The SSQQ Vera Cruise 2001
Rarely does an event with as much build up as the SSQQ Vera Cruise of 2001 live up to its hype, but from the impression I have been given this trip definitely was widely appreciated.
Believe it or not, we ended up taking 101 Cruisers on the trip. One out of every 15 people on the ship was from SSQQ. We ruled the swimming pool, we ruled the dance floors, and we ruled the dining room. Practically everyone on board knew about us. To say our group was the life of the party would be a vast understatement. We were the Party.
Day One got us off to a fast start. After hitting the water at 4 pm on Saturday, August 18, by 6 pm our group had its first party. We got together in the Disco. It was a wonderful event. I brought a huge boom box from home plus some CDs and personally DJ-ed the event. We danced Swing, Salsa, Western, and Whip to our heart's content. I would estimate attendance at nearly 70 people. Unfortunately the room and floor was nowhere near large enough for our group, so we danced between tables, in the aisles, behind the DJ booth, and anywhere else we could go to find space.
Then came dinner at 8:30 pm where to our rude surprise we found we had assigned seating. It didn't matter that your girlfriend was at another table or your parents wanted to sit with you. Our waiters insisted we sit right where our card said we were supposed to. This policy created a lot of frowns. After dinner, I went and spoke to the maitre d and pointed out our group wanted to move around. After he brought up a computerized display of our seating arrangements, this gentleman showed me that our group was centrally located in a specific area of the room. He said if we promised to stick to the 12 tables assigned to our group, we could switch seats anytime we wished. His decision was much appreciated by me and by the entire SSQQ group.
At midnight there was a much ballyhooed singles party in the Disco. It was a lot of fun to freestyle again for a change. All the dancing at SSQQ is partner dancing, so it was refreshing to dance a different style. I would estimate around 20 of our group participated.
The morning highlight of Day 2 was our first Salsa Rueda lesson. Rueda is a special form of Salsa where couples dance the same patterns, then switch partners. It was the perfect dance for a large group like ours. People who barely knew each other quickly became friends. We made a lot of mistakes and even the teacher made a goof or two, but no one seemed to care. Most of the really fun adventures were the results of mistakes. Women were ending up in men's arms unexpectedly from all sorts of directions. The guys thought that was great until other men started ended up in their arms by mistake too. It was like a chain letter gone mad - "forward this letter and all the women you can handle will be sent to you!" All we did was laugh a lot and have fun. This is the way dancing is supposed to be!!
As usual the room was too small for our group, so we stretched our circle between tables. Due to the roll of the ship, the tables were bolted down. We could move chairs, but the tables were non-negotiable so we learned to dance between them. Later that afternoon we moved to the Astoria Stage, which is where all the shows are held. Even this lovely area proved too small for us until we decided to form an inner circle to go with the larger outer circle.
The number of men and women kept shifting, so my instructors switched from boys to girls and back again with amazing fluidity. Everyone was such a good sport!
Sunday afternoon was the first day of tanning. Many people from our group were seen on the tanning deck, but the majority of the In-Crowd gathered around at the Lido Deck by the swimming pool. The Lido Deck quickly became the major daytime hangout for our group. This group danced by the poolside and organized groups to slide down the huge Waterworld-style water slide. In addition everyone spent countless hours taking each other's pictures and spent small fortunes to purchase drinks. The Lido Deck was VERY popular with our group and we were very popular with the other guests since we were so entertaining. For example, our men and women would whip, swing, or salsa dance anytime a good song came on. Plus our group included without a doubt the best looking women and men on the entire boat. Sure there were some lookers elsewhere, but as a group we were the cream of the crop.
Sunday evening involved the Captain's Reception. This was Formal Attire Night. Everyone appeared in dresses, gowns, coats and ties. And for the fun of it I even wore a tux. Why not?
