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Halloween Navigator 2014

Trip Organized by Marla Archer
Story written by Rick Archer

October 12th - October 19th, 2014

Galveston, Texas - Falmouth, Jamaica -
Georgetown, Grand Cayman
- Cozumel
, Mexico

Rick's Note:  During the trip, I discovered the mural in the Navigator Dining Room depicted a Masked Champagne Costume Ball.  What an odd coincidence. 
Maybe some things are meant to happen...



Halloween on the High Seas
Written by Rick Archer

About four months before the start of our trip, I had a dream.  In my dream, the SSQQ Halloween Party arose from the dead to live again.    

I dreamt that the people who own the Bissonnet property where I ran SSQQ for 30 years gave me permission to hold one more Halloween Party for old time’s sake.  We could have our Haunted House back and another chance for the Frankenstein monster to greet people in the dark maze.  I jumped at the chance.  I could not wait!  What a wonderful opportunity. 

And then I woke up.  I felt a real sadness come over me. 

SSQQ in my day was legendary for its Halloween Parties.  I took immense pride in hosting all my parties, but Halloween was my unquestioned favorite. I always felt a tremendous satisfaction after throwing a great party. 

Once I awoke and realized it was "just a dream", my sadness was so poignant that I decided maybe there was a message there.  So I asked Marla if she would do me a favor.  Could she perhaps persuade the Navigator cruise ship to let us have a room to throw a Halloween party on the final night of our trip?

Marla smiled.  She said she would give it a try.  

Marla was able to negotiate with the Navigator to give us their best dance room for an hour on the final night of our October Navigator Dance Cruise. 

I am pleased to say our Champagne Masquerade Ball was a huge success.

Click here to read the story of our Navigator Halloween Party.


Halloween Navigator 2014 Recap

Written by Rick Archer
October 2014

Halloween Navigator 2014 aboard the Royal Caribbean Navigator was Marla's 31st Cruise Trip and 15th dance cruise (13 Western Caribbean, 2 Bahamas).  

With 144 passengers, this trip tied Jubilee 2003 as our third largest total group to date.  Only the two Bahama trips have done better. 

In my opinion, this trip has to be the most successful dance cruise we have ever taken.  Halloween Navigator was was the closest thing to a perfect cruise vacation to date.  There was not one major issue that I was aware of.   Not only did everything take place like clockwork, we had an unbelievable amount of fun.

Marla Bites Her Fingernails

As Marla and I drove down to Galveston, Marla was worried.  She had done everything in her power to ensure this would be a problem-free cruise, but she was terrified of the ‘unknown’. 

Based on our recent experiences, Marla had every right to be worried.

It was ironic in a way.  Our two most recent trips – 2013 Hawaii and 2014 Alaska – were major screw-ups right from the start.  Marla encountered headache after headache. 

2013 Hawaii was the worst.  We were forced to endure the bus trip from Hell down to Ensenada, Mexico.  This was the single worst day I have ever had on a cruise trip other than the time our ship nearly capsized on the way to Egypt. 

2014 Alaska was a close second for the worst.  We were on a ship obsessed with sell sell sell.  Wherever we turned, there was someone insisting we buy something – picture, drink, excursion, bingo.  I was appalled at the aggressiveness of the staff.

Here is the best example.  We were out on the deck in the early morning staring at the majesty of the huge Hubbard Glacier.  The morning was chilly and quiet.  There was a serenity and sense of awe about the moment.  Suddenly a horde of waiters appeared to hawk warm drinks.  What had been a quiet, peaceful reverence was interrupted by shouts of “Get your Hot Chocolate Here!” in the same style as “Peanuts, Popcorn, Hot Dogs” at a ballgame. 

Mind you, these people were so loud we could no longer hear the broadcast voice of the woman hired by the ship to explain the significance of the glacier.   Her voice was drowned out in a chorus of calls for hot drinks… which we were expected to pay for of course. 

Next came the ship’s photographers.  They actually had the nerve to interrupt people who were staring out at the glacier by tapping them on the shoulder.  The people would turn in surprise.  I listened in shock as the photographers pointed to their expensive cameras and used this pathetic line:  “Excuse me.  I am a professional photographer.  You should let me take a picture for you.” 

The entire moment was ruined by the insult of these uninvited interruptions. 

So naturally as I drove down to the Navigator for our Halloween Cruise, both Marla and I expected more of the same sell sell sell. 

Wrong.  No one bothered us a bit.  Not once.  In fact, on several occasions I caught myself laying in the Solarium hoping some nice waiter would come around to take my drink order.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I wouldn’t have to move my fat youknowwhat and ruin my perfect mai tai high? 

Dining Room Blues

If I had one complaint for this trip, I would say the food and the service at dinnertime in the main dining room has slipped a notch.  I am not the only who has noticed the decline in quality. 

This situation is due to a corporate decision to deliberately downgrade the quality of the meals served in the main dining room.  Now, mind you, they would deny it of course, but actions indicate otherwise. 

Why would they do that? 

A recent trend in the cruise industry is the addition of various specialty restaurants aboard that promise the highest quality food imaginable.  This attraction comes with an added price tag. 

As the cruise lines look for new ways to generate income, charging extra for the kind of cuisine that was once de rigueur in the main dining room seems to be the new norm.

 “Well, we used to serve our best food in the dining room, but that has changed.  Now for REALLY good food, you have to go upstairs and pay more.”

It used to be people went to the Windjammer for convenience in return for the expectation of a lower quality of food.  Now the Windjammer has slipped to third place.  It seems a shame, but now the main dining room seems to be moving in a similar direction as the Windjammer.  The food in the main dining room is hit or miss.  It may not be leftovers like the Windjammer, but the quality of the food is definitely a big step down from the good old days.

It is now firmly established that a plethora of fancy eateries is the way to go.  This variety of culinary offerings ensures cruisers' palates will never be bored and cruise line wallets will never be empty. 

