Ship to shore: Mediterranean cruise blog

By Dennis Hensley

Originally published on Advocate.com August 16 2007 11:00 PM ET

Day 1: "A penis a day"

Thursday, August 9, Rome

Greetings,
readers, from the Mediterranean Sea, somewhere between Rome
and Naples, Italy. My boyfriend John Michael and I joined
Holland American's Westerdam cruise ship today in
Civitevecchia, a port city near Rome, for RSVP's
10-day Med Odyssey cruise. I've had like four hours of
sleep in the last 48 hours and I'm loopy and exhausted like
Paula Abdul in virtually every episode of Hey
Paula.
So forgive my lapses into incoherency.

Though I used to
work as a cruise ship chorine in the early 90's, this is
only my second full-on gay cruise. I did another RSVP cruise
in the Caribbean in 1999. Cher's "Believe" was all the
rage. I wonder what the song of this cruise will be.
Hopefully, nothing by Nelly Furtado. I've had it with
her.

A few cabins down
from ours, someone has decorated their door with 12
cut-out pictures of Colt type models with little pieces of
paper taped over their privates that passersby are
invited to lift up and take in an eyeful. We've
decided to ration ourselves to one penis a day--like one of
those Christmas calendars where you one flap a day till
Christmas. There's a name for those calendars but I'm
too Paula-ed out to think of what it is.

Speaking of
Christmas gifts, the Italian guy who stamped our passports
at customs was unreal, like a bronze god with muscles
practically bursting from his uniform shirt. I thought
he might be plant from RSVP, positioned there to get
our trip off to a sexy start. He was literally like the hot
cop who shows up at the office and strips for secretary's
day.

While waiting for
our luggage, we met two of our fellow passengers, both
a bit older than us, who had done countless gay cruises. One
was very, very flirty. He winked and said, "What
happens on the RSVP cruise stays on the RSVP cruise."
So I guess that means if we end up accidentally
killing an underage hooker, we have a good chance of getting
away with it.

Tomorrow, we're
in Naples where we plan to visit the ancient ruins of
Pompeii, where Joan Collins reportedly attended middle
school. There are organized tours but we've decided to
make our own way with two new friends we met while
waiting to embark, John and Angel from Ft. Lauderdale.
This is a risky strategy, I know, but when it comes to
travelling, I tend to have more fun in a small group than
when I'm part of a big bus tour. Luckily, a journalist
friend of mine from Rome, Christian, is also on board
and he's going to get us to the train station. I hope
we don't end up lost like some dumbass team from The
Amazing Race
and leave Phil the host waiting at the
Pit Stop well into the night. That would be bad.

I'll let you know
how it goes. Tomorrow is another adventure...and
another penis revealed.

Day 4: "Sign of the times"

Sunday, August 12, On the way to Dubrovnik

There are stone
penises carved into the sidewalks in the ancient city of
Pompeii. This, our guide tells us, is so that the horndogs
of yore could find the brothels no matter what
language they spoke.

My BF John
Michael and our two new friends from Florida, John and
Angel, made it to Pompeii on our own by taking a train
from the Naples train station. This gave us a great
feeling of accomplishment. No stuffy tour busses for
us. We're too resourceful and bad-ass for such things. There
was a tour leaving the train station right after we got
there so we caught a bit of that action.

Our guide, Maria,
insisted on wearing heels through the rubble of Pompeii
because she "hates gymnastic shoes." You have to admire
that. Maria told us that the ancient Pompeii people
used to wash their clothes in urine then she showed us
paintings on the walls of a brothel featuring couples
in various acts of intimacy. Apparently, you could just
point to what you want, like a menu at Denny's.

In my last entry,
I wrote about our neighbors who have nude Colt models
on their door with Post-It's over their genitals. We lift
one each morning to tell us what day we're going to
have. As predicted, Messina, our second port, was a
bit flaccid although we did enjoy the cannelloni
siciliani, a specialty of the region.

There's another
door sign down the hall from us that basically says 'top
man seeks bottoms.' There's some of clever wordplay involved
but that's the gist of it. Then at the bottom of the
sheet, there are tabs with the guy's phone number on
it that you can tear off--like he's trying to sell a
futon or something. He started the cruise with fifteen tabs
and there are 6 left as this writing and this is like
day 4. It pays to advertise.