The Astoria Lounge was where the event was held. The ship had an excellent band that performed Big Band Swing, Foxtrot, and Slow Dance music for us. I got there just as the music began and asked Carol Armand to dance Swing with me. We were the only ones on the stage. We danced very well together. Later I was told we danced so well the majority of the people in the room assumed we had been hired to help get the dancing started!
I believe for the next dance a Slow Song was played. Although the evening is a blur in my mind, I am fairly sure I asked the lovely Virginia McEathron to dance with me. Again we were the only ones on the floor! However as we left the floor I gestured to the whole room to come join us. Either it was my encouragement or the free booze kicked in, but for the third song a dozen couples got out there. Of course it also helped that the song played was all-time Swing favorite "In the Mood".
From then on a steady stream of our handsome men and our beautiful women graced the floor with their dancing. A Carnival onlooker told me that she had never seen such a multitude of excellent dancers. She said of course there was the occasional couple that shined, but not 15 couples at a time! She was very impressed.
From our group Laura Jameson and Karl Ulbrich in particular caught the cameraman's eye as they were the spotlight couple on the Cruise Ship Video Channel the next day. In addition Laura and Leo Skiba were videotaped again dancing Swing at another venue later in the evening and this was spotlighted too! Laura was definitely our Day Two Dancing Superstar!
Maureen Brunetti and I danced an excellent Swing together to a fast Swing song. Maureen is without a doubt the finest spinner of all the women I have ever danced with, so I thoroughly enjoyed showing the world what a great dancer she is with one turn pattern after another. How she turned so well with that boat constantly swaying is further testimony to her ability. We looked so good that several men stood up to shake my hand as we left the stage. What a nice Compliment!
I was having too good a time. They dropped the curtain to signal the end of the event, but made the mistake of playing an excellent Rhythm and Blues tune as the departure music. I looked at Jill Banta in her red dress and beckoned her over. There in front of 300 people who came early for the show that was about the start, Jill and I danced the Whip. In fact we really got into it with an appreciative audience. Then from behind the curtain came out a technical guy to put a plug in at the front of the stage. He told us to get the you-know-what off the stage.
I told him I would be happy to leave at the end of the song. He took one look at the audience and retreated. Hah. Too much fun! It was fun outnumbering the people who actually worked there. Several times I am positive we got our way simply to prevent a mutiny. "Yes, Mon Capitan, I have my personal army on board. They appear friendly, but they are dangerous when not permitted to dance. Do what I say or we shall send you and your pitiful crew to the lifeboats! You may leave the cook behind."
Ah, yes, the food. It was wonderful! The portions were small, but then I learned you could order everything you wanted several times. How they were able to think of so many different things to serve without including major food groups such as popcorn and peanut butter was beyond me. We all felt very grateful for the wonderful food.
Night Two was the first night out for most people. The group alternated between the Disco, the Endless Summer Lounge where some western music appeared periodically, and the Islands in the Sky where a 70s-style rock band performed. Alas, not one of these venues had a dance floor large enough to satisfy our group. Furthermore to the dismay of our group, when the performers decided to call it a night around 1 am, there was no more music!!
The group sat around complaining about no music to dance to. After an hour of bitching and moaning, at 2 am someone suggested to a couple guys they go to my room to ask me to borrow the boom box. Apparently they were unable to find anyone fearless enough to knock on my door at this hour of the morning. However the next day at breakfast they did ask me, so the boom box became a regular early morning fixture at the Endless Summer Lounge for the final three nights.
Day Three was Vera Cruz Day. As most of you remember, Tropical Storm Chantal was upgraded to Hurricane Status the very morning of our departure from Galveston. It was predicted to hit the Yucatan Peninsula (Cozumel and Cancun) the exact same day our ship was scheduled to visit the Yucatan Peninsula. What wonderful timing!
