37 Previous Trips
Home 37 Greek Isles 2016 36 Danube River 2016 35 Bordeaux 2015 34 Istanbul 2015 33 Sock Hop 2015 32 Rhine River 2015 31 Navigator 2014 30 Alaska 2014 29 Rhone 2014 28 Hawaii 2013 27 Mariner 2013 26 Magic 2012 25 Russia 2012 24 Titanic 2012 23 Dominica 2012 22 Panama Canal 2012 21 Conquest 2011 20 Virgin Islands 2011 19 Egypt 2010 18 Bahamas 2010 17 Oslo 2010 16 Barcelona 2009 15 Conquest 2009 14 Conquest 2008 13 Greece 2008 12 Conquest 2007 11 Hawaii 2007 10 New England 2006 09 Rhapsody 2006 08 Rita Rhapsody 2005 07 Alaska 2005 06 Wedding Rhapsody 2004 05 Mardi Gras 2004 04 Jubilee 2003 03 Rhapsody 2002 02 Vera Cruz 2001 01 Jamaica 1998

Rick Archer's Note:  Marla and I have completed 37 cruises over a 16 year period.. 

Marla and I have separate roles.  Marla is the organizer.  She books the trips, registers the guests and handles all the details.  As for me, I am the writer.  My role is to document our trips.  At the end of every trip, I do my best to add pictures and tell stories about each adventure. 

To review the story of each cruise, you can do so in several ways. 

Long Version:  Click the links below to read the Long Version of each trip.  This will give you inside details of each trip plus let some of our 'veterans' to see what they looked like 10 years ago.

Short Version: You can scroll down on this page to read the Short Recap Version of each trip.

Walking Tradition: In addition, another way to get a feel for our cruises is to read my story about our tradition of taking at least one long walk on every cruise trip.  Marla and I agree a lengthy walk is a very special way to experience a city or an area known for its beauty.  So whenever possible, we take off and spend the day strolling together.   Walking Tradition

One more thing: the easiest way to keep track of upcoming events or new recaps is sign up for my Travel Newsletter.  This Newsletter is my way to help keep our large group of friends informed and connected.   Thanks!   Rick Archer

If you have a question, email to
rick@ssqq.com 
Last Update: October 2016


Here are links to the extensive write-ups of each previous trip (or you can read the recaps below)

  01 - Jamaica 1998   09 - Rhapsody 2006   17 - Oslo 2010   25 - Russia 2012   33 - Sock Hop 2015
  02 - Vera Cruz 2001   10 - New England 2006   18 - Bahamas 2010   26 - Magic 2012   34 - Istanbul 2015
  03 - Rhapsody 2002   11 - Hawaii 2007   19 - Egypt 2010   27 - Mariner 2013   35 - Bordeaux 2015
  04 - Jubilee 2003   12 - Conquest 2007   20 - Virgin Islands 2011   28 - Hawaii 2013   36 - Danube River 2016
  05 - Mardi Gras 2004   13 - Greece 2008   21 - Conquest 2011   29 - Rhone River 2014   37 - Greek Isles 2016
  06 - Rhapsody 2004   14 - Conquest 2008   22 - Panama Canal 2012   30 - Alaska 2014  
  07 - Alaska 2005   15 - Conquest 2009   23 - Dominica 2012   31 - Halloween 2014  
  08 - Rhapsody 2005   16 - Barcelona 2009   24 - Titanic 2012   32 - Rhine River 2015  

Upcoming cruise trips:

  

 

Alaska 2014 - June 2014

Dance Cruise - October 2014


A BRIEF RECAP OF ALL PREVIOUS TRIPS

   

1. JAMAICA 1998

Our first cruise trip was a quiet little jaunt to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. Our trip sailed out of New Orleans back in 1998 on a ship from the Commodore Cruise Line.  This trip was organized by Vacations to Go (I did not meet Marla until the next trip).

Our first trip took 30 guests, most of whom returned.  I don't remember much about the trip other than it took place in the previous century.  

Actually I take that back. Two very bizarre things did happen on that trip. First a guy named Marty (no last name necessary) got so drunk on wine he swears he saw mermaids.

There was also a very dark incident I have hinted about, but I have never gotten up the nerve to tell the entire miserable story.  Maybe on my next cruise trip someone will get me drunk and talk me into revealing the whole truth.

Jamaica 1998

 

2. VERA CRUZ 2001

SSQQ
hit it big in 2001 aboard Carnival's Celebration. We took over 100 people on what was supposed to be an exciting excursion to Cozumel and Cancun. However when Tropical Storm Chantal was upgraded to a hurricane, this distant storm appeared to be ready to vacation in Cozumel and Cancun about the same time as we were!  So they diverted us to Vera Cruz for safety. Sad to say, Vera Cruise didn't turn out to be the most scintillating destination we have been to. In fact, it was pretty rundown to say the least. Oh well.

However, personally speaking, I could have cared less since this was the trip I met the love of my life, a woman whom I would marry three years later.  

I wasn't in the best of moods back in those days.  I had been divorced back in May after a ten year marriage and feeling pretty much like scorched earth.  I was convinced I would never love again.  Funny how the right person changes our mind.

Marla was part of our cruise group, but I didn't know her very well.  Marla had taken a couple classes at the studio.  I had been nursing a crush on her from afar for some time now.  Several months earlier when I made my first gentle move I discovered she had a steady boyfriend.  So I backed off.  Nevertheless I took careful note when she signed up for the cruise all by herself.  Hmm.

On the first night of the trip, Marla and I met by accident at a Midnight dance sponsored by the cruise ship.  I wasted little time asking her to dance.  Resting between dances, Marla and I sat in the lounge and talked a while.  I realized right then and there how much I liked her.  I sensed something serious was happening between us.  So I invited her to go up on to the top deck.  Here we were met by the strong breeze created by a distant hurricane.  The ocean breeze, the magic moon, and the crash of the waves against the ship created a  marvelous backdrop to the start of our romance.  We had such a wonderful time we stayed up there straight through till the sun rose in the morning! 

We fell in love that night and
have never been apart since.  Our own story is strong testimony to the power of a cruise trip to create romance atop the high seas! 

Vera Cruz 2001 Complete story of how Rick and Marla met
 

3. RHAPSODY 2002 - The Maiden Voyage

When it came time to plan next year's cruise, I had a decision to make.
Although I had been completely distracted by the smile of my future bride, the rest of our group wasn't very happy about being stuck with Vera Cruz the previous year and being limited to one port of call instead of the two they had paid for.  So I politely asked Carnival if they would extend returning members a discount in 2002. Carnival completely brushed me off.  Bad move. In 2002 I switched our trip over to Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas sailing out of Galveston.

Although the Rhapsody trip was longer and more expensive, we almost equaled our number from the previous year. We took an impressive group of 90 people on the 2002 trip.

This was the first trip Gary Richardson - Da Jammer - and his wife Betty came on. Gary's incredible gift for photography resulted in many great pictures from the trip. I used those pictures to document our trip. It was as they say the start of a beautiful friendship.

This trip was the start of our love affair with the RCCL Rhapsody.  This ship had the most beautiful dance floor we have ever seen complete with stunning dance murals from the Big Band Era of the Thirties.  Known as the "Shall We Dance Lounge", this lovely room was dedicated the fabulous era of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  This room was so elegant!!  As far as our group was concerned, the Rhapsody gave us the finest dance experience we ever had on any cruise ship.

Rhapsody 2002

 

4. JUBILEE 2003

In 2003, we decided to give Carnival another chance. After all, their sailing out of Galveston was much less expensive and we wanted to schedule a trip over July 4th, which as most of you know is the most expensive time of the year for cruising.  A similar sailing on RCCL would have been at least $100-$150 more.

This was the first trip that Marla organized herself. She did a great job!

The time was right, the price was right, and the economy was good… we got a group of 144!!   In fact we could have taken well over 150, but a dozen last-minute shoppers had to be turned away because the ship sold out.

The trip should have been sensational, but it turned out the ship we went on - Carnival's Jubilee - was just one trip from being put out to sea. In other words, Carnival was preparing to send the ship to the poorest country it could find because the ship was complete junk.

The whining and complaints from that trip - all legitimate concerns I might add - would cause a prospector to go deaf if they rattled off the walls of the Grand Canyon. The condition of the Jubilee was so bad it was nearly impossible to have fun (especially for those who had been on Rhapsody the year before and knew what a cruise ship was supposed to look like!!)

Our dance classes were held in a room where the air conditioning was broken, the ship itself vibrated and rocked constantly, and our dance floor was so sticky it felt like we danced in rubber boots. Yuck.

We learned our lesson the hard way.  We got what we had paid for.

Jubilee 2003

 

5. MARDI GRAS 2004

Now that we had learned our lesson, in 2004 we switched back to Royal Caribbean.  Our travel group made it clear they would rather pay more money and get a quality ship like the RCCL Rhapsody than take the chance to get stuck again on a floating barge disguised as a cruise ship.  The anti-Carnival sentiment in our group was pretty high.  After the Jubilee Trip the previous year I could certainly understand why they felt that way.

Marla booked an interesting trip on the Rhapsody to go to Mardi Gras. She had a very convincing sales pitch - using the Rhapsody as a floating hotel wasn't much more expensive than paying for a quality hotel in New Orleans with the jacked up prices.

But then a tragedy hit -
a tugboat had capsized in the Mississippi River. Several men had likely lost their lives when they were washed overboard. Consequently the river was closed so a search could be made to recover their bodies. As a result our ship was not allowed to dock in New Orleans!!

I have to hand to Royal Caribbean. They did everything in their power to save the trip from being a disaster.  We docked at
Gulfport, Mississippi, and took a free bus courtesy of Royal Caribbean to attend Mardi Gras.  At the end of our bus ride, they had a buffet breakfast waiting for us in New Orleans! 

Despite all of our initial frustration, to our total surprise, we had just as much fun as anyone could possibly have!  In fact, although I have to say I had a lot of fun on the Alaska trip in 2005, the Mardi Gras Trip remains my personal favorite.

This was the trip where George Sargent, the infamous Mr. Handsome, first made his mark as the Leader of the Pack.  Everywhere you looked, there was Mr. Handsome not only making the scene, but also making sure a camera was nearby to chronicle his mischief. As if that wasn't enough, Handsome would then turn to me and practically demand that I write a story about each of his adventures. Or he would lobby my significant other in search of more publicity. For example, after he beat my team at volleyball in Cozumel, he made sure to tell Marla that he figured I would NEVER write that story.

