The Cruise – The Best Holiday Experience Ever

Author: , August 7th, 2015

The Cruise - Briand Bedford

The Cruise - Briand BedfordThis was the fifth time that The Cruise has taken place. It is organised once a year in summer and by La Demence crew. LA DEMENCE is a crazy gay party that takes place in Brussels once a month: mostly on a Friday, or sometimes the day before a bank holiday. At Easter and at Halloween, a full party weekend is organised with several parties in different venues. The club as well as the cruise attracts, beside the local Belgians, a lot of visitors from France, The Netherlands and Germany, as well as hot Italian, Swiss, Spanish, British and American boys. This year there were over 70 nations on the ship – an amazing mixture of gay guys from around the world. In the club in Brussels as well as on The Cruise you will not only hear many languages spoken, but the mix of different ages and styles partying together: leather boys, fashion victims, muscle queens, drags, young and old – in total over 2000 gay guys having one hell of a party together.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordOn the ship as in the club there is no dress code. Suggestions are made according to the different parties on board, but nobody is excluded from any events because they are no dressed up! The guys in casual wear are free to mingle amongst those in their costumes. This is the concept of LA DEMENCE and it works fantastically. The excitement before the cruise grew each day until everyone was totally freeked out when they finally got on board the Sovereign in Barcelona harbour. There was a special group page in Facebook for The Cruise with 1797 members. Long before the ship set sail from Barcelona, many of the passengers had met online, discovered who their cabin partners were, exchanged tips about costumes and caught up with friends who were on The Cruise the year before, because once you have been on The Cruise you will be hooked and counting the days until the next departure! After the cruise this Facebook page was bombarded with photos from passengers – so happy to have been on board and so sad that this fantastic week came to an end.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordThe M/V Sovereign was built in 1989 in France on behalf of Royal Caribbean. She has two twin ships: Monarch – operated by Pullmantur and the Majesty of the Seas, operated by Royal Caribbean. Sovereign is the largest ship so far to accommodate The Cruise. It was fully renovated in 2008, flies under the flag of Malta and can accommodate 2324 passengers (1162 cabins) and 820 crew. The crew was carefully selected, and because the M/V Sovereign, owned by Pullmantur, is based in Madrid with more than 7,000 employees from around the world, many of the crew came from Central and South America. Another interesting piece of information is that the gay crew were allowed to partake in the parties on board. This was the best party ever for many of them, like Henry from Honduras who worked in the restaurant. He could be found at every party and in the evening in the restaurant. Henry said he had never experienced anything like this before. He was not the only one!

The Cruise - Briand BedfordThe ship had a great fitness area and gym offering daily classes including Yoga, stretching, abdominal and fat burning – for those who wanted to leave the ship with the same weight which they had on arrival. There was also a beauty treatment area, offering massage, acupuncture and more. Although at check-in the procedure was the same as any cruise trip, the passengers finally got to meet up with their friends from the previous trips. Already here one got the feeling that it was a big family reunion.