Meanwhile, my guess is the best cooks and the best waiters have been transferred to serve in the specialty restaurants.  This leaves the bench team to cook for ordinary people like me.  And the second team wait staff is assigned to the Dining Room until the day comes when they improve enough to go serve the best people in the best restaurants for superior tips.  

Personally, I think this “specialty restaurant” trick is a highly dubious ploy.  You now have the ship winking at its customers with a sly, “We know you know what we are doing, but we expect you to accept this sham without complaint and be prepared to pay more with a smile.” 

I deplore these specialty restaurants with their added fees, but I doubt there is much I can do about it other than grouch about the trend.  Since I am not a fussy eater, I am content enough with what is served in the main dining room despite the slip.  I suppose if this trend continues in the direction it is heading, I can imagine the day will come when I will need to bring some peanut butter along on the trip.

I guess what bothers me the most is that several venues that used to be used for DANCING have been sacrificed to create space for these new restaurants.  In my opinion, anything that downsizes or eliminates dance floors for added food is a step in the wrong direction.


Noe Ojeda, Our Group Coordinator

The Navigator staff was perfectly wonderful.  In particular, Noe Ojeda, our onboard group coordinator, turned out to be the most talented liaison we have ever had in 31 trips. 

Whatever Marla or I asked Noe to do, he came through without fail.  Nor did we even have to twist his arm.  Noe was without a doubt the most cooperative liaison we have ever had.

What a contrast.  Our previous group coordinator, a woman aboard the Alaska sailing last June 2014, had been the worst liaison we had ever had!  

For example, this woman was so bad that she constantly insisted we turn our music down because someone in another part of the room had complained to her.  Mind you, I had one small portable amplifier.  Furthermore we had this room reserved for our own private party. 

For this hour, the Viking Crown Lounge was our space.

So here we had 30 people dancing in a room that was supposed to be ours.  And let me add that our music could barely be heard to begin with.  But some woman complained about our music and our liaison decided this other guest’s priorities were more important. 

She didn’t ask once either.  In fact, she “insisted”.  I told the woman to knock it off.   This was our space, for crying out loud!   Let the woman leave if she didn’t like it!  I said we had a right to this room and that the coordinator’s priorities were out of line.  She was wrong to put the needs of one or two people over the needs of 30 people who had received permission to have this party.  What the heck was so hard for her to understand? 

Marla had serious issues with the woman as well, especially over her refusal to help with a serious photography problem.  The Radiance coordinator was nothing short of pathetic.  In the end, Marla wrote the most scathing critical review of all her 30-plus voyages. 

And yet the Navigator coordinator was perfect.

It was weird in a way.  How is possible to go to such extremes as the absolute worst to the absolute best in consecutive cruises?   I was so impressed with Noe Ojeda that I actually took the time to write a three-page letter of recommendation to give to his supervisor.  I did it because someone with that kind of talent and willingness to help deserved both praise and a promotion. 



Marla Pushes the Envelope

I came away from this trip with a profound admiration for my wife.  Marla took several chances on this trip with new ideas and every one of her ideas save one (the Singalong) turned out to be an absolute slam dunk success. 

Marla’s first idea was to create a special SSQQ tee-shirt with a Halloween theme for the group.  This was an experiment; Marla had never done this before.   She had no idea whether it would be accepted or not.

However, the response was good.  100 people... 2 out of every 3... decided to participate.  The next step came on  the first day of the cruiseMarla asked everyone to wear their tee-shirt as they boarded the ship.  This paid immediate dividends.  By wearing the tee-shirt, everyone was instantly able to identify other members of the group.  The tee-shirt recognition created an instant bond.

Pretty soon Person 1 and Person 2 decided to hang together.  Then they ran into Person 3 who did the same.  Three people became 4, then 5, then 6.  The tee-shirts gave them a reason to hang together. 

It was cute to see small clusters of people wearing the SSQQ Halloween tee-shirt as they wandered together around the ship. 

The tee-shirt was eye-catching as well.  I saw people turning heads wherever the SSQQ guests went with their distinctive shirt.

That afternoon, the tee-shirts created a marvelous photograph opportunity.  There was an outdoor “welcome aboard” dance party on the deck.  Everyone gasped as 100 dancers wearing the same tee-shirt dominated the dance floor with their wonderful dancing.  The ship was abuzz.  Who are these people?

I took a group picture of the dancers with their black tee-shirts from the deck above.  When I was finished, several people beckoned for me to come over and explain what was going on.  They were highly intrigued by the enthusiasm and dancing ability of such a large group.  Now they were curious.  They grinned as I explained the origins of the SSQQ Travel Group. 

Obviously we had made a huge impression right from the get-go.   Indeed, Marla did such a fantastic job with the design that throughout the trip our guests wore the tee-shirt proudly every chance they got. 

The tee-shirt had become a status symbol.  It was a simple way to announce to the world that they were a member of the most talked-about group of people on the entire ship.

Lots of ‘Splainin’ to Do

Like many changes, this new tee-shirt feature had its share of controversy. 

Several people grumbled about the headache of being forced to pick their shirt up in advance.

Others balked at the $10 price tag.   One lady pointed out the tee-shirts on other cruises had been free; why weren’t these Halloween tee-shirts free as well? 

Marla responded that she was selling the tee-shirt “at cost”.  She received no profit in this venture.  Then Marla patiently explained there is no such thing as “free”.   Travel agents have the ability to build in an added fee to the cost of their trip.  By hiding the added expense of the tee-shirt, this gives the illusion of a free bonus.

Marla had no intention of jacking up the price for something like a tee-shirt.  If she built the cost of the tee-shirt into the price tag, then people would be given no choice in the matter.  Marla’s attitude is that if people wanted the tee-shirt, great, and if they didn’t, then that was okay too.  However, by doing it her way up front, at least people were allowed to make a conscious choice in the matter.

In the end, 100 people opted in and 45 others chose not to buy one.   Those who did buy the tee-shirt seemed quite happy with their decision.  Considering how often I saw some people wearing that tee-shirt, I began to wonder if they were missing a suitcase.

