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Aug. 6, 2000 | Bare facts about adult cruise show

The men, mostly middle-aged, come aboard in ones and twos, some looking nervous, others full of braggadocio and wondering what they will have to spend to make a Friday night adventure on the Canaveral Star truly memorable.

"Where are the girls?" demands a man who later confesses to being a doctor.

"No cameras, no drugs, " the doctor is told, but nothing is said about the women he has come to meet. "The mystery deepens, " he quips. "But I smell perfume."

Upstairs, the men trade in half of the $50 ticket that got them aboard this 51/2-hour "nude adult entertainment" voyage for a plastic picnic plate of rice, mixed vegetables and breaded fowl.

It is chilly in this stainless-steel-and-glass nightclub setting, centered around a floor-to-ceiling metal pole soon to be gripped by naked female dancers.

No one is nude yet. The young women do not start the table dances or pitching to patrons until the ship glides to a point outside the three-mile limit, beyond the reach of Florida law.

At 8 p.m. sharp, the Canaveral Star leaves its berth and heads out to sea.

Revelers downing oysters and beers at the seafood restaurants on shore come spilling out to whoop and holler at the dozen women, dressed mostly in glittering floor-length gowns, lined up at the rail as the ship pulls away.

Before long, some men are buying $8 mixed drinks for newly found female friends, each of whom has paid $75 - $25 more than the men - to take the trip.

They engage in small talk designed to find out how much it will cost for semiprivate "sessions" in the "VIP Lounge" level where there are 14 small ivory-colored leather couches, each shrouded by white curtains hanging from tracks in the ceiling.

The ship's staff tells the men the couches cost $200 per hour. The fees seem to be negotiable.

"Out here on the sea, what happens between a man and a woman is their business, " said 21-year-old Monique, who said she does marketing for a software company.

There is an additional fee for "intimate contact, " she said. "Use your imagination, honey."

One deck below the couches are four unadorned staterooms, each with a door, a double bed and a bathroom. Those rooms go for $300 per hour and up.

"You get total privacy, " says Michelle, 23, who says she's a New York City model. Her services, which are extra - "anything you want" - are a minimum of $500 an hour, she says.

Two hours into the cruise, the men appear to be a little more secure and reassured. The prices have been explained. After a stateroom encounter, one customer said he paid for a sex act, nothing more.

"She said something about being able to get around federal law, " he said. The women have gone to the changing room to shed the ball gowns for ultra-tight, micro-mini club dresses. Others are in lingerie. One thin, tattooed woman is in black fetish leather halter and panties and high boots.

Women balancing on spiked heels sometimes stagger as the Canaveral Star pitches and rolls. Men grip their drinks and take exaggerated steps to avoid toppling.

One man, ashen-faced and seasick, lunges for the rail and hangs his head over the side. "I forgot the Dramamine, " he says sheepishly.

Some men say they did not see the point of paying $50 to board the ship, plus the other fees, when they could go to massage parlors, where $100 can buy sex.

"This guy has a great idea, " said Max, a married restaurant owner, "but he's aiming for the skies."

As the hour approaches for the ship to return to port, the bargaining for rooms and services intensifies.

"Some of these ladies are getting desperate, " says one passenger, who says he's an insurance agent.

"They spent $75 to be here, and they have to pay their rent. Some of them have kids. These are nice people."