Written by Rick Archer
Rick's Note: Marla and I have
organized 27 cruises over a 14 year period.
At the end of every trip, I do my best to add
pictures and stories of each adventure. To
review the story of each cruise, you can do so in two
the links below to read the Long
Version of each trip. This will give you
inside details of each trip plus allow some of you
to see what you looked like 10 years ago,
scroll down on this page to read the Short Recap
Version of each trip.
One more thing: please
sign up for my Travel Newsletter. This
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BRIEF RECAP OF
ALL PREVIOUS TRIPS
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
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.
VERA CRUZ 2001
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
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.
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.
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
3. RHAPSODY 2002
- The Maiden Voyage
When it came time to plan next year's cruise,
I had a decision to make.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
learned our lesson the hard way. We got what we had
MARDI GRAS 2004
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!!
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.
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
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
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
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?
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
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
In October, three months after the trip, Linda Malin and Bill Holden
In December, five months after the trip, Sally David and Jeff Gray
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.
ELEVEN SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance couples on one trip.
Amazing. When you throw in Rick and Marla, that makes a
Do you think there really is something to this SSQQ "Love Boat"
stuff or am I just making it up?
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
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
And yet to our amazement we had a great
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
NEW ENGLAND 2006
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
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
New England 2006
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
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
This was truly our best trip ever (so far)... and that's
saying something because we have had a lot of great trips.
much to see, not enough time. Definitely a return trip
is called for!
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
We danced till early in the morning
each night of the trip and set huge hot tub stuffing records
during the day.
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!!
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.
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!)
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.
much to see, not enough time. Definitely a return trip
is called for!
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
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.
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!
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
2010 Labor Day Bahamas Cruise aboard the Conquest was an
enormous success on many different levels.
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.
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
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.
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
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."
EGYPT 2010 -
THE EGYPTIAN POSEIDON ADVENTURE!
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
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
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
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
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
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
VIRGIN ISLANDS 2011
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.
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.
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
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE FINAL VOYAGE OF THE
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.
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.
itself was incredibly smooth.
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
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.
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
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
Panama Canal 2012
This was a follow-up trip to complement our 2011 trip
to the Virgin Islands trip.
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
Like the trip to the Panama Canal earlier in the year, Marla
and Rick were the guest dance instructors on this cruise.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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. More than half our
trips have had problems ranging from "incredibly irritating" to "very serious".
1998 Jamaica had the stowaway
2001 Vera Cruz had to dodge a hurricane
Jubilee was a floating barge
2004 Mardi Gras had the Mississippi
2004 Wedding Rhapsody had our "Oops Wedding"
2005 Alaska had the
2005 Rita Rhapsody was a nightmare of unbelievable dimensions
2006 New England had the worse crew
2008 Conquest had the Intruder and further
2010 Oslo saw 800 people fall sick with Norovirus
2010 Egypt saw our ship nearly capsized
2012 Russia saw Rick lose his passport
2012 Magic was sabotaged by dance floor issues
Let's face it -
Travel involves some risk. Travel is not for sissies.
Nevertheless, whatever the problems have been, we have always overcome
them. Even better, despite the fact that half our
trips have had problems, we have always managed to have fun anyway.
SSQQ Cruises make the old TV show "Love Boat" seem
like Reality TV!!
As you know from reading this story, Marla and I met on one of the
trips, 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 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 on this
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
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.
Total for 27 Trips by year - 2,060 through 2013
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)
2012: 239 (2060)