Thus began the Legend of Mr. Handsome.

Mardi Gras 2004

 

6. WEDDING CRUISE 2004

Our 2004 September Rhapsody Trip was a wonderful trip. This was the trip where Marla and I decided to get married aboard the Rhapsody. Marla and I had originally thought of having our wedding in Colorado where I had proposed to her, perhaps at the eerie Stanley Hotel in Estes Park where the thought to ask her to marry me had first seriously crossed my mind. But an early spring trip to the Stanley changed our minds about that.  In case you are not in on the inside story, this creepy old hotel was built in the early 1900s by the same man who invented the Stanley Steamer. Stephen King of horror fiction fame had actually drawn his inspiration for "The Shining" by a stay at the supposedly haunted Stanley Hotel. However when Marla and I spent one night there, we realized this place was more dreary than eerie.  Back to the planning board.  That's when it occurred to us to take our relationship full circle by getting married on our next cruise!  This turned out to be a great idea!

Although both Marla and I went practically nuts with all the problems generated by our "Oops Wedding", I have to say once the ceremony was finally over, the trip itself was wonderful.  In particular, the Rhapsody Staff treated us like we were Royalty. Neither of us have ever been so pampered in our entire lives! 

For starters, the Rhapsody Staff remembered us from the Mardi Gras trip earlier in the year.  They made exceptions for us at every turn (for example, they let us sit in the main lounge undisturbed during the Life Boat Drill!!)   Every time we came back to our cabin there was a present here and a bottle of champagne there. The Captain invited us to have dinner with him.  We hit it off so well the Captain later invited us to a private meeting aboard the bridge the next day.  He was so gracious to us!

In return we scheduled a Tango lesson for him and his fiancée who by coincidence was also aboard the ship.  Too much fun!

Although it may not sound like it, Marla and I were not the ones aboard this trip. In fact, we took 125 guests along for this wonderful trip. Mr. Handsome misbehaved constantly and inspired others to take up the mantle of mischief as well. The was the trip that saw the birth of the Usual Suspect Mischief Team, a Merrye Olde Band of revelers that not only constantly tried to stir up trouble wherever they went, but also took a camera along to chronicle their misdeeds!  Far from fearing the power of the lens, they welcomed its constant presence!

Mr. Handsome developed a protégé on this trip - Phyllis Porter. For the first part of the trip, Phyllis spent most of her energy trying to get Mr. Handsome in trouble.  First she would dare him to do something, then she would take pictures of his many misdeeds.  But Phyllis was paranoid about her camera being sabotaged. So every time she got another reputation-altering picture of George, she would run to Gary Richardson and have him download her pictures before George could carry out his threat to throw that camera AND Phyllis overboard. For her efforts, Phyllis earned the nickname "Paparazzi".

Then something very exciting happened to Phyllis. She and several of her partners in crime attended a "Beatles" concert one night aboard the Rhapsody. Phyllis was so overcome her excitement that she decided to recreate Beatlemania for all to see. She rushed up on stage and gave "John Lennon" a huge smooch right in front of everyone. She assumed there was a good chance ship security would soon escort her off the stage and maybe even the ship - Everyone was out to get her!! - but to her delight "John Lennon" was very enthusiastic about her antics. Emboldened by Phyllis' chutzpah, several other ladies in our group got their courage up and rushed the stage as well. The next thing you knew, half a dozen SSQQ women were up there putting on an impromptu dance performance to "Twist and Shout". As you might imagine, the crowd loved it!

That is when a light bulb inside Phyllis' head. She realized it was more fun to get in trouble and cause trouble herself than it was to take pictures of other people getting in trouble. She decided to become a celebrity in her own right. Sure enough, following in the footsteps of the infamous Mr. Handsome, she began to get in trouble right and left. And of course she carried her own camera with her and handed it to someone to take her picture every time she was about to misbehave. Thus began the Legend of the Center of Attention, her new moniker.

As you can imagine, the entire trip was an incredible event for the entire group. Gosh we had fun!!


Rhapsody 2004

 

7. ALASKA 2005

Our July 2005 trip to Alaska was another slam-dunk success.  This trip was Marla's first attempt to put together a high-end Destination Cruise.  Previously she had limited herself to the yearly junkets around the usual triangle of Jamaica-Cozumel-Cayman.  Would our group be able to afford a much more expensive trip to Alaska?

The answer was a resounding "Yes!".  Marla was stunned to see one person sign up after another.  We took over 70 people to view the stunning Alaska vistas.

Every day we gazed in wonder at the huge skyscraper mountains and pristine untouched forests everywhere the eye could gaze.  One day our cruise ship sailed within 800 yards of the magnificent Hubbard glaciers as we gasped in awe.  Everywhere we went, there were rivers, waterfalls, and islands so beautiful they looked like they belonged in a travel magazine!  Adding to our pleasure was the near-absence of any signs of civilization.  We felt like explorers seeing the natural, unspoiled beauty of Alaska for the first time.

We also had a lot of fun looking for whales, but they weren't as easy to spot as we had been led to believe.  We also were disappointed that the "abundant wildlife" we had been promised didn't bother to line the nearby shores on cue for our viewing pleasure.  If I recall, the only animal I saw the entire trip was some fat marmot who was too stuffed to bother running away.  Instead he just sat there and let me snap pictures.  So much for the abundant wildlife. 

We found time to dance constantly: in addition to dancing after dinner every night, we had time for four dance workshops.   During one of the lessons, a funny thing happened.  Someone whispered they thought they saw a whale fin out in the water.  In a blink, everyone had raced to the window to try to catch a glimpse of a whale.  No such luck, but the students refused to come back to the dance floor.   We wasted the final 20 minutes of class just staring into the water in desperation.  Where are all the whales? 

Seriously, this was such a remarkable trip, the absence of wildlife was just about the only complaint I heard.  If only a couple animals had bothered to show up and the Calgary luggage fiasco could have been avoided, we would have had a perfect trip! 

Plus nobody misbehaved. That's right - I had nothing to gossip about.  I have to be honest and say no one misbehaved.  Fortunately I found an easy solution to the problem - I made stuff up.  (But don't tell anyone!)

This was the trip were I first began to realize there really is something to this 'Love Boat' stuff.

Kevin Lee and Michelle Spiris announced their engagement at the start the Alaska Cruise. Little did they know at the time, but they started a romantic avalanche.  Immediately after the trip ended, one couple after another made trips down the wedding aisle.

In August, one month after the trip, CA Riser and Kathy Bryant got married.
In October, three months after the trip, Linda Malin and Bill Holden got married.
In December, five months after the trip, Sally David and Jeff Gray got married.
On New Year's Eve, five months after the trip, Sherilyn Berthet and John Edwards, got married.
Kevin Lee and Michelle Spiris got married a year later.

I also noted that four couples on the trip were people who had met at SSQQ.  They were in the exploratory stages of their own relationships and this cruise helped nudge them closer to the Big Moment as well.  Plus there were birds and bees aboard - two new couples "connected" on this trip.

That makes ELEVEN SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance couples on one trip.  Amazing.  When you throw in Rick and Marla, that makes a Cupid's Dozen.

Do you think there really is something to this SSQQ "Love Boat" stuff or am I just making it up? 


Alaska 2005

 

8. RITA RHAPSODY 2005

Our Rita Rhapsody Trip in September 2005 was a classic example of people making lemonade out of lemons.  In the days heading up to our cruise, anything that could go wrong with our trip did indeed go wrong.

As you remember back to Hurricane Rita, this was the Hurricane that scared everyone in Houston out of their wits.   Already shaken by the events in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina just one month earlier, we were alarmed when Rita appeared to be headed for a direct hit on Houston.  Basically, the entire city panicked!  This led to the famous mass exodus from Houston that resulted in history's biggest traffic jam ever.  Who can forget the images of all those cars stuck on the freeway out of gas?

The fact that Rita turned east at the last minute helped considerably, but we were already traumatized.  Most of us were completely exhausted from the constant worry of the previous 72 hours. 

Rita passed through the area one day before our cruise date.  The timing could not have been worse.  Since Galveston was spared a direct hit, the terminal was good to go.  That was the good news.  The bad news was the Rhapsody Cruise Ship couldn't dock because Galveston was a ghost town.  All the terminal staff had been evacuated.  Nor could they could get back to Galveston!  The traffic jam caused by all the returning people meant our trip was delayed by three days.  What a headache.

The uncertainty involved drove Marla nuts.  Practically around the clock 100 cruisers continued to pepper Marla with questions about what to do.  It was a nightmare for Marla trying to hold this trip together.  Rita damaged this trip no end.  The length of our trip was cut in half plus ten percent of our group canceled.  Furthermore, the morale of the 80 people who did decide to go was terrible.  When we all got on board and took a look at each other, it looked like we had just survived a real live disaster.  Well, in our minds, we had experienced the disaster almost as fully as if it had actually hit!  We felt defeated and depressed

And yet to our amazement we had a great trip!  

We spent the first day just decompressing from all our negative emotions.  The trip did seem to be putting everyone in a better mood.  And hat's off to the Rhapsody staff.  They went out of their way to try to cheer us up.

Well, it worked. 
By the second day of the cruise, our group was laughing again, getting into trouble, stuffing hot tubs, and getting drunk on margarita escapades in Cozumel. We had our Cocktail Party, we had our Formal Night, we showed off our dancing at the Captain's Reception, we had two great dance workshops, and we had the dance floor to ourselves every night of the trip. In other words, practically every activity we normally spread over 7 days got compressed into 3 days. No wonder we were worn out when we got home!

Special kudos should be extended to Phyllis Porter.  Building on her performance of a year earlier, the Center of Attention put this downtrodden group on her back and single-handedly caused more trouble than anyone could ever have imagined.

For three days, Phyllis went non-stop. If it wasn't corrupting innocent young men from our group like Robert Frisky Business at Senor Frogs in Cozumel, it was encouraging men like Mr. Hat and the Hurdy-Gurdy man to chase wild women in bars or it was organizing amazing hot tub stuffing orgies. Phyllis even found time to have an amazing public display of affection with a certain statue in Mexico.  You will just have the read the story and see the pictures to comprehend the "great lengths" Phyllis would go to in order to get more negative publicity.

