The Story of the 2002 SSQQ Rhapsody Caribbean Cruise
Written by Rick Archer
the Curse of Gary's Horrible Black Socks!
Other than the Horror of Gary
Richardson's Black Socks, the SSQQ Rhapsody Cruise was incredibly pleasant.
It was fun, it was comfortable, it was almost too peaceful. There is an old saying
that the Western movie doesn't begin until the bad guy shows up. Our cruise didn't have a bad
moment which unfortunately for me makes writing an exciting story nearly impossible. So
if you get from time to time you get nauseated from reading all my compliments and banal
pleasantries, I suggest you come along on next year's trip to cause
trouble and give me something meaty to write about.
that Can Go Wrong Does Go Wrong.
My trip got off to a very rough start. I
experienced several major set-backs before the trip and at the start of the trip.
Here is what happened:
Thursday. The week before the trip was an ordeal for me work-wise. As I struggled to get my important studio Newsletter out while running a million last-minute errands, I had one thing after another go wrong. The final days before the trip were a total disaster.
All week long I frantically wrote the Newsletter in order to send it out a week earlier than usual.
Then just as I finished it Thursday, my home was hit by lightning which knocked out my email/Internet. Without that I couldn't send out the SSQQ Newsletter.
Friday. Fortunately I had a friend who could help. That morning I
went to Gary Richardson's TFW Computer store to use his internet
connections send the Newsletter out. Since I couldn't send the
Newsletter out from home, that killed an entire day I had intended to
use for packing. On a bright note at least by the end of the day I got most of the Newsletter out
and my home internet connection fixed.
Saturday. Saturday morning my misfortunes continued when I was hit by a basketball.
The ball took a bizarre bounce off the rim and smashed me hard in the
face. The impact broke my glasses which then cut my face badly. I
couldn't stop the bleeding. I had to leave immediately and drove home with
blood running down my face profusely.
What more could go wrong?
To my shock, I discovered someone else was having it even worse than I
was. As I nursed a headache and held an ice pack to my face to
stop the bleeding (it was a bad cut), I read my email and found out that Bill Wibker, one of our trip members, had undergone emergency heart surgery
the day before. Fortunately the surgery was mostly of a preventative nature so he didn't feel too bad. At the same time just to be on the safe side his doctor didn't think he needed to be out at sea in case of unexpected complications. This made sense.
(Bill wasn't the only person who missed the trip; that same Saturday
Aisha Currie found her aging mother unconscious from illness and
probably saved her life by taking her to the hospital!)
Unfortunately, Bill's misfortunes caused a huge problem for me for two reasons. First of all, I had built
a lot of my plans for the trip around Bill. He was setting up a kayaking expedition in
Cayman which I enthusiastically wanted to participate in and he had
vaguely mentioned another trip as well. Now without him I had lost my leader. This meant I was flying blind in regards to the trips since I had not had time to read any of his emails since committing to the trip a couple weeks earlier. I had simply forwarded all of his emails to my laptop and figured I would read them once I got on board the ship. This move backfired badly as you will see.
Second, Bill understandably did not want his pre-paid spot to go to
waste. He wanted someone to have fun in his place. It was such a nice
gesture I scrambled for three hours Saturday morning to contact the
travel agent Anne Adams, to email everyone I could think, and put a
message on the web site to look for someone to take his place. I typed emails with one hand while I held
the compress to my face with the other hand. I had to get my bleeding to stop since I didn't have time to get stitches!! Fortunately at the last minute we were able to get Mark Ramirez, Janie Ramirez's son, to take the Bill's spot.
Now I was very short on time. I had a new Whip Crash Course to teach that night. As a result I spent Saturday afternoon watching videotapes to prepare for my dance workshop that night. The moment I was done working on my workshop, it was time to leave for my party that night.
The party was tough and I was exhausted. To my despair, the SSQQ Staff
team lost the Balloon Race that night for the first time ever (and it
was my fault). Look what happens when I get tired. Plus I had to work till 1 am at my party
since I had to take the decorations down before I left on the trip. I never had a moment's rest all day. This was the third day in a row just like this.
Thank God a vacation was around the
corner. It's just too bad you have to work twice as hard to buy the time
to take time off.
DAY ONE - SUNDAY
I got back up at 7 am on Sunday and I had so much to do I was still packing as the people came to pick me up Sunday morning at 11 am. I was so nervous. I had been under non-stop pressure for three days now.
