This year marks the Tenth Annual Poz Cruise with a round-trip sailing on the Celebrity Summit from San Juan to the Caribbean islands of Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Thomas, November 1- 8.
Paul Stalbaum, president of Cruise Designs Travel in Wilton Manors, Florida is the originator and organizer of the Cruise Retreat idea, and expects this year's cruise to be another memorable holiday. We spoke to Paul by phone this week and he told us that "Because I'm based in Florida, we've always cruised from either Miami or Fort Lauderdale. This year we wanted to give our clients a more exotic cruise, so we chose the Celebrity Summit's itinerary round trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico. We've already signed up many of our repeat cruisers - men and women, straight and gay, all who are either HIV-positive or who are allies, family or friends of the cruisers.".
Paul designed the social retreats as a yearly getaway which has proven to give those on board a fresh look at life,and most return home feeling better about themselves, having connected with new friends and re-connected with guys and girls they've met in past years. And, truth be told, it’s also fun, fun, fun.
The Celebrity Summit, www.celebritycruises.com.,will be the group’s hotel for a week. The Summit is known for outstanding cuisine, superior service and entertainment, and a cozy yet sleek modern décor. In fact, Celebrity Cruises has been named the number one large cruise line by both Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast magazines – even though the Celebrity Summit is one of their smaller more intimate ships. These writers have been on board and can personally attest to the welcoming atmosphere and friendly attentive service that is a hallmark of the Celebrity Summit and the line’s other up-market ships.
This 10th Cruise Retreat's first port of call out of San Juan is Barbados, where snorkeling is a key activity. St Lucia is next with its rain forest, volcanoes and hot water springs. Paul calls this one of his personal favorite Caribbean islands.
The next day ‘the Retreat’ arrives in Antigua which boasts 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. Next up is St Maarten, which offers clothing optional Orient Bay Beach for those who are so inclined. The final stop is St Thomas, great for shopping, and Magen’s Bay Beach and Little Magen’s - a small gay-friendly beach – and a cable-car trip to the highest point on the island. It’s such a spectacular panoramic view from Paradise Point,700 feet above sea-level, that it will take your breath away.
Returning as emcee for the fifth year is the popular author and blogger, Mark S King. Mark’s blog “My Fabulous Disease” is one of the most widely read HIV+ blogs in the country. (Don’t miss the embedded video attached to this article to find Mark in action). Paul tells us that Mark’s flair for humor and his ability to connect to the group has the ability make the 300 plus retreat guests fit in right from the beginning with the general cruise population.
The Poz Cruise is the only one of its kind. Special events, disco nights, game nights and excursions offer participants the chance to bond with fellow group members. The feeling of camaraderie is palpable, and this helps even the shyest first-timer to want to look forward to the next Cruise Retreat.
Paul Stalbaum is personally familiar with the Celebrity Summit – he was a guest on its inaugural cruise back in 2008. His focus on hosting the Poz Retreat cruises is that guests enjoy themselves as a social ‘family’ group, leaving their troubling issues at home, to simply relax and enjoy while on board. This year there are more ‘repeat’ guests than ever; mostly Americans and Canadians, but some will be joining the November sailing from Europe and Saudi Arabia.
A cruiser from California told Paul that when he first found out that he was HIV-positive he was devastated, but told his mother, who was understanding and accepting of his status. When he discovered Poz Cruises, he booked a stateroom for himself AND his mother - as a 'thank you' for her kindness. They had the best time on vacation that they've ever had, and have re-booked every year since.
For more information contact Paul Stalbaum, Cruise Designs Travel, 1534 NE 16th Terrace Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304 Phone: 954.566.3377 Fax: 954.566.5109, or visit www.cruisedesignstravel.com.
For additional information on HIV AIDS and related topics visit America’s AIDS Magazine, A&U, at www.aumag.org.
By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Out and Travelin’