Along with her partners in crime Gary "Mr. Hat" Schweinle and Leslie "Alpha Hussy" Goldsmith, the Center of Attention generated plenty of tabloid copy. These three were our Misbehavior Superstars, but Phyllis was definitely the motor that made the machine run.

No more days for Phyllis as the "Paparazzi"!  Her antics made us laugh, frown, and crack up. Phyllis became the Discord Diva of the highest degree. Speaking for everyone in the group, I was very grateful to have someone of Phyllis' ability around to roil the waters.

And let me add one thing: I have to say "hats off" to the magical restorative powers of a cruise trip even if it was too short!  We all returned a lot happier than when we left, that's for sure. That said, no one was ready to come home. They practically had to throw us off the ship!!


Rita Rhapsody 2005

 

9. RHAPSODY RELOADED 2006

Our Rita Rhapsody Trip in September 2005 was cut short by the Hurricane and we felt cheated.  Now in 2006, we were determined to get it right.  We succeeded in grand style.

For starters, we took our second largest group ever.  Our total of 136 passengers was phenomenal. 

Of course there was a hurricane.  What's new?  Hurricane Ernesto was pounding away in Florida, so our ship skipped good old Key West and stuck to cruising up and down the Mayan Coast of Mexico and Belize.  Rick had a lot of fun satirizing a brand new stop known as Costa Maya that seemed to be consist of one single village.  There wasn't much else to do but buy tee-shirts and drink beer at the only bar in town...assuming you could find a waitress.  There were 2,000 people all ordering at the same time.  Most of us decided to skip it and just go back to the ship. 

We didn't care.  We danced, we hot-tubbed, and we had fun on the most perfect trip our group has ever taken.  Phyllis the Center of Attention was voted the MVP of the trip and Gary Richardson took hundreds of pictures. 

This marked our fifth
successful dance cruise aboard our favorite ship, the RCCL Rhapsody.  The dancing was great, the hijinks were insane, and the spirits were high.

Rhapsody Reloaded 2006

A sad footnote:  Shortly after the completion of our Rhapsody 2006 dance cruise, we learned to our dismay that this had been our final voyage aboard our beloved home on the sea.  

Then came the bad news.  In the Fall of 2006, Marla discovered the Rhapsody was being sent to someplace in Asia the following year.  Although the Rhapsody was technically available for one last trip in 2007, RCCL mysteriously inflated the prices on the 2007 Rhapsody so high that we had little choice but to defect to Carnival.

It was with great sadness that we said goodbye to this friendly ship with its marvelous circular dance floor.   After all the good times we had spend on this ship, none of us were at all happy to see it go.  At the time I wondered if we would ever again find a dance floor to even remotely compete with the Rhapsody's Shall We Dance Lounge.  As of 2011, no floor on any other cruise ship has even come close to taking its place and no room has ever captured the charm. 

 

10. NEW ENGLAND 2006

This was the most frustrating cruise trip I have ever taken.  For the first time, I saw a Royal Caribbean staff that was totally unprepared.  I encountered several situations that showed the crew clearly did not know how to do its job.  Suffice to say I was aghast at the crew's performance.  Their mistakes literally ruined our much-anticipated visits to Martha's Vineyard and Acadia National Park.  And the callous reaction of the ship's management to these mistakes made things even worse.   Their failure to acknowledge responsibility for ruining our trip infuriated me.

Considering the high esteem I had once held for RCCL, this was a disappointing revelation indeed.  This was the trip that made me realize that both of the major cruise lines - RCCL and Carnival - have their good ships and their bad. 

I was so angry at the constant mistakes made by the ship's crew that I wrote a highly critical story titled the
Curse of the Jewel.  This complicated story is too long for this 'short version', but the long version will explain what went wrong complete with pictures.  

On the other hand, I had no complaints about the places we visited.  New England was just as stunning as I thought it would be.  If you want to see some beautiful pictures of rugged coastlines and trees changing color, be sure to visit the story of this trip.  There are stories about Salem Village, Acadia National Park, Martha's Vineyard, New Hampshire, and even a story about the Titanic.  It is good reading, I assure you, and the pictures are great.

New England 2006

 

11. HAWAII 2007

Our New England cruise the previous year had all sorts of problems.  In stark contrast, our 2007 trip to Hawaii was a start-to-finish slam dunk success. 

Everything they say about Hawaii is true.  It is pure Paradise.  The temperature is perfect.  If you like a balmy climate, the thermostat seems permanently set on 72 degrees.... outdoors as well as indoors.

Do you hate bugs?  According to Marla, there are no bugs in Hawaii.  She did not encounter a single roach or mosquito all week long.  She was ready to move there in an instant just for that reason alone.

If you like water, there's water everywhere.  For starters, we hit rain showers nearly every day.  There are no lakes in Hawaii, just a few ponds.  The reason is simple - the islands are so small that all the rivers have developed direct paths to the ocean.  Therefore, most of the rainwater rushes to the ocean the moment it lands.  As a result, there were fast-moving rivers and the most incredible waterfalls everywhere we looked. 

Oddly enough, thanks to the fast run-off, there aren't any lakes larger than a pond in Hawaii.  On the other hand, I have never seen so many waterfalls in all my life!

If you like Beaches, there are beaches galore... one after the other.  Many of them are uncrowded. 

If you like Mountains, there's mountains. 

If you like Canyons, there's canyons. 

If you like Cliffs, there's cliffs.

If you like Volcanoes, there's volcanoes. 

If you like Jungles, there's rainforests everywhere. 

If you like areas unspoiled by civilization, you can find all kinds of amazing places on every island.

If you prefer civilization, there's even plenty of traffic jams in Honolulu to make you feel right at home.

Best of all, nothing went wrong.  This trip came off like clockwork.

This was truly our best trip ever (so far)... and that's saying something because we have had a lot of great trips. 

Too much to see, not enough time.  Definitely a return trip is called for!

Hawaii 2007

 

12. CONQUEST 2007

As I pointed out earlier, in October of 2006, we discovered the Rhapsody was being repositioned to Asia late in 2007.  Naturally we wanted one last trip aboard our dear friend the Rhapsody.  However, for reasons we never understood, RCCL inflated the prices on the 2007 Rhapsody nearly $200 per cabin higher than a similar room on the Carnival Conquest.  It was almost like RCCL was deliberately discouraging customers from signing up.  Marla felt like she had no choice but try Carnival.

Unlike the floating tubs like the Jubilee and the Celebration, Carnival had upgraded the Galveston-based ship significantly with the magnificent Conquest.  Except for the dance floor, the Conquest was physically superior to the Rhapsody in every way. 

However, the crew was nowhere near as accommodating as the Rhapsody people who had come to really enjoy our yearly visits to their ship.  I gave the crew a grade of "C" for a lukewarm effort at best to accommodate our needs.  Fortunately, the 2007 Conquest trip succeeded in spite of a ham-handed effort on the part of the Carnival crew. 

Here is a simple example. We were told we could not switch seats among our group even though the gratuities were prepaid.  For five straight trips aboard the Rhapsody and other RCCL ships, we had always been given permission to switch tables within the group.  But the Conquest Maitre D' said no.  He would not permit it.  How smart was that decision?  Automatic tips and we still couldn't switch?  Guess what?  We did it anyway.  We switched tables anytime we wanted to and they never said another word.  What were they going to do to us, throw us overboard? 

The hot tub as always was a marvelous center of fun and silliness.  But the crew refused to lower the temperature of the water to something more comfortable.  Due to the uncomfortable heat, there was a lot of sitting on the side of the hot tub above water.  So much for underwater mischief.  In addition a few party poopers came by and made a fuss about not drinking in the hot tub... only to have the waiters come back and sell more alcohol the moment the cops were gone.  This was another example of short-sightedness.  Do they want to sell booze?  Yes.  So why hassle us?

A third headache was the mysterious inability on the crew's part to help us find a place to dance.  The Conquest is a monster ship, a real behemoth.  And it is fairly new.  So imagine our disappointment when we discovered there was no dance floor on the Conquest even remotely the equal of the "Shall We Dance" Lounge we had enjoyed aboard the Rhapsody.  

I suggested we use the Auditorium Dance Floor where the performances were held.  That stage would be ideal for social dancing when it wasn't in use after the shows.  But we were told we could not use the Auditorium Dance Floor unless we wanted to hire someone to supervise us at a ridiculous fee.  No thanks. 

The problem was solved when we found a very odd spot near the Casino that turned out to be just fine for our dance needs - we danced in the walkways on tile floors!  Since Gary Richardson brought his portable music system, we set up right in the middle of nowhere.  This location was not meant to be a dance floor, but it had everything we needed - lots of space to dance, an adjacent bar to sit at and order drinks, plus plenty of comfy chairs to rest and watch.  Best of all, we had a built-in audience.  All night long the other cruisers would walk by and see us in action.  They loved watching us so they would line the floor and watch for a while.  Our dancers clearly enjoyed the attention. 

Consequently we actually had the best dancing of any cruise yet even though the Conquest crew didn't deserve a ounce of credit for trying to help.  Who cares?   We created our own excitement.

Another major development happened when someone found an abandoned second level eating area in the Cezanne Restaurant.  Downstairs it was crowded with countless passengers. But one flight up was an area that was deserted.  We turned this area into an impromptu clubhouse. 

Having a convenient area all to ourselves was a true blessing.  It allowed the entire group - 10, 20, 30, 40, even 50 people at a time - to spend countless morning hours laughing and talking and making plans for the day.  We were never interrupted by outsiders. This private area meant there were at least some people from our group hanging out in this spot practically all day long. 
On previous trips our beloved Rhapsody had a lovely eating area known as the Windjammer, but the drawback was that our group was scattered all over the room.  This meant people who were new to our group would often walk right past group members sitting in the Windjammer and have no idea who to sit and talk with.  This abandoned area on the Conquest was much better. No matter what time of day they showed up, newcomers would always find a friendly face who could pass on the current events and the latest gossip. This excellent arrangement allowed people who were new to our group to get acquainted with the other people very quickly.  As a result, our group became more tight-knit than ever before.  Anyone who wanted to be included in the day's activities could join the group at practically any time of day.

As far as our destinations were concerned, Jamaica got mixed reviews.  But Grand Cayman was a smash hit.  We finally made it back to Grand Cayman after a five-year break.  We discovered this island is perfect for taking the most wonderful hike along the Seven Mile Beach.   And Cozumel was Cozumel - the perfect place to get absolutely drunk on our butts, an annual ritual dating back several trips.

