Written by Marla Archer
Last Update: July 2010
Marla's Busy 2011 Summer
Travel and dance have been my twin
passions for as long as I
can remember! I consider
myself blessed to be able to do both as my chosen
profession. I must admit, though,
that I had to take a roundabout path to get there.
In an earlier career as an apparel buyer, I traveled
throughout Asia sourcing product. I
enjoyed seeing the world. Unfortunately, I saw more
of the inside of clothing factories than the countryside.
I did my job, but what I really wanted to do was explore!
My love for cruises began 30 years
ago. My first marriage was on the Queen Mary in
September 1980. My first
honeymoon was spent on an Alaskan cruise. This was not your
typical honeymoon cruise. No warm tropic breezes and pina
coladas for us. No matter. I
loved my trip!
However, the cold climate of Alaska was a
departure for me. I much prefer the Tropical climates.
Alaska was just the start of many more cruise vacations
for me... Mexico, Eastern
Caribbean, Western Caribbean, Southern Caribbean, the
Bahamas and Hawaii.
Travel was in my blood!
How I Got Started as a
2001 - Rick and I Connect on
the SSQQ Cruise
As my husband Rick has chronicled in great detail, our
relationship has been integrally connected to ocean voyages from the
moment we met on the 2001 SSQQ Cruise Trip.
Rick and I met by chance at a
Midnight Dance in the Disco on
the first night of the trip. That night was a magic moment for
both of us. We danced, we talked, we danced some more, and then we
went up to the deck to talk until the sun came up.
That romantic evening was just the start. I
cannot begin to describe how powerful this moment was. It was
a kind of magic. We
seemed to click on every level. At the time I felt like I
had finally met someone I could trust and care about for the rest of
my life. The more I got to know Rick, the more I was convinced
my initial instincts were correct.
For the rest of the trip, we were inseparable.
We have never been apart since.
Sad to say, just days after that wonderful trip was over, the 9-11
Tragedy hit. For the next year, Rick and I wondered what the future
Once we decided the world would keep spinning, I
encouraged Rick to organize a follow-up cruise trip for 2002.
2002 - Rick Starts to Pay Attention Aboard the
Rhapsody and I Get a New Job
This picture of Rick and me was taken by Gary
Richardson on the
Cruise. As you might gather, it is one of my
favorite pictures even though you will have to take my word that
really was me on his lap!
This picture tells two stories. On the
one hand, it shows that our romance was just as strong on the 2002
Trip as it had been the year before. On the other hand, the
picture hints that Rick's main focus on this trip was still on me
more than on the SSQQ dance group.
I always laugh when Rick explains that he had
no idea his dance studio would ever grow to be as big and wonderful
as it turned out to be. Rick says everyone gives him so much
credit for his "Grand Design" when in reality he just made
stuff up as he went along.
That is really the same thing that happened
with my cruise business. People always assume that Rick and I were
running these cruises from the
moment we met. Nonsense.
We both had to grow into our roles. For example, although Rick knew he was expected to be the host in 2001 and 2002,
he really paid little attention to the group. Rick said he
worked 12 months a year just like everyone else and he deserved a
vacation just like everyone else. And since he didn't make a
single penny off of these cruises, he intended to sit back and relax
just like everyone else. So mostly he paid attention to me.
enough, other than teach some Swing classes, Rick
didn't actually do much on the 2002 trip.
This was the year our friend Gary
Richardson became an integral part of our cruise.
Truth be told, Gary did more
entertaining than we did. Gary
chatted with people all day long in the Windjammer Cafe,
Gary danced till
dawn in the Shall We Dance Lounge, and
Gary took a million pictures in the
process... all of which he handed to Rick at the end of the cruise.
Thanks in large part to Gary, this trip
was definitely the best one to date. Once Rick realized
he wasn't needed all that much, we just sat back and watched
everyone have fun. We were pretty fortunate
that Gary stepped up. Gary was the true MVP of this trip.
That said, Rick wasn't completely napping. He at least made an occasional effort to be part of the group.
He told me how pleased he was at how happy everyone seemed to be. Rick
was extremely impressed that this trip had attracted almost 90 passengers.
believe the trip had done so well in spite of an economy that was
just beginning to get back on its feet after the
terrible 9-11 tragedy.
Rick remarked that his students took to these dance cruises like ducks
to water. They loved the chance to dance seven nights in a
row and they loved the group dynamics. This trip was definitely the
best one to date. Then he added there was
just one thing that bothered him.
Rick said he was frustrated because he
couldn't figure out how to make money on these cruises. This 2002 Trip was
now the third
SSQQ Cruise that had been organized by an outside travel agency.
company did an excellent job, SSQQ did not make a single penny in
the process. This was a sore point with him.
The 1998 Trip had attracted 30 people. The 2001 trip had 101 people.
The 2002 trip had 89. That meant 220
SSQQ cruise passengers had sailed without the studio being rewarded
in any way. I could see Rick was
going somewhere with this.
Rick smiled at me and said he had an idea.
I had a hunch I knew what he was going to say. Sure enough, he brought up
the subject of having me organize the
Now that Rick was convinced
the connection between these dance cruises
and his dance studio was no fluke, he was
committed to at least one yearly dance cruise from here on out.
However Rick wanted to find a way
to keep the future travel commissions in
house. So he asked me if I would consider learning how to be a
I was both amused
and irked that Rick was so confident of our relationship that he
was trying to
hire me before he even spoke of marriage. Typical man. Putting my
ironic smile aside, I took his suggestion
It didn't take me long to say 'yes'. Rick was
right about one thing - I have always loved to travel.
In addition, since
I had transitioned into Sales several years earlier,
I already had most of the skills needed for me take on the
Travel Agent role for the studio cruises. I could
sell, I could plan, and I could organize. This seemed right up
So once we returned to shore, I began to study
to get my license. Meanwhile Rick approached a dance friend named
Adriana about having the company she worked for, Journeys
Unlimited, sponsor our next trip with me doing the work.
And that's how I got started. I officially began my journey as Travel Agent by
organizing the 2003 SSQQ Caribbean Cruise in January
On my first trip -
- 144 people sailed to Cozumel on a 4 day cruise over the 4th of
July Holiday. I was in a pretty good mood.
Rick had proposed to me in May 2003, so I had a ring along with me
for the trip. Plus we easily beat the 2001 record of 101. Not a bad start, if I
must say so.
