Gay cruising in the Mediterranean
After years of dreaming, a single gay man boarded his first gay cruise, from France via Italy to Ibiza. He enjoyed himself so much that he encourages others to follow in his wake.
I had the catalog for the Atlantis Events all-gay Mediterranean cruise on my desk for three weeks before my boss forced me to call up and register. I dont know, I said. Its a gay cruise1,600 gay guys all on the same boat.
Exactly, said my boss. Now get out your credit card and book your room before the thing sells out.
Having spent years dreaming of going on a gay cruise, I took her advice and made my dream come true. From the moment my confirmation arrived I tingled with anticipation. But since I was going to be traveling solo I was very nervous. Would I make friends on the trip? Would I get along with my assigned suitemate? Would I feel self-conscious in comparison to all the men with washboard abs and whitened teeth? I didnt know, but I trusted that a trip around the Mediterraneanwith stops in France, Italy, and the Balearic Islands of Spainwould be enjoyable no matter what.
The cruise, aboard the Royal Caribbean ship Splendour of the Seas, was scheduled to depart from Barcelona, Spain. Because of the power struggle between this chic coastal city and Madrid, the less glamorous but official capital of Spain (its a New York CityWashington, D.C., type of rivalry), there are only a limited number of flights from the United States to Barcelona. Fortunately, both Spanair and Iberia offer shuttle service between the two cities.
There are now numerous gay cruises each year to choose from, and Atlantis and RSVP are the main companies that organize these vacations. I selected this particular trip, sponsored by Atlantis, for its itinerary: Barcelona to Monte Carlo, Rome, Naples, Majorca, Ibiza, and then back to Barcelona.
My fears about making friends on the cruise were assuaged as soon as I got to the port in Barcelona. Waiting in line to board, I met a couple from Palm Springs, Calif., whod just sold their restaurant and were traveling around the world. Just like the other passengers they seemed nervous and excited, so making conversation was easy. My roommate turned out to be a 22-year-old from Oklahoma. It was his second time cruising, and immediately we agreed upon a guests are welcome at any time policy. Even though our first night together in the cabin was rough due to his use of illicit substances, the rest of the trip was fine because he moved out and I got the cabin to myself for the rest of the trip.
Atlantis caters to a casual crowd, so guests can eat when they want and sit with whomever. Some single travelers might prefer a more formal approachfewer Who should I have dinner with? momentsbut each time I arrived in the dining room an Atlantis team member quickly escorted me to a group table. A few couples sat by themselves, but most seemed eager to be social.
The hardest part of the cruise was finding time to sleep, because every day is spent touring a different city. I chose to explore each town on my own rather than joining the excursions offered by Royal Caribbean. In Naples, for example, I took a $2 train to Pompeii, lunched in Sorrento, then took a ferry over to Capri for a late-afternoon gelato.
Every evening the boat featured a disco tea dance by the pool, followed by dinner in the main dining room and a nightly show in the 1,000-seat theater. Cruises are not usually known for the quality of their on-board entertainment, but our cruise included edgy gay comics, a handsome gay hypnotist, and gay icon Patti Lupone. These shows turned out to be the highlight of the cruise; theres nothing like seeing 20 hypnotized gay men acting out their childhood ballerina fantasies.
After the evening show, the pool deck opened for midnight dancing. Each night had a different themeMardi Gras, White Party, 70s Flashback. These dances arent for everyone; you have to be in the mood for music blasting from speakers and multicolored laser lights dancing across the night sky. With so many parties, you can imagine how difficult it was to find time to sleep.
Unlike food, alcohol is not included in the ticket price, and drinks are purchased with a cruise card. Atlantis did provide a free bottle of wine in the room and an occasional glass of complimentary champagne, and the final afternoon of the cruise featured two hours of open bar.
As one would expect, a gay cruise offers plenty of opportunities for hooking up. Still, the cruise was far from a free-for-all; in fact, the atmosphere was relatively decorous. During an on-board version of the TV reality game show Survivor, coordinated by real-life Survivor contestant Richard Hatch, passengers were encouraged to give up their swimsuits to contestants who were trying to collect as many suits as possible. The level of modesty among the passengers was impressive as the game finished without a single flash of public nudity.
Despite the endless partying and playing, the cruise provides ample time for its guests to appreciate the beauty and landmarks of Southern Europe. While in Rome, I took a two-hour tour of the Coliseum and the Forum and then had a plate of spaghetti bolognese in the Piazza Navona. The Balearic Island of Ibiza was our least educationally enriching stop, although the island does boast a beautiful walled city built by its onetime Arab rulers. And even though theres nothing particularly gay about Capri, the exquisite shops and elegant hotels suggest a behind-the-scenes queer influence. For those more interested in high-end fashion, there is plenty of time to peruse Europes best shopping arenas. (Dont forget that traveling throughout Europe has become easier with the introduction of the euro because you dont have exchange money at each port.)
I docked in Spain deprived of sleep yet still very high from the 24-hour excitement. It was a shock when the cruise came to an end, even though everyone knew it was coming. Passengers are expected to vacate their rooms by 7 a.m. on the day of departure. I was impressed by the smooth disembarkation process when my bagcollected earlier by cruise line porterswas ready for me the moment I stepped off the boat.
I suggest arranging to stay a few extra days in the city of your departure. Most of the passengers on my cruise ship did, which made my additional days in Spain worth the expenditure. My vacation continued through my flight home with fellow cruisers at the airport and on the planeand even my flight attendant. When she tried to squeeze by me with her cart and couldnt fit, I told her I was flirting with the cute boy in seat 6. In the spirit of vacation she replied, I certainly dont want to interrupt that.
The Atlantis trip to Southern Europe is an annual event, and this years itineraryreportedly sold out, but there is a waiting listincludes both the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. It departs from Venice with stops in Athens, the Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos, and Ephesus, Turkey, in addition to some of the stops from the itinerary that I enjoyed, including ending up in Barcelona. For information on upcoming cruises, visit www.atlantisevents.com.