The RuPaul fan cruise had everything - including a marriage proposal
by Shaun Kelly -
Special to the SGN
So what do we all know about cruises in general? There will be pools, spas bars, and casinos. There will be tons of food and booze, a hairy chest competition, and maybe a few dance revues. But what made the Carnival Glory stand out from the crowd in the first week of December? For a ship that can hold 2,974 passengers, if you fill it with 34 drag queens from RuPaul's Drag Race (Logo TV) and then add about 1,300 of their fans you are in for a boatload of fun! Of course that sort of fun could all come to a screaming, hair-pulling, bitch-slapping halt if you roll Vicky Rey, vice president of guest services for Carnival cruises, into the mix, though.
The cruise had been announced for about a year and many people had been booked on it from the start. Who wouldn't want to mingle with their favorite drag queens and the gorgeous Michelle Visage? There was a lot more interest than was originally anticipated, and so we quickly got moved to a larger capacity ship and took off full force - the Gays were going to sea! We were to have use of a huge theater with three private drag shows as well as Q&A panels, cocktail parties, a luncheon, and theme party evenings.
THE INFAMOUS LETTER
For anyone who missed out on all the drama, everything was going along nice and smooth until Rey sent out her letter, directed initially just at the guests booked into the Drag Race grouping. This letter came less than a week before the cruise was about to set sail, and boy, did she not read her intended audience before she penned her missive. It started off friendly enough, welcoming us all onto the ship and hoping that we would have a great time. It went on to state that the cruise line strives to present a family-friendly atmosphere and that everyone should 'refrain from engaging in inappropriate conduct in public areas.' Anyone who breaks the rules, she said, will be 'disembarked at their own expense and no refund will be given.'
That in itself didn't seem too unreasonable - OK, no sex on the Lido deck, no drugs in the pool, no orgies or fraternizing with the crew - in other words, don't turn the ship into a floating bathhouse. We could handle that. But then she got down to the real point of the letter. The performers, she said, are booked into the main theater and that is it as far as drag is concerned. 'Guests are not allowed to dress in drag for the performances or in public areas at any time during the cruise.' Oh no you didn't, bitch - you try to stop a queen being a queen and you are going to have all sorts of problems.
This wonderful little message finished with this great closing comment: 'Thank you for your cooperation. Now that we've taken care of business ... let the FUN begin!' Vicky, honey, you don't even know the meaning of the word 'fun' until you have cruised with a group of drag queens and their followers. You're fortunate that your only appearance onboard was in the form of a bloke in a dress with a big red wig and a beard, or else you would have been strung up with stockings and G-strings. The drag Vicky made a huge splash, though - even taking photos with the ship and cruise-line bigwigs.
A CHANGE OF HEART
The cruise line, to its credit, did a complete 360 on the decision. Gerry Cahill, the president and CEO, allowed anyone who wished to dress in drag to do so. Hell, yeah! As you can imagine, the call went out for everyone to toss a dress and a wig in their case and bring some solidarity fierceness. Cahill also made a very gracious offer to let anyone cancel and 'receive a full refund of their cruise fare, as well as reimbursement for any non-refundable travel related expenses.' All social media was blasted with this news, and the story even went global with cruise promoter Al and Chuck Travel being bombarded by media interview requests.
I for one didn't even get to talk with my partner for the week before the cruise, as he was the Norma Rae of Facebook, defending the Gays and then the cruise line after they changed their mind. He got into some pretty heated debates and made a mental scrapbook of who he had sparred with - and then started to pick them out in the embarkation lounge!
So, move forward to departure day and there we are in the lounge where the lines are huge, the information is sparse, and the crowd is getting restless, thirsty, and hungry. There is a strange energy as one side of the room seems like it could burst into a flash-mob dance and the other side is sitting kinda nervous with a touch of pearl clutching. Hide your children - the Gays are here!
