On the last day at sea, the guests aboard the Carnival Spirit found a special treat on the schedule: a World Beard and Moustache Championships preshow.
Around one o’clock, hundreds of people gathered up around the sunny Lido Deck stage - on the floor, in the walkways, on top of the hot tub stairs, everywhere - to find out once and for all why so many guys with wild facial hair were on the same ship, and to take bad digital photos of them all.
While the Europeans came in either full regalia or team uniforms, Beard Team USA’s (BTUSA) dress was a little less cohesive. Some donned their team outfits or at least fancy clothes; still others appeared in whatever they had on. (I showed up in my cat shirt.)
Fighting gaps in mike power due to Dirk the Naturalist’s commentary on the passing scenery, Captain Phil explained the origins of the sport, and introduced originators, presidents, and past World Champions from the various international clubs to applause and camera flashes. At the end, when BTUSA grabbed the team banner and hopped up there, I was sitting on the edge. I felt it odd to stare out into the countless camera lenses, all pointed at us, all because we had beards.
Guess we had better get used to it.
But - as wives, girlfriends, college housemates, and other victims of indecent exposure already know - we members of Beard Team USA aren’t just good at growing hair on our faces.
Just after our show, the event staff had scheduled that staple of interactive cruise ship fun, the Hairy Chest Contest. Of the six men who stepped up to the stage, two were old guys, one a scrawny middle-ager, and three beardsmen: Sasha (who boarded this ship teamless and is leaving it a proud member of Beard Team Canada), Eric Brown, and Devin Cara.
For those of us who’ve shared a hot tub with our teammates, no shirts needed be sexily slipped off to Right Said Fred to know how things would turn out. The old guys did have some good rugs going, and even some badass tattoos, and Eric and Sasha gave a good effort, but few humans in the world boast anything to match the simian-like bristly forest blocking any and all sunlight from Devin’s chest, abs, back, and, especially, shoulders.
And thus, when Devin held high in his bear-patterned arms his plastic cruise ship trophy, complimentary bathrobe, and bottle of champagne, it affirmed deep within each of us that something, at least something, is still right in this crazy, crazy world.
That afternoon, after Captain Phil’s pep talk on current transnational World Beard and Moustache politics and drama, we headed to the Shanghai Lounge for our private and long-awaited pre-Anchorage party.
Which had an open bar.
Not since at the Alaskan Brewing Company had a room been more filled with the raucous laughter, backslapping, handshaking, and language barrier-pummeling of this bunch of 85 natural and styled moustachioed, partially and full-bearded Americans, Canadians, Dutch, Belgians, Brits, Germans, and many loud and proud wives, swilling and spilling free glass after free glass of beer from one hand and cocktails from the other.
Fifteen minutes into it, Suderat, the diminutive bartender, called for backup. She didn’t get it. As her attention grew harder to attract, I grabbed my Long Island Iced Teas and headed outside. Someone had found an emergency exit and beards were gathering outside to watch us chop through the icebergs of Glacier Bay.
Everyone stumbled around, posing with each and every one of each other for at least five of the same photo from any and all nearby cameras, before a background of glaciers and beards.
The second it was 5:30, Suderat hurriedly covered up the beer box and lowered the liquor cage, avoiding the fire and ire of so many sets of eyes, and closing her ears to the multilingual protests. Those 20 seconds may have been the most trying of that hour, which may have been one of the longest of her life.
With no other choice, beards wound their way out and around the ship in search of other, not free bars, or retired to their own smuggled stashes to keep up the pace for the rest of the night.
Up on the aft deck I leaned against the railing, watched the glaciers go by, sipped a tall Under-the-Wing and talked to a guy who’d run into the same insane drunk cabbie in a bar in Ketchikan. Feeling charitable, I shared my concoction with him. When I noticed a full-bearded Berliner pull up to my left, I offered him the glass.
“Vawt’s this?” he asked. He sniffed. “OH! Alcohol! Yes!” He took a deep sip.
Wild Turkey: It’s the universal vessel of amity and peace.