John Howard takes a trip on the inaugural Vacaya cruise to Provincetown, the first LGBT cruise to be allowed to stay overnight in the gay mecca.
‘Will you take my picture?’ says the man whose penis is clearly visible through some shorts he’s made out of bubble wrap. It will be my pleasure, I say, pulling sharp focus. We’re at the Tea Dance (or V Dance as they like to call it on the inaugural Vacaya cruise, just for branding purposes) on the second day of our trip and the theme is Pop! So we have some Britneys and Whitneys, someone wearing a full-body bubble and quite a few nudies hiding their modesty with bubble wrap because, even though there is a strict ‘no visible penis and balls’ rule implemented here, sheers are welcome.
One of the main things people get wrong about gay cruises (mind you, this is an LGBT cruise but still 99% G with a smattering of Ls) is that it’s all about the body beautiful. It so isn’t and that’s one of the coolest things about it.
At the afternoon parties on the pool deck under the sun everyone is embraced, whether they’re 20 or in their 80s, skinny, muscular, fat, beary, hairy, whatever. You only have to see the outsize furry early-era Cyndi Lauper dancing on stage in a tutu and pink wig to get that.
Not that it’s party party party all the time. Just most of the time. During the day, in the pool area with its twin Jacuzzis, the atmosphere is brunchy, drinksy, fun. You can go and get food whenever you like at the buffet (and it’s quite some buffet with everything from English fry-ups through Indian delicacies to vegan) or one of the speciality restaurants, where you’ll be charged a (not very big) supplement.
That’s when it’s a ship day and you’re not getting off. Cruises can be Caribbean or Mediterranean or (Vacaya’s next) a river cruise to take in Europe’s prettiest Christmas markets. Our cruise took us up to a couple of very sweet harbour towns in Canada and upstate New York then to the gay mecca of Provincetown, where Vacaya is the first LGBT cruise to be allowed to stay overnight. Which must say something.
But the truth is, most cruisers like ship days the best. Toddle down to breakfast whenever the hell you like, hang out by the pool, have a spa treatment, use the 24-hour gym, have a jog around the running track, sit and have a cocktail and watch the shirtless men as they have a jog around the running track, have a spot of (free!) lunch from the burger bar or go back to the buffet, have a nap, have an assignation with someone you met at a party last night…
Come afternoon the hi-jinks on deck begin with quizzes and games (one afternoon it was Bears vs Otters in a bellyflop competition – and with many of the cruisers on our ship being American, there was no shortage of show offs). Then around 5pm it’s Tea Dance – sorry, V Dance – time with themes that are basically set up for us to wear as little or as much as we like. We as first timers who didn’t quite know how mega this gets just wore maybe a red T-shirt to the Rouge party while others pulled out everything up to but not including their cocks. Remember that rule (though there is a Red Light District up on the basketball court after dark and we’re pretty sure things came out up there).
Then you might take in some dinner, gather at one of many cocktail lounges (very glamorous like a super upscale hotel, sometimes with singers, sometimes not), go to one of the free shows in a theatre so huge you actually forget you’re on a ship. We saw Kristin Chenoweth as we sailed out, as she was the ship’s Godmother, Leslie Jordan, who you’ll know as Beverly Leslie from Will & Grace, in his one-man show and some singers from American Idol and Glee who were way better than we thought they would be in shows that were short and to the point (well, we’re busy people, we can’t be hanging around shows all night).
After the show it’s more drinks, maybe a cabin party, maybe another swing by that buffet (no wonder cruisers put on an average of half a stone a week with a buffet this available and this good) then a major change ready for the evening event with the Black Party the raunchiest (my eyes!) and the party where you had to make an outfit out of something that wasn’t clothes (a lampshade, a book to cover modesty… the most surreal).
And by the time you get to even your first party, you already have friends and acquaintances, cruises being scientifically the most sociable way to spend a holiday. You could literally come on your own and you’d be part of a gang within hours. A couple of days in and it felt like we were saying hello or at least raising a friendly eyebrow to most of the 2,000 people we passed on our travels round the ship.
By the time that final party comes around and everyone is gearing up to check out the next morning, the Vacaya Facebook group is pinging the ringer out of my phone, fast friends have been made, plans are in progress to regroup on the next Vacaya event, not a cruise but a resort takeover in Mexico for Hallowe’en and Day of the Dead and you really do feel part of it.
If you were thinking cruises were something your nan was into, a clash of Zimmer frames and M&S white slacks, then you need a little Vacaya, where the only white slacks are the ones worn by that group of men wearing them so tight you can see everything and are they just very well endowed or are those semis? Never mind, it’s not like they got them out so it’s all within the rules!