After inspecting the ship a quick snack in the Panorama Buffet was a must! The dining possibilities onboard were adapted to the party people: there was always a restaurant open for those looking for something to eat. Breakfast was available from 7am to 3pm and dinner from 8.30 pm until the show starts at 11:30 pm. And snacks were available around the clock.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordThe shows onboard were simply amazing. The highlight was LaDiva Live, a character created in Brussels, singing in English, French and Spanish. She sings in different international events and has been on The Cruise from the very beginning. For this reason she has an enormous fan base (rightly so), who all sing along with her. The atmosphere cannot be described. You have to be there to understand why LaDiva Live is so popular. Other stars on board were Koka (from France) and La Prohibida (with her show in Spanish). Other shows on board include two porn shows with porn stars from France, Switzerland and Germany. In the cabin there were also two free porn channels with daily changing films as well as one channel showing international films with gay content.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordThe first day the sail away from Barcelona was at 6pm with a sail away T-Dance. LaDiva performed for the first time in the theatre and there was a cabaret show with Maman, Boop and Marla. After midnight the Uniform party started on pool deck 11 with international DJs Steven Redant (Spain); Chris Bekker (Germany) and VJ AlexEtJeremy (The Netherlands). The after party started at 6.30 am – for those who had not had enough and who had not got caught up in the cruising zone on deck 11. The sun beds were packed away each night on deck 11 and a camouflage net was thrown over these making a cruising zone, which was on the lower two decks, accessible via steps in the aft of the ship. At night this place was buzzing and a good time was had by all.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordOn the first day at sea was the Mr Gay Cruise competition took place at 3pm on deck 12 around the pool. There were 16 contestants, most from Europe but some international contestants from Australia, Egypt and Palestine. I was lucky to be one of the 6 members of the jury! There were three rounds and the winner was Gil from Tel Aviv, second was Daniel from Copenhagen and the third place went to Michal from Prague. This competition made the temperatures rise and got people talking to each other and the T-Dance at 6pm with the theme “where are you from” helped to finally break the ice. On such a hot ship the only ice after this was found in the drinks.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordWhen speaking of drinks, I was amazed and delighted to discover that all soft drinks and water on board were free of charge. In several bars on the ship we could enjoy a wide selection of complimentary freshly ground coffee. The alcoholic beverages were extremely fair in price, including a special offer at dinner for white, red and rosé wines. In fact I thought these special prices were for a glass of wine – later to be told it was for a bottle! It can truly be said that The Cruise did not try to overcharge for drinks – which is generally a policy with most cruise ships worldwide.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordAfter dinner the first porn show took place in the discotheque and the show “Magic of Cinema” was shown in the theatre. After midnight the Bal Masqué (masked ball) took place around the pool with a temperature of over 20 degrees and a wonderful light sea breeze. This magic location was the stage for most of the parties. The crew from The Cruise were amazing, setting up the lighting and decoration for each party. The DJs topped this off with fantastic music. Everyone was in the mood to dance and enjoy themselves. It was very contagious and soon the whole deck was dancing under the stars and the disco lighting, cooled down by the welcome sea breeze. I have no idea who made it to the after party. A few guys with masks could be seen going back to their cabins as I came back from breakfast at 9am.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordOn Monday at 9am we reached Palermo and had the whole day to discover the city. The city was hot – not just because 2 000 hot gay guides went on land! Busses waited alongside the ship to carry of the excursion guests. As I have been to Palermo several times before I decided to ramble round in the city. I needed to find a café with WiFi so that I could put my photos on Facebook and communicate with the outside world.

