“Fucking hell, look at the size of that thing” was a sentiment shared by several of the contingency that got off the bus outside the MSC Magnifica - a giant, luxury cruise liner with all-inclusive food and drink and 24 hours of non-stop dance music. It sounded like a dream: for once we'd be going to a festival without the late scramble to mix a violent concoction of our remaining alcohol, or waking up to a deflated air mattress after an hour-and-a-half sleep. We'd be getting a taste of the high life, living as the linen-clad European bourgeoisie do while stopping in exotic destinations like Barcelona, Mallorca and Ibiza.
We were ready to eat the buffets clean, drink the bars dry and #dancelikenooneiswatching to as many shoulder-rolling bangers as possible. The line-up of Sven Väth, Dixon, Jamie Jones, Ben Klock and Sonja Moonear was just the tip of our iceberg. We were about to get on a fucking cruise ship. Mum, we made it – we’re going to go bowling on the Mediterranean Sea. Two best buds, on a boat together, living the good life. Everything in absurd proportions.
But we didn’t come out on top, mum. We failed. We lost. The cruise won. The cruise broke us.
Louis: There she is: the beautiful mediterranean sea, batting its frothy eyelashes at us like a seductive temptress. It's azure blue glow a rarity for eyes accustomed to the grey surroundings of London. It's fucking huge, the sea, innit? Covers up to 71 per cent of the world's surface or something. As I look back on this in the future, here is the point we probably should have read more into the sea as an allegory for isolation, but as we start to pull away from the Genoa port with a low rumble, all we have on our minds is getting the first round of all-inclusive drinks in.
Funster: To be honest, all that is on my mind is the state of the decor on this boat. It's a mixture of porn star chic and OAP trendy. There's velvet everywhere, weirdly colourful carpet and enough LED lights scattered around to power an EDM headline show. It feels like a big adventure playground, one that we'll be running around for the next five days. We are in a privileged position. As we arrive at our cosy little twin room, we know we are in for a perfect storm of madness.
Louis: You know when you black out from drinking? Yeah, that was kind of the first night. And as morning breaks through the cracks of our blackout curtains, we try to get our shit together for day 2. The boat's charms are still high, but the night before had left a taste in our mouths. Was this it? Had we experienced the full extent of the boat already? A quick shower and freshen up eradicates that from my mind, and we decide on a plan of action. With everyone on board and the boat headed for Barcelona, we'll do a full 24 hours straight to truly experience the ins and outs of this ship. How we came to this decision with such severe hangovers will be a question that plagues me for the rest of my life. But we are intent and head to the buffet for our first full English breakfast in vintage football shirts. The scene is set, we've decided to forego the linen and revel in our position as some of the only 'Brits abroad'.
Funster: Do we go continental? Do we hit the fruit after cold meats and cheese? Come on. We hit the hash browns, confusingly big sausages and bowl of beans with a level of fervour only seen at a Little Chef on the A14 after a four-hour drive. The prosecco is a touch as well, in fact, it's our fuel, the fuel we need to go onto the top deck to see Sonja Moonear, a selector we're more than excited about checking. Everyone's rowdy as hell. As I witness the usual displays of primal peacocking, a hazy memory comes back to me of a bald man in a poncho trying to start a fight with me by the lifts the night before. He called me fat and I tickled his head. It got weird and that should have set off alarm bells. It didn't.
Louis: So far, so odd. Things on the boat are definitely a different world but we are still in good spirits. But as we enjoy the sun and sounds up on deck, there is something I can't shake. It really weirded me out how many photographers were on board last night and it seemed every corner we turned, a man or woman in a Sailor Moon costume was asking to snap a pic for the boat's photo wall (where you could buy them). As we dance along to Sonja, another camera pops into view like a submarine telescope among the sea of people. I mean, we've heard of club photographers but this was something else. Does anybody want to buy a photo of themselves on no sleep, still gurning from the night before? Everything was on display and we were by no means in any shape to be filed away in the archives of a strangers DSLR. It's like living in a fish bowl on top of the fish.
In saying that we're doing exactly the same thing.
