law, LDS, money, travel

Crystal Symphony cruise ends on a sad note…

The featured photo is one I took from a hotel room in Rostock, in northeastern Germany.

Thanks to the pandemic, cruising is about the last way Bill and I want to travel right now. However, prior to 2020, Bill and I did enjoy the occasional vacation on the high seas, and we definitely prefer the luxury lines. We haven’t yet had the chance to try out too many of them yet… mainly because we were won over by the two we have tried– SeaDream Yacht Club and Hebridean Island Cruises.

I have eyed Crystal Cruises on and off over the years, having heard that it offers a wonderful experience with six star service, excellent food, and all inclusive amenities. Crystal Symphony can carry up to 848 guests, but passengers enjoy a crew ratio of one per every 1.7 guests. It certainly looked enticing to me, even though we are more attracted to smaller ships. But, life happened, and we never got the chance to pull the trigger on one of Crystal’s dreamy seafaring excursions.

This morning, I woke to the news that a U.S. judge ordered the Crystal Symphony seized because the company has been sued by Peninsula Petroleum Far East over unpaid fuel bills– to the tune of $4.6 million! The fuel company filed their lawsuit in a South Florida federal court on Wednesday of last week, and the judge issued the order to seize the ship on Thursday.

A news story about this incident.

Crystal Symphony, which had embarked on a two week voyage on January 8, was on its way back to Miami, where it was due in port on Saturday. If the ship had continued to Miami, or any other U.S. waters, it would have been seized by the authorities. According to the above news report, Peninsula Petroleum wants the ship sold so it can recoup some of its expenses.

At the last minute, the ship changed course to Bimini, in the Bahamas. There, the passengers were put on a decidedly less luxurious ferry to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Making matters worse is that the weather was inclement, and apparently some passengers had motion sickness. That last bit I got from a thread on Cruise Critic’s message boards. Someone who was on the cruise had been entertaining everyone with daily posts, right up until the cruise had its unplanned ending in a different country.

A video about Crystal Symphony.

I probably would have been interested in this story in any case, but as I was reading about the ultra luxe Crystal Symphony, I noticed that a 51 year old man named Steven Fales was interviewed for the story. The New York Times described him as an actor and a playwright, but I immediately recognized the name because about fifteen years ago, he wrote a book called Confessions of a Mormon Boy: Behind the Scenes of the off-Broadway Hit. I bought and read that book in 2008, when I was still kind of fascinated by Mormonism and ex Mormons… again, thanks to Ex and her unilateral decision that she and her most recent two husbands would convert, and her children would be raised LDS.

In 2008, I was still pretty thick in my bewilderment and disgust for the way Mormonism is so often used as a tool to alienate and divide families. Now before anyone comes at me in the comments, let me state that my mind has somewhat changed about the LDS church since 2008. I no longer despise it as much as I used to. I still don’t like highly controlling religions, but I don’t think the LDS church is among the worst there are. Like, I don’t think mainstream Mormons are as bad as fundamentalist Baptists. Moreover, I don’t really care what someone’s personal religious beliefs are, as long as they don’t use their beliefs to control other people. I never have cared about that– I just hated that Bill’s decision not to be Mormon was one of the many excuses Ex had for why he was deemed “unfit” to be a dad to his daughters.

Anyway, back in 2008 and the years around that time– the blissful pre-pandemic days of yore– I was reading a lot of what I referred to as “exmo lit”. I wrote many reviews of the books by ex Mormons I read during that period, many of which you can find reposted in this blog. I no longer read much about Mormonism, since my interests have evolved. But I do remember Steven Fales, and how entertaining I found his book. Notably, Fales was also married to fellow author, Emily Pearson, daughter of Carol Lynn and Gerald Pearson.

Carol Lynn Pearson is a much celebrated LDS poet and author who wrote a very moving book called Goodbye, I Love You, which was about her relationship with Emily’s father, Gerald, who was gay. Although Carol Lynn never stopped loving Gerald, they did divorce. Sadly, Gerald eventually contracted AIDS in the 1980s and died with Carol Lynn at his side. Emily Pearson wrote Dancing With Crazy, which I also read and reviewed in 2012. As far as I know, Carol Lynn Pearson remains a faithful and active LDS church member, while Emily Pearson and Steven Fales left the church.

