Home Up

Mariner 2013 - Circe Mariner 2013 - Belize Mariner 2013 Catamaran Mariner 2013 Cozumel Passengers Formal Pictures

Mariner 2013 Story Part Four


At this point in our travels, Cozumel has become an old friend.  This was my twelfth visit to this resort island. 

Marla asked me what I wanted to do.  Go to the beach?  Visit a bar?  Rent a moped and see the island? 

I replied that in all of our trips, not once have we walked into the main part of the city.  Why not take a long walk?  So that's what we decided to do.

As you can see, the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas was visiting Cozumel on the same day. 

The Allure is the largest passenger ship ever constructed.  The digitally-altered picture on the right compares the size of the Titanic to the Allure.  Considering it has taken 100 years to triple the size of the Titanic, I can only wonder how big the cruise ships will be 100 years from now.  Of course, thanks to global warming, our future citizens might all live in giant cruise ships.  Isn't that a chilling thought?

Personally these large ships are not for me.  I don't like crowds, I don't like lines and I don't like waiting.  I prefer smaller ships.

Besides the Allure, we had other neighbors.  There were two Carnival ships parked about a half mile away. 

Since the Allure was blocking my view, this was the best picture I could get.  One of the two ships turned out to be the Carnival Magic, the host ship for our recent October 2012 trip.  Note the long slides, a fixture on the Magic. 

This meant there were four cruise ships in port at the same time.  This apparently happens at least once a week.  Cozumel is typically the last stop before heading back to the States.  Since most cruise trips run on a cycle from Sunday to Sunday, it makes sense that these ships would all stop in Cozumel on the same day before heading home.

Note the long pier for Carnival.  It leads to yet another tourist village identical to the Royal Caribbean shopping mecca.  Carnival and RCCL have their own shopping mall that exclusively services their passengers.  I have long wondered if the cruise lines own these malls or what the agreement is. 

When we got off the ship, we entered an area I call the "tourist mecca".  Other people might refer to it as a "tourist trap".

The pier of the ship funnels everyone directly into this area.  No matter where you wish to go, you cannot avoid walking through dozens of shops before making it to the taxi area.

One of the secrets of Cozumel's success is the incredible depth of its waters just beyond the island.  Massive ships like the Mariner and the Allure can park just 100 yards from all these shops.  The proximity of the shops within easy walking distance makes shopping in Cozumel fun and effortless. 

I used to take this fact for granted, but now that I have more experience, I realize that Cozumel's deep water pier is special.

At some ports, the water is too shallow for a massive ship to parallel park at a pier like they do in Cozumel.  Consequently a smaller boat has to ferry the passengers back and forth to shore. For example, on this trip, we wasted almost two hours in Belize "tendering" from our ship onto shore and back again. 

We would have waited even longer in Belize, but Marla was able to use her relationship with Luciana, our group representative, to get us off on the second tender of the day. 

That saved us at least 30 minutes in waiting time right there. It helps to know the people in high places. 

Belize is not the only place with a tender hassle.  These two pictures taken at Grand Cayman on our 2011 Conquest Trip indicate that Cayman requires tendering as well.  On every Caribbean trip to the Caymans, we waste at least two hours enduring the "tendering" process. 

The top picture shows that the ship is anchored about half a mile off shore.

The bottom picture shows a line of people waiting for the next tender to take them back to the ship.  What the picture fails to show is that there is a huge line behind us. 

I hate waiting for the tender in Cayman.  The problem with tendering in Cayman is the uncertainty about when the last tender takes off.  I have cut many a shopping trip short in Cayman simply because I was so intimidated by the lines.

The picture also fails to reveal that it was really hot that day.  The heat is brutal.  There is absolutely no protection from the sun - no trees, no artificial canopy.  Consequently those people were forced to stand there as long as 20-30 minutes in line with the sun beating directly down on them.

Compared to Cayman, Cozumel has a far superior situation.  After the deepwater piers were built in the 1990s for cruise ships to dock, the island became a regular stop for all cruise ships operating in the Caribbean.

In the picture below, you see four giant cruise ships side by side.  Every one of these ships carries thousands of potential shoppers.  When they arrive, Cozumel has a feeding frenzy.

The proximity of the piers to the shopping area has turned out to be a true blessing for the island.  Passengers are always amazed at how close the piers are to shore.  How effortless it is to get on and off the ship. 

The Nineties dawn of the cruise ships marked the start of Cozumel's prosperity.  Cozumel immediately became the place to buy buy buy before saying bye bye bye. 

Look at the advantages.  First, a passenger in Cozumel has two extra hours at their disposal.  With all that extra time, there is plenty of time to shop and still do everything else.  Second, in Cozumel, the passengers are not exhausted from the tendering process. They have energy to shop.  Third, the passengers don't have to worry about being left behind in Cozumel.  If they hear the ship's horn, it takes all of five minutes to walk to the ship from any bar or any store in the shopping area.

Now you begin to see why Cozumel has such a superior shopping situation over Cayman.  I suspect the cruise ships have noticed too.  I have no evidence, but my guess is that Carnival and Royal Caribbean surely take a major cut out of all the sales rung up in their respective shopping meccas.  It makes too much sense for there not to be some sort of arrangement. 

My guess is that the cruise lines either own some of the shops directly or at the very least they demand kickbacks.

Let's Play a Game!

For the fun of it, I took several pictures of some of the different shops.  Let's have a look at Royal Caribbean's shopping mecca.

If nothing else, these shopping malls are colorful.  Every corner has a store displaying shirts and dresses, tote bags and ceramics full of bright colors.  And get this - everything is on sale!  Wow. What a break to be here just as the sale begins. 

You don't suppose those "clearance signs" stay up on a full time basis?  I couldn't help but be suspicious.

I have a game for you to play. Since I had an "odd" number of pictures, I put a copy of one picture in twice to balance out the frames.  If you are in the mood, amuse yourself and see if you can spot the duplicate picture.  Since all the stores look alike, this won't be as easy as you think. 

I bet you can't catch it on the first try.

So did you find the duplicate picture?  If so, good for you!

