Friday, July 23, 2010

Lesbian cruising with Olivia: Top 9 tips for cruise virgins

By Jennifer Vanasco ,
07.23.2010 11:03am EDT

My partner Jenny and I didn’t know what to expect on our first cruise. Would we get seasick? Would we get along? Would we get the Norwalk Virus?

Our ship- The Ryndam!

In our first year and a half together we had done only a little traveling – to Chicago, to DC for the Inauguration, and to North Carolina to visit relatives. We have pretty different styles: Jenny is more social and does more advance destination research; I’m more spontaneous, bring a lot of reading material along and am more prone to napping.

Neither of us were sure we were “cruise people.” Jenny worried about feeling trapped or getting sick. I worried about hating everyone and seeing only Disneyfied versions of the countries we were visiting.

It turns out that we I had a great time on Olivia’s 20th anniversary cruise to the Western Caribbean (we were their guests) – still, there are things we wish we had known before stepping on board.

Here are the nine things you need to know before you go off cruising into the sunset.

Jenny and Jay monkey around on an excursion to a Honduras zoo.

1. Know thyself.
There is a lot to do on a cruise ship. Maybe too much. Every hour or so on our ship, there would be an announcement about some incredibly fun activity happening somewhere else.

There are BBQs. Pool games. Informative seminars. Comedians. Dessert extravaganzas with chocolate fountains and bread baked in the shape of mice. Before you go, talk to your partner (or have a long conversation with yourself) about what you actually need.

- Are you looking for serious R&R? Then limit yourself to one activity a day, sleep in, and don’t get off at every port.

- Trying to immerse yourself in the lesbian community you don’t get at home? Go to the social hours, sit with new people during meals and dance into the night.

- Looking for adventure? Get off the ship early at your port of call and have your excursions lined up in advance. Use your at sea days to relax.

- Just know what you want before you get there, so you don’t stumble off the ship needing a vacation from your vacation.

We did not do this. Instead, we tried to do everything possible (you’ll get a hint of what “everything possible” is by watching the video we made of Jenny. And no, she wasn’t really drinking a beer on the treadmill.) We took a dance class. We swam in the pool. We went to mixers. We went to the shows. We met the Indigo Girls.
We were so tired that we got off the ship and slept for two days straight.

One of the many social events onboard - a lesbian dance.

Bring a sweater. In my imagination, cruises are all bikinis and fruity drinks on the outside Lido Deck.
In reality, when the boat is moving, it can be windy and cold. Also, ships keep the air conditioning up high in the inside public areas. So have a light jacket – and have warm clothes for dinner, socializing at the bar, gambling, and other indoor activities. You see the same people over and over. Don’t let them see you in the same sweatshirt every night.

3. Carry business cards.
Maybe not those stodgy ones from the corporate office. But a lot of women made
up special couple cards from places like that had both their names, their home contact info and their cabin number.

Then carry them. Business cards do you no good if they’re hiding in the top drawer of the dresser in your cabin.

Also, if you’re floating away on Olivia, decorate your door. That way people can find you – and they will leave you messages if you put up a wipe-off board. It’s like college! But no homework. And, unless you went to a women’s college (I did!) a lot more ladies.

The Indigo Girls were on board!

4. Do your research.
Sure, you can let the cruise line do everything for you, including selling you port excursions. But you’ll spend a lot less money – and likely have more fun – if you plan your excursions yourself.

TripAdvisor and CruiseCritic have advice in each port of call; sometimes you can get actual footage of excursions on YouTube. Olivia has a great bulletin board where you can meet women before you sail and invite others to join you on excursions you plan yourself.

Jenny and I went swimming with dolphins in Cozumel, inner-tubed down a river running through a cave in Belize and made friends with locals in Honduras. We did our sightseeing with smaller groups than if we had gone with the cruise line’s choices, saw more areas that were not specifically geared toward tourists and saved about $350.

5. Watch your alcohol. You will be offered Bloody Marys with breakfast, beers with lunch, cocktails with dinner – and specialty drinks anytime you step out of your stateroom. All that drinking is expensive (even soda adds up), so know before you go how much you can afford and keep track of your libations. Some who have posted on cruise bulletin boards say that they have come home to several thousand dollars worth of drink charges. Yikes.

If you know that you need your nightly – and afternoon and morning – cocktail, then most ships have drink cards you can buy in advance at a discount. It’s likely only worth it for really big drinkers, though – most women on our cruise were giving their drinks away by the end.

6. It’s fun to be single.
Olivia has special meet and greets and excursions for solo travelers. On our cruise, they traveled in packs and always seemed to be having a great time.
We found it tough to make friends with other couples (women seemed to be looking for a romantic vacation for two, or already were sailing with many other friends) so if you’re cruising for the first time – weirdly – going single might be best. Or hey, just go to the single social hours. No one will stop you.

One of the ship's pools was outdoor when docked and indoor while seabound!

7. Sanitize.
The Norwalk Virus, H1N1 and the common cold are all hanging out around a ship’s handrails, doorknobs and public bathrooms. Try not to shake hands. Cough into your elbow. Wash your hands whenever you pass a sink. And use all that hand sanitizer that is everywhere.

If you get sick – you’ll be quarantined in your room. Jenny caught a bad cough the last day, but otherwise we were illness-free.

8. Lesbian cruises: they’re not for cruising.
Sure, there are women who met their partners on an Olivia cruise. But unlike cruises for gay men, there’s not much of a hookup vibe. Most people come with their partners or in tight groups. If you want some action, you should go looking on land.

9. Prepare for re-entry.
I didn’t get seasick on the ship – but I sure did get landsick when I got home. My kitchen floor was rolling for days (this is not uncommon for people on week-long cruises). Happily, we also had messages from people on Facebook we had met on the cruise, great stories to tell our friends and silly pictures of us playing with dolphins. (We also had a great 12 hours in Tampa after wards.)

Women who’ve been on one Olivia cruise tend to take another – and we can see why. By the second day, Jenny and I were making lists of what we would bring next time and how we would plan differently.

Once you know what to expect and how to plan, you can lay back and let the cruise ship do the rest.

Guests were greeted everyday with a new towel animal.
Provence to Burgundy Riverboat Cruise
July 20-27, 2010

Cruising the Greek Isles & Turkish Coast
Oct 3-10, 2010

Palm Springs Spa Escape
Oct 13-17, 2010

African Safari Adventure
Oct 15-22, 2010

Club Olivia, Columbus Isle Resort
Oct 16-23, 2011

Caribbean Sun Cruise
Oct 30-Nov 6, 2010

Costa Rica Cruise
Jan 22-29, 2011

Mexican Riviera Cruise
Mar 26-Apr 2, 2011

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