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All aboard

Whether you want salsa dancing or a Jimmy Buffett song, Boston’s most offbeat cruises can accommodate any tastes

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July 27, 2006

EASY AS 1-2-3

As a trio of women in pantsuits and perfectly manicured hair stepped onto the dock for Salsa Boston’s Salsa & Latin Dance Cruise on a recent Sunday evening, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. What was I, flip-flopped and wooden-hipped, doing on a boat with a group of exiles from the now-gone Sophia’s? Relief soon appeared in the form of fellow rhythmically challenged folks who crowded the dock for the preboard salsa lesson: polo-clad young men mimicking the basic three-step alongside their girlfriends; attentive 50-somethings who had felt like trying something new; and Wahb, the tall, gracious beginner who fumbled with me through some basic turns. For the next two hours, old hats and tenderfoots glided together around Boston Harbor, fueling up on Latin fare such as pupusas, empanadas, and carne asada from the dinner buffet. Then, it was time to face the club-style mix of merengue, bachata, and reggaetón on the first floor and traditional salsa on the second. While teenage girls captured their dancing parents on camera phones, earnest novices — emboldened by Coronas and slushy margaritas — tried out their new moves with more seasoned salseros, and the flip-flopped, wooden-hipped wallflower danced a pseudo merengue with a corporate operations planner she’d met in the buffet line. When the dance floors grew sticky and the constant counting to three grew tiresome, the upper deck offered respite as well as sanctuary for snuggling couples who preferred to sit and watch the skyline until the boat pulled up to the wharf and the frenetic stepping subsided.

Salsa Boston’s Boston Harbor Salsa & Latin Dance cruises run every Sunday until Sept. 17. Tickets: $22 at the dock, $17 in advance. Latin buffet is $10 extra, and salsa lesson is $2. 617-513-9841. www.salsaboston.com/cruise

- AMI ALBERNAZ

PARROTHEADS, UNITE!

‘‘Death on the Nile’’ it’s not. But once I’d thrown my inner critic overboard, I was ready to embark on Margarita’s Mystery Cruise, which combines the thrill of a murder mystery with a Jimmy Buffett theme. The premise is this: Legendary entertainer Timmy Bucket has launched a comeback tour, and another bartender has turned up ‘‘wasted away again.’’ (If you can’t tolerate puns, you’ll be feeling queasy before the boat leaves the dock.) As I came aboard, host Margarita Daiquiri handed me a tip sheet and a pencil and encouraged me to start questioning the suspects. Most passengers instead reached for a cocktail, then headed to the upper decks for a view of the harbor. But the suspects weren’t far behind, giving up the goods as if they wanted to be caught. Murder is only one of many small crimes the mystery cruise commits. The story is silly, the costumes outrageous — backup singer Mumbo Jumbles prances around in a psychedelic pink and orange muumuu, while Shelly Shellfish has stuffed lobsters pinned to his shoulders — and the food forgettable. But the actors were so game that I found myself playing along, scribbling down clues, even shaking a maraca to the music. The murder isn’t difficult to solve, but serious crime-fighting isn’t the point. It’s dancing mid-deck as the DJ spins the Beach Boys and the butt of the joke, Mr. Buffett himself, who could only approve of such a well-wasted evening.

Margarita’s Mystery Cruise departs from Boston’s Long Wharf Saturdays from 7-10 p.m. through Sept. 30. The cruise is put on by Comedy Theater Productions. Tickets: $59. 800-697-2583. www.mysterycafe.com

- CAITLIN O’NEIL

BRING AN APPETITE

Light, satiny jazz is spritzed into the air by a trio of musicians. Though, at this point, before the Odyssey’s ‘‘Mega Yacht’’ has pulled out for its weekly Sunday Sunset Dinner Cruise around Boston Harbor, the smartly attired passengers — some in formal evening dress — are still concerned with settling at their tables and sipping on the glass of complimentary white sangria. Just after 6 p.m., as the yacht pulls out from Rowes Wharf, the band brings up the tempo ever-so-slightly with some Dave Brubeck tunes. Nothing too distracting, mind you. The Mega Yacht experience is all about ease. The interior decks (two main, plus the private Admiral’s Lounge) offer womblike, perfectly air-conditioned insulation. Some passengers head up to the open-air deck with their drinks. Dinner gets underway, and appetizers and entrees are chosen from a fine menu that includes beef Wellington, seafood ravioli, and more. The band is now joined by Mark Greel, its namesake singer, and adds peppier Sam Cooke and Stevie Wonder standards. By the time dessert looms on the dining horizon, we have sailed out to Long Island and the beginnings of the Atlantic, and then returned via Charlestown, where the dramatic sunset cannon-firing of the USS Constitution turns out to be a bang and puff of smoke. But by that time the moon has arrived in the dimming sky and the dance floor is filled with revelers grooving to Al Green and classic disco boogie.