I was astonished at the sheer number of shops.  It kind of staggers the mind, doesn't it?  Consider yourself fortunate there aren't more shopping mall pictures.  I could have included even more pictures, but my camera ran out of juice on the way back.

So what's my point with all these pictures?

I contend the reason there are so many well-stocked shops is that there are so many potential customers.  On the day we visited, besides two RCCL ships and two Carnival ships, there were also two Norwegian Cruise Line ships in town as well. 

Six ships in one day.  Amazing.  Assuming each ship dropped 3,500 passengers onto the shores of Cozumel, at one point or another there were potentially 20,000 tourists to roam the streets.  And every single one of those 20,000 tourists were guided through an endless maze of shops before they could even see the island.  Aha, a captive group of vulnerable tourists. 

Attack, Attack!  And attack they did.  The shop owners were very aggressive. And I saw a lot of buying too.  I suspect Cozumel may actually be the most prosperous city in all of Mexico. 


A Stroll Along the Main Drag in Cozumel

One of the things Marla and I enjoy doing on our various voyages is going for walks.  We take at least one long walk on every trip.

Over the years, we have had some pretty wild experiences.  I think the craziest walk was the time we got lost in Rome.  That was the day I made it back to the ship on foot just moments before it departed.  Of course none of it was my fault.  You believe me, don't you?  Well, judge for yourself.  It's a funny story.  The Evil Map of Rome

When we reached Cozumel, we realized we had never actually explored the walk directly off the ship to downtown.  Why not give it a try?

So we decided to walk along Avenue Rafael Melgar, the main avenue. Rafael Melgar runs right along the water's edge. 

As the map shows, it is a three mile walk to town... or six miles round trip.  Don't forget you can always take a cab back. 

The first thing I learned during my walk is that there is no such thing as a city named "Cozumel".  Cozumel is simply the name for the island. 

San Miguel is the name of the city located on the island of Cozumel. 

I will continue to refer to our cruise stop as "Cozumel", but it doesn't hurt to understand the distinction.

As you can see, the main street known as Avenue Rafael Melgar connects Cozumel's three piers -

  1. Punta Langosta Pier (NCL)
  2. International Pier (RCCL)
  3. Punta Maya Pier (Carnival)

Punta Maya Pier and International Pier are located in the middle of the western side of the island.  Since this side faces Mexico's mainland, the waters are much calmer than on the Caribbean side.

Punta Langosta Pier is located in San Miguel, the name of the downtown area on Cozumel. 

Back when I first visited Cozumel in 2002, our ship docked at Punta Langosta.  That continued until 2005.

In 2005, Hurricane Wilma completely devastated Cozumel.  Hurricane Wilma was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. 

When I say Wilma flattened the place, I am not kidding. Wilma was a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 185 mph.  After Wilma leveled everything, the island was forced to undergo major reconstruction.

Apparently during the reconstruction, Cozumel took the opportunity to triple its cruise ship capacity. 

Both the Punta Maya Pier and the International Pier are relatively brand new piers and so are the shopping meccas that accompany them.

Out of the hurricane's rumble, something very valuable emerged.

Previously the island could hold two ships at once.  Now it could hold six. 

The Tourist Trap

They call it a Tourist Trap for a reason.  It took a real effort for Marla and I to get outside the tourist mecca.  There were no signs directing us where to go.

I suspected a conspiracy.  I firmly believe some of the shop owners would be perfectly happy if all the tourists never took a single step outside the shopping mall.  They peppered Marla and me with one solicitation after another.

I couldn't find a single exit sign, so in frustration I asked a guard where to go.  He pointed me in an unmarked direction.  That worked.  Thank you, sir. 

We were greeted by a mob of taxis and tourists desperate to hook up together.  People yelled at us as we walked by because they assumed we were trying to cut in line.  Leaving this area was a real chore. 

From what I gather, tourism is the foundation of this island's economy.  Cozumel must have a strange feast or famine cycle.  When the ships are in town, the entire city goes to work.  I wonder what the place is like when there are no ships.

I will list the pictures of our walk in order. 

This private beach was part of a bar just beyond the shopping mecca.  I am not sure why I forgot to get the name.  

As you see, there is abundant sand.  I suspect that sand was undoubtedly hauled in. 

Cozumel has many fine natural beaches, but none in this particular part of the island.  During my walk down this road, I saw no evidence of attractive natural beaches. 

The undeveloped stretch of the beach was filled with sea shells and craggy, ugly lava rocks.  There was very little sand and certainly nothing like what we see in the picture. 

If you see sand on the way to San Miguel, you can assume there was a human hand involved in shoveling it in.

Take note this attractive area is deserted.

This bar says it is open, but there's no sign of any customers.

The two pictures above show the true nature of the western Cozumel shoreline. There is a serious absence of sand. I would estimate up to two miles of the 3 mile walk looks just like these pictures. I didn't find the scenery appealing at all.   

During our walk, we were fortunate that the skies were very cloudy.  I would say the temperature was about 80 degrees.

To the right is one of the structures flattened by Wilma back in 2005.  Today homeless people sleep in there.

To be honest, I was disappointed in the drab appearance of this vital walkway.  Ghost structures like the one on the right didn't offer much to look at.  Little grass, little sand, few trees plus an unattractive rocky coastline added up to a boring walk. 

The only greenery were sparse shrubs like the ones in this picture on the right struggling for existence.  For most of the walk there was a complete absence of any other type of vegetation.  No grass, no flowers, no trees above four feet.

The picture below is some sort of research facility.

This bar was deserted.  To tell the truth, the sidewalk was pretty empty as well.  There might be 20,000 tourists in Cozumel, but they definitely weren't on this sidewalk.

This bar was deserted too.  Do you see the people walking right past it?  What little foot traffic we saw on the sidewalk didn't seem interested in the bars. 

Here is another picture that shows how empty the sidewalk was. That might be due to the fact that there wasn't much to see.  It was like this for about two miles out of our three mile walk.

This is the ferry that takes people to Mexico's Playa del Carmen. Playa del Carmen is Mexico's mainland twelve miles across the water.

