In 2014, leading up to the 175 anniversary of the Cunard Line, my partner and I were invited to an event on board the Queen Mary 2 in New York City. They were hosting a special screening of the documentary To Be Takei, starring George and Brad Takei. Having never been on this iconic ship, we jumped at the chance to view the film and meet the stars in this unique setting. As we spoke to Brad that day about the documentary and the couple’s work on behalf of the LGBT community, we wanted to be able to sail with George and Brad from New York to South Hampton, England that summer, but unfortunately our schedule was already booked. It would take us almost a year to realize our dream of sailing on one of Cunard Line’s majestic ocean liners, but the wait was well worth it.
As the day of our departure approached, we grew increasingly excited. Our Queen Victoria itinerary would take us to many places we had never traveled to before. These destinations included Athens, Greece; Bodrum, Turkey; Santorini and Katakolon Greece; and Salerno and Rome, Italy.
We flew out of New York on Saturday, June 27, connecting via Zürich to Athens aboard Swiss International Airlines. We arrived at the Port of Piraeus Passenger Terminal the next day about 4 P.M. As our car pulled up to the ship, we stood in awe of the size and beauty of the Queen Victoria. After a series of photos and selfies, we breezed through security and checked into our cabin. Our steward for the trip, Nimuel (peace in Tagalog), helped us with our bags and served us chocolate-covered strawberries and Champagne. As the sun began to set, illuminating the Aegean Sea with golden red hues, we toasted each other with the words “to new and good.”
Our first night aboard was an informal one, so we threw on our blazers and headed for the Princess Grill to inquire about seating arrangements and serving times for dinner. It was already almost 9 P.M., but we wanted to relax over cocktails and have a late dinner. The Maitre D’ smiled understandingly when we told him we liked to dine late, but he said they stopped serving at 9 P.M! We soon realized we would have to rearrange our normal dining hours aboard the ship if we wanted to have dinner in the Princess Grill.
That evening we decided to have martinis in the Commodore Club and find an alternative that would allow us to dine at our leisure. Located in the bow of the ship with 180-degree panoramic views, The Commodore Club is a wonderful place to enjoy drinks and bar snacks, meet new people, and watch the world go by as you glide silently across the sea. The Queen Victoria has a capacity for over 2,000 passengers, but this area of the ship was never crowded and always provided us with an elegant and relaxing place to begin each evening.
We quickly became friends with Juno, a wonderful woman and bar- tender who always made us feel right at home and had many stories to tell us about life aboard ship, the fascinating people she had met, and the places she had been. When she realized that we were one of only a handful of gay couples on this cruise, she made sure to introduce us to any of the gay crew members who might be working in the Commodore Club while we were there.
In our “Daily Program” that was placed in our cabin each day, there was always a list of various, interesting activities available on board. These included fitness and stretch classes at 7:30 A.M., morning trivia, film screenings, afternoon tea, ballroom dance classes, a Friends of Dorothy LGBT cocktail reception, and much more (all before dinner).
The Daily Program also provided historical information about each port of call, as well as local attractions, recommended places to shop, and a basic map to help you find your way.
In every port, the ship offered planned excursions for a set fee. If you are interested in an excursion it is always best to book it in advance at the tour office. For passengers who like to explore on their own, a little online research before your trip will provide great information about places you can visit on foot close to the ship, as well as attractions you can see with the help of a taxi or local guide.
People who prefer to stay on ship rather than running around will find that this is one of the best times to enjoy the Queen Victoria. This is when you will often have the swimming pools and lounge chairs all to yourself. You can kick back with a good book and catch up on your tanning, go for a swim, enjoy discount spa treatments, or order a cocktail and just relax. Our first day at sea, enroute from Athens to Bodrum, we got up at 8:30 A.M. and headed for the aft pool. At this time of the day, most people are having their breakfast, so we most often found that we had the pool all to ourselves. After 45 minutes of swimming, we would dry off and head to the Lido Buffet, collect our breakfast, and dine outside at a café table by the pool. The cafeteria-style dinning room provides meals and snacks 24 hours a day. Breakfast always included hot items like eggs Benedict, omelets, and pancakes, as well as fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, and freshly baked breads and pastries of every possible type..
As people arrived to claim their lounge chairs for the day, slathering on Coppertone, and picking up a book or opening their Kindle Readers or iPads, we were always amazed at the fashion choices of the passengers on board. With the median age being 60 plus, we loved the fact the women chose to wear bright colors, floral prints, and beautiful large sun hats. Meanwhile, some of the men were also doing their best to celebrate their physical assets with Hawaiian shirts, sexy swimwear, and designer sunglasses. Watching people of any age enjoying themselves and each other is one of the great pleasures of travel.
The next day, we woke up to find ourselves in the port of Bodrum, the maiden call here for the Queen Victoria. This stunning area is one of the most beautiful on the south Aegean Sea, where two crescent-shaped bays, and white buildings covered in vibrant bougainvillea, entice visitors to return year after year. As we pulled back the curtain in our stateroom, the view revealed a peaceful harbor dotted with large sailing yachts and the medieval walls of the Castle of St. Peter on a promontory within walking distance of our ship. A vari- ety of excursions were offered to passengers that day, including a Best of Bodrum tour with stops at The Mausoleum, one of the Seven Won- ders of the World, and the Castle of St. Peter, now the world’s foremost Museum of Underwater Archeology.
Being such a gorgeous destination, almost everyone got off the ship that day, including many of the crew members. One couple from Glasgow that we met the night before June and Bill, got up early, walked to the cas- tle, and were back by lunchtime. My partner and I had a late breakfast and didn’t leave the ship until after noon. As we walked along the pier into the small harbor town nearby, we noticed two teenage twin brothers laughing as they dragged their GoPro through the water. “What are you photo- graphing?” we asked. “We’re making videos of Portuguese man-of-wars,” they told us. “There must be hundreds of them here!”
We saw these brothers from Scotland on the ship every day. They were inseparable. And with no apparent parent or chaperone telling them what to do, they seemed to be having a great time traveling and exploring the world together.
Once in town, we notice a small beach with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and a café selling food and things to drink. A gay male couple we had seen at breakfast was already there getting some sun and enjoying cold beers. It was a hot day with clear blue skies and the water was quite warm. We walked along the small beach and I began picking up sea glass. A rotund, middle-aged woman working at the café noticed how excited I was getting at finding these beach treasures and she called out to me: “That will be one dollar each.” We both laughed, then it was time to work her Turkish sense of humor on my partner. “Why don’t you go for a swim?” she asked him. “I didn’t bring a bathing suit,” he told her. “You don’t need a bathing suit.” she smiled. “I won’t look!”
As we continued down the beach, we noticed three handsome dark- haired men lounging together. They watched us as we strolled along, and one of them, lying on his stomach, wearing a tight, bright red Speedo, just kept smiling at us. We wanted to go over and say hello, but with only four hours before our ship would set sail for the next port, we didn’t think it was a good idea. If there is a drawback to cruising, it is the lack of opportuni- ty to really be able to get to know a destination or the people who live there. The only consolation we had that day was the desire to come back to Bodrum and spend some quality time here.