Day at Sea
Home Up Curse of the Jewel

New England Home Who Went? 1 Salem Village 2 Martha's Vineyard 3 Bar Harbor Acadia 4 Halifax Nova Scotia
5 St John New Brunswick 6 Portland Maine 7 Day at Sea Curse of the Jewel The Artwork of Jane Wooster Scott


Before I tell some stories, let's meet the people in our group who went on the trip.

Risa and George Keillor

Mike and Donna Maresh

Dan and Judy Bates

Dave Rolando and Sharon Michaels

Chuck and Brenda Morton

Jeri and Tipton Masterson

Robert Goins and Cher Longoria

Deborah and Ken Kainer

Jerry Boldra and Barbara Sherwood

Joe Pikas and Rebecca Thayer

Marjorie Michaels and Terry Fortier

Sol Eisenbaum and Leeann Parkinson

Pat and Jess Carnes

Gary Schweinle and Tracy Kirkland

Sandra Schneider and Pat Salinas

Sandy Upchurch and Joan

Marsha Sprague and Anne Fry

Dave, Marjorie, Sharon, Terry

Larry and Roz Weinstein

Rick and Marla Archer


To date the SSQQ Cruises have developed two identities - Dance cruises and Destination cruises.  This particular cruise was more about visiting exotic locations.  Still, I have to tell you our dancers were the hit of the cruise.

 On the Rhapsody Dance Cruises, our group is so big we are nearly 10% of all the passengers aboard.  But on this giant ship, our group was only 2%.  Nevertheless we were the best known group on the ship because we were the nighttime entertainment.

Each night our group made its way to the Centrum and thrilled the spectators with excellent dancing ranging from Ballroom to Swing to Whip and Western.  Whatever the music, we were the stars. 

All the people who wished they could dance lined around watching in envy.  It was definitely a chance for our dancers to be proud of what they had accomplished.  The pictures below should give you a good idea how we held court all evening long.

You can look down on the Centrum from seven stories up. One night I was very high up when I heard the music.  Curious to see if anyone in our group was dancing, I looked down.  Five couples were dancing in a circle to a lovely Waltz. 

Alas, I did not get a picture because I didn't have my camera.  But that didn't keep me from watching.  If I were to guess, the five couples included Robert and Cher, Dan and Judy, Joe and Rebecca, Jerry and Barbara, and Gary and Tracy  (let me add that Jess and Pat may have been the fifth couple).

The five couples were moving swiftly around the floor.  Since the dance floor has a giant circle to begin with, the pattern of the five couples swirling round and round was very pleasing to watch.  There were people all around the floor watching with appreciation.  And I could see people on the deck above looking down at them just like I was from higher up.  They had quite an audience.

The five couples fit the floor perfectly. They never once got in each other's way and managed to dance lovely patterns straight out of Sharon's Western Waltz class.  Then it occurred to me - this would not work if even one couple did not know what they were doing.  Just like an accident on the freeway paralyzes hundreds of cars, one couple that did not move would have stopped the other couples in their tracks.  So it is a real credit to the skill of the dancers that they kept moving in perfect harmony throughout the song. 

As I said before, Cruise Ships are the place where Ballroom Dancing lives.  Ballroom Dancing is about elegance and romance. Cruise Ships are about Elegance and Romance.  As you might imagine, Ballroom Dancing is a perfect fit aboard these ships and our dancers become celebrities as a result. 

Again my thoughts were drawn to those marvelous days of yesteryear in the 1920s and 1930s when Ballroom Dancing ruled the land.  It was a real treat to see my friends recreating a vision of those days right before my eyes. 

If you would like to read more about my thoughts on the synergy of Cruise Ships and Ballroom Dancing, please click here:
The SSQQ Travel Story

Here at SSQQ, we are bringing the glory of the past right into the present.  Compare the pictures and decide for yourself.



A very special SSQQ tradition was continued when Gary Schweinle and Tracy Kirkland announced their engagement on the final night of the trip.

Naturally Marla immediately exclaimed, "I knew it!  I knew it!"  Marla takes a real pride in organizing her cruises.  As a result, she gets tremendous satisfaction when the cruise magic hits.

