Our 27th Voyage
April 7 - April 14 aboard the RCCL Mariner
Belize City, Belize
One: About the Mariner 2013 Cruise
Our recent 2013 Mariner Cruise was about as close to
perfection as any trip we have ever taken.
Of course a couple things went wrong. Our bus on the Belize
Jungle Tour had little if any air-conditioning. Boo hoo.
Marla broke a shoe while dancing… boo hoo to
the shoe. Cindy Hudson got her foot
stepped on while dancing and broke her shoe. Boo hoo to this
shoe too. I got my contact lens stuck in my eye and scratched
my eyeball trying to get it out. Boo hoo. Velma cut her hand trying
to open a wine bottle. Boo hoo. I stupidly left one of my luggage
bags in the terminal on departure and had to burn 45 minutes
retrieving it. Boo hoo. Jim Hudson didn't win every single Trivia
Contest. Boo hoo.
However, if that's the best I can do
trying to remember all the sad things that
happened, obviously the suffering was minimal indeed. Truth be told,
I have never seen a happier bunch of people.
Thank goodness for duct tape
At the risk of sounding like a broken record,
as always the credit goes to Marla. This was the 14th dance cruise
that Marla has organized and our 27th trip overall. When it comes to
Marla, practice makes perfect. Thanks to her immense experience,
everything came off like clockwork. Sure there were problems, but
Marla fixed them behind the scenes.
For example, some fool in the Excursion department didn't realize
Marla had purchased our Catamaran tickets in advance. The man said,
"Oh, I haven't had time to read my email." So Marla burned an hour
just sitting there while this guy searched his email to find the
In another incident, Marla realized the $25 on-board credit had not been applied.
This was a special perk that Mark Stoneham,
the Galveston area RCCL agent, had given her to help promote this
trip. Marla spent
another hour showing the necessary documents to establish her claim.
And I remember Marla wasting yet another hour trying to get a copy
of our group photo. I remember this well because she got so fed up
it became my job. Marla said it was my turn to suffer. And suffer I
did. Fortunately the photo turned out well, so it was worth the
Sure this behind the scenes stuff was irritating, but in the end it
all got worked out to our satisfaction. The good news was that RCCL
was really trying to help. What a difference it was to have a cruise
line that tries to cooperate rather than sabotage what Marla was
trying to do.
As most people know, I
have a dance studio at our home in the Heights. Until recently
half of it was also our bedroom. Now that Marla and I have moved
our bedroom to the main part of the house, we were pleasantly
surprised to discover how much space that room has. This is now a
perfect party room to host our meetings.
I have long suspected
that our pre-trip meetings are well attended because everyone knows
the Potluck Dinner is terrific. The delicious spread for this
party was certainly no exception. Yum.
First Night Welcome Aboard Party
Our "Welcome Aboard" Party
is an SSQQ tradition that goes back to the start. Although
heading to Windjammer for lunch is the unofficial start to every
cruise, this party is our official kick-off event. We held our
party down in Dragon's Lair, the ship's Disco.
Chapter Two: Late Night
As opposed to the
previous cruise last October where the list of miseries was nothing
short of Pandora's Box, Marla's luck seemed to change the moment she
switched to Royal Caribbean. Her decision to drop Carnival and try
RCCL for our dance cruise really paid off.
Marla's first real break
came when she hooked up with Mark Stoneham, Royal Caribbean's
representative for the Houston-Galveston region. Mark bent
over backwards trying to accommodate Marla's decision to jump ship.
After all the abuse
Marla suffered at the hands of Carnival last year, Marla was amazed
at how much easier it was to get things done with Royal Caribbean. Thanks
in large part to Mark greasing
the wheels, every one of Marla's pre-trip requests was handled quickly and
efficiently. For starters, Royal Caribbean gave us permission for Late Night
Dancing the moment Marla asked for it (as opposed to Carnival
fighting us every inch of the way).
Carnival's opposition to our Late Dancing
back in October still makes absolutely no sense
to me. I would like to again apologize for the ill will I
created on the Magic 2012 Cruise. I was admittedly in a very
bad mood the entire week. However, I would at least like to
point out that my bad mood had nothing to do with the guests on the
trip. I was furious at how Carnival treated Marla during the
weeks leading up to the trip. When they continued to make life
miserable for us once the trip started, I simply stayed angry.
