Sunday, March 22, 2009

Recipe for shredded abs:

102º fever + hacking cough + uncontrollable night sweats

I don't know why I wasted the last eight months lifting weights, doing cardio and denying myself delicious, delicious cookies when I could have achieved all my cruise goals with one well aged jar of sun-dried mayonnaise. My six-day battle with the flu has been hell on earth—well, the tiny percent of it I was actually awake for was—but I emerged looking more abtastic than my best day on the big gay cruise. So. Not. Fair.

But one benefit of this unplanned cruise-recap delay is the additional cruise photos I've received through the miracle of the Internets. And with the partial reconstitution of my bizarre sense of humor, I think I'm finally ready to show show you all the evidence of our Caribbean adventures.

First of all, the Celebrity Solstice is only a few months old, stunningly appointed and fabulously elegant on the outside …

… and even more so on the inside, as represented here by one of the ship's breathtaking atriums (atria?):

We sailed with 13 friends, and we wore a rainbow of Chicago Boystown shirts to make our boarding all the more festive. But getting us all in the same place at the same time was like herding big gay kittens. So here's more or less a quorum of us right before we got on the ship:

The first order of business when you get on a ship is the lifeboat drill. So we donned our custom couture and headed to what all those swarthy in-the-know sailor-types call "muster stations."

Unfortunately, we discovered that muster couture was anything but custom. Imagine our embarrassment when an entire ship showed up for the boat drill in the exact same outfits we were wearing:

A big gay cruise can be a blood sport—a friendly blood sport, at least in front of the children—right down to the way you decorate your door. And while our neighbors took the easy route—cheap rainbow decorations and tacky underwear photos—we decorated our doors in a customized and highly relevant Pirates of the Caribbean theme. So we totally won!

The Solstice is designed to maximize the rooms with balconies. I've never had a room with a balcony, and I have to say now that I've tasted the good life, I'm never going back to the windowless steerage I've barely tolerated on the handful of cruises I've taken before. We didn't realize that the cheapest balcony rooms in the Solstice had lifeboat-obstructed views of the ocean, but we've already booked next year's cruise on a higher floor (for only $40 more!) so we should never again have to endure such demeaning horrors as a view like this:

But! Being so low did give us a dramatic view up the side of the ship from our balcony:

Atlantis cruises are basically week-long themed dance parties with occasional breaks for costume changes. The first party of each cruise is called the Dog Tag Tea Dance (for those of you not completely familiar with gay terpsichorean nomenclature, "dog tag" indicates a military theme while "tea dance" means an afternoon party where you can search high and low but will probably never find any tea). Here's what the Dog Tag Tea Dance looks like from above:

I know! Fun! Before our Chicago quorum entered the fray, we met for our all-important photo op. All costume themes for the week are merely suggestions, and you can see from this photo that we Chicago boys took wide interpretational latitude outfitting ourselves for the Dog Tag Tea Dance:

We also took dramatic couple portraits against the side of the ship, and since we were on a higher floor for this photo shoot the domestic partner and I didn't have any pesky lifeboats ruining our shot:

Here's one more with our adorable friend Shane, who managed to eclipse eight months of our workouts with one $40 bathing attire purchase:

My favorite port of call on our Atlantis cruises is Labadee, a slice of Haiti purchased by Royal Caribbean/Celebrity, walled off from the poverty-stricken locals (we choose not to think about that part too much) and outfitted with inflatable beach toys for grownups. The blue thing on the left of this picture is a three-story waterslide … the same waterslide that cruise headliner Chita Rivera herself watched me go down. In the middle of the picture are smaller slides, teeter-totters and trampolines floating in a charming little bay. And on the right are huge inflatable icebergs you can climb up and slide down. It's all so much fun it will probably be declared illegal by the pope once he finishes ridding the world of gay breathing or whatever holy mission is currently taking up all his valuable, important, socially relevant time.

Our second port of call was Alto de Chavon, Casa de Campo—a Tuscan-inspired village in the Dominican Republic that's so freakishly picturesque you have to wonder if you've accidentally wandered onto the set for Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean IV: Try Our Unlimited Breadsticks. Here's the castle that greets you when you get off the tour bus:

Walk a little farther and you stumble on costumed historical interpreters performing ballet-inspired folk dances in front of the rustic church in the middle of the cobblestoned town square:

Climb the steps to the bell tower and you start getting a nagging inferiority complex about the view from your 1920s vintage courtyard building back home:

But ask a hunky stranger to take your picture from the top of the bell tower and you at least get a custom souvenir:

Back on the ship, the parties keep coming. Here are a few Chicago boys rocking out at the ’80s dance party while a certain photographer finally admits to himself that even though they were the backdrop for his Extremely Awkward Phase, the ’80s did produce some fabulously fun dance music:

Our final port of call was Curaçao, which, like every Caribbean island, features British Colonial buildings and antebellum cannons you can be photographed riding in inappropriate poses:

Curaçao was our only rainy day the whole week. Here is less than our Chicago quorum dodging raindrops in the charming shopping district:

They must have known we were coming, because they put out a very welcoming sign for our friend Jim:

My sign wasn't nearly as fun, but at least it was in a nicer part of town:

The gays of Curaçao even gayed up one of the shopping districts for our arrival:

Though I did some gaying myself in front of a shuttered Art Deco theater. You know me and the stage; get us together and I just can't stop myself from being fabulous:

Our ship was docked in Curaçao in such a way that we got even more fabulousness in a photo op as we reboarded.

My favorite party on the ship is the ’70s Disco Tea Dance, where people are not afraid to make themselves look silly. For instance:

Unfortunately I didn't realize just how silly we looked in our sparkly round Brett Somers glasses until after the photos came back. But we did have shiny silver shorts and disco ball necklaces to distract people from that fact. And we also had all that fabulous disco music.

Every cruise has a surprise headliner. In the past we've had Charo, Wanda Sykes and Joan Rivers. This cruise we got to spend an evening with the fabulous Chita Rivera, who put on a killer show of songs from her long and storied career—she was the original Anita in West Side Story, the original Velma in Chicago and the original Aurora in Kiss of the Spider Woman, for you Philistines and heterosexuals who don't follow these things—and she even told stories about her auditions and her famous costars that reduced to puddles those of us who are inclined to swoon over such things.

The Atlantis White Party marks the culmination of a week of dance parties, and people come up with some pretty spectacular costumes. For instance:

We opted for something easier to wear on a crowded dance floor. The Chicago drag queen I choreograph for made our costumes for us this year. And I have to say we looked pretty fabulous:

The pants were kind of warm, though, so we parked ourselves on the pool edge of the dance floor to take advantage of all breezes that came our way. You can see us shaking our satyr booties just to the left of the center in this photo:

The day after the White Party is the final tea dance, which they call "Splash" or some such pool-related term. Here's a random picture of me I found while scrolling through random strangers' Flickr photos. Flickr can be both creepy and cool that way. Either way, notice the disco-ball necklace theme we managed to carry through the week:

Here's another less-than-quorum picture of us on our last night on the ship. We were all smiles, though we knew from experience the horrors that awaited us in the real world less than 12 hours later.

To mitigate those horrors, we stocked up on my favorite cookies ever back at home. And even in my flu-induced delirium, I managed to eat two entire packages of these delicious masterpieces within 36 hours of getting to Chicago.

We've given ourselves one week to be pigs (and have the flu) and then we're back on our cruise diet and workout regimen; marathon training starts in four weeks and Matthew reportedly has a new camera to record every second of every training run. And I want to be bigger and even more self-absorbed for next year's cruise!

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