I of course have to say they are a wonderful couple.  One year ago, Gary was getting accolades as the leading party animal on our cruise.  This year he was one of the classiest guys in our group. Not that being a "party animal" is a bad thing, but I really enjoy the respectable side of Gary too.  I give Tracy all the credit for making Gary a very happy man.

Now that I think of it, maybe she is too effective.  Along with Robert Goins, Gary was considered the leader of our group.  His outgoing nature made him friends all over the ship.  Everywhere Gary went, people came up to him and gave him all the credit for such a wonderful group of dancers.

That said, I suppose if I have share credit with anyone, Mr. Hat is the perfect guy to start with.

Best wishes to a lovely couple.


Risa and George Keillor

Mike and Donna Maresh

Dan and Judy Bates

Rick and Marla Archer

Chuck and Brenda Morton

Jeri and Tipton Masterson

Robert Goins and Cher Longoria

Deborah and Ken Kainer

Sol Eisenbaum and Leeann Parkinson

Joe Pikas and Rebecca Thayer

Pat and Jess Carnes

Gary Schweinle and Tracy Kirkland

Marsha, Sandra, Anne

Dave, Marjorie, Sharon, Terry



There is a Yiddish word known as chutzpah.  It describes someone who is quite self-confident, but who also lacks respect for the feelings of others. 

This is the story about a woman who, in my opinion, had the shameless audacity to force her way into our group even after we told her she was not welcome. 

If this story about the couple from Houston who crashed the party upsets her friends, I apologize in advance.  But I resent the treatment my wife received and I intend to speak out.

Marla and I have had a firm rule in place for a couple years known as "Book It or Hook It".   The rule goes like this:

"To be included as a part of the SSQQ Group, you must book your cruise through SSQQ.  NO EXCEPTIONS!"

Surely you wonder to yourself, why would anyone even need to make up a "Rule" like the one above?   At some point before this incident, someone did something so utterly thoughtless and stupid that we felt taken advantage of. 

The Book It or Hook It Rule was published on our web site in 2005.  The couple that crashed the New England Trip were well aware of our rules ahead of time.  They ignored them.


On May 1, 2006, a woman named Hope phoned Marla about the New England Cruise. She explained that she had a friend who was already signed up for the trip. Hope said that she and her husband were interested in going on the cruise as well.

She asked Marla several very general questions about the cruise. Marla answered all her questions and then referred her to the SSQQ cruise website for more information.

Soon Hope phoned Marla back and left a voice mail to please phone her. The message stated this woman had some more questions that needed to be answered before she could sign up.

Marla returned Hope's call the next day. Hope asked several very specific questions in regards to cabin dimensions, pricing, locations, including finding out what cabin her friends would be in. She said that she wanted to make sure that she would be able to be near her friend.  Marla assured Hope that if she would let Marla book her trip, she would be located close to her friend.  Hope said she wanted to be sure. So Marla then phoned Royal Caribbean. After about 15 minutes of holding plus some back and forth with the RCCL agent at the other end, Marla received confirmation that she could book the cabin next to Hope's friend.

Marla called Hope back to report the good news.  At the end of the conversation, Hope asked if she could use a certain credit card to pay for the trip. She said that she wanted to make sure she got her "points".  Marla assured her that the card named was accepted as a form of payment.  The woman concluded the phone conversation by saying she needed to verify with her credit card company that she could book with Marla.

Marla raised an eyebrow at that statement. Something told her this meant trouble. At this point, Marla explained to Hope we had a distinct rule known as "Book It or Hook It" that clearly stated Marla is the travel agent of record on each trip if people are going to join our group.

Hope did not call back.  Since Marla sensed that Hope was serious about going on this trip, a few days later Marla made a courtesy phone call to Hope to see what was going on.

Hope informed Marla that her credit card company told her that she had to book the trip through their travel agent to take advantage of the points offered.  Her explanation was sufficiently confusing that Marla misunderstood this to mean the woman and her husband were not making the trip after all.  

At this point, Marla was completely in the dark as to what was going on.  She was frustrated since she had put in quite a bit of time and effort into helping Hope, but she had been in sales long enough to be philosophical about it. 