Rick had a great idea for this trip - Salsa
Rueda. "Rueda" is Spanish for Circle. Our guests
learned how to dance basic Salsa patterns and switch partners at the
same time as a "group" rather than individual couples.
It took Rick three entire workshops to get the
people synchronized, but by the final day, it was working.
Everyone was finally on the same page.
Rueda turned out to be the perfect group activity. Everybody
danced with everybody. What a marvelous way to get everyone
involved! Although I didn't need much convincing, this
was just more proof that dancing and cruises go hand in hand.
Rick was something of a hermit on this trip.
Unlike Rick, I am a Sun Worshipper.
I would go anywhere I could to find sun kissed beaches with warm
turquoise waters! Rick, on the other hand,
burns easily. He avoids the sunlight
whenever possible. I watch in terror when
he goes outside during the day fearful that he will ignite in
Rick invited his 12 year old daughter, Samantha, to share our
cabin on this trip. Sam has the same "fear" of sunshine as her Dad.
Since both of them preferred to avoid the sun, they hid in the cabin
more often than I would have preferred. Rick and Sam spent
most of the cruise playing board games and repeatedly
watching the same movie on closed circuit TV.
think that was the trip I developed my love-hate relationship with
Rick's hand-held computer chess game. Rick calls it
"Friend". He takes that stupid game with us on every trip. One
of these days I am going to throw that thing overboard and show him
what the sun looks like.
Every trip I learn something new... usually the
hard way. I learned several
Travel Agent lessons on this trip.
is price. You get what you pay for.
One reason this trip was so popular was a
ridiculously low price. Then we found out "why" the price was
so low. The ship we sailed on was about to be sent to a
watery grave. This was its last
voyage! Lucky us.
Another lesson - no matter how much
I like my
passengers, the cruise line has RULES and will NOT make
exceptions. One of our passengers
became very ill the day of the cruise and was unable to sail. Her
boyfriend stayed home to be with her. Because they had not
purchased insurance, they lost their entire cruise fare.
Sorry to say, they held me responsible.
Let me tell you, I heard about that
incident for years to come! Now
I always recommend travel insurance.
Mardi Gras 2004
I had set a record in my rookie year. I
assumed this was the easiest job I had ever had. Wrong.
2004 wasn't nearly as easy.
I organized another cruise for 2004, but no one... repeat NO
ONE... was signing up for it. Although I didn't know it at the time,
the problem was that everyone preferred a different cruise ship to
the one I had picked. Everyone had bad
memories of the doomed ship from the year before
with its broken air-conditioners and ugly appearance.
However no one had the nerve to tell me that was the reason
they weren't signing up. They didn't want to hurt my feelings.
Consequently I was operating in the dark until finally someone let
the secret out.
Now that I understood the problem, I quickly switched to the
preferred ship just in time. I managed to get 40 people to sail to
Gras 2004 with Rick and me. That was, as they say, a
learning experience. I had lots of learning experiences in the first
few years of organizing trips, believe me.
With the Mardi Gras cruise, I learned that you have to plan each
cruise almost a year in advance to take advantage of the best prices
and group perks. Because of our late start, there were no perks to
Even so, the group bonded incredibly well and we experienced
all the excitement of Mardi Gras together as a group.
MG Anseman, a Louisiana native, was our guide for
the day. There was drinking and insanity all around us, but thanks
to the group sticking together and MG's knowledge, I felt completely
safe. I was able to enjoy Mardi Gras to the fullest.
has always been one of my favorites!
Where oh Where to Get Married?
Shortly after I booked the 2004 Mardi Gras Cruise, I decided to go
ahead and book our summer dance cruise as well
on the same ship for late
Now obviously late September isn't exactly 'summer'. However,
late September is when the prices drop dramatically.
Children go back to school and the demand drops,
hence the price as well. I targeted this
date later in the year as a way to save my passengers some money.
Rick and I were engaged on the Mardi Gras
Trip, but we had not set the date. Rick tells people he asked me to marry
him on a trip to Colorado in May 2003.
That's close, but not entirely accurate. Let me set the record
actually remember being "asked". What Rick
did do was suddenly blurt out in the car that he wanted to
spend the rest of his life with me. For
someone who talks all the time, he was a bit befuddled in his
approach to say the
least. You don't "tell" someone to marry him!
After a little discussion, Rick eventually
figured out the correct way to ask me to marry him. He did much
better the second time. Although he was
a bit clumsy in his delivery, at least Rick got
it right this time. All's well that ends well.
Now, where do we get married? And when?
Rick's big mistake,
of course, was not proposing one day earlier when we were
both standing at the Wishing
Well of the Stanley Hotel.
Guess what I was wishing for? Now that would have been the perfect
time to ask me to marry him!
Turns out Rick was thinking the same thing;
he just didn't have the nerve to act on it. If only men could
be more perfect...
Thanks to that special 'Wishing Well' moment, we
both developed a fondness for the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park,
Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Sweeping vistas of forests and lakes. Huge snow capped peaks line the horizon.
cannot ask for a more beautiful setting.
Rick and I were certain this would be the perfect place to have
our wedding. After all, The Stanley Hotel was the place where Rick
should have proposed to me!
The Stanley, by the way, is famous as the hotel that inspired
Stephen King to write The Shining. Of
course, the thought that this remote palace might
also be a haunted house of horror just added to the charm (we have an odd sense of
So in May 2004 we visited the
Stanley Hotel to wrap up the details. That is
when we discovered the Stanley is a
lot prettier on the outside than on the inside. The place was pretty
run down. Plus we had never stayed at a more uncomfortable hotel.
I will say one thing - Stephen King was right about this place
giving people the creeps.
I swear that building creaked and groaned
all night long. There were some of the strangest
noises I have ever heard! Neither of us got a wink of sleep. After our long night, it was easy
to see why the Stanley was the inspiration for The Shining!
The next morning over coffee, we both agreed the Stanley Hotel was
probably not the right place for our wedding after all.
An entire year of planning down the drain. Discouraged
and disappointed, we had to
rethink our wedding plans.
That is when I suggested that we get
married aboard the Rhapsody as part of our late September
2004 sailing. Rick liked this idea
Married aboard The
Our romance had started at sea. A wedding aboard a cruise ship
would bring our romance full circle. Both of us liked that
idea a lot.
The only problem with the idea was that I didn't have much time.