The success of the tee-shirt idea won over the skeptics.  One lady came up to Marla in the middle of the trip.  This lady, a veteran of many previous trips, confessed that she had initially resented the entire idea of the tee-shirt.  She felt like she was being “pressured” into doing something she wasn’t sure she wanted to do.  She said that she wasn’t the “groupie” type and this felt like a form of “forced conformity”. 

However, over time some her initial resistance to the idea dwindled.  Finally about three weeks before the trip, she decided to at least give the idea a try.  So she bought an SSQQ Halloween teeshirt.  Now that she had seen how well the tee-shirt idea had worked out, she wanted to tell Marla just how impressed she was with the success of the idea. 

Marla was taken aback.  The way this conversation had started, Marla was sure she was going to be chewed out.  Instead the lady had turned from skeptic into believer.  This was a great idea! 

There was one other odd complaint.  One misinformed person told Marla she had a lot of nerve calling our group “SSQQ”. 

Too bad this person didn’t complain to me first.  I would have carefully explained that the original sales agreement called for Marla to continue to promote cruise trips at SSQQ Dance Studio.  It was their decision to go in another direction, not ours.  If they ever decide to change their mind, Marla would be more than happy to work out an agreement.

As for having the “nerve” to use “SSQQ” on our tee-shirts, I would have explained that while I did sell the dance studio, I retained all rights to the magic four letters “SSQQ”.  

You don’t believe me?  Then take a quick look at our website.  In case no one has noticed, four years after the sale of the dance studio, our website continues to be SSQQ.com. 

As I said earlier, as we drove down to Galveston, Marla was consumed with free-floating anxiety.  One of the major reasons was due to the initial negativity over the tee-shirt idea.  Bless her heart, Marla worries about everything.  But she need not have worried about this idea.  The tee-shirts turned out to be an incredible asset throughout the trip. 

The largest compliment of all came on the final night of the trip when the ladies at our table began to discuss the design of our 2015 SSQQ Sock Hop tee-shirt.

There was a surprising amount of consensus.   The tee-shirts need to be pink and Elvis needs to be on the front.  Sounds like a winner to me.

Disco Night

Marla’s second inspiration took place on Tuesday, the third day of the trip.  The ship had scheduled a 70’s Disco Night at 10 pm after dinner.  Meanwhile Marla had reserved a room reserved at 7 pm for a private dance party which included complimentary drinks for our entire group.

Why not make the entire evening a Disco Night?   So Marla decided to make “Seventies Disco” the theme for her private party.   This gave people an added incentive to get a Disco costume to wear throughout the entire evening.  The idea paid off, especially when the outrageous 70’s costumes made everyone laugh.  One well-curved lady wore a huge Afro wig; she was the spitting image of Pam Grier as Foxy Brown. 

James and Cheryl put on a wonderful dance show for us.  They not only have the Hustle down pat, they added some dips and unexpected acrobatics to a great impromptu performance.  I was pretty envious of their ability.

The only downside to this party was that we were locked into some disco music that was pretty tough to dance to.  The speed range for good Hustle and West Coast Swing music is somewhere between 105-117 beats per minute.  Practically every song I played was faster than 120.  We were soon struggling with the quick pace.

How did we ever get so old?  I remember dancing to Disco music all night long in the Seventies.  Now I could barely make it through an entire song.  Nor was I the only one.  People were huffing and puffing all night.  But you know what?  They were also smiling. 

I received one very pointed complaint.  One gentleman insisted I play western music.  He assured me that more people would dance if I played a twostep.  

You know what?  I agreed with him and told him so.   He was absolutely correct.  This fast music violated all the principles of DJ work.

•  Much of the music was too fast.

•  Several of the songs were way past the 3 minute rule. 

•  There was absolutely no variety… every song sounded the same. 

•  Not everyone cares for Disco music.

That said, I stuck to my guns.  I explained that this was a special Theme Party.  Our theme was Disco for one solid hour.  Several people had gone out of their way to obtain Disco outfits.  Why ruin the mood? 

I explained that we had Late Night Dancing every night of the week.  From Midnight to 1:30 pm, I played whatever music people requested.  If this man wanted Western music, then come back later tonight and I would reward him with some of his favorite songs.  

To my surprise, after I finished, he said I was wrong.  More people would dance if I played Western.  Then he walked away.

People forget that I was the ‘DJ’ at SSQQ Dance Studio for over 30 years.  I know from that experience that being the DJ is a tricky job.  It is impossible to please everyone all the time. 

That said, I definitely believe in pleasing the guests.  However, in this case, my instincts said to stick with the theme. 

Other than that one complaint, I believe that overall the dance music for the week went well. 

For one thing, before the trip began, I asked our guests to recommend current music.  During the week before the trip, I received 30 song suggestions from various people.  After downloading these songs, I went out of my way to play songs from that list throughout the week. 

In addition, the guests were very reasonable in the song requests they made from night to night.  Consequently I honored every single request during the trip.  If I had the song, I played it.  So I am happy to report that the Disco complaint was the only complaint I received all week. 

I am pleased to say that I received several compliments.  One gentleman said he heard several great songs that were completely new to him.  I smiled.  One thing about playing music at the dance studio for 30 years was collecting a set of personal favorite songs from different eras. 

Many of the songs I played were 10 to 20 years old to me, but ‘brand new’ to many people.  I won’t say I am a gifted DJ, but at least I know the right tempo for dance music.  There is a tempo that I call the “sweet spot” for all dances.  I have always made it my job to play songs at exactly those speeds. 

All in all, despite the music difficulties, I have to say the costumes were really fun.  I think we all a good time.

Dance Class

Our three dance classes at sea went very well.  

The first day we split our group into “Beginners” and “Intermediates” for an hour of East Coast Swing.  Marla taught a large group of 30 Beginners.  As for my class, by moving some furniture around in the Viking Crown Lounge, I was able to create a space just barely large enough for us to squeeze a second group of 30 more people into a different part of the room. 

Dance lessons at sea are typically just as much about ‘entertainment’ as they are about teaching material.  So I told a few more jokes than I might have if we were back on land.  I was able to get some grins from my goofy joke about how to spot the right lady to ask to dance at a party… always pick the one whose right arm is longer than her left arm. 