Most of us assumed from the get-go we would be rerouted to someplace else. Apparently in the past whenever a big wind was in the Caribbean the ship had headed over to New Orleans. Many people were very enthusiastic about a wild night on Bourbon Street (including me). Then someone mentioned another ship had been diverted to the legendary party island known as Key West. My ears perked up at this suggestion too. I really don't mind partying at a place where I don't think I might die if I drink the ice cube water, where law and order prevail, and where people can speak my lingo. Most everyone I talked to felt the same way. It is a lot more fun to be a little out of control in a place where you feel safe.
So where did we end up going? Vera Cruz, the legendary armpit of Mexico. We soon discovered that no cruise ship in history had ever been to Vera Cruz before. Do you know why? No cruise ship had ever been STUPID enough to go to Vera Cruz.
Poor Vera Cruz was selected for one reason only - it was safe from hurricanes. Hiding down in the Bay of Campeche, historically Vera Cruz has avoided all hurricanes because after they hit the Yucatan Peninsula to the northeast, the hurricanes always turn to the north. My guess is hurricanes must like to party too - they typically head over to New Orleans or Key West instead. Too bad we didn't.
The thinking was that if we went to New Orleans or Key West, it was likely that Chantal would find out where the really good party towns were and try to follow us. The geniuses at Carnival Headquarters knew that Vera Cruz was so disgusting no hurricane in history would dream of touching this poor pathetic third-world dump with a ten-foot pole. Well, they were right. I never even saw a drop of rain the whole trip. Other than a nice breeze on the second night, Chantal never seemed real to us at all.
On Day Three Monday, here we were in Vera Cruz. So what else is there to do? We thought about rafting, then heard the entire ship planned on going down the same river. Oh, now that sounds fun. So the majority of us decided to simply head into town and hope no one would notice us. Wrong. We forgot we were the first cruise ship in history to ever be stupid enough to dock in Vera Cruz.
Tony, the comedian from Carnival, had put us into stitches the night before talking about Vera Cruz. Apparently the only gringos from America to ever visit Vera Cruz in history were the US Marines. Tony pointed out these men went there because they would have been shot if they refused to land. And to think we were stupid enough to go ashore willingly…
Then he pointed out that the people of Vera Cruz would likely hate us. Apparently the only gringos to ever come to Vera Cruz had systematically killed everyone in sight with the first Machine Gun to visit Vera Cruz. Sure enough, Tony was right about this too. Everywhere we went in Vera Cruz, there was another damn monument to some poor guy killed in cold blood by our Marines at the Battle of Vera Cruz. It was such a boring, one-sided battle that the words in the famous Marine fight song were changed from "the Halls of Vera Cruz" to "the Halls of Montezuma" simply because it was not considered a fair fight.
Then Tony pointed out that we wouldn't even be able to give away tee-shirts that said 'Vera Cruz' on them to our friends. Sure enough, after I got home my own daughter took one look at my beautiful Vera Cruz tee-shirts and hid them in shame. She only brings them out to show her visiting girlfriends how stupid I was to spend good money on Vera Cruz tee-shirts. Kids can be really mean sometimes.
We should have listened to Tony, but for lack of anything better to do we got off the ship. Just as I hit the gang plank I decided to breathe. BIG MISTAKE! I was hit by the foulest odor I can remember from the cesspool below known as Vera Cruz Harbor. The stench was so strong I had to step back on the boat, take a deep breath, and hold it till I crossed the gangplank. I should have known better and just stayed on the ship.
We had paid good money to visit an exotic foreign land. Adventure! Mystery! Experience! Carpe Diem! Seize the opportunity! So, holding our noses, my friend Marla and I disembarked into this unknown paradise known as Vera Cruz. We went to stare at the statues. Immediately Marla translated, "Enrique Esteban, Heroic Martyr shot in cold blood by cowardly Marines while defending the honor of Mexico blah blah blah!" There were statues all over the stupid place!
Next came the welcoming committee. 30 taxis and 30 street vendors descended upon us to sell us something. So much for blending into the crowd.
