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Celebrity BEYOND transatlantic cruise: final musings

Corporate PR decline request for interview with captain

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Celebrity BEYOND

So there is no misunderstanding about this post: I had a great 14-day cruise on the Celebrity BEYOND. A beautiful ship, with great officers, crew, and entertainers. I am booked on two more Celebrity cruises at this time. The Flora to the Galapagos in February, and the ASCENT transatlantic from Barcelona, next October. I also look forward to booking two more cruises in 2025. I drafted this column a few hours after leaving the ship while sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to D.C. 

We were welcomed to board the beautiful Beyond at the port of Civitavecchia, Italy, at 11 a.m. on Oct. 30. We dropped our luggage off as directed and then went through the metal detectors. Many of our group had reservations in the Retreat and were shown to a separate area to be boarded. After a short wait, when I was told there was an issue, I found out they just wanted to welcome me as a journalist they knew would be cruising with them and blogging from the ship. Then they directed us to the gangway to board. We were told our luggage would be delivered shortly. Turns out, many of us, including those in the Iconic suites, were still waiting for some luggage at 6:00pm. Mildly annoying, just not the welcome you want.  On the other hand, my cabin was ready, and the attendant gave me a great smile, and welcomed me to the ship. I told him I needed hypoallergenic bedding and he had it there, and changed the bedding, within 15 minutes. I am on my own in the cabin and he didn’t have all that much to do for the two weeks, but was always available, and always smiling. 

I was then left to my own devices and headed out to tour the ship. It is beautiful. I have been on other Celebrity ships including the EDGE, and did transatlantic cruises on the APEX the last two years. The BEYOND has some wonderful new additions. The Sunset Bar, designed by Nate Berkus, is beautiful; bigger, with plenty of seating. The retreat lounge has been expanded and changed in some good ways. Over the two weeks I was incredibly impressed with the concierge staff, Dalton was great, and with deck 17. The added space, designed in a great way, was perfect for relaxing, whether you wanted shade, or sun. The little pool was nice, and the bar and restaurant tables still great. Towels and blankets plentiful, with an always attentive crew. The garden deck was great with the plunge pool and the big pool deck was wonderful. The new hot tubs got lots of business.

Celebrity PR knows I write and publish a blog during my cruises, and for the past few years have written columns about Celebrity with the knowledge and help of their PR team. I have produced lots of sales for them, based on my published blogs, and columns. Despite that each year they make it difficult to get interviews with the captain and crew, which have always been well received. In the past though difficult, it was always possible. This year it wasn’t. When I asked to do interviews, I was told it would not be possible with the ridiculous statement, “At this time, we are keeping our stories focused on the product and overall travel experience.” Well, anyone who cruises will tell you the captain, officers, and crew, are what make a huge difference in the ‘overall travel experience.’ On the Beyond they were all around the ship chatting with cruisers, so not allowing an interview seemed really questionable. I know Celebrity is ‘LGBTQ+ friendly,’ I have written about that. I wondered if the fact that I would publish the interviews in the largest LGBTQ paper, among other outlets, was something they didn’t want done even though that would make no sense. Whatever the reason, it made no sense. Celebrity promotes and writes about their captains in press releases, using them as lures for travelers. The first woman captain, the first brothers being co-captains. I have actually written stories about them. But there is nothing like doing an interview and finding out why a captain or officer chose this career, a little more about them as people, and their families, and why they chose Celebrity. It would seem getting those stories out is good for the cruise line. Again, dealing with Celebrity PR is one of the most frustrating things a writer can do.

Dealing with the officers once on the ship is great. I arranged a meeting with Hotel Director Christophe Belaubre, whom I had first met last year when he was Hotel Director on the APEX. He is great at his job and Celebrity is lucky to have him. We met in the retreat lounge and chatted a little about issues like the luggage and some other small issues I brought up. Careful not to do an interview. He seemed appreciative to hear about the issues in a nice way from a cruiser. During the cruise I saw how incredibly helpful he was to my friends, and travel agents, Dustin, and Scott, of My Lux Cruise, who hosted a number of parties in their Iconic suite. In fact, I had first met Christophe on the APEX at one of their parties, just after I had interviewed the Captain of APEX, and invited him to the party. He not only came and enjoyed it; he brought Christophe with him. That is how I knew Christophe was going to be on the Beyond this year.  