Our second class covered Beginner and Intermediate Night Club patterns.  People were very surprised at just how useful this clever dance can be.  


The Monster Mash Rises from the Dead

Our third dance class covered Halloween Line Dances and Swing Rueda.

When I awoke that morning, it was a strange to realize I would be teaching the Monster Mash again.   I was in for a very unpleasant surprise.  

On a whim, I decided to review the steps.  To my surprise, just two short hours before my class, I was shocked to realize I forgotten the steps.  I scratched my head.  How could this be?  

I had taken it for granted that this dance was permanently locked into my muscle memory.  Consequently I had left my notes back at home.  If I couldn’t remember the moves, I was in serious trouble!   Now I had a cold sweat panic attack as I struggled to remember the various moves to this absurdly simple dance.   I had not danced the Monster Mash once since I sold my dance studio back in 2010.   Apparently sometime during this four year gap, my Monster Mash synapses had become unplugged.  

They say if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.  Truer words have never been spoken.  Fortunately, things worked out.  It took about 15 minutes, but to my relief those ancient moves eventually reappeared. 

When the class began, it was fun to teach the Monster Mash again.  I got a good laugh when I told people my favorite Monster Mash anecdote. 

Did you know the Monster Mash Line Dance was my personal creation?  I cooked this dance up back in 1992. 

The inspiration for the Monster Mash actually began in the spring of 1992. One night at Practice Night a lady named Stacy and her girlfriend Trina were watching as I taught our Sock Hop line dances.  As they sat on the chairs behind me, they were twirling their hands and making goofy pointing gestures with their fingers. 

Amused, I went over and asked them what they were doing.

Stacy said she was pretending to be a dancing raisin from the California Raisin commercials.

This struck a chord. By an odd coincidence, I had recently discovered a California Raisin CD at a music store.  It was in the “discounted CD bin”.  For the magnificent sum of $5, I bought it on a whim.

On the album was the California Raisin version of Marvin Gaye's classic "Heard it Through the Grapevine".  Using Tracy’s hand gestures as the starting point, I created the Raisin Dance for the 1992 Sock Hop. 

The Raisin Dance was a huge hit.  In fact, people liked it so much that six months later I decided to create a “Monster Mash” sequel for the 1992 Halloween Party.


As opposed to the stylish “Thriller” dance steps, my approach was to pretend a bunch of stiff, ugly, lumbering monsters have awakened on Halloween Night to dance in the Graveyard. 

One would not expect these plodding monsters to be the best dancers, so I deliberately designed the moves to resemble a clumsy monster struggling to move to the music. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting anywhere.  The breakthrough came when I recalled a goofy dance from the Sixties called the “Freddy”.  A simple adaptation changed the “Freddy” to the “Mash”.  The “Freddy/Mash” move fit the “They did the Mash!” lyrics like a glove.  I grinned.  This was going to be fun.  I couldn’t wait to see people trying to imitate a clod-footed monster with poorly connected body parts trying to dance. 

Everyone at the studio knew what I was doing.  I made it clear that we would have a sequel to the popular Raisin Dance at this year’s Halloween Party.

In the weeks leading up the Halloween party, I would practice my Monster moves before dance class.  There were a couple moves that needed some tweaking.   Meanwhile people were curious.  Students would show up early and see me doing these strange moves.  I would immediately freeze because I wanted the dance to be a surprise.  Therefore no one was allowed any more than the briefest peek.  In other words, I was being a tease.

Several of my students took the bait.  These students made a point to come to the studio early and sneak up on me just to see what this strange new dance looked like as I practiced.  But I always kept on the lookout.  There was no way I was going to show them.

At the time I was just having fun.  There was no deliberate attempt on my part to manipulate interest in the dance.  I knew I had a hit and I just wanted to keep it a secret until the night of the party.  However, as it turned out, my ‘tease’ had a magic effect.  Inadvertently, my ‘tease’ in the days leading up to the party set the scene for the strangest compliment I have ever received. 

You see, thanks to my reluctance to practice when people were watching, no one had the slightest idea what my dance looked like.  The SSQQ Monster Mash remained shrouded in mystery.  Rumors suggested it was really weird.   These rumors led to a terrific hype.  What was this dance?  What did it look like? 

“C’mon, Rick, show us what it looks like!”

Nope.  No way.  Wait till Halloween.

The Monster Mash is cute.  There can be no denying it.  The Monster Mash is a clever dance that fits the music to a Tee.  But when compared to the highly stylish moves of Thriller, the Mash suffers badly.  I knew that people thought this dance was the next Thriller. 

I also knew how the curiosity would go up in smoke if I showed the students ahead of time.  I imagined their reaction would be something like this:

“Hey, I just saw Rick doing the Monster Mash.  You cannot believe how disappointed I was.  There’s nothing to it.  You can learn it in three minutes.  It is no big deal.”

It was better to keep everyone in the dark. 

However, I never anticipated the power of a secret.  Left to their imagination, the legend of the Monster Mash began to approach the same hyperbolic mania wrapped around the current “Achy Breaky Heart” which was sweeping the nation.

Indeed, the interest was so great that I decided to offer a Halloween Line Dance Crash Course in the hour preceding that year’s Halloween Party.  I told my various classes that anyone who came to the workshop would get a preview of the Monster Mash.  

I could not believe it.  One person after another showed up.  The line went out the door!  I had expected a few people to attend, but I admit I was beyond shocked when 100 people showed up. 

The curiosity apparently was overwhelming because these people were willing to shell out 10 bucks apiece just to get a preview.   Now of course there were five other Line Dances being taught, but most people already knew those dances.  Clearly they were here for the unveiling of the Mash.  Now I was worried.  What if they didn’t like it?   I began to wonder if they would lynch me when they realized how silly the actual dance was. 

By chance, my friend Mike Fagan walked in just as I began to teach the Monster Mash.   I suppose it would help to explain that Mike is more than slightly unconventional in his outlook on life. 