So what was the first step? Mark all the Gays and Gay-adjacent fans with a white wristband so that we stand out (not necessary for some) and then let the fun begin. It could have been a scene from West Side Story with Gays versus straights instead of Sharks versus Jets, but fortunately it didn't come to that - I think there would have been too much infighting on our side over who would choreograph.
The shows were out of this world - the queens brought their A-game and knocked the socks off everyone. It is so hard to select a favorite, but Stacey Lane Matthews made a hit when some shady queen scratched her CD and her performance was cut short. She offered to eat a bucket of chicken on stage (which would probably have been fun) but ended up singing an out-of-this-world a-cappella version of Diamonds by Rihanna. Morgan McMichaels stunned us with her Pink medley, which got the energy level way up after a low-key start by season-two winner Tyra Sanchez. The body beautiful Carmen Carrera came out with just a few pasties and gave us realness that was second to none. I have to also mention Pandora Boxx - who else would have thought to do a drag routine to Pippi Longstocking? - and one of the most fabulous queens as both a boy and a girl was Rebecca Glasscock, who performed like a star and mingled like the sweet guy he really is.
The wonderful host for the shows was Michelle Visage, who was stunningly beautiful and incredibly quick-witted and funny. As the head judge (although with the tightness of the tux there isn't much 'head' to see) on the Logo TV show since Season Two, she was very well-suited for this hosting gig. She is also not afraid to make fun of herself, especially when people started to tell her how much better-looking she was in real life. The consensus was that her TV makeup artist was making her look too much like a drag queen herself - and apparently she now has a new makeup person!
They also showed their personal side by actually spending time with fans and chatting, making friends, and just generally hanging out with everybody. Cameras went crazy and drag queens were seen out of their natural habitat in full makeup during the daylight hours. I think that the best time was when they were in boy drag and just being themselves - new fan favorites were made.
HARD TO STARBOARD!
For anyone who has been on a cruise before you are probably aware of the 'Friends of Dorothy' meetings that will be held most evenings in a bar on board. Very discreet, but a way to meet like-minded guests. They still advertised them in the daily briefings for the ship's activities, but that hardly seemed necessary, seeing as how every night the starboard side of the ship was Gay central! Yes, there were some people who rushed through that area of the ship each night like they were making their way through a gang meeting or something, but for the most part everyone was happy to see people having fun, jealous that they couldn't join in, and taking as many pictures as they could.
The whole week progressed from an 'us and them' situation to a warm and fuzzy love-fest. Hearts and minds were changed as people who had probably never spent any time with a real live Gay person got up close and personal and made new friends. I did a karaoke duet with a total redneck dude who was the best straight guy I could have wished to meet. There were also a pair of nightclub bouncer types who were seen watching karaoke without cracking a smile until two boys did a dance routine behind a woman singing 'Gloria,' and at that point they melted and had the time of their lives.
Was the food great? Not really, but there was a lot of it. Was the booze cheap? No, but again there was a lot of it. Did we all have a great time? Hell yes, and hell yes again. After talking with the bar staff, hotel manager, and guest services manager, it was pretty clear that Carnival made the right decision to let this go ahead in the way it did. The liquor sales were up and the trouble level was down - they even had to restock the bar at one of the ports.
BRAVO, AL AND CHUCK
And now for the shameless plug portion of the review: The drag part of the cruise was billed as the 'Drag Race at Sea Cruise - Revenge of the Wench,' and was organized by the fantastic Al and Chuck Travel Company. As sponsors of the RuPaul show they are billed as the No. 1 Gay travel agency and I have to say that they will get my business from now on. I may not always want to go on a Gay vacation, but being surrounded by like-minded folks on a cruise is pretty sweet, as it created a safe zone where many friends were made. The whole team from Al and Chuck worked so hard to make sure that everyone had a great time - can you imagine herding drag queens and a gaggle of Gays around a boat for a week?! Always available and always very gracious and accommodating, they made everything run very smoothly and were so sweet to be around. The last show of the week started off with a video thank-you message from Al to Chuck (they have been partners for 25 years), which ended with Al proposing to Chuck. There wasn't a dry eye in the house!
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