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Prime Timers Transatlantic Cruise

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Forty-nine Prime Timers enjoyed a September-October cruise from London to Miami.

This was a repositioning cruise. Most cruise lines offer tours of European ports in summer and ports in the Caribbean, western Mexico, and between Los Angeles and Hawaii in winter. The ships are repositioned between Europe and the Americas. These ships were previously moved with a crew but without passengers until cruise lines learned that if they dropped the base price low enough, customers would eagerly book this passage during the off season. Look at any cruise line website to see how prices start low at the beginning of the cruising season, increase during the prime travel season, then fall again at the end of the season. The low-priced transatlantic crossings, such as this one promoted by Prime Timers Worldwide (PTWW), are repositioning cruises. Few children and teens are on board as school is back in session. On the downside, the best weather is past, something we experienced in Reykjavik where it was 41F/5C.

 

While the base price is low, cruise lines profit through gambling casinos, beverages, shops, tour excursions while at port, wifi service, professional photo-taking, laundry and spa packages; you can even buy botox treatments. Cabin choices range from a luxurious suite with a picture window to a smallish but comfortable interior cabin with no window at a lower cost. If you are selective, off-season cruising is a travel bargain.

Access to gay cruise groups is a perk of being part of PTWW. This is not like an RSVP cruise where LGBTQ passengers fill the entire ship. Our group of Prime Timers was but a small subset of the 2,400 passengers. Courtyard Travel, a New York State company, organizes the tours.

Michael Stone and his husband, Robert Rosenthal, both Florida PTs, are the group leaders. For gay singles looking to avoid paying the single supplement, they take your contact information and, with your permission, share it with another man who is looking for a roommate.

It's up to the two of you to talk and decide whether you are a good match as travel companions. Such pairs of men meeting for the first time have been a part of all four PT cruises I've attended. Some singles return a year later with a different roommate, one that they met on an earlier cruise.

Before departure, Michael and Robert sent recommendations for gay clubs, top tourist sites, and dining spots at each port.

A shuttle arranged by Courtyard Travel picked up Tom and me at Gatwick Airport and delivered us to the H10 Hotel near Waterloo Station where the Prime Timers stayed. The next morning, we ate at the hotel breakfast buffet, then enjoyed a half-day bus tour of London, stopping for short walks to stand before Buckingham Palace and at the Thames River near the London Eye, a huge ferris wheel, and London Bridge.

During a full day of free time, the group dispersed to pursue individual interests. One raved about the underground rooms built for Winston Churchill and his wartime government as protection from Nazi bombing raids. Tom and I explored the shops and street life around Lower Marsh plus spent a day at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Once onboard the Norwegian Jade, Michael and Robert sponsored PT social events with an opening reception with get-to-know-each-other activities, before-dinner cocktail meetups, and a 'gaymes' party. During days at sea, they showed gay films. On this cruise, we saw Stonewall: When Pride Began, God's Own Country, and Love, Simon. At these events, you make new friends. You'll spend time alone only when you want to. The Chicago PT played Double Train Dominoes in the Card Room whenever we had a full day at sea.

All the ships today have gay meetups. They used to be listed as 'Friends of Dorothy' so straights didn't suspect just who Dorothy's friends are. Today, the events are listed as LGBTQ gatherings. Several PT made new friends from outside PT.

During dinners, Norwegian grouped us at three large tables. You could choose to dine at a later time or, at extra cost, at one of the specialty restaurants. Meals with many choices in the dining room or at the buffet are included in the basic cruise price. You never had fewer than eight choices each of appetizers, entrées, and deserts.

The ship offers entertainment all day long: small musical groups in the lounges, contests, lectures about upcoming ports and other topics, and games. Large-scale shows vary each night: bands, dancing troupes, singers, a juggler, a violinist, a celebrity impressionist, and a hypnotist. You can't attend all the entertainment options.