In the end, I was no different than the guy with problems at work
who ends up inappropriately yelling at the kids.
It is my hope that
you will try
to forgive me. I wish we could all come back together.
As for this trip, I was
back to normal. We ended up having a
wonderful time with not a single headache. Our Late Night
Dancing, for example, came off perfectly without a hitch. I will let the
pictures tell the story.
As we have in the past,
we really did have a good time
with our Late Night dancing. Five of the six nights were terrific…
our only weak night was the same day as
the notorious Catamaran Trip.
After the wild party we had that afternoon, everyone was
useless for the rest of the evening.
The dancing was a lot of
fun. It is marvelous to have lots of trained dancers with a
lovely floor all to ourselves. I think I enjoyed watching the
dancing as much I as enjoyed participating. Watching Iqbal and
Joan dance West Coast or Tim and Eileen dance Hustle was a show unto
While I am thinking about it, I would like
to compliment our men for really making an effort to dance with all
our ladies. Iqbal Nagji, Mike Dorman, Jack Medley, Bill Tolliver,
Edward Sanchez, Frank Hyunh, James Culotta,
Michael Hrncir, Jim Hudson, Andy Bach, Imre Kondor, Frank,
Tim and Ed Akin went overboard (well, maybe not 'overboard') keeping
the ladies busy not just at Late Night, but in the dance classes as
Trust me, the ladies
noticed. They really appreciated
seeing the guys take care of them.
Yes, there were more women than men, but none of
the ladies sat for long. I heard many compliments from
the ladies at how much fun they had thanks to the concerted efforts
of the men. Marla heard similar comments.
Let's hear it for the
Our three morning dance classes
went very smoothly. I taught Foxtrot the
first day, Waltz the second, and Salsa at the third class.
I taught down in the
Disco, a creepy dungeon-like place known as Dragon's Lair. The place was
so gloomy, I had to bring my flashlight just to see which CD to use
next. Decorated with gargoyles and dragons straight out of the
Exorcist, trust me, the vampires in our group felt right at home.
Although there were a few more women than
men, Tracy Akin and Marla Archer
volunteered to dance with the ladies during
each dance class. Tracy helps her friend MG
teach over at SSQQ, so she came in pretty handy. As it turned
out, our ratio of "leads" to "follows"
was more than acceptable.
Luciana, our ship liaison, allowed me to do something I had never seen before. She let
me plug my music computer into an umbilical cord that connected my
computer into their music system. Now I could use their speakers!
Consequently not once on the trip did I
have any need of the two large amplifiers I had brought with me. No
more constant lugging back and forth. My life was immediately so
Dance classes are
popular on cruise trips. Mornings are a quiet time and the
classes gave everyone a welcome chance to socialize and hang out
together. I was fortunate that Marla took pictures while I
taught, so I will share some of them with you.
Chapter Five: Luciana
People assume Marla
switched from switched from Carnival to Royal Caribbean due to the
notorious physical breakdowns of Carnival's ships. Actually Marla made
the decision well before these well-publicized debacles because
Carnival's on-shore staff was so incredibly inefficient and
uncooperative while she was trying to plan the events for Magic
As you can see from the
pictures, our parties, dance classes and Late Night Dancing were a
lot of fun for everyone. What people might not realize is that
a lot of planning took place ahead of time. Everything came
off like clockwork thanks to Marla. She put in a lot of work
behind the scenes long before the cruise even began.
When Marla organizes a
cruise, she makes arrangements with people on shore for every single
event. Marla sets up times for our parties, our dance classes,
our group photo, our dining tables, and our late night dancing.
Unfortunately no matter
how hard Marla tries, the success of our events is greatly dependent
on the service provided by the ship's staff. Once we are on board, it
is the job of the ship liaison to carry out the arrangements created
by the group desk that interfaced with Marla prior to the cruise.
Some of these representatives are good and others not so good. It helps
immensely to have a ship's representative who goes to bat for us.
One of the reasons this particular trip went so smoothly is that we
had a very talented ship liaison.
