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For the better part of our 10-year relationship, my partner, Dan, has talked about going on a gay cruise. I resisted at every mention, worried that it would be too loud, too crazy and too impossible to find just one good night's sleep.
Little did I know, I wouldn't want one.
Out of the kindness of my heart, I finally relented. We decided on Atlantis' party-heavy Independence of the Seas cruise in the Caribbean, Feb. 2-10. Why not dive in head-first, we thought.
The schedule was a day longer than most of their cruises in the past. Friends of mine told me I'd be very ready for it to be over by the last day. They couldn't have been further from the truth.
This gay-cruise virgin learned a lot on his first trip with Atlantis. These 10 lessons stick out...
1. Less Is More
The first thing we noticed on board the ship: Wow, did we over-pack! And we only brought one suitcase! All we ultimately needed was the clothes we walked onto the ship wearing...and a handbag with a dozen speedos. We would have fit in perfectly.
2. Costume Parties Are A Must
Before we left, Dan pooh-poohed the themed dance parties as a hassle, having to plan for a half-dozen "outfits." They ended up being a highlight of the trip. It was inspiring to see some of the outfits people dreamt up - umbrellas-turned-jellyfish for the "Under The Sea Party" and bald eagles for the penultimate "White Party." And the costumes added an ice breaker that kept the mood fun and light.
Though, staying with my lesson on packing, most guys just wore a "festive" speedo or underwear - camouflage for the "Dog Tag Party" or sparkly silver for the "Disco Party" - and nobody was complaining.
3. Everyone's Aboard
Every marketing material I saw for this cruise showed throngs of hot 30-somethings with 5% body fat wearing no clothes. That made up about 10% of the people on board. In reality, the passengers resembled a gay bar in Central Ohio more than a circuit party. Every kind of gay man was on board: Men in their 20s and 80s; Black, white and Asian; Bears, jocks and twinks; Gamblers, circuit boys and Broadway queens.
4. Indulge in the Non-party Fun
And amazingly, Atlantis and Royal Caribbean found a way to keep everyone entertained. Dixie Longate was a big hit on our cruise, hosting bingo (yes, I said bingo) and her patented Tupperware party. The FlowRider surf simulation at the back of the ship was constantly packed. The casino was a unique way to make new friends. And there was always a sing-a-long with Matt Yee or a trivia contest going on somewhere.
The one lesson about the entertainment I learned: Don't believe the hype. Atlantis had promised a big, surprise performer for the main attraction! Instead they rolled out Patti Lupone, who couldn't pack a theater and whose performance disappointed everyone I talked to. We stopped in for five minutes; That was all we could take.
Just one tip to the entertainers: The Little Britain joke of hearing someone with an accent and insisting you don't understand a word they say? It was funny the first four dozen times you told it. It's not funny anymore.
5.Everyone Wants To Say "Hi"
One of the things I love about Provincetown is that people check their attitude on the ferry and step onto Commercial Street with smiles. The cruise was no different. When I said "hello" to people in the hallway they actually - gasp - said "hello" back! We met some wonderful guys from Germany to Australia, Philadelphia to San Diego and everywhere in between. All you have to do is smile, introduce yourself and shake hands. Just keep hitting the Purell stations that are (smartly) more prevalent than used condoms on the dick deck.
6. Don't Shy Away From The Fine Dining
Eat. For all that is good and holy, eat! We went to just about every dance party, and we may have had our shirts off approximately 92% of the time, but we ate; With all that dancing, we needed the energy.
The food in the main dining rooms was a big disappointment, but we found the lamb and saltimbocca at one of the ship's fine-dining restaurants (Portofino) early on. Plus, after dancing for four hours, a couple slices of pepperoni pizza hit the spot. And I dare say, the vast majority of it didn't show up until just as we were stepping off the ship back in Ft. Lauderdale.
7. Ports Of Call Were A Nice Change of Pace
For me the highlights of leaving the ship were sinking into the local culture of the islands. We talked with locals in St. Maarten (which left a lot to be desired) and tracked down a local dive restaurant in St. Kitts (which was beautiful). We experienced some good snorkeling, following an octopus in St. Kitts and some adorable box fish in Labadee. We didn't partake in any of the ship's excursion packages - and we had a great time.
8. Corners of Peace and Quiet Abound
Despite our fears, we found plenty of peace and quiet on the ship when we needed a physical or mental break from the noise. The lounges were generally void of pounding dance music, sounds at the back of the upper deck were simply from the waves crashing below, and the early morning (when we were up for it) featured tranquil sunrises and sedate partiers stumbling to someone else's cabin. Plus, the staterooms were relatively quiet; Heck, we were woken up more by announcements from the ship's captain and cruise director Zack than anything happening next door!
9. Sleep When You're Back On Land
We made a conscious decision after the first night aboard: We'd push ourselves to the limit. This wasn't a week's vacation in a remote cabin in the Rockies; This was an Atlantis cruise! We stayed up until 4 a.m. (or much later) every night and went on three to four hours of sleep most days (though the occasional 30-minute nap on the pool deck helped).
One night mid-week, our bodies grabbed us by the shoulders and forced us into a good night's sleep. But other than that, we took advantage of every minute on that ship. (You'd be amazed what stumbles across your path at 4 a.m.) We both paid for it with a slight cold as we disembarked for the last time. But it was worth it.
10. Just Go With It
One of our biggest assumptions was that the cruise would be a week-long floating bathhouse. While that wasn't quite accurate (for most), there may have been some debauchery in various staterooms that spilled onto the dance floor. And when it happened to us, we quickly learned we had a choice to make. We could clutch our pearls and put an end to the mayhem... Or go with the flow. Worst-case scenario: No one notices.
CYD ZEIGLER is co-founder of Outsports.com. You'll be able to find him and Dan on another Atlantis cruise in the near future. For now, you can find him on Twitter @cydzeigler