If this was the end of story, I would not have had a problem.  But this was not the end of the story.


Two weeks later, one of Hope's mutual friends on the trip approached Marla on Hope's behalf.   The mutual friend explained to Marla that Hope and Joe had booked the cruise using Royal Caribbean directly.  They had some points or credits of some sort from previous cruises that they wanted to cash in.  To do so, they had to book directly with Royal Caribbean.  

This contact is how Marla finally found out what Hope had really done.  Marla did not appreciate being deceived, but she was okay with it.  As far as Marla was concerned, it is a free country.  An individual can book a trip with whomever they wish.  No hard feelings. 

What angered Marla is what came next.

The mutual friend said Hope
and her husband wanted to be included with the SSQQ Group at dinner and for the other group activities as well.  It would seem that Hope was too embarrassed to approach Marla directly, so she asked her friend to be her intermediary.

Would Marla please call Royal Caribbean and kindly arrange for this woman and her husband to sit with the SSQQ group at dinner????

Marla's eyes grew wide as saucers.  She felt like she had just had the rug pulled out from under her. 

had spent a serious amount of time organizing an attractive cruise.  Hope would not have even been on the phone were it not for Marla's work in the first place.   Then Marla had answered every question Hope asked plus spent part of a morning on the phone with RCCL trying to help the woman.  Now Marla realized it had been a complete waste of her time because it was obvious Hope intended to book the cruise elsewhere from the start.

Marla was incredulous that Hope now wished to join the group.  Marla had specifically told the woman she had to book with Marla or forget about the group.  Didn't the woman hear a word she said? 

Marla put her foot down. She told the mutual friend to tell Hope that she could not be a part of our group in any way.
First Marla lost $300 in commissions so the couple could save a few bucks in RCCL points.

Then the couple had the nerve to ask to be included in the SSQQ Group Activities despite having already been told what the rules were.

There is a term for this. It is called "adding insult to injury".

You might expect a kid to disobey your rules, but a grown adult?

Marla and I were both upset at Hope's shenanigans.  However once Marla said 'no' for the Second Time to Hope's friend, we figured she would get the message and that would be the end of it.  This story should have stopped right here, correct?  

Well, it didn't.


A month later, Marla received this email from Hope's other friend on the trip.

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, July 25, 2006 1:22 PM
Subject: New England Cruise

Hi Marla,  Thanks for the cruise update; I'm getting really excited about it.

Our friends Hope and Joe, who are veteran RC cruisers, are signed up to go on this trip. They had RC credits they "had" to use up.

They are not dancers so I doubt they will be participating in any serious dancing with us. I would like to have dinner with them though, as well as with the SSQQ group. Is there any way we can include them in our dinner group?  Maybe they can make arrangements for dinner with us from their end, so you don't have to do any extra work.

This was my reply.

 -----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, July 25, 2006 3:42 PM
Subject: Joe and Hope

Marla and I have a firm rule that people must book with Marla to be part of the group.

Given the way American business throws around incentives and discounts, this rule was created to discourage people from bypassing Marla's role as the travel agent.

For example, you mentioned that Joe and Hope are trying to cash in on some Royal Caribbean credits. Did you know that Royal Caribbean would dearly love to completely cut travel agents out of the middle?

I have seen RC offer deals that Marla simply can't match. I frown because it is obvious Royal Caribbean knows EXACTLY what they are doing. I am sure old Joe Rockefeller used similar techniques while he was starving out the little oil producers at the turn of the century.   This game that Hope and Joe are playing is a perfect example of a travel agent being squeezed and I don't appreciate it. 

Royal Caribbean seems to forget that many people would not even be interested in their trips if travel agents like Marla were not involved.  She was the one who drummed up the idea for this trip in the first place. You have no idea how hard Marla works behind the scenes to plan these trips and handle all the details. She deserves to be rewarded for her efforts.

I am sure that Joe and Hope are very nice people and that their decision to book elsewhere was not evenly remotely "personal", but the fact remains that they are on their own.

