Source Events Cruise
Rome to Venice
by Stuart Haggas
The traditional way to celebrate a 10th anniversary is to exchange gifts made of tin or aluminium, but travel company Source Events (www.sourceevents.com) had more ambitious plans. Having put together some extraordinary travel experiences for gay men and lesbians, from exploring the breathtaking ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru to wild safaris in South Africa, Source Events has amassed a faithful following over the last decade. So to celebrate this significant anniversary, they charted Windstar Cruises MSY Wind Surf for what would be Source Events' biggest gay cruise.
The origin of Source Events can be traced back to a conversation its founder Craig Smith had with a life coach. Having produced Miami's Winter Party for several years, Craig wanted a new challenge, and his life coach encouraged him to visualize what was next. "I envisioned sailing to exotic islands on tall ships and hiking into rainforests and volcanoes," Smith recalled. "I imagined exploring faraway lands. What would we discover in those places about ourselves, each other, and the world we live in? In 2001, through conversations with like-minded friends and a shared vision of crafting unique and inspiring travel experiences for the mind, body, and spirit, Source Events was born."
A decade later, not only have Smith's dreams been fulfilled, he's also shared them via Source Events. That's what brings us aboard the gracious white Wind Surf, the largest sailing yacht in the world. Departing from Civitavecchia outside of Rome, we were to cruise the Amalfi and Dalmatian coasts, making stops in the idyllic ports of Capri, Taormina, Kotor, Dubrovnik, and Hvar before terminating in Venice.
In spite of this must-see Mediterranean itinerary, there were plenty of reasons to never leave the yacht. Able to accommodate 312 passengers, each stateroom is full of five-star frills like Bose iPod docks, fresh flowers and fruit baskets, and L'Occitane products. As well as a choice of bars and restaurants, two saltwater plunge pools, two hot tubs, a fitness centre, spa, and casino, one special amenity on board the Wind Surf is its watersports platform. Whenever we're at anchor, the rear of the yacht can be lowered into the sea to enable passengers to enjoy kayaking, waterskiing, and windsurfing, or simply an invigorating swim.
The Source Events philosophy is that travel should be a rewarding experience, one that delivers more than photos and new Facebook friends. True to this belief is the fact that entertainment on board the Wind Surf is more cerebral, with England World Cup rugby champion Ben Cohen and world-renowned novelist Armistead Maupin joining the cruise as featured guest speakers, complemented by a program of wellness activities including yoga and meditation.
This more holistic approach is evidently successful, with 40% of guests on the Wind Surf having travelled with Source Events before. The age range was 24 to 72, the average passenger age was 47, and 85% of guests were from the US.
"Our vision is to create vacation experiences which enlighten and educate as well as entertain," Smith explains. "We've found our guests are very interested in inspirational talks at sea. Travel often can be transformational, changing the way we see the world and our lives. While on vacation we're more open and relaxed, and this is the best time to dream, explore, and discover.
Our first discovery was Capri. This beautiful island has a long-standing reputation of tolerance, and at the turn of the 20th century it was known as a haven not only for artists and writers but also for gay men and lesbians.
These included the industrialist and writer Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen, who came here in self-chosen exile from France after a sex scandal in 1903 involving parties where guests were entertained by Parisian schoolboys, tableau vivants, and other debauchery. He went on to become one of Capri's most colorful characters. His best-known novel Lord Lyllian is a decadent satire inspired by his own scandalous downfall, but he was in fact more successful as a character in books by other writers: Roger Peyrefitte wrote the gossipy L'Exilé de Capri about him, and he was one of many eccentric expatriate residents to inspire Scottish novelist Compton Mackenzie's fictionalised tales of Capri, Vestal Fire and the lesbian-tinged Extraordinary Women.
Baron Fersen's young lover Nino Cesarini was similarly an inspiration for artists, having posed nude for a portrait by German painter Paul Hoecker, for Italian artist Umberto Brunelleschi, and for photographer Wilhelm von Plüschow, but their colourful life on Capri had a dark ending. A lethal cocktail of Champagne and cocaine killed Baron Fersen in 1923, allegedly a suicide.
