Party down and batten the hatches
Port Canaveral, Fla., Nov. 1–8, 2010—When we arrived at the Radisson Resort at Port Canaveral on Saturday evening, the night before the 7th annual High Seas Rally, the official bon voyage party was in full swing. Dean and Debbie and just about everyone else were dressed in full costume. After all, it was Halloween night, and the ghosties and goblins were lurking about.
The Radisson gardens and lagoon-like pool and outdoor bar, with the near-full moon glowing eerily in the night sky, provided a great backdrop for the 1,000-plus rally goers who showed up. The first of the rally’s 50/50 raffles took place, as well as the first of several cabin raffles for next year’s rally. A costume contest was won by Deb and Burt Weeks from Lead, South Dakota, dressed in Victorian wedding garb. Sounds lovely, except that their clothes were tattered and tinted a ghoulish gray—the same spooky color as their skin—having the overall effect of looking like they’d just been dug up from their graves.
The High Seas Rally (HSR) was started by experienced riders Dean and Debbie Anderson as an alternative to some of the big rallies where motorcyclists often face price-gouging, worry about bike theft and experience bad weather—any of which can ruin a vacation. The two had taken several cruises that they thoroughly enjoyed, and figured that with some modifications, bikers would enjoy them, too.
They became travel agents and set out to create a rally just for riders, selecting world-class cruise company Royal Caribbean as the hosting venue. The first rally set sail from Florida to the Western Caribbean in November 2003, figuring that many of the riders in the Northern hemisphere were winding down their riding season anyway. Most of the HSR “crew members” are seasoned riders, and can live without their bikes for a week to, in turn, enjoy a worry-free vacation with more than a thousand like-minded people. The rally was a smashing success, and since then, Dean and Debbie have held one and sometimes two rallies per year, adding Mexican Riviera and Alaska rallies to the schedule.
The next day we took a quick shuttle over to the Royal Caribbean pier where we boarded the Freedom of the Seas, one of the largest and most luxurious ships on the water. It’s a floating resort with beautifully appointed staterooms, several swimming pools and hot tubs, a rock climbing wall, fully-equipped fitness center and day spa, basketball court and even an ice skating rink and a miniature golf course. The Royal Promenade on Deck 5 was like a mini-mall with clothing and accessories shops, a duty-free store and a couple of cafes; all for rally crew members to pillage and plunder. Several bars and night clubs were located all over the ship, along with a casino and a theater. All this was in addition to the rally schedule, making it clear that there was just too much to do in a single week. Having attended this rally five years ago, I knew that the key to surviving the week was to pace ourselves, and not overindulge in either activities or refreshments.
After dinner the first night, it was all hands on deck as High Seas Rally crew members met in the Arcadia Theatre for the first of the nightly giveaway shows where Dean and Debbie gave us the rundown on what to expect during the rally. The week was jam-packed with biker games, contests, giveaways and parties both on board and at each port of call. We had 1,339 rally passengers on board—a significant percentage of the ship’s 3,634-passenger capacity—representing 45 U.S. states as well as six other countries: New Zealand, Belgium, Newfoundland, Germany, the UK and about 200 passengers from Canada alone! Cash prizes were given to the biggest groups of riders, with first place going to Battlefield H.O.G. from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; second place to the Groupless Cruisers who hail from many locations, and third place to the Kaiser Group.
We were introduced to comedian Roy Riley, who serves as emcee and chief jokester for every High Seas Rally. Roy’s favorite putdown to hecklers in the audience (and to those who didn’t show up to claim their free prizes) was, “Dumbass!” This is an adults-only rally, as further evidenced by the biker games and goings-on, and it’s strongly suggested that you leave the little ones at home.
