It’s 2:58 a.m. Gronk’s Party Ship is docked in a Bahamian port of call. I’m catching the tail end of a musical performance on the fifth deck of the ocean liner with my wing-person designate, a college friend we’ll call Charlie. Waka Flocka Flame, the rapper, is funneling distilled liquor down peoples’ throats. Redfoo, a performer of uncategorizable genre, formerly of three-hit wonder LMFAO, parades around in zebra-stripe undies. Mojo Rawley, a semiprofessional WWE grunt, makes love to the air with an inflatable palm tree. Audience members have begun crawling up onto the stage, zombielike, past indifferent security guys. In the thick of it is our dazed ringmaster, Rob Gronkowski, swigging Grey Goose and, I guess, twerking.
Drink handy, I’m mostly enjoying myself. But Charlie is disturbed by the spectacle. “Gronk should get off the stage,” he says. “These other guys are clowns. He’s the greatest to play his position ever.”
It’s a fair point. Why is probable future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski sharing oxygen with these C-listers? At one point Gronk loses his balance and falls down. He was fine, but imagine if he hadn’t been. Gronkowski Suffers Career-Ending Injury After Slipping on Puddle of Tequila Spilled by Redfoo.
I assumed that once he was on board, Gronk might try to avoid such a calamity and recede to the background. It seemed more plausible that his father and two of his brothers—also aboard the Gronk’s Party Ship maiden voyage—would do the public relations work while the star tended to his failing knees in a secret whirlpool. Meanwhile, thousands of Gronk-starved guests would wander the boat listlessly, searching in vain for their beloved Polish-American tight end.
Not so! Rob Gronkowski was admirably present, drinking steadily and gyrating to much music. Having intentionally neglected to research the FAQs of celebrity cruisedom—research didn’t seem to be in the spirit of the SS Gronkowski—it slipped my attention that celebrities usually fraternize with fans on their own cruises. Besides, Gronk had a brand to cultivate. What is Gronk’s brand? Gronk’s brand is frat-row joie de vivre. Gronk’s brand is posing shirtless for a magazine spread while draped in kittens. Gronk’s brand is humping a duck boat during the Super Bowl victory parade while wearing a Minions hat.
Gronkowski claims in his 2015 memoir, It’s Good to Be Gronk, that he hoards his football salary and lives entirely off endorsements and appearances. A Miami-Nassau-Miami party cruise represented his most intuitive marketing opportunity yet. He could do what he seems to do anyway—remove his shirt and pound shots with his brothers—while building brand equity. Meanwhile, paying customers would get the chance not only to meet the great specimen, but also to channel his very essence.
From the promotional literature:
It’s time to PARTY, it’s time to ROCK, but more importantly, it’s time to get GRONK’D! Rob Gronkowski and his family want you to grab your sunnies, your swimsuits, your babes and your bros for one hell of a shindig sailing down the coast.… If this doesn’t sound Gronk’d enough for you, then you’re not ready to party with the big dogs.
A long weekend aboard Gronk’s Party Ship also struck me as a great opportunity. Here, hundreds of nautical miles from Coach Belichick and the rest of the Patriots’ PR apparatus, I might catch Gronk unguarded and in his element. Factor in the bros, the Massholes, the mysterious solo travelers, Redfoo—and the ground was fertile for a little drive-by pop sociology.
The ground was also fertile for drinking three days’ worth of Bud Light Lime and making the occasional note on my iPhone. For grabbing my swimsuit and partying with the big dogs. For getting Gronk’d.
The party-boat company running the Gronk cruise, an Atlanta outfit named Sixthman, encouraged people to travel en masse. I invite Charlie, a Patriots fan with man-of-the-people tendencies I thought would serve us well. We meet on a Friday morning in February at Miami International, make a pit stop in South Beach to buy obnoxious straw fedoras, then journey on to the Port of Miami.
Our ride is a 12-deck, 965-foot hulk of a skiff named the Norwegian Pearl. She was built in Germany 10 years ago and “christened” at the Port of Miami by her “godmother,” Rosie O’Donnell—apparently a longtime friend of Norwegian Cruise Line. The Pearl’s claims to fame include hosting the band Kiss five separate times, as well as causing a power outage that affected the entire European continent while passing through the Ems River in Germany in 2006.
After taking some useless wide-angle photos of the boat, we enter a kind of holding pen where our bags are scanned and tickets checked. Immediately, something feels off. I spot a handful of 87 and 12 jerseys, but mostly I see people for whom a Gronk cruise seems wildly inappropriate: toddlers, the elderly, couples in love. I walk up to two senior ladies and genially ask if they are “ready to Gronk?” I’m met with a friendly but uncomprehending look. “What’s a Gronk?” one of them asks back.