Report: Caribbean Poker Cruise
Lou Krieger, Card Player Magazine Strategy Columnist
and author of Poker for Dummies, Hold'em Excellence,
and More Hold'em Excellence. Lou Krieger is one of many professional
poker players and authors who join Card Player Cruises voyages as
participants and seminar speakers.
miracle of connecting flights occurs when your bags get off the
same plane you do. I was lucky. My big, dark green suitcase
with the wheels and drag-me-along handle that looks the same as
half the other suitcases you see in airports nowadays was the fourth
bag on the carousel when my connecting flight from Houston touched
down in New Orleans.
It's a $25 cab ride or a $10 trip on the shuttle from the airport
into either the French Quarter or the Garden District where I would
be staying that evening prior to boarding Carnival Cruise lines
"Celebration," for a week long poker cruise to the Caribbean. The
streets were still flooded from a drenching rain that ended about
20 minutes before the flight touched down and New Orleans was the
kettle of steam it always is after a summer rain. When the shuttle
driver told me he would drop the other passengers off at their hotels
in the French Quarter before depositing me in the Garden District,
and then mentioned just as an aside that the Quarter would be mobbed
because of the championship fight at the Superdome, I asked if he
would be kind enough to take the Carrolton Street exit from the
freeway and deposit me at the Camellia Grill instead. He did, and
I thankfully dragged one large suitcase, one small backpack, and
one larger backpack with my laptop computer, and myself, into one
of my favorite eating-places in the universe.
not much to look at; just a long, serpentine lunch counter full
of all kinds of folks, but it has the best red beans and rice anywhere.
The Camellia is off the beaten track. It's uptown, far from the
Vieux Carre, out beyond Tulane University where the St. Charles
streetcar turns up Carrolton Street. Even so, a few tourists have
discovered it, and the prices make it popular with Tulane students,
as well as night workers, cops, hookers, cabbies, and anyone else
in search of great food that's incredibly inexpensive. The Camellia
is also famous for their colorful countermen, who will talk and
chat, and keep you smiling and good-humored all through your meal.
I finished I grabbed my bags and caught the streetcar for a ride
down tree-lined St. Charles Avenue into the Garden District. I'd
stayed at the Prytania Inn before, and though I did not remember
the cross street for exiting the streetcar, I did remember to keep
an eye out for the rather large La Madeleine sign, an inexpensive
French buffet restaurant. It's impossible to miss, and I grabbed
my bags, hopped off the streetcar and had a short, one-block walk
to Prytania Street, which runs parallel to St. Charles, a block
closer to the river.
next day, after a leisurely breakfast I grabbed a cab to the Julia
Street cruise ship terminal, deposited my bags with the porters
and went on board. My roommate for the trip was 1983 World Series
of Poker winner Tom McEvoy who was already on board and unpacked
when I arrived.
good thing about taking a cruise to the Caribbean out of New Orleans,
instead of Fort Lauderdale where most of the Caribbean cruises arrive
and depart, is that you are in New Orleans. The bad thing is that
you are much further north, and the first two days are spent at
sea. We sailed Sunday night and the first port of call was not until
Wednesday morning, when we'd hit Jamaica. Two days at sea would
ordinarily drive me mad. But this was a poker cruise, with 14 poker
tables set up in what was otherwise the ship's library and adjacent
piano bar, and the poker games would sustain me.
Games were available at all limits, from a beginner's game at
$1 and $2 stakes all the way up to $15-$30 and $20-$40. I was
tired by the time the ship left New Orleans, but I played anyway.
But I played until the games broke, and went to sleep in the dark
of a cabin comforted by the gentle rhythms of a ship slipping from
a river into the Gulf of Mexico.
rhythm of life at sea on a poker cruise is always the same for me.
Awaken, eat breakfast, play poker, eat lunch, play poker, eat dinner,
then play some more. The games were a lot of fun, the crowd was
nice and I knew many of them, and I had a good time except for the
fact that by the time I went to sleep on Tuesday night I was stuck
nearly $1,700, including my buy ins for two of the tournaments.
I made the final table at one of them, the $230 buy-in Omaha/8 tourney,
but did not finish in the money. My best chance was unceremoniously
yanked out from under my feet when I limped-in under the gun (not
wanting to jeopardize my relatively short stack of chips by raising)
with A-2-3-4. The ace was suited too, all the better for my chances,
but I took the flop with four others only to stare at three big
cards and my suit nowhere in sight. No flush, no straight, no low
hand to escape with half the pot, and no more hope. I was eliminated
next day we arrived at Montego Bay, Jamaica. McEvoy and I took a
tour of the city then went to meet many of the other cruisers who
planned to rendezvous at Margaritaville, a party bar of some renown
located right on the water's edge. It was loud, noisy, full of fun,
and the food was OK too.
Jamaica, for all its natural beauty is not my favorite spot. It's
dirty, rife with privation, and full of very aggressive Jamaicans
willing to sell you anything from voodoo herbs to ganja right on
the street corner. While tourism seems to be one of the staples
of their economy, along with coffee, rum, and dope dealing, most
of the folks don't seem to care all that much for the tourists who
deposit much of the money in their fragile economy. Jamaica is third
world and shows it, from the squalor to the unremitting traffic
jams caused by small cars in even smaller roads of which there are
far too few. I left Margaritaville a bit earlier than most of the
others, to get back to the ship, shower, and get my slides together
for a poker seminar I was scheduled to deliver right as the ship
The seminar exceeded my expectations. I had thought maybe
25 or 30 people would show up for the seminar, but the attendance
was approximately 100. I shoehorned two 45-minute seminar presentations
into about an hour, and was happy with the feedback I received from
those who attended.