Of course, I don’t actually know if the Steven Fales in the news story is the same one whose book I read, but my guess is that the person is one and the same, since the Fales I’m thinking of is also 51 years old, and an actor and playwright. If there are two 51 year old Steven Fales who act and write plays, I will gladly stand corrected.

As I was reading the story about this cruise– somewhat happily realizing that, for once, it wasn’t a story about cruisers coming down with COVID-19 en masse– I was reminded, once again, about how luxury cruises can unexpectedly put someone in contact with a person they might never otherwise meet. Bill and I have rubbed elbows with a number of interesting people on cruises. On the other hand, we’ve also met people like “Large Marge”. Suffice to say, she’s someone I hope not to run into again. What’s funny is, on our last cruise, I mentioned her to the bartender and he knew exactly who I was talking about and said she’d just been onboard the ship two weeks prior to our voyage.

I read one of several Cruise Critic threads about this unfortunate turn of events. A poster who had been on the voyage wrote about how the crew bravely kept smiling, even though they didn’t know if they would still have jobs. I have met some truly amazing crew members on the cruises I’ve been on. Many of them come from countries where it’s hard to make a good living. They are able to help support their families back home with the money they make on cruises, taking care of the well-heeled, often without ever revealing the stresses of having to deal with a potentially very demanding clientele.

According to Fales:

“That crew treated us like royalty through the tears of losing their jobs,” he said. “They’re all just heartbroken, and it was just devastating.”

As if it’s not enough that cruise ship crews are, no doubt, working harder than ever in these pandemic times, now this has happened. It really doesn’t look good for Crystal, or the industry as a whole.

As for Bill and me, I think our days of cruising are over for the time being. I don’t want to cruise until the COVID-19 crisis has been mitigated more. It’s too risky on so many levels– from financial to health. And now, it appears that even the cruise lines that cater to the wealthier segment of society is not exempt from falling into a crisis. My heart goes out to the hard working crew, who are now faced with uncertain immediate futures. And, while I think anyone who is fortunate enough to be able to afford a Crystal cruise is doing alright, I feel somewhat saddened for those whose vacations might not have ended happily in the wake of this development– or those who have booked cruises and may now be wondering if they just lost thousands of dollars or euros, thanks to this financial fiasco.

I do hope that Crystal can settle this mess satisfactorily and eventually resume operations. I know the line has many fans. I’d hate to see it go away.

Below are links to the books written by Carol Lynn Pearson, Emily Pearson, and Steven Fales. If you purchase through those links, I will get a small commission from Amazon.com, as I am an Amazon Associate. I recommend all three books, but if you choose just one, I would recommend reading Goodbye, I Love You first.

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travel

Negligent actions have consequences…

Yesterday on my travel blog, I posted an article about SeaDream Yacht Club’s unfortunate COVID-19 situation. SeaDream, for those who don’t know, is a fantastic all inclusive luxury cruise line. It has two identical “super yachts” and it’s known for being an awesome cruise experience for couples. Bill and I have sailed with them three times. Our last voyage with them was in May 2013, when we sailed from Rome to Athens with a trip through the Corinth Canal.

Bill and I love SeaDream, but circumstances have not lined up for us to sail with them again since Bill left the Army. I still follow their message board on Cruise Critic. Ever since the COVID-19 crisis hit, I’ve been anxiously wondering if this line will survive the pandemic. Things were looking hopeful over the summer, when SeaDream managed to complete several Norway centric cruises without anyone getting sick from the virus.

After their success in Europe, SeaDream came back across the Atlantic and, last Saturday, attempted their first round trip Barbados cruise. In order to pull this off, SeaDream had to change a lot of its standard operating procedures. Prospective passengers had to get a negative COVID-19 PCR test at their own expense 72 hours before flying to Barbados. They had to take another COVID-19 test before getting on the ship, as well as have an interview with the ship’s doctor. Their luggage and shoes were cleaned with ultrasonic technology. Halfway through the voyage, they would have had to have another routine COVID-19 test to satisfy the rules for returning to Barbados. And, while they were cruising, they visited empty beaches and engaged in activities that did not allow them to be in contact with any host country nationals.