Monday also brought the opening of the vendor area. For every cruise, Dean and Debbie hand-pick about 20 motorcycle-related vendors to provide a shopping experience just like you’d find at any motorcycle rally. The high-quality vendors at this rally included Billet Eye Wear, SK Tools, Condor Products, Diamond Heads, Klock Werks, Custom Engraving LTD, Kuryakyn Products, The Leather Lady, Motor Marc Art, Nolan Helmets, Hardcore Watches, Scott Jacobs Fine Art, Delkron Manufacturing, EZ-Up Center Stand, Big Ear, The Easy Strap, Razor Custom Paint, and Shop Main Street, which distributes Franklin Mint H-D licensed products in the U.S. Some of the vendors also presented tech seminars, and included was special guest Nascar champion Geoffrey Bodine, who touted the wondrous qualities of the Mona Vie nutritional antioxidant elixir. Bodine had a great time at the rally, so don’t be surprised to see some of his retired NASCAR buddies join him on future HSR cruises.
One of the main criteria for a vendor to participate in the rally is a commitment to donate a minimum of $5,000 in product giveaways. But the best giveaway was the 2008 Street Glide worth $38,000 that was chromed and customized by Kuryakyn and painted by Darren Wenzel of Razor Custom Paint. All HSR crew members have an equal chance to win these prizes; they’re automatically entered along with their rally registrations.
And talking about commitment, when Dean and Debbie started planning for the first rally, they announced the HOHS Dialysis Fund with the mission of collecting enough donations to allow riders with kidney disease to receive dialysis on the cruise. Over the years, rally goers have stepped up their donations to allow up to 16 “biker dialysis pirates” to be accommodated at every High Seas Rally at a cost of between $80,000 and $120,000 per year. Audrey “Margarita Mama” Rivarich and her husband Paul, aka “Hooterman;” the Smiths, owners of Sunsweet Prunes; and Catherine King donated sizable amounts to the dialysis fund this year. Many who won cash prizes during the rally also donated some or all of their winnings to the dialysis fund. And Motor Marc donated a print of this year’s rally painting to each of the 10 dialysis patients. The total amount raised for the fund this year was $123,282. That’s a lot of doubloons, and crew members’ generosity just shows the cut of their jib.
We got to meet the biker dialysis pirates during the nightly giveaway shows, and one of the most touching moments was when Star Norris from California and her husband of 40 years, Tony, took the stage. Star had been on dialysis for nearly seven years, and had been on three High Seas Rally cruises as a dialysis biker pirate. Two weeks after last year’s cruise, a kidney became available so she underwent a successful transplant. This is her first year as a regular crew member, and she thanked the crowd profusely for the opportunity to participate, finishing up by reading a poem encouraging organ donation. Well, shiver me timbers, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the time she was done.
All ashore, mateys!
Our first port o’ call was Labadee, a private resort on Hispaniola leased by Royal Caribbean, where the biggest T-shirt swap in the world took place with an astounding 862 lads and lassies trying to hornswaggle each other to get the shirt they wanted. The “swap of the century” was followed by a bountiful feast at the Dragon’s Rock Café. The rest of the day could be spent relaxing on one of the beautiful beaches, trying the zip line, or shopping for local goods.
Wednesday’s stop was at Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and a specially organized HSR party took place at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. That place has it all—a pool with a waterslide and swim-up bar, private beach, and all the grog and grub we scurvy dogs could imbibe. The fun-loving staff led the crew members in a series of biker games, each sillier than the last, until everyone collapsed from laughter… or embarrassment. It’s my favorite party place of the rally, but our hosting establishments at the next two ports did their best to outdo it.
On Thursday, we dropped anchor at Grand Cayman Island where the onshore HSR party continued at Georgetown’s Margaritaville. New games were introduced that were every bit as silly as the ones the day before. Friday dawned in Cozumel, Mexico, where we had three onshore parties to get to—Margaritaville and the Hard Rock Café (it has the distinction of being the smallest HRC in the world), both of which were new to the island’s HSR party venues, and Carlos ’n Charlie’s, where crew members were packed in like sardines.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the other activities and attractions available at these three ports. You can take your own walking tours like we did in Cozumel where we spent some time at Museo de la Isla de Cozumel, a fascinating look at the history of the island. And Royal Caribbean offers numerous onshore forays, including excursions where you could kiss a dolphin, ride a dragon’s tail, rent a Mexican Harley (okay, they’re really scooters) or go to Hell (the one in Grand Cayman, that is).
