WILL THIS BE THE FINAL SSQQ CARIBBEAN
Rick Archer's Note:
Last week's 2017
SSQQ Caribbean Dance Cruise out of Galveston may have been
the end of an Era.
This Dance Cruise has been an annual
SSQQ tradition for 17 years. However my wife Marla, the one in
charge, says from now on she would rather concentrate on overseas
trips such as Tahiti, New Zealand, the Holy Land, Iceland, and river
cruises to Moscow, China, and Egypt.
The Caribbean Dance Cruise was
originally my idea. Following my divorce in 2001, I decided to
become more involved with the students at the dance studio. During
my ten-year marriage, I had drifted from my once prominent role as
'Leader of the Pack' at SSQQ to a behind-the-scenes role.
As a way of re-connecting to the
students on a more personal basis, I decided to try organizing a
cruise trip at the studio as an experiment of sorts. To my
surprise, the idea really took off. We had 100 people sign up.
One of those 100 cruise guests was
Marla, my future wife. Yes, that first dance cruise was where Marla
and I connected. I knew Marla beforehand, but every time I had
spoken to her in that 'getting to know you' way, Marla had
begun discussing Kevin, her boyfriend of six years. In other words,
I was discretely looking for an opening to ask her out, but none was
I was always confused about Marla.
She talked double, but acted single. However, after getting the
same story about 'Kevin' on three different occasions, I
figured the door was shut. Fresh off a divorce, I wasn't feeling
too bold, so I kept my interest under wraps.
Lo and behold, a few weeks later
Marla signed up for my cruise 'by herself'. Very curious.
With my hopes renewed, I promised I would get to the bottom of this
mystery on the cruise. So imagine how I felt when Marla called me
two weeks before the cruise to ask for a private Salsa lesson for
Kevin and herself. It turned out they were having a romantic
weekend in Miami just 7 days before the cruise. So much for my
fondest hopes and dreams, yes?
Disgusted and disappointed, I gave
Marla the name of another instructor. I didn't want to have
anything to do with her boyfriend.
I decided Marla was a lost cause.
Coming off the divorce, I wasn't in the best frame of mind to begin
with. And now the woman who interested me the most had just
squelched my secret crush on her. I began that 2001 trip in a very
For lack of anything better to do, I
looked at the ship's schedule and circled a singles event that
started at Midnight. Who knows, maybe I would meet someone and not
feel so lonely.
Take a wild guess who else showed up
at that event. Marla and I have never been apart since.
A year passed and I scheduled
another cruise trip. During the 2002 Caribbean Cruise, I asked
Marla if she would ever consider becoming a travel agent. I could
see that dancing and cruising went together hand in hand, so the
Dance Cruise was here to stay. Why give all those commissions to
Marla smiled and said she had
already thought about it. However, Marla pointed out that it would
have been appropriate to ask her to marry me before asking her to
work for me. Ouch. Good point. Fortunately Marla agreed to give
it a try.
Marla's first cruise as the official
travel agent was in 2003. At one point Marla wondered if it would
also be her last voyage. This ship was so old that at one point we
thought it would capsize. At dinner one night the ship listed 20
degrees and stayed stuck in that position. I recall staring at the
exit sign and trying to recall where the tender station was. It
took over a minute, but finally the ship righted itself. Somehow
the old barge limped home and we all lived to cruise again.
That was the start of Marla's
fabulous career as a trip advisor. It did not take Marla long to
spread her wings. The following year she expanded from one to two
cruises. The first trip was a fabulous visit to Mardi Gras and the
second trip was a combination dance cruise/honeymoon. We got
married on board the Rhapsody of the Seas on September 27, 2004.
In addition to our annual Caribbean
trip, Marla stuck to the USA at the start... Mardi Gras, Alaska,
Hawaii, New England. These trips gave her the confidence to branch
Since then Marla has taken me around
the world. Russia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark,
England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Alaska, Canada, Mexico,
Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean, Costa Rica, Panama Canal,
Croatia, Germany, Montenegro, Switzerland, Slovenia, Columbia,
Bahamas, Netherlands, Finland, Czech Republic... 40 cruise trips in
all. Marla has given me the adventure of a lifetime. I am very
grateful to her.