Here is a picture I found on the Internet that shows Avenue Rafael Melgar from above.  The beach looks better from above than it does on the ground.

This picture was a real mystery to me because everything looked much more prosperous and well-developed than what I remembered seeing.

So I studied a Google Earth view of Cozumel for ten minutes until I solved the puzzle.  This picture was taken at a different point on the island. 

The obvious cruise ship is docked at the Punta Langosta Pier in the center of San Miguel.  Then if you look carefully, you will see a distant cruise ship at the top of the horizon.  That is where our ship was docked.  In other words, we walked from the distant cruise ship to the spot where the obvious cruise ship is docked.

From this I conclude the middle part of the island where we walked has only recently undergone any development.  The two new cruise piers play a major role in Cozumel's growth spurt.

The other side of the street was mostly jungle.  This means that development began on the north end of the island in San Miguel. Thanks to the cruise piers, development is slowly expanding towards the south.  In other words, our long three mile walk took place on the outskirts of town.

There wasn't much to see on the other side of the road, but there was an occasional attractive villa like this one across the street.  Our area is basically the "suburbs" at the moment.  I suspect someday there will be wall to wall buildings along here.

They have some captive stingrays in that pen for people to pet.  That beach was more rock than it was sand.

Finally some color.  Pretty bougainvilleas.

Hidden behind those walls on the other side of the street is a  shipyard named Meridano.

Here is a yacht that was built in the shipyard.  It is finished and awaits being shipped or taken to its destination... Which brings up an interesting question... Are ships ever shipped?? 

Another deserted bar.

That is a lighthouse where the ferry parks.

Cozumel Listed Among the Top 10 Beach Destinations in Mexico

Trip Advisor announced the results after receiving millions of votes of tourists who have had some experience in the country.

  1. Cozumel
  2. Tulum
  3. Cancun
  4. Playa del Carmen
  5. Akumal
  6. Puerto Aventuras
  7. Puerto Morelos
  8. Cabo San Lucas
  9. Nuevo Vallarta
  10. Puerto Vallarta

The vote is given by involving "millions of real travelers," the portal that has thousands of subscriptions in the world, week after week and answer questionnaires about their experiences in major destinations worldwide.

After the report tripadvisor prestigious tourist gateway to Cozumel ranks as one of the top 10 beach destinations of Mexico in its classification (Travelers' Choice Awards 2012), the mayor, Aurelio Joaquin Gonzalez said that this is due to the satisfaction to be tourists vacationing on the island, and that this award is voted for "millions of real travelers."

"The degree of satisfaction offered by our island of Cozumel is practically 100 percent and this makes the national and international tourists recognize it, and the tripadvisor to express openly, which is the main query engine worldwide tourism" said the local chief executive.

He added that the satisfaction of the tourists, it is natural beauty with which account Cozumel, as well as its archaeological sites, protected areas and reef areas, complemented with diving, snorkeling, fishing, or just visiting its beautiful beaches combined with the spectacular turquoise sea, making it a unique destination in the world.

"Some say that the real show in Cozumel is under water. Here in the second bar of the largest reef in the world, underwater enthusiasts will ensure that its natural beauty is unparalleled, "quotes the portal.

In that sense, Joaquin Gonzalez explained that there is the fact that Cozumel is a world leader in cruise reception in the world, for the last year three million people landed at the docks, where they landed over a thousand floating hotels.

That restaurant above was empty.  For that matter, on this stretch every bar and restaurant we passed was empty.  It didn't matter that 20,000 tourists were on the island today... very few people walked along this deserted sidewalk.  I had to wonder how they make any money. 

As you can see, we are still in the barren section of the walk.  Gosh, is that sand?   I think the bar had sand shipped in. 

Cozumel is a work in progress.  Using Google Earth as my source, it appears that 90% of the island is still jungle.  There is practically nothing on the eastern of the island facing Cuba and the Caribbean.  The eastern side of the island looks deserted. 

I also noticed on Google Earth they don't even have a road that completely circles the island.  It appears the terrain at the far northern end of the island is so marshy that building a road would be difficult.  There is no development that I could see. 

Look at the picture below.  The top of the picture is the northern end. You will see there is no highway at all on the upper part.  There may be some sort of small road there for jeeps and motorbikes, but I could not detect one even when I zoomed in.  The entire north side of the island seems desolate.

That said, there are strong hints that real estate on this island is set to explode. 

The very center of the island now has a grid of roads. This suggests new neighborhoods are being planned in the near future.

Currently there are a few buildings to be seen on the main road leading out of San Miguel.

However, there are no visible homes on those side streets.  Those side roads are totally surrounded by jungle.

However, that will change.  Something is clearly in the works.

Okay, back to our walk.


That orange building up ahead is a cantina.  Marla had just begun to feel a certain urgency, so she eyed the upcoming bar with great hope.  Our plan to find a bar and go in.  We would have a drink and use the facilities.

However, like everything else we passed, the place was deserted.  We decided we didn't want to be the only ones in the bar so we kept walking.  We assumed we would find something better soon. That turned out to be a bad decision.

Next we came to a very attractive wall.

Unfortunately I have no idea what was hiding behind those walls.

Next we passed an attractive restaurant, but it was closed.

Now we faced a long stretch of nothing promising.  As the pressure mounted, we bravely soldiered on.

The next section was very depressing. We passed a series of five ghost structures in a row.

"Se Vende" means "For Sale".  Considering the condition the buildings were in, it was no surprise they were all for sale.

I was pretty sure all these structures were victims of Hurricane Wilma back in 2005.  They were probably under construction at the time and therefore defenseless to the brutal winds.  The damage was so profound that the work was abandoned.

On the right, I was interested in these two side by side structures.  Judging by their similar architecture, they were obviously twins.  I was curious why someone decided to finish one of the two apartment buildings, but not the other.

In the pictures below, those ruined structures  were also for sale.

As you might guess, this particular section of our walk offered no realistic possibilities for relief of the growing emergency.

This business offers a swim with the dolphins.  To use the restroom, we would have to pass through a turnstile.  We kept on going. 

