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Dale and I just returned from New York City where we joined the 3-Day Inaugural Cruise on the new Norwegian Breakaway. This 4,028-passenger ship is slightly smaller than the Epic but with many improvements.
The Breakaway’s accommodations, dining and entertainment all exceeded our expectations. However, to our eyes it also represent the shift in the “new economic reality” of cruise ships.
I missed the grand, luxurious open spaces but today there’s a need to get more passengers and revenue sources into a smaller space without sacrificing comfort. I personally often prefer a comfortable chair in one of the public areas where I can relax in peace while I read or watch the ocean go by, and those areas seemed to be in short supply on this ship. Are those days simply gone on the new generation of ships?
But there was so much on the upside so let’s start with the accommodations. Our mini-suite located on deck 10, mid-ship was beautifully decorated. Our initial reaction was that the room was longer and narrower than others but that reaction soon passed with the discovery of it’s functionality and beautiful décor.
Like most high-end hotels, all guest information and reservations can now be done on the 26-inch flat screen T.V. Gone are the days of making reservations by telephone. This ship is taking advantage of today’s technology in many ways.
The Breakaway had the best bathroom by far of any ship we have traveled on at this cabin level. It has a very contemporary design with a double sink and plenty of storage. The shower was oversized with a waterfall shower head and multiple body spray jets. With the right person you could spend a lot of time there!
As an ex-Seattleite, I was trilled to have my own one-cup coffee maker in our room. Nice touch. You do not want to talk to me in the morning until I have my first cup of Java – just ask Dale. If you are one of the lucky ones in The Haven, you will be blessed with your own espresso/cappuccino machine.
If you like to be treated like a diva, check out The Haven. This is a private key-access area containing luxury accommodations, concierge, 24-hour butler, private pool and spa. You’ll even have your private lounge and restaurant. When we entered this area we no longer felt like we were on a large cruise ship but rather a luxury yacht. Truly, a diva’s paradise.
Breakaway’s dining opportunities seem endless. In fact, you have 28 options, including three main dining rooms which are included in the cruise fare. Each dining room offers distinct menus and décor which provide you with many choices. There are seven ethnically themed dining options plus Cagney’s Steak House where we ate the first evening. The service and food at Cagney’s was exceptional. Whatever your tastebuds are in the mood for, The Breakaway has you covered. Check out their website for all their offerings.
The entertainment venues on board are top-notch. From broadway musicals like ‘Rock of Ages’, jazz and blues, comedy, outdoor fireworks and much more, there is something for everyone’s taste.
OK…it didn’t have a gay bar but we certainly found ‘family’ at Shaker’s for a pre-dinner cocktail. There were many LGBT on board but unfortunately no pre-planned gathering on this short 3-day inaugural cruise.
If you like to be outside splashing in the water, the Aqua Park is for you. The Breakaway has five water slides, two of which are the largest at sea. ‘The Plunge’ will surely get your adrenaline pumping. I know this for a fact since I heard Dale’s inner school-girl scream.
Remember the old days when there was a virtual sun worshiping amphitheater around a large pool? Lots of sun, cocktails and liberal doses of skin? No more. The pool is small and there is very little area around it for lounging. There are other areas designated for sun bathing where you can enjoy your cocktails while working on that golden tan.
The sports complex has everything you need including a bungee trampoline, miniature golf, rope and zipwire course, climbing wall, basketball court and jogging/walking track. If you’re the fearless type, walk the plank. Take an eight foot walk over the sea 150 feet below.
Our 3-day inaugural sailing was 50% capacity and amazingly there were times that the ship felt crowded. Perhaps this is due to the many dining, drinking and entertainment venues taking away from large public spaces. It will be interesting to know what it feels like at or near 100% capacity.
The Breakaway will sail year-round from New York City to Bermuda, the Bahamas and Caribbean.
Note: Watch for Dale’s review of his day at the spa.
Viking River Cruises has just unveiled plans to build two 928-passenger cruise ships. The Viking Star will enter service in 2015 and compliment their already extensive river cruise operation.
Last summer I had the privilege to go with Source Events on my first-ever European Riverboat. It didn’t take long before I realized all of the advantages this type of travel offered.
