Champagne Night
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Tales of the Rhapsody 2004 Cruise

Chapter Seven A:
Mara's Champagne Night

Story written by Rick Archer

The SSQQ Champagne Night was a new tradition created on our 2004 Rhapsody Cruise. 

At the start of the trip, a bottle of Champagne was delivered to each cabin.  The surprised guests began to ask why this bottle had appeared out of nowhere.  

No one had asked for this gift.  Why was it even here?    Were they allowed to drink it?  Was it going to appear on their bill if they opened it?  What was going on?

Our guests soon learned the Champagne was a reward given to our guests by Marla Archer. 

Every cruise trip has points based on the number of guests in a group.  The travel agent has the choice of converting these points into income for herself or returning these points to the guests in the form of benefits.

The first three SSQQ cruises - 1998, 2001, 2002 - were organized by an outside Travel Agency.  In each case, the travel agent converted the points into commission for herself.

One of the reasons I asked Marla to consider learning how to book cruises herself is so we could stop throwing this money away and return it to our guests.

Marla completely agreed.  She believed her commission was reward enough.  She preferred to convert her points into benefits for the passengers. 

One of Marla's first decisions for the 2004 Rhapsody Trip was to convert her points into a complimentary bottle of Champagne for each room.


Marla Becomes a Travel Agent

During the 2001 Vera Cruz Trip when I first met Marla, I soon learned that travel has always been one of her favorite hobbies.  While the trip to Vera Cruz was my third cruise, Marla was already in double digits.

As I talked to Marla about her love of travel, my mind was already racing ahead to the future. 

Even though I barely knew the woman, I was already planning the rest of our life together.   Marla and I knew almost immediately from the very first night of that trip that our destiny was intertwined.  Call it Fate, call it Love at First Sight, but we both knew this was it.   

In addition to meeting the woman I would someday marry, the 2001 Trip also taught me how effectively SSQQ Dancing and Cruise Trips could work hand in hand.  I was prepared to promote more cruises through SSQQ, but first I had to figure out a way to stop giving the commissions to someone else.  

Practically from the moment we met I realized Marla was a natural for this role.  I used my contacts and secured a position for Marla as a "travel agent in training".  On the Jubilee 2003 trip, Marla shared the workload with an experienced travel agent.  Marla did so well that she was allowed to organize the Mardi Gras trip earlier in 2004 under limited supervision.  After the Mardi Gras 2004, Marla was now on her own.  Marla would still work for the agency, but she would essentially be a home-based travel agent who booked her own cruises.

Our Rhapsody 2004 trip was the first cruise where Marla did all the work without supervision. Given this kind of responsibility, from the start Marla put all her energy into making sure this would be our best trip ever.  I would have to say Marla succeeded royally.

Marla quickly noticed that many people greatly prefer to cruise within a group.  Traveling with friends is a marvelous way to share experiences.  Although it should be duly noted that although the mischief level varies drastically between the Singles and the Couples, traveling with a large group such as ours seemed equally attractive to both sides. 

The beauty of a group cruise is that you can be alone with a loved one or spend time with the group.  Either way is fine. No one begrudges you your privacy.  If you want to go your separate way, no problem.  On the other hand, if you feel lonely, it's your own fault!  In the SSQQ group, there is always someone to tag along with. 

The problem that people who are single run into is that sometimes it isn't that easy to find another person who has either the free time or the extra money on hand to take a lengthy trip. 

The nice thing about the SSQQ Cruise Trips is that people who are single and not involved with anyone at the moment can join the group and feel right at home. 

Furthermore, when you travel alone or with just one other person, you often get seated with a bunch of strangers.  Not us.  Dinner within the SSQQ group always feels like a family affair.  

The question is why couples enjoy the SSQQ Cruises so much.  One couple said it should be obvious - there are so many couples that go on these cruises, they always have other couples to hang out with!  