So the trip was a marvelous success in spite of the less than cooperative crew aboard the Conquest.  Considering they advertise themselves as "The Fun Ship", they were actually a pretty tense group.  For example, the Maitre D was petrified to make a decision to allow us to sit wherever we wanted.  He kept saying, "I better call Miami, let me call Miami and see if it is okay." 

Obviously the entire crew was intimidated against making on-the-spot common sense decisions.  My impression was a fear-based management style had everyone cowed.  Better to automatically say 'no' than risk getting chewed out by someone above.

Maybe on our next trip we can get them to loosen up a little.


Conquest 2007

 

13. GREECE 2008

Greece 2008 took 49 passengers Rome, Athens, Sicily, Turkey, and Crete.  The good part of the trip is that we learned a great deal about the ancient civilizations of Italy, Greece, and Turkey.  In addition, we had a wonderful group spirit. 

The other side of the coin is we discovered the hard way that traveling in Europe isn't always the easiest thing to do.  I can't speak for everyone in the group, but Marla and I had problems overcoming the handicaps of transportation logistics, language barriers, and problems dealing with the inflated Euro.  We had been told you could charge everything only to learn that is simply not the case.  Our recurring struggles with the Euro aggravated us no end because we did not bring enough cash. 


Also I was in the process of fighting a serious thyroid problem known as Grave's Disease.  The hot summer temperatures and daily bouts with direct sunlight caused me constant fatigue problems.  This was the first time I have ever begun to realize that health is a gift.  It is also a mighty important prerequisite to the Travel experience.

Nevertheless, even with my health problems and the cash shortage, definitely the good outweighed the bad.  This trip went very smoothly and we appreciated our chance to visit Italy and Greece, the cradles of the Western Civilization.

Greece 2008

 

14. CONQUEST 2008

Conquest 2008 was both a triumph and a failure.  The triumph was our spectacular success at growing the size of our group.  At 144 passengers, we tied our all-time mark for the biggest trip ever.  However, this trip without a doubt provided the most serious headaches we have ever seen.  There were serious abuses of alcohol and several instances of rudeness as well.  Some of the people on the trip were terribly out of control

As if that wasn't bad enough, we had problems with outsiders as well.  One person in particular - someone who was not part of the group - decided to barge into our activities any time he/she wanted to.  This individual rudely ignored our specific requests to leave us alone.  When I wrote a story about the problems the person caused for us, this individual didn't like what we said, so the person sued us.  It takes all kinds.

Marla and I were depressed the entire trip thanks to all the problems.  However, once the dust settled after the trip, Marla and I realized that all the problems were caused by just six people... none one of whom had ever traveled with us before. 
Putting things into perspective, we realized that our guests had a great time.  Marla and I were the only people deeply affected by the bad behavior.  However, for everybody else, the trip was great.   So for the two of us, it was a lousy trip, but for the group as a whole, it was a very successful trip.

We danced till early in the morning each night of the trip and set huge hot tub stuffing records during the day. 

Conquest 2008

 

15. CONQUEST 2009

Conquest 2009 was easily the smoothest summer dance cruise we have ever taken.  Standing in stark contrast to the headaches of the previous year's trip, there was not one single problem on the entire trip.  No rudeness, no alcohol abuse, no whining, no hurricanes... everybody was happy.  We danced ourselves silly and the group spirit was incredibly high.  What a marvelous time!

The only downside is there wasn't much to write about.  It's tough to write about perfection.  Normally when no one misbehaves, I just make some stuff up.  However, after all of last year's headaches, I was scared to death to make up any stories for fear that someone would be unable to read between the lines.  Maybe it's time to reveal a secret... our group is basically a bunch of decent civilized human beings who like to dance.  We are not nearly as wild and crazy as I pretend we are.  

We had lots of fun on the trip.  To prove it, there were lots of great pictures!!

Conquest 2009

 

16. BARCELONA 2009

This was easily my favorite trip to date.  Marla had a great time too, but said the unforgettable Hawaii 2007 Trip was still her personal favorite.

As we discovered to our delight, Barcelona is an incredible city.  Blessed with the incredible architecture of Antonio Gaudi, a mild climate, an excellent transportation system, rolling hills, beautiful Mediterranean beaches, museums, the popular Ramblas Walkway, plus a relaxed air of European sophistication, it is easy to see why Barcelona is so popular.  Riding the Hop On/Hop Off Bus was so pleasant, Marla and Rick took one loop after another just because Barcelona had so much natural beauty to appreciate.  And our night of wine, dinner, friendship with our group, Flamenco Dancing and the Magic Fountain was a moment Marla and I will never forget. 

We loved Barcelona!   This cruise trip included five ports of call.  Every one of them was fascinating in its own way.

Our first visit took us to Naples where we visited the stunning Isle of Capri. 

Our second stop was the magnificent city of Rome, always a highlight.  This was our second cruise to visit Rome.  The previous year we visited the Colosseum, so this time Rick and Marla explored the fascinating Roman Forum. 

Our third stop took us first to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, then on to Florence for a look at Michelangelo's stunning David as well as visits to two marvelous art museums.

Our fourth stop took us to the fabulous French Riviera, home to many of Europe's Rich and Famous.  Our day-long bus trip gave us at look at the opulence of Monaco, the beauty of Nice, and the quaint shops and architecture of Eze (our favorite stop of the day!)

Our final port of call landed us in Marseilles.  Here we took a bus trip deep into the lush French countryside to see sleepy French towns and ancient castles as well as a fascinating natural park full of red clay.  One bit of warning - wear some cheap shoes.  Rick still has that red clay on his favorite walking shoes to this day.

Too much to see, not enough time.  Definitely a return trip is called for!

Barcelona 2009

 

17. OSLO 2010

Everyone assumes that Rick and Marla have seen it all.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  On these destination cruises, every place we go is completely new to us.   Think about it... that's why Marla chooses these places - she wants to see them herself!

In 2008, Marla took our group to the Eastern Mediterranean.  In 2009, we visited the Western Mediterranean.  So for 2010, Marla decided it was time to go see Northern Europe.  Marla noticed this amazing trip that left out of Oslo, Norway, and made a circle around England.... without actually bothering to stop in England  (Marla promised me we would visit England another day).

To my surprise, this trip became my third favorite of all.  In addition to having some outrageous fun in Oslo, we had four amazing adventures - Paris, France, Omaha Beach of D-Day fame, Dublin, Ireland, and Edinburgh, Scotland.  Only our final stop at Loch Ness was a bit disappointing, but I suppose it was expecting too much to catch a glimpse of Nessie.

I have to hand it to Marla for picking one heck of an amazing trip.

Our first port of call took us to Paris, the fabulous City of Lights.  Since this was the first time Marla and Rick had ever been to Paris, neither of us was quite prepared for the overall magnificence of this legendary city.   The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Seine River, the Grand Palace, the Tuilleries Gardens, the Louvre Museum, the Arc de Triomphe, and so many other famous landmarks were all within easy walking distance.  So we spent the afternoon gazing at all the statues, landmarks and beauty of this great city.  Besides its obvious natural beauty, Paris exudes wealth and sophistication. In every direction we looked, there was something magnificent to go inspect. Yes, seeing was great, but oh so superficial.  This was Paris on fast-forward.  We wanted to hit the Pause button and slow down time.  No such luck.  As usual, too much to see, not enough time.  Definitely a return trip is called for!

Our second stop was at Cherbourg, a deep-water port that was vital to the Allies in World War II as the place to begin the invasion of Europe on the way to Berlin.  Unfortunately, Cherbourg was too well-defended by the Nazis, so the Allies landed instead on the nearby beaches of Normandy about 30 miles away.  We took a bus that stopped first at Omaha Beach, the location of the fiercest fighting on D-Day.  Here we visited the cemetery and saw moving video clips of D-Day at a museum on the site.  Rick can only speak for himself, but the tears flowed non-stop at all the evidence of great bravery and great sacrifice. 

Upon the return to the trip, the mood of our group was somber.  This had been a very moving day for many of us.  That night at dinner, we could not stop talking about our experiences this day and what they meant to us.  Personally, I am glad I had my group of friends to share my thoughts with.  Otherwise it would have taken me a long time to snap out of my sadness. 

After a day at sea, our third stop was in lovely Dublin, Ireland.  Our group went every which way possible, some to see the Guinness brewery, some to see the old churches.  Marla and Rick wanted to see the Irish countryside, but first we got a look at Dublin.  It was amusing to see all the brightly colored doors.  Dublin is full of old row houses that look identical.  The only thing that allows you tell them apart are the different door colors.  Our tour guide said this was an important feature.  After a long evening in the local pubs, the wives wanted to be sure their husbands could find the right door to stumble into.

After Dublin, our bus trip took us through Wild Wicklow.  What a perfect description.  The countryside is far from tame. We definitely got what we wanted.... vast green pastures lined with yellow-flowered gorse hedges, rolling hills, deep crevasses, large mountains in the distance, and forests.  Ireland is famous for its lush, green countryside.  It's all true.  This trip definitely delivered as promised.  Such magnificent scenery!  Plus we got to see an ancient cathedral and we even had time to take a long nature walk in the nearby forest complete with lake, swans, and bleating sheep.  

As the perfect conclusion to a perfect day, we stopped at O'Neills Pub back in Dublin for a deeply satisfying pint of Guinness beer.  They say if you are lucky to be Irish, you are lucky enough.  Today we found out why this is true.  Our visit to Dublin was a real highlight.

Our next stop was at Edinburgh, Scotland.  I quickly discovered the Scots do not like the English.  Our tour guide spent half the bus trip talking about all the rotten things the English did to the Scottish.  I softly whisper to Marla that for the rest of the day, I am from the Swiss "Archer" family, not the English "Archers".

What a lovely city!  Highlights of the day including a visit to the imposing Edinburgh Castle complete with more history lessons on all the evil things England did to Scotland.  We concluded our morning with a leisurely walk through the lovely garden park below.  When Marla spots an ice cream stand nearby, she makes a beeline.  Soon Marla is moaning with pleasure.  This is the BEST ice cream cone ever.

Our final adventure took us to Loch Ness in search of the elusive monster.  No luck.  Nessie decided to take the day off despite a concerted 30 minute vigil on the banks of Loch Ness conducted by Rick and Marla complete with camera at the ready.  The good news was that the Scottish countryside is just as beautiful and lush as the Irish countryside.  Nature lovers could not have asked for prettier scenery.  Even the dark gray clouds and cold mist were perfect for the occasion.... the gloomy day made the awesome moors even moor mysterious!