Four months wasn't much time to plan a wedding, especially since I
was still working a full-time job and organizing a cruise trip for
125 people as well.
Things were definitely not easy. Scheduling both a wedding aboard a
ship in addition to seeing to the needs of my
large group sailing on that ship turned out
to be a lot more stressful than I would have preferred.
Let me add that our Wedding Ceremony had far
more than its fair share of drama. Of course,
all the drama was generated by my groom
and his side of the family. I still shake
my head in disbelief when I think of having to wait for an hour
holding my bouquet at the alter as Rick searched the ship for his missing
aunt and mother. That was the longest day
of my life. (Rick wrote the entire
story of my "Oops
Wedding" in case you are curious.)
Fortunately, once we finally did get
married, the 2004 Trip was wonderful. The Rhapsody Staff treated us
like visiting Royalty. I have never felt so pampered in my life. We
even got to meet the Captain and have dinner with
him! It was a wonderful, wonderful trip indeed.
2005 - Alaska
this trip "The
Adventure of a Lifetime".
I am proud to say the trip
definitely lived up to its billing. Alaska
is a very special place. This cruise was the first of
our annual "Adventure Cruises" that I schedule
each year in addition to our regular summer jaunt to the Caribbean.
was a great trip, but there was one major headache.
Several passengers whose flight had
a stopover in Calgary were treated to a rude surprise - they were
forced to claim their luggage and go through Canadian customs before
flying on through to Vancouver.
I had been assured by the Royal Caribbean cruise agents and by my
own "travel experts" this would not happen... but it did.
The senseless delay of several hours
and the stupidity of having to go through customs
on a connecting flight was deeply resented by
Nor did it help that several
SSQQ people including Rick and I
had gotten on a direct flight to Vancouver.
were able to completely
bypass this miserable experience. When
the unfortunate passengers heard about the fortunate passengers who
got off scot-free, a lot of resentment surfaced.
Since they suffered and I didn't, I caught the brunt of
I won't lie about it. Even though I had no
idea this problem would occur, I felt pretty guilty. I
was embarrassed to have
confidently announced at our Pre-Trip Meeting
how easy the trip would be only to be blind-sided by the miserable
Calgary experience. This was another lesson the
I now suggest that my passengers arrange for their own air
transportation. As you may or may not know, the airlines do not pay
commission. I was never going to be set up like this again. I
thought I was providing a valuable service for my passengers only to
be blind-sided by the cruise line. From
the Alaska Cruise forward I decided
everyone would now be responsible for arranging their own air travel
unless otherwise specifically requested.
Obviously there were a lot of things I was
being forced to learn from scratch. Just like Rick how to figure
out his dance studio as he went along, I was finding out this Travel
Agent stuff was a lot more complicated than I had previously
Despite my visit to the School of Hard Knocks,
the Alaska Trip was very special to the development of my program.
This trip was a big gamble for me. Adding in the cost of air
fare and high-priced shore excursions, this trip was easily three
times more expensive than our summer dance cruises. Would the
dance studio be willing to support an expensive trip like this?
Fortunately for my nerves, I got a
quickly. People were very excited to have this opportunity.
One person after another said a trip to Alaska was high on their
"Travel To-Do" list, but they had never quite got around to it.
Now that so many of their friends had shown interest, they
were ready to enlist. This was the power of "The Group
Experience" at work. People love to travel in packs and
share adventures with friends.
The Alaska Trip was unusual for a very interesting reason. We
had a high percentage of "unmarried" couples on board.
I can't say for sure, but this trip must have had quite an effect on
them. Although none of these couples were engaged when the trip
started, four couples got married within five months after
this trip was over and a fifth couple married within the year.
Maybe there really is something to this "Love Boat" angle.
2005 - The Rita Rhapsody
When our annual summer dance cruise rolled
around in 2005, I was busy working three
jobs. I was taking care of all the ins and outs the travel
agent biz, holding down a full time job as
a sales rep and handling several
administrative functions at SSQQ. I
have always been able to multitask, but this was ridiculous!
I was paying my
tuition out of pocket, so working three jobs was the price I
had to pay. Nevertheless, I was running on
The good news was that we had a great cruise in front of us. I had
close to 100 passengers signed up and ready to go!
Little did I know that disaster was just around the corner in
the name of Hurricane Rita. Consequently, I usually
refer to Rhapsody 2005 by another name: Rita
Rhapsody. This ominous hurricane
completely disrupted our cruise by cutting our trip in
half. We ended up spending only three days at sea.
Everyone was so disappointed. Me too.
Thanks to Hurricane Rita, I experienced the most frustrating
trial of my new Travel Agent career. As the deadly hurricane
approached, not only was I in fear for my own life, a couple of my
passengers tried to organize a Mutiny! One passenger
had the nerve to suggest to
my entire group that everyone cancel and
rebook for another time. No, she didn't
check with me first.
I am going to skip all the gory details... Rick told the complete story
elsewhere... but I can tell you this trip was easily the lowest
point of my Travel career. Fortunately that which doesn't
kill you makes you stronger. I have organized
over 10 trips since then
and not one of them has had even the slightest problem in comparison
to Rita Rhapsody. That's a good thing.
I don't believe my nerves could handle a steady dose of Rita
Rhapsodies without a nervous breakdown.
That's me and my friend Gary Schweinle
on the Rita Rhapsody Trip.
You can see the anguish in my face. Gary was trying to cheer me up
after the worst week of my life trying to hold this trip together.
2006 - Hot Tub Madness
After the fiasco with Hurricane Rita in 2005,
my 2006 Rhapsody Trip
was a confidence-building comeback.
The Rhapsody Reloaded
trip was by far our most successful summer dance cruise to date.
was determined to make up for last year's Hurricane-related
disappointment, so they set about misbehaving
with a vengeance. There is no
question about it. Starting with the infamous Magic Bus Trip
all the way through to toe-sucking, pole dancing, bar hopping and hot tub
stuffing, this particular trip easily
set the all-time
standard for insanity.
However, looking back, I think my husband got
a bit carried
away writing his story of the trip. Rick
likes to take our goofy activities like hot tub stuffing and
exaggerate things a bit. For example, Rick wrote an
outrageous story about
hot tub orgies and other nonsense
during our 2006 Rhapsody Trip.
Two years later, the energies of this crazy
2006 Trip would backfire on us.
2006 - New England
New England Cruise had all kinds of problems.