There are likely to be several ways to find a compromise. There might be openings at their table one evening. Even better, you might try eating together at one of the special elite restaurants. For example, on the Alaska trip, there was another couple that did not book with us, but had friends within our group. On one night, the two couples had dinner together at one of the special restaurants (Portifinos). The food was so good they went back and did it again two more times.

I would dearly love to find a way to thank you for all the kindness you have shown me over the years, but this is one rule I can't bend on. Please forgive.

A reply

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, July 26, 2006 3:31 PM
Subject: Re: Joe and Hope

Hey Rick, no need to explain, I understand completely. We will all have a great time, I'm sure.

The big accounting firms (which I used to be a part of) have been trying to squeeze out the little guys for decades. Now, it seems the table has turned on them, ergo Arthur Anderson & Co and others. My business has never suffered though because most people worth their salt value the personal attention of a good service provider ... accountant, travel agent, dance instructor extraordinaire.

I have really enjoyed you and your SSQQ over the past couple of years. Keep on dancin'.

This incident marked the Third Time that we told Hope we did not want her to be a part of our group.  First Marla explained the situation on the phone, then she had enlisted a friend to talk with Marla at the studio, and now she had asked her other friend to intercede as well.  Marla and I were remarkably consistent in our responses. 

No, No, No. 


Fast forward two months to the New England Cruise.  It was the first night of the trip. 

The first night of dining was bizarre.  There was an enormous line of people waiting to come in through the one door that was open.  Marla and I were the first ones to be seated because we used a trick.  We entered the Dining Room one floor above and descended the elegant staircase to become the first people in our group to be seated. 

As I watched the rest of our guests slowly enter the Dining Room, I shook my head.  At every occasion involving "moving people", the Jewel was so far behind the Rhapsody it wasn't even close.  The Jewel only carried a hundred more people, but they just couldn't figure it out!

While we waited for the rest of our group to join us,  Marla looked around and did a double-take.  She tugged on my arm.

"Rick, something's wrong here.  These tables are completely out of whack.  Someone has changed my seating arrangement!"

I hadn't said anything, but from the moment I sat down I couldn't understand why Marla had settled for such a stupid seating arrangement.   It was something I could live with, so I kept quiet.  Why make a fuss and make her feel bad?  What good would that accomplish? 

Marla had my immediate attention.  I asked her to explain to me how the tables were supposed to arranged.

"Rick, the tables are all messed up.  They were supposed to be next to each other! I set them up four tables in a row side by side."

Looking at the odd zig-zag arrangement we were now stuck with, I experienced an odd sense of relief and anger at the same time. 

On the one hand, I was relieved that Marla's original plan had made sense after all. 

But now that I realized someone else had interfered, I was very angry at the new arrangement.  What kind of moron would do this without even bothering to check with my wife? 

I said, "Marla, do you have any idea who made this switch?  Can you think of a reason?  This just doesn't make sense."

Marla was baffled.  She was also angry that her work had been messed up. Thanks to someone's invisible hand, the 4 tables were at least visible, but they were not all close. 

What had gone wrong?

It had been Marla's responsibility to arrange the seating for all guests.  Her original plan had four tables - three tables of 10 and one of 8 - located side by side.  Now the arrangement was all messed up.

Then we noticed there was one table with twelve people sitting together.  In a group of 38, why would one table have twelve people?  That made no sense at all.


Our eyes simultaneously locked on to a mystery couple sitting there at the Table of 12.  Both Marla and I stared in disbelief.  Our group was large, but it wasn't that large. I knew the faces and names of everybody who came with us.  These two people were total strangers.  Both Marla and I were instantly suspicious.

We looked at each other in disbelief.  Was it Hope and Joe?  But how could it be!  Marla had specifically said they couldn't sit with us.  Who on earth would push that hard to join a group against explicit written and verbal objections?  Besides, they weren't sitting with either of their friends.  That made no sense either.

The more I thought about it, the more I felt it had to be Hope and Joe.  There were plenty of empty seats around the room.  No couple would choose to sit with a group of strangers without a specific reason.

I assumed that Hope and Joe had noticed two empty spots at one of our tables and helped themselves.  How convenient that these two chairs weren't taken!   If that was the case, I was ready to look the other way and leave it alone.  This entire affair had made me feel uncomfortable from the start.  What a lucky break for them.