A fitness center is open all day. An older ship, the Norwegian Jade does not have an indoor solarium pool, so on select days, there is outdoor swimming, weather permitting. The fitness center came with exercise classes, workout machines, free weights, shower, and steam room. You can buy an optional spa package for access to a sauna, steam room, jacuzzi, and massages.

With so many passengers, you can't help meeting people with values different from yours. As the PTs were grouped together in the dining room, we were instructed to bypass the wait line and go directly to our assigned tables. The second night, one M/F couple blocked my way, objecting to men walking past those who were waiting. When one PT explained that we were instructed by staff to walk right in, she stepped aside but behind us, we heard the husband bark that the cruise ship gives special rights to gays. George's retort that, "I guess we know who voted for Trump", elicited giggles from the waiting straights. Behind us, the wife berated the staff. I wondered how this couple reacted when one number of a stage production set in a country & western bar dubbed 'Blazing Boots' featured a female singing a lesbian-themed song, I Got A Girl Crush, which included the lyrics, "I want to kiss her lips". While this one couple may have shared their dislike for gays, many straights were pleased to hear a group for gay seniors who travel was onboard. A straight couple from Toronto recorded the Prime Timers website for their son; a couple from Baltimore did the same for a gay friend.

As we are seniors, some in the group have mobility issues. I observed many instances of group members taking a slower pace or choosing a less taxing shore excursion to keep a fellow traveler company.

While some read books, do needlepoint, or work alone at their computers and phones, most cruise passengers socialized with others every hour. Whether you chat on the elevator, a lounge, or the dining rooms, it is easy to talk with couples from Britain, Japan, Germany, Curacao, Canada, and many states in a short time.

Prime Timers tend to sit together at breakfast and lunch. You share as much of your life story as you feel comfortable. It felt like a big college dorm with a strong gay contingent. We compared chapters and their activities. In Sarasota, you can sign up for small events on a sheet passed around during the monthly social, thus making RSVP calls to the host unnecessary. One Prime Timer, Steven, explained his belonging to four chapters, two in Florida near his inland home and oceanfront condo, Indianapolis for when he spends two summer months at the family farm, and Cincinnati, where he stops while driving between Florida and Indiana. When Steven heard about the Chicago chapter's extensive activities, he requested to join for when he visits the Windy City. A friendly guy, he invited us to picnic at his Indiana farm.

In most ports, we chose among the cruise line shore excursions; each has an extra charge. In Iceland, Michael and Robert arranged a Gray Line Golden Circle tour. Our bus roamed the countryside with multiple stops at natural and historic sites. Our guide, Jakob, a retired actor and storyteller, entertained us with local facts and lore. We saw hot springs and a stunning waterfall. Some PT skip the tour to walk through town. In Portland, Maine, Tom's college roommate and his husband met us at the pier and showed us around. Some PT stay onboard when the ship docks and enjoyed the onboard activities.

When younger, I traveled Europe by car or train. I liked checking my bags at the train station while I visited tourist sites. Most are within walking distance of the station. If I wanted to stay longer, tourist information booths helped me find overnight accommodations in my price range. The threat of terrorist bombings led authorities to close station baggage rooms, so now you walked a block or more to store your bags. As I use a CPAP machine for sleep apnea, true for many Prime Timers, I need distilled water each night. It's not easy traveling with a gallon of water. Searching for distilled water in each new town and in a foreign language is a nuisance. On the ship, a gallon of distilled water is waiting in my room. When cruising, you move your luggage just once. That, plus the meals and entertainment, make cruising my favorite means for travel abroad. On the downside, you give up some flexibility and personal choice. Your visits are limited to the number of hours the ship is in port and the sites you see are limited to designated excursion stops.

During these cruises, many PT from across the country exchange contact information with the promise to exchange visits.

Woody Baldwin founded Prime Timers as a place for older gay men to socialize, to make new friends, and to have fun. Taking a cruise with PT accomplishes those goals in short order.

 

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Last modified on Saturday, 15 December 2018 10:34

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