Having been on a SeaDream cruise, I can tell you that I’m sure it was just fine even without the freedom to engage with locals, shop on the economy, or go exploring. I’m not sure if the piano bar was open, but that was my favorite part of a SeaDream cruise anyway, besides the many cocktails and endless champagne.

Unfortunately, someone DID get sick with COVID-19. As of Wednesday morning, the 53 passengers have been stuck in their staterooms, which I can attest to being really nice, but not very large. The windows don’t open and there are no balconies. It’s a nice cage, but it’s still a cage.

A video done by a couple of Geordie lads who have been blogging about SeaDream’s voyages. They are on the ship as I write this.

The person who got sent to a Bajan hospital with COVID-19 was part of a group of six who evidently decided to overnight in Miami on the way to Barbados. From what I’ve read, other passengers heard the afflicted one talking about partying in the south Florida city for a night. Four others in that group also had positive COVID-19 tests, but evidently aren’t showing symptoms. The fifth person’s test was inconclusive.

Now… in thinking about this, it occurs to me just how many people have been affected by this group’s decision to overnight in Miami…

  1. 47 people besides the afflicted have had a very expensive and luxurious vacation ruined.
  2. 66 crew members have had their livelihoods directly threatened. Two actually tested positive.
  3. 113 people besides the afflicted have had their health threatened. A couple not in the original group who stopped in Miami have tested positive.
  4. The entire cruising industry has had another blot on it regarding health and safety standards.
  5. Hundreds of future passengers will be affected because SeaDream will be cancelling upcoming cruises.
  6. All of the businesspeople depending on support revenue for the cancelled cruises will lose money– ie; pet boarding, taxi services, airlines, etc.
  7. People watching SeaDream to see if cruising during a pandemic could be done safely will be affected.

A whole lot of innocent people have been affected by this… I hope that night out in Miami was worth it. It really is a shame that this happened. As I wrote in my travel blog, I won’t consider cruising again until there’s an effective vaccine against COVID-19. I don’t think cruising while fretting about a virus on a luxury ship is a lot of fun. Hopefully, we’ll get this virus under control before too long. On the other hand… I’m not holding my breath.

Hopefully, those who got sick won’t get too sick… and the passengers will be able to get off the ship and go home without too much trouble. We’ll see what happens. Actions have consequences. But, on the bright side, by undertaking this experiment, SeaDream has provided some valuable data for others. Perhaps that will help some smart people figure out the best way to get back to a life approaching normal at some point.

ETA: COVID-19 positive count is now at seven.

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lessons learned

“Now I can see why you’d love her…”

Today’s post is somewhat of a rerun in that I’ve written this story before. The last time I shared this tale was about four years ago. I had added it in conjunction to a video I’d seen about gay black men who said they had trouble dating outside of their race. But today, I’m just going to rewrite the story on its own, mainly because it has nothing to do with the dreaded “c-word” that is on the lips of everyone right now. You can decide for yourself whether or not you think it’s a happy or a sad anecdote.

Back in November 2011, I was 39 years old. Bill was 47. We had decided to take our second cruise on SeaDream I in honor of our ninth wedding anniversary. It had been an eagerly anticipated vacation. In those days, we had little time or money for traveling, especially SeaDream style. SeaDream cruises are considered by many to be in the luxury category. They’re mostly all inclusive, with a heavy emphasis on good service and food, an open bar, and exotic locations. SeaDream cruises are mostly marketed to couples. There are no programs for children and, although families can and do sail with SeaDream, it’s really more of a romantic cruise.

This particular cruise was in the South Caribbean. It started in Antigua and ended a week later in Barbados. Our first SeaDream cruise had been in April 2010, starting in San Juan, Puerto Rico and ending in Charlotte Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I was excited about our second SeaDream cruise, because the first one had really bowled us over in a big way. This was also only our second time in the Caribbean together, so I looked forward to exploring new places.

Antigua is incredibly gorgeous! But my skin paid a price.