Then came a huge parade. At first Marla and I were enjoying the show until she asked one of the vendors what the parade was for. He told us they were commemorating the cowardly slaughter of their military by our marines 100 years ago. Oh great.
Poverty. Yes, there was lots of poverty. I actually was unable to buy a $4 tee-shirt from a shop because they didn't have change for a $10 bill. This happened twice. They were too poor to sell something. Good grief.
Then we got on a trolley to take a tour. The trolley just sat there for 15 minutes. The trolley was half-full, but it turned out the man was waiting for it to fill up. Lots of luck, Buddy, but not at our expense. Marla and I got impatient so we got back off. It was much too hot, I had heard "La Cucaracha" played on the trolley one too many times, and besides we were hungry. We fought off the gauntlet of street vendors selling cheap trinkets to return to the boat as fast as possible. I realized one more time just how fortunate we are to live in America. These poor people that we saw probably barely know that they live in one of the most barren, run-down, poverty-stricken cities I have ever visited in my life. At least Jamaica has some natural beauty. Vera Cruz doesn't even have that.
Back on the boat, we were met by some disgusted SSQQ Cruisers who had earlier left to go snorkeling. They told us they had gone to two different beaches that were so covered by litter and garbage that they resembled your average dump. After witnessing the extent of the pollution, just the thought of entering the nearby water and mingling with the likely bacteria was enough to curdle their stomachs. Like us, they turned back to the boat without a moment's hesitation.
Later that night at least three groups from the ship attempted to sample the night life. Two of the groups ended up at a bar called 'Carlos and Charlies' and
had a good time.
I organized a group with Glenn and Paula Morris, Paul and Donna Motard, Steve Bahnsen,
Jill Banta, Marla Gorzynski to head towards a bar that Glenn had scouted earlier in the day. After a 20 minute cab ride, we discovered it was closed at 11 pm. Undaunted, the cab drivers made
a suggestion and we ended up at some hotel bar being entertained by a lovely female vocalist and her electric keyboard accompanist. She was such a good singer!
We each had a Cerveza beer. After the singer took a break, I learned
Spanish by watching "Saturday Night Live" on the bar's TV -
the words to the show were printed in Spanish. This place was so
exciting, the eight of us outnumbered all the other guests. Soon after
the singer quit, we headed back to the ship. Naturally the moment we
left - mind you the one moment on the entire trip where we were outdoors
- Hurricane Chantal struck and got us soaking wet. There must be some
Everyone seemed to perk up when we got back to the ship. Vera Cruz had that effect on
us - it made doing absolutely nothing on the ship seem like a big
Not everyone had a bad time in Vera Cruz. The rafting trip apparently was fun.
Here is an account of the rafting trip by David
was captain of a very good team on our rafting trip in Vera Cruz. At
first we were five disorganized rowers rowing to different drummers, but
after a rapid or two we became a synchronized machine.
tour guide must have been the best of the guides because we usually were
the first to go down each dangerous rapid before the rest of the group
here we are, a synchronized machine with the best guide hitting each
rapid like pros. We would shoot straight down the middle of each
treacherous rapid and out maneuver every other raft. When we came upon a
curve we would dig in and shoot out victoriously. All the time avoiding
the eddies and rocks.
thought we were invincible! A rafter’s rafter. The best of the best.
Tops in our field.
could stop us, except for “the rock”.
we are dodging each bolder and rock thinking we had it made, until we
met “the rock”.
of a sudden my butt got hung up on it. No matter how much rowing my team
and guide could muster we could not get me off of that rock. The raft
kept circling with my butt being the pivotal point of the raft. Round
and round we would go. It was dizzying. One by one our competitors would
pass us - giggling and pointing at the spectacle.
with a hearty heave-ho from everyone on the raft, we got my butt off the
Besides the Rafting trip, other people enjoyed a taxi ride around the city during the day. Still others visited a castle, some ruins, and some sort of cave. And a couple people managed to find a clean area to snorkel. But by and large, the disappointment was tremendous after the buildup we had gotten for our trip to famous tourist sites like Cozumel and Cancun. Enough said.
