A couple of years ago, my wife Miki and I went on a cruise with her parents. It was their idea, not ours. But we were good sports. The consensus: neither Miki nor I enjoyed cruising. It was all too mainstream for us - the food, the activities, the decor, our fellow passengers. So while we don't consider ourselves hipsters - well, who does, including hipsters themselves? - we tried to imagine what would make cruises more "cool", i.e. what it would take to get us aboard one of those huge ocean liners again. First and foremost, any hipster worth his salt would nix the very notion of cruising because of the enormous carbon footprint. But let's pretend there's a ship that runs solely on wind and solar power, with maybe a biofuel backup, and build upon that.
- Dive bars. Let's face it, cruising is mostly about getting drunk, and the one thing hipsters like about today's ships is that they're loaded with bars. But while most cruise lines are desperate to create a skanky Miami vibe in their nightclubs, the S.S. Hipster would have a bunch of dark, gritty watering holes offering up Pabst Blue Ribbons, White Russians, and maybe some "ironic" Pina Coladas. Richer hipsters (more likely to be cruising anyway) would be rewarded with at least one venue serving up organic craft beers. Extra points for going "local" and serving brews from each cruise's ports of call.
- Vegan-friendly buffets. If you're not drinking on a cruise, then you're eating. (Often both.) Miki is vegan and had a fairly unsatisfying time trying to find tasty food that she could eat. Hipster cruising would offer food for all diets, locally-sourced (e.g., sugar from Bermuda, pineapple from Hawaii) when possible. In our collection of restaurants, you'd find Thai places, pizzerias and greasy spoons alongside the usual Italian eateries and steakhouses.
- Urban-style retail. Shopping on cruise ships baffles me. I mean, why? But you can't get around it. So our vessel's on-board shops would cop a Brooklyn attitude, and instead of gaudy diamond necklaces and duty-free perfumes, you'd be able to browse used book and record stores, thrift shops, offbeat boutiques - anything other than a tattoo parlor, which, given the occasional choppy wave, is just a bad idea. Again, bonus points if they all stock hard-to-find local oddities from the ports.
- Bicycles. What hipster doesn't love bikes? Our boat would offer storage for your own ride as well as rental bikes for pedaling around the decks or the ports. A bike shop would naturally be part of our aforementioned retail row.
- Postmodern art classes. Those goofy on-board craft activities offered by most cruise ships wouldn't have to change much to appeal to hipsters, who enjoy knitting, sewing, and collaging anyway. But we'd add some performance art, graffiti, and video installation classes to the mix. And a serious gallery scene, of course. No Thomas Kinkade-style corporate junk here!
- Indie bands. Sure, there's something wacky about having an old school, Captain & Tennille-like duo in the lounge. How retro! But hipsters don't really want to spend a week listening to that crap. Host a mini-Coachella and you'll drive 'em wild. [2013 note: Coachella recently began hosting cruises.] While we're at it, instead of yet another Vegas-style song and dance review, put some chubby tattooed burlesque girls on the stage.
- An arthouse movie theater. I was disappointed with our old ship's on-board activities. The only "unique" thing it had was an ice skating rink, and I can't skate to save my life. I was once on a cruise ship (for a paid written assignment) that had a bowling alley - you know hipsters would go for that, at least! And sure, let's keep the bingo - it's kooky - and maybe the casino too. But while most ships have movie theaters, those usually only show sucky Hollywood comedies from the last couple of years. Let's throw some foreign films in there, as well as some campy old drive-in titles and maybe even a retrospective for Werner Herzog or something.
- Improved corporate ethics. Along with "greener" energy and locally-sourced food and beverage, the S.S. Hipster would have a unionized American staff making a decent wage (something you won't see on most ships). There would be smarter, safer treatment and disposal of waste. And hey, why not make the whole cruise line a worker-owned co-op while we're at it?
- Marijuana. I've never smoked pot and have no desire to start. But an imbibing friend agrees that it would be most excellent to kick back on a sunny deck in the middle of the ocean and get high. Since many cruise lines are based in The Netherlands and other places where marijuana is decriminalized, then why not? If you can't sell it on board, at least you can let passengers bring their own.