Before we got on the ship, Bill and I spent a couple of days in Antigua. Antigua has stunningly beautiful beaches, which I loved. It also has incredibly strong sunshine, which my pale skin doesn’t love. We spent one day on Segways and another on an “extreme” circumnavigation tour around the island, after which some of us jumped off the boat and swam in the deep blue water of the Caribbean Sea. Despite using a lot of strong sunscreen, I got a terrible sunburn complete with blisters.

Prior to our cruise, I had been posting on Cruise Critic. A man wrote that he would be joining us on our cruise and wanted advice on what to pack. I answered him, and once we got on the boat, we met him. I’ll call him “Dick” (obviously not his real name). He was from England, and told us that his wife had just died of breast cancer, so he was taking this trip alone. I initially felt a bit sorry for him, especially given that besides a large family group led by an overbearing guy with a mustache that resembled a gigantic brown caterpillar, this cruise mostly consisted of couples.

Our anniversary cruise got off to a good start. We saw some familiar faces from the last time we sailed with SeaDream. The weather was great, and SeaDream’s two identical vessels seem custom made for the Caribbean. Bill and I befriended a couple of other British couples. There was also a group of friendly Norwegians whom I thought were great fun, although Dick didn’t like them at all. He repeatedly complained about them being loud and obnoxious. I liked the Norwegians, though. They were gregarious and nice, and not at all snobby, unlike the large group of Brazilians who were on our first SeaDream cruise. I remember one of the bartenders on SeaDream had complained about the Brazilians, because they stayed up all night, got very drunk, and basically took over the cruise with their antics.

Over the course of a few days talking to Dick, he told us a bit about himself. He was fairly good looking and obviously had a good job that paid enough that he could afford SeaDream. I remember Dick had very intense blue eyes and silver hair. Though he was a bit paunchy, he carried it well and probably didn’t have much trouble meeting women. He was also kind of witty, intelligent, and charming, if not somewhat cocky and rude.

As an example of his rudeness, Dick actually wondered out loud how it was that Bill and I could afford to be on SeaDream, since Bill was at that time still in the Army. He also called his wife a “cow” for “dying on him.” I heard him make other comments that indicated that he had certain standards when it came to his women. I didn’t take his comments seriously, because I am already married to a great guy and not looking to impress anyone else. Still, I was kind of shocked that Dick claimed to be mourning his dead wife, yet he repeatedly called her a cow because she’d had the gall to get very sick with cancer and die. In retrospect, that should have been a clue that we should have stayed away from him.

One thing I hadn’t done during our first SeaDream cruise was visit the piano bar. Instead, I participated in a horrible karaoke session led by a guitar player who wasn’t very enthusiastic about the job. I was pretty much the only person who sang. I ended up meeting some great people after that show, but I was grateful that they didn’t offer karaoke on our second cruise. It was legitimately terrible, with few songs to choose from; those that were offered were of poor quality. The experience was not made any better by the reluctant guitar player, who clearly would have preferred playing his instrument to spinning badly produced pre-recorded tracks for shy cruisers.

As I discovered on our second and third cruises, it was far better to go to the piano bar, where a friendly Filipino pianist named George would play music and sing. The bartender would bring out non-stop drinks and people would lose their inhibitions and join in on old pop songs. It was a lot of fun.

On the first night of the cruise, Bill and I went into the piano bar just after dinner. We were the only ones in there, mainly because no one else had yet discovered it. I was feeling a little shy, but decided to sing a song for my husband, who had generously paid for our anniversary trip from his meager Army officer’s salary. As I was singing to Bill, Dick happened to be passing. He walked into the bar, eyes widened in surprise and mouth agape. Then he looked at Bill and said,

“Now I can see why you’d love her.”

I must have looked shocked, hurt, and upset, because Dick then grabbed me in an awkward, sweaty, and somewhat unwelcome hug and said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” The hug made the situation worse because Dick had gone from a backhanded compliment to pity. He had been drinking, so his inhibitions were lowered. It was a bit embarrassing, but at least we were the only ones who witnessed it besides George, the pianist.