Day Four was spent at sea heading back to Galveston. Actually it only takes one day to get back, so mostly we just ferried around the Gulf looking for something to do. We were originally going to Cancun this day, but the hurricane threat took care of that. We had another fun two-hour stretch of Salsa Rueda late that afternoon. And many people worked on their wonderful tans out at the Lido Deck. By and large everyone loved the interaction within our large group.
Dinner was pretty flashy that night as the waiters got us up to dance the Macarena followed by a Conga line danced to 'Hot Hot Hot'. They cleverly gave us some complimentary champagne. It was a nice trick. Many of us got drunk at the exact time as we were being encouraged to get up and make fools of ourselves. If memory serves, this is what happened to me as I was inspired to get up and join the dancing towards the end. Yes, I made a fool of myself. Oh well. It was the champagne!
After dinner, many of us went to watch the evening show. The entertainment was excellent on the
cruise with elaborate Vegas-style shows every night. There were six female dancers, three male dancers, and an excellent singer to perform for us. One night they did a 'Tribute to Broadway' show that was just terrific.
However as the evening continued, we were pretty restless for activity, so a premium was placed on dancing. My boom box and music were requested for dancing at the Endless Summer lounge. When I visited it to deliver the equipment, there were already about 50 people there dancing to the two-person 'band'. It was a shame there wasn't at least one venue that could accommodate a dance group as large as ours. However by dancing on the carpet and in the aisles, we managed to find room somehow.
It could have been better though. For example, each night after the show was over, the Astoria Lounge was pretty much unused. I imagine this stage could have been used for our late night dancing. Maybe we should ask to use it next year.
The fifth day was pretty much a repeat of the fourth day. Lots of Lido Deck, a great dinner, an evening show, and more dancing late at night. One fun experience was a Scavenger Hunt organized by Sharon Blifford. About thirty of us divided in the six teams. I am pleased to report my team won a slam dunk victory. Max Huff, Jim Colby, and I scavenged for miscellaneous items while Marla Gorzynski, Marlane Kayfes, and Joan Tomlinson raced to find the hidden clues. Our team was tough!
Our final evening at dinner was notable for the
special art display. It turns out the walls were open game for
eavesdropping. As Lindy Triplett related, future visitors on this cruise should be warned of the thin walls in the rooms. After
she returned from her tour of "beautiful" Vera Cruz, she
presented her roommate Sharon Blifford with what Lindy considered to be
a tasteful bit of pottery. Sharon deeply appreciated this particular
piece of pottery and laughed pretty hard. Then Sharon made a remark
about how Lindy was even more thoughtful than her sister. Apparently
people up and down the hall heard the laughter and tuned into the
while waiting to go into the dining room, Janet and Ray Meyer asked Lindy
what she had bought in Vera Cruz and what was so funny.
Apparently, they could hear quite clearly whenever Sharon and Lindy
would start laughing.
Lindy was caught off guard by the remark since she had heard nothing from them
previously. After careful questioning, Lindy returned to her room to
bring back the precious Mexican pottery. It was a provocative piece of
art to say the least. I can't speak for anyone else, but my dinner would
not have been the same without it.
With the notable exception of the Vera Cruz debacle, our group had enormous fun together. There
was lots of dancing, lots of romancing, lots of wining and lots of
dining. There was swimming, Salsa, Conga, shows, and Mexican artwork.
And I would like to add that since our return, it has
been fun for me to watch all the friendships that were formed on the
trip pick up right where they left off here at the dance studio. The
trip was only 5 days long, but my guess is the friends that each of us
made on the trip will last for a long, long time... and that is what
made this trip special. My thanks to all the people who participated!
And better luck next year! Rick Archer