A group cruise allows you have it both ways.  When you wish to spend an evening alone with your partner, just put up the "Do Not Disturb" sign and go out on that balcony.  If you want to be sociable, go the Shall We Dance Lounge and hang out with Gary's Late Night crowd.  This kind of flexibility explains the beauty of traveling with a group on a large cruise ship.

Now that Marla was seeing the inside of the Travel Industry, she realized there are economic advantages to traveling with a Group as well.

Group fares were significantly less than the fares a couple would pay traveling by themselves.

Huge cocktail parties were just one of the many rewards given to large groups. 

Rooms were made available to the group during the day for dance lessons at no extra charge.

Best of all, free cabin upgrades were a wonderful side benefit to the group.  Marla learned that as the departure date nears, the cruise ship has an easier time selling the cheaper cabins than the expensive ones.  Unfortunately, the cheap cabins have long sold out.

So the cruise ship agent quietly begin to upgrade people already signed up.  Sometimes the upgrades are given to the first people who signed up.  Just as often they are given to the people in the large groups. 

One day Marla's "Specialist" called her up.  He said he had been told to upgrade twenty cabins.  He decided to reward Marla's group because she had been so easy to deal with.  Fifteen minutes later, 40 people in our group had moved up one or two decks!   This continued for several weeks.  In the end, 90 of 120 passengers had gotten their cabins upgraded for free.  There are definite advantages to booking a cruise through a group. 

Side Note: Although Marla has no control over upgrades, she has received them for every trip she has ever booked.  One word of caution - anyone in our group who ASKS Marla about upgrades automatically becomes the last person in line to get one.   

They say Champagne is meant to celebrate special occasions.
I would have to say our Wedding Reception qualified as such.

Rick pours champagne for Sharon and Betty


The Origin of SSQQ Champagne Night

For the 2004 Rhapsody Cruise, once we crossed the 50 threshold, our group qualified for the much-appreciated Cocktail Party. 

Marla had expected to reach this threshold.  However, people just kept signing up this cruise one after the other.  The numbers for this trip kept growing.   Then one day the group hit 90.

Marla's Royal Caribbean Specialist emailed her to say that once we crossed the 90 threshold, we were able to qualify for our next group perk.  Marla's Specialist gave her the option of converting the perk into commission or giving it away in the form of a Champagne bottle to be given to each cabin. 

Marla had never heard of this before.    However, after giving it some thought, Marla decided she wanted to thank everyone for coming along on her Honeymoon Cruise.  So as a result Marla made sure each cabin received a complimentary bottle of champagne. 

Many people acknowledged her gesture with plenty of hugs and thanks.  However, as the week progressed, there was one very peculiar problem  - no one seemed to be drinking their bottles!  Mara Rivas was the first person to truly grasp the enormity of the problem.

One night, Mara Rivas was talking to two guys who were roommates.  These guys barely knew each other.  They said their bottle was just sitting there in their room unopened. 
Mara laughed.  Well, open it up and drink it!  

One of the men tried to explain this was a more delicate situation than she realized. Symbolically, Champagne is meant for a special occasion shared by two people who care for one another.  Typically, it helps people become even more affectionate.

Well, these two roommates didn't quite want those feelings encouraged.  They had just met and weren't quite ready for a special moment together.  In fact, the last thing they wanted to do was get their new roommate drunk and see what the results might be.   Therefore their bottle was left sitting in their rooms unopened. 

Mara laughed again.  She giggled and said, "My, my, such a terrible waste!!  Champagne is meant to make people happy!" 

They complained to Mara they weren't as excited about sharing a bottle with each other in the wee hours as Mara might think.  However, if Mara wanted to drink some, they would be happy to share it with her....  Mara laughed again.  Mara said she preferred to drink in even numbers... one boy, one girl.  But maybe if the men knew another single lady, they could all share.

The men frowned.  They couldn't think of anyone off the top of their head.  That's when Mara had an idea.  It had just occurred to her that her own bottle was sitting in the cabin unopened for exactly the same reason as these two men.  If she had not opened her bottle and these guys hadn't opened their bottle, there was good chance there were lots of other unopened bottles as well.