But then Marla whispered something to me.  She said in her experience the seating was highly organized on Royal Caribbean ships.  Practically every table in the room was designed to seat ten.  Plus our group's natural number was ten.  Therefore it was very unlikely for our group to have a table with twelve seats by accident.    Someone must have specifically requested it. 

Her words hit home.  Now I was shaking my head.  I grabbed Marla's hand.  Together we excused ourselves from the table and made our way to the front of the dining room.  We found the Maitre d' and asked him to help us to confirm the identity of the mysterious couple.   We explained what we thought was going on.  I told him before we decided to do anything, we needed more information.

The Maitre d' was reluctant to help at first.  He told us this was a highly unusual situation.  He had never heard of a seating problem like this before.

That is when Marla spoke up.  She explained that she was the group coordinator.  She gave him our group number.  She gave him the name of her RCCL Specialist and explained the two of them had made much different seating assignments. She added that someone had rearranged everything behind her back.  Now she wanted some answers.

The gentleman frowned.  This situation could become very unpleasant.  I got the feeling he wished we would go away, but it was obvious to him Marla intended to see this through.  Plus she obviously knew what she was talking about.  The man asked to see Marla's Ship ID card.  He then checked her name against the manifest to confirm that Marla was indeed the Group Leader.  Once her authority was established, the Maitre d' asked Marla what she would like him to do.  Marla asked him to research the name of the mystery couple.

The Maitre d' carefully checked the computerized seating plan for the dining room.  He looked up our tables.  He confirmed our educated guess was correct.  The mystery couple was indeed Hope and Joe.  Then he had a little surprise for us. He said that Hope and Joe had a right to be there.  They were sitting at their assigned table!  

Assigned table?  I looked at Marla and she looked at me.  They hadn't just availed themselves of two empty seats.  They had gotten someone to give them permission to sit at one of our tables. 

Marla was fit to be tied.  She explained to the Maitre d' that she had personally made every seating assignment in the SSQQ group.  Hope and Joe were not part of the group and they had not been part of the seating plan. 

The more she thought about it, the angrier she got.  Because of Hope and Joe, the entire seating plan of her group had been screwed up.  And no one had shown her the courtesy to explain the change.

She looked at the man with a furrowed brows.  On whose authority had this assignment been made?

At this point, there was an interesting shift in the man's demeanor.  Till now, he had kept us at arm's length.  But Marla spoke with such assurance that he began to sense something out of the ordinary was going on here.  Yes, this was awkward, but on the other hand, he began to see where Marla was coming from.  Marla wasn't scamming him; something strange was clearly afoot. He spoke to Marla.  "What can I do to help clear up this problem?"

Marla asked if it was possible for him to investigate who was responsible for this change.  Not only had the change been made without her permission, the change had ruined the configuration of our group's seating arrangement. 

So the Maitre d' looked up Hope and Joe's record.  He said, "Recently a representative of Royal Caribbean made this seating assignment at their request."

He paused.  "You have the authority to make a change. Would you prefer they be reassigned to another table?" 

Marla looked at me.  "What do you think, Rick?"

"I think that out of respect to Hope and Joe's friends, I have no wish to embarrass them.  Let everyone enjoy the trip. I can live with it if you can.  You're the one who keeps getting pushed around."

Marla nodded her head in agreement.  She said, "There's nothing to be gained by being ugly.  Let them sit where they want."

As a result of Marla's decision, Hope and Joe were allowed to join our group for each meal during the trip.  No one was told about the problem.  Hope and Joe joined us on other occasions as well.  They were on the periphery of one group activity after another.  They never participated, but they were always in the background watching.

Since Hope and Joe made themselves a part of our group,
I can only assume they would want to have their picture included. 

I took this picture myself at dinner one night in preparation for this story.  It remains a complete mystery to me why they smiled.  Were they completely oblivious to how I felt about their actions?  Or did they simply not care what I thought?



Royal Caribbean has developed a system of incentives designed to lure repeat customers to book directly with them.  This email on the left is a perfect example of how RCCL offers discounts to past customers. This is how RCCL bypasses travel agents.

