Cruise Control

By Jon Barrett

Originally published on Advocate.com March 09 2010 8:00 AM ET

Prior to last spring, the only ocean cruise I’d ever taken was a 1993 Christmastime trip with my folks. I had a terrific time—I mean, it definitely beat spending that same winter week in Boise, Idaho. But after seven days on the Carnival ship, it was pretty clear that “every mornin’, every evenin’, ain’t we got fun”–style cruising wasn’t a good fit for my boyfriend and me. And the next logical alternative—the gay cruise—seemed too too

Now that I’m trying, it’s difficult to articulate my hesitation. It certainly wasn’t that I thought a gay cruise would be too gay; I don’t think anything can be too gay. It’s more that I didn’t think a boat abounding in feather boas, rainbow flags, and shouts of “hey, girls” was my idea of vacation (I have a similar aversion to New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras accoutrements).

I also was weary of what I assumed about the onboard entertainment—nonstop Whitney, Madonna, Beyoncé, and Britney tunes that were perfectly remixed to keep the boys dancing and my cabin reverberating.

But if I’m to be honest with myself, I think I was most worried that I’d stick out like a board-shorted sore thumb in a sea of Speedo-clad gay gods. I’d seen the ads for the gay cruise lines—in this and other magazines—and I knew as well as anyone else that I didn’t look like that. With abs that resemble a two-liter bottle more than a six-pack, how could I possibly relax on a gay cruise?

You know where this story is going, though, don’t you? Last April, I was invited on RSVP Vacations’ Mexican Riviera Cruise (with stops in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán, and Puerto Vallarta), and my preconceived notions about gay cruising immediately turned into gushing clichés when I got on board.

The transformation didn’t take me completely by surprise. Just as anyone might do before bungee jumping or sky diving for the first time, I asked countless gay cruisers, “Should I really do this?” And I was repeatedly told, “You’re either going to love it or hate it.” I just didn’t know how quickly I’d fall into the “hooked” side of that equation.

There were feather boas, rainbow flags, and “hey, girls”; there was no question that this was a gay cruise. But the regalia had the opposite effect than I’d imagined. Rather than making me feel as if I was vacationing on West Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard, it instead signaled that this really was a place I could be myself.

There was a lot of dance music too—and I enjoyed my fair share of it. But only one night out of the seven did I have any indication that anybody was dancing after I’d gone to bed, and that was only because the strobe lights from the pool deck were reflecting on that night’s fog as we passed through it (creating a show I quite enjoyed from the comfort of my cabin).

Perhaps most surprising was that the ship didn’t become a body-fascist republic as soon as we left the democratically controlled shores of the United States. Quite to the contrary, I can now quite confidently confirm that gay men and lesbians really do come in all shapes and sizes—and all of them very well represented on the RSVP cruise.

All of this is not to say that it was smooth sailing the whole way—after driving an hour and a half outside of Mazatlán to go zip-lining through the Sierra Madres, our Mexican bus caught on fire. And after spending a day lounging at the amazing Blue Chairs resort in Puerto Vallarta, we returned to the ship, turned on CNN, and learned that all of Mexico had been overwhelmed by swine flu. But what holiday doesn’t come with a couple challenges?

I had a blast. I fell in love with regular RSVP musical entertainers Amy and Freddy (check them out at AmyFreddy.com), I made a bunch of new friends, and I gained a few pounds. Most notably, though, I got over my notion that any gay cruise, by its very nature, would automatically be too too. In my experience, this is a vacation that truly is what you make it. I’m gay; it’s a gay cruise. And as far as I’m concerned, there can never be too much of those two very good things.