SFBT FINAL 10.6.22
SFBT FINAL 10.6.22

By John Chen–

Virtually everybody has a bucket listing. My bucket listing has however one merchandise: to see the world. This, nevertheless, is a catch-22 as a result of it’s just about unimaginable to see the world given our restricted time. My modified bucket listing is now to see as a lot as I can earlier than my time is up and a very good approach to take action is happening cruises. Within the final 15 years, I’ve cruised to the islands of Hawaii and the Caribbean, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and the West Coast of Canada together with Southern Alaska.

At this time I want to take you on my most up-to-date “see the world” journey on a cruise by way of 5 stunning and historic port cities in Spain on the ship Virgin Valiant Woman. I’d additionally wish to share with you some pertinent journey ideas, pointers, data, and proposals.

For these of you who don’t know, nearly all of the cruises I’ve taken so far have been with LGBTQ cruise corporations. Some main benefits of happening a “homosexual” cruise or with a recognized gay-supportive firm are: 1) touring in a protected, non-judgmental surroundings surrounded by associates, family members, and supporters; 2) touring with minimal mainstream societal restrictions and mores whereas on the cruise ship; and three) partying prefer it’s 1999 with 1000’s of like-minded vacationers!

*John’s Tip #1: Fly Continuous.

Touring as we speak is not like that of pre-pandemic days. I extremely advocate direct flights, with no connections, if potential. The pandemic has brought about main journey complications with final minute flight cancellations around the globe. A number of of my associates practically missed the cruise due to this.

*John’s Tip #2: Reserve exams and fill out required varieties prematurely.

Weeks earlier than the journey, my husband and I reserved fast antigen COVID “match to fly” exams at an authorised cruise ship journey testing clinic in Barcelona. We additionally needed to register and clear well being checks by way of the Spanish Well being Portal three days earlier than getting on our flight. These inconveniences are the norm of touring internationally these days, however well worth the effort.

Day 1: Tapas and Barcelona LGBTQ Scene

After a 12-hour continuous flight from SFO, we had been able to kiss the bottom in Barcelona. From the airport, we took a taxi to the Cram Lodge, one in every of two LGBTQ lodges (the opposite one is Axel) within the coronary heart of the homosexual district the place we had been greeted by streets, buildings, and companies lined with rainbow and the varied LGBTQ neighborhood flags. Barcelona is certainly a really LGBTQ pleasant metropolis!

We met up with our associates from Palm Springs within the early night and had drinks at a well-liked and iconic homosexual bar, Priscilla Café, earlier than dinning open air for our first of many Spanish tapas meals at Lexi’s. Later that night time, we toured Barcelona’s gayborhood on foot visiting a number of “companies as such.”

*John’s Tip #3: Have an concept of transportation (e.g., taxi and public transport), customs (e.g., tipping), advisories (e.g., scams) and prices earlier than you journey, and have some vacation spot objectives corresponding to what to do, see, and eat.

Though the joys of an impromptu journey with no agenda could be alluring, irrespective of the kind of journey you intend to take, I like to recommend that you simply do some primary analysis and preparatory work previous to your journey. You undoubtedly don’t need to be caught blind, particularly abroad.

Day 2: COVID Take a look at and Personal Tour of Historic Barcelona

Our different cruise associates from Los Angeles and Houston arrived within the early, early morning hours and joined us at Schbelta Clinic Centro Medico to obtain our fast antigen COVID take a look at. The six of us had been very nervous as a result of testing constructive would spell catastrophe. Fortuitously, all of us took great precautions weeks earlier than the journey and whereas visiting companies in Barcelona and examined unfavorable.

Round midday, we met up with our non-public Barcelona tour information, Milena, for a seven-hour stroll to probably the most historic and cultural landmarks, together with whimsical constructions created by Antoni Gaudí, an internationally famend Catalan architect for his “nature of animals” fashion. Initially from Argentina, Milena was properly versed within the historical past and the folks of Barcelona, particularly Spanish nationwide hero Christopher Columbus and the area’s Catalonian roots. Milena additionally warned us about choose pocketers who run rampant in vacationer locations throughout Spain.