On paper, this seemed like a dream trip to me. I have always wanted to see the Autumn
changing of the leaves in New England. I had heard the beauty
is breathtaking and I wanted to see it first-hand. In
addition, I wanted to learn about the history of Boston and see the
places where the Revolution began. Boston absolutely
fascinated me. However, thanks to circumstances beyond my
control, our day in Boston was ruined. We only had enough time to make a
single loop using the hop-on/hop off bus. Not once did we get
off the bus to explore a particular place. Please give me more
time. I felt so cheated!
Then the ship got off to a terrible start.
I suppose the only good news was at
least no one held me responsible for the
headaches. Thanks to rough waters and not nearly enough "ship tenders"
to ferry us ashore,
we wasted nearly half our day stuck on the ship at Martha's
Vineyard. Rick and I were going to ride our bikes and
investigate the mystery of Chappaquiddick, then have a beer.
Unfortunately poor planning on the ship's part cut our free time
ashore in half. I was so frustrated that the ship had taken this
adventure away. No beer, no mystery solved, and no time to explore.
The worst day of all was Acadia National Park
up in Maine. Thanks to further problems on the ship, this time
our day was reduced by two-thirds. We had to completely forgo
our planned bike trip. We had just barely enough time to take a bus
up to the top of Cadillac Mountain and back down again. Everyone single
person in my group was starving for more time at this beautiful
place. For the third time on this trip, I felt so
In retrospect, the New England Trip was one long
tease. Based on what I did get to see, this should have been
one of the highlight trips of my travel career. Sadly, the
frustration of seeing all my plans go up in smoke was just too much
to deal with. This is definitely one Trip that deserves a redo.
2007 - Hawaii
2007 took us to my favorite place in the world, Hawaii. I know, I
know, I am not supposed to play favorites, but I can't help it.
was my absolute favorite trip of all.
A lot of people agreed with me. Once
again, the price tag didn't stop anyone. People couldn't wait
to go! Hawaii was a hugely successful vacation with 80 people taking the
long trip to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. As it turned
out, the long flight was worth the trouble. Hawaii
is heaven on earth!
I have no doubt God created Hawaii just for me - no bugs,
temperature set at 72 degrees all day long, the most perfect beaches
on earth and sparkling clear oceans. Hawaii has it all - volcanoes, mountains, flowers, rain forests,
hidden pools of water for swimming and
stunning waterfalls everywhere you look.
Hawaii even gives the Grand Canyon a run
for its money. Few people know this, but the rugged Waimea Canyon on
Kauai is the second largest canyon in the country!
Hawaii 2007 was the only trip
I have ever taken that was so wonderful I couldn't take it any more!
On our final day of the trip at Kauai, Rick and I were so exhausted
that we couldn't even leave the room. Paradise was calling to
us right outside our door, but we just stayed in our room and slept.
My Hawaii trip was
incredible. I cannot wait to go back!
have picked it to be our first SSQQ Travel destination to be
Now that Rick closed his dance studio in
April 2010, I have more time now to plan. It might be time to add one
extra cruise trip a year.
We could use the extra trip to go back to some of our
previous trips and do them again only better. I vote for
2007 was notable because we were forced to
switch from the RCCL Rhapsody
to the Carnival Conquest for our summer cruise.
I wasn't too happy about this. The
Rhapsody will always be home for me. After all, I got married
on this ship! We were blessed to have the Rhapsody
as a summer ship for five different trips. We had so much fun
the Rhapsody's amazing dance floor. We
didn't realize it at the time, but that beautiful circular dance floor
was probably the best dance floor in the fleet.
I wasn't the only one with misgivings. Every single person in our group was
upset. Everyone remembered our miserable experiences with
Carnival ships back in 2001 and 2003. However, we had no choice but to switch to
Carnival. Royal Caribbean decided it wasn't
making enough money in the Texas market. The company decided
to move the Rhapsody to another port and
not replace it. Galveston had just
become a Carnival monopoly.
It was either give the Conquest a try
or skip the summer cruise altogether.
To my surprise,
the Carnival Conquest
worked out just fine.
dance floors weren't even remotely a match for the Rhapsody, the ship was
more spacious and more modern.
What we lost
on the dance floors was more than compensated for by the
acquisition of a marvelous "clubhouse". This ship was so spacious
that we discovered a quiet, mostly unused area on the second floor
above our morning and afternoon dining room.
The result was dynamite - now our group had a place to meet all day
long. Consequently no matter what time someone went for a meal,
there would usually be a people from our group
hanging out in our
clubhouse to chat with. This was an idea
everyone was collected in one spot on a daily basis,
newcomers were being integrated into the group
swiftly. It was rewarding to see all the friendships
developing. As a result,
Conquest 2007 became
our best "SSQQ Family Trip" to date.
2008 - Our First Cruise to Europe
My summer dance cruises are always big hits. However, in regards
to my "Adventure" cruises, I have been
careful not to bite off more than I can chew. If you study the progression... New Orleans in
2004, Alaska in 2005, New England in 2006, and Hawaii in 2007... you
can see that each trip
was slightly more
ambitious than the previous one.
By 2008, I finally had enough confidence in the success of my trips
to tackle Europe. Actually I had wanted to
go there for some time. I had a deep desire to
visit. I do the summer trips to make the studio
happy, but I do the Adventure trips to make me happy!
Frankly, it is a good thing I did wait to develop
my program before tackling Europe. Selling
this trip was an uphill struggle. Travel in Europe was not cheap
because the Euro was killing the
dollar. The exchange rate of the Euro drove prices up
and made the overseas
airfare to Rome prohibitive. However, my group came through.
We had 50 people sign up for this
trip! I was not
only grateful, I was actually kind of shocked.
was the trip where my friend Iqbal Nagji
took the group under his wing and personally guided us through
Athens (Greece) and Kusadasi
We were strangers in strange lands, but with
Iqbal looking out for us, we were just as
happy as we could be. We were blessed to have
to him, we felt
completely safe. I have never seen a stronger display of group spirit
in Athens. We were
thousands of miles from home, all the signs on
the subway were in Greek, plus the streets left us lost and
confused, but thanks largely to Iqbal's
willingness to take care of us, we never worried.
Iqbal took great care of us.
