40 Liberty 2017
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Liberty of the Seas 2017
A Week Long Dance Cruise

Sun, Fun, Dancing, and More Misbehavior than ever thought possible!!!

Leave Sunday, October 8th - Return Sunday, October 15th

Depart Galveston to Cozumel, Mexico-  Georgetown, Grand Cayman - Falmouth, Jamaica



Rick Archer's Note:

Last week's 2017 SSQQ Caribbean Dance Cruise out of Galveston may have been the end of an Era.  

This Dance Cruise has been an annual SSQQ tradition for 17 years.  However my wife Marla, the one in charge, says from now on she would rather concentrate on overseas trips such as Tahiti, New Zealand, the Holy Land, Iceland, and river cruises to Moscow, China, and Egypt.

The Caribbean Dance Cruise was originally my idea.   Following my divorce  in 2001, I decided to become more involved with the students at the dance studio.  During my ten-year marriage, I had drifted from my once prominent role as 'Leader of the Pack' at SSQQ to a behind-the-scenes role. 

As a way of re-connecting to the students on a more personal basis, I decided to try organizing a cruise trip at the studio as an experiment of sorts.  To my surprise, the idea really took off.  We had 100 people sign up. 

One of those 100 cruise guests was Marla, my future wife.  Yes, that first dance cruise was where Marla and I connected.  I knew Marla beforehand, but every time I had spoken to her in that 'getting to know you' way, Marla had begun discussing Kevin, her boyfriend of six years.  In other words, I was discretely looking for an opening to ask her out, but none was forthcoming.

I was always confused about Marla.  She talked double, but acted single.  However, after getting the same story about 'Kevin' on three different occasions, I figured the door was shut.  Fresh off a divorce, I wasn't feeling too bold, so I kept my interest under wraps.

Lo and behold, a few weeks later Marla signed up for my cruise 'by herself'.  Very curious.  With my hopes renewed, I promised I would get to the bottom of this mystery on the cruise.   So imagine how I felt when Marla called me two weeks before the cruise to ask for a private Salsa lesson for Kevin and herself.  It turned out they were having a romantic weekend in Miami just 7 days before the cruise.   So much for my fondest hopes and dreams, yes?

Disgusted and disappointed, I gave Marla the name of another instructor.  I didn't want to have anything to do with her boyfriend. 

I decided Marla was a lost cause.  Coming off the divorce, I wasn't in the best frame of mind to begin with.  And now the woman who interested me the most had just squelched my secret crush on her.  I began that 2001 trip in a very bad mood.

For lack of anything better to do, I looked at the ship's schedule and circled a singles event that started at Midnight.  Who knows, maybe I would meet someone and not feel so lonely.

Take a wild guess who else showed up at that event.  Marla and I have never been apart since.  

A year passed and I scheduled another cruise trip.  During the 2002 Caribbean Cruise, I asked Marla if she would ever consider becoming a travel agent.  I could see that dancing and cruising went together hand in hand, so the Dance Cruise was here to stay.  Why give all those commissions to someone else?

Marla smiled and said she had already thought about it.  However, Marla pointed out that it would have been appropriate to ask her to marry me before asking her to work for me.  Ouch.  Good point.  Fortunately Marla agreed to give it a try.

Marla's first cruise as the official travel agent was in 2003.  At one point Marla wondered if it would also be her last voyage.  This ship was so old that at one point we thought it would capsize.  At dinner one night the ship listed 20 degrees and stayed stuck in that position.  I recall staring at the exit sign and trying to recall where the tender station was.   It took over a minute, but finally the ship righted itself.  Somehow the old barge limped home and we all lived to cruise again. 

That was the start of Marla's fabulous career as a trip advisor.  It did not take Marla long to spread her wings.  The following year she expanded from one to two cruises.  The first trip was a fabulous visit to Mardi Gras and the second trip was a combination dance cruise/honeymoon.  We got married on board the Rhapsody of the Seas on September 27, 2004.  

In addition to our annual Caribbean trip, Marla stuck to the USA at the start... Mardi Gras, Alaska, Hawaii, New England.  These trips gave her the confidence to branch out. 