No help here.  This was an apartment building.

The Cozumel Palace was a very attractive hotel and quite acceptable as the solution to our problem.  As you can tell from the stride, Marla is about to enter.  We were going to go in, take care of business, then go sit at the bar and relax.  Alas, they turned us away at the door.  Guests only.

As you can see, the hotel featured a lovely swimming pool.  I would have enjoyed stopping here.  Oh well, too bad. 

After the Cozumel Palace, Marla's heart sank when we encountered yet another long stretch of barren area.  Her crisis was mounting. 

Those two cruise ships belong to Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL).  They were docked at the Punta Langosta Pier in downtown San Miguel.

As you can see, this young man had his own solution to that certain problem.  Marla would not have appreciated my calling attention to this scenario.  She was past being teased.

Suddenly the answer to our prayers appeared. Out of the wilderness, this mecca called to us.  Saved at last!! 


Redemption in Margaritaville

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

The moment we walked into Margaritaville, I felt like I was home.  Considering I have never been inside a "Margaritaville" before in my life, it was odd that I felt such an immediate kinship to the place. 

Prior to this trip, I knew all of two things about Jimmy Buffett.  I knew Buffett was famous for the song Margaritaville and I knew he was best friends with Tony Tarracino, longtime mayor of Key West and owner of a bar where Ernest Hemingway once hung out.  I learned about Tarracino on a previous trip to Key West.  Beyond that, I never paid much attention to Jimmy Buffett.

Jimmy Buffett first entered my mind on the second night of the trip.  However, for this story to make any sense, I need to begin this story back at our October Magic 2012 cruise. 

On our previous cruise back in October, Cindy Hudson and Debra Hrncir had gone to a lot of trouble to decorate their dinner table every night.   These girls were creative; their decorations made their tables very pretty.  In addition to their flair for design, it was obvious that their group of ten close friends were having a lot of fun every night at dinner. 

Now if the names of Debra and Cindy sound familiar, that's because I wrote about this dynamic duo in my first story of the Mariner 2013 trip.  Debra was nicknamed Leader of the Pack and Cindy of course was Circe the Wild One.

Back during the October 2012 trip, Marla took note of how much fun the "Biker Gang" and "Choir Boys" were having.  Furthermore, Marla couldn't help but notice these two ladies were always in the thick of it.  Debra and Cindy clearly knew how to have fun.

So Marla decided to seat us at their table for this trip. After the misfortunes of the previous trip, we were both feeling gun shy. We both agreed it might be nice to start having fun again. 

When Debra and Cindy realized we would be sharing the same dinner table, they initially misinterpreted our move.  They weren't sure what our reasons were for joining them.  As we discovered, they were worried that Marla and I were deliberately sitting at their table to curb their enthusiasm.

After all, they had been pretty rowdy on the previous trip. Were we there to calm them down a little?  They soon discovered nothing could be further from the truth.  The truth was just the opposite.  Marla had put us there in hopes that some of their enthusiasm would rub off on us.

Neither Marla nor I knew that Debra and Cindy had decided to continue their tradition of decorating the tables for this trip.

Therefore on the first night of the trip I was very surprised to discover the two ladies had decorated our dinner table with Mardi Gras stuff.  I immediately took note of how nice the table looked, but I frowned when I found some weird red thing I was supposed to wear on my head during the meal. 

What I was not aware of was that Debra and Cindy had gone out of their way to do this to show their friendship to Marla and to me.  Well, Cindy and Debra had certainly done their part to make me feel welcome, but I am embarrassed to say it took me a while to get with the program.  Truth be told, I was feeling far too tense to put that silly red hat on. 

So why was I so tense?  Ordinarily it doesn't take much for me to act like a fool.  In the past I have shown many times that I can let my hair down with the best of them. 

Well, to be candid, I was still hurt by the blowback from the previous trip. 

After I was physically attacked on the final night of the trip for the silliest of reasons, I hoped that once the smoke cleared, people would understand that the confrontation had been based on a serious failure to communicate. 

Yes, I had lost my temper after being shoved, but I had hoped that I would be forgiven. After all, my assailant definitely did not have his facts straight nor did he bother to discern the truth before hitting me.  But what really made me mad was when the man went out of his way to threaten my wife's travel business. He was going to make sure to bad-mouth our trips at every opportunity.  Given his aggression, I thought I had every right to stand up to him.

Apparently not.  One person after another said they weren't choosing sides, but actions speak louder than words.  Picture after picture appeared on the Internet of events I wasn't invited to.  I had just become an instant pariah.  I was being given an object lesson in the fickle nature of friendship.  I felt abandoned by certain people whom I had considered longtime friends. 

And it stung. I won't deny it. I have been moping over what happened for the past six months.  After spending my entire career trying to build a family of friends, I was stunned that a bizarre incident could do so much damage. 

So when this Mariner trip came around, I wasn't sure where I stood with a lot of people.  Ostracism has a way of eroding one's confidence.  Being on this new cruise reminded me of what had gone wrong six months earlier.  I still felt the sting as if it were yesterday.  My regret made it difficult to loosen up. 

Consequently on the first night of the trip, I resisted mightily putting the silly feather hat on my head.  Was I being set up for more ridicule? 

I could see Debra wanted me to put the hat on so she could take a picture, but I wasn't exactly in the mood.  Finally my instincts told me that Debra wasn't trying to hurt me.   

At that point I teased her by taking the hat on and off. Oh how Debra wanted that picture. Her fingers were tightly gripped around her camera just itching for me to give her an opportunity.

Finally I gave in and let her have the picture. I sighed as one chunk of my armor fell to the floor. But I still wasn't all the way back yet.  Not by a long shot. 

On the second night of the trip, when I showed up for dinner, Debra and Cindy were wearing parrot head hats and Michael and Jim were wearing shark head hats.  I noticed there was a shark head hat placed in front of me.  My immediate reaction was that I didn't want to wear that hat. Too silly. Please don't ask me to look stupid two nights in a row. 