Greece 2008 was such a great success that
I was encouraged to visit Europe again. I
schedule a return
trip the following year to
Conquest 2008 - Our Luck
Greece 2008 had been a great trip. I
wish I could say the same thing about our summer cruise
the same year.
was our toughest cruise since Rita Rhapsody in 2005.
Although I should have been thrilled to tie
our record for most passengers (144), since this trip was
the worst disaster since Rita Rhapsody, I could have cared less. This trip set a
low mark for ugly behavior.
Just so no one misunderstands, the trip itself
was fine for our passengers. They had a great time as usual.
The only people who were affected were Rick and I. We were the
ones who had to handle the headaches behind the scenes. There
were incidents throughout the week caused by gate crashers, alcoholics, and some of the
rudest people I have ever seen. Seven people did all the
damage, but what was strange was that every single one of them was brand new to our group.
I could not help but wonder where did this plague of people had come
Looking back, I wonder if we were victims of Rick's tendency to
"embellish". Rick has long enjoyed
doing the cruise writeups because he simply writes about whatever he
feels like. Rick has a rich imagination
which leads to some rather fanciful stories.
One good example was the story he wrote about
attacking our group.
It makes him happy
to write this stuff, so I stay out of it. However, anyone
who goes on these trips knows that some of
Rick's stories are way
over the top. They either grin at his outlandish imagination... or
just skip the stories and look at the pictures.
Every trip has one or two people who act out a
bit, but "7" out-of-control people is an unusually high number. One thing for sure - they
were not a good fit for our group. I could
not help but wonder why
all these strangers hit at once. After all, these people were
not related at all. I can only assume
that Rick's tongue in cheek stories backfired. Rick did some
good-natured teasing about adult silliness. However the wrong
people saw the wild and crazy hype and believed we were the second
coming of Caligula. Too bad they didn't read between the
2009 - Barcelona
Barcelona 2009 Trip
was an unbelievable
experience. We took 90 passengers on a
to Spain, Italy, and France. The list of
highlights was endless.
Rick and I absolutely fell in love with Barcelona. Where do I
start? The fabulous Gaudi architecture, the wonderful Ramblas
walkway, the Magic Fountain, the food, the red wine, the Flamenco
dancing, the Picasso museum... I could go on and on.
Everywhere we went, there were beautiful
sculptures and fascinating architecture. As we rode the hop on/hop off bus around
Barcelona, I decided this had to be the most beautiful city in the
world. What a stunning place.
Barcelona was just the beginning of an
incredible trip. Each day
in Italy was a highlight. First there was the beautiful Isle
of Capri. Then came the stunning Roman Forum. Next up was The Leaning
Tower of Pisa. Then came Michelangelo's David
and Botticelli's Primavera in Florence.
Then we moved on to France. We got a closeup look at the the lives of the Rich and Famous in fabulous
Monte Carlo. We visited the ancient town of Eze that was carved right
out the mountains. From the ship we saw the stunning cliffside
mansions along the French Riviera.
On our final day, we experienced the charm
of small French villages and the beautiful French countryside in
Marseilles... I could go on and on.
Considering Rick said this was his favorite trip to date, I can't
figure out why he hasn't finished his story of the trip yet.
Especially since he no longer has a studio to run!
Oh well. I
dare not fuss at him. With my luck, he will write a story
where I get eaten by a sea monster.
Conquest 2009 - The Magic
Conquest was a much better trip than the
Conquest Trip of the previous year. At
least this time no one tried to shoot people with
champagne corks or steal chairs from blind girls or scream at
waiters to bring them more free drinks.
Not a single problem either. This trip
was one long smooth ride.
was happy and having a great time. The
dancing was good and the
Family Spirit was back. Excellent. That's all I care
Although our passenger numbers in 2009 were
from the previous year's trip, the
energy and the warmth was much higher.
I would rather have a small group
that is happy than a huge group that is out of control anytime.
There is nothing wrong with adults being silly, but there are
limits. I believe this was the trip that our group began to
find its true identity. We were closer to being a Family than
In 2010, we visited Europe for the third year
in a row. The
Cruise took us to four areas we had never visited before -
Norway, Northern France, Ireland, and Scotland.
England was the hole in the doughnut as we sailed all around it.
Don't worry, we will get to England one of these days.
Oslo 2010 had some drama. We had
fits coming and going due to airline problems caused by the immense ash clouds
from the nearby volcano eruptions in Iceland.
Then once we were on board the ship, we found ourselves in the
middle of a serious Norovirus outbreak. At least a dozen of
our passengers got sick including me. Not fun!
Anyone who travels has to be realistic. 98%
of the time things go well, but no trip is immune from problems.
Fortunately the virus and the volcano did not prevent this from being
a great trip. Like our Barcelona Trip the
previous year, there were lots of highlights. Our first stop
was in Paris... what a tease... I could spend a month there and we
only got one day!
Next up was a trip to Omaha Beach, site of the heaviest fighting of
D-Day. Many people spent the entire morning fighting back
tears. This was a moving experience indeed.
Ireland was beautiful. We took a bus trip
through the countryside. Known as Wild Wicklow, this
area could not possibly have been more lovely. During our
trip, we visited an ancient monastery complete with a two mile
nature walk around a lake and dense forests. Cosmic!
Edinburgh, Scotland, gave us a look at the
best castle I have ever seen plus another nature walk through a
sublime park at its base. On the following day, a trip through
the Scottish countryside revealed no Loch Ness monster, but there
were plenty of smiles at the jokes we shared while looking for it.
Oslo was pretty neat. Rick and I walked
miles and miles each day. Our favorite was Frogner Park with the
remarkable Wiegeland Statues.
I could tell Rick was a lot happier. We
were back in his element
- The Cold!! I don't think the weather ever got above 60
degrees and it misted the entire time. We
wore ski parkas every
day we were in Oslo.
That's Rick playing with "Friend" in the
lifeboat drill. That stupid computer chess game has been a
source of constant irritation for me on every single trip we have
For example, we will be on a train streaking across the
Italian countryside to Rome or on a bus taking us through France on
the way to Paris. My eyes are riveted to all the wonderful
sights, but Rick sits beside me playing computer chess the entire
time. He is completely oblivious to the world around him. I think,
'Why even come on these trips if you aren't going to pay attention?'
It takes every ounce of discipline on my part not to throw that game
overboard. Of course I am just teasing... or am I?
