Report: Caribbean Poker Cruise
miracle of connecting flights occurs when your bags get off
the same plane you do. I was lucky. My big, dark green suitcase
with the wheels and drag-me-along handle that looks the same
as half the other suitcases you see in airports nowadays was
the fourth bag on the carousel when my connecting flight from
Houston touched down in New Orleans.
It's a $25 cab ride or a $10 trip on the shuttle from the
airport into either the French Quarter or the Garden District
where I would be staying that evening prior to boarding Carnival
Cruise lines "Celebration," for a week long poker cruise to
the Caribbean. The streets were still flooded from a drenching
rain that ended about 20 minutes before the flight touched
down and New Orleans was the kettle of steam it always is
after a summer rain. When the shuttle driver told me he would
drop the other passengers off at their hotels in the French
Quarter before depositing me in the Garden District, and then
mentioned just as an aside that the Quarter would be mobbed
because of the championship fight at the Superdome, I asked
if he would be kind enough to take the Carrolton Street exit
from the freeway and deposit me at the Camellia Grill instead.
He did, and I thankfully dragged one large suitcase, one small
backpack, and one larger backpack with my laptop computer,
and myself, into one of my favorite eating-places in the universe.
not much to look at; just a long, serpentine lunch counter
full of all kinds of folks, but it has the best red beans
and rice anywhere. The Camellia is off the beaten track. It's
uptown, far from the Vieux Carre, out beyond Tulane University
where the St. Charles streetcar turns up Carrolton Street.
Even so, a few tourists have discovered it, and the prices
make it popular with Tulane students, as well as night workers,
cops, hookers, cabbies, and anyone else in search of great
food that's incredibly inexpensive. The Camellia is also famous
for their colorful countermen, who will talk and chat, and
keep you smiling and good-humored all through your meal.
I finished I grabbed my bags and caught the streetcar for
a ride down tree-lined St. Charles Avenue into the Garden
District. I'd stayed at the Prytania Inn before, and though
I did not remember the cross street for exiting the streetcar,
I did remember to keep an eye out for the rather large La
Madeleine sign, an inexpensive French buffet restaurant. It's
impossible to miss, and I grabbed my bags, hopped off the
streetcar and had a short, one-block walk to Prytania Street,
which runs parallel to St. Charles, a block closer to the
next day, after a leisurely breakfast I grabbed a cab to the
Julia Street cruise ship terminal, deposited my bags with
the porters and went on board. My roommate for the trip was
1983 World Series of Poker winner Tom McEvoy who was already
on board and unpacked when I arrived.
good thing about taking a cruise to the Caribbean out of New
Orleans, instead of Fort Lauderdale where most of the Caribbean
cruises arrive and depart, is that you are in New Orleans.
The bad thing is that you are much further north, and the
first two days are spent at sea. We sailed Sunday night and
the first port of call was not until Wednesday morning, when
we'd hit Jamaica. Two days at sea would ordinarily drive me
mad. But this was a poker cruise, with 14 poker tables set
up in what was otherwise the ship's library and adjacent piano
bar, and the poker games would sustain me.
Games were available at all limits, from a beginner's game
at $1 and $2 stakes all the way up to $15-$30 and $20-$40.
I was tired by the time the ship left New Orleans, but I played
anyway. But I played until the games broke, and went to sleep
in the dark of a cabin comforted by the gentle rhythms of
a ship slipping from a river into the Gulf of Mexico.
rhythm of life at sea on a poker cruise is always the same
for me. Awaken, eat breakfast, play poker, eat lunch, play
poker, eat dinner, then play some more. The games were a lot
of fun, the crowd was nice and I knew many of them, and I
had a good time except for the fact that by the time I went
to sleep on Tuesday night I was stuck nearly $1,700, including
my buy ins for two of the tournaments.
I made the final table at one of them, the $230 buy-in Omaha/8
tourney, but did not finish in the money. My best chance was
unceremoniously yanked out from under my feet when I limped-in
under the gun (not wanting to jeopardize my relatively short
stack of chips by raising) with A-2-3-4. The ace was suited
too, all the better for my chances, but I took the flop with
four others only to stare at three big cards and my suit nowhere
in sight. No flush, no straight, no low hand to escape with
half the pot, and no more hope. I was eliminated shortly thereafter.
next day we arrived at Montego Bay, Jamaica. McEvoy and I
took a tour of the city then went to meet many of the other
cruisers who planned to rendezvous at Margaritaville, a party
bar of some renown located right on the water's edge. It was
loud, noisy, full of fun, and the food was OK too.
Jamaica, for all its natural beauty is not my favorite spot.
It's dirty, rife with privation, and full of very aggressive
Jamaicans willing to sell you anything from voodoo herbs to
ganja right on the street corner. While tourism seems to be
one of the staples of their economy, along with coffee, rum,
and dope dealing, most of the folks don't seem to care all
that much for the tourists who deposit much of the money in
their fragile economy. Jamaica is third world and shows it,
from the squalor to the unremitting traffic jams caused by
small cars in even smaller roads of which there are far too
few. I left Margaritaville a bit earlier than most of the
others, to get back to the ship, shower, and get my slides
together for a poker seminar I was scheduled to deliver right
as the ship left port.
