Stories with happy endings often start out with sadness.
I boarded the cruise ship, Ruby Princess, with my mother in September 2010 as a stand-in for my father. He had died unexpectedly shortly before this Mediterranean cruise a longed-for 70th birthday celebration..
In her grief, my mom thought about canceling the cruise, but then decided I should take my father’s place. In addition to that painful loss, I was going through my own personal drama with my relationship back in Mississippi. Things weren’t working out. I was struggling over whether to leave him and the logistics of moving out.
Leaving Atlanta for Barcelona, mom and I decided the cruise vacation would be a much-needed escape from all the difficult emotions at home.
Meanwhile, in Stratford-upon-Avon in England, Andrew Whitesmith was looking for an excuse for a holiday and took up an offer from an old boyfriend to take a Mediterranean cruise. Ruby Princess would be their cruise ship.
Boarding alongside my mother and a couple she knew from home, I couldn’t help but think of the two other cruises I had taken. Both had been with my parents, one for my 11th birthday and another on my 15th.
As a gay man, I wasn’t sure what to expect. You can get lost on a ship as big as the Ruby. Would it be possible to find people I could be myself with during the cruise? Or was it more an opportunity to enjoy the sights and engage in quiet introspection?
I noticed that the first night on board, Princess Cruises was sponsoring a GLBT gathering. Here was an opportunity, but I had some trepidation about going; I am not the most outgoing person. Finally, I decided I would walk by Explorers Lounge, peek inside and see who was there.
There were four guys seated around a table – as I would learn Andy, his ex and an English couple, Simon and Dave. I walked in thinking, maybe I would make a friend or maybe I wouldn’t, but here goes anyway.
As it turned out, our group instantly connected. I was the only American, so the others had plenty of questions for me about life in the U.S. By the time we got up to leave, we decided to meet there at 9 p.m. nightly for after-dinner drinks. Within days, we’d been joined by a few more folks and were having so much fun together, we’d added before-dinner drinks to our schedule, too. In addition to that, we also included shore excursions and lounging around the ship together during the day and all of a sudden, I was part of a tribe.
Sure, I noticed Andy that first night. I saw that we were close in age and that there was an initial spark, but I didn’t think anything of it at first.
Over the next few days, as we spent more time together on board and also on shore, Andy and I really hit it off. We shared a few meals together, went to see “Sherlock Holmes” on Movies under the Stars. As a group, we danced through the night at Skywalkers.
We started falling for each other on the first formal night. Everyone looked wonderfulin their tuxedoes. We had our first dance, just the two of us. When we could, we slipped away to one of the upper decks. We had the place to ourselves, just us under the stars dancing together.
That became our spot, and for the rest of the cruise, we were together.
We left the ship in Venice, with Andy heading back to England and me to the States, captivated by one another, but not knowing if there was a future for us at all.
I quickly ended my failing relationship and moved home to Atlanta. Technology would be our savior. Thanks to FaceTime, Andy and I were able to see each other during our daily talks, which helped our relationship grow.
Eight months later, I made my first trip to England. Another four months, and Andy came to the U.S. We exchanged visits as often as possible and the strong feelings turned into love.
I proposed to Andy on bended knee in a Dublin park. Being traditional, I had privately asked his parents for their blessing, which they warmly bestowed.
We had a destination wedding in New York City, then flew to the West Coast and spent four days in San Francisco before boarding Grand Princess for a cruise to Alaska. Of course, it was a foregone conclusion that we would spend our honeymoon on a Princess cruise!
Just as I had three years before on Ruby Princess, I made my way to the GLBT meet-and-greet, this time with Andy by my side and no second thoughts stalling my steps.
You could have turned the clocks back as we were greeted by the same kind of situation – a group of people who might have otherwise felt socially apart were chatting and laughing, making plans and forming a core group for the cruise.
We had a beautiful honeymoon, enjoying the adventures of Alaska and the romance and relaxation of the equally beautiful cruise ship. We even got to share a champagne toast with one of the couples in our group, who had taken the occasion of a stop in Victoria to have a wedding ceremony of their own.
Andy and I are spending our newlywed years in England as his career is more established than mine. We’ve kept up with Simon and Dave from the Mediterranean cruise, and have enjoyed visiting their London pub. Our future seems light-filled and limitless.
I think back to how down I felt boarding Ruby Princess in Barcelona, struggling with the death of my father and the anxiety of a failing personal relationship. I could have easily disappeared among the thousands of passengers….except for that gathering. I am forever thankful that I overcame my doubts and entered the Explorers Lounge.
Truly, it is great that Princess Cruises creates a range of gatherings like these that help people connect. Because of these get-togethers, strangers make friends, passengers find cruise companions and a special few, like Andy and me, find our lives transformed as they have been forever “Linked by the Sea.”
Jordan and Andy are planning to keep travel a major part of their lives. In fact, Jordan’s mom, Sandra, has already put a “bug in his ear” about the three of them cruising the Baltic region with Princess Cruises in 2015.