*John’s Tip #4: Take into consideration happening an introductory/overview tour to acquaint your self with the vacation spot. Use a good tour company with evaluations, contact data, and cancellation coverage. I virtually all the time use Viator/Journey Advisor.

Our tour started in La Rambla, a tree-lined avenue designed for tourism. We then visited Placa Reial within the famed Gothic Quarter, tasted Iberian cured meats and recent unique fruit juices on the ever-popular Mercat de la Boqueria, adopted by a go to to Dick Waffle, the place ice cream and lots of delectable sweets had been bought within the form of a really giant penis!

Zig-zagging by way of the picturesque alleyways of Barcelona, Milena defined {that a} latest legislation prohibited vacationer teams over 12 folks resulting from congestion within the extremely visited slender stone paved streets. We navigated the labyrinth and admired the Catalan constructions of Güell Palace, the Cathedral de Barcelona, the Picaso Museum and Casas Batlló, and Milà. Oh, and we ate extra tapas. Lastly, we spent a number of hours on the pièce de résistance, Antoni Gaudí ’s architectural masterpieces Sagrada Família and Park Güell. By now, even in writing when you haven’t observed, I sound further subtle, cultured, and so Catalonian and French!

After a protracted day of strolling and feeling like an erudite snob, we had been ravenous! Again at our resort, our concierge labored his magic and acquired us a final seating on the resort’s 2 Michelin Star restaurant, Angle. It took us practically 4 hours to finish an “18 course” meal accompanied by a tasting wine/liquor possibility!

Day 3: All Aboard Virgin Valiant Woman

After a late night time, we slept in till checkout at midday. Leaving our baggage on the resort, we went searching for probably the most glorious brunch and located the Cremat Lounge, a brunch place that hung six giant rainbow flags and showcased a diva drink menu. Do you know {that a} Spanish breakfast plate comes with two poached eggs, all the time? After I requested for over simple, the wait employees checked out me like I used to be some loopy American vacationer. Oh, and the Spanish pancakes are smaller, however thicker, meatier, and extra substantial than American pancakes. Two thumbs up from this loopy American vacationer!

After filling our bellies, we taxied to the cruise port and proceeded to board the Virgin Valiant Woman with 1,400 enthusiastic and energized homosexual males of all ages, shapes, sizes, and colours from all around the world … and 10 girls! Instantly, we met a younger “Abbot and Castello” couple from New York Metropolis, an interracial couple from San Francisco, and a trio of “able to social gathering” singles from Italy, England, and the nation Georgia.

First day on board is all about attending to know the ship. Get to know the place all of the eating places and eateries are, when the accessible leisure and actions (translation: themed dance events) are, and all of the facilities such because the 1,000 bars on board, the pool and spa, the “dick deck,” and the gymnasium. The gymnasium is very necessary to the gays as a result of it’s not nearly well being; it’s about displaying probably the most good peacock plume to draw many, and I imply many, potential suitors. The voyage could also be referred to as Virgin, however I can’t think about a single virgin amongst 1,400 homosexual males.

*John’s Tip #5: Reserve common reveals and premium/specialty eating places prematurely.

Each cruise ship has quite a lot of “premium or specialty” eating places the place the meals is ranges above the others (and all you possibly can eat). On this journey, premium eating places had been free, whereas most cruise strains cost a set price for his or her specialty eating places. In the event you love meals, you completely should dine at these eating places. Though walk-ins are welcome, resulting from their reputation, you actually ought to reserve your house prematurely or threat not getting seated.

This cruise line usually has a number of reveals which can be extraordinarily common, such because the headline performer, drag bingo, and comedy reveals—however with restricted capability. If allowable, reserve spots as quickly as accessible for you, yours, and associates so that you’re not left outdoors trying in.