At this time, Mike was a Berkeley-educated computer scientist who taught at Rice University.  Mike was so brilliant that he used to make his high school teachers miserable because he knew more about the subjects they taught than they did.   I used to grin at the vision of how someone like Mike could drive an instructor crazy.

Mike could tease me better than anyone I had ever met.  He was the master of the insult.  To say that Mike was a bit on the sarcastic side would be a vast understatement.  But that didn’t bother me.  I liked Mike a lot because I absolutely loved his sarcasm.  

Tonight as Mike entered the dance studio, he was in a bad mood because he had been forced to walk almost a mile to get to the studio.  And why was that?  The parking lot was completely packed before the party had even started.  This meant Mike had to park a long way from the studio.  He had come early to get a good parking spot, but Mike didn’t know about my workshop.  Now as he trudged through the Bellaire neighborhood, he couldn’t help but wonder why the studio was so packed an hour before the party.  What the heck was going on? 

I had just begun the classic moves of the Mash when I noticed Mike had entered the room.  Mike seemed startled at the huge crowd.  He stopped in his tracks at the edge of the dance floor and began to analyze what was going on.  I seemed to me that Mike was both confused and thoroughly mesmerized. 

It helps to know that Mike was a highly skilled dancer.  At this time, Mike was the current State Dance Champion in a dance called the Whip.  He was also a former break dancer.  This meant Mike was accustomed to unusual dance forms.  For some reason, apparently my strange Monster Mash dance had him deeply intrigued.   I was curious to know what on earth was running through his mind.

As I taught, I continue to monitor Mike’s reactions over there in the doorway.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed him staring at me with increasing levels of incredulity.  His jaw was wide open and his eyes were wide.   Mike just kept shaking his head in consternation. 

I was getting so distracted by Mike that I wasn’t teaching very well.  I couldn’t imagine what was bothering him, so I finally I decided to ignore him and turn my attention back to the class.

When the workshop was over, I didn’t have to look for Mike because I saw him make a beeline straight to my side.  Good.  Now maybe I would find out what was bugging him.

Mike began by asking a question.

“Rick, did those students have any idea how terrible they looked?  I have never seen so many bad dancers in my life!   Did those students pay for this workshop?

With a sense of dread, I nodded yes.

“How much?”


Mike’s eyes grew wide. 

“You must be kidding me.  Are you telling me you just made $1,000 in return for teaching people how to dance like complete spastics?”

“Well, Mike, I am not sure I would put it that way, but yes, I guess so.”

Mike shook his head. 

“I mean it.  Those people looked ridiculous.   Rick, you are a genius!”

At that comment, I did a double-take.  Mike’s comments had just pivoted in a wholly unanticipated direction.  I thought I was being criticized.

“Rick, you have to be the first dance teacher in history to get rich by teaching people how to look really crummy when they dance!  Most people don’t have to pay actual money to look bad, but you figured out a way to charge for it!  I cannot believe these people paid you $10 to learn how to dance badly.  No wonder your studio is so successful!”

The sad thing is that Mike said this with a straight face.  There was not a hint of sarcasm.  You have to know Mike to truly understand him, but he was actually impressed.  I think he saw me as the greatest con artist in dance studio history. 

Even PT Barnum couldn’t pull off something as outrageous as this.  There was actually something bordering on “awe” at my “marketing genius” in his voice.

Indeed, I had just received the strangest backhanded compliment of my entire dance career.

The Cayman Beach Walk

During our various cruises, Marla and I have discovered that a long walk in exotic settings can be very romantic.  With this in mind, Marla and I scheduled a Beach Walk along the Seven Mile Beach in Cayman.  Seven Mile Beach is very pretty.  Home to trophy homes, vacation condos and expensive hotels, this area is acknowledged as the most famous beach in the Caribbean. 

Unfortunately, our walk wasn’t as successful as I hoped it would be.   City people see pictures of the beach and fall in love with the idea of a romantic walk along the beach, but they have no idea just how HOT a beach can get when the water and the sand reflect the sunlight on a clear day.

Well, as we discovered, on a warm day with no cloud cover, the sun superheated our beach to degrees that were very uncomfortable. 

One technique to deal with this heat problem is to take walks in the early morning or late evening, but since our ship didn’t even dock till 11 am, we were forced to begin our walk at 1 pm.   The heat was brutal.  Half our group of 30 checked out just two miles into the walk and took taxis back to the ship. 

Oh well.  It was a good idea on paper.   Who would have guessed there would be summer temperatures in mid-October?

The Jamaican Singalong

The Singalong was another idea that didn’t go over quite as well as expected.  During our Mariner 2013 cruise, on our Catamaran Day we had some inspired singing on our bus trip to and from the boat.  Our friend Cindy Hudson was inspirational in getting the whole bus to sing at the top of their lungs.  The enthusiasm was infectious… we loved every moment.

Why not try again on the Jamaica bus ride for this 2014 trip?   Cindy tried her best, but the energy wasn’t quite the same.  We sang a few songs, but eventually gave up.  The energy never came close to hitting the critical mass needed to fire the booster rocket.

What was missing? 

Most important, we needed more sheet lyrics to hand out to everyone on the bus.  Without the lyrics, most people were very handicapped in trying to sing songs.

Second, we were completely sober.  Big difference.  Make that ‘huge difference’.  We were completely missing the rum-inspiration that had fueled the great 2013 Singalong.  

Fortunately we had a delightful tour guide, a Jamaican lady named Prudence, to save the day.  Prudence had a special gift… the ability to sing well and be sober at the same time.  I was in awe.

Although she refused to confirm my hunch (I asked three times), I suspect Prudence has some singing background.  Prudence was a very good singer and not at all modest, so I suspect she has sung in a choir many times.  Her rendition of Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O”, aka the Banana Boat Song, was spot on. 

Prudence also had us laughing and grinning with her Trinidad folk song “Shame and Scandal in the Family”.  

