A week spent on an
Cruises charter of
felt, in many ways, like a time warp. Intrigued by the idea of a lesbian theme cruise, my girlfriend and I signed on for a week spent sailing the
. While we got our share of rum-laden cocktails, lesbian entertainers, water sports and ladies-only couples dancing, we also discovered that, as 30-somethings, we were a good two decades younger than the average passenger. Between '70's-themed dance nights and performances by classic lesbian folk singers who are now in their late 60's, we felt like we were invited back to a nostalgia-land we personally had no right to feel nostalgic about.
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In early 2013, Olivia celebrated its 40-year anniversary with two weeklong Caribbean cruises, honoring the company's legacy with performances by some of the record label's original artists. We were booked on one of these celebratory cruises -- along with mainly women who have been fans of the record label and cruise company since the beginning. (Alas, my girlfriend Maebh and I were 6 and 4, respectively, when that first cruise set sail.) This wasn't just any ladies-only sailing -- it was a tribute to a history we hadn't lived.
A Different Kind of Sea Day
Dilemma: Steel drumming and erotic writing were happening at the same time. Maebh and I opted to split our hour between the two activities in hopes that we'd come up with some naughty lyrics we could set to new Calypso tunes. Unfortunately, there were about half as many steel drums as aspiring drummers, so we went up to the top-floor Crow's Nest lounge for Erotic Writing with C.C. Carter instead. Carter's poems have been in more than a dozen anthologies, she's a regular performer at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and, for a completely packed, standing-room-only writing workshop, she was able to give some pretty good, tangible instructions. There's nothing I quite feel compelled to share in my travelers' tales, but still, being in a room of women writing erotica on a boat was an experience worth noting. This is something you couldn't pull off on a straight-people cruise. Or you wouldn't want to. Or, at the very least,
wouldn't want to.
One of the more interesting daytime events was the mass commitment ceremony that took place in the main showroom on the first day -- no need to sign up, register or even intend to
commit yourself. We caught the tail end of the ceremony, as both new and long-married couples flooded out of the room with Champagne flutes in hand. In addition, a pro photographer with a portable studio was set up each day, taking couples' photos for purchase during the week. They were wonderful things to take for granted: an all-women's mass wedding and a wall full of all lesbian couples' photos.
Soaking Up the Sun on Half Moon Cay
We anchored early in the morning and took tenders to the island in groups of 50 or so, as the island is too small to have an actual port. We were greeted by a couple of sexy blond pirate girls who posed for photos as we approached the "village" of Half Moon Cay -- a small, faux-colonial array of buildings, including souvenir shops, a post office, a wedding chapel and a bar. It was the first of several times that week I would hear Cat Stevens' "Wild World" played on steel drums.
We took the day as an opportunity to soak up the sunshine among our fellow travelers, no itinerary needed, and know we were in a for a week of girls-only good times. No matter how many cruises you've been on, there's always something really magical about that first look across the blue sea and sky, and the feeling that you've actually arrived in the middle of nowhere -- except surrounded by lesbians, of course. The beaches there look exactly like you'd expect a Caribbean postcard to look, with water so clear that you can see the scales of the fish swimming around your ankles. If you really feel like indulging, consider renting a cabana or beach villa, though there are plenty of shady spots to sit in the sand for free along with the proletariat.
One thing that's fun to do when you're a little tipsy and there are no children around (which, might I add, is a
plus of an Olivia cruise) is the Half Moon Lagoon Aqua Park, which is like a little pirates' fort equipped with water guns you can shoot at unsuspecting sunbathers, then escape their wrath via waterslide.
Our Homo Sweet Home for the Week
The cruise line's brochure boasted that the room had a tabletop "in-room water feature," which sounded ludicrously fancy, but it was slightly disappointing in reality and only worked for the first day. Other exciting perks were the fluffy bathrobes, the iPod dock and the flat screen TV with a menu of DVD's that we could have delivered to the room.
Tamarind, the top-floor Pan-Asian restaurant, had excellent service, stunning views and served food that I'd describe as good but not memorable. Canaletto serves Italian cuisine and was, frankly, awful -- we each ended up with a plate of some sort of straight-from-the-box noodles in a heavy cream sauce. Overall, I'd advise sticking to the options of the Lido buffet until you find you're too burned out from eating with 2,000 of your closest shipmates each night.
Much of our time onboard was spent next to the two large pools and hot tubs, which were beautiful but nearly always too crowded to be pleasant. We mostly enjoyed the poolside girl-watching and cocktails instead of getting in ourselves. One level up was a quieter deck, where we'd often find women reading and enjoying the sun while escaping the chaos. The Crow's Nest lounge on the top floor was also great for this. It's a quieter lounge area with a bar, plenty of cushy chairs, a few Internet-connected computers and a small library of beach reads and travel guides.
You should definitely plan ahead for a day in
, unless you really love casinos, souvenir shops, Louis Vuitton and tourist bars that play Jimmy Buffet. In which case, no need to plan, because you'll step onto shore, and all your dreams will have already come true.
At the beginning of our trip, the captain insisted "No drinking before snorkeling," which implies that, yes, drinking
snorkeling is A-OK and to be expected. A cute Aruban cabin boy acted as the onboard bartender as we moved toward the dock, pouring us really stiff rum punches. We docked near a charming yet touristy restaurant sitting on a pier and ordered ahi ceviche, delicious if slightly overpriced, while our cabin boy kept delivering us unsolicited drinks from the boat. We ate and boarded, snuck in our last bit of complimentary alcohol and arrived back at port with several hours to explore the town of Oranjestad before we had to leave.
Nothing afterward seemed especially inspiring in the way of nightlife, but the temperature was perfect, and it was sweet to walk back to the port past the Dutch colonial buildings. A few had neon, cursive letters scrawled against their facades: "I always thought that everyone is the same," said one, and "I count my blessings," said another a few blocks away. We couldn't decipher any pattern or theme; I guess it's an Aruba thing.
Getting Cultured in Curacao
While it's nice to have a game plan in Curacao, it's not as necessary as itis in Aruba. We wandered the city of Willemstad, checked out some of the famously colorful Dutch colonial architecture and stopped into the Jewish museum. Here's something new we learned: Curacao is home to one of the oldest synagogues in the Americas, and the earliest Jews settled there in the 1630's. With a $10 entry fee (yep, they take dollars), you can visit the two-story museum and learn about some of the original Jewish families to settle in Curacao. You can also visit the synagogue itself with its sand-covered floors.
The Nights at Sea
She was in for a surprise. Olivia cruisers took karaoke extremely seriously, with at least one professional singer in the room and comedians Julie Goldberg and Mimi Gonzalez as the celebrity MC's. Singing cheesy love songs with all the pronouns appropriately changed was just another of the small joys of being in an all gay-girls group. Olivia cruisers love country, we learned. We heard "Redneck Woman" and "Goodbye Earl" at least once each night -- by night three, we groaned every time we heard the opening notes. Maebh and I wowed the crowd, or ourselves at least, with a duet of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and joined forces with friends for Destiny's Child's "Stronger."
The final night's performers were the original Olivia artists, Meg Christian and Cris Williamson, who have been with the label since its very first release. The women played a few duets, some solo tunes (including some spiritual songs inspired by Meg Christian's years spent in an ashram) and ended their set with a mass sing-along of Cris Williamson's "Song of the Soul," which is
classic Olivia Records anthem, if there is one. Simple and easy to sing with ultimate feel-good lyrics, the song filled the room with a total second-wave lesbian sing-along love fest. Maebh and I joined other couples dancing in the aisles, and no matter what generation we identified with, this felt like our moment, all of "our" moment.