Since then Marla has taken me around the world.  Russia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean, Costa Rica, Panama Canal, Croatia, Germany, Montenegro, Switzerland, Slovenia, Columbia, Bahamas, Netherlands, Finland, Czech Republic...  40 cruise trips in all.  Marla has given me the adventure of a lifetime.  I am very grateful to her. 

In 2014 Marla added River Cruises to her collection... the Rhone River in France, the Rhine River in Germany, the Danube River in Austria-Hungary, and the Garonne River in the Bordeaux wine region in Southern France.  I love river cruises!! 

Our next river cruise takes place in October 2018 on the eastern half of Europe's Danube River.  Since the trip starts in Romania, Marla and I will visit Dracula's castle on Halloween.  No, I am not kidding... we really are going to visit Dracula's castle on Halloween.  We already have 22 people signed up with room for more... but not much room.  If you are interested, do not hesitate.  The trip is nearly sold out.   ( Dracula-Danube River Cruise 2018 )

There is a well-known cliché about how travel broadens one's horizons.  I completely agree with this sentiment.  One of the things I like about cruise trips are the people we meet.  This gives me the chance to interact with some very impressive people.  On every trip, I have met someone who has educated me in ways I could never have imagined. 

For example, on last week's cruise trip I noticed an unusual number of handicapped people on board our ship.  Then by chance I met a very interesting man from Switzerland.  His name sounded like 'Sassenfrass', but to be honest his name was too confusing to be sure.  There was something about him that led me to strike up a conversation.  Apparently Royal Caribbean has an extensive Make-a-Wish program which this man contributes to.  I listened in awe as Mr. Sassenfrass explained how he personally arranged for 19 different families to take this trip. 

Another example took place on our 2012 cruise to the exact spot in the Atlantic where the Titanic sank.  We were the Ballroom instructors on a ship that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Titanic iceberg disaster.  It was strange to stare at the black water below on a moonless night and imagine the Titanic was down there somewhere. 

On this trip a man named Bob invited us to dinner.  Bob is a history teacher down in Pearland.  He is also quite the Titanic expert.  Bob and I talked for four hours.  He told me story after story about who survived and who didn't, who was heroic and who was cowardly.  Bob explained all the curious events that had to go wrong to cause this one-in-a-million accident.  Thanks to Bob, our conversation became a total immersion experience into the fascinating details of that fateful night. 

The Titanic trip was the perfect example of how I have been able to explore history first-hand.   Another good example was our cruise trip to France in 2010.  I had the chance to visit Omaha Beach, scene of the most intense fighting on D-Day.  I was so moved by my visit that I wrote a story about Omaha Beach and uncovered an important new piece of history in the process.

( D-Day and Omaha Beach )

Over the years I have received countless letters from people all over the world thanking me for that Omaha Beach story.  Here is a recent example:

From: Richard Arthur
Sent: Thursday, October 12, 2017 12:08 PM
Subject: Omaha Beach

Mr. Archer,

I recently encountered your website about Omaha Beach.  As a former officer of the 16th Regiment who had the opportunity in the 1980's to meet several vets of that day and as someone who has read extensively on the subject, I applaud your work. 

Nowhere else are the details of that fight so understandable.  Your photos and explanations are excellent!

I agree that the big story of D-Day necessarily ignores many great and heroic stories.  Ryan (The Longest Day) never mentions Dawson, Streczyk, Spaulding, Montieth or others.  I had the honor as a member of my Infantry Officers Advance Class at Ft Benning, GA in 1983 to dine with General Gavin who had given the Ryan book a great review.  I asked him about that and he said that many more books were in the works that would do a much better job.  Happily that was true. 

Your website story should be in that category.  I am presenting to a local historical society on this topic and will strongly urge the participants to visit your site.

Richard Arthur
Union City, PA 

As one can see, I owe a lot to Marla.  I have learned so much thanks to her.  As they say, 'Travel is fatal to bigotry'.  By visiting foreign lands, I have learned that everyone wants the same thing - peace, freedom, safety, and a good place to raise children.   I firmly believe the world would be a better place if more people took the time to travel to other countries.