A week went by and the summer came down

And soon another girl on the island, he found

He went to his papa to name the day

His papa shook his head and this time he did say


"You can't marry this girl, I have to say no

That girl is your aunty but your granny don't know


Hey, woe is me, shame and scandal in the family

Hey, woe is me, shame and scandal in the family


Now, he went to his mama and covered his head

He told his mama what his papa had said

His mama, she laughed, she said, "Go man, go

Your daddy ain't your daddy but your daddy don't know"


Prudence was a godsend.  We had no trouble singing along with Prudence.

Dunn’s River Falls

Fortunately the success of our visit to Jamaica did not hinge on the success of our singing or we would have been in big trouble.  Our trip to Dunn’s River Falls more than made up for any lingering disappointment.

Marla’s idea to organize a group excursion to Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica turned out to be a huge hit.  I had heard this was a popular place, but I had no idea why. 

One might ask why someone who sits at the edge of the throne would be so poorly informed, but I contend that my position at the foot of the master explains exactly why I know so little.

In my role as “Mr. Marla”, I know I am going to do whatever she plans regardless.   So I don’t pay much attention in the planning stages.  If there’s something I need to know, I have little doubt Marla will inform me when the time comes. 

Now let’s be clear that my complete ignorance in the days leading up the trip irritates the Master no end and I don’t blame her for feeling that way.  However, you know what they say… “Beware the man who is married to the leader.  He is preparing to let her do all the thinking.”

However, in the case of Dunn’s River Falls, I became curious about it the day before the trip began, so I looked it up on the Internet.  I learned something very interesting.

According to Wikipedia, “While the 1962 independence from Great Britain is widely celebrated within Jamaican society, it has become a subject of debate. In 2011, a survey showed that approximately 60% of Jamaicans would push to once again become a British territory after citing years of social and fiscal mismanagement in the country.”

Following the end of World War II, there was a strong movement towards independence for many British colonies. 

My friend Iqbal, who joined us for this trip along with his lovely wife Barbara, once told me that leaving the British Commonwealth was a huge mistake for Jamaica.  They have not handled their independence well.

At the same time, the neighboring Cayman Islands 200 miles southwest of Jamaica were offered the same independence.  Cayman chose to remain a British protectorate.

Today, by a vast margin Cayman enjoys the highest standard of living in the Caribbean.  Jamaica has one of the lowest standards of living.  What an interesting comparison. 

That said, if Jamaica can ever get its act together, the island itself has enormous physical beauty.  It really is a paradise.  And Dunn’s River Falls is one of the main attractions.

Let’s find out why.

As I discovered, Dunn’s River Falls are unusual in a very special way.  The waterfalls are terraced like giant natural stairs though some incorporate man-made improvements.  Several small lagoons are interspersed among the vertical sections of the falls.  These falls cascade over gradually descending levels of rocks for half a mile. 

As we approached, I realized I have never seen waterfalls anything like these.  They looked very imposing from the side.  I had heard Dunn’s River Falls have a reputation of being difficult, so I had no idea just how large today’s challenge would be. 

It did not help that there were giant spider webs complete with huge spiders in the trees lining our way to the Falls.  These spiders were really creepy.  Nor did it help to spot a giant vulture in a tree overlooking the Falls.   The presence of spiders and vultures was disconcerting to say the least.   Was this a bad omen of some sort? 

It turned out my fears were groundless.   The waterfall is absolutely perfect for climbing. 

Once I got in the water, I learned that climbing the falls wasn’t quite as difficult as it had appeared.  Due to a very favorable 30 degree angle of the river, it turns out that if one is careful, it is possible to climb these waterfalls by foot.  

That said, I could see how someone could get hurt.  One misstep and a person could fall onto hard rock below.  Slipping was a real concern because it could lead to a broken bone, a head concussion or at the very least a bad bruise. 

The gushing waters overlook the Caribbean Sea.  Before the waters empty into the Caribbean, the moving water has created gentle terraced slopes complete with many convenient stepping stones all along a significant length of the river (about 1,000 feet long). 

The width of the river is about 150 feet wide, so there is a lot of room from side to side to pick different approaches to the top.  Centuries of water has created steps and footholds all along the way.  I wouldn’t say the climbing is easy, but anyone with a little patience and a sense of determination can make it…. especially if they have athletic friends to lend a hand along the way. 

There are approximately 10 stepping zone areas.   Resting in between each of these terraced climbing areas were wonderful lagoons where the water was no higher than four feet.  People could rest and play for a while.  I recall some serious water fights!

Although I was usually too busy climbing to pay attention, we were surrounded by tremendous natural beauty.  Suntan lotion was not necessary thanks to the beautiful canopy of trees above.  The falls are bordered by lush, green vegetation that shades the area from the sun.  This canopy adds to the beauty and keeps the area cool.  In addition to the trees, we were surrounded by a thick forest of lush, tropical plants.  The cascading water was absolutely pure; it sparkled in the Jamaican sunlight.  Best of all, the water was not cold at all.  If there was any discomfort, it was usually from the accumulation of small rocks in our shoes. 

Climbing these Falls was a real challenge that required concentration and teamwork.  One bad mistake and someone could definitely get hurt.  So the idea was to not make a mistake.   One neat feature about climbing the Falls was taking care of each of other.  This required lots of helping hands along the way.  I enjoyed the teamwork required.

We all climbed in long human chains by holding hands.  The hand holding definitely helped with balance.  Holding hands also allowed the agile ones to help the less agile. 

I discovered these rocks favored the tall ones like me.  Long legs were a real asset in bridging the gap from one stepping spot to a new stepping spot.  I recall many instances where I would take a long step and get a strong footing on a new rock.  Then I would turn around and help various people through the rough spots.  This helped prevent slipping.

It wasn’t a short climb either.  They say the climb varies from one hour to 90 minutes.  I estimated our climb at 45 minutes, but it might have taken longer.  All I know is that there was a real sense of accomplishment when we reached the finish line.

To be honest, I have never seen anything like these waters before.  They say that Dunn's River Falls is the only one of its kind in the Caribbean, if not the world.  I don’t know if this is correct, but I do know this is a very special place to visit. 

