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Palm Beach Columnist Shares How She Snuck Onto A Cruise Ship In 1969

Paulette Cooper
Paulette Cooper looks out to the ocean in 1969 while on board the Leonardo Da Vinci cruise ship.

Fifty years ago, journalist Paulette Cooper had the wild idea to sneak onto a cruise ship.

Then a travel writer in New York, Cooper was looking for a new adventure. So she got the blueprint for the Leonardo Da Vinci cruise in New York, hid her luggage inside a piano and became a Stowaway. And she got away with. She later wrote about her story in Cosmopolitan magazine.

Cooper is now a Palm Beach Daily News columnist. She and Miami Herald tourism reporter Taylor Dolven joined Sundial to talk about Cooper’s experience and whether someone could still be a stowaway today.  

This has been edited lightly for clarity. 

WLRN: What security is in place on a cruise ship?

COOPER: It was completely different then than it is now. Now, you have to go through all kinds of security. In those days people literally just walked on board and went to parties. There were a lot of going away parties and that's what I was counting on that I could just walk in.

So when the ship was about to leave you just stayed on the ship?

I had wanted to hide in the ladies room during that time. What I didn't realize was that until the ship pulled out the ladies room was locked probably to prevent stowaways. So that was kind of the first of my plans that did not work out.

Did it take a long time to plan this out?

Yes, I actually worked on this for a while. I even went to the Italian line office and got a diagram of the ship so I could see if there was some third class section where I would be able to hide my clothes.

Credit Paulette Cooper / Courtesy
Paulette Cooper packed one bikini for her stowaway trip in an attaché case.

Once you got on the ship and you were a stowaway, what were you doing?

The first thing I had to do was to find a place for my attaché case. Before I left I had taken an attaché case and I had filled it with mix and match black and white clothes, one bikini and an evening gown. I folded them in half and rolled them very tight and put rubber bands on the end. I was able to fit a lot of clothes, but I couldn't walk around all seven days with an attaché case. I did find a piano, but there was no bench so I opened up the piano and I put it by the strings.

The fascinating thing about your story is you get through the entire journey and almost got caught at the very end.

The hardest part was getting off the ship. There were customs then and so I hid in the ship. That's the only time I used a cabin and I got a room steward to let me use a cabin by saying that I was feeling ill. Then when I got off I thought, 'wow I have pulled this off.' And at that point a security car with four security men pulled up and they said, 'where were you on that ship?' I said 'yes.' And they said, 'Well where's your luggage?' Of course, I had no luggage. I also had no coat and it was very cold in New York that day and I said, 'Oh my, I was traveling with my boyfriend and we had a fight and he took my luggage and went to his place.'

Would you even think about doing something like that today?

No, but when I go on cruises I do check out where the pianos are.

Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.