1. More interaction with all of the passengers due to the smaller size
2. Feeling more connected with the water and the landscape
3. Free internet access
4. Complimentary beer and wine at all meals
5. All shore excursions / transfers included in the price
6. More opportunities to learn and experience the local customs and cultures
7. An overall more relaxed feeling due to the all-inclusiveness of the cruise.
8. No nickle-and-diming the customer
9. Longer stays in port for more exploring
10. No smoke-filled casinio
11. No sur-charges in specialty restaurants
All of the advantages that I felt on a riverboat will now be offered by Viking as they introduce Viking Oceans.
I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to have the riverboat experience on the ocean.
The recent coming out announcement made by NBA player Jason Collins initiated a discussion with a straight friend. She said, “The gay community has made such progress in the last several years with society’s acceptance, why do you feel the need to meet other gays on a cruise? Aren’t you just part of the overall fabric now?”
The need for people of my own “tribe” is such second nature to me, I had to take a moment to respond. What I said was something to this effect: We have a history as a people. My first inkling of being part of a wider community goes back to a TIME Magazine cover in 1975. I still remember the picture of Sgt. Leonard Matlovich with the words “I Am a Homosexual.”
The men and women who lifted up gay pride when it meant more than a fun parade carried on from there. Only a few short years later we began fighting the battle with AIDS and with all those who wanted to keep their eyes closed to the plague.
I was the founding Conductor of the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus, where we built a successful group around our common love of song. The group became family, plain and simple.
I’m proud to be who I am, and believe that we need to continue to build community wherever we can. We’ve made wonderful friends onboard ships, most recently Gilles and Gord from Toronto. Knowing that we have so much in common with people all over the world who share our orientation is comforting and gives me strength. I believe this is one of the reasons we continue to see growth in the all-gay and gay-group cruise industry and in the need for cruisers on “mainstream” cruises to find other LGBTs. We have a need to be with our community as long as the struggle for full equality continues.
What do you think? Do you feel a need to find other LGBT people when you take a cruise?
Have you ever dreamed about floating beneath a canopy of stars as waves gently rock you to sleep? If you answered ‘yes’, GaySail will help you make that dream come true.
Mark van den Eshof, owner of GaySail, started organizing sailing trip since the early 90′s. Mark is a fully licensed skipper and sailing instructor with over 15 years of experience with gay tour groups.
His sailing trips will take you to such wonderful destinations as Greece, the magnificent surroundings of Croatia, the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean and many others. Mark loves to share his passion for sailing with other gay men.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Mark a few questions about GaySail.
1. Why did you start GaySail?
I started GaySail because I am addicted to sailing. I like to show other guys what a great way to relax this is. I also love to teach sailing and navigation to guys who are interested in learning.
2. What are the benefits to sailing as opposed to motor ships?
First of all, the noise! No motor all day, just wind and waves. Motor cruises are boring, you just sit and watch. Every day is different for sailing, depending on the wind, weaves and weather. You can relax on the front deck or be an active crew member, just the way you like.
On the yacht we mostly have a drink after dinner. For people who like to party there are plenty of bars and clubs in the local villages. If we don’t stay overnight in a bay, we will gaze at the stars and have a midnight swim.
4. We’re not nautical at all. What is the difference between a windward and leeward cruise?
Windward is the direction upwind from the point of reference. Leeward is the direction downwind from the point of reference. The side of a ship that is towards the leeward is its lee side. If the vessel is heeling under the pressure of the wind, this will be the “lower side”. For the Island you normally stay overnight on the Leeward side – no waves. You don’t need any nautical experience if you want to join one of our sailing adventures.
It’s 50-50 depending on the cruise. The Caribbean usually attracts more Americans and Canadians. For Greece, Turkey and Croatia, they tend to be more European. Americans love to cruise in Greece and make a combination to visit the ancient sights and the gay Island of Mykonos. Our trips are also 50-50 couples and singles which include men of all ages.
6. We loved Croatia, tell me about your sailings there.
Croatia is special because there are so many Islands and private bays. The landscape is so much greener than Greece. The historical cities like Dubrovnik and Trogir are absolutely amazing.
7. I see that you do customized trips. Can you describe one and the kind of event it was for?
We had a gay wedding cruise of Australians in Greece. The yachts were mostly full of gay friends of the couple. The whole trip was just like the Mama Mia movie with Meryl Streep.
We all had a great time!
What comes to mind when you think of the city of Vienna? Chocoholics will say “Sachertote.” Some will say wine and coffee culture. Musicians will loudly proclaim “Mozart!”
