Rhap­sody of the seas.

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

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?

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