We all came away saying we felt like kids again, a statement I completely agree with.  This trip was definitely a major highlight for everyone.

Trivial Pursuits

I am very pleased to say that just as I predicted, our SSQQ group won trophy after trophy aboard the Navigator.   The leader of the team I was on was Jim Hudson.  Jim was brilliant, but serveral others such as Ann Faget, Tom and Margaret Easley, and Kyle Guidry contributed as well.   Jim’s wife Cindy helped considerably by whispering the wrong answers out loud.  To our great amusement, we discovered one of Cindy’s “misinformation answers” on another team’s answer sheet when they passed it to us during the grading phrase.   We stopped at nothing in our quest for dominance.

Oddly enough, the equally brilliant Tim Francis, trivia superstar of a previous SSQQ cruise, preferred to go his own way.  It didn’t seem to hurt him much.  I might add that Tim’s family was instrumental in helping him win several contests as well.

Judging from the results, I imagine both teams were about even.  We took turns winning the contests.  Typically, one SSQQ team typically not only won the contest while the other finished a close second.  I can only remember one contest where a third team won the glory.

I take great pride in saying we are not only great dancers, but we are a pretty smart crowd as well.

The Ice Show

Another highlight of the trip for me was the ice show.  One very exquisite pleasure during our trip was the chance to see the ice show aboard the Navigator.  What a thrill!  

I get a little frustrated with Royal Caribbean’s emphasis on what I call ‘gimmicks’.  If you have been on an RCCL ship lately, you know what I mean… rope courses, surfing venues, rock climbing, basketball courts, and elaborate putt-putt golf courses. 

While I am not saying these venues are necessarily wrong, I do wish they would invest the same kind of money into ‘dance floors’.  In my opinion, all cruise lines would be better served by paying more attention to “social dancing”.   I wish they would create a dance floor the same size as one of their basketball courts.  Give me the chance and I would put a floor like that to good use and create an optional week-long dance program aboard the ship.

You scoff, but I am completely serious.  Dance classes are hugely popular at sea.  Everyone I meet outside our group laments that they would take dance classes back at home if they weren’t so darn busy.  Now that they are vacation, they finally have some free time. 

They would love to spend some of their time learning to dance.  Great idea!  Let’s do it!  I would create a series of six morning dance classes.  Each day would build on the previous class.  At the end of the week, have a special party for the dance group.  

I firmly believe in the Love Boat concept.  No place in the world has more built-in potential for romance than a cruise trip aboard the high seas.  It is a well-documented fact that “dance” is a direct path to a lady’s heart.  In addition to a few well-timed margaritas, there is no faster way to unlock a lady’s smile than dancing. 

Trust me, I know what I am talking about.  I speak from extensive personal experience.  My dance studio was a veritable marriage factory during my day.  We married off 250 couples in the final 11 years of my program. 

I also know the power of dance to create romance is very strong at sea.   After all, I met my wife Marla on the dance floor during our 2001 cruise.  Once I had her in my arms, the chemistry began immediately.  After the dance, we went and talked awhile.  That’s where the well-timed margaritas helped the conversation along.  Then we danced some more, then we talked some more.  After an hour of this, we were quickly falling in love. 

However, sad to say, in general the public’s interest in dancing has never been the same since 9-11.  So during this lull, the cruise ships have had no idea how to properly market “dancing” aboard their ships.  Instead they shrink and tear down the dance floors to replace them with food venues and jock activities.   Just what we need… more food.  And I can safely say that rock climbing and basketball are complete failures when it comes to creating romance. 

That said, I will say that the ice venue is a great idea.  It was very romantic listening to the fabulous music and watching these great athletes perform.   Ice skaters are very beautiful people and their gracefulness on the ice makes them even more beautiful. 

The First-Ever SSQQ Halloween Party at Sea

Marla saved her most ingenious idea for last… we had our first-ever SSQQ Halloween Party at sea.   As our tee-shirts promised, this event was definitely a “Graveyard Smash”.  

Our guests clearly took our Halloween idea seriously.  It is a lot of effort to get a costume, so when I saw how wonderful the costumes were, I knew that the SSQQ Halloween Magic is still alive.

Marla was impressed with the costumes.  She took especial delight in taking everyone’s picture as they arrived.   Marla ended up with over 200 pictures!  When I get a chance to post the pictures, it will soon be clear to everyone what a good job everyone did wearing a costume to the party.  Many of the costumes were outstanding! 

We had lots of champagne waiting for people.  As a gift, Marla had a complimentary bottle of champagne sent to every room.  The guests were encouraged to save their champagne for this event and almost everyone complied.  Consequently there were over 50 bottles of champagne on hand to set the night on fire.

People were shocked to discover there was plenty of room to dance.  Thanks to a little furniture redistribution on my part, the dance setting was perfect.    Earlier in the week I was surprised to discover it isn’t that difficult to dance on the carpet.   So I made sure to remove many tables and chairs next to the dance floor.  This trick effectively doubled the size of our dance space.  By removing lots of chairs, we now had a dance space equivalent to the size of our group.  Everyone loved the added space.   The floor stayed crowded for two solid hours.

Once the champagne kicked in, the party exploded!  Watching 120 people dance the night away in costume made for quite a sight.   Helped along by liberal doses of champagne, inhibitions were cast aside and the dancers had the time of their lives.   Wait till you see the pictures!

As I guessed, creating a costume at sea was a fairly simple task.  The mask idea definitely did the trick.  As accessories go, liberal use was made of boas and wigs.  Marla's Halloween tee-shirt did the rest for many people.

I will be honest and say this was a bittersweet moment for me.  My 30 years at SSQQ were successful because I loved using dance as a way to bring people together.  No other event bonded people quite like our Halloween parties at SSQQ.  Therefore this seaside recreation of the glorious SSQQ Halloween Party was a real thrill for me.   And yet at the same time I realized how much I missed those Halloween Parties.  

So I sat back and watched as the dancers paraded by my DJ station.  This of course led me to reminisce about the glory days.  While I don’t miss all the work involved in running the dance studio, I do miss the satisfaction that comes from throwing one heck of a good party. 