Day 4: Valiant Woman at Sea and Canine Tag Tea Dance

A day on a cruise ship with no docking port is usually known as a sea day. The Valiant Woman glided effortlessly by way of the Balearic and Alboran Seas, then the Strait of Gibraltar earlier than lastly getting into the Atlantic Ocean to Southwest Spain.

The cruise line that we selected is well-known for onboard mega and generally wild theme events the place attendees gown up in extravagant costumes. Typically talking, the primary huge social gathering is the afternoon canine tag tea dance the place many social gathering goers sport ultra-sexy and somewhat revealing army fashion camo “uniforms.” Though the Valiant Woman couldn’t home a full capability of passengers resulting from COVID restrictions, nonetheless a number of hundred near-naked males packed the pool deck beneath the sun-kissed sky gyrating and thrusting to the most recent home music.

If huge “circuit” like events aren’t your factor, there are a plethora of different actions corresponding to sunbathing, spa, bingo, arcade, basketball, trivia, on line casino, board video games, reside leisure, purchasing, and eating places for cruisers with numerous pursuits. There’s one thing for everybody onboard.

*John’s Tip #6: For much less skilled vacationers or those that are first time to a vacation spot, go on the cruise firm’s onshore excursions for safety, reliability, and security.

One factor about cruising I need to point out is that each one cruise corporations provide many onshore tour choices at each port. Excursions, in my view, are one of the best methods to get probably the most out of each port vacation spot, particularly if it’s your first time there. Excursions could be cultural (UNESCO World Heritage Websites), scenic (Nationwide Parks), sporty (biking, mountain climbing, or kayaking), enjoyable (seaside), or academic (cooking class, wine tasting, craft/artwork making). I like to recommend that cruisers to go along with excursions provided on the ship. They’re reliable, use respected journey businesses, and if one thing occurs, the cruise ship won’t go away you behind. This can prevent a lot of complications!

After all, chances are you’ll select to exit and discover by yourself and that’s completely tremendous. Simply be cognizant of the native customs, language, advisories, and when the ship leaves port. Don’t be late, as a result of the ship won’t anticipate you. You aren’t that particular!

Day 5: Cádiz, El Bosque, and Zahara

We woke as much as the Valiant Woman already docked at Cádiz, the southwestern most metropolis in addition to province in Spain. A significant benefit of being on a cruise ship is that Valiant Woman towers over most constructions giving cruisers gorgeous panoramic views of the panorama. In Cádiz, we ate breakfast with the attractive Catedral de Cádiz within the background!

For Cádiz, we chosen an tour that took us deep into the province to be taught in regards to the Moorish origins and why the area is legendary for its cheese and picturesque white mountainside villages. Our bus journey took us by way of the golden Spanish countryside, canvassed with area after area of blooming sunflowers.

Our first cease was El Bosque, dwelling to the Queso (Cheese) Museum the place the historical past of world-famous Cádiz goat cheese and cheese making processes are documented. The curator knowledgeable us the species of goats used to make the cheeses weren’t solely indigenous to the world, but in addition endangered, with a mere a number of thousand left. Furthermore, we had been in a position to get our arms soiled and be taught to make and mildew cheese and pattern one of the best cheeses the area has to supply together with the third finest voted cheese on this planet, Oveja Emborrade.

Our second and remaining cease was Zahara de la Sierra, a painting-like, white, mountainside village 3,600 ft excessive within the hills of Andalusia. This municipality was as soon as a fort fortress quelling enemy assaults, with solely remnants of the fort nonetheless standing as we speak. In Zahara, we strolled by way of the numerous slender stone paved streets, visited the Church of Santa Mária de la Meza and the Plaza Mayor, the place we shopped and dined (tapas, what else?) within the coronary heart of the pueblo blanco.

Arriving again on the cruise port with a number of hours to spare, we ventured into the center of Cádiz, the place trendy outlets, eating places, and residences are constructed on high of a defunct fort. Naturally, we toured yet one more traditionally important cathedral, the Catedral de Cádiz.

