Ice Skating in the Caribbean
Story and photos by Ed Salvato
I've been invited by Out Traveler-award winner Atlantis Events on The Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas to experience the word's largest gay cruise with 3,500 passengers (nearly sold out, which indicates how we gays are still traveling!), 1,400 crew, a head-spinning array of optional activities and three intriguing ports of call: Labadee, Haiti; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Philipsburg, St. Maarten.
The Freedom of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship, boasts a number of eye-popping features, including outdoor rock-climbing (starting on deck 13 at around 180 feet about the sea and soaring another 40 feet into the air), a beautiful outdoor miniature golf course, the Flowrider (a fast, exciting surfing and body-boarding feature) and--the most unexpected -- an ice-skating rink.
This big slab of frozen H20 with seating for up to 500 was the site of
an ice show by ship entertainers, an open-skating afternoon hosted by
Miss Ritchfield 1981, a signature Atlantis drag entertainer, and, when
covered with floor boards, a concert by Andy Bell of Erasure. For me
the most fun was just a low-key afternoon of open skating that I went
to with Leo (above right), a friend from Moscow. I never thought I'd get to say that I
went ice-skating on a ship in the Caribbean.
One of the big stories of the trip is the huge number of passengers from outside the U.S., nearly 1,100 or about one third, including hundreds from Canada, scores from big European countries like France, the U.K., the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and surprising numbers from Brazil, Mexico and even Japan. There were a handful from Cuba, Turkey and even the United Arab Emirates.
The headline act on Friday was Patti LuPone fresh from her role as lead in Gypsy on Broadway. Following her two performances was the White Party, billed as the largest gay party in the Caribbean ever. It was packed, too, with thousands of white-clad revelers.
Regarding the ports, Labadee is a private area for the enjoyment of cruise passengers only so the day we arrived it became a private gay resort with all sorts of sporting and leisure activities. San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the most interesting. Established in the early 1500s, the city has experienced a long, rich history. A good use of a short visit is to explore the old city, walls and fortress. This is the only spot in the Caribbean with an established, out, gay community and a robust gay nightlife.
I enjoy chatting with the crew to find out their impressions of the gay cruise. The cruise line typically offers the crew the opportunity to take a leave the week they host the gay and lesbian cruises. Surely there are those who opt out but for all the men and women I spoke to on board they unanimously proclaimed the gay cruises their favorite. One woman told me she wished every week was the Atlantis cruise.