Once we were back in Oslo, Marla and Rick decided to stick around for another day to visit the amazing Vigeland Sculptures at Frogner Park.  You will just have to see these statues to believe them.  As a hint, the people in these sculptures are all naked and some of the 'positions' are quite suggestive.  I realize the Scandinavians are supposed to be open-minded about these sort of things, but I blushed.  I later learned these famous sculptures are considered quite controversial.  Now I see why.

Later on Marla and Rick saw the Viking Museum and the Holocaust Museum.  We finished off a great day with a long walk home. 

However, this trip was not without problems. 

Thanks the ash cloud problems caused by the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, our entire group had serious headaches both getting to Oslo and getting back home.  No one was delayed, but there were some enough close calls to make people think more seriously about travel insurance for the next trip.

The other headache was a terrible outbreak of Norovirus on board the ship.  At the time there were 300 reported cases of this stomach virus and I guessed there were easily 200 more unreported cases.... including Marla.  I was wrong.  In 2011, I was informed by an insider that the count had reached 800!  It was one of the worst outbreaks in cruise history. 

Norovirus is sometimes called "the cruise ship virus" because enclosed populations on a cruise ship are prime targets.  Our ship's crew scrubbed the ship down thoroughly throughout the trip, but never could quite seem to get rid of it.  About 20% of our group either got the virus or had virus-like symptoms.  The good news - although the virus is unpleasant, it is typically gone in a day.  No one's trip was ruined.   (Note: you can read the details of this story at Virus and Volcano)

Volcanoes and viruses aside, Oslo 2010 was a wonderful trip.  What a great chance to see four new countries in one shot!  This experience was a real privilege.   I would rate this trip as my third favorite behind Barcelona 2009 and Hawaii 2007.

Oslo 2010

 

18. BAHAMAS 2010

The 2010 Labor Day Bahamas Cruise aboard the Conquest was an enormous success on many different levels.

For starters, we easily broke our previous attendance record.  Twice in the past we had taken 144 people on a cruise trip.  This time we took 190 guests. 

Three things contributed to the success.  First, we were traveling to a brand-new cruise destination, always a lure.  Second, the ship left out of Galveston which made the trip quite affordable.  Third, Houston's economy was in pretty good shape.

My favorite adventure on the trip was our visit to Atlantis, a mega-resort on a small island just outside of Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas.   The awesome beauty of this resort paradise left me longing for more. 

Another fun experience on the trip was the highly competitive and quite amusing Musical Chairs competition.   The extended writeup of the trip covers both stories in great detail.

However, the real story of the trip was the continued growth of our 'Family Experience'.  Each trip feels more and more like a family reunion. 

Bahamas 2010 was certainly no exception.  One group of the people, a group of zanies who called themselves "The Fun Table" at dinnertime, took intelligent insanity to impressive new levels and won the coveted "Worst Behaved Table" in the process.  But the Fun Table weren't the only ones having fun. We had a record 24 tables on this trip.  To our surprise, nearly every table clicked and developed its own identity. 

One of our guests, Donald Taylor, wrote this:

"Rick, you pretty much hit the nail on the head when you guessed why Jean and I like your cruises so much.

In one of your Newsletters, someone asked why Jean and I would come all the way from Oklahoma City every year to be on your dance cruise.  You answered by writing this:

My guess is that Donald and Jean come all the way from Oklahoma for the same reasons as everyone else.

On a cruise, the old saying 'the more the merrier' holds true. Donald and Jean have the best of all worlds - they have their daughter, they have their parents, Donald has his sister, they get to see their friends from the studio, and they even get to have some time alone with each other. What more could you ask for?

Jean and I just love being with all the dancers.  We just can't beat walking around the ship and knowing someone every time we turn around."

Bahamas 2010

 

19. EGYPT 2010 - THE EGYPTIAN POSEIDON ADVENTURE!

I once wrote an article about Rogue Waves and my very own "Poseidon Adventure" on the Jubilee Cruise Trip of 2003.  I concluded my story with these brave words:

"So I experienced rough sailing for one hour on one day in 20 Trips.  Big deal!  I'll take those odds anytime!"

In other words, I wasn't scared of anything a cruise ship had to throw at me.  

Back in the days of Greek Mythology, anyone who dared speak like that usually incurred the wrath of a Greek God or Goddess.  Those Greek Deities did not take kindly to mere mortals who had the nerve to think they were in control of their own fate.

Of course, the Greek mortal with the biggest mouth of all was our friend Odysseus.  On his way home from the Trojan War, Odysseus got trapped in a cave by a one-eyed monster known as Polyphemus the Cyclops.  Polyphemus rolled a gigantic boulder across the mouth of the cave.  It wouldn't do any good to kill the Cyclops because the Greeks would never be able to remove the boulder.

So Odysseus got the Cyclops drunk one night on Greek wine.  I can personally testify to the power of Greek wine.  It works. 

While Polyphemus snored away, the Greeks managed to poke out his only eye, thereby blinding him.  

Polyphemus had to remove the boulder in the morning to let his sheep out.  Odysseus tied his men under the bellies of the sheep and smuggled them all out safely. 

As Odysseus sailed away scot-free, he had fun taunting the injured Cyclops.  This infuriated Polyphemus no end, so he began to blindly hurl rocks in the general direction of Odysseus' voice.  Realizing how futile this was, Polyphemus called out in frustration, "Who are you?"

Odysseus laughed and told the wounded monster his real name.

Unbeknownst to Odysseus, Polyphemus the Cyclops had a famous father.  Yes, to be sure, Polyphemus was the son of Poseidon, the powerful Greek God of the Seas.  Polyphemus made sure to let his Dad know that some jerk named "Odysseus" had just put his eye. 

Poseidon vowed to enact revenge.  But killing Odysseus wasn't good enough.  He would rather torture the guy!

Starting with a violent storm that destroyed almost all of the Greek fleet, Poseidon made sure that Odysseus would suffer every day for the rest of his life for having the nerve to hurt his son and BRAG ABOUT IT!

Now you would think that someone like me who knew this story so well would learn to keep his mouth shut, yes?  Wrong.

"I'll take those odds anytime!!"

One week after I wrote the story, Marla and I embarked on a 17-day journey across the Mediterranean on a cruise ship headed for Egypt. 

By coincidence, our ship had the same Cruise Director we had back on my previous brush with a Poseidon Adventure in 2003.  Maybe I should have guessed something was up at that point.

And, by coincidence, our ship just happened to cross the same waters where Poseidon had destroyed the Greek fleet with a terrible storm thousands of years ago. 

And, by coincidence, my ship sailed directly into a deadly storm in the Eastern Mediterranean that killed hundreds of people and caused damage in a dozen countries.  Some said this was the worst storm in that part of the world in a century!

And, by an amazing coincidence, our ship came ridiculously close to having its very own "Poseidon Adventure" in a port just off the coast of Egypt.

You don't suppose this had anything to do with me opening my big mouth, do you?  It sure seemed that way. 

You may have heard about this incident.  It was on every major news channel in the world just a week ago.  After all, it's not every day a cruise ship nearly sinks.  Gee, maybe they'll make a movie out of it and let Celine Dion sing the theme.  I wonder who they will get to play me in the movie?   It needs to be someone handsome, witty and charming.  Too bad Cary Grant isn't available.  Hugh Grant might be a good choice, but with my luck I will get Chris Rock.

Incidentally, Marla and I saw everything happen with our own eyes.  Yes, this was one heck of a wild ride.  Before you ever get on a cruise ship again, you want to know what happened.

The 2010 Egyptian Poseidon Adventure

 

20. VIRGIN ISLANDS 2011

The Virgin Islands Cruise of 2011 was a very pleasant trip.  Unfortunately, unlike some of our other trips, there are no amazing tales for me to share.  I say 'unfortunately' because wild adventures make for good stories.  In the old days, I would just make stuff up when things got too bland, but lately my tendency to exaggerate has been missing.  I am sure that problem is just temporary. 

In retrospect, nothing went wrong.  The ship didn't capsize.  No hurricanes.  No one missed the cruise ship at the end of the day.  No norovirus.   No volcanic eruptions.   No tender failures.  No long lines or waiting.  No sex on the elevators. 

Alas, everything went smooth as glass.  This trip was just one long smooth groove of neverending fun like a long walk on the beach.  Boring to read about, I know, but nevertheless fun for the people who went. 

This trip was a cross between our 2007 Hawaiian Islands Cruise and last year's Bahamas 2010 Cruise.   The islands we visited featured the same tropical temperatures and the same rainforests as Hawaii with beautiful beaches and rugged extinct volcanoes thrown in for good measure.  

For sheer physical beauty, several of the Eastern Caribbean islands were a match for Hawaii.  Now that I have seen both worlds, I would say Hawaii's advantage is in its wealth.  Hawaii has an unmistakable economic superiority.  Its infrastructure is superior.  Furthermore no Eastern Caribbean island can possibly match Honolulu for the endless string of opulent hotels that line Waikiki.  Yes, there are beautiful hotels and resorts in the Eastern Caribbean, however just not quite to the same extent.

That said, a trip to the Eastern Caribbean has many advantages.  For one thing, these islands are much easier to get to, particularly if you live on the East Coast.  Second, these islands are much more affordable.  One person estimated a trip to Hawaii could cost up to twice as much when you factor in air fare.  Plus time is a problem.  You give up practically an entire day flying to and back from Hawaii.  By comparison, our flight from Houston to San Juan, Puerto Rico, was just slightly longer than a flight to Denver, Colorado.  Potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples, bananas.  A good argument can be made for both locations, but ultimately a trip in either direction is bound to be satisfying. 

Our trip to the Virgin Islands resembled the Bahamas Trip because it was yet a further extension of our 'Family' Theme.  The sense of community permeated practically every activity we engaged in.  No matter what excursion Marla and I signed up for, we ran into other members of our group.  This trip had a definite feel of 'shared experience'.   One day Marla and I shared zip-lining with Zorro in Antigua.  Another day Marla and I shared snorkeling with Robert and Cher as well as Patty and Joe.  Yet a third day I hung out with Sheba, Handsome, Peggy Sue and several others on a wild bus ride around St. Thomas.  St Croix saw 13 of us crowd into a single bus for a wonderful tour around the island organized by Mara Tiara.  Then there was the day in Puerto Rico when a dozen of us took a hike through the fabulous El Yunque Rainforest in search of the world's most awesome waterfall.  Another time in Puerto Rico, twenty of us shared a night-time kayak experience through a dark and mysterious mangrove swamp.  Half the fun was listening to the married couples argue over whose fault it was for running into the trees in the dark.  Oh, by the way, for just $5, I will gladly reveal WHICH COUPLE fell in the water...  Who can forget those famous last words?   "Damn it, Joe!" 

