Your ticket to paradise

Bikeless bikers cruise the Caribbean

Port Canaveral, Fla., Nov. 3–11—Ahoy, Maties! I knew the Hogs on the High Seas trip was gonna be good before I even left Atlanta. We were sitting at the bar near the gate for our flight. A young couple sat down and ordered beer. When they inquired if we would be on the HOHS cruise I asked, “What makes you think that?” Humoring me, the man said, “You have on Harley shirts, you are flying to Orlando, and you are drinking Jack Daniel’s at 10:30 in the morning.” You just can’t fool the kids anymore.

Saturday night before the cruise, the outside bars at the Radisson Hotel in Port Canaveral were crowded, with the music setting the mood for a top-notch biker bon voyage party. Actually this party started about lunchtime. We were scheduled to board the Royal Caribbean ship Mariner of the Seas Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t sure the sonic boom from a space shuttle launch at nearby Cape Canaveral would be a sufficient wake-up call for some when the noon hour approached the next day. Founder Dean Anderson had warned me to pace myself, because Hogs on the High Seas journeys can be hard on the liver and head. If your head is hurting and your liver is quivering you will certainly not enjoy the gentle pitching and yawing the waters of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico offer during the waning days of hurricane season.

The Reader’s Digest version of the origins of this rally is simple. Dean and Debbie Anderson were attending a weekend rally. They experienced an epiphany when they realized that the rally was just like the one the week before and the one before that. They asked themselves how they could do it different and better. Obviously a bit of alcohol must have been involved when the suggestion of a biker rally on the high seas was first broached. The following days of sobriety were used to iron out the details and a cruise line was contacted. After the execs recovered from their collective hyperventilating, they referred the situation to their head of security. The execs told Dean and Debbie if the chief of security approved, they could begin selling berths on one of their ships. Little did the suits know their top cop was a biker.

I have learned through the years to trust my instincts and first impressions. Talking with Dean several times before the trip to work out logistical problems on my end demonstrated to me the dedication to detail that he and Debbie devote to their rally on the water. Seeing them interacting with the partiers on Saturday told me this is a labor of love, even though it involves a lot of hard work. But the real satisfaction is providing a first-class experience for first-time cruisers as well as those with multiple HOHS cruises under their belts. (The most frequent question asked is, “Are you a virgin?” This had nothing to do with scouting for pure damsels to be used as sacrifices at the Mayan ruins of Tulum in Cozumel. It was everyone’s way of determining whether you had been on any of the previous HOHS runs).

The Mariner of the Seas set sail at 5:00 Sunday afternoon, with over 1,700 HOHS revelers aboard. Riders from 49 of the United States and several foreign countries were on board. I met many people from Washington state, the Midwest and Alaska and a bunch of Canucks. It was already snowing in the North Country and they were glad to be in the Caribbean aboard the Mariner.

The security to get on a cruise ship is tighter than Dick’s hatband. Additionally, each time you reboard at the various ports of call, your carry-on purchases and your personal effects have to be scanned. They didn’t have any of those canines with their cold noses sniffing your crotch but they were serious about what you could and could not bring aboard. And don’t forget your Sea Card. It’s not only your ID to gain access to the ship but is also the only form of payment accepted once on board. You can probably stow away more easily on the Space Shuttle than on a cruise ship.

At the welcome gathering the first night out, Dean and Debbie told the newbies what to expect over the next seven days. Again we heard the admonishment to pace ourselves and not try to experience everything available on our maiden voyage. To set the tone for the week the winner of the first night’s 50/50 drawing took home over $3,600. Subsequent nightly 50/50 drawings were over $6,000. HOHS probably has the largest giveaway inventory in the rally business. Well over $300,000 worth of products, services and cash were given to the winners during the cruise. Out of the cash prizes from poker walks and 50/50 drawings, over $17,000 was given back for the dialysis fund, which totaled $182,895. Biker Bingo was very popular. The large payout per game got the attention of young and old alike and the slots in the ship’s casino were very friendly.