Now for a few other issues with Celebrity. Again, none of these issues has stopped me from booking cruises, or getting others to book them, but they are annoying. It seems Celebrity is trying to nickel and dime people once they are on board, and I heard lots of people on board make this complaint. When I mentioned these things to the crew, they told me they are hearing them often. Now this is in addition to their cutting back on other perks like pre-paid tips, and OBC. 

One complaint is the additional cost of some dishes in the main dining rooms. When you book a cruise, you expect, at least the food served in the main dining rooms, to be included. Today you find menu items listed with additional prices as if you were in a restaurant in any city. If there are things Celebrity doesn’t want to serve at the price people paid for the cruise, leave them off the menu. I expect to pay extra, and do, for the specialty restaurants, but not in the main dining room. 

Then even in the specialty restaurants, they are trying to get extra money after you have already paid the extra fee to eat there. One example is in EDEN restaurant. Let me first say, it is the best food I had on the ship, and the Chef, David, is incredible. I first met him when he was the chef in EDEN on the EDGE years ago. The issue here is the left side of the menu, a tasting menu of eight courses. Mind you, the same food as on the regular menu on the right side of the menu. But the tasting menu, if you order it with wine pairing for each course, is a whopping $200. Well, if you have a premium drink package, even if you order special wines and they charge you the extra $3 a drink above the package, three times eight is only $24. Everyone we were sitting near called it the same thing, a rip-off, and offensive. Not a look Celebrity should be going for. Again, we ate at EDEN three times during the cruise as the food is fantastic. Just order from the right side of the menu and you will be very happy. 

I had some issues with the food in the main dining rooms as well. The soups were often not really hot, and the some of the pasta dishes, especially one in Cyprus, had so much of the cream sauce it looked, and tasted, like goop. But here the waiters were great and always willing to bring you something else, and did it with a smile, so by the time you finished dinner you were happy. I have to mention how great Raw on Five is, and I enjoyed the Rooftop restaurant even though it was a little windy the night we went. But you leave happy if you have the deep-dish chocolate chip cooking, with vanilla ice cream melting on it.

Now kudos to Celebrity for the entertainment. The shows in the theater, which is an incredible place, were superb. The cast of the Eden Lounge shows, who also perform in The Club, were just as great. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the acrobat/aerialists from Ukraine, and Slavik and his partner Vlad were a pleasure to watch. All the cast, singers, dancers, and acrobats were great. Interestingly, we wanted to invite them to the parties we had in the Iconic suite but apparently, they are told they can’t go. But on this cruise both Christophe, and Captain Leo, said if the cast directors said OK, they would be fine with entertainers being at the parties. I think it is great to let them mingle. It makes the cruise experience that much better. Captain Leo was at the party and everyone enjoyed meeting him there. Contrary to the PR departments response to me, getting to know him made the ‘travel experience’ for some of the most loyal Celebrity cruisers, that much more enjoyable and memorable. 

Another issue was the lack of enough bartenders in the Eden lounge for what were billed as LGBTQ happy hours. They attracted big crowds each evening, of both LGTBQ and straight guests. It was a happening place each evening at 6 p.m. and could have used more servers at the bar. 

I need to mention the incredible artwork on the Beyond. Each of the Edge series ships has great art. Each of us view art from our own perspective, so not everyone likes everything, but there is enough for everyone to appreciate and it definitely adds to the overall ambiance of the ship. The one piece of art I asked Christophe about was the dark tunnel leading to the Eden lounge. I saw two people walk into the dark mirrored walls, and if you were over 5’9 you could easily hit your head on one of the hard silver balls hanging from the ceiling, if you didn’t duck. Seemed it could have been planned a little better. But again, I guess it’s all in the eyes of the beholder, and in general, in my eyes, the art on the Beyond is quite amazing. 

So, in totality, if you read this, you will see the issues I have are with Celebrity Cruises, corporate. Everyone on ship is great. Always smiling, and always working hard to make each traveler’s cruise as great as it possibly can be. For the 100 or so I travel with, they obviously succeed, as we keep booking again, and again, and our group keeps growing. 

