MY GUILTY STRAIGHT SECRET
Rhapsody of the seas.
Telling friends about our plan to sail on the Rhapsody Of The Seas for 9 days was met with mild scorn and surprise. Shouldn’t we wait until the next big all-gay cruise sailing out of the USA? There was incredulity that we, two gay men, wanted to go on a “normal” cruise. As it turned out, nine days floating around the Pacific Ocean with 2,500 mostly-hetero Australians was about the best holiday Ed (my long-suffering boyfriend) and I have ever had.
We’re both obsessed with those megastructures documentaries about cruise and warships, so when a flyer came through with a special holiday deal it took five seconds to decide to pop our cruise cherry. Our lives, by inner-city standards, are ones of cheery domesticity: Revenge and Downtonloving, monogamous party-at-home types. And there’s the disclaimer: this ain’t no tale of debauched sex parties, copious drinking, trying to sleep with the crew or staying up all night talking about boys and dicks!
I’ll be up for a lynching for saying this but gay cruises just don’t appeal to me. Guys always try to convince me they are really not just about lots of sex. “You can do your own thing as a couple. Eat, socialise and enjoy yourselves. No pressure!” Then I’ll hear from the next five people that they spent half the time partying, a third sleeping with as many guys as they could, and the other sixth maybe sleeping. I don’t know, maybe one day I’ll be persuaded.
That was the hidden beauty of our straight cruise. There were maybe 18 abs on board the Rhapsody – and those were shared between Ed and the two other gay couples we met. We could roll out of bed, slap on any brand of clothing (or… shock… no brand!), do a quick hair check and be out the door still looking better maintained than the majority of the ship. Retirees are happy to chat among themselves by the pool or in the lounge areas. There’s just this overwhelming sense of not giving a fuck. Parents get their non-gym sculptured bodies out for some sun and desperatelyneeded relaxation while their kids are blissfully occupied in the adventure areas of the ship. Folks couldn’t be more laidback if they piped Valium gas through the stateroom vents!
There’s a certain anonymity, a blissful incognito, to straight cruising. Being a natural introvert, the idea of feeling the need to meet and be cheerful to everyone, or spend all my time socialising and partying, is super tiring. I need down time and space to feel relaxed. And a gym, of course.
To be fair, there were some downsides to being gay boy cruisers on board a largely suburban family and retiree ship. For starters, ours was a Royal Caribbean vessel and aimed at a market removed from the party-going cruise set. There was a distinct scarcity of 20 to 40 year olds on board, which was actually fine. We got to chat with the oldies – they have the best ship gossip! They’d tell us of people who were left behind at port or the screaming match in the adultsonly pool, while quietly sussing out these two boys who oddly remind them of their grandson and his… special friend.
You work out quickly who to avoid. We did spy a bunch of 20-somethings on “Cody’s birthday cruise” (they had printed up matching spring-break style singlets and Southern Cross tattoos). Needless to say, they were not there for the shipboard library. They and a few other choice specimens were obviously there to get shit-faced drunk for nine days on the all-youcan-drink package.
There were a few other occasions where we felt like an alien visitor observing the weird
and not-so-wonderful land of the Aussie bogan. For instance, we wouldn’t have dared stand out by entering the World’s Hottest Man competition (won by a morbidly obese man). The popped-collar, spiky-haired patrons of the nightclub were leery seeing two homos dancing together, so we had to make do with getting our groove on with the single ladies. Which makes you feel kind of dirty, you know?
There were some unexpectedly nice things about being one of only six gays in a village of 2,500. The crew could not have been friendlier – they didn’t bat an eyelid that we ate, slept or hung out poolside together. In fact, I think we got even more special treatment because of it (our free-poured drinks seemed exceptionally low on mixers!) Like fabulous birds of a feather, we quickly identified and bonded with the few other gays on board. There was a younger couple, and an older interracial couple. All very lovely and friendly but without needing to be all up in each other’s grills, so to speak.
And there were the ship’s entertainers. Crew dancers and singers contained more than a few homo hotties who, although largely segregated, were easy to share a knowing smile with – islands of similarity in that sea of surging suburban heterosexuality. We spent one evening in the ship nightclub with the singing trio The Aussie Boys, and also met the lads from the Boys In The Band. All of whom were lovely guys and highly attractive – the kind who you’d be fighting just to say “Hi” to if there were 3,000 other gays involved.
There was also the sweet respite of the onboard gym and steam room. Tales from Atlantis cruises tell of lines for the equipment at all hours, but on the Rhapsody, the fitness centre was all mine. I could carve out quiet gym time each day and be in my own world. Yes, I had desserts at every lunch and dinner…
Which brings me to the food. I’m not a big eater in my everyday world. When faced with mountains of endless yummy food from dawn until 3am, however, it was a paradise of epic proportions! We ate about seven times daily, hopping from one eatery to another. By day five, we started to get sick of the very thought of food: the all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast and lunches, the formal dinners, the 24 hour room service. But, like gastronomical troopers, we undid our belts and gnawed through. On more than one occasion, cramming Alaskan crab, a fresh-made omelette or a third helping of cheescake into my mouth, I wondered how it all worked on the all-gay cruises. Did people eat? Could one legitimately go for seconds without a second thought? I’d be too worried about sucking my gut in for 16 hours a day or letting a carb slip past my lips under the eyes of the judgmental gays.
With a nightly printed newsletter containing all the activities for the following day, you could select as much or as little as you wanted to do. Games, classes, movies, bingo – it was all there. We made it a point to never miss the evening show. It might have had something to do with our obsession with one of the singers, but I digress. Each night was a different something: well-produced song-anddance acts, stand-up comedy or a Broadway number. For quiet city boys like us, dressed up and feeling fabulous, it was a real treat. Almost secondary to the cruise itself were its destinations of South Pacific islands. They were, by and large, very pretty places full of swaying palm trees, white sands, crystalline waters and smiley people. We’d have several hours at the Isle Of Pines, Lifou, Port Vila and Noumea, which was enough time to take some happy snaps, go for a walk and a swim in the ocean, get fed up finding food and then head back to eat on board again (you get cranky when you miss one of your seven meals a day).
In all, it was a dream vacation. We swam, ate, drank, relaxed and got pampered with service and entertainment at every turn. We partied and met people when feeling social, or did our own thing when we weren’t. Sure, there was the odd curious look at this pair of young men who weren’t drinking or trying to pick up chicks, but the oldies loved us and so did the crew. There was no pressure to look or be amazing and the only times we got hit on were by one or two single ladies whose judgement waned after a few drinks. Being homos on a straight cruise set us apart but equally allowed us freedom to be and do what we wanted. And did I mention the guilt-free dessert buffet?