However, Oslo was different. Maybe it
was my imagination, but I noticed that Rick didn't play with "Friend" nearly as much on this trip. Instead
when we took a bus trip through the stunning Irish countryside,
Rick's eyes were glued to the window. Even better, Rick socialized so much more
on this trip than he did back
in the early days of our cruises. No more hiding in the cabin
all the time. Good for him!
Rick had never traveled in
his life before we met. I think that Travel has been good for
him. I believe my quirky husband has actually begun to come
out of his shell and experience the world a little. Now if he
can just learn to read maps...
Of course I am so proud of my
2010 Trip. With a group of 190 Passengers,
this total broke my previous record by over 40 people. Of course,
"bigger" hasn't always been "better". I learned that the hard way in
Fortunately, I had a good
feeling about this group right from the start. After all,
110 of the passengers were repeat SSQQ
cruisers. Sure enough, this cruise came off
without a hitch. It was the most perfect summer cruise we have
The highlight of the trip was our visit to Atlantis, the
lavish water park at Nassau in the Bahamas. By the way, Rick
and I both went down that slide in the picture. It was so
steep our butts left the slide on the way down! Was I scared?
Key West was popular too. A visit to Sloppy Joe's Bar, Ernest
Hemingway's old drinking hangout, was lots of fun. I would say half our
group made it over there.
This cruise turned out to be the perfect 'end of summer' vacation.
Smiles everywhere and thousands upon thousands of pictures and
So where do we go from here? Now that
Rick has closed his dance studio, we are free to turn all of
our attention to future vacations. In addition to cruises, at
some point I hope to branch out and schedule short trips to places
like Mardi Gras and San Antonio as well as long trips to Paris and
London. For the time being, our next adventure will be the our
trip. The initial interest is so powerful that I have a strong
hunch this will probably become our largest trip ever.
One nice thing is I have enough credibility at
this point to deserve people's trust. Since the very
beginning, I have always sold the lowest price I could find without
any markup whatsoever. The problem for me is that thanks to
discounts and sneaky advertising, no one has any idea what the true
price of a trip should be. In the early days, I had people
questioning the fairness of my prices right and left. However,
that seems to be a thing of the past. These days most people accept
my word on price without much argument.
I am proud that my customers know I am good
for my word. They trust me to find the lowest price and they
know I will deliver on whatever I promise. Even better, on the
few occasions they can get a better price elsewhere, they would
rather be part of our group than be on the outside looking in just
to save a few bucks.
I hope you have enjoyed my story about how I
developed my travel program. By the way, you can read about every one of our trips
in far more detail. For starters, try reading
Recap of all our trips
on our Travel Home Page.
In addition, each of our trips is covered in great
detail. Go to the
SSQQ Home Travel Page
and look for the links. Not only
will you see great pictures of the people and the places, you can
read my husband's goofy stories too. When you take a step back and look at all the
places we have been and the fun we have had, I think you will be
impressed! And guess what? There's
lots more to come!
Marla's Personal Story
I was born in Long Beach, California. I spent the first 35 years of
my life in the southern part of the state.
Many of those years I
lived just a block away from the ocean in Huntington Beach. I went
to California State University at Long Beach as a
Sociology major. I took extra years to graduate because I
worked full time my last couple of years in
addition to school.
I began working part time on the sales floor at May Company in
Southern California while in High School. I slowly worked my way up
to Assistant Manager and then Department Manager
college years. After college, I was promoted to an Assistant Buyer
and then to Divisional Sales Manager.
I was first married in September of 1980. I gave birth to my daughter Marissa in January 1983.
In addition, I was a stepmom
husband's two children. It's a good thing that God gives us abundant
energy when we are young. Raising a family plus having a demanding
career is no walk in the park.
Once I got married, it was now really important that I be closer to home. I preferred
not to spend several hours on the road in LA traffic.
So I switched jobs. I was hired as a Men's Sportswear
Buyer for Oshman's Sporting Goods in November 1985. This began the
start of a very lucrative career. In particular,
I thoroughly enjoyed the design
aspect of the job.
However, the constant travel was demanding. I was
constantly on the go. New York.
Las Vegas. Plus there was my
two week trek to Asia
twice a year. In retrospect, I guess I wasn't at
home as much as I needed to be.
I think my continued absence left the door open. Unfortunately,
about halfway through my ten year marriage, my husband
went through that door and strayed.
That led to the toughest part of my life.
Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I
divorced him in the Spring of 1990. Shortly after,
Oshman's had a corporate
consolidation. Now I was at a crossroad.
It was either face unemployment in California or move to
Houston where the main headquarters were located.
I had my daughter to take care of, so I chose
employment. Texas here
At the time, I wasn't happy about leaving my home
state, but you do what you have to do. So I packed up my 8
year old daughter Marissa and we headed to Houston.
We arrived here on April Fool's Day in 1991.
I always find
The move to Houston turned out okay. Honestly,
I was ready for a change. Having divorced less than a year
prior, I didn't mind putting distance between me and some
bad memories. Now it was Marissa and me
facing the world alone together.
I stayed with Oshman's for 6
more years. Then I decided to venture
out. I became a Sales Representative for
both a National gift company
and an important sportswear line.
Working two jobs meant busy years. I have always challenged myself with multiple responsibilities.
Besides, the combined income from both jobs was pretty fantastic!
It helped pay for a beautiful home
in Kingwood, lots of expensive trips, a BMW for me, a new
Toyota Rav for Marissa,
and 4 years of college tuition
for my daughter.
I took being a Mom seriously. As you can see, my daughter turned out
beautifully! Did I mention she graduated from Texas State with
a 4.0? Marissa is just as smart as she is pretty. Marissa has
made me so proud of her. I could not have asked for a better
In 1995 I
began dating a man I had met at work.
Although we went steady for six
years, we never actually came close to getting married.
Looking back, I suppose it was a part-time
relationship that I believed was more serious than maybe it was.
My boyfriend gave me a lot of space, which was a good
thing most of the time. I could go about my two jobs and take care
of Marissa during the week, then spend my weekends with him.
Our social life revolved around three things - music, rugby, and
trips. We took trips to Costa Rica, Cozumel,
Cancun, skiing in Santa Fe and Taos, countless Jazz Fest weekends, and
frequent weekend getaways to San Antonio.
Did I mention that I love to travel?
I have loved to dance my entire life. For example, I participated
in Jazz dance teams while I was in High School.