Fortunately I had time to relax once I was finished packing. Robby Thompson was carpooling with Marla Gorzynski and me while Gary and Betty Richardson followed in their car. I figured the coast was clear so to speak, but I had one more problem to face.
That evening we had an excellent get-to-know-you cocktail party for the entire group up in the Viking Lounge.
Everyone got name tags and had their pictures taken. We danced, we laughed,
daiquiris, margaritas, and pina coladas. This was our first chance to get to know the other 85 people on the trip. It was a great start to the trip.
Then I got some very bad news. I discovered that my laptop had been crippled when someone spilled a strawberry daiquiri drink on it. It was an accident and the person involved showed a lot of guts by telling me what had happened.
I would have been totally forlorn if I hadn't known what happened. I was
so grateful he told me and I forgave him completely.
Unfortunately now the keyboard was frozen. This meant several things:
- Now I couldn't access Bill Wibker's emails. I had no idea what was in those five emails he had sent me the week before the trip.
- I couldn't write down any stories about the trip.
- My scavenger hunt was ruined.
- My music for much of the on-board dancing was no longer accessible.
Losing the laptop was a tough break.
As a result I missed out on kayak trips in Key West and in the Cayman Islands because I could not retrieve my emails. I am really sorry about the kayak problems because I ended up disappointing some people who were counting on me to join them. Plus I missed out on some trips I had looked forward to. Oh well. As they say, into every life a little rain must fall.
I thought of Bill and Aisha missing the trip entirely and had a hard time feeling sorry for
The story of this trip changed
dynamically as a huge consequence of losing the laptop. To
me, it was like a guitarist losing his guitar.
At my age, I have no memory. Hence my plans to write down details
and anecdotes from the trip were short-circuited.
I guess all those juicy love affairs I intended to write about will have to remain a
secret because I can't remember a thing about them. What a shame.
After the Cocktail Party, the group went to dinner. Already upset about the laptop, now I had a serious run-in with the Maitre d'. Our group of 85 had been given assigned seating at 9 different tables. With
the notable exception of the Schoppe sisters, 8 of the tables were adjacent to one another.
As a side note, although I never discovered why, Marian and Janet Schoppe were assigned to a table way on the other side of the
room. I kept wondering if they were on the trip since I
thought I had caught a glimpse of Janet (on the right). The joke
at dinner was they were busy Schopping.
Still it bugged me, so one
night I wandered around the dining room till I found them about as
far from the group as possible. I asked them to join us, but they
whispered they liked their waiter. Maybe there really was
something to this waiter-bonding stuff. I didn't ask any more
At least Gary was able to get their picture to prove they really
did go on the trip.
In regards to our seating
arrangement, I could tell not everyone was happy with the table they were assigned to.
For starters, there was one table with six single women and not one man (see
Janie, Angie, Melanie, and Reagan on the right. Two others have
left to go sit with men at this point, an act of disobedience I
There was another table with three single men and just one single woman. Although no one complained bitterly to me,
there was a lot of disappointment at being told we would not be
allowed to sit with whomever we wished.
I wanted all of us to have the freedom to sit at a different table within our group each night. Dinner time is the perfect chance to get to know people and to hear some good stories about the trip. Being limited to one table would definitely prevent me from doing some of my host duties.
I went directly to the Maitre D (pictured at right) and asked for open seating. To my shock, he strongly resisted my suggestion. His argument was that the waiters wish to develop relationships with the people at their particular table. What was unsaid was the more you liked the waiter, the more likely he was to receive a good tip.
Understanding where he was coming from I made a good suggestion - allow open seating with the exception of the first and last meal. Then everyone would tip their original waiter and everyone would go home happy. Still the Maitre D refused. He was convinced that doing it my way would lead to waiters receiving no tips or average tips.
He even came back and got me out of my seat during dinner to make my pitch to a ship officer. I think he did this just so he wouldn't have to be the bad guy. I explained my position that we were a group and wanted to get to know different people. I added that we had done exactly the same thing on our Carnival cruise the year before and it worked like a charm. Neither man would listen to me. The ship officer defended the Maitre
d's decision. The threat of losing tips was just too frightening to take a chance on. Sit where you are supposed to, bond with your waiter and to heck with the people in your group. Case Closed. Oh well.
Since no one seemed to have strong feelings, I decided not to press the
issue further and do it his way.
So for the most part we sat at our assigned tables and on the last day handed over our assigned tips. I didn't tip the Maitre D; he didn't deserve it for his short-sighted stubbornness.
