by Sheryl Kay, Freelance Writer, and Contributing Editor at CURVE Magazine
It may not float everyone’s boat, but there’s no doubt cruising is catching on as a popular vacation alternative.
Living in Florida gives us great departure options with four major ports including Tampa, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami (and almost all are within 15 minutes of major international airports so connections are routine and easy).
Last week we started out of Tampa and spent the night in Boca with friends Karl Dickey (libertarian candidate for County Commissioner in Palm Beach County and a mega gay rights supporter, http://www.karldickey.org ) and his wife Jodi McMasters (longtime organizer of the annual Girls and Boys Town of South Florida Basket Brigade). The next morning we helped celebrate the 73rd birthday of Connie Kurtz with her partner Ruthie Berman (of movie fame, Every Room in the House, http://www.ruthieandconniethemovie.com/ ) and then hopped on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Sky ship headed for Freeport and Nassau.
If there’s a recession in America, you’d never know it on this cruise ship. According to the check-in personnel every berth was taken, and then some!
While many shipping lines offer the standard bingo, art auctions, yoga classes, pool side reggae, the thrill of the casino, and more, NCL (www.ncl.com ) goes one step further, offering all that, and “freestyle cruising.” Rather than pin patrons down to one seating time for meals, two main dinning rooms open throughout all three meal times, and guests can eat whenever. There are also three “specialty” restaurants open at dinner time that charge an extra “cover” (and were actually packed almost every night) but we were perfectly happy eating in the main dining rooms (with dishes that included steak every night, broiled salmon, pasta primavera, tempura, jambalaya, polenta, escargot, and more). Like any cruise, the food was really good and overly abundant to the point of gluttony.
Luckily we were able to shake off a few pounds at the gym, the late night dances, and we actually laughed a few away the night we went to see the headline entertainer, comedian James Stephens III (http://www.dafunnyman.com ).
We also liked the many options with NCL for balcony rooms (240 balcony rooms on the Sky as compared to less than half as many on other cruise lines’ similar ships). The rooms are not any larger, but the price point made it well worth it.
And although it’s not Olivia, NCL does reach out to the community and every night offered a “Friends of Dorothy” hour in the open atrium Champagne bar.
For those looking for a wild welcoming gay experience off ship, the Bahamas are probably not the best ports to pick. Although there are more than 10,000 gay individuals living in both Nassau and Freeport, there is wide spread homophobia, with many reports of open and accepted hostility toward the LGBT community often attracting national media attention.
Still, there are clubs, and we’d recommend contacting the Rainbow Alliance of the Bahamas before visiting, as they will point you in the right direction (you can call them, redirected to Nassau, at 404-592-2664 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com ).
One of our favorite moments was in Nassau when we ran into a young sister couple from Pennsylvania that had just joined our group for a swim with the stingrays. Easily recognizable as one of them sported brightly colored interlocking female sign tattoos, they were having such a remarkable dreamy time they decided they wanted to get married right then and there in Nassau.
“Do you know anyone who could do a commitment ceremony for us before the ship leaves port,” one of them asked. Yes, she said, they knew that many Bahamians had very homophobic attitudes, but that wasn’t going to deter them.
“We just figured we’d ask around anyway,” she said!
While in port there are ample opportunities for shopping, adventure excursions, and local sight seeing. We enjoyed a picture perfect day while in Freeport tagging along with a new local friend who took us geocaching (www.geocaching.com ) from one end of the island to the other. We got to see miles of pristine beaches, small mangroves, the Lucayan National Park, and Ben’s Cave (filled with bats). For amazing conch fritters head out east to Bishop’s Bonefish Resort, a small unassuming motel, restaurant, and outdoor bar run by Mr. Bishop himself (Phone: 242-353-4515).
In our case, given the ease of being out on the ship and given that we were looking for a Caribbean experience that we could afford (some rooms on the Sky can be had for about $300 plus tax and tips per person, which includes all food and entertainment), the four day Bahamas cruise was ideal, and a deal!
Here are some more pictures: