What, Me Go Cruising?

Monday Mantra

Going MAD at Sea … Going MAD at Sea … Going MAD at Sea …

What, Me Go Cruising?

How “The Usual Gang of Idiots” made shipboard history.

As I was passing a newsstand the other day, the current issue of MAD magazine caught my eye. I was delighted to see that iconic logo and find the gap-toothed Alfred E. Neuman staring back at me just as he had more than 25 years ago when, while working at a national magazine distributor, I regularly prepared marketing materials for each issue of the publication.

To this day, I still consider the greatest compliment of my career to be when MADman Bill Gaines, the disheveled, eccentric creator of the magazine, asked if I ever considered writing for MAD: “It’s very hard for a woman to break in since MAD is written for the mentality of a 12-year-old boy, but somehow I think you could cross over.”

At least I think it was a compliment.

Right about now, you’re probably wondering what on God’s green earth this could possibly have to do with cruising. The answer is: The MAD Cruise to Bermuda.

Inwardly kind, outwardly surly, and notoriously cheap, Bill Gaines loosened the purse strings once a year to reward his beloved MAD family — magazine staff and freelance writers and artists from around the globe — with an exotic vacation, including trips to Tahiti, Japan, Italy, Greece, and the Caribbean. It was in 1991 when “The Usual Gang of Idiots” set sail for Bermuda aboard Celebrity Cruises’ Horizon, bringing their unique combination of MADness and mayhem to the high seas.

Gaines, who would pass away in his sleep only a year later, wasn’t feeling well during the voyage and spent most of the sailing ensconced in his cabin unaware that he’d soon fall victim to a zany plot. Knowing Gaines’ love for the Marx brothers, behind the scenes the MADmen were planning a re-creation of the legendary stateroom scene from A Night At the Opera.

MAD’s MADdest writer, Dick DeBartolo, remembers it well: “We told all of the MADpeople to line up outside Bill’s stateroom. Every 30 seconds, there’d be another knock on the door, and two more people would come in, and two more, and two more. We also had housekeeping come in, like the movie, and they were vacuuming the whole time. Room service showed up with hardboiled eggs, because that’s something Groucho kept asking for in the film. A woman and a crying baby were walking down the hall so we had them come in as well. There had to be 75 people in his stateroom by the end of it and Bill, dressed only in his underwear, loved it.”

Who would have ever imagined that one of the most sidesplitting tales in MAD’s 64 years of existence would take place not on its pages, but aboard a cruise ship?

– Judi Cuervo


Judi Cuervo is a New York City native who fell in love with cruising in 1976 during her first sailing aboard Carnival Cruises’ Mardi Gras. Twenty years later, she began her freelance cruise writing gig and, since that time, has covered mass market, ultra-premium, riverboat and expedition ships for regional, national and international publications as well as cruise websites.