It has now been almost two years since the death of the Love Boat, which despite its towering influence on popular culture and maritime kitsch, was allowed to die quietly in a Turkish scrapyard. The onetime flagship of Princess Cruises, whose regular appearance on the highly rated ABC series of the same name had helped spark worldwide interest in Oceania, spent its last years bouncing around various second-rate cruise lines before a stormy final journey to the Aegean coast, where it might have sunk if not for several tugboats. Not since Elvis fell dead with his pants around his ankles has an icon suffered such an ignominious demise.
Still, I find it difficult to mourn the Love Boat's passing. Even all these years later, I remain angry over the sitcom's romanticized depiction of cruising, which captured the imagination of millions of American families in the ’70s and ’80s, my own included. So it was that three generations of Vogels, our expectations unreasonably raised, sailed from Puerto Rico on Costa Cruise Lines' Carla C in June of 1978.
Streamers, confetti, the waving crowd on the dock. It would remain for Ken Burns, decades later, to capture the varied emotions travelers feel as their massive vessel leaves for worlds unknown. The faces of my sisters and me, for instance, were left tear-stained by the news that the ship had run out of streamers, even as Grandma was furious that the crowd in San Juan consisted only of a few trinket salesmen.
An impromptu conga line temporarily erased all despair, as did the Italian ship's theme song, a "Funiculi, Funicula" knock-off whose sole lyric—C C C, CC Carla C, C C C, la la la la la la—made Love, exciting and new sound positively Shakespearean. But our disappointment returned as the ship sailed into a storm and we made our way to our rooms, down, down, then down still further, until someone had made the inevitable searchlight-helmet joke and Grandma looked like Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure.
Back upstairs in the dining room, the children stared disapprovingly at their tiramisu while the adults debated whether the behavior of Carlo and Maurizio, our dashing, attentive waiters, was "vulgar" or "just Italian." And while Maurizio's flirtations merely led me to question my sexuality, Carlo's overtures toward Mom provoked an argument in my parents' stateroom that echoed through the bowels of the ship.
Booking a lower deck stateroom in the days before ship stabilizers was akin to open mockery of the vomit gods, and soon our entire clan was lining up for B-12 shots at the infirmary. The next morning, most of us had recovered well enough to disembark when the Carla C dropped anchor in Curaçao, and the morning after that we woke up...in Curaçao again. Our confusion deepened when the public address system informed us that the entire crew had gone on strike.
My father, furious that Curaçao was cutting into our Grenada time, was elected passenger representative on the first ballot, organizing a sit-in in the ship's lounge under a massive sign that read "Costa is Costing Us." In the end, we would never see Grenada, nor Martinique, only Curaçao. Costa settled the strike just a day before cruise’s end, forcing the Carla C to sail back to San Juan immediately. On the plus side, the boat was greeted by throngs of international media. Grandma waved gratefully, mistaking them for welcoming crowds.