At the time, I had no idea that the parrot head and shark head hats were Jimmy Buffett symbols.  It wasn't till Mike Hrncir explained that the Hrncirs and Hudsons were card-carrying members of the Jimmy Buffett Fan Club that I began to catch on.

"So what's with the hats?" I asked.  I had no idea.  Apparently these hats were important, but the meaning escaped me. Cindy Hudson said they were "parrot head" hats.  Huh?  I asked what was a "parrot head".  I had never heard the phrase before.

So Jim Hudson patiently explained that a "parrot head" was a take-off on a "dead head".  Well, I'll be darned; I didn't know that.  I was at least familiar with the term "Deadhead".  "Deadhead" was the nickname for people who were loyal followers of the famous rock band Grateful Dead.  Like Trekkies, the intense loyalty of the Deadheads was something to behold.

Considering how fanatic the Deadheads were, I asked Jim to explain more.  Jim said that at a 1985 rock concert in Ohio, Jimmy Buffett had told the crowd that he felt really touched by the overwhelming support of the audience. 

Buffett went on to comment about everyone wearing Hawaiian shirts and parrot hats and how they kept coming back again and again to see his shows, adding they were "just like Deadheads".  The crowd took note and applauded loudly.  That did it.

The parrot had long been a Jimmy Buffett symbol.  Now that Buffett himself had mentioned Parrots and Deadheads in the same sentence, the phrase "Parrot head" was practically coined on the spot. Naturally the term caught on like wildfire.   Not only was the phrase a clever play on words, it was also the perfect way to refer to Jimmy Buffett's growing legion of fans. 

After Jim finished explaining, I felt a little sheepish.  It was so obvious that I was surprised I had never heard of this before. 

Now I was curious to know if the shark head caps had any significance.  Jim nodded an affirmative.  In 1979 Buffett released a song called "Fins". 

The title refers to "land sharks", i.e. men who attempt to pick up women.  It is a woman who is the subject of the song. She is said to feel like shark bait due to all the predators who mill around her at the bar.  Ah. I get it now.  Thank you, Jim.

But I still didn't want to wear the shark hat.  I remained reluctant to wear my shark hat during the meal.  Despite the explanations, I had never been much of a Jimmy Buffett fan to begin with.  I had learned enough for one night, so I decided not to pursue the subject any further. 

However I did continue to think about the hat.  A debate raged in my mind to wear the hat or not to wear the hat.  I was not in the mood to look foolish, but I realized I appreciated Debra and Cindy's kindness.  It was really nice of the two women to go to so much trouble to decorate the table.

Finally I gave in and decided to be a good sport.  I dutifully put on my shark hat and wore it for the remainder of the meal.  I won't lie and say I wore it proudly, but at least I cooperated.

However, Debra put me on the spot at the end of dinner.  She asked Marla and me to bring our hats along for the Catamaran Trip the next day.  That's when I drew the line. It had taken me almost the entire meal to relax enough to put the hat on.  But enough is enough. I was determined I wasn't going to wear that stupid hat two days in a row.  I felt clumsy enough as it was. 

Marla asked me what I was rolling my eyes for.  I explained my mixed feelings about the shark hat.  Marla smiled.  "Oh, let it go.  Why not loosen up a little?"  Of course she was right.  I definitely needed to loosen up.  But I was still finding it difficult to let my guard down.

The next morning as I prepared for the Catamaran trip, I noticed the shark cap sitting there on the cabin table.  However, I didn't give it a second thought.  I had completely forgotten about Debra's request.  

However, when I got down to the pier, I saw that Jim, Mike and Imre were all wearing their shark hats. Debra, Eileen, and Cindy were wearing their parrot head hats as well. They saw us and asked us to get ready for a group picture. To my surprise, on the spot Marla whipped her parrot head hat out of the bag. I was surprised.  I had no idea Marla was bringing her hat.  She hadn't said a word about it that morning.

Suddenly a huge wave of regret came over over.  I felt terrible. I desperately wanted to be included in that picture.  I realized just how clueless I had been.  Now for the first time in crystal blue clarity I realized these ladies were trying to cheer me up. 

Seeing those seven people with their goofy hats was all it took. In that instant, I finally "got it".  Here they were making a sincere attempt to help me feel like I was part of the group and I was resisting.  Now I wanted to be a part.

So I melted and begged them to take two pictures… one with Jim wearing the hat and one with me wearing the hat.  I explained that if we took two pictures, I could merge the two pictures to make one complete picture.  Study the pictures and you will see what I meant.

That moment was the breakthrough. The walls came tumbling down.  From that point on for the remainder of the trip, I was completely on board with every crazy stunt.

I am in great debt to the Hudsons and Hrncirs.  They brought me in from the cold.   Thank you.

Cindy and Debra

The Katy Biker Gang and Choir Boys

Marla got with the program much more quickly than I did.

So how does this "picture merging" stuff work? 

Well, we had four men, but only three shark hats. 

So in Picture One, Jim wore the shark hat.  Focus on Jim.

Then in Picture Two, Rick joined the shot and wore Jim's shark hat.  Rick told Jim to just stand there.  He did need to bother smiling because he didn't have his hat on.  As you can see, he took the "don't bother smiling" suggestion to heart.

Then I brought Jim's headshot complete with Shark Hat from Picture One and placed it on top off his face in Picture Two to create Picture Three.  Ta da!

Jimmy Buffett

During our walk in Cozumel, when Margaritaville appeared out of nowhere at the perfect time, I took that as a good omen.  I had definitely undergone a Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude-style transformation on this trip.

Noting the loyalty of my friends towards Jimmy Buffet, I considered it an honor to visit this place and show my solidarity.

Now that I was inside, I noticed that videos of previous Jimmy Buffett concerts were playing above the various bars. I picked a spot at the bar directly under one of the monitors and began watching.  As I studied the videos, I found myself intrigued with the "Jimmy Buffett Mystique".

The first thing I noticed on the video were the immense size of the crowds at Buffett's concerts.  These crowds formed a giant ocean of humanity.  Good grief!!

I didn't understand the size of those crowds at all.  This guy had recorded one hit record in his entire life.  One hit record. 

