The trip was advertised for months as the "Sir Charles and
Friends Supercruise!" Sir Charles Barkley, superstar forward of
the Phoenix Suns, would lead a madcap group of well-heeled
travelers on a seven-day, seven-night voyage from New York to
Bermuda and back, aboard the Dreamward, a 10-deck ocean liner
that can accommodate 1,242 passengers and a crew of 483. Not
since Groucho, Harpo and Chico chased Margaret Dumont from
stateroom to stateroom had there been the promise of so much
On July 13, two days before the trip was scheduled to begin,
Barkley sent word through his agent and his attorney that he
would not be going. "Barkley's decision was necessitated by the
inability of the promoter to provide contractually required
liability insurance and the nonpayment of half of Barkley's
agreed fee," read the Barkley camp's statement. The passengers,
alas, had paid their nonrefundable fees; it was too late to
cancel reservations. The Sir Charles and Friends Supercruise!
took place as scheduled last week ... without Sir Charles. This
is a report from those understandably choppy seas.
ABOARD THE DREAMWARD
The days go past in a sun-splotched blur. An attendant named
Rudi sprays a fine mist from a bottle of Evian across red and
anxious faces to help relieve the heat. Thank you, Rudi. A
waiter named Danielo delivers pina coladas, complete with
pineapple slice, maraschino cherry and paper parasol, to counter
the ever-present thirst. Thank you, Danielo.
Nothing seems to work. Faith has been shattered. Hope seems
lost. Charity certainly does not exist. Where is Charles? No one
seems to know.
"What is purple, orange and black, and invisible?" comedian
Randy Pryor asks during his first routine in the opulent but
overstated Stardust Lounge. "Charles Barkley!"
Badda-boom! Thank you, Randy.
Charles is not at the pool. Charles is not in the Observatory
Lounge disco. Charles is not in either of the two Jacuzzis.
Charles is not at the Caribbean Stud Poker table in the Casino
Royale. Charles is not at the Chocoholic Buffet. Charles is not
at either the first seating or the second seating at Viking
Night in the Sun Terrace Restaurant. Charles is not dribbling
across the swaying basketball court on the top deck. Charles is
not shooting skeet.
"I guess this is just the 'And Friends Cruise' now," longtime
backup forward Kurt Rambis, a 14-year NBA veteran who played
with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, tells the 138 travelers
assembled in the Stardust Lounge who bought the Barkley package.
All had paid roughly $1,000 more per person than anyone with
comparable accommodations on the ship to be close to their hero.
What are they supposed to do now? Jump overboard? The "friends,"
who all were scheduled to be part of the original trip, are
Danny Ainge of the Suns, Muggsy Bogues of the Charlotte Hornets,
Hersey Hawkins of the Seattle SuperSonics, Jeff Hornacek of the
Utah Jazz and Rambis. Rambis does much of the talking that
Barkley was supposed to do. One of Rambis's four former teams is
"Did you ever have to replace Charles when you were with the
Suns?" he is asked.
"Yeah," he says, opening his eyes wide, "but never for more than
A steel band, Sunshine Rhythms, plays a cruel song about a man
who stepped on a pop-top while pulling on his flip-flop. This
shows that other people have troubles too. Thank you, Sunshine
The promoter of the cruise is Allan Kobrick, a nervous
40-year-old man from Phoenix. He is always moving, moving,
rushing to take care of problems. Is everything all right? Are
you having a good time? He is a former golf pro and
golf-products manufacturer's rep. This is his first big
"The Bermuda Triangle is the area between Puerto Rico, Miami and
Bermuda," he says. "Don't think I didn't look that up when I
started this thing. I was relieved that we wouldn't be going
through the triangle, just touching its tip. Now look....
Kobrick was in financial trouble on this deal even before
Barkley canceled. The great idle notion that launched the
venture was that 750 people would pay between $2,600 and $3,500
double occupancy, depending on the size of their cabins, to sail
with a superstar. Kobrick placed his first advertisement in The
Arizona Republic in November and after getting a good response,
figured that the trip would be sold out within a month and a
half. This did not happen. He needed at least 300 people to
break even. He wound up with the 138.
Kobrick thought he had Barkley's insurance--against injury, for
instance--covered under the cruise line's policy. But he says
that Barkley's attorneys, who didn't see the details until 10
days before the cruise, found it inadequate. Kobrick says
adjustments were made in the coverage, and at first glance
Barkley's attorneys seemed to find these satisfactory. But the
Wednesday before the trip, they decided that both the personal
injury and liability coverage were insufficient ("Charles has
been sued for some pretty wacky things," says Tom Sullivan, one
of Barkley's lawyers). On Thursday Barkley's representatives
announced that he would not sail. On Saturday morning at six
o'clock, 11 hours before the ship was scheduled to leave,
Kobrick was greeting a charter planeload of passengers from
Phoenix who had what he called "the longest faces I have ever
seen in my life." Until they stepped onto the plane, some had
not heard that Barkley would not be coming.
