If you see a little blue stuffed bear soaring above the Key West coast next week, wave hello -- that's my pal Bennie, and he's getting ready to go parasailing for the very first time.
In case you haven't yet made his acquaintance (he's a bit of a celebrity on the Cruise Critic message boards), Bennie is a Royal Caribbean Beanie Baby -- a tag bearing the Crown & Anchor logo is affixed to his bottom -- that travels from ship to ship with different Cruise Critic members. He'll be with Cruise Critic member mjbelen, for example, for his next Caribbean voyage and high-flying excursion.
Bennie's journey started aboard the Voyager of the Seas on March 16, 2008 and he's been hooked on cruising ever since. But when he's not out exploring the world, Bennie does have a home -- and that's with owner Chris Harms, 14, also known as Cruiserccl.
Though Bennie's journey as we know it began just several months ago, Chris has had the bear for about two years. "I actually bought Bennie for $2 from another friend who's an avid cruiser, I think at a school dance," he tells us via phone from his home state of Wisconsin, where he's currently attending summer camp. "One day I was in gym class and the idea hit me. When I got home, Bennie was sitting right there on my desk. I posted on Cruise Critic to see if people were interested or if it was a lame idea." The rest, as they say, is history. And the requests keep coming -- thanks to that thread, Bennie's booked solid through the middle of 2009.
Bennie has Cruise Critic to thank for his catchy moniker, too. "The original thread was supposed to be Royal Caribbean Beanie Baby but I spelled it wrong -- B-E-N-N-I-E. And that's how Bennie got his name."
Will Chris increase supply to meet demand? Probably not. "I've been searching for another Bennie, and I cannot find another bear like him anywhere out there. I even called Royal Caribbean but I keep getting referred back to my own Web site!" Every once in awhile Bennie gets to come home, but for the most part he's a nomad, with each cruiser mailing him directly to the next. "It's odd to think about where he is right now and all the adventures he's had," Chris says.
Bennie Takes Manhattan
I first got to know Bennie when a mysterious package showed up on my desk, completely wrapped in duct tape save for a picture of his blue furry self taped to the side. Inside, cocooned carefully in layers of tissue paper and bubble wrap, I found Bennie, his travel journal, a photo album containing postcards of places he's been, a tiny suitcase and plastic guitar, and even "business cards" -- slips of paper Bennie's human friends hand out to cruisers so that they can visit his Web site. Best of all, Bennie was all dressed up in a tiny Cozumel T-shirt and colorful sombrero, picked up on a recent Western Caribbean voyage.
Bennie was sent to me not to go on a cruise vacation, but to join a group of travel agents, journalists and VIP cruisers at Royal Caribbean's big "Oasis of the Seas" reveal earlier this month in New York City. Still, I made the experience as exciting for Bennie as possible -- documenting in photos his car ride through the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey into New York and his first meet-and-greet with our community manager, LauraS, and a great group of Cruise Critic members invited to the event.
"I have to admit one of the highlights of the 'event' at the NOKIA Theatre [this month] was having the chance to meet Bennie, in the fur," kewlguy posts on the Royal Caribbean forum. "This is something I'll be able to tell the grandkids one day."
Indeed, Bennie's living the life -- he's gone on bridge tours, explored the Kennedy Space Center, whiled away many hours at many pools, and even received an invite to eat dinner with the captain while sailing with member Ownedbypets (we hope Ownedbypets got to go too!).
Here are a few more snippets from Bennie's journal:
April 13th - 20th, 2008, Mariner of the Seas: "Bennie made new friends at the Meet & Mingle and he helped us win a silver medal in the Sudoku Challenge." -Mysticks1 and family
April 26 - May 1, 2008, Grandeur of the Seas: "Very rough start. We were almost seven hours late because of mechanical problems. Lots of unhappy people. Not Bennie! He got to meet lots of CC members after the muster drill." -Pattyg12 and husband (how nice of Bennie to let him come along…)
May 22 - May 26, Enchantment of the Seas: "Sea day, bingo, casino, pool, food, rock climbing -- Bennie was very tired this day." -martiniii (wow, and I thought the Lincoln Tunnel trip was exciting!)
Not Without My Bennie
However happy Chris is to share Bennie with the cruising world, there is one trip he won't go on without his bear: "His schedule is basically filled up but when I'm going to cruise next, which will probably be on Oasis of the Seas, I'll get him back. For a ship like that I want him with me."
Chris has been on eight cruises to date and cites Mariner of the Seas as his favorite ship because it's the newest in the Voyager class -- and it boasts a great staff. "The first time [I cruised] I was so scared. When my parents told me, I did not want to go. I thought, 'This is going to be so boring, all we're going to do is eat.' But cruising is completely different! The vacation itself is the ship, it's not the destination. Now I enjoy cruises more than anything else in the world."
Do you want to take Bennie on your next Royal Caribbean cruise? Get yourself on the schedule by visiting wheresbennie.com.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor
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Have Bear, Will Travel
June 26, 2008