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How I lost my cruise virginity after 7 days on the Caribbean Sea with 30 gay men

How I lost my cruise virginity after 7 days on the Caribbean Sea with 30 gay men

The stunning Celebrity Reflection can host up to 3,046 people

Picture the scene: you’re reclining on a sun lounger in your dressing gown, soaking up some early morning rays on your own private balcony.

A healthy, fruit-based breakfast rests before you, and beyond that, glistening Caribbean waters lap a coastline dotted with ships; a sight so calming as to be utterly restorative.

Breakfast in St. Maarten! #travel #celebritycruises @celebrityuk #gaytravel #instagay #instatravel

A photo posted by Gay Star Travel (@gaystartravel) on

Put it this way – after far too many cocktails the night before with a bunch of sunburned gay Americans, the above R&R, Celebrity Cruises style, cured my hangover in seconds. Well, almost.

If you have preconceptions about cruise liners, than I must kindly ask you to leave them where I did: at the bustling Port of Miami.

Bye bye Miami #Miami #USA #travel #America #Celebritycruises #CelebrityReflection

A photo posted by Jamie Tabberer (@jamietabberer) on

Having processed a record 4,850,000 passengers in 2014, it’s surely the beating heart of the cruise industry. And from the moment I arrived, and first saw the newest member of Celebrity Cruises‘ Solstice® Class: the incomprehensibly huge, 126,000 tonne Reflection, I received a travel education I’ll never forget.

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I used to think ‘pleasure voyages’ were only for the elderly – or, on occasion, for debauched, stylish gay party animals with perfect abs (ie not me). However, this trip seemed to cater perfectly to my needs – and coincidentally, the needs of my 3,046 new friends as well.

Here are seven ways this voyage at sea – taking in the paradise islands of Puerto Rico, St Thomas and St. Maarten – changed my attitude to travel forever.

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1 The ship itself

Let me geek out a little more. During our first day at sea, I wandered around Reflection feeling slightly lost and completely dumbstruck.

I soon got my bearings, but those initial hours were overwhelming. I’ve never been so blown away by a man-made construction before.

Across its 1,047 feet length and 15 levels, the ship boasts the following: a theater, a cinema, a casino, a gym, a spa, a library, a video arcade, beauty and hairdressing salons, a barbers, an art gallery, a running track, a basketball court, swimming pools, Jacuzzis, numerous bars, restaurants and shops (including essentially a small mall), medical facilities, and of course, thousands of cabins. It’s mind-boggling – like a little moving city.

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2 The amazing dining options

This was the biggest surprises of all. For a start, chaotic buffet scenarios rarely appeal to me; the food always seems slapdash and basic. But lunch at the efficiently-operated Oceanview Café each day made me check myself.

There were several types of delicious cuisine available for lunch each day, including Italian, Mexican and Indian dishes (including the tastiest, most tender chicken tikka masala I’ve ever eaten. EVER).

There was also a magnificent salad bar and at least 15 different types of dessert. I commonly made the mistake of eating too much too late in the afternoon and ruining my appetite for dinner.

And now for dinner #CelebrityCruises #CelebrityReflection #Travel #gaytravel #instagay #instatravel #america #USA

A photo posted by Gay Star Travel (@gaystartravel) on

Breakfast and lunch, plus dinner at the opulent Opus – one of the largest and most classically stunning dining rooms I’ve ever seen – is included in the cost of the experience. Dinner each night was exceptional.

While one half of the menu changes (think chicken roulade, lamb korma, sun-dried tomato-Gorgonzola pasta, or my favorite: plank-grilled black salmon with barbecue-glazed yellow corn mashed potatoes), the other serves the same iconic dishes each night (New York sirloin steak with seasonal vegetables).

Service was at the speed of light, putting restaurant on land to shame. Even with thousands of hungry guests, not once did I have to wait for a table, or feel rushed. Elsewhere, there are several paid-for specialty restaurants, including Tuscan Grille, a sumptuous Italian steakhouse, and the zany Qsine, which I will review separately.

Good morning St. Thomas #travel #instatravel #instagay #celebritycruises @celebritycruisesuk

A photo posted by Gay Star Travel (@gaystartravel) on

3 The incredible excursions

A nighttime white-knuckle ride through a Puerto Rico rainforest on a roaring RVT, dodging lizards and frogs along the way, was, for me, a pinch yourself travel moment. I felt like I was in a scene from Jurassic Park/World.