In 2014 Marla added River Cruises to
her collection... the Rhone River in France, the Rhine River in
Germany, the Danube River in Austria-Hungary, and the Garonne River
in the Bordeaux wine region in Southern France. I love river
Our next river
cruise takes place in October 2018 on the eastern half of Europe's
Danube River. Since the trip starts in Romania, Marla and I will
visit Dracula's castle on Halloween. No, I am not kidding... we
really are going to visit Dracula's castle on Halloween. We already
have 22 people signed up with room for more... but not much room.
If you are interested, do not hesitate. The trip is nearly sold
Dracula-Danube River Cruise 2018 )
There is a well-known cliché about
how travel broadens one's horizons. I completely agree with this
sentiment. One of the things I like about cruise trips are the
people we meet. This gives me the chance to interact with some very
impressive people. On every trip, I have met someone who has
educated me in ways I could never have imagined.
For example, on last week's cruise
trip I noticed an unusual number of handicapped people on board our
ship. Then by chance I met a very interesting man from
Switzerland. His name sounded like 'Sassenfrass', but to be
honest his name was too confusing to be sure. There was something
about him that led me to strike up a conversation. Apparently Royal
Caribbean has an extensive Make-a-Wish program which this man
contributes to. I listened in awe as Mr. Sassenfrass explained how
he personally arranged for 19 different families to take this trip.
Another example took place on our
2012 cruise to the exact spot in the Atlantic where the Titanic
sank. We were the Ballroom instructors on a ship that commemorated
the 100th anniversary of the Titanic iceberg disaster. It was
strange to stare at the black water below on a moonless night and
imagine the Titanic was down there somewhere.
On this trip a man named Bob invited
us to dinner. Bob is a history teacher down in Pearland. He is
also quite the Titanic expert. Bob and I talked for four hours. He
told me story after story about who survived and who didn't, who was
heroic and who was cowardly. Bob explained all the curious events
that had to go wrong to cause this one-in-a-million accident.
Thanks to Bob, our conversation became a total immersion experience
into the fascinating details of that fateful night.
The Titanic trip was the perfect
example of how I have been able to explore history first-hand.
Another good example was our cruise trip to France in 2010. I had
the chance to visit Omaha Beach, scene of the most intense fighting
on D-Day. I was so moved by my visit that I wrote a story about
Omaha Beach and uncovered an important new piece of history in the
D-Day and Omaha Beach )
Over the years I have received
countless letters from people all over the world thanking me for
that Omaha Beach story. Here is a recent example:
Sent: Thursday, October 12, 2017 12:08 PM
Subject: Omaha Beach
encountered your website about Omaha Beach. As a former officer of
the 16th Regiment who had the opportunity in the 1980's to meet
several vets of that day and as someone who has read extensively on
the subject, I applaud your work.
else are the details of that fight so understandable. Your photos
and explanations are excellent!
I agree that
the big story of D-Day necessarily ignores many great and heroic
stories. Ryan (The Longest Day) never mentions
Dawson, Streczyk, Spaulding, Montieth or others. I had the honor as
a member of my Infantry Officers Advance Class at Ft Benning, GA in
1983 to dine with General Gavin who had given the Ryan book a great
review. I asked him about that and he said that many more books
were in the works that would do a much better job. Happily that was
story should be in that category. I am presenting to a local
historical society on this topic and will strongly urge the
participants to visit your site.
Union City, PA
As one can see, I owe a lot to Marla. I have learned so much thanks
to her. As they say, 'Travel is fatal to bigotry'. By
visiting foreign lands, I have learned that everyone wants the same
thing - peace, freedom, safety, and a good place to raise
children. I firmly believe the world would be a better place if
more people took the time to travel to other countries.
From the moment I first met Marla in
2001, I sensed she had a business acumen superior to any person I
had ever met. Over the past 16 years, that instinct has been
proven true over and over. When it comes to stuff that is
important, Marla has a gift for seeing angles that completely escape
me. She grasps the ins and outs of the travel business so much more
quickly that sometimes I have to sit back in awe.
