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Cruising the high seas again

Thursday, 08 January 2015 Written by // Bob Leahy - Editor Categories // Gay Men, Travel, Lifestyle, Living with HIV, Population Specific , Bob Leahy

Bob Leahy recently spent 21 days on a ship cruising the Caribbean. Here he reflects on the experience of being in a very straight environment, on being poz while on vacation and how LGBT and other groups play out

Cruising the high seas again

Say goodbye to "Friends of Dorothy". Say hello to "LGBT Gatherings". Being out and gay has come of age on the high seas.

For those already puzzled the "Friends of Dorothy" phenomenon – it’s a code phrase for being LGBT from days gone by - it's origins and use were explained in a post of mine two years ago here As I said then . . 

Whatever the origin, it may come as a shock to the new cruiser -  we are talking ships here, not back alleys – that the community boards of many large cruise ships will carry a notice such as  “Friends of Dorothy, meet every night for cocktails at 7pm in the Martini Bar” or something similar. And that these coded notices are in fact posted by the cruise lines themselves!

A mixture of the archaic, the protective  and the inclusive, cruise lines do  this for a variety of “special interest groups:” as a practical alternative to listing their meetups in the ship’s daily program of events. Hence you will find a “Friends of Dorothy” notice immediately you board ship, if you know where to look. But would young gay men understand it? Says Urban Dictionary “today, the term is used mostly by Baby Boomers and an older generation of gays and lesbians.” That means many from the younger generation will not likely be checking out the martini bar at 7pm.”

It appears now though that acceptance of travelling LGBTers has come of age as lines like Holland America now include an “LGBT Gathering” in their calendar of events that they supply to all on the ship daily. That’s doubly interesting in that Holland America has the reputation of being a relatively staid line, a choice often of the elder set. It’s positively genteel compared to some, in fact. (Witness the string trio playing nightly in one lonnge.)  Which of course begs the question what were partner and I doing on a cruise representing, it seems, a bastion of conservatism. Well, my dears, it was all about the price. A last minute deal beckoned and we abandoned all pretence of youth.

It actually worked out surprisingly well. The LGBT gatherings were well attended each night at the happy hour  - hellos over pina coladas and mojitos were de riguer - and we made some good friends. And it was great to see being gay on a cruise ship is  something one no longer needs to hide. Even being poz, me being blabby, was not something I found inecessary to keep to myself. It’s hard, after all, when people ask what you do and you basically “do” HIV.

It would of course be a completely different ball game on a poz cruise, such as the one contributor Joshua Midleton described here. The poz cruise thing sounds like huge fun  and thus is a highly attractive and empowering option for many, but just as a gay cruise doesn’t entirely do it for me, I’ll leave the poz cruise experience for others to enjoy for now.

In any event, back to the uber-straight world of MS Maasdam, the "Friends of Dorothy" moniker has gone down with the sunset but there’s another oddity, it seems lurking on the daily ships bulletin. What exactly are the “Friends of Bill W: meetings that the ship’s bulletins still advertises each day? Is this some other marginalized group that dare not reveal its name, or is Bill W. someone wildly popular on the ship who likes to party a lot. Enquiries revealed it’s the former –“Friends of Bill W” is the euphemism for AA members, a fact that was new to this naïve soul. Turns out we LGBTers and HIVers aren’t the only ones who can't always come out of the shadows.

Travel broadens the mind and we crammed so much in to 21 days at sea that my mind must be very broad indeed now. Here are ten thing I learned in particular.

1. Wifi access has become a commodity as globally sought after as all get out. It’s available on the ship but at a price and onboard reception is hopeless, so those of us with IWA (internet Withdrawal Anxiety) make a point on coming ashore at every port of making a beeline for any coffee shop that boasts wifi.  Ditto for the ship’s crew.

2. The idea of leaving all thoughts of work behind you while on vacation is pleasant but hard to pull off, at least for this traveller. I myself am incapable of that, hence the need for wifi at every opportunity (see 1. above.)

3. Even in the face of huge temptation, there is only so much food one can eat in a  day. And man was not made to deal with midnight buffets

4. The Panama Canal is indeed an amazing feat of engineering. And who knew each ship is guided through the narrow locks tethered to three mule vehicles (think locomotives) on each side. Simply amazing.

5. The casinos on ships should be avoided at all costs.  Enough said.

6 Santa does indeed visit if you happen to be at sea on Christmas morning. How he finds you remains a mystery. (GPS maybe?)

7. Just because you have being LGBT in common does not ensure that you actually want to spend big chunks of time with all your fellow LGBT passengers.

8. Napping, if you can fit it into your day, whether on vacation or not, is one of the most heavenly pursuits on earth.

9. I no longer handle alcohol very well.

10. An IPhone can serve very well as a camera without the hassle of lugging a real camera around your neck. Eight megapixels are eight megapixels – and they can do very well in either device.

Where did we go? Well, on a cruise it almost seems secondary to the experience, as shipboard life is very inviting in itself, but after leaving Fort Lauderdale we went ashore at the following ports: Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos: San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas; Half Moon Cay, Bahamas; Kralendijk, Bonaire; Oranjestad, Aruba; Willemstad, Curacao; Panama Canal; George Town, Grand Cayman and Falmouth, Jamaica. (Want to buy a t-shirt?)

Anyway, pictures speak louder than words. Here are some scenes from a voyage that the iPhone camera handed quite nicely.


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