One way among others to join us is by contacting my friends, Scott and Dustin, at My Lux Cruise. It is always a pleasure to see old friends, and make new ones every year. It is especially great to see a first time Celebrity cruiser enjoy their experiences on these beautiful ships.

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Opinions

Democrats must stop the self-immolation

We can win the presidency and Congress if we stick together

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It is both fascinating and depressing, that groups like Our Revolution, which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) began in 2016 to screw Hillary Clinton, are still out there screwing other Democrats. 

They are currently trying to defeat President Biden in the Michigan primary. They couch what they are doing “as trying to influence what President Biden is doing about the Israel/Hamas war.” But, reality is, any headline attacking Joe Biden, is helping Donald Trump, no matter how you try to sugarcoat it. Joe Biden will not make foreign policy based on the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. They have every right to speak out, and Sanders was even willing to hurt our national security by voting against Biden’s bill for aid to Ukraine and Israel, and a number of other allies. The bill even includes humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. Sanders is an embarrassment. But if he doesn’t speak out against ‘Our Revolution’ he is also a hypocrite, as he claims to support Biden. Thankfully, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer did speak out, urging people to vote for Biden in the primary.  

Trying to influence a change in policy is fine, and speaking out for what you believe is great. But if you don’t look at the global perspective, and at all the possible repercussions of your actions and words, you are not very smart. Remember, on the issue of Gaza, if you want to support the Palestinian people, then having Trump in office is far worse than Biden. Trump claims to be best friends with Netanyahu, he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, he will totally abandon Gaza and the Palestinian people. So, if that is what you want in the White House, then attacking Biden so he loses a primary, and then by either voting for a third party, or staying home, for the general election, that is what you will get.

The Democratic Party can learn a lot from Tom Suozzi’s win in a swing district in New York, in the special election to replace expelled former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.). Counter to what some are saying, how he ran the race is important. He managed to turn the immigration issue around against his Republican opponent by tying her to Trump, and the MAGA Republicans who today want to leave the border open. He used the issue of abortion by highlighting his position as a pro-choice candidate, against an opponent who was pro-life. He also told the district he was willing to work with Republicans when necessary to get things done. He told the voters he understood the founding fathers set up a government requiring compromise, not on your principles, but on ways to move forward what you believe in. Yes, he is a moderate, but then so are the vast majority of Americans.  

It is clear we live in difficult times. The issue of Biden’s age is being blown out of proportion, and the media are helping to do that. Every Democrat needs to read, talk about, and share, the recent column from the New York Times, “We’re Thinking About Biden’s Memory and Age in the Wrong Way.” It talks about, and explains, how we all begin to lose memory of certain things starting at the age of 30. How not remembering a name, or a date, doesn’t in any way indicate an inability to think about and work on important and complex issues. 

We also have to understand how far off polls can be, and often are, these days. What we as Democrats need to do to win this election is stick to what we know people respond to. That includes talking about Republicans wanting to restrict a woman’s right to health care, and control of her own body. It means we talk about how Trump wants us to abandon NATO, and has even encouraged Putin to invade our allies. He has no problem with Putin taking as much land as he wants. We need to remind people about how Trump staged a coup, which thankfully failed, and remind voters he will try again if we reelect him. We need to play the tape of him saying he wants to be a dictator, and will use the Department of Justice to get even with his enemies. How electing him will mean the end of our democracy. 

Democrats can win the presidency, and the Congress, if we stick together. Divided we will fail, and Trump will be in the White House. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Opinions

Pinto shepherds ‘Secure D.C.’ crime bill through Council

Republicans in Congress are closely watching measure

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D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Council member Brooke Pinto is shepherding the comprehensive crime bill, Secure D.C., through the Council. This is not easy considering some Council members are always looking to ensure we aren’t too tough on criminals, especially juveniles. In talking with Council member Pinto, she is cognizant, and reminding her fellow council members that the Republican Congress is watching this closely. 

