Gay cruises never held much appeal to me. I love abs, alcohol, and circuit boys as much as the next 27-year-old queer man, but I didn't think my body could handle seven days surrounded by throngs of thirsty men -- I'd likely destroy my liver, my friendships, and my nether regions. Besides, I live in New York City and have an "overtly gay lifestyle." It's unnecessary for me to spend money to party on a boat, when there are plenty of gay bars in walking distance.
But when I had the opportunity to go on a Princess Cruise to Alaska, I decided I'd give it the old college try. The promise of a gay-friendly boat with LGBTQ meet-ups on board (rather than a gay-exclusive one) felt about the level of queer engagement I could handle. And perhaps it's be a short break from my queer-centric life.
Just to set the record straight, I'm not one of those "outdoorsy" gays. I spend most my days in my underwear writing about sex from bed. That makes me happy. But I decided to stretch myself, pretend I love nature, and give the whole Alaska (rugged, outdoorsy) thing a try. Maybe I'd actually prefer the smell of spruce trees to the scent of cat pee that exudes from Brooklyn's concrete jungle.
Having never been on a cruise, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the ship was exactly as I imagined upon boarding in Seattle. The aesthetic of the public sitting areas and restaurants was Manhattan 1980s lounge with walls lined with dark wood veneers and all the chairs big and comfy like sofas.
The compact cabin was manageable, given that I didn't spend much time in my room anyway -- except to sleep and work (which I was able to do from the suite's balcony). There is something to be said about writing while gazing at seemingly endless glaciers. The mountains of ice were so close to the boat that the air noticeably shifted as we passed, as though we'd driven into a massive freezer.
The buffets offered an endless supply of food, most of it too salty for my palate, yet there were secret gems to discover. The various Indian curries were surprisingly tasty, and you could easily live off the prime rib for a week straight. I also learned that if you plan accordingly, you can spend all of your dinners at the finer restaurants, some offering impressive cuisine (they bring on fresh fish and other ingredients at each port of call). My favorite was Sabatini's Italian Trattoria. I also liked the beet risotto, which was not only gorgeous, but unexpectedly delicious. And I'll admit to gaining a few pounds from feasting on all the lobster, salmon, and filet mignon my gluttonous heart could desire.
Surprisingly, the entertainment on board was really good. I'm not sure why there's a stigma against cruise performers. I've certainly seen worse on land. Todd Adamson, who won a 2015 L.A. STAGE Alliance Ovation award for lead actor in a musical (for his performance of Huey in Memphis), belted his goddamn heart out in a one-man show. He wowed the audience by singing covers of everyone from Whitney Houston to Jean Valjean. He's also very cute and very adorably gay. I also enjoyed the "British Invasion" musical, where cast members sang everything from the Beatles to David Bowie. The set was over-the-top, with old-fashioned red telephone booths and facades of 1950s British cars.
I'd feared feeling "stuck" on the ship, but Princess offers numerous off-boat activities including whale watching, salmon fishing, helicopter rides, ATV adventures, river rafting, and glacier climbing. There simply wasn't enough time for me to go stir-crazy with cabin fever.
Offshore excursions add to the cost of cruising, ranging from an additional $40 to $600+. But these are also once-in-a-lifetime experiences leaving you with priceless memories, photos, and bragging rights. Excursions are one of the main reasons to go on a cruise, and some of the offerings on Princess's Alaskan voyage were truly mind-blowing -- even for someone like me who is basically indifferent to most outdoorsy or nature-focused activities.
Where else in the world can you strap on spiked boots and scale a 60-foot completely vertical glacier? Where else will you see literal bears in the wild? In Denali National Park, home to the tallest mountain in North America, I saw four grizzly bears. Two were no more than 12 feet from our tour bus. In a comical display, the mama bear and cub were gingerly picking berries from the shrubbery. There was something comical about seeing such large and clumsy creatures using their enormous paws to eat delicate grape-sized berries.
On another tour, I saw a black bear chilling on the side of the road, rolling around on the ground, living his best life. The guide informed us the bear had likely just left his mom after three years under her care, and was out on his own for the first time in his life. And bald eagles are the pigeons of Alaska. They're all over the place, and they're somehow both majestic and terrifying.
The itinerary was perfect, with the ideal ratio between days at sail and days in port. You can rest as the ship moves from one port to another and then take in excursions when you disembark -- or just go out exploring on your own. I spent one morning fishing for Alaskan salmon, and by evening I was eating the fish I caught. And every night, I had a pina colada or strawberry daiquiri in my hands at all times. I'm usually a whiskey on the rocks or dirty martini kind of guy, but on the cruise I was that tropical drink gay.
That's the magic of cruising to Alaska. You can be the outdoorsy gay, the tropical drink gay, or the workaholic gay who sends emails while breathing in the freshest air you've ever tasted.
Instead of partying all night with a parade of gay men and stumbling out of bed midday to ponder whether you have the right outfit for Ibiza -- as one might do on an all-gay cruise -- a Princess ship focuses on experiencing those once-in-a-lifetime moments. That's certainly worth the sail.