So how in the hell did this guy parlay one hit record into gigantic crowds the Beatles or the Stones would be proud of?  Or for that matter the legendary Grateful Dead?  This guy wasn't just popular, this guy could give Jesus a run for his money.

I took my eyes off the screen and looked around the bar.  The place was jam-packed both inside and outside.  I didn't see a single empty table. 

Marla and I had just passed a dozen Mexican bars.  Every one of them had been completely empty.  Now I knew why - every tourist with two legs that still worked was in here.  Then I noticed a few canes and walkers.  Heck, even the one-legged tourists were in here. 

This situation was clear evidence that Life is cruel.  Every other place in town was empty; this place was hopping.  What those bars wouldn't do for just a few of these patrons to come to their joint instead.  It all boils down to reputation.  A crowd creates a crowd; an empty bar stays empty.

As I studied the various people in the bar, my first impression was that they were all aging hippies.  Most of them had long hair, they wore Hawaiian shirts, they wore shorts or tattered jeans, and they all had dark tans from too many days in the sun.

I might add they all looked deliriously stoned too.  Half of these people looked more like "Marijuana-ville" than they did "Margarita-ville".  All roads in this place lead to oblivion.

Born in 1946, Buffett is 67 now.  He's a little round in the middle and a little thin on top... definitely an unlikely music star.

But watch him perform his signature song, "Margaritaville," before a crowd of more than 20,000, and you could mistake Buffett for the leader of some strange tropical cult. They call themselves Parrotheads and dress in bizarre ceremonial garb. They know all the hymns by heart. Buffett is the walking talking Pied Piper of Parrot Paradise.

It crossed my mind that I had seen other Margaritaville Clubs during my travels across the Caribbean.  I had definitely seen one in Key West.  I had definitely seen one in Jamaica.  There was a new one in Cayman and I had seen a Margaritaville in Puerto Rico too.  And now here.  The more I thought about it, other locations came to mind.... St Thomas, maybe St Maarten.

Good grief, these clubs are everywhere!  The Caribbean is infested with them!  The strange thing is today here in Cozumel was the first time I had ever actually taken notice.

That is when it struck me.  This Buffett guy must be one heck of a smart dude.  Then I saw a the goofy picture of him from his early days hanging on the wall of the bar and did a double take.  There was a serious disconnect in my mind between the stoner on the wall and the director of a corporate empire. How on earth did Buffett put this giant empire together??

On the spot I decided to learn more about Jimmy Buffett.  The first two things that caught my eye were that he is a college graduate (University of Southern Mississippi) and that his concerts make way more money than his albums.  

I believe what they said about the concerts.  From what I saw on those videos, the man is clearly a marvelous crowd pleaser.  Everyone knows that if they go to one of his concerts, they are going to end up having lots of laughs and way too much fun.

But none of this explained the vast empire. 

How did he do it?  I mean, yes, the man can sing a little, but let's face it, his best song "Margaritaville" is rated no higher than 234th on the Recording Industry Association of America's list of "Songs of the Century".  And I couldn't even name another one of his songs until I researched this story.

I was completely awestruck.  I had just realized that somehow Buffett had parlayed one really good song - Margaritaville - into this amazing string of clubs that spanned the Caribbean.

I looked at a list of the locations for his clubs. Wherever I go - Key West, Jamaica, Cayman, Cozumel - there will be a friendly Margaritaville Club inviting me in.  
I was impressed at the sheer number of locations.  There are over 20 of them at this point.  In addition, there are hotels, retail outlets for his merchandise,  resorts and casinos.  This guy is serious big business. 

My next thought was even more profound.  It dawned on me that Jimmy Buffett might actually be the best businessman of any singer in history this side of Paul McCartney… and maybe even better than Sir Paul.

I began to think of Jimmy Buffett in the same way I thought of the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead had the Dead Heads who formed the most amazing fan base in history.  And yet name me one song they are famous for.  Unless you are a rock 'n roll expert, good luck. I bet you come up empty on name that tune.

Buffett is the same way.  His music isn't that well known outside of his loyal fans, but he is famous nonetheless.  Now that the Grateful Dead phenomenon born in the Sixties has passed, Buffett's Parrot Heads have replaced the Dead Heads.  

No one is quite sure where to find the road map to popularity, but Jimmy Buffett obviously has found the path. 

Here is a good example.  Buffett seems to have the ability to be in the right place at the right time.  Did you know that Buffett was the Pirate of the Caribbean before Pirates were cool?

Back in 1974, before anyone even knew who he was, Buffet released a song called "A Pirate Looks at 40".  Considering Buffett was only 27 at the time, it is an odd song. 

Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late
Cannons don't thunder
there's nothin' to plunder
I'm an over forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

But I've done a bit of smugglin'
I've run my share of grass
Made enough money to buy Miami
But I pissed it away so fast
Never meant it to last

As Buffett's career began to pick up, the song was always one of Buffett's more popular issues.  However it turned positively radioactive the moment the "Pirates of the Caribbean" became a huge phenomenon.  Now Buffett had the sense to integrate the pirate angle into his beach daze schtick

Today his Pirate song is part of Buffett's "Big 8", a list of songs that he plays at almost all of his concerts, and always during the important second set.  Buffett seems to know exactly what he is doing and when to do it.

I have always wondered how one would categorize Buffett's music. A quick peek at Wikipedia gave me the answer. Buffett says he is sort of "Country Western", but to be specific, his music is "Gulf and Western". I had to smile.  Perfect.

If someone is famous for being snubbed, it is obviously my fault for liking them. In my story about the Catamaran trip, I spoke of the disrespect shown to my buddy Winston Churchill after World War II.  For that matter, my favorite director Alfred Hitchcock never received a single "Best Director" Oscar.  And my favorite actor Cary Grant never won "Best Actor" either. Add Bruce Willis to that list - he ain't won nuthin' but I am first in line for each movie.  Buffet fits right in.  He is the Rodney Dangerfield - Can't Get No Respect - of the music industry.