Funster: Straight up, I'm acting like a child. Perhaps it's the liquor that's taken hold of me but either way I pull my jersey over my head and borrow my mate's 'Make Ibiza Great Again' cap so I could create some sort of sun breaker. I burn very easily. I got sunstroke at Glastonbury a few years ago so my skin is an easy, soft and supple target for the sun. I don't really care what I look like though and it doesn't seem like anyone else around me does either. To my right is a steampunk raver who looks like a Burning Man regular. To my left a girl with a peace tattoo wobbles in unceremonius fashion to the tunes. The crowd is here to dance, not to pay attention to me. I feel, weirdly, at home
Louis: The boat has once again wrapped its long and salty fingers around our hearts, drawing us back into a foregone conclusion of being as drunk as seadogs, listening to tech-house at five in the morning. It's exactly what had happened the night before and we expected it to happen again. As the deck began to fill up for the day we walk off to explore. The ship is a bountiful boat of surprises. Windows are everywhere but it feels like you can't see outside of them. Where the main elevator shaft is there is no way to discern which end of the boat you are at. Internet is practically non existent on the open seas so room numbers become our Google Maps. We stumble across a children's playground and sit for a bit, contemplating the bizarre oxymoron that is two grown adults drinking rum and cokes on a plastic structure adorned with a cartoon octopus. We discover the vomit at the top of the slide and head back to the pool.
Funster: After the whirlwind adventure that is the children's designated play area, we head to the pool and really let go. It's tops off b2b dive bomb time and everyone's invited. I whip off my Portsmouth shirt, kick off my sliders and get right to it. Fuck, it's cold, and, wait, is that salt water? Oh god, I'm not ready for this. It's much deeper than I thought and I'm like a moist manatee trying to get on the inflatables. It's a stark contrast from the jacuzzi filled with girls drinking champagne and the muscle men swanning by the side of the pool. The music is still pumping and it's filled out a little bit. While it's good to have a dance in the sun, in this instance, I'm more up for flailing. I'm good at flailing.
Once out of the pool, we get ourselves ready for our big excursion to the city. We dock in Barcelona, we're going to the Spanish hotspot and we couldn't be happier. Should I change my now damp Portsmouth shirt? Nah, don't think so.
Louis: I've never been to Barcelona and here I am, about to experience it in one of the most unique ways possible. As we disembark, and flag down a taxi, we don't really have a plan. We'd gotten used to the boat looking after our fun. That morning we'd had a plan, but we'd run through that and the only thing on our minds is buying a football to use at the on-board football pitch. We hop in the taxi and one of our contingency suggests a name in Spanish I don't catch. Another member of our contingency is talking about the 'Barcelona Dance', a trick pick-pocketers employ to steal your phone. What the fuck are we doing off the boat? There were no thieves on the boat. This was the first time we'd stepped on dry land for over 36 hours. The real world is a scary place and after 25 minutes of walking around aimlessly looking for a bar, we stop at a fountain at the end of our already short fuses.
Funster: This is the most walking I've done the entire trip and yes, I'm moody. I've already explained that I'm not big on the heat and I'm getting restless and a bit longed out. But when we stumble across an incredible little mojito bar, we realise that all is not lost. We sip on 3 Euro cocktails and all of the negatives slowly turn positive. We're in Barcelona, we're on a luxury cruise ship, the world is our fucking oyster. The only thing getting me down is I think I'm starting to feel nauseous. I'm not sure though, it could be the syrup in the mojito. Anyway, a new plan is hatched. There's a rave called Brunch In The Park on and we can all get in last minute. When we arrive we loiter with some friends but before we know it, we are on stage with Hot Since 82, dancing around, parading ourselves to the masses in retro football shirts. We turn to each other and discuss the chance that people see us in these football shirts, potentially the only ones of their kind in the city. Little do we know, the whole event is being streamed and the comments section is littered with people commending us on our jerseys. We've made it.
Louis: There I am, in front of 5000 people kissing the badge of a shirt that's 17 years old. To say the trip has been a rollercoaster thus far, is an understatement to say the least. But just as we begin to establish ourselves as Spain's first Bez and Shaun Ryder, it's time to go back to the boat. I have mixed feelings, but at the same time I don't have the mental capacity to process them. I'm simply resigned to my life back on the boat and so I decide to try my hand at the onboard casino, filled with notions of good luck after our star turn on the mainland.
Funster: Arguably the best bit about the boat is the casino. It feels like our own little Vegas and we revel in its glory. It isn't very big but it has blackjack, roulette, Texas Hold'Em and enough slot machines to keep even the most hardened gamblers amused. Blackjack is my game of choice so I give it go, I have a max of 20 euros to flush and that's that. One hand goes my way, then another and another. Before I know it I'm up 80 Euros and flying fucking high. I depart from the table a rich man indeed. Of course, this can't last.
Louis: Boat casinos are no different to land casinos; the house always wins. I too go up at the roulette table before pissing it all away on black... or red. Fatigue is setting in and the group of black-clad ravers in the corner, smoking, isn't helping. It really feels like a time warp and I expect an Elvis lookalike to come crooning out from behind one of the slot machines at any moment. We go back to the hotel room dejected and I begin to distrust my companion. I'm not ready for this. The cruise may break us individually, but surely it can't destroy our friendship? "My stomach hurts, I feel sick, I can't handle the fucking rocking", whine, whine, whine is all I hear from Jeremy. We come to blows. I'm not proud and I seek refuge. I need space, which, luckily, isn't hard to find on this ship.
Funster: I'm not in a good place. Do I miss the highs of Barcelona and Brunch In The Park? Of course I do. Had I drank too much earlier in the day and swallowed too much sea water? You bet. I've hit a wall, a wall that stops my fun dead in its tracks. At least by the pool I could be stupid without feeling the need to vomit continuously. The worst bit though is our fight. My colleague and I have a full-on shouting match and slightly physical bout in our room. What was once a place of harmony and tenderness has become a breeding ground for all of the angst that had been building between us. There is a Magnifica-shaped divide in our relationship. Louis says I'm whining, I say he's being insensitive and that is that. I consider Louis a really close friend but this is testing. I called him some awful names and he storms off.
Louis: Jeremy catches up with me pretty quickly. "Sorry," he slurs. "Sorry, too" I mumble. It's all you really need when you're united in conquering an unconquerable force of evil.
Louis: I'm lost. It's about 4am, which has become the de rigeour start time of the night on the boat. That's if people have actually stopped at any point. I look around me, wondering how all these people can still cheer and holler and woop while cruising along through a literal ocean of blackness. It's too much for me, I now realise trying to go the whole day was a mistake and after two hours or so of music, I can't shake the feeling that I'm drowning in the same four-bar loops. Over and over and over and over and over and over. I love dance music, but not like this. Not like this...
Funster: I'm sick as a fucking dog. I'm tired, I don't know what I want or what I need. And then I have a sudden, almost holy, realisation. I'm not even alive. I'm in some sort of purgatory. In fact, I'm actually in purgatory. This is now me for eternity. I realise that the boat is where I will be for the rest of time and every time I try to jump off, I will appear back on the boat. The food stays the same, the people are the same, the music is non-stop and the wifi is fucking awful. Forever. It's bleak but at least I know what I'm faced with... until I quickly snap back to my reality and come to conclusion that I'm hungry again, maybe. Could this be the saviour I've been looking for?
Louis: We fucking gorge ourselves. And not on the good shit, we're talking dirty burgers, filthy hotdogs, greasy chips and a whole load of sauce to drown it all in. It's the Brixton McDonald's at 3am. It's a Morley's Chicken Shop after a big night out. But it's on the goddamn Mediterranean Sea. Honestly, it's the cruise's only competitive gesture to us in a battle it's winning easily. But even the warm, golden lights of the 24-hour buffet is a cold, dark, double-edged sword.
Funster: We laugh a lot about the food. But this laughter soon turns back to sickness as we realise the ramifications of our Henry VIII-style munch. The greasy, low-quality fast food, coupled with the intensity of the boat's motion sends me to an even worse place than before. Will this ever end, will I feel good again? Only time can tell but it isn't looking good. Maybe a shower will help?
Louis: Jeremy went to fucking sleep.
Funster: And that was that. I lose. The casino wins. The all-inclusive bar wins. The vomit in the playground wins. To put it simply, the boat has beaten me. I fall asleep. Do I care at this point? No way. I sleep the best in that moment than I have the entire time spent in our room. There's no shame in recharging your batteries, but this isn't recharging, this is like the battery has finally died. Not even the Duracell bunny could give me the spark at this point.
Louis: As we get under the covers, we both know it's over. It's only halfway through the trip but we aren't going to try this again. We're just going to get our review in the bag and that's it. The whistle has been blown, five days have been played. The cruise didn't just edge a winner in injury time, it dominated us in possession throughout, took more shots on target, had the territory, broke our serve and a thousand other sports analogies. There will be no golden goal. Goddamn you, Magnifica, you magnificent bastard.
Funster: Will I go back on a cruise ship again? No. But it was an experience to say the least. I'd like to take this point to thank Louis for his constant help throughout. We fought, we made up, we laughed. Ultimately we're still best buds but things were tense. One thing's for sure, if I ever see a white rum and coke again, I'll be a very, very unhappy sailor.
Louis: Cheers to that.