Again on the Valiant Woman, we attended a really grownup comedy present, “All About Intercourse with Dr. Anya,” the place something goes—and ordered all the things on the menu at Pink Agave, a premium Mexican restaurant onboard.

Day 6: Málaga, Alhambra, Granada, and Scarlet Celebration

At Málaga, we signed up for an all-day tour to UNESCO World Heritage Websites Alhambra and Granada. The bus journey to Alhambra was lengthy (2 hours!) however pretty comfy. Not like the sunflower-drenched Cádiz, miles and miles of olive bushes on rolling hills lined the Málaga countryside all the best way to the province and metropolis of Granada.

Alhambra, one of the best illustration of historical Islamic structure, is likely one of the most visited vacationer sights in all of Spain. As soon as an Islamic palace, the Alhambra grew to become a fancy with subsequent additions and modifications by way of Christian Reconquista and the Renaissance, however fell to neglect and squatting till its rediscovery and restoration because the 1800s.

From Sabika Hill the place Alhambra sits, our tour descended to the town of Granada down under and finest recognized for its medieval structure, Catholic affect, and historic significance to the division and unification of Spain. On the metropolis middle, we visited the Cathedral of Granada (sure, yet one more cathedral) and the Royal Chapel, the place many Catholic monarchs had been buried.

After a tapas break (is there one other kind in Spain?), our tour moved to trendy Granada, the place outlets and eating places dotted the plazas and boulevards. Virtually instantly, we observed satisfaction flags had been prominently displayed on a number of buildings and streets. Apparently, we missed the Granada Delight Celebration by only a week. The sight of assist and acceptance made our little LGBTQ tour group felt very welcome.

Again on the Valiant Woman, we caught a enjoyable selection present adopted by dinner earlier than heading to the following theme celebration, the Scarlet Celebration, the place everybody clothes in pink. This was really a protracted day that began at 7 am and eventually ended at 2 am after 20,000+ steps.

Day 7: Eurovision Tea Dance, Ibiza, and Birthday Celebration

Day 7 is usually a sea day. Valiant Woman doesn’t dock in Ibiza till 7 pm and stays docked till 7 pm the following day. After a protracted tour of Granada, we slept in however did handle to roll off the bed for lunch and a few afternoon solar earlier than the third theme social gathering, the Eurovision afternoon Tea Dance. With scores of males carrying Eurovision impressed vogue, minus some physique coverings, the social gathering fashionably introduced Valiant Woman’s entrance into Ibiza, a Spanish island within the Mediterranean Sea well-known for wild late-night golf equipment and events.

This night time, as an alternative of partying in Ibiza like lots of our fellow shipmates, our associates joined us for my husband’s birthday celebration onboard at The Wake, a premium steakhouse. After a 2-pound tomahawk steak, 5 7-ounce filets, three fried polenta steaks, a bowl of shrimp and grits, a plate of seafood pasta, a grilled salmon entrée, sufficient aspect dishes to feed a small military, three chocolate mousse tarts, three panna cottas, two chocolate ganache truffles, and two cheesecakes, the six of us had been stuffed and needed to be carted out of the restaurant!

Day 8: Citadel Dalt Vila, Eivissa (Ibiza City), Castell de Eivissa (Fort of Ibiza), and White Celebration

Though Ibiza is well-known for its late-night social gathering scene and digital dance music, the overwhelming majority of locations on the island are registered as UNESCO World Heritage Websites together with the fortress citadel Dalt Vila and the encircling Renaissance partitions. Our tour took us deep contained in the citadel the place we toured the Fort of Ibiza, Catedral de Santa María de les Neus (our a centesimal cathedral), and the historic landmarks, constructions, and outlets of the Outdated City (Dalt Vila). The close to 360-degree view of Ibiza from the highest of the fort alone was well worth the worth of admission. From the highest, we zig-zagged down the slender streets by way of the center of Outdated City to the primary entrance beneath the Renaissance wall, and eventually, into Eivissa.

