The week before you travel, lay out all the clothes you think look good on you. Look at everything you have spread out before you, pick up one thing you think you could live without for a week … and then go borrow a bigger suitcase from your friend Jim. Put back one pair of socks, two T-shirts and a pair of foo-foo trendy shoes, though, just to show the world you are indeed mature enough not to overpack like a debutante at a cat show.
Discover when you check in at the airport that you can upgrade to first class for only $130. Splurge and enjoy your first-ever trip in the world of legroom, warm towels and rubberized chicken.
Spend a day in Miami before you board your ship. Buy more clothes while you’re there, including two pair of foo-foo trendy jeans with faux-Gothic embroidery and bleachy wrinkles built right in. Think how awesome your new jeans will look with your foo-foo trendy shoes—the ones you didn’t pack at the last minute.
Boarding the ship
Fight the gridlock caused by the Miami Marathon to get from your hotel to the ship. Curse the scheduling gods.
When you get on the ship, notice immediately how everyone else worked harder than you did to look amazing in a Speedo. (Seriously—out of 3,700 passengers, easily 1,000 of them on our ship had achieved physical perfection. A perfection that sends even the most well-adjusted man into a downward spiral of self-doubt and eating disorders. A perfection that makes you wonder if there were any beautiful people left on land anywhere on earth the week we were sailing.) Smile bravely and cease breathing for the rest of the week to avoid letting your stomach pooch out even for a second.
Before the ship leaves the dock, you will be required to don your bulky orange life vest and congregate with herds of other bulky-orange-vested passengers in various parts of the ship. If this were a real emergency, you would be issued coordinating shoes and accessories since nothing in your wardrobe goes with bulky orange.
You can’t help but stare. So you don’t even try not to. And you will eventually see some semi-famous people: That Italian guy you think is named Oliver who was on the cover of Instinct magazine last summer. Adult-entertainment behemoth Matthew Rush, who is so big and cartoony-muscular he makes the ship tilt when he leans against the railing. And some scruffy cutie people keep stopping to take pictures of though you can’t for the life of you figure out who he is or why he’s famous, though you think you might have seen him on TV or in a movie somewhere.
You will also notice with amusement that everyone—from the feyest spa queens to the hairiest musclebears—will have gotten pedicures before the cruise. Everyone but you, that is.
Weigh the options of pigging out vs. eating responsibly to maintain your manly figure. Discover that while the meals are generally outstanding on the ship, the desserts tend to have a Little Debbie quality to them, so they’re easy to avoid.
Learn from a ship employee that for the gay cruises, the ship goes through infinitely more egg whites, skinless chicken breasts, skim milk, fruits and vegetables than they do for a general cruise. And they run out of vodka and Diet Coke faster than normal.
Take a spa tour the day you board the ship, though you have no intention of ever forking over any money for such frivolity. Find yourself much poorer by the end of the day, though, after suffering through a microdermabrasion procedure that’s not unlike having your face resurfaced by angry sandpaper-wielding poodles.
In addition to the usual shipboard entertainment, your gay cruise organizers will also pack the ship with a range of gay lounge acts, gay stand-up comedians and foul-mouthed drag queens. And then they’ll bring in relatively big-name entertainers. For instance! Charo, who shakes her boobs and sings along shamelessly to her own recorded voice and swears like a Castilian longshoreman. Also! Alec Mapa, the guy who runs the modeling agency with Gabrielle on Desperate Housewives. One more! Joan Rivers, who is not afraid to make fun of everyone—and who is hysterically funnier on script than when she ad libs on the red-carpet shows, though she has a weird habit of pulling her microphone away too early so some of her jokes just disappear into a fog of missed words.
There will be dance parties on the ship on most afternoons and every night. There will often be multiple dance parties on some nights, because the gays like their dancing. These dance parties will all have specific, costume-requiring themes, including under the sea, military, Mardi Gras, disco and white. These parties will also take place on the top pool deck under a starry sky and a shimmering moon. Then the sun will come up, and the parties will be moved to an indoor nightclub area so they can go sometimes as late as noon. And if you close your eyes and click your heels three times, you might actually convince yourself that the people who can dance from midnight to noon get all their energy from Diet Coke.
Speaking of chemicals, the people on your cruise will be at their friendliest on the dance floor for some unnamed reason. At the very least, they will insist on knowing your name and where you’re from. And they will request this information while you’re dancing in front of a bank of speakers larger than an industrial refrigerator and louder than a televangelist declaring his heterosexuality.
You will hang out with the friends you came with for the first couple days, and then you’ll all scatter to the winds as you meet more and more people on the ship. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll meet up with some really cool guys from some new country called “Canada” who will become your new best friends for life—or at least for the duration of the cruise.
You will also be stopped on the beach in Haiti one day by a blog reader from Manchester, England, who will totally make your day just by recognizing you and saying hello.
Keeping in touch
Before you start your cruise, you will have printed little business cards with your picture, your room number and your phone number/email address contact information, which you will hand to people as you meet them at dinner, the pool, on the dance floor, etc. You will worry that printing only 30 cards will have been a big mistake, though you will honestly distribute only about 10 cards, mostly to the people you came with so they can find your cabin. And you will usually forget to bring your cards with you when you leave your cabin anyway.
The ship employs photographers who will take pictures of you doing everything you don’t want photographed: chewing food, letting your belly pooch out when you’re in a bathing suit, dancing in a costume that in retrospect makes you look more silly than creative, etc. These photographs will be available for purchase for $10 each in the ship’s photo store. Or you can have them destroyed completely free.
You can also bring your own camera on the cruise, but it will never once occur to you to actually pull it out of your suitcase and use it. This is why it’s good to travel with friends who like to take pictures with their personal cameras that are much better than yours and then post those pictures for you to buy on various photo-sharing sites. Please wait a few days for examples.
You will scrupulously slather yourself with SPF 45 every time you go out in the sun all week, except for the last day when you forget to bring it with you and you borrow your friend’s SPF 8. Then you will burn yourself on your upper thighs right where your new foo-foo trendy jeans crease at their pre-bleached crinkles and rub against your skin like an angry poodle wielding a microdermabrasion gun.
As if the Miami Marathon didn’t provide enough gridlock when you boarded the ship, some local cultural event called the “Super Bowl” (I think it’s a plumbing fair) will again clog (HA! CLOG!) the streets when you’re fighting your way back to the airport after you leave the ship. In the rain.
You will also wait at the airport with people coming home from other, less fun, cruises—the kinds of cruises where children romp untethered outside their cages and grown women think it’s perfectly acceptable to line their heads with crooked, beaded cornrows to commemorate their afternoon visits to rocky, tourist-infested Caribbean beaches.
You will wear white when you get back to work the next day, simply because you find white to be the best color to go with your office décor. Even though the only white things you own are really quite summery and it’s 900 degrees below zero in Chicago.
Re-entry into polite society
It’s impossible. You will resent lines at the lunch counter. You will silently mock people with no visible sunburn. You will realize at a 1:00 meeting that that’s the hour you usually rolled out of bed for the last whole week. You will question the necessity of females—unless they have unnaturally high hair and suspiciously low voices.
But you will be glad to be home. And you will have already booked the same cruise for next January because you saved a couple hundred bucks by booking it on the ship. Which about pays for your microdermabrasion, which for some reason I keep spelling with an -ian as though it were a new breed of angry Oriental poodle.
And in one year when you take off on your next gay cruise adventure, you’ll have your damn boyfriend with you so you two can share the fun and the excitement and the relaxation and the bleary-eyed exhaustion and the unhealthy body-image issues together. And it will be even better than this year!