Our Late Night Dancing
went well because every night Luciana Trejo Valadez, our ship
liaison, was there to greet me. Not only
did she make sure our dancing started promptly,
every night Luciana brought a technician along to make
sure the volume was correct and the lights were dimmed to my
satisfaction. Consequently in the Midnight Hour our group had the best dance floor
in the house all to ourselves. And it was
the same way for every single event.
trip we had a great time dancing. What a difference it makes to work with a
cruise line that appreciates our business.
Joan, The Princess of
Luciana was the
most competent ship liaison we have had
since the wonderful
on the 2011 Conquest trip.
Gertrude actually risked her job
by arguing with the Hotel Director to let
us have our late night dancing.
wasn't forced to resort to any heroics, she was
always there at the start of
every event we held to make sure there were no problems.
Luciana did actually do
me a big favor one night. On the
fifth night of the trip, when I arrived at 11:25 pm to set up
my computer for our 11:30 Late Night dancing, there were eight
Latina ladies dancing freestyle out on the floor. The ladies were
dancing energetically to the Salsa music of the
I had a hunch that
some of these ladies were either the wives or the girlfriends
of the band members.
I didn't want to interrupt their fun, but
at the same time people from our group were starting to arrive.
However we had just a handful of people, so I decided there was no
point in asking the ladies to leave yet.
So the girls continued to dance past 11:30 pm which is when Luciana
showed up. She found me sitting at the computer programming the evening's
music. I smiled when I saw Luciana and stood up. I don't know what
prompted her to say this, but she said, "You don't like this
kind of music very much, do you?"
That surprised me. I can't imagine
what made her say that because it isn't true.
I listen to Salsa music all the time at home
when I work at the computer.
I love the horns
and the syncopation. To me, Salsa is
sort of like Disco music, but more interesting.
So I replied, "No, that's not true. I like Salsa music a lot."
Luciana looked skeptical.
She didn't believe me. So I laughed
"Where are you from, Luciana?"
She looked at me
suspiciously. "Mexico City."
"Ah, Mexico. So
of course you would love Salsa music. I
have a question for you. Do you like to dance?"
"Do you like to dance
"I love to dance
"Okay then." I
opened my arms invitingly. "Let's dance!"
Luciana was surprised at my gesture, but she wasn't going to back down from a
challenge. So right there on the spot I led Luciana
through 5 or 6 patterns boom boom boom. I
didn't hold back either. Once I saw she could dance, I had
some innocent fun at her expense. Then I let her go.
I grinned because Luciana's eyes were bulging. Plus
she was a little out of breath.
When she recovered, she stared at me in amazement. "Where you did you learn
to dance like that?"
"Luciana, you have no idea.
I used to
teach people to dance Salsa all the time. I
told you I liked Salsa music, but you didn't believe me. Now
what do you think?"
"Oh my gosh, I wish my boyfriend could dance like you. I love to
She was quiet for a moment.
Then Luciana said, "You know why these ladies dance alone, yes?"
I nodded. Either their men were in the band
or their men refused to dance. It was one or the other.
Luciana continued, "If their men would just learn to dance, then
these ladies wouldn't have to dance with each other. I tell my
boyfriend he needs to learn how to dance. If he doesn't, he drives
me into the arms of other men because I won't give up dancing."
I smiled. Truer words have never been spoken. Back in 2001, a woman
from SSQQ signed up for our dance cruise without her boyfriend of
six years. The boyfriend had told his girlfriend he didn't like to
dance, so go ahead and take the cruise by herself. Sure enough, on
the very first night of the trip, that woman ended up in the arms of
another man on the dance floor. That woman is now my wife. (Stroke
While Luciana and I danced on the sidelines, the ladies had taken
their control of the dance floor to a new level. The band was
now running past their time
to finish, but the men were helpless to quit because two of
their wives had taken
the stage captive. These two ladies had each
grabbed a microphone. Now they began
singing to the delight of the other ladies who
continued to dance.
I looked at the expressions
of the men in the band. They were tired and clearly wanted to stop playing, but
none of them had the guts to tell their wives to sit down.
At first I laughed
at the situation, but then I realized
those ladies were in no mood to stop.
I definitely didn't want to spoil the fun
for fear of my own life.
There was a potential
showdown brewing. A dozen or so of my group had shown up, so pretty soon I
would indeed have to say something and risk their
wrath. Fortunately Luciana
realized the dilemma and stepped in. She
used her authority to ask the ladies to
stop. The ladies pleaded with her for one more song. "You are one of
us, come dance with us! Let Sylvia
sing one more song!"