Bus tours and excursions will most certainly take you to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with the adjacent ritzy and über expensive shopping district. Little do most travelers realize that only steps away is the Mozarthaus (http://www.mozarthausvienna.at) located at Domgasse 5, the only surviving apartment inhabited by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, his wife and child.
This genius of the musical world, unparalleled before or after, lived in Vienna for ten years during his most productive period in his short life. The Mozarthaus is open to the public and is an interesting pilgrimage for those who are fascinated in the life and times of Mozart.
The building contains exhibits to help visitors understand Mozart and imagine him living in these very rooms. Costumes, coins, a piano, and other objects of daily life are on display. You’ll even see copies of musical scores in Mozart’s own hand.
To say Mozart was a poor money manager is an understatement. The exhibit contains a period gambling table like the ones Mozart may have used to toss away his earnings.
In these modest rooms, it is easy to imagine Mozart hurrying to his desk in order to jot down a musical idea. It is humbling to know that in these rooms Mozart died at the age of 35. He was later to be buried un an unmarked pauper’s grave, leaving behind his penniless wife Constanze and two young sons.
One of the highlights of the Mozarthaus experience for for me was a 3D opera set of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” (The Magic Flute, the first opera I ever attended) complete with a performance by Sarastro in hologram form!
Don’t miss this magical experience!
One thing that I have learned since launching MeetMeOnBoard is that our community has many opportunities when it comes to cruising. You might prefer all-gay cruises on the large megaships or one of the many small gay groups that sail every year to wonderful destinations. Another option that many of us don’t think about is the all-gay cruise on a small ship or riverboat. I had my first experience with this on my recent trip with Source Events as we sailed up the Danube on the beautiful Avalon Waterways Vista.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” This I believe applies perfectly to the small ship experience. Yes, you are traveling to specific destinations but you are enjoying the spectacular views along the way and feeling very much connected to your surroundings and fellow passengers.
I’d like to share with you how this trip compared to my previous travels on large cruise ships. Where does one begin?
Life in the Fast Lane:
I guess the best place to begin is the boarding process. What boarding process? After calling taxi service from my hotel, I was on board and in my stateroom within 15 minutes. No crowds. No lines. No paperwork. No Security. I simply walked on board, gave my name and was handed my stateroom key.
Welcome On Board:
If you enjoy casinos, 24-hour food service, outdoor water activities and numerous stage shows, this type of cruise would not be for you. The common areas on the boat consisted of two lounges, one dining room, adequate workout room and a reception area. The outer decks were generous in space and there were many areas to enjoy the sun or converse with some new friends.
My room was beautiful, nice sized and well appointed although it lacked drawer space. One entire wall was glass which opened up to the river just feet below. The bathroom was elegant and could easily accommodate two people. A nice touch were the L’Occitane bath products. I’m hooked!
This Isn’t Jersey Shores:
If you enjoy the gentle rocking – or sometimes severe rocking – when you’re sailing on the ocean or sea, don’t expect that on a river. The only bumps I felt over 7 days were when we entered some of the 27 locks necessary on your journey. There was often less than a foot of clearance on either side. The feeling on the river is similar to standing on a moving walkway at an airport and watching the world go by as you gently glide.
The scenery along a river can be breathtaking. Large ships travel from port to port usually during the night while you are deep asleep. On a riverboat you often travel during daylight hours. With every turn the river takes, the landscape can change drastically. Not only do you cruise through stunning valleys and rolling hills but you also sail through quaint villages, small towns and major capitol cities. The shores are full of activity from kids camping at night and sitting around their bonfires to families enjoying the day on the numerous bicycle paths. You feel like you are a part of nature and the everyday activities that take place along the river. You are within spitting distance to century old cathedrals, palaces and other spectacular monuments. You won’t ever see a tacky Trump Taj Mahal on these shores.
Straight Through The Heart:
Large cruise ship ports in European cities are not always convenient to the city center. Many times you will find yourself taking a bus, shuttle service or taxi to visit the city center or nearby sites. Not true with riverboats. Within a few minutes of docking in Vienna, we were able to walk off the boat where a metro stop was within blocks to swiftly take us to the main square. Since rivers usually cut through the heart of a city, you will be walking distance or a short metro ride to most things that you want to see or experience.
Getting To Know You:
The average size of a riverboat is 150 passengers. This provides an intimacy that is difficult to duplicate on a large cruise ship. Source Events is about smaller groups so after a week on the river, you’ve gotten to meet almost all your ship mates and a sense of community can easily form. Not only have you had the opportunity to get acquainted with the other passengers, you also get to know by first name the captain, the hotel manager, all of the waiters and cabin crew. A highlight for me was going outside on the upper deck where I stood next to the small bridge and talked to the captain as he steered the boat. During the course of this 7-day journey, everybody on board becomes one big family.
