With a ship load of budget travel stories out there, here’s one for cruisers who do their
globe-trotting regardless of cost. If you’ve got deep pockets or lots of credit on your cards,
do as a wise friend once told us, “You only regret the trips you didn’t take.”
We highly recommend the six-star Regent Seven Sea Cruises 7- and 10-day sailings on
the dark-blue Baltic Sea while exploring its magnificent port cities. They are among the best places to visit because of Scandinavia’s long-history of legislation to protect the rights of their gay, lesbian and transgender citizens and visitors. And Regent is a gay-friendly cruise line that openly welcomes our community.
In 2013, Regent has Baltic cruises scheduled for June 7 and 24, and July 1 and 11. There are many other itineraries and dates which include not only these ports but others in the UK, Iceland and Germany..three more gay-welcoming countries. www.rssc.com
And here’s an eye-opener: You won’t find many depressed areas in Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen or nearby Tallinn, Estonia, where everyone has access to health care, employment is high, and education through college is free, in most cases, in these thriving free-market economies.
A cruise through the ‘Belles of the Baltic’ can prove that members of our community can easily make rewarding social contacts with both gay- and non-gays on land and at sea.
Fly to Stockholm (www.visitstockholm.com) and stay at least two days, prior to cruising, in the friendly Hotel Stureplan in the trendy area of Norrmalm. There’s elegant shopping in the district and you might rub elbows with the young Royals who have private apartments in this handsome area. (www.hotelstureplan.se)
While most of the gay activity in this Swedish capital is centered in Sodermalm and the Old City (Gamla Stan), it’s fun to walk everywhere in this beautiful and lively old-world town. To save money and time, purchase a Stockholm Card for use on the Metro, buses and ferries around this ancient city built on fifteen islands.
One night you should walk to the elegant world-renowned Grand Hotel. We recommend that you have its famous smorgasbord on the glass-enclosed terrace overlooking the water. If you do it right, you can spend an entire evening feasting on endless platters of gourmet meats, Swedish meatballs, high-quality herring, salmon, reindeer, salads, desserts, local beer and aquavit for about the price of a ticket to an off-Broadway show. (www.grandhotel.se)
One of the most picturesque pleasures is a trip by boat to the Swedish royal family’s summer residence, Drottningholm Palace, on an island of sprawling lawns, gardens and forest. It’s pure 17th-century regal splendor, and adjacent to the palace is one of the oldest opera houses in the world.
Incidentally, the young, handsome prince Carl Phillip attended Kent School (CT) and the Rhode Island School of Design. If a prince can be referred to (respectfully) as a hottie….he definitely is!
After at least two days of street walking - a royal treat in Stockholm – board the Regent Seven Seas Voyager and enter a world of sea-faring luxury. The upscale accommodations include a large living room/bedroom, walk-in closet, Wi-Fi, balcony, and a butler who will expertly serve you champagne as soon as you arrive in your stateroom, and breakfast in bed, if you order it in advance.
The superior beds are king-sized and you can request as many as six pillows. There are always fresh flowers, fruit, and snacks in your quarters each day. In the walk-in cedar closet are two thick terry robes, and if you ask, both pair of complimentary slippers can be for the same gender. Now that’s gay-friendly!
We’ve nicknamed the Voyager’s grand Compass Rose dining room “TGIF” for “Thank Goodness It’s Free”….although not really free. All the unlimited food, selected wines, drinks, as well as tips, and room service are included in the high-end price of the cruise. Starting at about $7000 per person for a seven day cruise, Regent can also arrange discounted-air fare on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) for its passengers.
The consistently outstanding food is magnificently presented and in portions that make it possible to enjoy the six-course, Michelin-quality meals for a leisurely hour or two without being rushed or stuffed.
Each night a different menu and two special wines are served with dinner by the most attractive, hospitable and well-trained boys and girls on the seven seas. You can, of course, have traditional cocktails, and enjoy after-dinner complimentary brandy and cordials.
We think that you’ll find fellow passengers way beyond just being tolerant with two gay men, or women - they are accepting. Our feeling is that that Regent and its clients are not “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but genuinely “don’t care about your sexual identity” people.