The entertainment
so far has been fantastic. Ant, comic and Celebrity
Fit Club
host, cracked me up with tales of his
flight attendant days and Kristine W "brought the room
down a little bit" with a mellow set of jazz-tinged
tunes that showed off her powerhouse voice. My fave
act, though, is Chicago's own Amy Armstrong and her partner
in crime Freddy on the keyboards. Amy's a wonderful
interpreter of songs but she's also outrageously
funny. If there were any justice in the world, she'd
have Sandra Bernhard's career. And she's warm and lovely
offstage as well. I'm going to be whatever her version
of a Claymate is.

One of her
signature songs is "Old Friend," about two old friends
who get together periodically, get drunk and "talk till
two." When she started into it, this gay in the row in
front of us leapt to his feet, threw his arms out and
yelled, "Oh my God, this is my favorite song in the
world!" I don't think he was trying to make a scene,
although he did. I think he was just overcome. It was a
hilarious five-alarm queen out. The next show, that
might be me.

After Amy's show,
we lost at Bingo but got a big kick out of the
evening's holier-than-everyone hostess, Sister Helen (AKA
comedian Paul J. Williams) The crowd almost got
violent, though, when the night's big winner turned
out to be the partner of the doctor who had just won the
previous game. Doctors and their hot partners don't need to
win Bingo once, let alone twice in a row...

Yesterday was our
only Greek port, Corfu, where we swam in the sea and
tried to order humus from a local restaurant but they didn't
carry it. What? Still, it was a raging day, as
predicted by the Colt door earlier that morning. Next
is Dubrovnick. I don't know if there are going to be
penis tiles on the ground, but if we get lost, maybe we can
just ask the top guy down the hall for directions. He
seems friendly enough. In fact, I think I'll go tear
of a tab from his door sign so I'll have his number.

Day 6: "Ciao from Italia"

Tuesday, August 14 -- Venice, Italian

Ciao, amici! We
just arrived in Venice, Italy and it's jigsaw puzzle
pretty everywhere you look. We're here till tomorrow so I'll
write more about it in my next installment.

Yesterday, the
ship was in Dubrovnik, Croatia, one of the most magical
places I've ever visited. The words that come to mind are
enchanting, storybook and pizza. I only say pizza
because I'm in Venice and it's almost time for lunch.
I had visited Dubrovnik around 1990 when I used to
dance on cruise ships and fell in love with it then.
Whenever, I would hear news stories about the war and
unrest in the country during the 1990's, I would
wonder what fate was befalling the enchanting, storybook
old town in Dubrovnik. Well, I'm happy to report that it's
lost little of its charm. Our fearsome
foursome--myself, my boyfriend John-Michael and our
new friends John and Angel--walked around the massive walls
surrounding the old town and though there are some sections
that appear to have suffered something (bombs maybe or
perhaps they're halfway through an episode of
Extreme Make-over: Home Edition), it's still
very much as I remember it.

The biggest laugh
of the day came when we followed the sign that said
"Cold Drinks and Beautiful View" and grabbed a soda at a
cliff-side cafe that overlooked the Adriatic Sea. Angel, it
seems, is some kind of cat whisperer. He'd pick up
every animal we'd come upon. He spotted a cute black
and white cat at the cafe, leaned over to a
neighboring diner who he had never met and said, "Can you
pass me that cat, please?" Like he was asking for the
sugar or something. Maybe you had to be there.

We returned to
the ship with plenty of time to get ready for the Spartan
Leather Party on the aft end. It was quite a scene, with
cod-pieces and arm bands and muscle-bound CPA's
getting to live out their 300 fantasies for a
night. I'm always curious to see what the regular ship's
crew makes of gay crowd. They seemed to be loving it and I
totally get it. Believe me, I've worked on ship's and
most times the passengers are in their early hundreds
so to have some lively leathermen onboard buying
drinks and copping the odd feel is like a breath of fresh
air. A breath of fresh air that smells like poppers.

In my first blog,
I referred to a couple we met at the airport on day
one; the "what happens on the ship stays on the ship"
couple. They're two of my fave people now and one of
them, Thom, showed up to the Spartan party in full
drag, with a feather hat and dark glasses. "I thought
they said feather party, not leather party!" he explained,
adding that they learned the hard way that leather's too
heavy to schlep from home. Feathers are much more
manageable. The things you learn.