One of the great joys of what we do for a living is the accumulation of memories from locations we once dreamed about as children. But a reader asked me a question the other day that brought me back to Earth. "What" she asked, "was your most embarrassing moment in travel?"
I suppose there are several ways to respond, but, in my case, there is only one totally honest answer. It happened in 1992 aboard Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas. I am going to share it with you today in the hope that it may get our minds off of Covid and other travel realities for just a few moments.
This was to be a quiet vacation in the Caribbean, the first after launching our new company a few years earlier. Prior to that, I had worked for a Royal Caribbean competitor, and I was getting tired of hearing stories about Royal's incredibly engaging entertainment and cruise directors who knew how to bond with an audience.
So the first night of our seven-night sailing, my wife and I showed up in the massive theater. It was just us and about three-and-a-half-thousand fellow cruisers. We sat upstairs in the very back of the room eager to see what this ship might produce in terms of first-night entertainment. Our seats allowed for a quick exit.
The cruise director came out, made some announcements, told some jokes, and then, in a dramatic way, he explained to the packed theater that there was a really special surprise guest on this sailing.
He paused and then in a booming voice announced that "Elvis is in the audience."
Seconds later a series of spotlights were shining on me, and at least a half dozen ship employees, including security, literally grabbed me by the arms and ushered me down many steps to the stage below.
I had no time to think about an escape. I tried to think of who at Royal Caribbean might have engineered this caper.
Onstage, lights sweeping the room, people standing to get a better view, the cruise director welcomed me and never asked my name. This was to be full-tilt Elvis. Magically, hands appeared from behind the curtains and a sequin jacket was draped over my shoulders. Strangely, it fit, making me realize this was no accident.
Then, I was handed a microphone and I was implored to favor the audience with a song. The big band started the intro to "Hound Dog" and my moment of decision had arrived. Should I shake off the joke, say my thanks and walk off the stage?
I cleared my throat, tried as best I could to channel Elvis (I was not a fan) and decided to try to shed the waves of embarrassment that were engulfing me. I did my best. I sang, I danced, I shook parts of me I didn't know I owned, and I tried to remember the words and made up others.
Then something amazing happened. I was receiving a standing ovation. The audience was telling itself. "Well, at least he tried." They went wild. And I was humiliated.
But the worst of it was yet to come as the eloquent cruise director put his arm around me and explained to the audience that "Elvis will be with us for the rest of the week. The entire management team at Royal Caribbean would appreciate it if you would show your 'respect' by screaming 'Elvis' or 'You are the King' whenever you see him about the ship. And please always ask him for autographs for yourselves and family and friends back home. He'd love to do it."
Every single guest on that sold-out sailing did just what the cruise director had asked. The shrieking would start as soon as I left my cabin. It wasn't an embarrassing moment. It was a well-planned, embarrassing week.