Marla helped me run SSQQ for nine
years. SSQQ was the main event and our travel business was the
sideshow. After I sold SSQQ in 2010, I told Marla it was my turn to
support her business as best I could. Ever since, Marla has run the
It wasn't always this way. Back in
the beginning, I played a much larger role in the Travel side.
Although Marla was totally in charge of the Travel Business from the
moment she stepped up in 2003, in public Marla was kind enough to
let me take some of the credit. In eyes of our guests, Marla and I
were more or less equally in charge.
However, this myth was shattered in
an rather embarrassing way in 2013.
With each trip, Marla's experience
has paid off in ways that most of our guests are not even aware of.
A perfect example was our 2013 Belize River Adventure.
Marla and I had previously taken
this delightful excursion on our 2006 Rhapsody Cruise, so we already
knew it was fun. Naturally we wanted to share the experience with
our 2013 guests.
When Marla realized the cruise line
was charging $109 for this excursion, she frowned. That seemed kind
of high. Marla figured she could save the group a considerable
amount of money by checking around. Sure enough, Marla came up with
a very satisfactory alternative. Marla negotiated the ridiculous
low price of $50 a person by going outside the ship to an
That is the power of traveling in a
group. Marla was able to get a significant group discount by
bargaining properly. In the process, Marla saved everyone $60 a
Marla had interfaced with a man
named Evan. Evan was not only in charge of the business, he agreed
to be our guide. The thing to understand about Evan is that he was
already well aware of Marla's business acumen. After all, Marla had
bargained with Evan tooth and nail to secure such a great price.
In the process, I think Evan developed a healthy respect for her.
On the morning of our Belize river
adventure, Evan was having fun mixing jokes with information at the
start of our bus ride to the river. He was a serious smart aleck.
Noticing that Evan treated Marla
with great respect, I had a hunch why he showed so much deference.
Evan knew full well that Marla had arranged this entire river tour
on her own. He also knew that Marla had talked him way down.
However Evan didn't seem to mind. And why should he? Marla had put
40 people on his bus today. In a poor country like Belize, a $2,000
payday was very much appreciated.
However I won't say Evan showed the
same respect for me. Evan was having way too much fun teasing us.
For example, first he terrified us all by saying there were
dangerous jaguars in the jungle where we were headed. Then to the
laughter of everyone, he said we didn't have to worry because there
were plenty of cougars on board the bus.
Everyone roared. It was good line.
Seeing that Evan was having too much
fun at our expense, I heckled Evan with some lame comeback like "Well,
Evan, our cougars are always on the prowl for fresh meat. Aren't
you afraid one of them will come looking for you?"
Marla and I just happened to be
sitting in the very front about two feet from Evan. To the delight
of the crowd, Evan turned his wrath on me. Noting I was a fellow
smart aleck, Evan decided he was safe taking liberties with my
Seeing an opening, Evan grinned and
began to look me over.
Evan said, "Just exactly who are
you? You act like you are kind of important. I see you are sitting
next to Marla. Are you by some chance Mr. Marla??"
Uh oh. That was a Kill Shot for
sure. I had picked on the wrong guy. Sure enough, the crowd on the
bus howled. They thoroughly enjoyed my comeuppance.
Everyone on the bus had known who
was in charge for a long time, but it had never been publically
acknowledged. In a way, I am glad that Evan finally gave voice to
the leadership question. For the remainder of the trip, I was
There has never been any doubt since
who is in charge.
Marla has said that last week's trip
was the final voyage of the SSQQ Caribbean Dance Cruise. Several
people discretely inquired about her decision. Telling me how much
they loved our trip, why would Marla discontinue something that was
this much fun?
I explained that organizing these
trips is a lot of work. I also said there are some customers...
not many, but some... who show little appreciation for the
constant demands they make of her time. Let's just say there are
those whose expectations are a bit out of line.
There is a phrase... 'death by a
thousand paper cuts'. We all experience burn out in our
professions. People can be so rude sometimes. Over the years, I
have watched Marla be worn down by a slow process in which a
multitude of small, irritating things have taken a lot of the fun
out of organizing this annual trip.