The cruise staff includes five off-duty policemen to whom
Kobrick has given a free trip. One of their functions is to act
as bodyguards for Barkley. They now have no one to guard. Thank
you, Charles. They spend much time at the pool just in case.
The morning of the third day is disrupted by an announcement
from Norwegian captain Odd Strom. The itinerary has been
changed. The first stop was supposed to be the old port of St.
George's, but instead the ship will move directly to Hamilton,
the capital of Bermuda. This port will afford more protection
from an emerging hurricane Chantal, which is threatening the
island. Hurricane? "I've never been in a hurricane," Kobrick
The hurricane does not appear. Neither does Charles. A
life-sized cardboard cutout of Charles is taken to Elbow Beach,
walked past the shops of Front Street, posed with Bermuda
businessmen in Bermuda shorts, but that does not replace the
real article. A woman passenger says that she would like to
wring the cutout's cardboard neck.
"Would you like to be part of a class-action suit?" asks Dwight
Flickinger, a lawyer who is on the cruise with his wife and
13-year-old son. "Allan is being very nice, working very hard,
but he hasn't said anything about the important part, a refund.
We're paying about $700 a day for this trip, and I would venture
to say that all these people are here because Charles Barkley
was supposed to be here."
"What were we supposed to do at the last minute? Say, 'No, I'm
not going on the cruise that Charles Barkley is not going on?'"
asks Dottie Maach, a widow traveling with her friend Nancy
Haselhorst. "I think it's a shabby thing to do. I always
respected him, but it moves him down two or three notches in my
Charles does not appear at the Charles Barkley
question-and-answer session. Charles does not appear on the
special trip in the glass-bottom boat. Charles does not appear
at the special clinic that ends with smiles as the 5'3" Bogues
dunks while riding on Rambis's back. Charles does not appear at
the autograph or photo sessions, or the special edition of The
Newlywed Game that the other players endure graciously. Charles
does not appear to play golf. Charles? No golf?
"I think he figured out that he'd lose money on the deal," says
Ainge, Barkley's friend, who has moved up to the Owner's
Suite--one of the largest cabins on the ship--the one Barkley
would have had. "We would've played golf, and I would have been
in this cabin by Tuesday night, and I would have won all his
money by Wednesday night, and by Thursday, when we left
[Bermuda], I would have owned his wife and family too."
Barkley was supposed to receive $100,000 plus $25,000 worth of
free cabins for his family and friends. Kobrick says $50,000 had
already been paid when Barkley canceled. He says the part in
Barkley's statement about "nonpayment of funds" is not true.
This trip was designed for Barkley. Charles likes golf. Bermuda
has great golf.
"I even bought these balls for him," Kobrick says, opening a
black box containing a dozen Titleist 100 compression
pro-trajectory balls at the 1st tee of the Port Royal Golf Club.
"I found out these are the balls he uses. Here they are. They
even have a 3 or a 4 on them--his uniform number, 34. Now, well,
I'm going to use them."
Kobrick takes out a ball and removes the head cover from his
driver. The shot is long and straight, maybe 270 yards. He once
was, after all, a professional golfer.
The cruise continues. There are reports that the ship docked on
Saturday in New York, and that the trip was over, but that
certainly is not the case. This voyage could sail for years,
weaving into the courts of Arizona. Who can stop it? The Walk a
Mile with a Smile exercise classes will be held daily with
cruise director Denny on the seventh deck. Thank you, Denny. The
Pacific Rim Buffet will be held with Mr. Plunkett, the maitre
d', on the ninth deck. Thank you, Mr. Plunkett. The sun will
bake, and the ship will quake, and Dramamine will still make the
same people drowsy by the end. They are locked together now.
"A lot of people told me when I started all this that I never
could put it together," Kobrick says as he looks at problems on
the horizon. "Well, they were right."
A sense of perspective is found in the casino. A blackjack
dealer named Chloe turns over cards to a full table. Expectant
faces watch her turn over her own card, an ace. She asks if
anyone wants insurance. Heads shake in the negative. She turns
over her hole card, which is a face card.
"Blackjack," she says.
Sometimes things just don't work out.
Thank you, Chloe.