The New RSVP Vacations – Gay Cruise Icon in Transition

By Arie Boris

logo-RSVPWith a new president at the helm for just 30 days prior to departure, I did not know what to expect as I checked in at the Seattle cruise terminal for the 2013 RSVP Vacations cruise to Alaska. Stepping onto the beautiful Holland America ship, we encountered one of the numerous RSVP hosts onboard and knew this cruise experience would surpass expectations. We were welcomed, as if by an old friend, asked if we had any questions and invited to have a fantastic week. Hospitality and personal attention does not get any better than the RSVP approach. We felt, as we have on past RSVP cruises, genuinely welcome and a part of the family!

Historically, RSVP made its mark by initiating the first all gay and lesbian charter cruise over 20 years ago. Their reputation has always reflected a superior approach to customer service, lots of activities, fabulous t-dances on deck, and bringing their own superior entertainment. Over the past year or two, rumor had it, things were adrift. After meeting Randle Roper, the newly appointed president of RSVP, during the cruise, I am confident any negative rumors about the future of RSVP can be put to rest. His genuine style and interaction with guests speaks highly of his commitment to making RSVP Vacations better than it has ever been!

group-photoRandle brings a wealth of professional hospitality industry experience, coming most recently from a major hotel chain and having even done a stint some years ago with Atlantis Vacations. He seemed to be in touch with everything; from staff issues to activities, fine tuning the program schedule and ensuring both entertainers and guests were comfortable. At one point, I walked into the Queen’s Lounge (named officially on all their ships by Holland America, not by RSVP just for this cruise) before a performance and I heard him comment the A/C was too cold for the audience to be comfortable…That’s what I call micro-managing in a good way!!!

Although the program schedule seemed to have multiple adjustments during the week, RSVP Cruise Director, Brad Loekle, handled changes with aplomb and his quick wit. A stand-up comedian by profession, he was the perfect MC for the organized games, activities and performances arranged by RSVP. Just risqué enough without going overboard, he kept the crowd in stitches while moving the program along….the Gay dating game, The Gay newlywed game, bingo, and poolside silliness…even enjoyed his faux crush on the ships straight (allegedly) cruise director….We love Miss Brad!

On past RSVP cruises, the caliber of the entertainment was always top notch, usually supplemented with a Broadway superstar like Chita Rivera. In the past, one might expect a Kathy Griffin or Rosie O’Donnell on the bill. On this sailing, it seemed the producers went with a more “trendy” approach featuring television actors, talent contestants, the avant garde, and West Hollywood.

New and/or talented singers left to produce their own shows often results in less than stellar entertainment. The Broadway “star”, Laura Benanti, was a case in point….she talked about being on vacation with her family and the roles she didn’t get. When she sang, it was beautiful, but her show had little, if any, theme or continuity.

Frenchie Davis, a new talent discovered on American Idol and The Voice, performed pop songs she had re-orchestrated to the point they were unrecognizable…and at the finale, she came on stage holding a paper and had to read her lyrics…disappointing from a potential super star. A powerful voice does not always mean a powerful performance.

The three West Hollywood comedians, Gloria Bigelow, Helen Hong and Jason Dudey, although relatively unknown, were funny and very entertaining….as was Kim Kuzma, the ultimate Gay Lounge Lizard. Michael Holmes’ female celebrity impersonations were endearing (The Judy Show).

Our Lady J and her Cabaret/Gospel of Dolly (that’s Dolly Parton) was mesmerizing…a classically trained pianist, this somewhat obscure voluptuous blond transsexual has evolved a stunning musical experience while establishing a following over the years in the East Village and now sets the tone for avant garde West Hollywood entertainment. An impressive musician, she creates wonderful orchestral interpretations of contemporary music with a band and backup singers…and then she starts to sing. Lady J is such a creative and unique musical force, I found myself wishing she had a more powerful voice to match her phenomenal musicianship. Now in all fairness, I never was a fan of Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Can. In the case of this uniquely talented artist, it is all in the “ear” of the beholder!

West Hollywood pretty boy sitcom characters, Michael Arden (Anger Management) and Andy Mientus (Smash), were as entertaining to look at, as to listen to…and when they performed with Lady J, her mastery of musical direction, made them sound even better than they looked!

Amy Armstrong was as spectacular as ever! With her wicked sense of humor and a voice that could command Carnegie Hall, she brings the house down with every performance. Ably accompanied by Musical Director, Freddy Allen, Ms. Armstrong goes somewhere over the rainbow and takes the entire audience with her…RSVP, don’t ever sail without her!

Guest testimonials overall gave this RSVP Vacation high marks in every category as do I…especially the variety of diverse social events. I got an invite to a huge RSVP singles “meet & greet” cocktail party the first night onboard. If I hadn’t been happily traveling with my husband, I would have been hard pressed not to at least check it out…you know, for old time’s sake. We did go to several happy hours set up for couples to meet and make new friends. Scotland, the perfect RSVP host, greeted us, had a waiter take our drink order and introduced us around to several couples. We also attended a wonderfully managed progressive couple’s dinner… changing tables with every course. We ended up meeting more people during that one dinner than during the entire week.

In fact, one of the best things about taking a cruise with RSVP Vacations is the large number of staff they bring along on each of their charters. They are always friendly, helpful and good to look at! I rarely interacted with the cruise line staff as the RSVP guys were always available and were there to really make things as smooth and enjoyable as possible. It is kind of like traveling with a big group of friends that are fun to be with and are ready to help sort out any problems that might crop up.

Along with all the amenities routinely provided by the ship, sailing with RSVP is chock full of value-added events, late night parties and services. Frankly, vacationing with RSVP is still superior to just booking a cruise and with the new leadership, future RSVP Vacation Cruises promise to be even better!

For more information about their current vacations, click here.

For photos of this and other RSVP Cruises, go to their Facebook page.