You disembark on each of the islands for around eight hours; an agonizingly-brief amount of time, but the experiences are all the more intense for it. If you’re the kind of person who likes to up your countries-visited tally as quickly as possible, this is a great way to travel.

Most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen, photo doesn’t do it justice #megansbay #stthomas #virginislands #travel #beach

A photo posted by Jamie Tabberer (@jamietabberer) on

Puerto Rico aside, my day trip to Magens Bay in St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands – the above picture doesn’t do it justice – positively cleansed my soul, while an afternoon shopping down the duty-free Front Street in Philipsburg, the tiny St Maarten capital, cleansed my wallet. Amazing.

Same-sex sexual activity is legal on all three islands, and I for one felt perfectly comfortable – especially on the famously gay-friendly Puerto Rico – but you may wish to practise discretion should you visit. (By the way: on the ship, my sexuality was a non-issue. In fact, there are LGBTI drinks in the Martini Bar each night, which has how I met my gay posse, more on whom later…).

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4 The cabins

I stayed in Concierge Class, where I found my cabin to be cozy, decently-size and tastefully-presented; my personal concierge, meanwhile, was enormously kind and capable (I hope this feedback reaches him).

Elsewhere, the bed was comfortable, the sheets exquisite and the pillow menu inspired – the rocking of the ship still kept me awake at times, but this can’t be helped. And besides, I soon acclimatized.

Breakfast was made to order and brought to my room each morning – when it wasn’t fruit, it was French toast, pancakes and bacon, thank you very much – as well as hors-d’oeuvres each evening.

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5 The nightly entertainment

Each night guests can enjoy concerts, comedy, and West End and Broadway-style productions at the Reflection Theatre. Certainly, hearing the dad sat next to me in the audience singing along to ‘Popular’ from Wicked was an unexpected but oddly fitting aspect of an often camp-in-a-good-way experience.

My most prominent memory, though, was of a contortionist who pushed her body to lengths that had people audibly screaming with shock.

Before each show the audience was greeted by the jovial Cruise Director Alexander Yepremian, with his array of acid bright suits. People loved him. Elsewhere on the ship, they’d spot him a mile off and come running to speak to him.

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6 The service

At the risk of sounding completely spoiled, I can’t publish this article without mentioning the exemplary standard of service I received. The staff at Opus and Qzine were hands down the friendliest and most competent I’ve ever encountered. They possessed a unanimous style and pizzazz that gave each meal a sense of event and glamour.

Elsewhere, I was constantly at the Guest Services and Shore Excursions desk with one enquiry or another (it took me ages to decide on the RVT ride as there were so many cool options: zip-lining for example), and everyone answered my questions with patience and encyclopedic knowledge.

I also loved how each member of staff wore a name badge with their home flag on it – I’ve never heard so many amazing accents in one week.

#sunset #Caribbean

A photo posted by Jamie Tabberer (@jamietabberer) on


7 The people on board

As a solo traveler, I had no choice but to talk to people, and that’s something I’ve struggled with in the past. But on board Reflection I met so many friendly, interesting people in my position, including quite a few in their late 20s/early 30s – and that was liberating.

That said, I was pleased and slightly amazed to befriend people of many different ages, and all from different countries, with wildly different jobs. I met people from the worlds of politics, property, medicine, fashion and law – people I’m used to seeing stressed, but not this time.

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Of course there were also a lot of couples and families on board – and yes, some kids, but no more than a handful, and all were excellently-behaved, preoccupied with the activities on offer at the Fun Factory and X Club area.

Inevitably, though, my favorite people were the aforementioned 30-strong group of gay Americans. They were so much fun, ranging in age from 30 to 80 – quite the motley crew, who partied hard every single night. The older guys were especially fascinating to talk to. I’ll never forget them.

During our stop in Puerto Rico, the eldest even joined me on the RVT excursion and while I, at 29, was mildly traumatized, he, at 80, seemed completely unfazed. This is probably the most valuable lesson I took from this entire, amazing experience.

For more information about Celebrity Cruises, click here. Celebrity Reflection will next set sail on 25 April to Greece, Turkey and Italy. For more information, click here.

Gay Star News flew to Miami from London’s Heathrow Airport. We traveled with Heathrow Express – at 15 minutes from Paddington, the fastest route to the airport. Prices are from £5.50 ($7.80, 6.90) one way, booking 90 days in advance. Heathrow Express has introduced a raft of new tickets to help holidays cost less, which, along with their commitment to children traveling free, means a family of four can use the service from just £11 ($15.80, 13.94).