The Odyssey’s Sunday Sunset Dinner Cruise runs every Sunday through Oct. 1. x Tickets: $99.84, with some dates offered at a 20 percent discount (check website). Note: Smart casual or evening dress is required (no shorts or sandals). 888-741-0281. www.odysseycruises.com

- LINDA LABAN

IF THIS BOAT’S A-ROCKIN’...

As the Frederick C. Nolan rolls over the waves of Boston Harbor, New Orleans’ own Cowboy Mouth is rockin’ the main deck as part of Boston Harbor Cruises’ 2006 Rock and Blues Cruise series. As I jump and sing along, I am surrounded by recent grads and area business folk, all of whom are getting together on this biweekly after-work escape. While the Tootsie Rolls and red spoons fly (Mouth fans know what I’m talking about), a costumed ‘‘cop’’ from one of the cruise’s many beverage sponsors hands me a citation for ‘‘acting too serious’’ (apparently, I was on my cellphone). Fortunately, the ‘‘ticket’’ entitles me not to walk the plank, but to get a free drink at one of the boat’s multiple bars. (Obviously, this is a 21+ cruise.) While downstairs, I also take a moment to sample the fare from Ivy Restaurant. But as the sea is a bit rough, I do not take in an entire meal. Refreshed and refueled, I return to the main deck, where I am instantly caught up once more in the music of this amazing and energetic quartet. Even when the security guard asks me to stop banging my fist on the ceiling, it is not nearly enough to kill the N’awlins vibe of this party at sea.

The Rock and Blues Cruise departs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. at Long Wharf through Sept. 1. Upcoming bands include the Samples (tomorrow), Entrain (Saturday, 5:30 and 9 p.m.), the Pietasters (Aug. 4), deSol and Chad Perrone (Aug. 11), Alternate Routes and Averi (Aug. 18), Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles (Aug. 19), Max Creek (Aug. 25), and Entrain (Sept. 1). Tickets: $25, plus food and drink. 800-594-TIXX. www.rockandbluescruise.com

- MATTHEW ROBINSON

AARRGH, MATEY!

Landlubbers, beware! Do ye dare to face pirates and battle them over treasure? And do ye have the pirate booty to shake to the Hokey Pokey? Because that’s what you’ll be doing about a half-hour into the Lobster Tales Pirate Cruise out of Plymouth — after the crab race, of course. Our piratical adventure began at the Lobster Tales ticket booth, where we were issued handsome cardboard pirate hats. An able deckhand drew beards, moustaches, and scars with a swarthy crayon onto lil’ pirates who lacked them. On board, the captain showed us the treasure map and warned us that a rival pirate band in a black ship had been spotted nearby. The black ship soon appeared, and we quickly learned the true purpose of the cruise: to fire water cannons at the rival pirate ship. Chanting ‘‘We want treasure!’’ the valiant crew squirted away until the rival pirate agreed to give up his treasure. A box of bright, shiny plastic coins was duly distributed amongst the crew. We toasted the occasion with tiny cups of warm ‘‘Buccaneer Brew,’’ suitable for pirates a decade or two below the Massachusetts drinking age. With the rival pirate dispatched in the first 15 minutes of the trip, the captain decided to explore his crew’s education and pulled up a lobster trap full of crabs for a brief talk on crab biology. As we reentered the civilized harbor, the deckhands led rounds of the Hokey Pokey and limbo. All seemed calm, but after the cruise, our observant pirates spotted the enemy pirate ship at anchor at the pier next to Wood’s restaurant. Beware!

Pirate Cruises depart from Plymouth Wharf daily at noon, 1:30 and 3 p.m. in July and August; call for the September schedule. Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for children. 508-746-5342. www.lobstertalesinc.com

- MEG MUCKENHOUPT

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