Let me add the cruise lines
themselves have greatly contributed to Marla's frustration. You
would not believe some of the nasty things they do to Marla.
Here is a simple example. Did you
know that if someone signs up for the trip, but does not actually
show up for the trip, the cruise line keeps Marla's entire
commission? That just blows my mind. Marla did the work. What
right does the cruise line have to refuse to compensate her just
because a passenger gets ill or has some last-minute emergency?
Another thing the cruise lines do is
undercut Marla by selling directly to the customer. You know what I
am talking about. Once they get your email address, the cruise
lines barrage you with daily offers to bypass Marla and sign up
directly with the cruise line for your next trip.
The cruise lines talk about
'Loyalty' all the time, but they show little loyalty to people like
Marla who build their business. Usually a $20 discount is all it
takes to decide to bypass Marla for the cheaper fare. In other
words, the cruise lines steal her customers. This is a very
Here's another example. This is a
story I have never told before. One night on last year's 2016
Caribbean Cruise, two security guards walked up to me during our
late night dancing. I was the DJ. They said I had been playing my
music too loud in the Star Lounge and that there had been a
complaint from a guest trying to sleep.
What these men did not know is that
I have been the DJ on twenty or more trips and not once had I ever
received a complaint. Furthermore, there is something I call
'Ambient Music'. The Star Lounge has ambient music playing whenever
there is no event in the room. My volume was no louder than the
ship's own music.
As I listened to these two men, I
got the distinct feeling that they were bluffing. For one thing, I
wasn't playing the music loudly at all. For another thing, they
kept changing the details of their story when I questioned them.
They were so stupid they couldn't agree on which floor the complaint
had come from or which direction. The incident felt like a set-up.
When I asked our ship liaison officer about the incident the next
day, she said she didn't know a thing about it.
The incident left me incensed. I
was very suspicious.
Although it took a year, sure
enough, the other shoe dropped. When Marla asked permission to use
the Star Lounge for dancing on this year's trip, they told her
'based on last year's complaint', she could not use Star Lounge
again this year. However, they said she could rent the ice rink
down in the basement for $200 a night. Marla did not want to
disappoint her dancers, so she agreed to the extortion. At the cost
of $600, she rented the ice rink for dancing on three different
occasions. That was money out of her pocket for a venue that was
not at all satisfactory.
When I learned of this, I was
livid. This was highway robbery. First the cruise line steals
Marla's customers, then it turns around and extorts my wife to
So now you understand. The cruise
lines have taken much of the joy out of organizing the annual
Caribbean Dance Cruise.
So was last week's trip the final
voyage of the SSQQ Caribbean Dance Cruise?
I think if enough people ask Marla
to do it again, she might reconsider. The thing to remember is that
Marla is the best at what she does. There are several copycats who
have tried to match her, but Marla has honed the Caribbean Dance
Cruise to an art form. People are amazed at the quality of her
trips and the amount of fun we have. They like the complimentary
specialty-restaurant dinners, the free champagne, the special dance
parties, the morning dance lessons, and all the other wonderful
things that Marla provides on each trip.
Whether Marla resurrects the Dance
Cruise or not, she definitely intends to organize two trips a
year. In addition to organizing her two Destination cruises per
year, Marla is available every day to book trips for individual
customers. This includes ocean cruises, river cruises, and land
tours. For example, if four people want to visit Alaska, all they
have to do is call her. If they want a land tour to Ireland, Marla
does stuff like this every day. She can handle it all.
Marla's extensive knowledge and 17
years of experience are augmented by her honesty, reliability and
integrity. If you need help booking a trip, please consider asking
Marla to help.
I understand that a husband is
expected to sing praises of his wife. That said, when I compliment
Marla, I mean everything I say. Marla is the absolute best at what
Rick Archer Footnote:
As it turned out, Marla changed her mind and
offered another dance cruise in 2018. She called the 2018 trip
her 'Never Say Never September Dance Cruise.'
As for 2019, who can say? Currently
Marla is focused on her March 2019 New Zealand trip, but the rest of
the year remains a mystery.