It turned out that Dick was himself not a bad singer. He joined us, and pretty soon, other people came in and sang along, including the rowdy group of Norwegians. The Norwegians took a liking to me and chatted up Bill as they took pictures and videos of me singing. Unbeknownst to me, the Norwegians took pictures of me with my camera. I was kind of mortified by my appearance. I looked pretty terrible. My skin was red and blistered from the sunburn. I was wearing a casual dress that was lightweight, but not particularly stylish. I’m also fat, especially by SeaDream trophy wife standards, and I don’t photograph well under the best of circumstances. The damp Caribbean weather had made my hair a frizzy mess that defied styling. But we still had a really good time, despite Dick’s rude comment that let me know how he really felt about me.

At an earlier time, I might have been horrified by Dick’s comment and the unflattering pictures taken by the Norwegians with my camera without my permission. But then I took a good look at Bill’s face in those photos…

Despite looking like a middle-aged frump, I ended up becoming somewhat of a “star” during that cruise, which was kind of a thrill! We enjoyed a few fun evenings in the piano bar, although I made a point of not going in there every night. Later on during that cruise, Dick got pissed off at the Norwegians and actually challenged one of them to “step outside”, which no doubt would have resulted in someone being kicked off the cruise. This was after he and another passenger, spotting a bar that was unattended, snuck behind it and helped themselves to bourbon. Granted, the booze was mostly covered by the fare anyway, but helping oneself is a no no.

At the time all of this was happening, I kind of excused Dick for his dickish behavior. I figured he was distraught and grieving, and maybe it was hard for him to be on a ship full of couples and a couple of rowdy groups. Now, after thinking about it, I just think he was a narcissistic prick, and I wish I had just told him to fuck off. It later occurred to me that I may not be the type of woman this man “fancies”, but that doesn’t really matter.  In my eyes, Bill is a much better “catch” all the way around than that drunken asshole is.  I’m not sure why he felt his opinions about my looks were really important, anyway. He’s not married to me, and thank GOD for that. Besides, there’s no reason for anyone to pity me. I live an enviable life with a man who honestly loves me for who I am, and not just for what I look like and how I can make him look standing by his side.

On a different cruise with nicer people and no sunburn… Although unfortunately, hours later, I was flattened by a stomach bug, which probably made me look as bad as I did with the blistering sunburn.

Unfortunately, the world is rife with self-absorbed jerks who think nothing of subjecting innocent people to their boorish behavior.  Too many people care what assholes think about them and they allow these shallow fucks the power to alter their moods.  I admit it.  It offends me when people say stupid, hurtful things to me.  As I age, I’m trying to get better at not caring.  

If you aren’t comfortable with yourself, you can send out signals that others shouldn’t be comfortable with you, either.  I really think that’s the root of the issue.  If you don’t love and accept yourself as you are, it’s hard to expect others to love and accept you.  But still, I get why it’s hurtful and depressing to have no control over some aspect of your appearance and have other people make unkind remarks that insinuate that you should care about what they think.  Many of us are conditioned from birth to care what others think of us, which makes thoughtless and rude comments about appearance brutal to hear.

Years later, he still loves me. This year, we will celebrate our 18th anniversary.

It can take time before you can see a person’s inner beauty. Someone whose looks are average or below average may have attractive qualities that don’t immediately meet the eye.  How will you know if the sunburned heavyset lady with the weird hair has a pretty singing voice and a wicked sense of humor if you never deign to speak to her? Incidentally, I’m still not a raving beauty, but there have been times since that trip that I’ve looked a lot prettier than I did on the night Dick insulted me. Not being sunburned, letting my hair go natural, and not being in a humid place really helps. See?

