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Gay Charter Cruise Onboard Freedom of the Seas
Day 1: Embarkation in Miami
Day 2: At Sea
Day 3: San Juan
Day 4: St. Maarten
Day 5: At sea
Day 6: Labadee
Day 7: At Sea/Wrap Up
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Day 7: Tuesday, At Sea/Wrap Up
At Sea/Wrap UpThe "no holds barred," almost surreal White Party on the Pooldeck almost went all night; the hard-partying guys and gals who were not drained by 5 a.m. then headed down to Studio B on Deck 3 for an after hours dance party. Since our cabin was close to Studio B, we didn't get much shuteye that night. Good note to future Atlantis guests: if you desire restful nights of sleep on your vacation, make sure your room is not too near the all-night party venues. When Doug and I headed to breakfast at 10 a.m., we peeked into pounding Studio B. A couple hundreds guys were still shakin' their groove at this late morning hour. The sight of freshly showered guests in the morning passing guys dressed all in white -- who had clearly been up all night or were headed back to the dance floor -- surely doesn't take place on normal Freedom cruises!

Our final (and third) sea day was all about enjoying this gargantuan ship -- and catching up on some sleep after a restless night. Once again, the weather was spectacular all day long (82 and sunny) as we headed towards Miami, and we grabbed a couple of the many open deck chairs, a benefit of having a late-rising crowd, for a few hours of sun and reading. After the dizzying array of activities, parties and entertainment we'd experienced during the past week, this chill time was much-deserved and appreciated.

Hugs were exchanged with our new and old pals, along with vows to keep in touch and "see you on the next Atlantis cruise." Even on this day, we managed to make new friends. One interior decorator offered us some great home ideas for our new abode in Austin, Texas, and one guy who went to the University of Texas and lived in Austin has already invited us to a party at his home -- a great, friendly welcome to our new hometown. We know that his spirit of camaraderie and openness was genuine and a memorable aspect of any Atlantis cruise; we still keep in touch with friends we met on our last Atlantis trip in 2005.

In the afternoon, guests could take advantage of an onboard discount of $150 per person and book a future Atlantis cruise. I heard that on next year's Liberty of the Seas cruise in January 2008 the top suites sold out quickly. One French couple we knew from our last cruise told us they were already booked on four of the remaining six Atlantis cruises this year, in top-level suites for every single trip. They were certainly in the demographic majority -- upscale, professional men in their 30's and 40's -- although there were also younger, party-hard guys, even a sprinkling of college students, who were booked three to a cabin.

Experienced cruisers onboard knew that there is certainly a "gay premium" associated with any gay cruise, from Atlantis, R.S.V.P. or other charter company. An all-gay charter normally costs at least 20 percent more than a regular, non-charter cruise, due to the higher operational costs, special entertainment, non-stop parties and complete customization of the experience for the all-gay audience. Why stop at just higher cruise costs? As the alcohol was flowing rapidly and everywhere this week, many guests faced very high bar bills at the end.

During our final evening onboard Freedom, Doug and I finally took a timeout from the main dining room to join some friends at Portofino, the ship's Italian restaurant ($20 per-person surcharge). It's funny: On regular cruises we really love the boutique eateries but on this one we were dining with groups of friends and it was nearly impossible to get them to commit to a certain time -- and to a particular restaurant. The main dining room was just ... easier.

Still, Portofino was great; a meal of handmade pasta, an exquisite cut of lamb and a sinfully rich chocolate dessert was the perfect capstone to our second (and hopefully not last) Atlantis cruise.

A few final thoughts on the week:

Freedom of the Seas was an ideal venue for this large charter group. All of the special venues and amenities, like the FlowRider, were very popular, and there were reasonable lines for dinner, tenders, etc. -- even at peak times. The friendly Freedom staff was overwhelmingly accommodating and gracious toward our sometimes raucous and high-maintenance group; many crew and staff I met said that this was the "most fun" they'd ever had in one week. Some from more conservative locales like Jamaica and Eastern Europe even came away with positive, changed opinions of the gay community.

With over 15 years of experience, the Atlantis gay cruise formula is honed and professional; there are well-organized "bonding games," a full variety of entertainment options from comedy to cabaret, and headliners like Joan Rivers. And the spectacular dance parties, held almost every night, were the piece de resistance. The 30 members of "Team Atlantis" were enthusiastic -- and sensitive. It was nice to see them reach out to the singles or shy passengers to help them feel welcome. The frenzy to book future cruises (and the "sold out" status many months -- or a year -- ahead) is just one sign of the consistently high level of guest satisfaction. We truly did come together and bond in the end as one big community.

The guests onboard were even more diverse in age, interests and body type than I remember from our last cruise (not everyone was buff and beautiful -- although there was plenty of eye candy the whole week!). I noticed a larger international contingent, more loyal alumni and more groups of friends traveling together. Some guests make this and other Atlantis cruise an annual or regular tradition, a way to escape their daily cares (or possibly repressed existences).

Suggestions for improvement: very few. The biggest complaint I heard all week was that there was "too much to do." The amazing choices in entertainment and parties offered this week were both a blessing and a curse. The more ambitious guests raced around almost every night to take in a comedy show scheduled at the same time as a cabaret act or headliner, afraid to miss anything. Atlantis prides itself on offering high-caliber entertainment choices, and the sheer number and variety could be overwhelming. Other guests said they were exhausted from the nightly parties that went on well until the morning. You could easily take in a more relaxed pace and pace yourself (as Doug and I mostly did), but then you might feel you were missing out on something.

The Internet breakdown and technical difficulties that occupied way too much of our time every day of the cruise was an unmitigated fiasco, but this was squarely a Royal Caribbean issue -- one that should be addressed so that future cruisers are not stranded without communication options.

After a week of Caribbean sun; fun port stops in San Juan, St. Maarten and Labadee; and fantastic experiences onboard the impressive Freedom of the Seas, Doug and I were actually ready to get back to the "real world." A new house to move into and decorate awaited us -- along with a "restful" vacation (meaning sleep!) after our fast-paced and memorable Atlantis adventure.

--by Stan Wu, Cruise Critic contributor

Day 6: Labadee red arrow  

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