The island was immortalized again in 1934 in Isle Of Capri, a song made famous by British actress and music hall singer Gracie Fields, who became another famous resident. Frank Sinatra recorded the song for his 1957 album Come Fly With Me, by which time Capri was popular with the international jet set including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Greta Garbo, and Noël Coward.
Today, it's the luxury boutiques that make Capri a gay men's haven. The most upscale street is Via Camerelle, where stores include Gucci, DSquared2, and Missoni. Here, you'll also find historic perfumer Carthusia, who was granted permission from the Pope to use old formulas discovered by Carthusian monks to create fragrances like Aria Di Capri. Combining mimosa, iris, jasmine, peach, and bay leaf, this lovely perfume is inspired by Capri's sea breeze, warm sun, and blue skies.
OF ROME TO VENICE
If shopping isn't your forte, take one of the dinky public buses that wind around hairpin bends up to Anacapri. This lofty comune is situated near the top of the island and has a more tranquil atmosphere. Recommended sites include the church of St. Michele Archangelo, boasting a stunning floor of painted majolica tiles depicting Adam and Eve and fantastical beasts like unicorns in the Earthly Paradise. From Anacapri you can ride a chairlift to the very peak of Monte Solaro, the island's highest point, for a breathtaking vista.
Darren Bondy, our cruise director and reining Mr. San Francisco Leather, announced later that Captain Alan MacAry had charted a course that would take us directly past Mount Stromboli, one of Italy's three active volcanoes. Clustered together on the yacht's bow in the pitch black of night, we were excited by the prospect of a firework display courtesy of Mother Nature. Stromboli is continuously active with mild to moderate eruptions, and so our insomnia was rewarded by an unforgettable display of incandescent flairs of light, some resulting in small lava flows. Standing on the deck of our sailing yacht beside an active 3,000-foot-high volcano, cheering at every flash of fire and willing the next flash to be bigger and brighter, it did occur to me that we should be careful what we wish for! Fortunately, the Roman god Vulcan must have looked kindly on us and granted us safe passage.
Our next destination, Taormina, also played a significant role in LGBT history. It's here that pioneering gay photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden lived and worked during the late 19th century. He made maximum use of Sicily's rocky landscape and brilliant sunlight, not to mention the handsome local youths. The theatrical, homoerotic photographs that resulted were popular with gay men around the world. More significantly, they put Taormina on the gay map, and encouraged wealthy gay men from countries like the United States, the UK, and Germany to visit this part of Italy. This, in turn, helped the town to prosper, paving the way for Taormina to become the charming resort that we enjoy today.
Dramatically poised on a cliff's edge, with the snow-crowned peak of Mount Etna in the distance, Taormina can't fail to impress. The primary tourist attraction, Teatro Greco, is an ancient amphitheatre that dates to the third-century B.C.E. Once the place to enjoy bloody gladiator spectacles, today it hosts less visceral events such as outdoor film screenings and concerts by the likes of Elton John and Liza Minnelli. My recommendation, however, is to simply lose yourself in Taormina's narrow backstreets, where you might spot the descendents of von Gloeden's models—handsome young men languishing flirtatiously in the heat of the Sicilian sun.
In honor of our special guest speaker, tonight on deck was Festa Athletico with music by DJ Peter Canellis, an opportunity for everyone to show their sporting prowess or their lycra fetish! There were wrestling unitards, NBA jerseys, baseball uniforms, even some beefy cheerleaders in pleated miniskirts and midriff-exposing crop tops. Soccer was the most represented sport, with many opting to wear shirts of world-famous teams like the UK's Manchester United and Italy's Inter Milan. Having partied all night in a polyester soccer jersey, shorts, and knee-length socks, I was so sweaty and exhausted afterward that I now have a newfound admiration for our sportsmen and women.
The sporting theme continued into the next day. As this was a day at sea, there were no pretty churches or honey-hued palazzi for us to enjoy. Instead, we had the chiselled topography of a world-famous sportsman to look forward to. There were a host of onboard activities available, ranging from a cooking class with the Wind Surf's executive chef, to a motivating seminar with Life Coach Thea Sommer, but the main event was Ben Cohen.