by Don Church and Tony Schillaci 23 July 2010
When our travel agent tried to “sell” us a top-shelf cruise we pictured the glamorous lifestyles of the rich and the famous – real and imagined – international super spies, Monte Carlo habitués, and wine and food aficionados all promenading on the decks of luxury liners.
Imagined, that is, until we discovered the swellegance of sailing aboard three magnificent vessels that define the stuff that sea dreams are made of: the clubby, grand resort-style Celebrity Equinox, Azamara Club’s Quest, and the more intimate, allinclusive Regent’s Seven Seas Voyager.
As a gay male couple who’ve been together for four decades, we’d somehow avoided sailing, feeling we’d be the only gay guys on board. But then we discovered the world of Cruise Critic and Meet Me On Board – popular dot.com sites – where kindred spirits can be found to meet on most sailings for drinks, dinner and entertainment.
We knew about companies like Atlantis, RSVP and Olivia that charter some of these same ships for ~ill-gay and all-lesbian cruises. Still, being senior citizens, and leading rather quiet, low-key lives, we chose to book a trio of regular upscale itineraries – sailing with Regent 011 the Baltic, Azamara around the Italian Peninsula, and the Celebrity Equinox on its inaugural cruise from Southampton, UK.
What drew us to these floating palaces was the promise of an easy-breezy lifestyle aboard: perfect venues for leisurely dinners, intimate shows (or grand spectacles on the Equinox) pampering spa treatments and port-intensive days – without the pressure of having to look like picture perfect male models.
Each cruise line’s reservationists booked us into our requested king-bedded staterooms without blinking, and on Regent they even supplied two sets of man-size slippers along with large plush terry robes.
Acceptance is the keyword aboard these five-star sea resorts. Fellow passengers responded in kind to our daily hellos. Laughter and good cheer emanated from the well trained, hard-working staff. Perhaps some reasons for our acceptance aboard these elegant ships is that the passengers and crew display politeness, good manners and a respect for individuality. Even actor Harvey Fierstein once told us, when referring to gays fitting in with any crowd, “Honey, we are mainstream!”
Although formal nights and tuxedos are giving way to more country-club casual attire on Voyager, Quest and Equinox, packing a tux, blazer or suit to celebrate a special occasion is always welcomed by those fellow passengers – especially the women – who enjoy dressing fashionably for the evening’s dining, dancing and theater-going.
Options of deciding what time to dine – and with whom allowed us to linger a bit longer ashore in Venice, Tallinn and St. Petersburg and then dine late. Dinner menus list several choices, including heart-healthy and spa fare. The international cadre of top chefs creates such a bounty that we had fun choosing a different appetizer, entree and dessert each night.
Most ships now post in their daily log a “Friends of Dorothy” notice – usually at cocktail time for gay and gay-friendly people. “Dorothy” is code for the character played by Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz.” It’s great fun knowing that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Aboard the Azamara Quest, the cruise director, Sue Denning, went so far as to put (LGBT) in bold letters after the Friends of Dorothy (FOD) announcement. This kindness allowed younger cruisers, who didn’t ‘read the memo’ and didn’t know who “Dorothy” was, to join us.
On the Regent Voyager, a younger gay couple who showed up at an FOD gathering said “we thought maybe Dorothy was some sweet old lady who was having a quilting party!”
The ship’s officers hosted several cocktail parties to which we were invited. By being members of Cruise Critic (free) these invitations are not unusual. This gave us an opportunity to meet straight frequent cruisers who in many cases invited us to join them for drinks or dinner.
A group of married couples from Minnesota on the Equinox insisted that we join them in the edgy Quasar disco. We ended the night gyrating to the Bee Gees, Lady Gaga and Beyonce.
Our quiet life has taken on a more exciting vibe on the world’s oceans. On reflection, after three elegant sailings in one year, we now picture ourselves as two senior (albeit gay) James Bonds, and we think of another Dorothy – the famous lyricist Dorothy Fields – who wrote “If our friends could see us now!”br>
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