The seminar exceeded my expectations. I had thought maybe
25 or 30 people would show up for the seminar, but the attendance
was approximately 100. I shoehorned two 45-minute seminar
presentations into about an hour, and was happy with the feedback
I received from those who attended.
If Jamaica is one end of the Caribbean's economic and social
spectrum, Grand Cayman Island, where we stopped the following
day, is the other. Georgetown, the main city in the Caymans
is the Beverly Hills of the Caribbean, with exclusive shop
after exclusive shop all staffed by incredibly polite, courteous
The Caymanese are as wealthy as the Jamaicans are poor. Not
only do they have a thriving offshore banking industry, with
bank privacy laws that rival those of Switzerland, they pay
no taxes, an act of historical good fortune that dates the
reign of King George, back in the 18th Century. When a flotilla
of British merchant ships foundered on the reefs surrounding
the island, King George sent a fleet to rescue them. But they
foundered too. The natives, however, were able to rescue all
the ships, all the cargo, and all of the sailors on board.
When the story was relayed to King George, he pronounced that
the Cayman Islanders would never again pay taxes to the Crown,
and that their budget would be borne by England in perpetuity.
Naturally, the Cayman Islanders named their main burg Georgetown
honor of their benefactor, and with the end of colonialism
in the mid 20th Century, the Caymanese turned down an offer
of independence from England. They were only too happy to
let the Brits continue to build their roads, construct an
airport, use their banks, and build resorts and condominiums
as vacation getaways for Londoners seeking refuge from their
own bleak, rainy winters. The terrific weather, the tax haven
status, the cheap flights from England, and the duty free
shops and boutiques all helped make the Caymans the upscale
Caribbean resort Island of choice.
But I wasn't there to buy a Breitling or a Rolex sans taxes
or duty; I was there to swim with the stingrays at Stingray
City, a sandbar out near the reef that is home to thousands
of these delta-winged animals. They are soft to the touch,
and if you don't step on them, you will have no troubles at
all. Stingrays do not see humans as their enemy, and one can
even embrace them, lifting them partially out of the water.
Stingrays do not bite. In fact, they have no teeth. Instead,
they feed by sucking food into their mouths as though they
were sea-going vacuum cleaners. To be able to swim and play
with them is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I have now
done twice, and would do again in a heartbeat.
That night I made a comeback of sorts at the poker tables,
winning $600 so I was now stuck only $1,100 for the trip.
No miracles, just a case of getting my share of flops and
winning a few good-sized pots.
the ocean was roiling, courtesy of Hurricane Gordon, and I
was tired and went down to my cabin to sleep, since the ship
was scheduled to dock early the following day at Cozumel,
Mexico. The morning was gray, and the seas were high -- definitely
not snorkeling weather -- when we docked at Cozumel. I was
still very tired and rundown, so I bailed on a jeep trip around
the island. Instead, I had breakfast, shopped for souvenirs,
and took a nap. By the time I awakened I felt a lot better
and was ready for a follow up to my seminar, actually a question
and answer session, where cruisers could ask anything they
wished about poker to the poker-author foursome of Linda Johnson,
Tom McEvoy, Jan Fisher, and me.
What was interesting to me was how very similar our takes
were on almost every question posed to us. It's either a case
of great minds working in the same direction or else we're
all reading each other's stuff and regressing back to some
The next day was another day at sea, and the no-limit hold'em
tourney. There were two tables remaining and I had a decent
sized stack of chips along with a pocket pair of queens when
I put the big blind and one caller to the test by going all-in.
With a pair of queens I wanted to win the pot right there,
and not give anyone with a naked ace or king a chance to get
lucky on the flop. I guess it was the right play but the worst
possible occasion, since the chip leader at that time, who
had just called the blind, couldn't wait to get his chips
into the pot.
Since I was now all-in, we both turned our hands face up,
and I was looking at a pair of aces. Two-outers don't win
very often, and this was no exception. I was eliminated and
left to go to lunch, then play cards until the games broke
up around midnight. I won a little bit of money that day,
so my net result for the cruise was a loss of $900. Not all
that bad, but not the results I hoped for either.
last day at sea featured a course change to take us out of
the path of Hurricane Gordon, which was downgraded to a tropical
storm before it made landfall at the Florida Keys and dumped
an enormous amount of rain up the eastern seaboard. Even with
the ship's stabilizers working overtime to neutralize the
effect of the waves, you could feel the sea at work, and the
rocking motion made most of look like a convention of drunks
when walking about the ship.
Still, the cruise was a lot of fun, full of really nice people
and the frivolity level almost rivaled BARGE at times. This
was my third poker cruise and my first with Card
Player Cruises. And I'd do it again. In fact, I plan to.
in New Orleans now, and just about partied out. I've reached
that stage of exhaustion where I'm simultaneously wired and
tired. Nevertheless, I'm off to Snug Harbor, a blues and jazz
club located over on Frenchmen Street, just outside the Vieux
Carre, in the Faubourg Marigny. After that I'll undoubtedly
stop for beignets and coffee laced with chicory at the Café
Du Monde where I'll watch the world go by and decide just
how much more of this I can take before I decide to catch
a plane back to California.
more information on cruising with Card Player Cruises, please
see their website at http://www.cardplayercruises.com/
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