That’s for you, Dick…

There’s a lot more to people than their appearances. Sure, a pretty face and perfect body are attractive, but what if that good looking person is a mean-spirited creep or a self-absorbed bore? Maybe it’s lucky that I met Bill online and he got to *see* my personality before he saw what I look like.  On the other hand, on my ugliest day, I’m still way more beautiful to him than his ex wife was.  And my beauty compared to hers has nothing at all to do with physical looks, but rather with how I treat other people, Bill in particular. We get along beautifully because we like each other, laugh at the same jokes, cooperate in each other’s successes and support each other in our failures. What’s most important is that we truly love each other– the whole package– even when we’re fat, unstylish, sunburned, and have weird, frizzy hair that defies taming. Or, in Bill’s case right now, hair that has been cut three times by his wife, who isn’t a skilled barber…

These Norwegian guys were a lot of fun, though… And I’m glad they were sensible enough not to get into a brawl with “Dick”…

Anyway, I don’t know what happened to Dick. I hope he found himself the woman he truly deserves…

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funny stories, music, obits

Rest in peace, John Prine… and I am not a Catholic lesbian.

First thing’s first. This morning, as I was waking up, I was very sad to read about John Prine’s death yesterday. For the past few weeks, he’d been suffering from the affects of COVID-19. I knew he’d been on a respirator, and the longer a person spends on a respirator, the less likely it is that he or she will be able to recover. I knew he’d already beaten cancer twice, and that he was in his 70s. I still had hope that he would pull through. I won’t claim to be one of his biggest followers. I love his song, “Angel From Montgomery”, and have sung it many times. I also recently discovered some of his other creations, including the adorably quirky “In Spite of Ourselves”, a duet he did with Iris DeMent which makes me think of my life with Bill.

I think this song is a new favorite…

Thanks to my friend, Susan, I recently purchased several of John Prine’s albums and introduced his witty genius to Bill. We’ve enjoyed a few nights listening to Prine’s brand of offbeat, humorous, and poignant storytelling in the form of beautifully crafted songs. A lot of my friends are genuinely sad that we’ve lost another American treasure. I won’t pretend to grieve as much as they’re grieving, since I am admittedly late to the party. I do remember playing his music by request on my radio show back in college. Incidentally, college is also where I discovered Bonnie Raitt, who made Prine’s song “Angel From Montgomery” a hit back in 1974. I know Bonnie is grieving, too.

Anyway, I’m genuinely very sorry to see John Prine go. I was really pulling for him. And I offer my deepest condolences to his wife, Fiona, and their sons. Besides music, John Prine and I also had Stuttgart in common. He lived there during the 1960s, doing his stint with the Army. I read that he downplayed his military service, saying that he spent it drinking beer and “pretending to fix trucks”. I spent a lot of my time in Stuttgart drinking beer, too.

My own turn with John Prine’s song, “Angel From Montgomery”. I’m no Bonnie Raitt, but I get by…

And now… what’s this about Catholic lesbians?

Because I don’t want to write much more about the depressing subject of COVID-19 right now, I’m going to shift subjects. This morning, as I was looking at Facebook posts from the past, I noticed a quirky status update I wrote on this date in 2016.

Just so everyone knows, I am neither Catholic nor a lesbian.

And it’s true. I’ve never been a Catholic, and I’m definitely not a lesbian. However, I am on an email list from DignityUSA, which is an organization that celebrates “the wholeness and holiness of LGBTQI Catholics”. I’ve got nothing at all against that mission. I don’t care what people do in their bedrooms as long as everyone involved is able to consent. I think love is love, and everyone should be allowed to experience it. But it’s not a cause that I’m particularly passionate about, either.

So how did I get on DignityUSA’s mailing list? It’s kind of a funny story.

About ten years ago, Bill and I took our first cruise on SeaDream I, one of twin mega yachts owned by SeaDream Yacht Club. It was our first luxury cruise experience, but we were not really financially equipped to afford a luxury cruise. In those days, Bill was still paying child support for his youngest daughter; I still had student loans; we also had car loans and a lot of credit card debt.

I managed to find a five night Caribbean cruise taking place in late April 2010. I booked a guaranty rate of $1599 a person, which was a great deal for a SeaDream cruise, but still quite expensive for us. I had a feeling that if could just get Bill on the ship, he’d be sold on all inclusive cruising on small vessels. Naturally, I was correct. After our first cruise, Bill was as big of a SeaDream fan as I am.