One day in 2000 I decided I wanted to learn how to Swing Dance.
Swing Dancing was huge in America back then. I had always envied
couples that could partner dance, so I asked my boyfriend if he
wanted to take classes with me. I was disappointed that he wasn't interested, but I wasn't
going to let that stop me.
I remembered SSQQ from a couple of Salsa
classes he and I had taken together
1998. So I signed up by myself and began taking Swing dance lessons at SSQQ in
November and December 2000. However I
skipped the first months of 2001 due to work demands. I returned to SSQQ in March 2001.
This was when I first met Rick. He was my Advanced Swing Instructor
Little did I suspect at the time that Rick would become my life
partner. Nor did I have even the slightest
idea that he had a crush on me. He was my teacher for six
months leading up to the August 2001 cruise. Not once did I sense his
interest. Either he was fibbing about his interest in me or he hides
his thoughts very well!
The Stroke of Midnight
Rick always teases me that I didn't pay a bit of attention to him as
a potential boyfriend. Actually, that's the truth.
From the time I
first met him in March 2001 till we connected on the August 2001
Cruise, a dating relationship never crossed my mind.
Rick was always
business-like around me plus his attention darted from person to
person. Like I said, I didn't have a clue he was interested in me.
Besides, since I had a
boyfriend, I wasn't really looking anyway.
It wasn't till our fateful first night on the 2001 Cruise that I
learned the truth. Rick
explained that he had been watching me
from afar for a long time. He had a feeling that my
six-year relationship was in trouble. He was right
about that; I just didn't realize it was that
obvious to anyone else but me.
Rick always says we fell in love on August
18th, 2001 -- the first night of the SSQQ Cruise. Well, if I am
going to be absolutely accurate, it was August 19th because we
Midnight in the Disco.
But he's right about that falling in love part.
The day Rick and I returned to Houston after the cruise,
it was time to drive my daughter Marissa to start college at Texas
State University. The day I came back, I ended my six year relationship. Now I was ready to turn my full attention to my new romance.
Practically from the start, Rick asked me to sell my house and move
in with him. Although my house in Kingwood was more attractive than
his house in the Heights, he had a good point that his house was
much closer to the dance studio.
I resisted his invitation as long as I could.
I wasn't ready to move in!
Too soon. Too soon. And certainly not without an offer
of marriage!!!!!!!!!!! However Rick was
impatient, so about
a year after we met, one day he kidnapped my dog Peanut.
Stealing my dog was a very clever ploy. Peanut
much preferred Rick's
house to mine because it had a big yard, a doggie door and two
border collies to play with. Peanut had been pretty lonely at my house
with Marissa up at college and me on the road
Once I saw how happy Peanut was at Rick's house, I finally gave in
and agreed to move in with him. It would
have helped if a ring had been offered in the process, but I decided
to cross my fingers and hope for the best. But it was still a
dirty trick stealing my dog. I have one suggestion for other
women - From now on, watch out for any man who tries to seduce your dog!
He's probably up to no good.
I moved into Rick's house shortly after we took the 2002 Rhapsody Cruise.
was the trip when Rick first suggested I become a Travel agent
for his dance cruises. Organizing
cruises was my only involvement in the
business side of SSQQ until January 2003.
That is when I started to help out with registration
a few nights at the start of each dance semester
on a part-time basis.
Rick and I were married in September of 2004.
I had been working full-time as the Sales Rep
and part-time as a registrar and the cruise organizer for an entire year. I
was really worn out. Since Rick's business was doing very
well, I assumed it might be time to finally let down my guard and relax a
Wrong. Just one month after the wedding Rick's two most
important employees abruptly quit without any warning.
Suddenly Rick was in a real jam. Who was going to do the payroll?
Who was going to deposit the checks?
Who was going to pay
the bills? Who was going to handle the financial
reports? Who was going to teach
the abandoned dance classes?
I immediately offered to help. I picked up the
administration end of the business and
went from part-time registration responsibilities
There was a three-month period there where we really had to
I honestly had not expected
to be involved in Rick's business quite so fast after our wedding. However, there was a
silver lining. Working two
full-time jobs helped me pay my daughter's education expenses
If I had been tired before, now I was working on
was a pretty difficult time for me.
I was still holding down a full time job outside the
studio in addition to all these new
duties at SSQQ plus two cruises a year. I was burning the candle at both ends. However, I have never shied
away from hard work.
I was now making enough money
from SSQQ to consider quitting my sales job.
Marissa would be finished with
college in June 2005. Three months later in
2005, I went to work for SSQQ full-time.
Between the Cruise business and the Administration duties, I
was coming close to matching the income from my sales job,
but I still needed more money.
Rick had a suggestion. Why not teach young couples how to
dance at their Weddings?Rick told me
he was always getting requests for
help in this area, but simply didn't have the time to
deal with it himself. Now
that his wedding instructor had quit, perhaps I could fill the
Wedding Dance Instruction
I liked Rick's idea, but I didn't know a thing about
how to teach people
to Formal Dance. However I was willing to learn. If I was going
to get serious about participating in a full time manner at SSQQ, I
had best acquire some dance skills.
Ballroom dancing was blossoming due to the success of
TV's Dancing with
the Stars. With the increased interest,
SSQQ needed another Ballroom instructor.
decided to go
through a yearlong teacher's training program with Philip Stephens
over at the Dance Place. I learned both roles - lead and follow - in
9 different ballroom dances.
I taught my first Ballroom class for SSQQ in September of 2005.
I added Swing Dancing to that list as well. Thanks
to the added income, out went the Sales Rep
job and in came my new career as a Ballroom Dance Instructor.
In addition to my Ballroom and Swing classes, I also began my work
with couples on their First Dances. To my
pleasant surprise, I really enjoyed doing this. I like to contribute to the success of such an
important event, so I took it pretty seriously.
And I stayed busy, believe me. Since 2005, I have had the
privilege to work with
over 500 couples including a lot of their families and friends.
Lessons if you would like to read more about my work
preparing couples for their First Dance.)
Of course, one of my favorite wedding couples was my wonderful
son-in-law Glenn and my beautiful daughter Marissa.
Not only did I teach them to
Foxtrot, I danced a combination Waltz that transitioned to Jitterbug
with Marissa at the 2008 Wedding as well. I invite you to
Slow Dance and Romance at Sea!