However Luciana held firm. She smiled and
said it was time for "our friends from Texas to have their turn."
Reluctantly the ladies yielded the floor. Seeing
their long faces, I started my own
music to ease the tension.
I also said a silent prayer of
thanks to Luciana for her help in defusing the situation. I have
no doubt the husbands
in the band did too. It would be a
foolish man to dare come between a woman and her Salsa.
Once in a while I run
across individuals who totally leave me baffled. For this
trip, Debra Hrncir and Cindy Hudson had a plan. They were
going to get the Party started... and they succeeded far beyond
anyone's imagination. In fact, they were so successful that I
am left wondering if they had help from unseen sources. The
words voodoo and sorcery have crossed my
mind. No other explanation makes any sense.
As you will see, both women possess immense powers. However my
problem is that I can't tell if Debra is trying to save us all or
whether she has me totally fooled. I will let you be the
To the outside world, Cindy and Debra
seem normal enough. They are best
friends as are their husbands Jim and Michael. From what I
gather, this long-time friendship started when their daughters
became friends in school out in Katy. Their children's
friendship led to the parents connecting.
Now that those kids are
grown and out on their own, the bond of the parents continues as
firm as ever. The foursome does so much together...
Renaissance Festival, Jimmy Buffett concerts, Harley-Davidson bike
trips, San Antonio trips, Czech Festivals, you name it. To
listen to them, they are always doing something.
So what is Debra's
talent? Debra knows the world. Debra might actually know
more people in Houston than any woman I have ever met. It
seems like whomever I name, Debra knows them. It is pretty
scary. I think the woman has dossiers on everyone. I
can't imagine how else she keeps all those people straight.
I have noticed that
large groups assemble wherever Debra goes. This can't be an
accident. I cannot help but wonder how she inspires so much
loyalty. Debra seems normal enough. What is her secret?
Beats the heck out of me, but in the privacy of my own
thoughts, I call Debra "Leader of the Pack".
Is Michael smiling?? Close, but no cigar.
All ten of these friends
were on the Magic 2012 Trip together as a group. Last names omitted to
protect the innocent... (assuming any of them are innocent)
- Merrie, Ted - Linda, Michael - Debra, Shannon - Wayne, Jim -
It was Debra and Michael
whom I got to know first. Previously I had met them in a 2011
Western Cha-Cha class taught by Sharon Shaw over at SSQQ.
Debra was very outgoing and I enjoyed chatting with her.
However we just barely brushed the surface. I had no idea of
the super-powers that lurked in this woman.
In 2012 I got to know
the couple better when Michael and Debra signed up for my Advanced
East Coast Swing class. I impressed by Michael. I have
never had any guy work harder in my class. I found out they
were taking my class in preparation for the Magic 2012 cruise.
Similarly Jim and Cindy
took a Ballroom class from Marla at the same time. At
that point, I was fairly unsuspecting. One night before
dance class Debra mentioned that her friend Cindy was a bit
'unusual'. Since Cindy wasn't in my class, I had no idea what
Debra was talking about. However Debra didn't go any further. Debra doesn't get to be friends with half of Houston by telling
tales. So I just shrugged and let it go.
The foursome seemed
pretty normal at the time. Nothing in their dance class
demeanor foretold the force of nature that was to arrive on the
Magic. When the foursome showed up on the ship, I had no idea
they were going to bring an entire gang with them.
the connection? I asked
Debra how she knew all these people. Debra just sort of
smiled and said they were all in the choir together. No way. I didn't
I got the feeling
Debra was pulling my leg.
Hmm. Do those guys look like choir boys?
I don't think
example, several times during the trip I noticed Michael
was wearing a pirate-style do-rag. You know,
Michael's a pretty big guy. Plus the guy practically never
liked Michael, but maybe I was wrong. I
couldn't help but think Michael looked very convincing as a
tough guy. That's when I was sure I had my answer.
these ten people be a biker gang??
Michael is almost smiling!!