Our first SeaDream cruise really bowled us over. On board with us were a couple of approachable celebrities, a group of rowdy Brazilians, some obviously wealthy people, and people who were more like us. It was mostly all inclusive. The food was amazing. The service was incredible. The scenery of the Caribbean was glorious. I actually got to meet the people who launched Joan Jett’s career and they still talk to me today. Michael Moloney of Extreme Home Makeover was also on the ship, although I didn’t know who he was. Yeah… we were blown away by it so much that I pre-booked another cruise for 2011. The next cruise was 7 nights, and cost a lot more than $1599 a person, although we did get a 15% discount for pre-booking onboard.

We scheduled our second SeaDream cruise for November 2011, in honor of our 9th wedding anniversary. I worried about how we’d manage to pay for it, while simultaneously salivating at the idea of going on another wonderful cruise with SeaDream. Someone on Cruise Critic had posted a tip that people could buy coupons for SeaDream cruises on some Web site that I no longer remember. All we had to do was make a $100 donation to one of the listed charities, and we’d get a $500 voucher for the luxury cruise. It was akin to getting $400 off of our cruise for donating $100. I thought that was a good deal, so I bought a coupon for DignityUSA and applied the voucher to our second delightful cruise.

I don’t remember if there were other charities to choose from besides DignityUSA. Knowing me, I probably did think it would be a good group to support. I think certain religions can do a lot of damage to some people, particularly strict religions where a person’s diet, dress, or sexuality are dictated. However, I do think a person can be of a non-traditional sexual orientation and still be religiously faithful. Some people get peace, faith, hope, and love from their religious beliefs. I don’t fault them for that, even if I’m not particularly religious myself.

Anyway, ever since then, I’ve gotten emails from DignityUSA. I think I also used to get mail from them, but that stopped after we moved a half dozen times. Sometimes I look at the emails, but since I am neither a Catholic nor a lesbian, I’m afraid that’s about as far as it goes.

I should probably unsubscribe from DignityUSA’s mailing list, since I’m only a casual and rather accidental supporter of their cause. However, for some strange reason, I just don’t have the heart to do it. I do support their cause on some level… even if I don’t believe in Catholicism and I don’t really understand what it’s like to be homosexual or transgendered or any other way other than straight.

As for our love affair with SeaDream… well, it’s been about seven years since our last cruise with them. Our third cruise– which had stops in Italy and Greece– was probably our favorite of the three. However, I didn’t pre-book another cruise that time because it was a year before Bill left the Army and we didn’t know what his job situation was going to be like in 2014. I did have my eye on one of the cruises offered last summer, but Bill was reluctant to book it because, again, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to arrange the time off for when it was sailing. Also, SeaDream cruises are even more expensive now than they used to be, although to be honest, I’m not sure if the line is going to survive in the wake of the virus crisis. Based on what people are posting on Cruise Critic, it looks like their treatment of people who had signed up for cruises this year is alienating a lot of their customers (even though their crew on the ship is fantastic).

Still, I’m grateful that Bill and I were fortunate enough to sail with them three times. I see from Facebook memories that we booked our last cruise, which was on Hebridean Princess in Scotland, about a year ago today. It’s amazing that a year ago, we didn’t have a care in the world about a pandemic. And now, we’re seeing it ruin and end a lot of lives and livelihoods, as it also somehow brings people closer together in all kinds of ways. I suspect I’ll be writing more about that in the coming weeks.

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overly helpful people

Someone sound the snoot alarm…

There are a handful of Web sites I visit every day for fun and edification. One such site is Cruise Critic’s forums, specifically the “luxury” board. Messageboards are kind of passé nowadays. They were more popular in the days before Facebook, when that was how people hung out and communicated. In some ways, I kind of miss forums, so I get a dose of them on Cruise Critic, which probably serves an older demographic anyway.

Bill and I have been on nine cruises to date. One was a short mass market cruise on Royal Caribbean. The rest could be considered “luxury cruises”, although some people on Cruise Critic’s luxury boards would be loathe to consider them that. There are some real snobs on that board!

Take, for instance, a recent topic that came up on the luxury forum. Someone wanted to know which “luxury” line is the least “stuffy”. The original poster wants to take a luxury cruise to celebrate her daughter’s 21st birthday. Besides herself and her daughter, the party would include her husband, her 80 year old mother, and her daughter’s boyfriend. Knowing that luxury lines tend to attract older people with money and less desire for gimmicks like Wave Riders, climbing walls, and waterslides, the poster worries that the luxury lines will be too stodgy.