Did I mention our visit to see Flamenco Dancing?  Or our visit to see the world's tallest cigar in Old San Juan?  And what about the simple joys of sharing breakfast with our friends in the stunning open air patio of the El Convento Hotel?  Or watching Marla's befuddlement at her mountain of Mofungo, a native dish she made the mistake of ordering on the first night of the trip? Or for that matter getting drunk as skunk with our friends at the free wine and cheese party at the El Convento Hotel in the evening?  I can vividly remember hearing laugh at my stupid jokes.  Were the jokes funny?  Probably not.  I think maybe the delicious wine deserve most of the credit.  But the point is simple - we all laughed together. 

The Virgin Islands Cruise of 2011 was special for Marla and me because it was our most physically active trip ever.  We did something active practically every day of the trip, sometimes even two things.  Kayaking, hiking, climbing, snorkeling, zip-lining, and dancing too ... you name it, we did it.  I was so pooped some nights that I almost fell asleep at dinner twice. 

The highlight of the trip for me happened near the end of the trip.  Remembering how much fun we had hiking to the waterfall at El Yunque, Marla and I signed up for another hike to a waterfall in Grenada.  The start of our trip was unremarkable.  Our guides bored us out of our minds with a ten-minute discussion on nutmegs, then ten more minutes on plantains, then ten more minutes on mangos.  Enough already!  Give it a rest and let us hike!  I confess I am not much of a naturalist.  I could barely contain a giant yawn as I struggled to listen.  Little did I know that my boredom would turn to terror just a few minutes later. 

Once we entered the rainforest, Marla and I were confronted by a difficult downhill path hacked out of the dense foliage.  This path was really steep!  We had to navigate rocks placed in the trail for traction.  In the more level areas, there were no rocks.  Unfortunately, due to recent rains, the level areas were soggy.  Our shoes sank deep into the mud several times.   Due to the poor condition of the trail, we made very slow progress on this difficult downhill trail.   One slip and we might slide quite a ways and hurt ourselves.

And then it started to rain a little.  Misting at first, neither Marla nor I had the sense to take our umbrella out of the backpack.  It wouldn't have done us much good.  The trail wasn't wide enough for the two of us to use the umbrella together.   Plus the overhead foliage was so dense the umbrella would have constantly have gotten stuck in the branches.  Fortunately, we didn't mind the rain that much.  It felt refreshing!   Refreshing, that is, until the rain went from zero to sixty in a matter of seconds.

The heavens opened up.  Suddenly we were trapped in a water deluge of Biblical proportions.  Assaulted by blinding rain, I stuck my camera in my backpack under a towel for safety.  Then I fought to keep my balance as we continued down the trail.  Marla struggled mightily as well.  Now the rocks we had depended on betrayed us.  The rocks were so wet we couldn't plant our feet on them without slipping.  And the red clay around the rocks turned into deep mud puddles.  Finding a safe place to take the next step was a real challenge.

Finally we saw the waterfall.  Stunning!  Before our eyes, we had our very own miniature Niagara Falls.  Thanks to the powerful rainfall, the waterfall was cascading tons of water at an enormous rate.  However, to get to it, first we had to cross a stream. There was no bridge.  Marla and I and the other members of our hardy group helped each other across using the massive rocks as stepping stones.   I enjoyed lending a hand whenever I could to help people with shorter legs keep their balance.

Once we got to the waterfall, Marla got out of her soaking wet clothes to reveal her bathing suit underneath.  I laughed.  Marla was already soaking wet.  Why even bother taking off the outer layer?   Undeterred by the constant rain pellets, Marla made her way into the middle of the water pond directly below the powerful waterfall.   Marla hollered, "Take my picture!"

That's when I made a very unpleasant discovery - my expensive backpack wasn't waterproof.  Uh oh.  My towel was soaking wet... and so was my camera.  I tried turning it on... no luck.  The camera was ruined.

As I explained to Marla that the camera wasn't working, I heard one of the guides yell, "We gotta get out of here now.  There is a real danger of mud slides and the river becoming too difficult to cross."  As I saw him take off, I could sense the fear in his voice.  I thought it must be serious for him to leave without us.

Well, I wasn't going to leave without Marla.  Like a boy scout, I stuck around to help my wife.  Plus she was very persuasive.  "Rick, if you leave me now, you better pray I don't make it back to the bus..."

Marla struggled mightily to get out of the pond that had become much deeper thanks to the torrential waterfall.  She asked where everyone had gone.  I turned around to make a nasty discovery - everyone had left us, guides and all.  We were the last people at the water pond!

After Marla finally got out of the pond with my help, she pulled her soggy outfit and shoes back on.  She muttered some choice words about how cold and miserable she was.  Together we grimly headed back.  Thankfully there were a couple native Grenadans who had stuck around to help us across the stream.  Unfortunately the stream was no longer a stream.  It had been transformed into a raging river.  It was a good thing those men were there.  It seemed like the water current had doubled its intensity in just the short time we had spent at the pond.  Only half the rocks were still visible and the ones I could see were very slippery.  It took us forever to cross.

Now we discovered that our downhill trail had also become a river of sorts.  With the foliage cleared out of the way, our own trail was the easiest route down the mountain for the rainwater to descend.  Lucky us.  Try climbing uphill in a constant stream of water!

Helping each other, Marla and I slowly climbed back up the trail.  Amazingly, even though we had been dead last and even though we were the oldest people in the group by a wide margin, we caught up to some of the members of our group.  I cannot tell you how proud it made me to know we were able to overcome this difficult path and match much younger people stride for stride in the process.

And why was this ordeal my favorite moment of the trip?  I loved the challenge!  To heck with the danger of falling in the river.  To heck with the danger of being buried in a mud slide.  To heck with the threat of twisting an ankle or hitting my head on a rock if I fell.  Marla and I were determined to fight our way back to safety.

You know what?  For a moment there, I actually felt like a kid again.  This climb was an ordeal... and it was fun.  Just for that experience alone, I would do this trip again in a flash.

Virgin Islands 2011

 

21. THE FINAL VOYAGE OF THE CONQUEST 2011

Just about the time we finally got used to the Carnival Conquest, we learned it was soon to be replaced by a spanking brand-new ship known as the Magic.

So with a touch of nostalgia, over Labor Day 2011, we took our fifth and final dance cruise aboard the Conquest around the Western Caribbean.  As always, there was lots of dancing and lots of mischief in the hot tub. 

The trip itself was incredibly smooth.  

Conquest 2011

 

22. PANAMA CANAL 2012

This was a cruise just for Rick and Marla.  They sailed as the Guest Dance Instructors aboard the Coral Princess.

The ship took us on a huge journey.  Starting in  Los Angeles, California, we sailed through the Panama Canal on a two-week, six thousand mile journey that ended in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

There were no problems on the trip other than Marla and Rick were treated like crew members.  Considering we paid for our cruise just like everyone else, it was disconcerting to sleep with the crew.  Marla is still grouchy about the cabin they stuck in.  

The cabin didn't bother Rick as much.  Boredom was his issue.  The problem was that the cruise ship was forced to skip two ports in Mexico due to the ongoing violence.  It was easier to avoid places like Acapulco and Cabo for the safety of the passengers.  As a result, there were nine long days at sea.

Thanks to the incredible amount of free time, Rick ended up teaching a lot of people to dance on this trip.

The teaching was fun, the Panama Canal was incredible, but the trip itself was so long that Rick almost finished War and Peace.  That should tell you something.

If you enjoy being idle, then this might be the trip for you.

Panama Canal 2012

 

23. DOMINICA 2012

This was a follow-up trip to complement our 2011 trip to the Virgin Islands trip.

As we discovered in 2011, there were a lot of Eastern Caribbean islands we missed out on.  Now it was time to see the rest.

We left out of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  This time we visited Tortola, British VI, as well as St. Maartin, St. Kitts, and Barbados. 

Our favorite island was Dominica, a rugged, mountainous island that is relatively unpopulated and deeply forested.  Very beautiful!!

Dominica 2012

 

24. TITANIC 2012

Like the trip to the Panama Canal earlier in the year, Marla and Rick were the guest dance instructors on this cruise. 

We had fun making a riddle out of this destination.  Question: We are on a cruise headed out of New York City.  We will be stopping in the middle of the North Atlantic for half a day.  There is nothing to see - no islands, no countries, no weather phenomena to observe.  Where are we going and why?

Well, of course, you know the answer from the title.  This cruise was headed to the ocean resting place of the RMS Titanic on the 100th anniversary of the famous encounter with the iceberg. 

It was a strange and often sad trip, but deeply rewarding as well.  Just the chance to immerse ourselves in all the stories and theories that surround the Titanic made this an intensely interesting experience.  \

Better yet, Marla and Rick appreciated the opportunity to among the 2,000 people who went to the Titanic's ocean grave to pay respect to the people who suffered so greatly on that fateful night.  It was truly an honor to be there.

Titanic 2012

 

25. RUSSIA 2012

Russia 2012 was our most ambitious cruise trip to date.  Saint Petersburg, Russia, the most important stop on our trip, was a mere 5,500 miles away.  That distance is practically a quarter of the Earth away.

There were two major stories on this trip. 

The first story dealt with the ordeals of travel.  Rick actually lost his passport and found himself stranded alone in an airport. This was quite a tale of woe... good reading, incidentally.

The second story dealt with the five amazing cities of Northern Europe we visited - Copenhagen, Denmark, Stockholm, Sweden, St. Petersburg, Russia, Helsinki, Finland, and Tallinn, Estonia.  Every single stop was fascinating to explore and learn about.

Russia 2012

   

26. MAGIC 2012

Magic 2012 was our first trip aboard Carnival's newest ship, the giant 3,700 passenger Magic.  With 183 guests on board, this trip narrowly missed topping our previous record of 190.  Our voyage took us first to Key West, an old friend from 3 previous cruise trips.  Next we visited Freeport and Nassau in the Bahamas.  We had taken the exact same trip in 2010, so the trip had a definite familiarity to it.

