In my last column I wrote about my first cruise with an LGBT tour group, the Pied Piper Post-Thanksgiving cruise. To my delight, it was not all about pretty boys in skimpy swimsuits (but there were plenty of those available). After a day at sea we reached our first port of call, and from then on, the pattern was; explore a port, board the ship and party while we sailed to the next island. Now let’s focus on the all the fun shipboard and at the Caribbean ports of call.
Puerto Rico, My Heart’s Devotion
We arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Sunday afternoon and had a few hours to explore the city. The ship docks right on the edge of the Old Town neighborhood, so we left the ship to explore the beautiful blue-cobblestoned streets (the stones were the ballast for ships sailing from Europe). The architecture is a delightful mix of European and Caribbean influences, but the shops tend to be the usual tourist traps (along with a Walgreen’s and Starbucks).
My friends Dan and Eric had been there before and served as my tour guides. We climbed the hilly streets to the ancient stone walls of the fortress which protected the city 500 years ago. They rise majestically above the blue waters of the Atlantic. After catching our breath and wiping the sweat from our brows, we explored the tunnels and staircases that wind through the interior. After that we headed back to town, where Pied Piper had arranged a party at the Parrot Club. While the concept sounds fun, one look at the skeevy strippers and unsanitary bar and I turned around and headed back to the ship, just in time to shower and catch one of the ship’s stage productions, a confusing mélange of songs that didn’t seem to surround much of a story, other than “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, etc.” After the show there was just enough time to head to the ship’s martini bar for a cocktail before dinner. After dinner I spent a little time losing a few bucks in the casino, then headed up to the Sky Lounge, the ship’s dance bar-which turned into a gay dance club after 11!
Life’s a Beach
The next day we awoke to find ourselves docked on the island of St. Maarten. It’s the only island country in the world ruled by two governments; one side of the island is Dutch and the other is French. We docked on the Dutch side and hopped a bus to take us to the French side for a beach party, one of the excursions offered by Pied Piper. After a little bit of confusion when we arrived (really, you couldn’t put out enough beach chairs?) we had a little lunch and, mothers’ warnings about waiting to swim after eating be damned, went right into the beautiful blue waters. The French side of the island faces the Atlantic, so the waters were a little cool and choppy (no more so than Sebastian Beach), but that didn’t stop many of us from diving right in. There’s a nude section of the beach and many headed there, but believe me, no one wants to see this chubby boy naked, so I passed.
As the sun began to set we boarded our bus back to the ship and, along the way, our tour leader Hysteria provided a history lesson. Back at the ship, just enough time for a shower and another of the ship’s shows; another medley of pop songs woven through a story about a boy trapped in a video game. It all looked very ‘80s and the dancers’ costumes looked like giant vaginas, which had our group rolling in the aisles. After dinner, we were treated to a late night concert by the handsome men from Well Strung. They specialize in doing pop tunes in a classical string quartet style –with a bit of campiness thrown in for this show. I loved when they channeled their inner Disney Princesses in “Part of Your World” and “Let It Go.” Following the show, the guys joined the passengers in the Sky Lounge and partied until…let’s just say we went right through to breakfast.
You Snooze, You Lose
For weeks before the cruise I debated which shore excursion to take at St. Kitt’s. I really wanted to do the snorkeling trip, but all my friends were taking the scenic train tour of the island. I decided to wait until I was on the cruise, maybe I’d meet someone doing the snorkeling trip and sign up for that, if not, I’d take the train. Of course, I waited too long and both events were booked. It killed me even more when I heard that the snorkeling group got to swim with dolphins, a dream of mine. Instead I got to explore the numerous t-shirt shops and jewelers that made up what passes for downtown St. Kitt’s. After an hour I headed back to the ship for a few cocktails by the fairly empty pool, and the best sun of the trip.
I didn’t have long to pout because I had to get ready for that night’s costume contest, “Music on the High C’s.” Grammatical error aside, I was excited - give me any reason to dress up like Liza Minnelli and I will. In fact I brought an entire suitcase of costumes and props. The competition was stiff with the Black-Eyed Peas, Abba, Michael Jackson and multiple versions of Sia all making appearances. Let me tell you, you haven’t perspired until you’ve perspired on the Caribbean, under a wig! All that sweat was worth it, I won first prize in the costume contest and the prize money paid for one-third of my trip.
On the first of our two nights at sea as we headed back to Miami, the last Pied Piper event was held. The late night version of “Dancing With the Stars” featured five passengers paired up with Charlie and Adam, the Broadway dancers who performed at the Pied Piper events and a few of the dancers from the ship’s troupe of performers. It was a little disorganized, but that only added to the fun, as the amateurs competed with their professional partners in a series of dances (disco, tango and…polka!) before being eliminated to three final contestants – one of whom went to, shall we say, an extreme costume change that caused the judges jaws to drop. Hey, who am I to judge, it kept him in the contest. It was a grand bit of silliness and the three celebrity judges (Daniel the cellist from Well Strung, the ship’s cruise director Maarten and Chuck, one of the folks from Pied Piper, who donned his Laurie Partridge costume from the night before) were hysterically funny.
Our last full day at sea was one in which to decompress from all the exciting activities and to socialize with new friends. Although I went with a group of people I knew, I also made many new friends. Next year’s trip will cost a bit more because there’s another day at sea. Tickets will be priced $529-$2,235. Of course excursions, taxes and gratuities are additional, but you may be able to get some of the bonuses for signing up early or waiting until the last minute. You can bet I’ll be going again.