From the moment I first met Marla in 2001, I sensed she had a business acumen superior to any person I had ever met.   Over the past 16 years, that instinct has been proven true over and over.  When it comes to stuff that is important, Marla has a gift for seeing angles that completely escape me.  She grasps the ins and outs of the travel business so much more quickly that sometimes I have to sit back in awe.

Marla helped me run SSQQ for nine years.  SSQQ was the main event and our travel business was the sideshow.  After I sold SSQQ in 2010, I told Marla it was my turn to support her business as best I could.  Ever since, Marla has run the Travel Show.

It wasn't always this way.  Back in the beginning, I played a much larger role in the Travel side.  Although Marla was totally in charge of the Travel Business from the moment she stepped up in 2003, in public Marla was kind enough to let me take some of the credit.   In eyes of our guests, Marla and I were more or less equally in charge. 

However, this myth was shattered in an rather embarrassing way in 2013.  

With each trip, Marla's experience has paid off in ways that most of our guests are not even aware of.  A perfect example was our 2013 Belize River Adventure. 

Marla and I had previously taken this delightful excursion on our 2006 Rhapsody Cruise, so we already knew it was fun.  Naturally we wanted to share the experience with our 2013 guests. 

When Marla realized the cruise line was charging $109 for this excursion, she frowned.  That seemed kind of high.  Marla figured she could save the group a considerable amount of money by checking around.  Sure enough, Marla came up with a very satisfactory alternative.  Marla negotiated the ridiculous low price of $50 a person by going outside the ship to an independent operator.

That is the power of traveling in a group.  Marla was able to get a significant group discount by bargaining properly.  In the process, Marla saved everyone $60 a piece. 

Marla had interfaced with a man named Evan.  Evan was not only in charge of the business, he agreed to be our guide.  The thing to understand about Evan is that he was already well aware of Marla's business acumen.  After all, Marla had bargained with Evan tooth and nail to secure such a great price.   In the process, I think Evan developed a healthy respect for her.

On the morning of our Belize river adventure, Evan was having fun mixing jokes with information at the start of our bus ride to the river.  He was a serious smart aleck.

Noticing that Evan treated Marla with great respect, I had a hunch why he showed so much deference.  Evan knew full well that Marla had arranged this entire river tour on her own.  He also knew that Marla had talked him way down.  However Evan didn't seem to mind.  And why should he?  Marla had put 40 people on his bus today.  In a poor country like Belize, a $2,000 payday was very much appreciated.

However I won't say Evan showed the same respect for me.  Evan was having way too much fun teasing us.   For example, first he terrified us all by saying there were dangerous jaguars in the jungle where we were headed.  Then to the laughter of everyone, he said we didn't have to worry because there were plenty of cougars on board the bus. 

Everyone roared.  It was good line.

Seeing that Evan was having too much fun at our expense, I heckled Evan with some lame comeback like "Well, Evan, our cougars are always on the prowl for fresh meat.  Aren't you afraid one of them will come looking for you?"

Marla and I just happened to be sitting in the very front about two feet from Evan.  To the delight of the crowd, Evan turned his wrath on me.  Noting I was a fellow smart aleck, Evan decided he was safe taking liberties with my dignity. 

Seeing an opening, Evan grinned and began to look me over.

Evan said, "Just exactly who are you?  You act like you are kind of important.  I see you are sitting next to Marla.  Are you by some chance Mr. Marla??"

Uh oh.  That was a Kill Shot for sure.  I had picked on the wrong guy.  Sure enough, the crowd on the bus howled.  They thoroughly enjoyed my comeuppance.  

Everyone on the bus had known who was in charge for a long time, but it had never been publically acknowledged.  In a way, I am glad that Evan finally gave voice to the leadership question.   For the remainder of the trip, I was 'Mr. Marla'.

There has never been any doubt since who is in charge.

Marla has said that last week's trip was the final voyage of the SSQQ Caribbean Dance Cruise.   Several people discretely inquired about her decision.  Telling me how much they loved our trip, why would Marla discontinue something that was this much fun?

I explained that organizing these trips is a lot of work.  I also said there are some customers... not many, but some... who show little appreciation for the constant demands they make of her time.  Let's just say there are those whose expectations are a bit out of line. 