There was a major problem that preceded our trip.  Carnival created much uncertainty by its  mysterious refusal to give us permission to dance after hours in any of their four available lounges.  Quoting a concern that our music would keep their passengers awake at 1 am, Carnival instead offered us a conference room with a carpeted floor.  Unfortunately, our kind of dancing required a better surface than a carpet. 

Considering our group had received permission to dance after hours for the previous FIVE YEARS without a single problem, Carnival's sudden refusal to cooperate left Marla at a complete loss to understand their reasoning.  Marla asked these people to reconsider for eight months, but not once did they budge an inch.

On the very first night of our trip, we suddenly received permission to do our Late Night dancing after all.  And why did Carnival change its mind?  We will never know.  According to the person who said to go ahead and do it anyway, we didn't have 'actual' permission.  The person simply said the Hotel Director would never know.  In other words, we never received official permission, but they let us do it.  Very strange.

As it turned out, when you almost lose something, you cherish it more.  Throughout the trip, people from our group participated in Late Night dancing with a passion.  Our numbers on this trip topped all previous records.  There were nights when as many as 80 people crowded the floor.  It was pretty amazing to watch.

Magic 2012

   

27. MARINER 2013

Mariner 2013 was Marla's first attempt to forge a new direction away from Carnival.  After the problems Marla encountered trying to reserve a Late Night dance floor on the previous trip, Marla decided enough was enough.  It was definitely time to jump ship.  What Marla did not know was that Carnival was about to self-destruct.  Considering all the problems Carnival encountered in the first part of 2013, Marla ended up seeming like an all-knowing gypsy with a crystal ball for her well-timed move. 

The cruise itself went like a charm.  There were literally NO PROBLEMS.  The Royal Caribbean staff made a few mistakes, but Marla was able to work behind the scenes to straighten things out.  Consequently our group was never affected.  Mariner 2013 was a smooth ride from start to finish.

Mariner 2013
 

   

28. HAWAII 2013

Hawaii 2013 was our longest trip to date covering 11 days at sea.  Typically cruise ships make round-trips, but the Celebrity Solstice was on its way to reposition for cruises out of Australia. The Solstice was going to make a stop in Hawaii and keep on going.  So our group hopped a ride in San Diego and enjoyed five consecutive days at sea while the Solstice ferried us over to Hawaii.

This was an odd two trips in one adventure.  The first five days were all about fun and relaxation.  We had dance classes and trivia contests and lengthy games of bridge for amusement, but we always kept on eye on the Main Event.

Finally came the big day.  We landed in Hilo on the Big Island.  Practically everyone took an excursion to see Mt. Kilauea, a volcano that is active, but under control.  We got a chance to see the smoke continually escape from its crater, a clear warning that one of these days this monster plans to come back to life.

The second stop was at Kona on the other side of the Big Island.  This was a day for golf and water sports for many, but Marla and I used the day to explore the fabulous Waikoloa Resort.

Then it was on to Maui where we docked at Lahaina.  Many of us either rented cars or took excursions to see the infamous Road to Hana, one of the craziest drives on this entire earth.  Unfortunately the incredible extinct Haleakula Volcano was off limits due to the weird government shut-down, so many people visited the Iao Needle State Park instead or simply explored the island more.

Our final stop was in Honolulu, Oahu.  Here again, the government shut-down blocked access to the tragic USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, so many of us took the chance to go see the USS Missouri instead, the ship that hosted Japan's surrender at the end of World War II. 

Hawaii 2013


   

29. RHONE RIVER 2014

Our Rhone River Cruise in France was our first-ever River Cruise.  In addition, we took a short stretch on the Saone River as well.  Truth be told, the trip was totally different than any ocean cruise I have ever been on. 

I have no idea what rivers in America look like from the middle of the river, but I cannot imagine a more beautiful river than France's Rhone.   For seven days, Marla and I sat on the deck viewing the tree-lined banks, the magnificent Alps in the distance, the rolling hills, vineyards, chateaus, cathedrals, ancient castles, modern million-dollar estates… there was not a single stretch of the entire seven day span of the two rivers that was not beautiful.

Every day we got off the boat and went into some town to learn about it.  Two of the places we visited, Avignon and Lyon, were absolutely spectacular.  In Vienne, we were taken to a high hill where we could look down upon a spectacular S-curve of the majestic Rhone from above. 

Our group functioned as a family on this trip, especially at dinner.  Wine is gratis at lunch and dinner.  Every night we sat down for a two and a half hour feast.  We wined and dined to our heart's content.  There's something about the wine that helps people open up.  By the end of the trip, I had learned things about each member of the table that absolutely fascinated me.  We had tears of happiness and laughter galore.

There was no bingo, no gambling, and no announcements.   This had to be the most relaxing trip I have ever been on combined with the finest scenery and the best learning experiences.  What a special treat.

Rhone River 2014

   
30. ALASKA 2014

The Alaska trip was sensational.  Not a single problem worth mentioning and a marvelous time had by all.

Like Hawaii 2013, this was our second trip to Alaska.  Now that I am retired, this allowed Marla and I the flexibility to turn our one-week cruise into a two-week visit.  First we used several days at the front end of the trip to explore the beautiful Vancouver area. 

Then after the cruise portion was over, we took a fascinating trip to Denali National Park in the center of Alaska.  This trip was known as the "Denali Extension".  It was arranged through Royal Caribbean as a special feature that allows their passengers to see an important "in-land" part of Alaska.

Apparently this feature was available to us back in 2005 when we took our first trip, but I didn't know this till now.  Marla didn't even bring it up since she knew how reluctant I was to leave the dance studio unattended for any length of time.  However, nine years makes a lot of difference.  So in 2014 I had the time. 

I was utterly fascinated.  Denali National Park is meant to be a nature preserve.  What that means is the park rangers don't want people roaming all over the park.  So they keep tight controls on visitation.  Most people see the park via a bus tour.  Like an African Safari, we were kept inside our bus for most of the seven hours.

Denali is not nearly as "pretty" as I expected.  Due to the elevation and the extreme weather conditions, survival is difficult in Denali not just for the animals, but for the vegetation as well.  In many places, the vegetation was very sparse.  Denali is beautiful nonetheless, especially if you enjoy mountainous terrain.

As I listened to my guide explain the constant struggle for survival in Denali, the message I got was just how difficult it is to live in the extreme conditions of Alaska.  Everyone understands the "cabin fever" that comes from being confined by the long hours of winter darkness and the 60° below zero temperature.  But even the summer is weird... 22 hours of light at the Summer Solstice!   And once the winter thaw begins in May, there will be only four months before the snows come again. 

Yes, Alaska is an amazing place to visit.  But I cannot imagine ever wanting to live there year-round.  Hawaii would be a definite yes, but as for Alaska, no way Jose.  I am just not that tough.     Alaska 2014

   
31. HALLOWEEN NAVIGATOR 2014

Halloween Navigator 2014 was Marla's 15th dance cruise (13 Western Caribbean, 2 Bahamas).   With 144 passengers, this tied Jubilee 2003 as our third largest total group to date.  Only the two Bahama trips have done better. 

Rather than settle for the same trip as always, Marla initiated several new features on this trip.

First and foremost was the creation of a group tee-shirt which guests could wear to quickly identify their membership in the SSQQ Travel Group.   This turned out to be marvelous fun on the first day as the SSQQ guests picked each other out of the crowd as people mingled around the ship.  These tee-shirts made it clear that the SSQQ Travel Group was clearly the dominant group on the ship.  Considering how well this idea worked out, it seems likely that tee-shirts will become a fixture on future cruises involving large groups.

Marla's second idea was to align our private cocktail party on Day 3 with the ship's Disco Night.  By making the theme of our party "Disco", many of the guests indeed wore Disco outfits from the Seventies.   This turned out to be a costume party in its own right.

Marla's third idea was to schedule a Halloween Champagne Party aboard the Navigator on the final night of the trip.  We had 120 guests come in costume for our first-ever SSQQ Halloween dance party at sea. 

Everyone brought along their complimentary bottle of champagne to share with the group.  Then we cleared out much of the furniture in the center of the room to create a larger dance space.  Besides the partner dancing, we added 10 minutes of Halloween line dances including the legendary Monster Mash.

Music and Monster Mash, costumes and champagne, plus a huge dance floor made for a bewitching combination indeed.  We spent two hours making some very potent magic of our very own.

This wild party at sea was reminiscent of the great SSQQ Halloween Parties of the past.  This amazing party put the perfect exclamation point on what has to be Marla's greatest dance cruise to date.

Halloween Navigator 2014

   
32. RHINE RIVER 2015

This was Marla's most ambitious trip to date. She packed an amazing number of adventures into this two-week trip.  There were five major highlights on the trip.  One was Neuschwanstein, Germany's celebrated Castle in the Sky and the inspiration for Disneyland's castle logo.  Very impressive place to see!

We all agreed Germany's Black Forest, birthplace of dark legends such as Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood, was unbelievably beautiful.

In the middle part of the Rhine River, there is a 60 mile stretch that runs through a miniature Grand Canyon.  Atop the towering hills on either side is a series of amazing castles.  Shrouded in the mist of dark skies, these massive structures loom above as ghost-like relics of Germany's medieval age.  This is the Valley of the Castles, home to the legendary Lorelei Rhine maidens whose beauty is said to have distracted sailors and caused their ships to wreck in the narrow bend of the river.

In Rudesheim, our travel group went into town during the evening and danced the German Polka to an Oompah band at a local restaurant.  With a hop, skip and a jump we circled round and round the dance floor to much applause. 

When we reached Amsterdam, we had a chance to visit the Anne Frank House.  This was a pilgrimage of sorts.  The Anne Frank House has become the leading symbol of German cruelty during World War II.  Currently Europe has enjoyed its longest stretch of peace in history.  But wherever one goes, there are obvious reminders of the troubled times of the past.  The Anne Frank House was simply the most dramatic.

On the final day of the trip, we visited Keuchenhof Gardens near Amsterdam, home to four million tulips and many other flowers.  What an explosion of color!    This was an amazing trip indeed.

Rhine River 2015
 
33. SOCK HOP NAVIGATOR 2015

Sock Hop Navigator 2015 was Marla's 16th dance cruise (14 Western Caribbean, 2 Bahamas).  The trip was an outstanding success.  Every single event came off perfectly thanks to Marla.

