Freewinds of Scientology

For most vacationers, the pinnacle of a Caribbean getaway is found on the island of Aruba. Teeming with high-end boutiques, visitors to the island – and its capital Oranjestad – can expect reliable warm weather, due in part to its dry climate and arid, cactus-strewn geography.

Now, what you may not know is that it is also home to a 440-foot Scientology cruise ship. The Freewinds: the pinnacle destination of any Scientologist’s spiritual journey.

Let me explain. Upon further research, the Freewinds is actually a deeply significant retreat. It is providing ministering of a most advanced level of spiritual “auditing” in the Scientology religion. Operating Thetan Level VIII, to be exact. It is not cheap either, with onboard counseling running between $15,000 and $30,000, and one’s stay lasting roughly three months.

You may ask, “Why a cruise ship?” No, the answer is not Tom Cruise, although sources out there testify to him belting out a pitchy rendition of Old Time Rock and Roll in the ship’s Starlight Room during his sojourn. Originally the MS Boheme, it is bought by the church in 1985.  Now with the name Freewinds, which, according to their website, “provides a safe, aesthetic, distraction free environment.”

So what do they do onboard? Aside from the obligatory round of shuffleboard, leisure under the Caribbean sun takes a backseat to studies on a tight schedule. I’m thinking lecture hall sessions from 9 am to 10 pm, with extensive readings and one-to-one time with Scientology officers. These officers are probing students for any psychological resistance to doctrine or ethical lapses.

Freewinds from a Distance

My experience with Freewinds is one from afar, albeit one with a prevailing sense of curiosity. Every third week, my ship-of-travel calls Aruba home for a day, and, by happenstance, ports parallel to the enigmatic Freewinds. I, like anyone else, assume it to be an ordinary vessel. That is until I realize, after our third voyage, that the ship in question never moves. Never departs. Just stays there…docked. When I finally discover what it is, what it represents, you could say I become intrigued.

I never muster the courage to approach its boarding entrance. Not that I would get very far. It is a private ship where guests are admitted by invitation only. Yet it never stops me from letting my imagination run.

Perched on deck five, I look across to see staff cleaning the immaculate white walls and oak furnishings, presumably a poolside. With so much mystery and controversy surrounding Scientology, I frequently ponder the lives of the individuals I can see across the docks. Who are they? Where are they from? What in life leads them to work on the Freewinds?

One thing is certain. The fuel is not aliens.