To be sure, if they were a biker gang, they didn't fit the
profile very well, but that has never stopped me from
jumping to conclusions. I have an excellent
For starters, as
biker gangs go, the women sure were creative. Did you
notice those amazingly beautiful dinner tables in the
pictures above? From what I gather, in
conjunction with Merrie (the lady in the red dress), Debra and Cindy
created those tableaus. I was really impressed. Not since the legendary
"Fun Table" from Bahamas 2010 had I seen a table decorated so
Plus at various
times, the gang was so clean cut and well dressed. In
fact, a casual observer might even say the biker gang
And yet I
refused to let my guard down. I am way too smart to be
Here is why I
remained suspicious. Every time I
dropped by to compliment the group on how pretty their
tables were, they said I needed to come see their cabins.
They assured me their cabins were even more amazing.
They hinted at bizarre gothic themes befitting the upcoming
Was this a trap?
If they lured me to their room, what were they going to do
to me? Considering I
still assumed that Leader of the Pack Debra had secret powers, I had real trust
issues over this invitation. I wondered if going to
visit the lair of this mysterious gang would be my worst
I promised I
would come look, but I kept putting it off. Let's face
it, I was frightened to go to their cabins alone. Just
thinking about it gave me the same chilly willies as would a
trip to Dracula's Castle.
one night they made me feel so guilty that I overrode my
fears. So I dropped by after dinner. As
advertised, each cabin was a veritable haunted house unto
itself. I wanted to leave the moment I entered, but
someone quickly slipped in behind me. I was trapped.
I don't know
whether it was the vampire bats, the cobwebs, the hanging
skeleton or the dried
blood on the wall, but I immediately felt sorry for whomever
was forced to clean these rooms. How they got
their superstitious Filipino attendants to enter these rooms
just added to the mystery.
didn't allay my fears one bit. I could tell there
was something very strange about this group. However,
I was too afraid to ask. It was better not to
ask. Choir boys? Yeah right. Give me a break.
Truth be told,
I didn't get to spend much time with any of
the ten people during the Magic 2012 trip. They were
such a tight knit group that I never isolated any of them
for much more than a passing comment. Plus all
ten of them typically spent every evening chanting at the karaoke
bar. Debra said it was because they were in the choir
and needed to keep their voices in training. Like I
avoided that Piano Bar area like the plague. All that
singing was weird and cult-like. They were
up to something and I didn't want to be anywhere near them. I
couldn't put my finger on it, but I have never been so
intimidated in my life. I wasn't about to mess with
the Group of Ten.
almost certain a smile
is trying to break through.
I have to share there
was one very strange moment during
the Magic 2012 trip. I vividly remember
that one morning before a dance class started, Debra
got there before the others. That is when she brought up Cindy again. First Debra furtively
looked over her shoulder to make sure no one
overheard us. Then with a concerned look,
Debra began to whisper.
you really need to keep an eye on Cindy. Cindy
is, well, different. I can't really explain
it, but there are times when the lady becomes a
concern on Debra's face left me rattled. This whole whispering
campaign didn't help my nerves any. I
wasn't quite sure I knew why Debra was telling me
this. At the time, I didn't know who to be more
worried about, Debra or Cindy.
unsolicited warning felt very creepy. This moment
was playing like an early
chapter in a Stephen King novel to set the scene
before Carrie breaks
loose and goes postal on the world.
this woman's angle? Was
Debra setting me up for the kill or
was she sincerely trying to warn me about something?
If so, why did she refuse to be more specific? I still had my suspicions about Debra,
Leader of the Pack. I didn't know whether I
could trust her. Who on earth has the
ability to talk 10 people into going on a cruise?
What was the secret of her powers of persuasion?
I pointed out
that Cindy had behaved perfectly well to date.
Debra said that was because Cindy had her husband Jim.
Debra said Jim had a wonderful way of keeping Cindy from going
over the edge.
As long as Jim was
around, we were safe....
For a moment, that made
me feel better. But then I met Jim. Once I saw Jim with his
bizarre "Spudstock Zone" shirt and his blue shark hat, I wasn't
quite so sure anymore. Speaking of different, Jim seemed a bit
So this was the guy who
guarded the Wall at night while the rest of us slept? Hmm.
Were any of us safe?
Well, there wasn't
anything I could do about it. Debra was probably just
teasing me. So I just shrugged my shoulders and let it go.