I was surprised at how curious he was about how I would treat him. He kept watching me all evening long because he knew I was frustrated with him.
It is pathetic for someone in the business of service to be so insensitive to the needs of their customers. I would have seen to it that everyone was fully aware of the cooperation of the wait staff, but he didn't believe me.
Let me add that Dinner was uniformly singled out as an area that fell
below the group's expectations. I am sorry to say, but at least in this
area the Carnival Celebration from the year before took a knockout
victory over the Rhapsody.
DAY TWO - MONDAY AT SEA
Several nice things happened on Monday, Day Two.
That morning several people did an hour of Yoga led by Ray Lofti. In particular I enjoyed it because it gave me a chance to let some of the tension go from the previous 96 hours. We all laughed as we got into some pretty weird positions. Many positions require a lot of balance and a lot of flexibility. My balance was okay, but every muscle in my body felt tight. April Brown shocked all of us by being so limber she was able to put her shoulders on the floor. Amazing! Not to be completely outdone, Marla and I stood on our heads. Too much fun.
Then the group assembled for Swing Rueda. This is a group dance where the men form a circle with their backs to each other and the ladies form an outer circle facing the men. Each man dances a Swing pattern with the woman in front of him, then spins her to the next man on his right. It is fun to dance with so many different partners and visually the synchronization is a joy for spectators to watch. This was a lot of fun. Even though my laptop was broken, Linda Malin had brought some of her Swing CDs along, so we put them in the boom box and danced the afternoon away.
On a sour note, Marla met me that afternoon at the Windjammer Café with a frown on her face. I asked her what was wrong. She said there was a lady who was so obese she had to be pushed around in a wheel chair. The hallways near our cabin are so narrow that she actually got stuck. In other words, she was so wide that at one point her body completely filled the hallway. When Marla left three men were trying to free her by shifting her fat rolls around. Unbelievable.
Monday was Formal Night. I put on my tux and Marla put on a special blue dress she had bought just for this occasion. She looked stunning and I was very proud of her.
We attended the Captain's Reception and Slow Danced to the beautiful Big Band music in the gorgeous "Shall We Dance" lounge. This moment was one of the highlights of our trip. It was particularly special since it was the anniversary of when we became a couple on the SSQQ cruise a year earlier.
Gary Richardson was especially wonderful this night. Having volunteered to be the official Cruise Photographer, at dinner time he unselfishly gave of his time to take one shot after another of all the beautiful woman and handsome men dressed for Formal Night.
'Glamour' is a huge missing element from most of our lives. It was fun to work hard to look our best, then have someone with Gary's patience and talent to take our pictures so we could have these memories.
Nor was just this night that Gary's photographic skill was appreciated. From start to finish, Gary worked overtime to take one picture after another to chronicle our trip. He had so many pictures that at the end he used the resources of his computer store, TFW Computers, to generate a travelogue of our week's adventure on a CD.
He told me he spent 30 hours (yes, 30 HOURS!) putting this CD together, a real labor of love. As a result of his hard work, all we had to do was pop his CD in our computer and watch for 20 minutes as a slide show of 300 different pictures flashed across the screen. Gary did an amazing service for all of us.
In addition to all the photography work, Gary was his usual
perpetual motion dance machine. Gary loves to dance so much he
almost never sits out a song. As a result he has become a real joy
for the ladies since he is so much fun to dance with.
Gary and his lovely wife Betty are pictured here on the right. It
was so much fun having them on the trip that I was glad Gary came
along even though he wore those hideous
YUCK TO THE MAX!!
Gary was the only
person on the entire ship who was fashion-impaired. Most people
such as Randy and Melissa (you will see their picture below)
understood the sock concept very clearly. And obviously his
beautiful wife Betty understood. In fact I am sure Betty
tried to coach him, but I bet Gary didn't listen. The rest
of us were SO embarrassed.
Later that night the evening show about "Mardi Gras" was spectacular. The dancing and singing were of such high caliber that I felt many of the performers had Broadway
ability (pictured right).
Besides the dancers, the Rhapsody shows included a terrific magic
act, good comedians, a juggler, an acrobat, and a
The entertainment was consistently spectacular all week.
After the show later that night I experienced my biggest disappointment with the trip -
the dance band was awful!! When I first saw the dance floor in the "Shall We Dance Room", I was taken by the beauty and spaciousness of this exquisitely designed facility. Our group had plenty of room to dance. The poor dance facilities on the Carnival ship the year before had been a major reason that I wanted to try Rhapsody/Royal Caribbean this year.