What made this trip unusually special was the Joe Valentino Band that accompanied us on our trip.  Special thanks to Joe as well his wife Rockin' Robin and Tina Cantina, we were able to Jitterbug deep into the night to our hearts content. 

We also managed to have one heck of a Mardi Gras Party plus three terrific dance classes.

Many thanks to Gary Richardson for DJing our ten dance events.

To me, the strangest part of the trip came afterwards.  In my opinion, Marla had arranged what was easily the best dance cruise to date.   And yet strangely enough, some woman had nothing good to say about the trip.  She offered up some scathing criticism of Marla's Job as Navigator Sock Hop Cruise Coordinator.  However, the criticism was so far removed from the truth that it almost seemed like deliberate lies.

I suppose you will never be able to please everyone.  Fortunately, dozens of people came to Marla's defense.  The consensus was that this was an unbelievable trip.

Sock Hop Navigator 2015

 

   
34. ISTANBUL 2015

I am going to say it like it is... this was the most disappointing cruise trip I have ever taken.

The whole purpose of taking this trip was to see Israel.  We never went anywhere near Israel.

Yes, there was some of the usual predictable random acts of violence, but it was mostly rock throwing and angry words.  So what's new?

Instead the cruise line used these incidents as an excuse to cancel the itinerary.  I cannot begin to express my frustration.  I have spent my entire life wanting to see Israel only to have some anonymous bureaucrat snatch it away from me.

Enough said. 

The trip itself was fine.  We went to many very pleasant places and had some good times. 

Unfortunately, I just couldn't contain my disappointment.  I traveled 5,000 miles and paid a considerable amount of money to see Israel.  Furthermore the cruise line cynically waited till we got there to announce the change of venue.   I can understand - I would have stayed home otherwise and so would a lot of other people.  This was what people refer to as 'the trip of a lifetime'.  Dealing with overwhelming bitterness, to me, the trip was ruined.   Oh well.

Istanbul 2015

 

 
35. BORDEAUX RIVER CRUISE 2015

Marla has been one of the top producers for Viking River Cruises.  In each of her three trips, Marla has booked between 20 and 30 guests. This is an almost unheard of number of passengers.  A river cruise ship only holds 190 passengers.  Therefore "8 guests" is the usual standard for excellence.  Indeed, Marla has been next to amazing.

Seeing how the Christmas Season is pretty slow, Viking had some extra space onboard for several of its year-end trips.  So the company offered Marla a free cruise as a reward for her hard work.

Consequently Marla and I took a pleasant trip to Bordeaux, the legendary wine region in the south of France about ten days before Christmas 2015.

Sad to say, two weeks before our scheduled trip, Paris suffered the terrible terrorist attack.  Fear was rampant throughout the world.  However, we didn't let that stop us.  Not only did we go through with our trip to Bordeaux, a relatively safe area, we also spent two very wonderful days in Paris after our stay in southern France.

For this trip, it was just the two of us.   We were strangers just like everyone else.  It was fun being complimented on our dancing, but everyone was suspicious to learn 'why' we were so good.   In particular, the wives were giving their husbands a hard time.  "Honey, why don't you learn to dance like that?"

We finally broke down and confessed that we were both professional dancers.   At that point, the men roundly teased me for making them look bad with their wives. 

All in all, a very pleasant trip.

Bordeaux River Cruise 2015
 
36. DANUBE RIVER CRUISE 2016

This was a sensational trip.  Marla and I did manage to Waltz on three different occasions, but certainly the dancing on this trip left something to be desired.  If I had one regret, it would be that we didn't get to Waltz very much.

That said, as regrets go, our limited Waltz opportunities was a small one.  Everything else went to perfection. 

It turns out that the Danube River is unbelievably beautiful.  The entire river is picture perfect pretty.  I spent a lot of time out on the front deck doing what I like to do... drinking wine and blissfully watching the world go by.  

Danube River Cruise 2016 
 
37. GREEK ISLES 2016

Marla and I took a group of friends on two week jaunt through the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas.

From what I gather, only Odysseus ever took a longer trip through the Mediterranean, so I will dedicate my trip to him.

We started in Rome, visited the wonderful Isle of Capri in Naples and Taormina in Sicily.  Then we visited Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos in Greece.

From there we visited Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea. The three Balkan countries turned out to be very beautiful.

We finished in Venice, the truly amazing city with canals upon canals

When all was said and done, Marla decided that this may have been her favorite trip ever. She said the chance to see the world with her closest friends by her side made for a wonderful trip. As for me, I still prefer Barcelona 2009 and Oslo 2010, but I agree this was one heck of a fine trip. 

Greek Isles 2016

 

 
 
 
 

CONCLUSION
Written by Rick Archer

As I look back at our trips, there are two threads that seem to ring true for every adventure.

For one thing, something frequently goes wrong.  Nearly half our trips have had problems ranging from "incredibly irritating" to "very serious".

1998 Jamaica had the stowaway issue.
2001 Vera Cruz had to dodge a hurricane.  We were forced to miss our main port.
2003 Jubilee was a floating barge.
2004 Mardi Gras had the Mississippi River tragedy.
2005 Alaska had a luggage fiasco
2005 Rita Rhapsody was a nightmare of unbelievable dimensions due to a hurricane that just barely missed hitting Houston head on.
2006 New England had the worse crew we have ever encountered.
2008 Conquest had the Intruder and further headaches.
2010 Oslo saw a trip that was nearly canceled due to the eruptions of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano plus 800 people fall sick with Norovirus on our ship.
2010 Egypt saw our ship nearly capsized.
2012 Russia saw Rick lose his passport.
2012 Magic was sabotaged by dance floor issues due to incompetence on behalf of the ship's staff.
2013 Hawaii witnessed a disgraceful 4 hour delay on the ship departure due to immigration issues.

In other words, about half the time, there will be problems no matter how hard we try to avoid them.

Let's face it - Travel involves some risk.  Travel is not for sissies.  The good news is that whatever the problems have been, we have always overcome them. 

For example, I would imagine the 2010 Oslo trip was beset by the worst problems ever. Guess what?  That turned out to be my third favorite trip of all time.

No matter what the problem, we have always managed to have fun anyway. 

Romance always seems to flourish at sea.  SSQQ Cruises make the old TV show "Love Boat" seem like Reality TV!!  

As I mentioned earlier, Marla and I met on the 2001 trip, but we are not the only ones.  It turns out that the SSQQ Cruise Magic is fairly universal.  Including Marla and myself, I recently counted over 20 different couples who either a) literally "connected" on the cruise, b) announced their engagement on the cruise, or c) came on an ssqq cruise during their courtship. 

Take the 2005 Alaska Cruise for example. On this 2005 trip, Kevin Lee and Michelle Spiris got engaged. Shortly after we returned, another cruise couple - Sherilyn Berthet and John Edwards - got engaged as well.  A third couple - the former Kathy Bryant and CA Riser - got married shortly after!  Finally, Jeff and Sally Gray also married shortly after this trip.

Onboard were Bill and Barbara Moore who met at SSQQ and got married in 2001.  Also aboard were Chuck and Brenda Morton who pulled a Rick and Marla by falling in love on 2002 SSQQ Cruise.  And two months after the trip ended a seventh cruise couple - Linda Malin and Bill Holden - got married. 

As you can see, in addition to all the hanky panky I am not allowed to write about, this extraordinary total of serious relationships shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that SSQQ Cruise Magic may start at Sea, but flourishes on Land as well once the trip is over.  The years since have been witness to the same story as the Alaska Cruise over and over.

2001-2015 has been a non-stop Love Boat Era for the SSQQ group. Slow Dance and Romance on the High Seas has turned out to be a pretty lethal combination on many different levels.   

It is quite true that at least once or twice every trip people find someone so special that they are able to carry their new relationship back onto land with them.  This is of course how Marla and I met and the same things happens every trip. 

Another phenomenon is the rapid movement experienced by couples who were dating before the cruise.  With seven full days to get to know one another on a cruise, a couple who begins dating on land often experiences a dramatic intensification in their relationship once they put out to sea.

But I would have to say the one factor I did not quite pick up on in the early cruises is the number of SSQQ couples who continue to cruise with us AFTER they get married.  Many couples come back to the SSQQ cruises after they marry.  These couples seem to enjoy participating in cruises as a way to get see their friends, keep the romance going, and have a great time. 

Every year each trip seems to be more and more like one big family.   The SSQQ cruise trips have become a marvelous tradition thanks to Marla's hard work and our Family of friends. 

Passenger Total on 37 previous Cruise Trips  

  01 - Jamaica 1998

030   11 - Hawaii 2007 079   21 - Conquest 2011 097

  31 - Halloween 2014 

144
  02 - Vera Cruz 2001 101   12 - Conquest 2007 125   22 - Panama Canal 2012 *002*

  32 - Rhine River 2015

027
  03 - Rhapsody 2002 086   13 - Greece 2008 049   23 - Dominica 2012 035

  33 - Sock Hop 2015

118
  04 - Jubilee 2003 144   14 - Conquest 2008 144   24 - Titanic 2012 *002*

  34 - Istanbul 2015

030
  05 - Mardi Gras 2004 039   15-  Conquest 2009 090   25 - Russia 2012 017

  35 - Bordeaux 2015

002

  06 - Rhapsody 2004 

125   16 - Barcelona 2009 090   26 - Magic 2012 183

  36 - Danube River 2016

020

  07 - Alaska 2005

073   17 - Oslo 2010 036   27 - Mariner 2013

055

  37 - Greek Isles 2016

062

  08 - Rhapsody 2005

085   18 - Bahamas 2010 190   28 - Hawaii 2013

062

      

  09 - Rhapsody 2006

136   19 - Egypt 2010 *006*   29 - Rhone River 2014

030

 

  10 - New England 2006

038   20 - Virgin Islands 2011 058   30 - Alaska 2014

060

 
(* Rick & Marla were guest Ballroom instructors)

Overall Passenger Total for 36 Trips by year - 2,608 through 2016

 1998: 030  (0030)  2001: 101  (0131)  2002: 086  (0217)  2003: 144  (0361)  2004: 164  (0525)  2005: 158  (0683)  2006: 174  (0857)  2007: 204  (1061)
 2008: 193  (1254)  2009: 180  (1434)  2010: 232  (1666)  2011: 155  ( 1821)  2012: 239  (2060)  2013: 117  (2177)  2014: 234  (2411)  2015: 177  (2588)
 2016: 082  (2670)              
 
   
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