There was no T-dance that evening as we only left Palermo at 9pm. The theme of the party that evening was Fetish. Here the guys had no problem wearing as little as possible. For those who did not have the right thing to wear, the shop on board was selling a wide range of fetish wear and many other items that a gay man needs on a gay cruise! In the theatre the show was “a life’s journey” where one could travel to different continents with music, dances and costumes of each continent.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordOn Tuesday morning we arrived around 8am in Lipari. Because there is no harbour, the ship was anchored at sea and we had to use tenders (smaller boats) from the ship to the pier. Lipari is the largest of the Aeolian Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the northern coast of Sicily. This volcanic island is famous for pumice and obsidian, which is sold in every shop on the island. The 1556 fortifications protected the main town as well as the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew. In this cathedral an interesting encounter took place. While visiting the cathedral one of the cleaning staff invited me to take a look at the private rooms of the cathedral. After taking me into one of these rooms and closing the door he proceeded to explain the use of this room. I noticed his hand suddenly started rubbing my crouch. He was not turned off when I moved away, and continued to try his luck until I fled from the room, leaving the cathedral. I spent the rest of the day in the beach at Canneto, enjoying the warm sea water. We departed from Lipari at 7pm. The sun was slowly setting and the theme for the most popular T-Dance party on deck 11 was Disco. The music from DJ Paul Heron (UK) was once again fantastic, with all the classics of disco from the 70ies until today. Later that evening the theme for the main party was Super Heros, another chance to try out new costumes or simply watch those in costumes parade around the pool.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordAfter a short night and only 90 natical miles (around 167 km) we arrived on Wednesday at 8am in Amalfi, a World Heritage Site where the mountains dive into the sea. Here once again we had to be transported by small boats from the Sovereign to the shore side. Here I had a planned excursion to Pompei and the volcano Vesuvius. After an amazing bus tour through the mountain roads we reached Pompei – an amazing experience and thanks to our excellent tour guide Roberta we leant much about the ancient city. Pompei is located south of Mount Vesuvius on the right bank of the river Sarno, about three kilometers from its mouth in the Gulf of Naples and after the outbreak of the volcano on the 24th August 79 the thriving Roman city of Pompeii and the surrounding fertile landscape was buried with up to six meters thick of ash. After lunch we climbed the volcano which is 1281 m high to enjoy the magnificent view over the bay of Naples.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordThat evening we all had to get back to the ship early to get ready for the Ladies T-Dance for anyone and everyone who wanted to try our drag and running around in high heels. Amazing music from DJ Kenne Perry (Belgium) and spectacular costumes made this T-Dance my favourite. All ladies were invited to dine in the restaurants in their costumes. After dinner LaDiva gave her second show and presented the winner of the “Miss The Cruise”. The winners came from The Netherlands and are owners of the shop Wow Partykleding in Eindhoven. The theme of the party that night was NEON.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordOn Thursday morning we arrived at 8am in Sorrento, the last stop on our cruise before returning to Barcelona. Sorrento is a cliff-top town, offering amazing views of the bay of Naples. On a clear day the Island of Capri can be clearly seen from here. Once again there was no harbour for cruise ships and we were transported to land in small boats. We had the whole day to discover this small town and the surrounding beaches. A short bus ride from the central bus stop takes you to the bathing cove called Bagni della Regina Giovanna with its emerald water and separated from the open sea by a stone arch.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordAs we were staying in Sorrento until 9pm, there was no T-Dance that evening. The famous WHITE party took place on Thursday evening, after midnight. The deck was all decorated in white, with flags and white decorations over the pool. The warm evening breeze kept the flags and decorations alive. The atmosphere was magical. You have to be there to understand the amazing atmosphere of a mega party on the pool deck of a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The party goers all dressed up in white – of often reduced to white underwear. A mass of hot and sexy bodies dancing to heavenly music under the stars. Everyone is happy, in party mood and one big family. The DJs Paul Heron (UK), Ben Manson (France) and AlexEtJeremy (The Netherlands) did a fantastic job at this classic party – the last evening under the stars, with the highlight at 6:00 am where traditionally the partygoers enjoy the unforgettable moment when the sun rises and the white clothes of those on deck stand in contrast to the colours of the sunrise! The White After Party went on until midday in the ships discotheque.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordFriday was spent at sea, en route to Barcelona. At 5.30 pm there was a “high Heel Race” around the pool with € 500 to be won. At 6pm the Goodbye T-Dance took place where the passengers wore their favourite costumes from the week on board. Dinner in the restaurant went off with a bang. Not only the waiters were sad that the week had gone by so quickly. After dinner there was a farewell in the theatre – the Final Show with LaDiva and artsist. The crew, porn stars, Mr The Cruise and more came to say goodbye. The evening party “The Last Dance” went to the early hours of the morning in the club. The Sovereign arrived in Barcelona harbour at 8am on Saturday.

The Cruise - Briand BedfordThe Cruise is the most amazing experience I have ever had. It was fantastic to see how young and older gay men can have fun and party for one week. It was a week where everyone enjoyed the diversity of gay life, the different personalities. Everyone had a great experience and it was obvious that fun was had by all on board. The staff and passengers mixed and celebrated life. It was a very well organised party, with so many funny moments. The Staff from La Demence have certainly got so much experience that made this cruise a delight and by no means did I get the feeling that they were only interested in the “pink Euro”. The drinks on board were very reasonably prices and the little extra such as free bottled water and coffee specialities added to my feeling of a very fairly priced trip. Two days after getting back home I contacted the agents again, inquiring about booking for The Cruise 2016. If there is one BIG party which you want to attend next year, make it THE CRUISE. I hope to see you on board!

By Briand Bedford, Spartacus | Other Gay Travel Events

Images by Briand Bedford

EuroPride 2015 in Riga – a Fantastic Success!

Author: , June 28th, 2015

Riga Pride - Briand Bedford

On Saturday, the 20th June around 5.000 participants met up in the central Vermanes Park in Riga, the capital city of the Baltic State of Latvia. At 2pm the participants left the park and the parade covered 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) through Riga’s central streets and back to Vermanes Park. This distance is four times longer than any previous Riga Pride parades.

Riga Pride - Briand BedfordThis year many participants were worried about safety and Amnesty International urged the Latvian government to commit to protect the participants of this year’s EuroPride. It was disturbing to see the Latvian government’s evident discomfort at hosting EuroPride. Instead of welcoming this event, Latvia’s leaders preferred to turn their backs on it.

Latvia is currently holding the presidency of the European Union and should be leading by example in the fight against homophobic discrimination. Probably for this reason the police presence was very noticeable during the march on the streets of Riga. Special riot police headed the parade and barricades were erected around the Vermanes Park, where the parade started and ended. After the parade there was a park festival with stage events from singers and speeches from local as well as international LGBTI activists.