Many of the passengers will draw you into conversation on land tours and during dinner, drinks and the non-stop Broadway/Hollywood-quality entertainment. You’ll always be treated with total and absolute equality by the passengers, crew and staff. (www.rssc.com)
A surprising port is medieval Tallinn, Estonia and the abundant remains of the original city wall. It now hosts an annual Gay Pride celebration and the enchanting ancient Tallinn has three gay bars. Check out X-Barr (www.xbaar.ee) and see what’s happening in the daytime at www.local-life.com/tallinn. Tallinn is a slowly emerging gay destination on the Gulf of Finland. (www.portoftallinn.com)
Directly across the Baltic is the bustling and walkable port of Helsinki, Finland. (www.visithelsinki.fi) It’s a gorgeous town, styled after St. Petersburg, and is especially dazzling in summer, so be sure to have lunch or dinner at the Kappeli Café/Restaurant with its breezy tree-shaded dining terrace. Lunch can be a typical Finnish meal…a delicious reindeer salad or impeccably fresh-caught fish expertly prepared and served. Stroll the esplanade after lunch, shop at the finest local and international boutiques and people watch and mingle with the friendly Finns.
Most of Regent’s Baltic itineraries dock overnight on the Neva River in grand downtown St. Petersburg, Russia. The main attractions in the region are Catherine’s Palace at Pushkin, Peterhof Palace and the Hermitage/Winter Palace on the Neva. This is the fabled city that was designed and built by Peter the Great. It’s breathtaking.
Here’s a Traveler’s Advisory: Although these attractions are worth seeing, Russia has passed strong anti-gay laws. This, too, we hope will pass. To safely visit the greatest of its historical sites, be sure to take the tours organized by Regent. You will then be officially escorted from dockside going and coming, and chances are you won’t be aware of the current regime. An overnight or two in St. Petersburg can be enjoyed better by visiting the ballet or symphony with Regent’s escorts, and it is unadvisable to wander the city on your own at night. As we all know, there’s safety in numbers. There is a full-day trip to Moscow escorted by Regent guides for those who want to see the impressive walls and the majestic onion domes of the Kremlin.
The ship’s entertainers might host a party on one of the nights in port with the twinkling lights of St. Petersburg onshore to add a touch of high drama to the action in the Grand Atrium. They’ll sing Beatles songs (Back In The USSR) and dance with the guests…and yes, the boy dancers have been know to dance with the guys. The ship’s superb troupe of singer/dancers entertains nightly with lavish productions in the Constellation Theater. Local Russian dancers in traditional costumes might also entertain onboard during one of the port nights.
After Russia, there is a day stop in the medieval walled-town of Visby, Sweden. It’s a walkable and charming fairy-tale village. The Regent Voyager’s final port is Copenhagen, Denmark. Plan a couple of days at the Kong Frederick Hotel a couple of blocks from Town Hall Square in the city center – the place to be before flying home. www.kong-frederik.hotelincopenhagen.net/.
Spend a magical day and late night at the world-renowned Tivoli Gardens a short walk from the hotel and the town hall. www.tivoli.dk . Stay for the March of The Wooden Soldiers Parade, and have open-faced Danish sandwiches in one of the many outdoor cafés. It’s especially magical at night with the array of whimsical to grand buildings; rides, bands, gardens, trees and walkways artfully illuminated.
We recommend having a beer or lemonade at the nearby gay bars, including Oscars & Centralhjorget. At Oscars the sidewalk is jammed with tables and the locals are more than happy to chat with you, regardless of age, about their town and what to do – day or night. (www.visitcopenhagen.com)
Consider it a bonus to have an extra four- or six-night holiday in Stockholm and Copenhagen for the price of one, round-trip air fare along with a luxury Regent Seven Sea adventure on the bounding Baltic Sea. It will triple your pleasure and triple your fun.
There are three absolutely essential words to learn in the native languages while cruising around these lively ports: yes, please and thank you.
Written by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Out and Travelin'