Adding It All Up:
When was the last time you walked off a ship and your bar/excursion bill came close the cost of the actual cruise or even quite possibly exceeded it? Imagine my surprise at the end of the week when my final tab amounted to less than my monthly cell phone charges. Riverboats tend to cost more than the large ships but on this trip tips were included, as were most shore excursions, all the wine or beer I could drink at dinner and unlimited Wi-Fi. It was very refreshing to have all the perks without the extra charges.
The riverboat experience was amazing and I believe it was made even more so due to the fact it was all-gay. If you have been reluctant to go on an all-gay cruise thinking that it just might be too many parties and late nights, I would highly recommend trying it on a small ship with a small group. As you sail, sightsee, and explore, there’s a sense of community that’s more difficult to achieve on the large ships. You won’t have all the activities or options that those ships offer but you will feel more connected to your surroundings and fellow passengers.
Remember to enjoy the journey when traveling to your next destination.
Peter, Mark, and Roger Bengtson are discussing. Toggle Comments
Guest writer: MeetMeOnBoard member Alan
Many of the boys on the Source Events Danube Riverboat cruise decided to get into their leder-hosen and take a sponsored day excursion from Linz to Salzburg. The tour began on a humorous uproar when our cute, Austrian tour guide addressed us as “ladies and gentlemen”. He immediately realized his faux pas and retracted saying, “Sorry, just habit”. Pointing out dates, facts and figures of Salzburg, many of us “Maria wanna-be’s” were more interested in some of the locations where “The Sound of Music” was filmed. Yes, Salzburg is as stunning as in the movie. The squares were a party and everyone was invited. Harold, our guide, pointed waaaay to the top of the mountain where Maria first did her twirl singing “the hills are alive” then saying that when she heard the abbey church bells ringing, it only took her 20 seconds to reach the abby. But in reality it was about a two hour drive. How DID she do it?
Herald then brought us to St Michael’s Basilica where Captain Von Trapp and Maria were filmed getting married. I was star struck just to be in the same church but at the same time disappointed that I was stood up at the altar by Harold our guide. The church is located in a small town called Mondsee which is on a lake of the same name. Lake Mondsee is now for sale at the price of 16 million euro and is one of the only lakes that is privately owned in Austria. I just hope my bid will be accepted.
The annual Salzburg music festival established in 1920 which starts toward the end of July and lasts for five weeks was in full swing. Harold pointed out many of the past and present performers of the festival including Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, performances of Mozart and of course the Trapp Family Singers. No Lady Gaga here! It gave me a sense of the past to stand outside of the birthplace home of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart born in 1756 who actually died in poverty at the early age of 35. His statue can be seen in the Mozartplatz a short walk from his house. Harold had to speak with caution when he talked about Mozartkugel, a very famous chocolate created in Salzburg in 1890 named after Mozart himself. He explained that the literal translation is “Mozart Balls” which of course the bus load of “boys” took literally and started fantasizing about the Austrian delicacy.
Asking Harold of the gay scene in Salzburg, I was not surprised to find out that there is none, as Salzburg is very conservative and most gays eventually leave for Munich or Vienna. Other than the actor playing Captain Von Trapp in this season’s version of “The Sound of Music”, gays are very scarce. Later as I was soaking up the local color of Salzburg, I ran in to Craig and Rafael of Source Events at a local market while stopping for a soft pretzel filled with wildschwein rohschinken and gouda cheese. Shortly after, we climbed back on the bus for a two hour ride through the fabulous Austrian countryside, over the border to Germany meeting our boat in Passau. I have to admit I did enjoy when Harold put on the soundtrack to “The Sound of Music” to which the bus load of “Maria’s” sang “My Favorite Things”. So now that I’m home, ♫ I simply remember my favorite cruise, and then I don’t feeeeel sooooooo bad…………..♫
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Before my riverboat cruise I never considered Budapest, Hungary to be a port city. A port city was where a ship with over 2,000 passengers was able to dock for 12 hours. With the huge increase in European Riverboat cruising, many cities in Europe are now considered port cities.