That night at dinner, Mara made the rounds.  She went from one table to another doing Champagne Bottle research.  Sure enough, her hunch had been correct.  She discovered 67% of the cabins still had an unopened bottle of champagne.

So Mara had a suggestion.  Why not have everyone pool their bottles at a 6 pm bash on Thursday Formal Night before our group picture at 7 pm?  Everyone grinned.  What a great idea!  That Mara is such a Smart Girl! 

On the night of the big event, it turned out that several of the people on the trip did not drink.  They were happy to contribute their bottles to this party.  One by one, they dropped by the Champagne Room to add their own bottle to the mix. 

These unexpected contributions added quite a bit of fuel to the fire!   Now there were Champagne bottles everywhere.  Mara said there were probably 50 bottles in all, more than enough to do some serious damage.   The party was on!

A toast to Champagne Mara, founder of SSQQ Champagne Night

Please note that Maureen is drinking out a small glass while Leroy is drinking out the bottle.  Later we will discuss the various results of these two strategies.

Champagne Mara

As it turned out, Mara doesn't drink much herself.  However, she seemed to have an uncanny ability to get other people quite drunk.  Call it the "Champagne Mara Effect".

Worried that there would be lots of bottles left over, Mara made the rounds time and again from one guest to the next keeping their glasses full.  Apparently the consumption levels varied dramatically from one person to another.  Some people took a couple sips.  Other people downed considerable amounts. 

Leroy Ginzel, for example, had a unique solution for the problem of one bottle for two men.  Rather than cut the bottle in two or a more civilized method like using two champagne glasses, Leroy simply drank the entire bottle himself. 

Mara's generosity paid immediate dividends.  People began to smile.  Then they began to grin.  Then they began to laugh.  Then, as show in the pictue, some of the women began to grab men.  Interesting.  Exactly what the men had hoped for. 

Gary Makes a Discovery

After the Champagne Party ended, Gary Richardson began to take pictures of people in their formal attire. 

Gary quickly realized that Mara's Magic Champagne made people more cooperative than ever before. 

People would do anything he asked them to do. 

On the left is a group of men hoping to be chosen to be grabbed by women. 

Phyllis Center of Attention cleverly joined this group and was rewarded for her efforts by being grabbed herself. 

That started the silliness. 

Now the women began a series of men-grabbing pictures. 


Here are three pictures of pitiful helpless men who were seized by women and forced to pose in pictures with them.  Look carefully, there is a man somewhere in each shot.

The men later complained that they tackled and held against their will.  Unfortunately no one believed them.

Gary Richardson said the men didn't seem to mind at all.  He didn't see any struggling whatsoever.


The Glow

The next thing Gary noticed is some of the strangest smiles he has ever seen.  For example, study carefully the pictures of Zeke from Cabin Creek and Gina Lollobridgida. 

These portraits will serve as an up-close study on the effects of alcohol on beautiful women. 

Both woman are strikingly attractive in their red dresses and black hair.  Both also appear to be under the influence. See if you can tell which Lady in Red has had the larger intake of champagne. 

Speaking of red, note the rosy cheeks on Lollo.  She is definitely a Royal Flush.  Gary named this look "The Glow".


One Final Experiment

For our final study on the effects of Champagne consumption, let's take a look at the lovely Mara and the totally wasted Leroy.

Mara as you can see is a sipper.

She sips little bitty quantities of Champagne at a time. 

As a result, she has a lovely smile reminiscent of "The Glow".

Leroy has chosen a different method of intake.  He basically hooked himself up to a hose and told someone to turn on the faucet.

As a result, he has a smile I would describe as "Just Minutes Till the Crash".

Leroy is lucky there is a wall behind him.  Otherwise I believe he would fall into the ocean.

By the way, that's an impressive collection of Champagne bottles.

Mara definitely organized a smashing event... and Leroy definitely got smashed.

Here is the proof.


Next: Chapter Eight

Mischief on the Rhapsody!

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