We’re wandering through a crowd of 1600 gay men, some in swimwear, many with shirts off, revealing polished pecks and buffed definition, others in their best resort wear. The music is thumping, the sun is beaming and the exotic, island cocktails are poured. No, we’re not caught up in an advertisement for the latest Aussiebum swimwear or Ray Ban sunglasses, it’s an Atlantis Baltic cruise on board the Holland American Line cruise ship, Eurodam and we have just set sail from stunning Copenhagen on route to Stockholm via an itinerary of some of the most renowned Scandinavian ports known to mankind. And we’re pumped with anticipation.
But that had to wait for the mandatory safety demonstration, roll call and announcements by the Atlantis and Eurodam cruise directors.
Having checked out our cabin, we then found our poolside deck chairs and ordered a much needed drink. We felt quite settled for our first afternoon with our mates on the high seas, when the blast of the ship’s horn signalled our departure. The pool and the hot tub were already crowded, busy places for making initial connections with men from all over the world. Well, at least that’s what we thought until the statistics being announced revealed there were actually 1300 from the US and 300 from other parts of the world. We made up 2 of the 51 Aussies on board. There were 19 women. Just imagine how outnumbered they must have felt.
The Atlantis Sailaway Party was a great start and we met so many people, but unfortunately, after a few drinks, names became a blur. The plan was not to overdo things on the first night. Stop number one was Oslo and we had a bike riding excursion booked which was scheduled to start reasonably early in the morning.
Once drinks were over it was time to get ready for our first dinner. The plan for the evening always depended on the entertainment available before and after dinner. If there were two shows then we usually tried to eat first then catch the late show. Sometimes the schedule only provided one main show and so you really needed to plan ahead. In the end it didn’t really matter as the Atlantis crew made sure there was a lot of onboard singing, dancing, comedy and variety to choose from every evening.
Dinner was reasonably informal compared to other cruises we had experienced. On arrival at about 8pm, one of the Atlantis crewmembers greeted us at the entrance and asked if we wanted to sit at a shared table or alone as a couple. We chose to share in order to get to know as many other cruisers as possible.
Dinner each night was a la carte, while breakfast and lunch were mainly taken at the buffet restaurant midship on the 9th floor. Like most cruise ships, for a modest additional charge, you can opt for dinner in one of the specialty restaurants available. The selection of food at all the restaurants was excellent and one always had to try to eat sensibly in order to remain a passenger and not become more like extra cargo. The food was super fresh and there were always vegetarian and healthy options for gay men who are well known for watching their own and everyone else’s waistlines. Dinner discussions ranged from overviews of the excursions available, the usual questions about where you live and of course the reviews of the entertainment on board.
The entertainers were chosen especially for this particular clientele and the edgy, opening night comedy of Jackie Hoffman set the pace for a riotous group of comedians to follow, including Tom Allen, Shawn Pelofsky and Brad Loeckle. Last but not least was the very funny Miss Pam Ann who had the punters rolling in the aisles through her bawdy flying high tales.
What would a gay cruise be without some drag? Ms Sherry Vine and the very funny Charlie Hides had everyone in stitches with their bitter gay banter. One evening the Eurodam singers and dancers gave us an outstanding production show called Ever After, their brand new visual and musical spectacle, which included a variety of famous show tunes that really got the audience singing along. The selection of musical performers was outstanding with Matt Yee, Mary Kiani, Brian Nash and Nate Buccieri providing beautiful sounds every evening of the cruise in the lounge bars onboard. The standout singer was Megan Hilty, of TV and Broadway fame, best known for her starring roles in the hit series Smash, and onstage in Wicked and the musical 9 to 5. She was outstanding, as was the beautiful and talented Ms Kate Ellis who touched our hearts with her renditions of some very famous ballads.
Of course there were the parties. Before we came aboard we were told to prepare for a few theme nights which included the Conquest Party (warriors, Vikings, kings, peasants, serfs etc.), the Dog Tag T-Dance (Atlantis dog tags provided with colour codes which you chose to indicate your availability), Classic Disco T-Dance, the Kit Kat Klub (decadent soirée), and the final party, the White Nights Party (virginal white of course). We made an appearance at all of them but after awhile it seemed like every moment onboard was a party, so who needed a theme. However, they were fantastic and some guys went to so much trouble with costumes and accessories which really helped to make the atmosphere very festive and …. well……..GAY!!
There was never a moment on the ship when you needed to look too hard for something to do. Between the Eurodam cruise director J.T. and the Atlantis cruise director, Malcolm, there were plenty of activities organised each day. On one of our sailing days we chose to go to the Cooking Show in the Culinary Arts Centre which was really informative and highlighted some of the cooking styles of the talented chefs onboard. Others chose Bingo, the tables and machines at the Casino, shopping for a bargain in the Emporium, a spa treatment, a workout at the stunning front of ship gym, or just laying, reading or swimming on the pool decks. The weather in Scandinavia was hot and sunny for most of the time so getting a great tan and relaxing a lot were high on the priority list.
As far as organised excursions went, we chose to do three bike tours, one in Oslo, one in Warnemünde (Germany) and the last one in Helsinki. What a great choice. Each was different in its own way and riding around a European city with a group of like minded men is a great way to see the sights while allowing you to fully interact with the environment you are exploring.
Our favourite story to tell about this cruise is the bike ride in Warnemünde (famous as the closest port to Berlin) which we were told was only going to be about one hour of riding each way and the level of difficulty was low to moderate. We departed from the dockside and rode slowly through the quaintest town imaginable to arrive at the beachside and then through a forest. We rode for two and a half hours before our guide stopped us and said (at last) we were coming to the end of the forward journey and we would have some afternoon tea and return back to the ship. We imagined, by this time in our sweat drenched singlets and bike shorts, a bottle of cold water and a German hotdog. Oh no! We arrived at one of the classiest hotels most of us had ever seen (which used to be the Duke’s residence prior to becoming a hotel) where we were served stunning club sandwiches and fresh gooseberry cake, with piping hot tea or coffee and ice cold water from the most divine glass decanter one could imagine. It was like something out of a movie set. We felt totally underdressed and by this stage, very smelly. Then our guide told us the good news. We were going back via a short cut, which would only take us two hours. Overall an amazing and surprisingly fun day but so much for the moderate to low level of difficulty. By the time we arrived back most of us needed a stiff drink, a strong masseur and a good lie down.
We arrived in Stockholm for the start of the Pride celebrations and the city was a stunning sight when we made our way slowly into the archipelago through the early morning stillness. By now we were used to the almost endless daylight which greeted us at 4am and departed around 10.30pm each day. This destination was the beginning of the next adventure in Scandinavia but our Atlantis Baltic Cruise had been a huge success and satisfied our curiosity about these famous, gay shipboard holidays. They may not be for everyone but they certainly provide lots of ‘Boys’ Own Tales’ to tell ……. as well as some tales which can’t be told.
For more gay cruise information go to:http://atlantisevents.com