I would like to share one of my favorite pictures. Those people are
dancing West Coast Swing. Steve Gabino took this picture on
our 2009 Conquest Trip. Every evening our group converged
after dinner for Ballroom dancing to the sounds of Magic and
Music, a Filipino duo who did a great job.
Sometimes we danced East Coast Swing, sometimes
we danced Waltz. Cha-Cha was a very popular dance. We
danced several Sinatra Foxtrots. One of my favorite moments
on the trip was dancing a Rumba to "It's Now or Never" with Rick.
So can you tell what is unusual about this picture? I
will make it easy for you. Every person in the picture is from
On a ship with 3,000 passengers, why would
there only be SSQQ dancers? Because none of the other
passengers knew how to Ballroom dance! What you don't see in
the picture are all the people on the level above watching down with
envy as we dance the night away. With all this admiration, no wonder
our guests feel like dance superstars on these trips!
So the next question to ask is why out of 3,000
people, only a few know how to dance to Ballroom music. For years, Rick has pointed out
what a shame it is that the
Cruise Ships offer all these dance opportunities, but very few of
their guests actually know how to dance.
People who hang around SSQQ all the time forget that the general
population is clueless when it comes to partner dancing. When
asked, most people say they would like to learn how, but where are
they going to find the time? In the real world,
people have kids and jobs and many commitments. When
you are a soccer Mom or an oil and gas exec traveling all the time,
it's pretty tough to find the time for weekly dance lessons.
Moreover, there is no SSQQ in every small Texas town or big
city suburb. And even if there is a local dance studio, their
lessons may be very expensive.
In addition, it always takes people by surprise
to discover that Ballroom dancing is alive and well on
Cruise ships. Yes, it is mostly Western and Salsa
here in Houston, but out at sea, you will hear more Swing and Ballroom music
played than any other type of dance music.
For several years now, some of
our guests will come on board and express displeasure over the emphasis on Ballroom
dancing. They complain to me they had no idea they needed
lessons in Sinatra Foxtrot for their cruise. I roll my eyes.
I remind them I warned them in my group emails, but no one ever pays
attention. Once they are on board, it's too late. Nobody
can learn all these dances overnight.
Personally speaking, I love the fact that Formal
Dancing is alive and well at sea. I think it is wonderful to
dance in the arms of a man to romantic music!
So I intend to give classes in Foxtrot, Rumba, Waltz, Cha Cha, and
Swing throughout the year to prepare my passengers for the wonderful
world of dance that exists out at sea.
You might be curious to know that Rick and I have
signed up as Ballroom instructors on a cruise to Egypt in December
2010. I will let you know how it turns out. Wish us
Romance at Sea
"Hi, I'm Julie McCoy, Cruise Director of
the Pacific Princess. Welcome aboard!"
As you can see, I had a lot of fun posing as
the Love Boat at our 2009 SSQQ Halloween Party.
Back in the Seventies when I used to watch the
Love Boat, I would roll my eyes at some of the preposterous story lines. After
all, in the real world, no one meets the love of their life out at
sea. Of course, those were the days
before I met my husband on a cruise. Now that I am older
and wiser, I am no longer quite so cynical.
There is no
doubt in my mind that people are looking for Romance on every
cruise whether they realize it or not. On every trip we take, I see all kinds of sparks fly.
Of course some of the stories are of the 'what happens on the
cruise stays on the cruise' variety. However, you
might be surprised to know that quite a few romances make it back to
shore just like my own relationship with Rick.
I know of at least three other
marriages that started on an SSQQ cruise just like mine did.
There's probably more. Cupid can find you anywhere, especially
There is so much more to Romance at Sea than just the
exciting "Boy Meets Girl" stories. What I find interesting is
watching couples who are in the early stages of their relationship
take a cruise together. This happens all the time.
Many couples who really don't know each other
that well take a cruise as a way to find out more. It
doesn't always work out. I have seen couples break up the moment they return to
shore. Fortunately, more often than not, these couples find what they
are looking for. They realize the person they are with
is exactly who they want to be with for a long time. Don't
tell anyone I am watching, but I get a thrill when it happens.
Another aspect of love that I enjoy
are the people that already care about each other who fall in love some
We get busy in our lives. Kids, in-laws, jobs,
traffic, bills, housework, cooking, washing the car, mowing the
lawn. Even if there is someone special in your life, on a day
to day basis we sometimes take each other for granted. You know exactly
what I mean.
When I started in my role as Travel Agent, I had
no idea I would be so drawn to the stories of the people who take
my trips. However, I have come to realize that a Trip at
Sea carries the same meaning to a lot of people as it does to me - a chance to
connect on a much deeper level with the people I already care about.
Once they are alone together, I see couples
rediscover each other. That is special.
I can only speak for myself, but I know how
much Travel has enriched my marriage. I wouldn't trade all those
memories and shared experiences for anything. Throughout the
year, Rick and I talk about Barcelona and Hawaii. Or Oslo and Paris.
These trips have shaped our lives.
In addition, when I look at my circle of
friends, it is the same way. "Travel" and "Dance" are the ties
that bind us together. Rick and I have had wonderful fun
going out to dinner with couples that we have grown close to on our
trips over these past years.
For that matter, when I meet my girlfriends for margaritas, at some
point the conversation invariably drifts to what happened on the last
trip or what might happen on the next trip. We laugh ourselves
silly over all the crazy things people do. And of course the
gossip is more delicious than you can even imagine.
Now that Rick has closed his dance studio,
it is time for the next chapter to
begin. The sea has become a major part of my life.
I met my husband at sea. I got married at sea. I make my
living at sea. Someday I may even teach dance classes at sea
for much of the year.
One thing that has become clear to me is that the time has
come not just for me, but for all people of my generation to see the
world. We have worked our entire lives to get to this spot.
Now that our kids are grown and our jobs are winding down, we have
the money and the time to expand our horizons.
Let me add there is little gained by postponing our pleasure
any longer. We better see the world now while we are still
fortunate to have our energy and our health.
I have watched how Rick and SSQQ brought people together on land for all those
years. Now the torch has come to me. I am thrilled for
the chance to carry on that same tradition here at sea. I feel
lucky to have been given the responsibility to serve this group. I intend to
ensure the SSQQ Community continues to live on through Travel. I
will do the best job I possibly can.
Marla Archer, August 2010
Marla's Busy 2011