She got lots of responses from the peanut gallery, with a few folks daring to mention lines that aren’t considered “luxury” by a core component of regular posters on that board. The luxury lines, according to the self-appointed experts are: Seabourn, Silversea, Regent, and Crystal. However, I happen to know for a fact that there are other lines out there that are considered luxury… they just don’t cater to North Americans as much as the big four do, nor do they go to as many exotic locations. For instance, Bill and I have done five Hebridean Island Cruises. That line, which is truly all inclusive once you’ve paid your fare, mostly sails in Scotland with occasional forays into France and Norway. The cool kids on Cruise Critic probably wouldn’t consider it a luxury line, even though Queen Elizabeth has sailed it twice.

Ditto to SeaDream Yacht Club, which goes to more places than Hebridean does, offers excellent service, and is mostly all inclusive. It’s usually considered a luxury line, but not to the resident snobs on the luxury board, who have their own standard criteria for what’s luxurious and what isn’t. They’re more concerned about thread counts and square footage than excellent, sincerely delivered service and included amenities.

Bill and I like to relax when we cruise. That’s why we don’t bother with mainstream cruise lines. We don’t like huge crowds, long lines, or shitloads of kids running around yelling, pooping in the hot tubs,and hogging deck chairs. We also appreciate all inclusive fares because they allow us to forget about how much the trip is costing. On Hebridean Island Cruises, we truly don’t have to worry. We have never so much as handed over a credit card when we’ve boarded, nor have we ever gotten a bill at the end of the cruise. On SeaDream and Royal Caribbean, we’ve had to settle large bills at the close of the cruise, and I would imagine it would be the same on other cruise lines.

I once got into a mild argument with one of the worst snob offenders on Cruise Critic. She has a favorite line she cheerleads for, and I find her so obnoxious that I actually avoid that line because I don’t want to run into her when I’m supposed to be relaxing. This lady will argue to the death about the definition of luxury, and apparently her opinion is the only correct one. Sure enough, she was active on the thread about which “luxury” line was the least stodgy. She pipes up quite loudly and insistently whenever anyone dares to mention Windstar, Azamara, or Oceania– considered to be “premium” lines rather than “luxury”.

There’s another poster who chastised someone for suggesting “luxury” upgrades on mainstream lines. When the person came back and confronted the guy, saying that maybe the OP was looking for alternatives, he said “… she shouldn’t be posting on the [LUXURY] board.” God forbid someone who knows about luxury cruising and mainstream cruising might present alternatives that don’t fit with the big four “luxury” lines… luxury, that is, according to a few self-appointed North American based experts.

Jeez…

What is especially funny to me is that the original poster moved on after a couple of posts, but the thread continued with people arguing about what constitutes luxury and whether or not other lines– not considered luxury by the “experts”– should be allowed to be discussed. When the OP came back and reported that she’d chosen a Crystal cruise, the conversation deteriorated into what should be considered appropriate attire after 6:00pm. Apparently Crystal isn’t strict enough about the dress code and their Brazilian restaurant is “horrible”.

I don’t know why I keep reading that board, especially since reading about the recent forced quarantine on the Diamond Princess has me a little leery of booking another cruise anytime soon. What those poor folks have endured for the past few weeks is just horrible. It must have truly sucked for those who were in an inside cabin. How they managed not to freak out from boredom, I’ll never know. What a nightmare. I just read that two Japanese passengers who were on that cruise died. Between that quarantine drama and the Costa Concordia running aground disaster from a few years ago, I can state that a mass market cruise doesn’t appeal to me at all.

And now, having watched shows like Below Deck and personally experienced snooty behavior and disasters on cruises, I’m beginning to wonder if even cruising on a luxury ship still appeals… I do want to do a barge cruise sometime, though. I think our next water based trip will be on a barge in France. But the lovely thing about barge cruises is that you can get off and walk or ride a bike and keep up with the vessel.

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