by Joseph Schmitt
My friend Michael in New York City is
an experienced cruise-addict with over twenty voyages
under his steamer trunk. In fact, hes a bit of a
cruise snob. Hes partial to the stately feel of
transatlantic crossings and the old-world ambiance found
on classic ocean liners like the QE2. So when I rang him
up to propose we take an all-gay RSVP cruise, he stammered
out a litany of reasons why he couldnt go
money, work, husband. But Michael, I said,
were best friends and weve never cruised
together (I knew that would get him). With that,
he muttered, Let me ask my husband.
The warm reception we received from
the RSVP staff at the dock, coupled with the collective
level of excitement melted even Michaels NYC permafrost.
Smiles were everywhere as the vibrating thrusters pushed
us away from our Ft. Lauderdale dock. As Michael and
I perused the ship, we chatted with several large groups
of friends, made noticeable by their custom, matching
t-shirts that marked their unity. This is out
of control, noted Michael. Everyone is so
nice! You dont smile walking down a New York City
street. You might get shot!
Given our combined cruising
experience, we decided to divide and conquer; a must-do
on gay cruises where dinner reservations at upscale
restaurants, bookings for shore excursions, and spa
treatments go fast. Michael would handle dinner while
I booked spa treatments and shore excursions. With all
reservations attended to for the week, we retreated
to our cabin to unpack for the nine-day adventure ahead
to Costa Rica and Panama. With the help of the pre-cruise
information we received back home, I was able to pack
accordingly. Unveiling my costume arsenal, full of grass
skirts, Amazonian loincloths, and jungle beads, Michaels
eyes grew larger with each item. Please tell me
youre not going to wear that in public,
he asked. Not me, I told him. You
Our first two full days en route to
Costa Rica were at sea, and there is no better introduction
to gay cruising than a Loin Cloth T-Dance. The experience
of dancing outdoors under a Caribbean sun surrounded
by scantily clad men and open ocean is otherworldly.
The sight of seeing my best friend, a sophisticated
New York socialite, feverishly dancing away dressed
only in bright-green eyeliner and a parrot feather-accented
priceless. True to my word, no photos
were taken for print, but you get the picture.
That night, many of our fellow cruisers
were in a tizzy about Tinseltowns biggest night.
The ships captain was able to secure a last-minute
satellite feed. Fingers and toes were crossed and breaths
held as hopes for Brokeback Mountain ran high. We opted
instead to go for the real thing, Country Western Night,
aft deck 9, under the real stars. It was here we met new
friends Big Joe and John. Michael even got his first lessons
in two-stepping from John. Big Joe was enjoying his second
week at sea with RSVP. The Westerdam had been chartered
for a two week engagement. The first segment sailed through
the Caribbean during Carnival. For us, this was only day
two, for Big Joe, day nine. He raved about how wild and
extravagant the Mardi Gras celebration had been. How
are you going to make it two weeks on a gay cruise?
I asked. By going into rehab when I get back,
he joked. At least I think he was joking. Big Joe, a Seattle
native, suggested we not miss Amy Armstrong, a bawdy,
big-voiced cabaret performer and long-favored RSVP entertainer.
So, it was off to the Crows Nest for cocktails and
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Its impossible to do everything
on a cruise, with the traditional casino, bingo, sports,
shopping, etc. The daily list of activities presented
by RSVP made our choices twice as difficult. Two days
earlier during embarkation we met ChiChi, RSVPs
drag version of Julie McCoy. Dressed in a red, white,
and blue outfit fashioned after a Shirley Temple acid-trip,
ChiChi insisted we visit her poolside for some afternoon
fun. What can I say about this Latin sexpot stowaway?
Other than she taunts, she flaunts, she teases
makes a big splash! After too much sun and too many
cocktails, I wish I could report that Michael and I
had returned to our cabin for a good nights sleep
before our Costa Rican jungle adventure, but that is
not how the story goes. I can, however, confirm that
the Northern Lights Disco onboard Holland Americas
Westerdam closes shortly after 5 A.M.
Let me warn would-be
cruisers to Costa Rica that kayaking in crocodile-filled
rivers deep in the jungle is made doubly difficult in
a two-man kayak when said kayakers are both hungover
from the night before. Not only had I lied to my good
friend that I was an experienced kayaker, but I had
also assured him the task at hand was an easy one. It
was not. In fact, we capsized within three feet of shore.
Even the numerous monkeys in the nearby trees were laughing
at us. Of the thirteen kayaks in our group, we were
the only ones completely drenched from sweat and river
water. To add insult to near injury, we retuned to camp
only to learn that there was now a transit strike in
effect. Michael came close to tears when we learned
that all of the pothole-filled roads we had taken to
get to our remote day camp were blockaded by picketing
government workers. The only way to get us back to the
ship would be through an intricate network of rivers
through the jungle. That air-conditioned luxury bus
idling in a distant parking lot, filled with bottled
water and tasty snacks, now tormented us from afar.
Dirty, wet, and thirsty we meandered the waterways for
hours. My only solace was seeing the terrified look
on my friends face with each passing crocodile.