"Who is Bill W and why do all his friends go on cruises?"
This was a question asked by a cruiser who had sailed on many ships and noticed that, in every instance, the ship's daily program had the same event listed: Friends of Bill W.
Bill W is Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12 Step program for recovering alcoholics. No one in the cruise industry seems to know who first came up with the idea of scheduling AA meetings on cruises but for two decades or more, they've been routinely held aboard the ships of every cruise line.
So, I asked around and found a cruiser who religiously attended meetings on ships all over the globe. In the spirit of the fellowship I'll call him Alan.
"When I first got sober the idea of traveling anywhere scared the hell out of me. But someone told me that AA meetings are scheduled daily aboard cruise ships.
I asked him if meetings varied by cruise line. Meetings are scheduled in an empty room – a conference room or closed bar – during the late afternoon. alcoholics who attend decide on a format similar to meetings back home, "he said.
Since drinking is an integral part of cruising, I asked Alan if it is a wise decision to vacation in a setting where cocktails, wine and beer are pushed so enthusiastically by the cruise lines. Alcohol is, after all, one of the major sources of on-board revenue.
"I would not recommend it to recovering alcoholics only a few months removed from their last drink. However, when AA meetings are only a few decks away I feel completely comfortable aboard a cruise ship," Alan replied.
He also said that, over the years, he's not only made friends at shipboard AA meetings but has been able to help a few people who were recently sober and shaky. "While I've met people with 30+ years, I've also encountered a teenager who had just walked out of a rehab; I doubt that he got through a week without drinking."
I told Alan that if a travel agent makes the mistake of telling a cruise line that the group he or she is booking is a bunch of recovering alcoholics or fundamentalist Christians, the cruise line automatically raises group rates to offset they money they will not make from selling drinks.