There is a phrase... 'death by a thousand paper cuts'.   We all experience burn out in our professions.   People can be so rude sometimes.  Over the years, I have watched Marla be worn down by a slow process in which a multitude of small, irritating things have taken a lot of the fun out of organizing this annual trip.

Let me add the cruise lines themselves have greatly contributed to Marla's frustration.   You would not believe some of the nasty things they do to Marla. 

Here is a simple example.  Did you know that if someone signs up for the trip, but does not actually show up for the trip, the cruise line keeps Marla's entire commission?  That just blows my mind.   Marla did the work.  What right does the cruise line have to refuse to compensate her just because a passenger gets ill or has some last-minute emergency? 

Another thing the cruise lines do is undercut Marla by selling directly to the customer.  You know what I am talking about.  Once they get your email address, the cruise lines barrage you with daily offers to bypass Marla and sign up directly with the cruise line for your next trip.

The cruise lines talk about 'Loyalty' all the time, but they show little loyalty to people like Marla who build their business.   Usually a $20 discount is all it takes to decide to bypass Marla for the cheaper fare.  In other words, the cruise lines steal her customers.  This is a very insidious process.

Here's another example.  This is a story I have never told before.  One night on last year's 2016 Caribbean Cruise, two security guards walked up to me during our late night dancing.  I was the DJ.  They said I had been playing my music too loud in the Star Lounge and that there had been a complaint from a guest trying to sleep. 

What these men did not know is that I have been the DJ on twenty or more trips and not once had I ever received a complaint.  Furthermore, there is something I call 'Ambient Music'.  The Star Lounge has ambient music playing whenever there is no event in the room.  My volume was no louder than the ship's own music. 

As I listened to these two men, I got the distinct feeling that they were bluffing.  For one thing, I wasn't playing the music loudly at all.  For another thing, they kept changing the details of their story when I questioned them.  They were so stupid they couldn't agree on which floor the complaint had come from or which direction.  The incident felt like a set-up.  When I asked our ship liaison officer about the incident the next day, she said she didn't know a thing about it. 

The incident left me incensed.  I was very suspicious. 

Although it took a year, sure enough, the other shoe dropped.  When Marla asked permission to use the Star Lounge for dancing on this year's trip, they told her 'based on last year's complaint', she could not use Star Lounge again this year.  However, they said she could rent the ice rink down in the basement for $200 a night.  Marla did not want to disappoint her dancers, so she agreed to the extortion.  At the cost of $600, she rented the ice rink for dancing on three different occasions.  That was money out of her pocket for a venue that was not at all satisfactory.

When I learned of this, I was livid.  This was highway robbery.  First the cruise line steals Marla's customers, then it turns around and extorts my wife to boot. 

So now you understand.  The cruise lines have taken much of the joy out of organizing the annual Caribbean Dance Cruise. 

So was last week's trip the final voyage of the SSQQ Caribbean Dance Cruise?

I think if enough people ask Marla to do it again, she might reconsider.  The thing to remember is that Marla is the best at what she does.  There are several copycats who have tried to match her, but Marla has honed the Caribbean Dance Cruise to an art form.   People are amazed at the quality of her trips and the amount of fun we have.  They like the complimentary specialty-restaurant dinners, the free champagne, the special dance parties, the morning dance lessons, and all the other wonderful things that Marla provides on each trip. 

Whether Marla resurrects the Dance Cruise or not, she definitely intends to organize two trips a year.   In addition to organizing her two Destination cruises per year, Marla is available every day to book trips for individual customers.  This includes ocean cruises, river cruises, and land tours.   For example, if four people want to visit Alaska, all they have to do is call her.  If they want a land tour to Ireland, Marla does stuff like this every day.  She can handle it all.  

Marla's extensive knowledge and 17 years of experience are augmented by her honesty, reliability and integrity.  If you need help booking a trip, please consider asking Marla to help.

I understand that a husband is expected to sing praises of his wife.  That said, when I compliment Marla, I mean everything I say.  Marla is the absolute best at what she does. 


Rick Archer Footnote:

As it turned out, Marla changed her mind and offered another dance cruise in 2018.  She called the 2018 trip her 'Never Say Never September Dance Cruise.'

As for 2019, who can say?  Currently Marla is focused on her March 2019 New Zealand trip, but the rest of the year remains a mystery.



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