Well, that was back in 2012. But the memory continued to
bother me. So when Marla said
that Debra and Cindy had just signed up for the 2013 Mariner Trip, I had a terrible premonition.
Uh oh. Now we're in trouble.
Something About Cindy
Sure enough, for our
Mariner 2013 cruise, the Hudsons and Hrncirs were back.
Mysteriously, the rest of the biker gang stayed home. When
asked, Debra refused to tell me where they had gone. She
smiled pleasantly and said, "It's just us this time."
The news kept
getting worse. A shudder went down my spine when Marla announced we would be dining
with them. Oh no. This is not good. Only I know this, but Marla is
very attracted to the Dark Side. You should see her watch the
"Walking Dead"; Marla is so transfixed I think she
identifies with the Zombies. In fact, she actually applied to
The moment Marla said we
would be together, I knew it was pure moth drawn to the flame. I
wasn't sure if it was Debra or Cindy, but somehow Marla was being
sucked into their orbit. I was certain it was only a matter of
time before Marla began drinking the Kool Aid.
Sure enough, on the very first night
of the trip my worst fears were confirmed.
On the very first
Late Night, Cindy Hudson organized a dance-a-thon. Her theme for the
cruise was "Get the Party Started". She and Debra had decorated
their cabin doors accordingly. They
promised me they were going to Rock this Boat!
First Cindy asked for "Get the Party
Started" by Pink. Then Cindy asked for "Let's Get it Started"
by the Black Eyed Peas. Next it was "Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob
Seger. Before we knew it, we were all dancing Freestyle like we were
I can't speak for the
others, but I felt pretty clumsy out there. I frowned. Heck,
I used to teach people how to Freestyle. But sometime around the age
of 50, I decided my Freestyle days were over. I
preferred to partner dance to the music
instead. At that point my Freestyle
went into hibernation.
Breakthrough!! Ta da! Michael is
And look how
handsome he is!
Edward has no idea
the danger he is in.
He is falling under the Spell of Cindy
Now here I was at
least ten years down the road and somehow Cindy managed to get not
just me, but all of us
all out there dancing. How
did she do that?
Meanwhile I was
struggling. Whew, I expected at least a few moves
to still be hiding in there, but I was wrong. I
felt like a big dump truck stuck in reverse. Or maybe a
dancing hippo. I hate this aging stuff!
That's why I was so
amazed by Cindy.
How on earth did she get
so many people out on the dance floor? Surely I wasn't the
only one who was floundering around like a duck out of water.
I bet the whole group felt spastic. So why were we out
here? Didn't Cindy know we all gave up Freestyle dancing ages ago??
No matter. When it
comes to raising the dead, Cindy is the proverbial Pied Piper - Simon
Says wrapped into one. Cindy said 'Jump' and
'Jump' we did.
For her final act, Cindy
requested the Macarena. C'mon, you gotta be kidding. No
I scoffed. I told Cindy don't
bother, these people aren't going to do the Macarena. No one
likes the Macarena. People hate the Macarena. Even
worse, these people were basically cold sober. None of them
were wasted enough to try anything as stupid as the Macarena.
I told Cindy to give up.
She didn't have a chance.
Cindy was undeterred.
Cindy said, "I'll make you a bet. You play the song, those
people will start dancing to it."
I smiled and said I
would take that bet. Curious to see who won? Well,
look for yourself.
they really are doing the Macarena!!
Cindy got those people to do it, I will never know...
(but I have my suspicions).
Look for yourself and
you will see that Marsha and Marla have come under the Spell of Cindy.
I will tell you one
thing. Debra tried to warn me... and now it was too late.
Oh, those poor
victims out there. They were moving like brain dead zombies!!
those people were losing their minds!
woman wasn't Cindy, this woman was pure Circe!!
I could not
help but shudder... the Sorceress was on the loose.
did Circe use to hypnotize these people? Were
any of us safe?
Here we have an entire
pack of people who have clearly lost their minds. These
people are absolutely stark raving mad. Marla is already
long gone. My poor wife has lost
her mind. How sad is that! Furthermore it looks like Joan is headed to the same place.
And who do you suppose
did this to them?
Yes, you know the answer.
at all those faces again.
do you suppose is the really dangerous one? Which one
looks like they could be a menace to society?
Can there be any
possible doubt?? Consider yourself warned.