard. 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."
The next Ultimate Party Cruise is tentatively scheduled for December 16.