Monday, February 14, 2011

Atlantis 20th Anniversary Cruise in Review

Yesterday, my partner and I returned from the 20th Anniversary Atlantis Cruise aboard the Allure of the Seas, which is the largest cruise ship in the world. It was an experience like no other.

If you have read my blog for awhile, you will know that I have gone on two other Atlantis Cruises. One last January and the other other in March of 2008. When Atlantis announced that they would be celebrating their 20th anniversary by being the first to charter the brand new ship the Allure of the Seas (creating the largest gay cruise in history), we knew we had to be there. Luckily, we booked early because the cruise sold out in three weeks. The boat holds 5500 people, so that is pretty impressive (4600 onboard were Atlantis alums like us).

Atlantis is a company that I fully admire and it was amazing to be onboard this anniversary cruise. Atlantis has spent the last 20 years renting out either all-inclusive resorts or cruise ships to create all gay vacation experiences. The thing is they don't just rent out these places, they take them by storm. This most recent experience was no different. The ship was packed with great gay entertainment hired by Atlantis. Atlantis throws constant parties all with specific themes. Many days there are t-dances and huge night parties. All of that is impressive, but it continues. They play popular gay music everywhere on the ship all the time. The shops onboard change up the merchandise they typically sell to include gay friendly apparel and items. Window displays are changed to reflect gay couples. Even the spa specials were gay friendly. For example, one was called "Lazy Bear Day Special" and read below "Otters and Cubs also welcome." Basically anything you can think of is altered to suit the gay crowd. This is all in addition to the regular entertainment provided by the cruise line (in this case Royal Caribbean). They have it all down to a science.

What I always underestimate is the power of this experience. Everywhere you look for seven days you see gay people, entertainment made for you, advertisements for you, parties for you, etc. I've never gone anywhere that can create that complete and total feel of acceptance. For this I am forever grateful to Atlantis. They have found a way to create a gay world in an often hateful and intolerant world.

This cruise was different than our past ones. The size of the ship created new challenges and caused some changes to what we were used to from other cruises. 5500 gay people is a lot to accommodate. The biggest challenge was the parties. On a regular cruise, you are never all encouraged to go to one spot, therefore most ships don't design a spot big enough to hold all onboard. On an Atlantis Cruise, there are some really big themed parties that basically everyone onboard at least makes an appearance at. Atlantis did the best they could with what the ship offered. The t-dances were held in the Aqua Theatre onboard, which was outside and at the end of the boat. It was crowded, but provided the best visuals of any of the party spots. It is empowering to stand in a crowd that size and dance. During the dog tag t-dance, I specifically remember the unbelievable sight and sound of 5500 gays singing at the top of their lungs Rihanna's "Only Girl (In the World)." You don't get those experiences everyday.

The night parties were divided into two locations, but neither was as fun as dancing on the full pool deck like on the other two I've been on in the past. They couldn't use the full pool deck on this ship because the Allure has the center of the boat cut out to create a "Central Park" in the middle of the boat, which was very cool, but chopped up the pool deck.

The ship as a whole is beautiful and absolutely huge. Dustin and I didn't quite realize how huge until we went to some of the ports and saw our ship next to many of the others. It is truly a boat for size queens (and who isn't one?). My only complaint with the ship and with Royal Caribbean as a whole is their food. This is our second Royal Caribbean experience and I think it is fair to say their food sucks. It has little to no taste and they really don't like vegetarians. The Allure luckily had a few more options than our last Royal Caribbean experience, but I still think I lost weight on this ship for lack of anything worth eating. Because of this we probably won't be going on a Royal Caribbean ship for awhile. Atlantis also does cruises on Celebrity, which we went on the first time and really enjoyed the food and service.

This year also provided some extra special entertainment that maybe some of you have read about. Yes, there was a drug bust onboard and some people were kicked off on two separate occasions. I don't have many details, but all I can say is why are people so stupid? Really. People have done drugs on every Atlantis Cruise I've been on and I don't personally have a problem with what people choose to do. I do not partake. I drink heavily, which I'm not sure is any better for you. But don't be stupid about it and don't get angry if you get caught. There is a risk involved in doing something illegal. Accept it. Thankfully, the drug issues gave great material to all of the comedians aboard the ship and provided some of the funniest moments.

The other surprise moment of the cruise was also probably drug related (though I can't say for sure). On the second or third night at the big themed party, someone did shit on the dance floor. I don't know who, but I can say that Dustin and I were very close to it, yet, in the moment, didn't realize what they were cleaning up was shit. Again, this provided some of the funniest jokes for the rest of the week. Another tip, if you do drugs, don't do enough that you lose control of your bowels. I think that's a good line to keep unless you get into scat and if that's the case, go right ahead.

I do want to be clear that the drugs and shit did not greatly interfere with my experience or ruin it. This is also not a reflection of the majority of what took place on the ship.

Before I wrap up, I do want to take a moment and promote a couple of the amazing people I got the chance to see perform onboard. The best show, hands down, was Pam Ann's show. She was also on our last cruise and is absolutely hilarious. If you ever get the chance to see her, go, go, go. We also got to see Sherry Vine, who is a drag queen who does parodies of pop songs. She has quite a few videos out there, so check her out. Shawn Pelofsky is a great straight comedian, who has been on lots of Atlantis Cruises. She preforms all over, so check her out if you get the chance. We also got to watch a concert by the out broadway star Cheyenne Jackson, who is sexy and has a great voice. His show really surprised me. Lastly, is Miss. Richfield 1981. She is a fixture of Atlantis and no cruise would be complete without her. She always does a show herself, but also hosts bingo, ice skating, and country western dancing. She is a queen with many talents.

Being on an Atlantis Cruise, especially one this big, makes me realize how lucky I am to be a part of the gay community. People, inside and outside the community, like to bash it from time to time, but I feel so at home and at peace when I am there with all of my chosen family. We are some insane, creative, talented, and flat out fabulous people. Oh and we know how to party better than anyone. There are so many moments from the past seven days where I just had this overwhelming feeling inside me of complete love and acceptance and I'm so lucky I got to share that with my partner, my lover, and my best friend.

Bottomline: Go on an Atlantis Cruise. You won't regret it.

-Stephen (Cruiser)

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