If Jamaica is one end of the Caribbean's economic and social spectrum,
Grand Cayman Island, where we stopped the following day, is the
other. Georgetown, the main city in the Caymans is the Beverly Hills
of the Caribbean, with exclusive shop after exclusive shop all staffed
by incredibly polite, courteous employees.
The Caymanese are as wealthy as the Jamaicans are poor. Not only
do they have a thriving offshore banking industry, with bank privacy
laws that rival those of Switzerland, they pay no taxes, an act
of historical good fortune that dates the reign of King George,
back in the 18th Century. When a flotilla of British merchant ships
foundered on the reefs surrounding the island, King George sent
a fleet to rescue them. But they foundered too. The natives, however,
were able to rescue all the ships, all the cargo, and all of the
sailors on board. When the story was relayed to King George, he
pronounced that the Cayman Islanders would never again pay taxes
to the Crown, and that their budget would be borne by England in
Naturally, the Cayman Islanders named their main burg Georgetown
honor of their benefactor, and with the end of colonialism in the
mid 20th Century, the Caymanese turned down an offer of independence
from England. They were only too happy to let the Brits continue
to build their roads, construct an airport, use their banks, and
build resorts and condominiums as vacation getaways for Londoners
seeking refuge from their own bleak, rainy winters. The terrific
weather, the tax haven status, the cheap flights from England, and
the duty free shops and boutiques all helped make the Caymans the
upscale Caribbean resort Island of choice.
But I wasn't there to buy a Breitling or a Rolex sans taxes or duty;
I was there to swim with the stingrays at Stingray City, a sandbar
out near the reef that is home to thousands of these delta-winged
animals. They are soft to the touch, and if you don't step on them,
you will have no troubles at all. Stingrays do not see humans as
their enemy, and one can even embrace them, lifting them partially
out of the water. Stingrays do not bite. In fact, they have no teeth.
Instead, they feed by sucking food into their mouths as though they
were sea-going vacuum cleaners. To be able to swim and play with
them is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I have now done twice,
and would do again in a heartbeat.
That night I made a comeback of sorts at the poker tables, winning
$600 so I was now stuck only $1,100 for the trip. No miracles,
just a case of getting my share of flops and winning a few good-sized
the ocean was roiling, courtesy of Hurricane Gordon, and I was tired
and went down to my cabin to sleep, since the ship was scheduled
to dock early the following day at Cozumel, Mexico. The morning
was gray, and the seas were high -- definitely not snorkeling weather
-- when we docked at Cozumel. I was still very tired and rundown,
so I bailed on a jeep trip around the island. Instead, I had breakfast,
shopped for souvenirs, and took a nap. By the time I awakened I
felt a lot better and was ready for a follow up to my seminar, actually
a question and answer session, where cruisers could ask anything
they wished about poker to the poker-author foursome of Linda Johnson,
Tom McEvoy, Jan Fisher, and me.
What was interesting to me was how very similar our takes were on
almost every question posed to us. It's either a case of great minds
working in the same direction or else we're all reading each other's
stuff and regressing back to some philosophical mean.
The next day was another day at sea, and the no-limit hold'em tourney.
There were two tables remaining and I had a decent sized stack of
chips along with a pocket pair of queens when I put the big blind
and one caller to the test by going all-in. With a pair of queens
I wanted to win the pot right there, and not give anyone with a
naked ace or king a chance to get lucky on the flop. I guess it
was the right play but the worst possible occasion, since the chip
leader at that time, who had just called the blind, couldn't wait
to get his chips into the pot.
Since I was now all-in, we both turned our hands face up, and I
was looking at a pair of aces. Two-outers don't win very often,
and this was no exception. I was eliminated and left to go to lunch,
then play cards until the games broke up around midnight. I won
a little bit of money that day, so my net result for the cruise
was a loss of $900. Not all that bad, but not the results I hoped
last day at sea featured a course change to take us out of the path
of Hurricane Gordon, which was downgraded to a tropical storm before
it made landfall at the Florida Keys and dumped an enormous amount
of rain up the eastern seaboard. Even with the ship's stabilizers
working overtime to neutralize the effect of the waves, you could
feel the sea at work, and the rocking motion made most of look like
a convention of drunks when walking about the ship.
Still, the cruise was a lot of fun, full of really nice people and
the frivolity level almost rivaled BARGE at times. This was my third
poker cruise and my first with Card Player Cruises. And I'd do it
again. In fact, I plan to.
in New Orleans now, and just about partied out. I've reached that
stage of exhaustion where I'm simultaneously wired and tired. Nevertheless,
I'm off to Snug Harbor, a blues and jazz club located over on Frenchmen
Street, just outside the Vieux Carre, in the Faubourg Marigny. After
that I'll undoubtedly stop for beignets and coffee laced with chicory
at the Café Du Monde where I'll watch the world go by and decide
just how much more of this I can take before I decide to catch a
plane back to California.
Lou Krieger's website at http://www.loukrieger.com
to read more of his poker articles or to order his books.