Finding Love on the Love Boat in Bermuda

by Denise and Rick Bennette

Rick and Denise sailing in 1972
Rick and Denise sailing in 1972

Although no longer sailing, the original “Love Boat,” Pacific Princess, remains one of our most iconic ships. The popular TV show did much to illustrate how sea air and romance go hand in hand. But we’ve discovered that the cruise ship, originally named Sea Venture, was a setting for romantic tales even in its early years. Rick and Denise tell their story of love lost and found.

Rick:  It was the year between my junior and senior year. I was a skinny kid who had never had a girlfriend. I was on my first cruise vacation, traveling with my mother and little brother.

Denise: My parents took me on cruises since I was 10 years old. The year I graduated from high school, they took me on a cruise to Bermuda. This was the best-looking ship I had seen in a long time. Back then, it was usually an older crowd on board, so I was happy to see a good-looking boy of my age at the table.

Rick: She smiled and introduced herself. I quickly changed my seat to sit next to her. She mentioned there was a movie theater on board. It was the first time in my life that I had ever received positive attention from a girl, so I tentatively asked her to go with me. She was so beautiful. In my opinion, I was just a nerdy looking kid, but she still said yes!

From that night, we spent every moment together. She was different, not so hard-edged, just a genuine and good-hearted person. I couldn’t believe it, but I fell in love.

Denise: We kissed on the deck with the moon glistening on the water; it was the most romantic place to fall in love.

Rick: One night we were side by side leaning on the deck rail admiring the moonlight shimmering off the waves. It was the first time I had enough courage to tell her how I felt. She held my hand and I kissed her for the first time. I will never forget it. I hit the proverbial brick wall. I felt as if I had jumped out of a race car. It was the defining moment of my life.

After that, it seemed like every time we kissed, the Tony Bennett song, “The Shadow of Your Smile” was playing. It became our song.

Denise: As the ship left Bermuda, it hit me. Just as life had become so beautiful, we were headed toward home. I started to cry.  Pulling into New York Harbor a few days later and seeing the Statue of Liberty, I was afraid. I was going back to Long Island and Rick was going home to Connecticut.

We said we would keep in touch, and wrote letters back and forth. But as my mother started to realize how madly in love I was with him, lots of tension started to grow in the house.

Rick: Phones were plugged into the wall outlet in those days. I would take the family phone and stretch the cord as far as I could from the family room in an attempt to get some privacy. We lived 80 miles apart. My mother wasn’t the kind of person who would jump in the car and take me to see Denise.

Denise: Mom started to pressure me. She wanted me to date other guys, told me that I had my whole life ahead of me and not to waste it on the first guy I loved. I would take all my dimes and quarters to the drugstore and call him from there. As the pressure at home became too much, I wrote the “Dear John” letter.

And I never recovered from it. I became withdrawn and couldn’t eat. I lost 20 pounds in just a few months.

Rick: When I turned 18 and had a car of my own, my first drive was to New York. Her grandmother told me she worked for a dentist in Queens. I drove up and down Queens Boulevard looking for her. Another time, I tried to reach her, but her family had moved.

Five years later, I got a letter from her. She was getting married. She didn’t say to whom or when. I had no other details.

Denise: Two weeks before I was getting married, I sent him a letter telling him I was getting married. If that wasn’t a clue about where my heart was? I didn’t tell him any details, because I knew he would be that guy who would have gone to the church and jumped up when the priest asked if anyone dissented to the union.

Rick: My heart slumped inside. I gave up whatever was left of my dreams for her. Shortly after that, I married someone else. It was a good marriage. We had a wonderful son, but during our twenty two years together we became more like roommates than partners. Despite my vow to give up, I never forgot Denise, my first love.

Denise: For the first years of my marriage, I thought about Rick all the time. It felt like I was cheating on my husband so eventually I pushed him out of my mind. We moved to Florida and started a life there.

Rick: Decades went by. I never could forget her. When people started Googling each other, I looked up Denise, but having only her maiden name, I could never find her.

Denise: I had a friend taking an Alaska cruise, so I stopped by her desk at work to wish her a good trip. “Brandy” was playing and it reminded me of Rick. Then it hit me. I’m still in love with this guy from 30 years ago and I always had been. I told my friend and she reminded me how I had given a speech at Toastmasters, “One of These Days is None of These Days.” I Googled Rick and in half an hour I found him.

Rick: I got an email from a governmental office in Florida. All it said was “Did you ever go to Bermuda on the Sea Venture?”

I had just used the Internet for the first time to book a trip. Had someone hacked into my life? Then I thought, wait a minute. Sea Venture? Only one person knows that. Maybe she moved to Florida, maybe she worked for the government. I couldn’t be sure it was actually her, so I wrote back, in story form, about a guy who had fallen in love at sea and lost his heart for the next 30 years.

Denise: When I got that email, the story of a young man who fell in love on the Sea Venture, it took me two hours to read it. Every time I started, I began to cry. It unlocked my heart and all this pent up love began pouring out. I was overwhelmed by the amount of detail he remembered. They were the very same details I never forgot.

Rick: These emotions were almost too much to process. We took our time. A few months later, Denise was coming to New York to see a friend run the marathon. I was still living in Connecticut. We arranged to meet at Grand Central Station. My business was shooting wedding videos, so I hired a videographer and a violinist to play “The Shadow of Your Smile.”

Denise: I went to Grand Central Station. Part of me thought we would peck each other on the cheek, have a nice lunch and that would be it. I heard him call my name, and all these feelings poured out. I ran to him, hysterically crying. We embraced for six and a half minutes, and that’s a fact, as the videographer taped the whole thing. In the middle of Grand Central Station, his violinist was playing our love song from the ship.

Rick: Eventually, I moved to Florida and into a house on the water with Denise. I bought a small boat and named it the Sea Venture. I took her for a ride up the river one sunny afternoon. I played a CD of The Shadow of Your Smile, reached into my pocket and pulled out a little black box. It was on board our little Sea Venture where I proposed to Denise. She said yes!

Denise: Our wedding day was fabulous. It was a perfect day. My mother stood up for me at the wedding. She was shocked when I told her I was marrying Rick, that boy from my youth. It took her a year to get over it, but when she finally saw how happy I was with Rick, she loved him too.

Rick: The funny thing is, before we got back together, I would watch “The Love Boat” television show and think, “Gee, I wish my romance had turned out this way.” It didn’t occur to me while watching that show that the Sea Venture, the ship we’d met on, had become Pacific Princess – the set for the show. I didn’t realize at the time my wish had already come true long before I consciously made it. Now that our romance has become reality, Denise and I are almost giddy with the opportunity to plan our lives around the things that bring us joy – like taking a cruise.

Denise: Earlier this year, we made up for lots of lost time on our own “Love Boat,” Ruby Princess. We sailed among the islands of the Caribbean and basked in every moment. The ship itself was beautiful – expansive and luxurious. But most of all, we were so happy to be at sea again … together this time.

Rick: After 31 years apart, every day is very special to us. Friends say we have a relationship like a love story from a movie; a romance that couldn’t possibly be real in today’s world. I can only say, thank goodness all those years dreaming about Denise finally became a reality.

Denise is an I.T. Manager with Palm Beach County. Rick is a published romance novelist on Amazon. They are planning to go to sea together again, next on a Princess cruise to Alaska.