For us, there was a morning after…
Thank goodness the cruise I just returned from is not the vessel lying on its side in Italy. There’s something to be said for being able to afford the Caribbean but not Europe. Watching that disaster unfold right after disembarking from a cruise was very, very unsettling.
Luckily, on our trip, only one incident had us going sideways and that was just an emotional keeling over.
Here’s the backstory. Wanting a family cruise with my stepmom Joan, our son Eric, and his partner Sherman, an Olivia Cruise, our preferred option, was definitely out. So we grabbed a Royal Caribbean special and hoped for the best.
Me: “Hello, Royal Caribbean? Before I book this cruise, can I be totally certain our family can get a table for just the five of us in the dining room?”
RC: “Absolutely.” I should have listened for the sound of their pants going up in flame.
On our first night aboard, New Years’ Eve (after our lifeboat drill!), our gussied up party of five arrived at a table set for eight. As you can imagine, I immediately marched off to find the maitre ‘d, who said he’d look into the snafu.
Returning tableside, I found two more travelers seated with us, a man and a woman. They were introducing themselves as recent retirees and newlyweds, from Iowa.
“That’s wonderful,“ said Joan. “Congratulations to you. I’m here with my daughter and her partner who are celebrating their upcoming 30th anniversary!“
The newlyweds’ faces went as white and starched as the tablecloth.
“And,” said Joan, oblivious to their gape-jawed stares, “this is my grandson Eric and his partner Sherman.”
The couple all but gagged.
At which point, the appetizers arrived and the newlyweds clasped hands, bowed their heads and prayed—perhaps for culinary abundance but more probably for our souls.
Either way, what ensued was a most uncomfortable meal, as we learned of the Iowans’ upcoming Priest-accompanied pilgrimage to Rome so they could walk among the saints, countered by our attempt to discuss anything at all without mentioning our entire lives as sinners. Finally, we gave up and got into the party favors, with Sherman donning the Happy New Year tiara and me plunking the plastic top hat on my head. Eventually our contingent fled to the piano bar to await midnight.
Bright and early on day one of 2012, I was at the ship’s customer service desk discussing dinner arrangements, sad that we still needed this discussion in 2012. The clerk stared blankly as I told of the embarrassing table introductions and our companions praying into their soup.
“Look,” I said. ”We’re here for a relaxing vacation and this is beyond uncomfortable. I think these people were praying to save us. The only thing we need saving from is dinner with them.”
“What?“ said a passing supervisor. “Say what?”
I started repeating the story, and the very animated supervisor interrupted with, “Girl! You’re kidding, they did what????”
I had found a friend of Dorothy (and if you don’t know what that means, read on).
By dinnertime we had a private table for five, in a secluded alcove, with ultra friendly wait staff and the start to a marvelous week of gourmet meals, Bahama-Mama cocktails, celebratory toasts, and family bonding.
We’d also been directed to the bulletin board announcing a Friends of Dorothy cocktail party at 6 p.m. that night and every night of the cruise in an upstairs lounge. That evening we met several gay couples hailing from places like Chicago, Utah, Colorado, and even Singapore. We talked jobs, relationships and gay rights, and had a blast.
We did notice that the crowd seemed middle-aged and up. “I bet some of the younger folks don’t even know the friends of Dorothy reference,” somebody said, and I agreed.
So the next day, at the adult pool (thank goodness for that!) Bonnie and I spied some younger FOD candidates and mentioned the get-together. They were delighted, but had no idea that Friends of Dorothy was code for LGBT people.
“Dorothy, like in the Wizard of Oz? Like Judy Garland?” I ventured. They were clueless. Go figure. But they joined us that night, and throughout the week several more couples found us. It was just the addition to cruise activities we needed. And we loved introducing some of the more youthful homos to the secret codes of gay history.
As a whole, the cruise was delightful. The enormous ship had so many activities, bars, and restaurants, it didn’t seem like there were 4,000 men, women and screaming children aboard. We made our own fun, including swimming with dolphins in Jamaica, touring beautiful Grand Cayman (but not spending money there, because we hate their homophobic politics) and soaking up sunshine, tequila and lime in Cozumel.
It did amuse us that the ship scheduled both a toga party and a 70s costume party onboard without advance word to travelers. I’d like to see them try that on a gay cruise. By happenstance, a surprising number of passengers had fashion-backward 70s wear in their regular wardrobes, so all was saved. We traded seeing middle America in togas and bell-bottoms for the ice-dancing show (lots of friends of Dorothy on the ice) and the Royal Caribbean Broadway Review (more boys from Oz).
When we weren’t going metaphorically overboard eating or drinking, we spent the remaining fraction of time at the pool, piano bar, (oops, drinking) spa, or in our cabin. Joan, Bonnie, and I shared a stateroom and Bonnie was assigned the upper bunk. She won the honor because she, unlike Joan or myself, did not require a 3 a.m. potty break. I know, TMI. But I didn’t want you to think it was random cruelty toward my spouse.
Actually, sharing the cabin worked well, and it should be noted that the most chronologically mature traveler among us was the one who wanted to stay up the latest and party the most. Go Joan!
Overall, it was handy that the elevator floors had big removable panels announcing the day of the week, as it was easy to become baffled. Towards the end, the floor should have asked, “It’s Saturday, do you know where your liver is?”
I knew it was time to come home when I looked down at my swollen ankles and realized I was retaining vodka. Call the Natural Resources Police, we’ve got a beached whale here. I rode home on the plane in my jogging suit. Seriously, it was the only garment that still fit.
Yup, time to greet 2012 on land, low carb, and back in Gayberry. A straight cruise is fine for a visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. My friend Dorothy would click her ruby red slippers and exclaim “There’s no place like home.”
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach; and For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries. Contact Fay Jacobs