At 7 pm, Valiant Woman left port forsaking an impressive sundown with Ibiza within the distance. After one other superb dinner on the premium restaurant Razzle Dazzle, we acquired just a little relaxation earlier than heading to the long-lasting White Celebration, the place it appeared as if everybody was carrying nothing however a white jock strap.

Day 9: Palma de Mallorca, Castell de Bellver, Valldemossa, and Deborah Cox

At 8 am, the Valiant Woman arrived in Palma, the capitol of Mallorca and a cosmopolitan resort metropolis. From the higher decks of our ship, we had been handled to a spectacular view of Palma Centre and the Gothic Roman Catholic Catedral-Basílica de Santa María de Mallorca.

From Palma, our tour took us to Valldemossa, a small mountain village and a UNESCO World Heritage Web site in Serra de Tramuntana the place Frédéric Chopin spent a winter together with his lover and French author George Sand on the Carthusian Monastery. The monastery was as soon as a royal charterhouse that was yielded to the Carthusian monks till their expulsion. On the monastery, we toured the Chopin Museum and had been handled to a piano recital of the music Chopin wrote impressed by his time spent in Valldemossa.

Our tour ended at Castell de Bellver, one of many largest and few round castles remaining on this planet. The fort has a moat outdoors of the fort partitions in addition to a moat contained in the fort partitions. The outer moat was used to defend in opposition to attackers. The interior moat was used to seize the attackers.

Typical of this cruise line, the entertainer on the ultimate night time of the cruise is the headliner. On the Valiant Woman, it was Canadian Music Corridor of Fame Inductee Deborah Cox. In case you are homosexual and also you don’t know who she is, chances are you’ll now give your membership card again. One of many greatest dance music chart toppers ever, Cox has additionally starred on Broadway’s Aida and The Bodyguard. We needed to reserve our seats as quickly as they had been accessible. Cox’s efficiency was electrifying, and he or she labored the gang right into a frenzy! My quick-thinking good friend Luke Nield was in a position to get a selfie together with her in the midst of a tune!

Day 10: Valiant Woman in Barcelona and Friendships

At 8 am, we had been all packed and able to disembark. With just a little further time on our arms, we headed to the primary eating space referred to as The Galley to have a remaining meal figuring out we more than likely would see most of the new associates we met and will say goodbye. One perk of touring on homosexual cruises and gay-friendly strains is assembly superb LGBTQ folks, and over time, now we have had the glory of befriending many excellent males together with a trailblazing homosexual couple who courageously challenged and fought the state of Florida on marriage rights and equality 20 some years in the past.

This journey was no totally different as we met a number of outstanding and completed LGBTQ leaders together with a former Naval officer, a serious company government, an accountant to pull queens who efficiently competed on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, a professor of medication, and a younger health entrepreneur.

One among my new associates specifically, Andy Inexperienced, stood out. Inexperienced arguably was the primary particular person to efficiently negotiate public entry to personal networks, thus, giving beginning to the web as we all know it as we speak. Inexperienced is a profitable know-how innovator and not too long ago developed the doubtless life-saving app, MyRadar, which tracks and informs in real-time native extreme and harmful climate patterns.

After 11 days, together with flight time, I can verify coastal Spain off my bucket listing. I really feel very lucky to expertise firsthand the historical past, tradition, and folks of this stunning nation. I’m additionally glad that we selected to take action by way of a homosexual cruise firm. And, after all, the Virgin Valiant Woman supplied consolation, fashion, facilities, and actions in addition to superb meals.

*John’s Ultimate Tip: In the event you haven’t already finished so, attempt cruising to your subsequent vacation spot, and maybe sail with an LGBTQ cruise firm or one that’s recognized for being supportive of the LGBTQ neighborhood. You by no means know whom you’ll meet!

John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports activities fan, has competed in addition to coached tennis, volleyball, softball, and soccer groups.

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Printed on October 6, 2022