Getting my bearings in new surroundings can sometimes be challenging. To get acclimated, I had decided to book a personal 4-hour walking tour of Budapest by budapestUNDERGUIDE. This company gives personal tours based on your interests and lifestyle. I was very impressed with their communications once I made the appointment. Prior to leaving they sent me a list of questions about my interests, expectations and who I am as a person. After spending some time filling out the questionnaire, they were able to construct a tour specifically with my interests in mind.
It was a pleasure to stroll down the Danube River with our guide Orsolya as she talked about the history of this region and pointed out the many historical buildings and monuments. Orsolya was born and raised here and had a wealth of information to share. Much of the history of Eastern Europe involves conflict and war and Orsolya was very willing to share that with us. Its hard to believe that the iron curtain fell only 23 years ago.
What made this tour extra special was how we could talk on a very personal level. As a gay man, I not only want to familiarize myself with the history, see the grand architecture and experience some of the local flavors, but it’s also important for me to know how it is to live in this part of the world as a gay or lesbian person.
Orsolya took us to ‘Why Not’, a local gay café and bar (1056 Budapest, Belgrád rampart 3-4) that sits right along side the Danube and treated us to a traditional breakfast. As we ate our Hungarian pancakes and sipped our espresso, we talked about life as a gay or lesbian in Hungary today. Unfortunately, it is not an easy place to be ‘out’. After the fall of the iron curtain, Hungary has become a very nationalistic society with very little tolerance for diversity. The present day government is extremely right-wing and at this time there is no other political party to balance it.
When Hungary was part of the Soviet Union, the gay men would frequently visit the many natural thermal baths famous in Budapest. Today, these are not as popular with gays as the city has numerous gay bars and bath houses. Budapest also has an annual gay pride parade but can be unsafe due to the many anti-gay demonstrators who choose to attend. Orsolya informed us that the government is very anti-gay but at this time has chosen to look the other way. It saddened me to hear that many young Hungarians plan to immigrate to other countries for a better future.
If you are interested in art, architecture, food, shopping or the gay scene – just to name a few – I would highly recommend booking your personal tour with budapestUNDERGUIDE. Why tour with a large group when you can experience this incredible city on your own terms.
Note: as is customary in the travel writing industry, the author’s tour was courtesy of the tour company for the purposes of reviewing the experience. The opinions shared remain unbiased.
With so many wonderful opportunities today, it was not an easy choice to pick what to do or what to see. With the ‘Sound of Music’ firmly implanted in our brains, many of the guys went prancing around the hills of Salzburg, Austria which was the location of the movie. More on those singing and prancing “Maria-wanna-be’s” later.
I decided to stay on the boat since this was some of the most stunning scenery on our river cruise. As we entered Bavaria in Germany, we were surround by stunning natural beauty. Thick green forests with jagged mountain cliffs were everywhere. This part of the world was just how I envisioned it.
My afternoon was spent in Passau, Germany. This small baroque town is celebrating it’s 350th year and is known world wide for having the largest cathedral organ in the world. My stroll to St. Stephan’s Cathedral took me down charming narrow walkways where you would come to a small square with people enjoying an ice cold beer. Yes, this must be Germany.
The organ is played everyday at noon so I didn’t think I would be able to hear it since I was there in the afternoon. As I entered this magnificent baroque cathedral, the stops of the organ opened up and the church was filled with magnificent music. Fortunately the organist was there preparing for a concert so it was my lucky day.
Music also filled the lounge on the ship. Well…I don’t know if I would call all of it music but Source Events sponsored a talent show and it was great which you will see in the video. What I really appreciated about the event is that Avalon Waterways allowed their crew to be a part of it. I don’t believe during any of my previous cruises that I have seen crew members showcase their real hidden talents adding to the fun. These crew members work for months with no time off so my hats off to Avalon Waterways for allowing them to ‘kick up their heels’ for the evening.
Our cruise Director Barbara is the envy of every gay man on board as you will see later in future videos specifically showcasing her fabulous shoes. Her wardrobe is highly fashionable not even to be over shadowed on the runways in Paris.
One of the highlights of this riverboat cruise has been the numerous locks. When this journey is over we will have gone through 24 locks on the Danube on our way to Nuremburg, Germany. The entire process takes about 10-15 minutes. At the beginning of the cruise they warn the passengers to close their balcony doors during this time since they are literally 1 foot from the wall. As you rise up, anybody standing on the side watching the event could simply reach in and grab anything they wish. Actually, somebody could simply go over your handrail and enter your room. This has been one of the many things that make riverboat cruising unique.
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