Jimmy Buffett was considered an industry lightweight for much of his career. However, in 2003, Buffett finally broke through. After 30 years in the business, he won his first award. It was a CMA (Country-Music Award) for a duet with Alan Jackson.

Can you guess the song? I will tell you in a moment.

Margaritaville may just be a state of mind, but Buffett has transformed the song into a worldwide industry.  He has branched off from the Caribbean to own places in Vegas, Memphis, Florida, Canada, Australia and on the moon.

Beneath the shorts and the T-shirts and flip-flops beats the heart of anything but a beach bum. An article written in the Nineties said Forbes Magazine estimated Buffett's earnings at $26 million, ranking him somewhere between Tom Clancy and Robin Williams in show-business income. A more recent article from 2008 pegged his income at $40 million per year. 

By the way, have you guessed the prize-winning song yet? "Cheeseburger in Paradise".

Nah, that's not it. Nice try though.  The answer is "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere".  That's the song that took the prize.

2003 was definitely Buffett's breakthrough year.  It all started innocently enough whenAlan Jackson, the country music superstar, asked Buffett for help recording a new song called "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere." 

Ironically, Buffett barely lifted a finger on the way to winning his first major music award.  As Buffett recalls, "I went in the studio and I was there literally for about 20 minutesI sang for a total of 24 seconds on the record. And it became this huge hit."

The song spent weeks at the top of the country music charts and was so successful that it received the Country Music Association award for Vocal Event of the Year.  Buffett accepted a CMA award, his first honor in a 37-year career

As Buffett continued, "I didn't know how to act, because I'd never been to anything like that ceremony before. I've never won anything for anything. I've never won a talent contest. I didn't know what I was gonna say, other than I was gonna thank my wife first. As I walked up to the stage, I prayed I wasn't gonna forget that one."

On the heels the CMA award, Buffett recruited some of the biggest names in country music to help out on his latest record, "License to Chill." When you're hot, you're hot.  Its success took everyone by surprise when it debuted on the charts at #1.

"At 57, to have a #1 album, wow, I wasn't expecting it," says Buffett.  "What a relief to escape my demon."

So what exactly motivates Jimmy Buffett?   What does he mean by "escaping his demon"? 

"Lots of people ask me what keeps me going.  I can only say the first thing that pops into my mind is years ago, I remember seeing this poor has-been country singer working in a bar at a Holiday Inn.

And it was obvious that this guy had been somebody that'd been there and come back down.

This guy's fate shook me up. I didn't want to sit there in the dark some night and say to myself 'Remember me back in 1977?  Hey, I had this one big hit, "Margaritaville." I was really special back then.' 

I told myself I wanted to keep my foot on the pedal.  I did not want to be one of those people in free fall. I never wanted to take that run back down."

The more I read about Jimmy Buffett, the more I liked him.  Buffett is pure rags to riches.  His rise to fame is a very interesting story.

Back in the Sixties, Buffett was something of a wanderer. He attended three different colleges on his way to a degree in journalism.  He was married just out of college in 1969 and divorced soon after.  His life was going nowhere fast.  Buffett was a nobody folk singer whose songs interested no one. He was no more than a wannabe performer. 

Forced to make money, he took a job writing rock schlock for Billboard Magazine in Nashville. His big claim to fame was breaking the news of Flatt and Scruggs separating.  Apparently that was big news back then, especially for Beverly Hillbilly fans. "Now listen to the story about a man named Jed, poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed."

The writing gig barely covered the bills.  Working on the fringes of the music scene in Nashville and New Orleans, Buffett was so broke that he often played guitar on New Orleans sidewalks for tips.  There were times he didn't eat until someone took pity on him and put some money in his jar.

I am not sure if you would call it a "break", but the major turning point in his life came in 1971.  That's when a buddy of his, Jerry Jeff Walker ("Up Against the Wall Red-Necked Mutha"), invited him to come along on a trip to Key West.

Buffett loved the place. Short on cash, he discovered he made more money playing sidewalk rock than any place he had ever been to before. When Walker left, Buffett decided to stay behind.  There he mixed with marijuana smugglers, drifters, writers and a weird assortment of cultural pirates.

It was in Key West that Buffett developed the easy-going beach bum persona for which he is known. Buffett's "Wasted Away in Margaritaville" is an autobiographical song inspired by his early days in Key West.  

After studying Buffett's career, it strikes me that one of Buffett's gifts is his ability to observe people and sing about them in clever and quite ironic ways. 

This little known verse from the Margaritaville song is a good example. It was left off his original recording to make the song more "air-friendly".

Old men in tank tops,
Cruisin' the gift shops,
Checkin' out chiquitas,
down by the shore

They dream about weight loss,
Wish they could be their own boss
Those three-day vacations can be such a bore.

I cannot help but smile. Buffett nailed it. Those acid lyrics are so right on!  You really have to visit Key West to realize how perfectly this single verse captures the place.

When Marla and I visited Key West for the first time on our 2004 Honeymoon Cruise, I saw countless street bums dressed in tank tops.  They wandered around the place in an aimless daze.

It makes complete sense to me that anyone playing street music would have an immediate audience.  The bums just stand around anyway, why not go check out the music and stand there instead?  Now you know the secret of Buffett's Key West success.  He sang songs about oblivion to people who were oblivious.  

When I returned home, I wrote a highly satirical story about the Zombies of Key West.  You will be intrigued to know my story also talks about Ernest Hemingway.  Did you know that two Key West bars were locked in a costly legal duel to the death over which bar had the right to claim Hemingway as their most famous customer?  Buffett's best friend Captain Tony Tarracino figured prominently in the story.  No surprise there.  

It must be deeply ironic that the first real success Buffett ever experienced in his career was a song about his days as a loser.

Well, today Jimmy Buffett is hardly a loser. Sometimes a man just needs a break.  Ask me, I should know.  I remember full well calling myself a loser at one point in my life.  My 33 year career with SSQQ started in a wretched pool of sorrow and self-pity after being thrown out of graduate school. It took a very strange dance class and a very strange friend to pull me out of my perilous downward spiral.  Learning to Dance.  