They can discount their fares $100- $200 at the drop of a hat. 

After all,
if they don't have to pay a commission, then they aren't losing any money.  They gain greater control in the process. 

I have little doubt that RCCL would prefer to lessen their dependence on travel agents.  They would make more money if they could get customers to book with them exclusively. 

The travel agent gets systematically undermined by this practice. 

You know what?  That is how business in America works.  It is called 'competition'.  They are looking out for their own interests.  And you know what?   That said, Marla and I have the right to fight back.

We are not helpless.  We have something that Royal Caribbean can't take away from us -
Group Cruise trips are very popular. 

We have been told time after time how much people enjoy to taking vacations with our groups. 

Look at it this way -   If the guest wants to hang out with friends, that opportunity is always there.  But if a guest  wants to be alone, he or she has that choice too!  On a Group Cruise, you have the best of both worlds.  Go where you want to go, be with whom you want to be. Enjoy the advantages and safety of a large group and disappear whenever you want to be alone.

This is a very valuable card that Marla and I hold.

But we have to protect that card.  Most people understand our position and are very loyal.  But not everyone...

The lure of savings is very powerful. 

I remember one man who showed up for our Pre-Cruise Meeting who had not signed up for the 2003 trip.  At the time, I couldn't figure out what was going on.   Maybe he was coming to pick up some tickets for a friend.  Who knows?  Since I liked him, I didn't mind him being there. So I didn't give it another thought.

When the ship sailed, I was surprised to see him show up for one of our dance events.  Where did he come from? 

So I asked him what was going on.  He explained he had signed up with another travel agent to save a whopping $20 for him and another $20 for his son.

This saved $40, but Marla was out $250 in commission.

Some people will bypass us to save a couple dollars.  (Previous incidents)

The incident with Hope and Joe should put to rest any doubts that we are correct in our conclusion. 

Their actions prove there are people who are willing to bypass Marla to save $20 or to get their benefits, then try to piggyback our group anyway.  As a result, we have no choice but to stand firm on our willingness to exclude people from the group. 

Hope and Joe didn't want to play by our rules.  We said no, but our authority meant nothing to them.  They were going to do it their way whether we liked it or not.  So they went behind our backs to get seated with our group.  I hope it was worth it to them.

So, from now on, even if means we have to be nasty about it, we will stick to our guns.

Hook it or Book it
Ė to be a part of our group, you must book with Marla.  It isnít fair to her to go to all the trouble to book this trip only to see people give their commissions to other agents. 


By chance, there was another couple on our trip who initially did the same thing as Hope - book this cruise with someone else.  Like Hope and Joe, they were experienced cruisers who had likely accrued similar credits.  Perhaps they booked elsewhere to take advantage of these credits. 

This couple learned about our trip one night when they visited the studio for our Friday Night Western Dance.  I happen to like both of these people.  In fact, they actually met at my studio at a New Years Party.  I asked the lady to dance.  As we danced, we also chatted. The lady mentioned they had just returned from a Mediterranean cruise.  Now we had something in common so we talked about cruises. The next thing you know, she and her husband were interested in going with us on the New England cruise.

The following day, the lady contacted Marla.  After a game of phone tag, she and Marla got a chance to discuss the details.  Satisfied that it would be a fun experience, the couple decided to go.  But they bypassed Marla and booked the cruise elsewhere - perhaps directly with Royal Caribbean like Hope did. 

Then she got back to Marla for seating with the group.  That is when she learned that she and her husband would not be allowed to join the SSQQ group.  Marla could tell on the phone she was disappointed.  The lady thought about it for a while and probably talked it over with her husband.  A few days later she changed her mind.  First she canceled her reservation and then she asked Marla to book it instead. 

Marla was very grateful.  So was I.  I was very touched by the kind gesture of this couple.

In life, there is a right way to do things and there is a wrong way to do things. 


Next Page: Curse of the Jewel

New England Home Who Went? 1 Salem Village 2 Martha's Vineyard 3 Bar Harbor Acadia 4 Halifax Nova Scotia
5 St John New Brunswick 6 Portland Maine 7 Day at Sea Curse of the Jewel The Artwork of Jane Wooster Scott


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