In between ports of call, Dean and Debbie organized more biker games. The Belly Smacker Contest held on the main pool deck is always a crowd-pleaser, where some salty ol’ sea dogs show their skills at hitting the water as loudly and painfully as they can. The Treasured Chest Contest has a bunch of beautiful wenches coaxing some booty (no, not that kind) out of the appreciative laddies in the audience. One of these lovely lassies even offered lap dances for dialysis. Blimey! And there were still other diversions like a poker walk, a one-eyed starin’ contest, and biker bingo.
The Topless Man Contest took place during a nighttime High Seas Rally dance party on the pool deck. The all-female volunteer judging crew was blindfolded and had to rate the contestants strictly by touch as they walked the plank over the pool. A tattoo contest featuring variations of High Seas Rally ink on every imaginable body part took place, and the ever-popular Best Beard Contest drew 20 challengers before the field was narrowed down to three fine, fully-bearded swashbucklers. Did you know you can actually register your beard with the National Beard Registry? Dean and Debbie will try to get the head honchos of this distinguished organization involved with next year’s Best Beard Contest.
Participation in these games is, for many, not a casual, last-minute decision. Some crew members prepare all year for the rally by beefing up their bellies, grooming their beards and practicing their belly flops. Banners, flags, posters and streamers are found festooned across doors and along stateroom balconies proclaiming the names of their groups. And costumes are designed and constructed months in advance.
The Royal Caribbean crew goes out of their way to accommodate our group. There were daily Hogs at Sea drink specials such as the Easy Rider; Shiny Side Up; Harley Man, Ja Man!; Country Road; and Salt Flats Margarita. HSR crew member spa and shopping specials were available both on board and on shore. We were even assigned our own dining room, and instead of the usual formal nights required on most cruises, we had two leather nights; a ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s dress-up dinner; and mutiny night when everyone dressed up and talked like pirates. Of course, this invoked a never-ending litany of “Arrrr”s heard all over the ship. In fact, one lass was heard to say she was having such a good time that she had an arrrgasm.
Friday evening, Hurricane Ida was kickin’ up quite a squall as we left Cozumel, and she followed us halfway up the Gulf of Mexico. We battened down the hatches and stayed off the upper decks, but these mega-ships are incredibly stable and, besides, most of us landlubbers had our sea legs by then. Where else can you party in 70-mph winds and still have a good time?
Our last day at sea brought the final giveaway show where the last of the prizes was awarded. The games paid out $231,657.63 in cash, cabins and vendor prize giveaways—a veritable king’s ransom. The final award was the announcement of the custom bike winner—a very excited Lois Scarcello from St. Charles, Missouri. Lois and her husband James were celebrating their 30th year of marriage at the rally. What a fantastic anniversary gift!
The 2010 Western Caribbean rally will take place October 31 through November 7. Since the first day of the cruise is Halloween, a Biker Fright Night will be held on board the ship. There are rumors of an even better party on Labadee and something big happening at Jimmy Buffett’s in Ocho Rios, but Dean and Debbie are keeping mum on the surprises. By the time the rally was over, there were more reservations for the 2010 rally than the number of people at this one, and it’s expected that the 8th annual rally will see the highest number of crew members yet. If you’re planning to go, it’s suggested that you sign up soon, and if you pay in full before March, you’ll be entered into an early bird contest to win $2,500 off your cabin. That oughta put a fire under yer bellies. O’ course, if’n you don’t make it, there’ll be an Alaskan rally the last week of June 2011. (www.highseasrally.com)