So I know what the bottom feels like.  That explains why I relate to Jimmy Buffett's story so keenly.

Buffett never imagined creating an Empire.  But that's what's happened.  His Margaritaville Empire started in 1985.  That is when Buffett opened a Margaritaville retail store in Key West.

The store did so well that Buffett was encouraged to try another venture.  Two years later in 1987, he opened the Margaritaville Cafe in Key West. 

From that point, one good thing led to another. Today there are over 20 locations.  Amazing. 

Stop and think about it. I cannot think of a similar situation where someone parlayed a hit song into a vast empire. There have been a lot of one-hit wonders in the music industry, but there's never been anyone like Jimmy Buffett before.

One of the things that makes Buffett so interesting is his versatility.  Buffett is not just a good writer of song lyrics, he is a very accomplished book writer as well. 

His book "A Pirate Looks At Fifty" went straight to No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller non-fiction list

That accomplishment put him in company with another Key West notable, none other than Ernest Hemingway.  Buffett is one of seven authors in history to have reached No. 1 on both the fiction and non-fiction lists.  The other six authors who have accomplished this are Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, William Styron, Irving Wallace, Dr. Seuss and Mitch Albom. 

Nice company.  I like the Dr. Seuss comparison.  It fits.  Horton Hears a Who and Eats a Cheeseburger in Paradise.

Between his restaurants, album sales, books, and tours, Buffett is now among the richest singers in the world with a net worth of over $400 million. 

Buffett has homes all over the United States, including Sag Harbor, New York, Palm Beach, Florida, and St. Barts in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean.  He has his own yacht and he has his own airplane. 

Definitely not a loser.  Not by a long shot.

In parting, I would like to share Buffett's own words about his unusual career from a 60 Minutes interview.

Buffett says he's a workaholic. "I know so many people hate their jobs," says Buffett. "And I love my job. I really do. And it gets more exciting every day.

People in high-pressure situations and high-pressure jobs use my fantasy world as an escape from the rigors of life," says Buffett. "I think escapism is something that, you know, if you asked me, 'What's my job in a nutshell', I would say I sell escapism.

I understand that I have been anointed the king of the kicked-back lifestyle.  And it's been wonderful for me.  I feel so privileged to have fans that are so loyal.

But on some days, I want to go up to some of those people and say, 'Hey, man, get a life!'

You know?  This world I created, it's just made up, you know? It's all make believe.  It's one thing to be a kid without a direction, but at some point you get a job and you work to make something of yourself. 

Hey, if life knocks you down, you get back up and start swinging.  You can't spend the rest of your life wasting away in Margaritaville."

Captain Tony Tarracino, Mayor of Key West, and his friend Jimmy Buffett

Notice the claim that Ernest Hemingway used to drink here... you really
should learn the story about the expensive Key West law suit.
Attack of the Key West Zombies

In Key West with Gary and Betty Richardson, Magic 2012 Cruise

VIP for this guy means "Very Important Parrothead"


The Next Step

Earlier I made it clear that this trip enabled Marla and I to snap out of our cruise blues. 

But it didn't happen by accident, did it?  Four people sensed we could use a lift.  They did everything in their power to pick us back up again.  The Hudsons and Hrncirs have my complete gratitude. 

And how do I repay them?  Well, you know me, I immediately had to write a story and poke fun at all of them.  Fortunately I think they laughed. 

I definitely jinxed Jim Hudson.  Poor Jim.  As a proud card-carrying Parrot Head as well as being the Creature from the Spudstock Zone, Jim is a little weird

And yet he is also wonderful... eccentricities and all.  I like Jim a lot.  After all, it isn't like I am normal either.  

One night Jim confided to me he was undefeated in the ship's Trivia contests.  So I made a point to join him for his final three Trivial Pursuit matches. That was the end of Jim's fun. Once I showed up, he never won again.  What I liked about Jim was that he never once blamed me. Considering my damaged psyche, I was grateful for his patience.

Marla was right. These four members of Parrot Head Nation are confirmed nuts, but gosh it sure was fun to make some new friends.
It was definitely nice to breathe again. 

The history of our cruise trips is that we look out for each other.  Sometimes I take care of people and sometimes they take of me.  Lord knows I tend to wander.  Usually Marla keeps an eye on me, but one time Marla was sick and my friend Eileen Kondor had to rescue me.  During our 2010 Oslo cruise, we visited the Omaha Beach D-Day Memorial. As I read the stories of brave men who sacrificed their lives so people like me could grow up safely in our wonderful country, I completely fell apart.  As I broke down in gut-wrenching tears, I lost track of time.

Meanwhile the bus was prepared to leave me behind.  That's when Eileen insisted they look for me.  Eileen says it took them 30 minutes to locate me. That's not something I am very proud of. It was terrible what I did, but I was out of control. Thank goodness Eileen stopped the bus and found me wallowing there in my pond of tears

Sometimes it's me who does the rescuing, sometimes its the whole group.  Poor Velma was such a mess on the Russia Cruise that she absent-mindedly left her passport sitting on a counter.  The whole group came to her rescue. First we took her to the place where she forgot the passport.  Then we took her to the police station where the passport had been forwarded. 

When we take these cruise trips, we are a family.  And everyone looks out for everyone.  This has been a recurring theme on every single one of our trips.  There is safety in the group.

As we age, our bodies grow frail and our brains grow absent minded.  I consider it a blessing to have someone like Marla to plan these trips so carefully and to look over us.  She constantly handles problems the rest of us are not even aware of. 

I think it is wonderful to have so many friends to rely on. By sticking together, we can spend the next chapter of our life visiting strange lands safely. Even better, it is wonderful to share these adventures with friends. I like the company. 

27 trips. Wow. Thank you, Marla. Now let's go make some new memories together.  In 2014, we have the France River Cruise in April, the Alaska cruise in June, and our next dance cruise in October.  Please consider joining us. 

Rick and Marla Archer
June 2013

Mariner 2013 - Circe Mariner 2013 - Belize Mariner 2013 Catamaran Mariner 2013 Cozumel Passengers Formal Pictures
SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