Riga Pride - Briand BedfordNot all Latvia’s political leaders turned their backs on the EuroPride. Local participants included Latvias former parliamentary secretary and now Adviser of Ministry of Foreign Affairs Viktor Makarov and his boyfriend; Karlis Streips – a famous Latvian journalist and one of the first well known personalities in Latvia to come out gay and Ilze Vinkele, a very gay-friendly member of the Lavian parliament, who spoke at the rally after the march. Sadly the Latvian foreign minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs, who become the first high-ranking politician in his country and the Baltic states to come out publicly as gay did not attend the event.

International support came from the US and Embassy as well as the German and Norwegian Ambassadors: Mrs Andrea Joana-Maria Wiktorin and Mr Jan Grevstad, who all took part in the parade through the streets of the Latvian capital.

On the streets the locals were clearly in favour of the parade. Many young people lined the route and waved the parade participants their support. Opponents to the EuroPride were not visible – an amazing change in attitudes when compared to the local Pride events in the past.

Riga Pride - Briand BedfordIn previous years Pride events in the Baltic region faced threats of violence and attempts to be banned by local authorities. In 2006, a LGBT Pride march in Riga was banned owing to what the authorities’ referred to as “security threats” against the participants and violent protesters threw eggs and human excrement at people elsewhere.

In 2007, the Pride march was allowed to go ahead, but inside an enclosed park. Outside the park, crowds of counter-demonstrators shouted abuses at the Pride marchers and threw two explosive devices which exploded in the park. In May 2009 Riga City Council initially revoked permission for the Baltic Pride march.

A successful EuroPride in Riga is of huge importance not only for Latvia but for the entire region, including the post-Soviet countries, where freedom of speech and assembly are under attack every day. The Russian LGBT propaganda law (also known as the gay propaganda law or the anti-gay law refers to a Russian federal law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values” was unanimously approved by the State Duma in June 2013.

Riga Pride - Briand BedfordThe situation in Latvia is similar to that in Russia. Anti-LGBT groups have spent the past year collecting signatures for a referendum that would implement a similar law to ban “gay propaganda.” The new law would limit sexual education to the traditional understanding of marriage, which is seen as the union between one man and one woman. Latest public opinion poll reveals that Latvian society remains hostile towards LGBT people and legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.

EuroPride – one of Europe’s main, annual LGBT events, inaugurated in London in 1992, was hosted this year by the city of Riga in Latvia and coincided with the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This EuroPride marks a historic occasion as it is the first EuroPride to be held in a post-Soviet country on the EU’s Eastern border with Russia.

The Latvian capital, Riga is located only 300 km from the Russian border. The local increase in tension, resulting from the Ukraine crisis, is very evident in the Baltic States. We’re seeing a massive military build-up in the Baltic states as NATO launched one of its largest-ever military manoeuvres last June in the three Baltic states and the United States recently started deploying a 3,000 strong infantry unit in the Baltics, with over 100 armed vehicles. The NATO forces will hold a three-month exercise with the local armies in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Riga Pride - Briand BedfordThe EuroPride 2015 in Riga was organised by the Association of LGBT and their friends MOZAIKA (mozaika.lv/en), the only LGBT organisation in Latvia and it was supported by local companies such as Air Baltic – flying from Riga to over 50 destinations worldwide. airBaltic has just introduced new routes including Berlin – Tallinn and has a fleet consists of 25 aircraft, offering nonstop flights from three Baltic capital cities – Riga, Vilnius, and Tallinn. airBaltic received the title of Airline of the Year 2009/2010 (Gold Award) from the European Regions Airline Association. (www.airbaltic.com).

The local tourism LiveRiga (www.liveriga.com) was a big supporter of the EuroPride 2015. The city of Riga was an ideal choice for this parade. A heritage of 800 years old Gothic churches, built by founders of Riga, medieval buildings in the Old Town, exquisite Art Nouveau, as well as wooden buildings make Riga a true pearl of architecture. Each century has left its marks in the architecture in the Old Town and City Centre here the cultural heritage coexists with the quick pace of modern living.

EuroPride 2016 will take place next summer in Amsterdam.

By Briand Bedford, Spartacus | Other Gay Travel Events

Images by Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford

EuroPride Riga - Briand Bedford