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This year, I spent New Year’s Eve on a cruise ship, the Carnival Magic, and let me tell you The Poseidon Adventure got it all wrong.
It was the last night before we hit our first port of call, and our gregarious cruise director, James, took to the microphone shortly before sunset. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “tonight — the first of two cruise elegant evenings — will begin with early dining at 6 p.m. We’re going to be welcoming the New Year in absolute style, folks, counting down in the main lobby on Deck 3 and of course showcasing all the best dance moves you’ve learned on the Magic so far.” This was the first of three such announcements.
“Cruise elegant” is Carnival’s name for its formal dress code. My suit and tie turned out to be just barely elegant enough; our dining neighbors wore their tuxedos and many of the Magic ladies were wearing pearls.
Meanwhile, the Magic’s pomp and circumstance did little to mitigate the inebriation of its guests. With almost all the ship’s services included in the price of admission, alcohol is a major source of revenue, so barmaids were everywhere and the drinking age was loosely enforced. Some of the Magic guests were wasted from embarkation to debarkation, but even the most temperate and frugal among them seemed to let loose on New Year’s Eve. I lost count of the souvenir shot glasses I saw circulating; I remember particularly a crowd of large and ungainly women with tropical liqueurs in to-go cups.
By the time we reached the dance floor on Deck 3, the sea of bodies had reached critical mass, and some of the dancers had partnered off in unusual ways — grandmothers with grandsons and petite women with gigantic men. Rather than the rogue wave that capsized the celebrants in The Poseidon Adventure, we greeted the stroke of midnight with balloons, beads and streamers. The next morning we were woken up early and led into the jungle.
I know what you’re thinking. Not my kind of New Year’s. At first, I thought so too, but the actual experience proved me wrong. In reality, it was the most positive New Year’s experience I’ve had since early childhood. For the duration of the cruise, I was occupied constantly and couldn’t figure out why. On debarkation Sunday, however, and on the long subsequent shuttle ride to the airport, I began to formulate a theory.
The reason I had so much fun is that I was kept busy for all hours of the day and night. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you know that the organizers triple-book every half-hour period. You’re completely disconnected from work and life, completely consumed in whatever you’re doing, be it an ice carving exhibition or a round of 1980s Name That Song. In this respect, it is not like the usual experience of New Year’s Eve.
The romantic notion of New Year’s is, for most of us, quite far away from reality. In movies, New Year’s moves fast: There are lots of spectacular fireworks, enormous parties and drunken romances. Often, though, I’m so worn out from Christmas that I don’t really do anything at all. I end up spending a few hours with close friends and family and supplementing that time with its equivalent in television.
And that’s where New Year’s starts to drag. Every other word is about New Year’s resolutions, or about the “optimism” and hope of a new year which may be better than the last. It occurs to me, finally, that this is a terrible way to think about New Year’s. It subtly implies that last year is in need of improvement, that it wasn’t good enough. We’re asked to comb through our habits for the bad ones, our goals for the neglected ones and to resolve against a year’s worth of living. How insane is that? Confidence, I think, is the active ingredient in optimism.
We’ll be more optimistic and hopeful if we’re encouraged to regard our previous year as a wild success. Not to say that there isn’t room for growth or that anyone of us has maximized his or her potential, but contentment breeds further contentment and disappointment further disappointment. Truly, I think the effect of New Year’s resolutions is the stifling hope: another year without a promotion, another year with 10 extra pounds. And, of course, to stifle hope is to ensure failure. The improvement will come, naturally, if only we allow ourselves a base to grow from.
So, to my mind, the one and only worthwhile New Year’s resolution is to spend the holiday with head held high. Find your own Carnival Magic, a festival of excess, and rest (for a few hours at least) on the laurels you earned in the departing year.
Ben Moss likes having a base to grow from, bass to bump from his speakers and his trophy bass to remind him of his incredible fishing abilities.