Kidney dialysis is the charity of choice for HOHS. These patients have to sit three or more hours, three to four days each week for dialysis to clean their blood of wastes and toxins. There were 15 ralliers on board who required dialysis. Their total medical costs were covered by HOHS and their airfare is also paid. Each one received $400 to spend. Part of the ship’s medical ward was turned into a dialysis clinic for the duration of the trip. Jodi and Craig of Spokane, Washington, were two of the beneficiaries on board. Jodi has been on the transplant list for over two years and statistically she should receive a kidney sometime in the spring of 2008. She has come to terms with the inconvenience associated with her condition but understands the constraints it places on Craig because she cannot normally travel on long trips away from her clinic. Several of the dialysis patients expressed their heartfelt thanks on stage to Dean and Debbie and the bikers for their generosity. The average age on this cruise was 52. One cruiser was a second tripper two years ago as just one of the gang. This year he was a dialysis patient. We are getting older, so take care of your health.

The first night out of Port Canaveral the late movie on the ship television was the classic that set the standard for the biker B movies of the ’60s: “The Wild One” with Brando and Lee Marvin. How appropriate. “The Wild Hogs” was shown numerous nights but unless you spoke Spanish, French, German or Portuguese you might as well hit the bar for a late toddy.

The Mr. HOHS contest took place poolside during the first full day at sea. The pageant runways have no chance of seeing these guys anytime soon, but they were entertaining. Seventy-two-year-old Tony from Liverpool, England, won the pose-off. He is a 24-year veteran of the British Army and after his retirement he owned a pub that was a gathering place for Brits on bikes where, he informed me, they spent a lot of money. Bikers aren’t much different across the pond, I guess.

The first port of call, on the island of Hispaniola, is Royal Caribbean’s private resort Labadee. One of the cruise’s most popular contests took place here, with partiers exchanging T-shirts during a Chinese auction. The way it works is based on systematic selection of the players, each of whom gets to make a one-time selection of any shirt from any other participant until the last player selects. A popular shirt may be taken numerous times before the auction is completed. The property has many bars and a couple of buffet pavilions. Also on Labadee they have five zip lines descending from a tower on the ridgeline above the beach. Close out your tab, grab a buddy and head to the hills.

Our captain was not exactly a character one would expect to see in charge of one of the largest cruise liners in the world. Johnny Faevelen started riding bikes when he was 12 years old in his native Norway. Today he pilots the Mariner of the Seas as easily as he does his bright yellow H-D Road King Custom. And parallel parking the 2003 model year Mariner’s 1,020-foot length, 157-foot beam and 142,000-ton displacement is no easy task, but he can parallel park that sucker on a dime. The responsibility of over 3,000 passengers and 1,200 crew can be overwhelming, but the captain’s serious attitude at work and lighthearted approach to life seems to work. Hearing about his travels on the European continent during his months at home tells the story of his love of motorcycling.

Captain Johnny had the Road King delivered onshore in Labadee so he could ride around the beach area and passengers could have their pictures taken with him. Jealousy is not pretty, but not having been on a bike in almost a week had some contemplating mutiny and confiscating the bike so everyone could have a two-wheeled fix. The Road King is kept in the lower hold area known as Johnny’s Garage, where an H-D Bar & Shield is painted on the wall. Like any biker with limited riding space and time he has been known to ride the bike around the ship. His biography, “The Fisherman Who Became Captain of the World’s Largest Cruise Ship,” was for sale in the ship’s promenade.

The food on the boat is mostly included in the fare but you will have to foot the bill for your personal alcohol habits. Some told me their bar tabs hit two grand during the last cruise. Oenophiles were kept happy with a fine wine list.

After a couple of days (especially if you’re one of the top drinkers) you tend to lose track of time. A daily bulletin delivered to the small but very comfortable staterooms each morning helped cruisers decide what to do by providing a schedule and a brief description of the activities. If you forget what day it is and your eyes won’t focus on the small print, just go to the elevator. Press the call button. When the door opens, look down. Each day the crew puts an insert in the carpet to help you remember what day it is.

If you are in the market for practically any watch made anywhere in the world you can find it in Grand Cayman, the next stop in our Caribbean odyssey. The selection ranges from the cheap plastic Swatch for a few dollars to the high-dollar Rolex and Patek Philippe lines. I even found a limited edition titanium marine chronograph for $26,000. A little duct tape and it could become the timepiece for your bike. Georgetown, the capital city of the Cayman Islands, is also one of the best places in the world for jewelry. Bracelets, rings, necklaces and earrings are available from multiple international sources. The various stores are located next door to each other and the biker crowd is no stranger to bling. If they didn’t sell anything it wasn’t for lack of trying or lack of biker money.

