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Cruising solo (not aStar Wars sex fantasy)
Cruising solo (not aStar Wars sex fantasy)
by Matthew Nelson - SGN Contributing Writer

In 2006, my friend invited me to join him and his partner on a Holland America Line (HAL) Alaska Inside Passage Cruise in September 2007. I considered cancelling the trip when I learned in June 2007 that my friends were not taking the cruise, but I was eager to go and realized that I could write about being a single Gay man alone on a straight cruise.

More specifically, I wanted to determine if the 1,000s of men like me who lack travel companions and do not want the typical party and highly sexual environment of a Gay cruise can find companionship and acceptance on a traditional cruise.

THE KID IS ALRIGHT (AND STAYS IN THE PICTURE)
I discovered quickly that HAL provides a tolerant and friendly environment but focuses on families and older folks unnecessarily at Gay folks' expense. HAL does assert that most Gay folks report a desire to assimilate and not call attention to themselves.

Feeling lonely and isolated at dinner was my biggest fear, but I lucked out by sitting with two friendly and accepting self-described "well-groomed middle-aged ladies." They immediately made me feel welcome and checked on me after I skipped dinner on the one night of rough seas.

These dinners were good but not noteworthy. Perhaps in deference to passengers who do not like highly seasoned food, the entrees were well-prepared but bland. The excellent dining room steward always had a meal suggestion and was accommodating when asked to supplement "yummy yummy" desserts with samples of other sweets.

Being bored and lonely during the day also concerned me, but shipboard activities, spa facilities -- which included a hydrotherapy tub that provided a spectacular full-body water massage -- and shore excursions kept me busy and content. I confess better opportunities to meet a cruise buddy or to have a romance or a respectable liaison would have been very welcome.

My only complaint regarding the activities, which included Bingo and many sports-oriented competitions, is that cruise director Parker Cristan, who is Gay, strongly resisted offering activities that appeal particularly to Gay folks.

The only Friends of Dorothy (FOD) event was an 11:30 p.m. half-hour dance party on the fourth day. Additionally, a passenger told me that Cristan had invited the boisterous straight mid-20s women who ruined the event's mood to it to boost the participation. I did make friends with a ship's entertainer and a man who was traveling with his partner of 39 years at the event.

Carnival, which is HAL's parent company, held mid-afternoon FOD events each day that its ship was at sea during a Canadian cruise that occurred simultaneously with mine. Further, a former crew member of the Princess line told me that Princess held a daily FOD event.

Cristan and his team kindly endured my questions regarding the very limited Gay-centric activities. Cristan stated that he has great leeway regarding scheduling activities but that Bill Prince, who is HAL's corporate entertainment director, has to initially approve the activities and was disinclined to approve most Gay-oriented ones. Although the stated reason for this stance is to offer events with a wider appeal and to provide a daily rest period, making at least one of the multiple trivia contests and one or more of the numerous dance events more Gay-oriented would have been feasible.

When I suggested an event called "We're Here Even if We're Not Queer" at which DJ Drew would play the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, ABBA, etc., Cristan replied that HAL would never approve an activity that included the words "Queer" or "Gay" but would use the term "alternative."

When I asked why the ship did not hold an FOD lunch at the same time as a "solo and single," which could have been named "female and over 70," lunch, Cristan told me that no one had attended such past events.

However, Cristan did not respond when I asked why he could not have set aside a few tables in the dining room that day and released any unused tables to the general population within 30 minutes of when the event started. Further, some men to whom I spoke at the FOD event expressed displeasure that a FOD event was not held earlier in the cruise and earlier in the day. I requested a FOD lunch for the cruise's last full day, but it was never scheduled and I never received a response regarding why that was so.

HAL did say that they have held FOD events earlier in the cruise on other cruises. Regarding stateroom accommodations, I recommend splurging for a Verandah suite's extra space and luxury. Additionally, my room steward was meticulous and endearing enough to be the valet of the most demanding robber baron.

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO
The lack of Gay-oriented activities did not prevent the cruise from being my best vacation ever by far, and I understand that HAL cannot cater to every demographic and values its core group of families and older folks. However, that does not require not trying to appeal to Gay folks. The Catch 22 is that Gay folks will be less inclined to enjoy the wonderful things that HAL's cruises offer until HAL provides them more consideration, but HAL will not do so until more Gay folks take the cruises and make their voices heard before, during, and after the trip.

Although Gays should pressure cruise lines to have more Gay-oriented activities, we must remember that this is not nearly as critical as the fights for Gay marriage and anti-discrimination laws.

Mark Pells, who is the ship's hotel manager, told me that HAL's chartered Caribbean cruises are more geared to Gay fun and romance. I want to test that theory and would love to write a comparison of the Alaska and Caribbean cruises. I promise to share details, sordid and otherwise, if a Caribbean trip becomes feasible.

Matthew Nelson is a Boston-area based travel and lifestyle writer. He can be reached at northmassguy@comcast.net.
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