And tonight’s party was just that… one heck of a good party.  I want to thank Marla and all of her guests for helping me relive this wonderful experience again.

As expected, we had an ample of supply of champagne!


The 2015
Labor Day Sock Hop Cruise featuring the Joe Valentino Show

I think you all get the idea that the 2014 cruise was nothing short of magical.   Thanks to Marla’s careful preparation and thanks to our group coordinator Noe, all the elements were in place for a super trip.

The thing that took us to the top were the inspired contributions of many different guests.  I am talking about costumes, I am talking about dinner table decorations, and I am talking about enthusiastic participation in our events.  Ultimately it is the guests… or ‘passenger dynamics’ if you prefer… who make the difference in whether a cruise trip is special or just ordinary. 

In the case of the SSQQ Travel Group, everyone seems to take their cue from Marla.  Marla explains carefully what the events will be and then the guests figure out how to breathe their own form of inspired lunacy into the picture.  In other words, people understand that they are free to be just as creative as they wish in getting the party started.   Once Marla organizes the event, then the decorators go to work.

Back on Saint Patrick’s Day 2014, six of us met for a dance party at the Chandelier Ballroom.  Mike and Debra Hrncir and Cindy and Jim Hudson had invited Marla and I to join them.  What we didn’t expect was to run into Joe Valentino and his wife Robin at the same party.

Joe and Robin were not there as performers, but rather as civilians.  Considering this was a Saturday night, it was very unusual that they had a Saturday night to themselves.  Just as unusual, rather than kick back and relax at home, they had come to the Chandelier on their own just to dance together.  When Debra and Cindy saw them, they invited Joe and Robin to come sit at our table.  There thanks in part to good will and copious glasses of red wine, we all became fast friends.

I will take credit for having the idea to suggest that Robin and Joe perform at the Chandelier.  I went over to my friend Vernell, the lady in charge, and hooked her up with Joe for an impromptu interview.  And that is how it all started.

Four months later, in July 2014, we had an incredible Sock Hop dance party at the Chandelier complete with over 300 people in attendance.  The enthusiasm was unbelievable.  Vernell would later say she had never seen so many people dancing in her life.

After the party, Marla had idea.  The two biggest dance parties at SSQQ every year were the Halloween Party and the Sock Hop.  If we could have a Halloween Cruise in 2014, why not have a Sock Hop at sea as well?   So Marla invited Joe and Robin to come along on our 2015 cruise and perform for us.  They accepted the offer without any hesitation whatsoever. 

So next year we will have the Joe Valentino Show come along with us to give two separate two-hour Sock Hop performances during our 2015 Labor Day Cruise.  

What is neat about Joe Valentino is that he is funny.  Joe Valentino is a mixture of Dion and the Fonz.  The more cool Joe tries to act, the more the rest of us start to smile.   Seriously, if you have never seen the Joe Valentino Show, you have no idea what a character this guy is.

Hey, I have an idea.  If you don’t want to take my word for it, come see for yourself.  On Friday, December 5th, the Joe Valentino Show will be performing at the Chandelier Ballroom again.  Circle the date and come check it out.  Not only will you laugh yourself silly, you will see how enthusiastic the crowd is. 

We will Dance Dance Dance while the beat’s really hot and we’ll have Fun Fun Fun till Daddy takes the T-Bird away. 

On our 2015 SSQQ Sock Hop Cruise, an intimate knowledge of East Coast Swing would be very helpful for the Joe Valentino Show.  After all, Swing and Jitterbug are the two dances that work best to the music of the Fifties and Sixties.  However, West Coast Swing dancers and Western dancers will have their day as well.  West Coast Swing is the dance of choice for Motown music… think ‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin.  Furthermore, Robin sings the classic Patsy Cline songs so well that surely people will be inspired to dance the Polka to her beautiful voice.

We will not be limited to East Coast Swing on this trip.  Joe and Robin are responsible for only two of the 12 different scheduled dance events. 

Besides the two Joe Valentino performances, Marla has Late Night dancing scheduled every night of the trip, three private dance parties, and dance classes during the morning as well. 

One of those dance classes will surely be devoted to Sock Hop Line Dances such as the California Raisin Dance I mentioned earlier as well as the Stroll, Twisting the Night Away, and the Land of 1000 Dances.  And you know what?  I think I will add the Monster Mash to the lineup as well.  Hopefully I will still remember the moves.

Yes, the 2014 SSQQ Halloween Dance Cruise was clearly a Graveyard Smash.  Building on the phenomenal energy of this year’s trip, the 2015 SSQQ Sock Hop Cruise has the potential to become the biggest dance cruise in the history of Marla’s program. 

I understand that the next cruise is a year away, but the sooner each person commits to the trip, the sooner the entire Houston dance community will figure out that this trip is the place to be next Labor Day.   Don’t be shy; c’mon and join the party! 

And if we have too many people sign up?   So what?   Hey, then we move the furniture and cut a rug.  If I can do it for the Halloween Party, then I can do it again for the Sock Hop Party. 

Let’s Go to the Hop! 

The 2015 Sock Hop Dance Cruise

A warm ‘Welcome Aboard’ to our new Sock Hop 2015 Passengers!

On Monday morning when I opened my email, my eyes bulged at the first email to come in.  The email was from Marla.   It was a list of 28 people who had signed up for next year’s Labor Day Sock Hop Cruise… each one of these people had “re-enlisted” on board the ship during our Halloween Cruise. 

This was by far the largest number of people I have ever added to our passenger list in one day.

Thank you, everyone!  

Your support has given our 2015 Joe Valentino Sock Hop Cruise a huge lift.   

As far as I am concerned, this powerful response is indicative of the success of this year’s 2014 trip.   And I think this is just the start.  I am betting we will have quite a crowd on next year’s Sock Hop Cruise.

Rick Archer
October 2014


PS: Formal Pictures

Rick's Note: I should have the Formal Pictures posted first week of November.


Navigator 2014 Home Passengers Formal Pictures Halloween at Sea
SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
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