Grand Cayman offers one of the most unusual experiences available to water adventurers. Sting Ray City gives divers the opportunity to pet and feed these creatures of the sea. Their upper body skin is smooth but tough. Their underbelly, where the mouth is located, is soft and supple. They are fed several times a day and love the interaction with the divers and the squid treats they receive. If you scuba dive, the North Wall is just a short distance farther out. For experienced deep divers, the shelf is about 80 feet deep at the wall. Go over the wall and it is almost 6,000 feet straight down.

Despite the island adventures available, someone always has to create his or her own specialized bit of mayhem and demonstrate that the streets of Georgetown are not safe from the biker element. This time it was Kevin Martin from Dragonfly who gave a two-wheeled performance, including wheelies and stoppies, in the alley near the Hard Rock Café on a rented scooter. You can take the biker out of the country, but…

With activities and meals lasting from 6:00 a.m. until after midnight each day, a lot of us were discussing afternoon naps so we could hang with the younger crowd later and experience as much fun as possible.

Cozumel, off the coast of Mexico, is the home of world-infamous Carlos and Charlie’s Bar. The DJs and music at C&Ch are world class and the antics around the bar mimic anything you would imagine at a biker rally and then some. Nudity is discouraged but by lunchtime I was seeing some body parts that should be not be seen in public. (Good thing I ate breakfast early.) We were also introduced to the new Margaritaville in Cozumel. Next year it will probably be the central party location since it is larger than C&Ch, is oceanside and has an outdoor deck. You can wear your swimsuit and splash your little pea-picking flippers till your toes and fingers shrivel up. HOHS has good relations with numerous bars and restaurants, but the success of the rally means that bigger facilities are necessary to accommodate the large contingent of HOHS partiers.

This year tattooists Raz and daughter Brittany were on board to provide ink service to passengers. One such passenger was his Canadian friend Lyle Volden, a.k.a. Whitey, whose back piece reflects the fact he has been on most of the HOHS cruises. During our journey Raz completed a forearm portrait of Lyle’s brother, who passed away several weeks prior to the trip.

My new friend Spike from Ohio turned me on to the great mojitos at the Schooner Bar on board the Mariner. And take my word for it, Smiley makes the best mojitos on the planet and one of the bartenders at Buffet’s place on Grand Cayman makes the best Mudslides in the world. (I forgot her name but by this time I was having a hard time remembering my own.)

The Royal Caribbean made special consideration for bikers as to what was acceptable attire each night. The usual protocol at sea is formal dress at the evening meal. “Biker Attire” was approved for HOHS passengers. Our formal nights had themes such as Leather, Caribbean or Mardi Gras.

The statuesque Dawn Glencer of Carolina Cruiser TV was touring with the HOHS crew and taping the shenanigans for future viewing on her television show and website (carolina Her crew also provided some of the video for the on board telecasts in our staterooms. By the time you read this you should be able to view the HOHS footage online.

The vendor and bike giveaways are not raffles. When you board the ship your name is entered in the drawing. No need to buy or keep up with any tickets. What would you do if you had a free chance to win a top-of-the-line, customized motorcycle? “Show up for the drawing” would be a good answer. The first night the winner was present. The second night the ticket holder was asleep in his room. “Dumb Ass” is the moniker hung like an albatross on those who are not present when their name is called. It is bad enough to miss out on an SK toolkit worth several hundred dollars or a detachable Dragonfly fairing, complete with sound, worth a couple thousand dollars, but when your name is called to win a $60,000 trike built by Gear Gasm and you are not present you become Dumb Ass Number One.

We met DA#1 during the Saturday night finale. He readily accepted his title. But as with most titles, someone is always trying to wrest it from you. The first name drawn for the $45,000 custom bagger from Fat Baggers Inc. was not at the show. Alas, the title was passed, and when that individual awoke the next morning, I’m sure the hangover was compounded with the news from the previous night. It was probably divine intervention that the second name drawn was Tom Dance, who was on standby two weeks before we set sail. His wife is a dialysis nurse. Sometimes life gives you lemonade—or in this case a tropical fruit drink complete with umbrella.

The Hogs on the High Seas is one memorable party (if I could just remember more of it). But I advise that you practice one policy: Always look your fellow HOHS cruisers squarely in the eye. That way maybe you can remember their faces, since you may not recognize them with their clothes on at the airport. Argggggh!


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