The dance band was called "Odysea", obviously a takeoff on the Homer epic 'Odyssey' about the post-Trojan War problems of the Greek hero Odysseus. The problem with their music is they could only play at one speed. Their Twostep music was 130 beats per minute. Their Polka music was 130 beats per minute. Their Swing music was 130 bpms. So was their Whip music.
The problem is that not one of the dances listed above is any fun at that speed. The only dance that works well at the Band Speed is Jitterbug, triple step triple step back step. And very few people can dance the Jitterbug footwork well, even the Swingers.
One speed fits all music. Every night same music same speed. The dancers were so frustrated. And the taped music that was played while the band took a break wasn't
One man told me he had more fun dancing the year before on Carnival's Celebration because at least our group could dance to my CDs and my boom box. They didn't have a floor to compare to "Shall We Dance", but at least the music had the right speed and feel to it.
What a shame.
DAY THREE - TUESDAY AT KEY WEST
Gary and Betty Richardson, Marla and I got off the boat to tour Key West. Right off the bat something went wrong that put me in a very bad mood. Arthur Madrid and Carol Holmes came up to me and asked why I wasn't ready for kayaking. Because I didn't ever get to read the emails, I was completely blindsided. I was stunned. I told them I thought the trip was for Cayman. I apologized profusely, but I had made other commitments to my friends and couldn't just disengage at a moment's notice. Carol and Arthur were very nice about it, but I felt depressed and guilty for the rest of the afternoon. I hate letting people down.
We walked around for about 4 hours and bought some odds and ends at various shops. There was very little scenery to look at, the architecture was very bland and all the wealth on the island was probably tied up in the millions of boats docked all over the place. Most of our day was spent aimlessly walking up and down the streets of this little hamlet looking for adventure and finding none.
Key West was hyped as a fabulous party mecca. Maybe so, but to my eye it was boring beyond belief. There is a near total absence of history on this little island.
After talking to some of the townspeople
I was forced to conclude the only famous thing to ever happen to Key
West was that Ernest Hemingway got drunk here a bunch of times at a
place called 'Sloppy Joe's'. Oh boy!
Mr. Hemingway's house is perhaps the only tourist attraction that I was even aware of. I noticed it cost practically $10 to visit. No thanks.
Key West was a very sleepy town. Everything moved slowly. I
was stunned to realize this place made last year's Vera Cruz look
exciting, no easy accomplishment.
One disturbing thing about Key West was the incredible number of human
derelicts that could be everywhere. Apparently the year-round balmy weather makes Key West a popular migration spot for bums, drunks, and
aging grey-haired hippies who fried their brains with drugs in the
70s. Like 'Night of the Living Dead', they just wander around the place like zombies or even worse just sit there not moving. Weird.
Apparently many of the deadbeats panhandle, but this wasn't a
problem for us. I told Gary to put on his black socks
zombies disappeared instantly.
Key West is known as a huge gay party island. Perhaps, but like Dracula nothing happens during the day. There was absolutely no excess and decadence to be seen by day. Too bad. I tried to talk Gary, Betty, and Marla into visiting a gay bar that night, but once we got comfy back on board that was the end of that.
If I were to come here again, the first thing I would do is rent a bicycle. It is hard to see much on foot when you don't even know what to look for. Plus it is tough to get good exercise unless you are a dedicated walker. Unfortunately we never even saw a place to rent bikes. Oh well. So much for Key West. Better luck next time.
It may have just been my bad mood, but can you tell I didn't care much for Key West??
It was Caribbean Night out by the pool that night. The band Steel Band Hott Sands was very
good. The warm night air wasn't too hot and there was plenty of
room to dance on deck.
Unlike the poor Odysea Band from the night before, this band knew
what it was doing. The dance music was the right speed and the
right sound. As a result, outside was fun.
We danced the night away with Salsa, Merengue, and Swing to "Mambo #5", "Hot Hot Hot", "Conga", and Gloria Estefan's "The Rhythm is Gonna Get
Ya". Plus the outdoor buffet was terrific. This was fun!
Our group was well-represented with about 16 dancers in
attendance. I remember watching Kevin Lee and Linda Malin, Eric
May and Debbie Orf, Pat and Jess Carnes, Luci Howard and Darren
Burns, Bruce Hanka and Bethany Daniels strut their stuff and I am
sure there were more.
The SSQQ dancers weren't the only hotshots. Here is a snapshot of
some pretty good dance acrobats. They seem to know what
they are doing! Next