I know Mayor Bowser is concerned about this as well. She submitted a bill, most of which is now included in the comprehensive bill, and wants to see it passed without additional amendments. On Feb. 6, the bill was passed on a first vote by the Council 12-0, with Ward 8 Council member, Trayon White, Sr., not voting. It is in his Ward most of the crime is being committed. Those living there deserve to be protected as much as those who live in Ward 3. 

As the Council now moves toward a second vote, which is needed before the mayor can sign the legislation, the plan is to do that in March. The mayor has asked that it be done sooner and that there are no more amendments weakening the bill. Once it is passed and signed, it will go to Congress for the review period and everyone is aware of what they did to the rewrite of the criminal code. Not only the Congress, but the people of the District, want a strong, tough on crime bill. People are afraid. 

Last year was a tough year for D.C. with crime running rampant in parts of the District. There were 274 homicides, a 20-year high. Carjackings were epidemic. There were 906, more than double the previous year. People are scared. A good friend recently told me it is the first time in years he looks behind himself when walking in Dupont in the evening. There was the recent shooting near the Dupont Metro on Connecticut and Q Street. The police have still not released detailed information on that. It was rumored to be a road rage incident, but the facts aren’t out. Again, people are scared, and that is not how anyone wants to live.

I am not naïve. There are many reasons one can point to for the spike in crime, including juvenile crime. The pandemic had a lot to do with that. There are young people who weren’t in school for two years, many without any supervision. Their parents were the ones out working, making a living, having to leave home to go to work. They didn’t have the option to stay home and work remotely so they could monitor what their kids were doing. Many juveniles committing crimes come from homes where there is food insecurity, and other issues impacting their lives. Clearly, we must deal with those issues if we are to change things in the long term. But the reality is we cannot wait to do that, the Council must act now. We must make those who are thinking of committing a crime understand there will be serious repercussions for what they do. 

The bill the Council is considering makes carjacking a more serious offense, as well as any crime committed with a gun. We also need to deal with the parents, or guardians, of children, like the recent 9- and 13-year-olds, who threatened a woman with a knife. Someone must be held responsible for those kids. Do they need to be removed from the situation they are now in? What is that situation? We need to involve the faith community, as well as all city resources, in this effort. However we do it, we must pass a serious crime bill that will pass muster with both the people of the District, and Congress.  

There are issues about the bill that are still being debated. One relates to drug free zones in which loiterers would be subject to arrest. Then they have removed the section that would have allowed all people arrested to be swabbed for their DNA. One issue being debated is how long one can hold both adults and youth in detention while awaiting trials. The bill would make it a felony to discharge a firearm in public, making permanent something that was put into emergency legislation last summer. 

Again, the bottom line is, for both the mayor and the Council, they must do something about crime. The debate is simply how tough to be on criminals, and what programs need to be funded that will make a difference, and make people safer. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Letter-to-the-Editor

Real Agency for Community Development helps LGBTQ Ugandans who have fled country

Yoweri Museveni signed Anti-Homosexuality Act in May 2023

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Real Agency for Community Development was established by a proactive group of people who have fled persecution due to their sexual orientation in their respective districts of origin (Isingiro, Mbarara and Ntungamo) and now live in the Nakivale refugee camp where they hoped to find greater safety and freedom.

Homosexuality, however, is illegal in Uganda and they face new challenges: Arbitrary arrests, discrimination, corrective rape, kidnapping, robbery, stigma, homophobia, harassment and bullying. RACD has identified more than 123 LGBTQ Ugandans and other refugees living in the Nakivale and Oruchinga refugee camps. The organization provides them with services depending on their unique situations.

The legal and social marginalization experienced by these people results in many violations of LGBTQ persons’ liberty and threats to their safety. 

Since the beginning of this year, we have already seen three people arbitrarily arrested for being LGBTQ. Another two LGBTQ community members were brutally attacked by a gang of 10 homophobic neighbors in Kampala. One of them had his jaw shattered and had to get a surgery to insert a metal to his jaw. HIV prevention drugs and equipment are always a necessary part of the work with LGBTQ people and female sex workers. The general economic situation in Uganda is decreasing rapidly, and LGBTQ persons suffer the most. Many members reported that they pass many days without being able to obtain any food.

Please email [email protected] for more information about RACD. Donations can also be made to RACD through this GoFundMe link.

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