Are You a Pinnacle or a Suite? The 'Cult' of Cruise Ship Life

Author Gary Shteyngart spends a week aboard the world's biggest cruise ship
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 14, 2024 9:00 AM CDT
Are You a Pinnacle or a Suite? The 'Cult' of Cruise Ship Life
An area of rooms and shops dubbed Central Park is seen from an upper deck aboard Icon of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship, in this file photo.   (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

In a first-person account for the Atlantic, Gary Shteyngart joins the odd subgenre of authors writing about their time on a cruise ship, one famously begun by David Foster Wallace in 1996. But Shteyngart has some bragging rights: He's not just on any ship, but on Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas, the world's biggest cruise ship. The headline referring to "seven agonizing nights" will give you a sense of how things go, but Shteyngart's full account detailing the agony is worth the time. Some snippets:

  • "And now I understand something else: This whole thing is a cult. And like most cults, it can't help but mirror the endless American fight for status." You will learn about Pinnacles, Diamond-Plusers, Suites, "SeaPass Card peasants," and the struggles between and among such passengers.

  • "Drinking next to full-size, nearly naked Americans takes away one's own self-consciousness." Self-explanatory.
  • "Cruise ships have become, for a certain kind of hardworking family, a form of subsidized child care." This is referring to the lower-tier cabins starting at $1,800 per person, where parents can stay while their kids hunker down in "Surfside" elsewhere on the ship.
Read the full story, for lots more on the multitude of passengers Shteyngart meets, either in his "Daddy's Little Meatball" T-shirt or, later, his robe. (Or check out other longform recaps.)

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