What’s a Drag Cruise anyway?
So for those that don’t know, there’s a show called RuPaul’s Drag Race; reality TV in as much as a group of people compete in challenges and one is eliminated each episode, but the people competing are all drag queens so the tropes don’t do it justice. They are all performers, entertainers, lip-syncers and make-up artists as a baseline, and usually some combination of actors, seamstresses, singers, comedians and rappers on top of that.
The Drag Stars At Sea cruise featured 18ish of the more successful queens from the show – including 3 out of the 5 winners. On top of being on a cruise ship stopping at a different port more mornings that not, there were also shows from the queens, the same people that fans have been watching (and stealing catchphrases from) for years. We also partied with them at night and waved at them on the stairs or at the buffet. It was surreal.
I’ve taken ages to write this because every time I try to wrap my head around it all it blows my mind. I’m familiar with the idea of drag personas being separate and distinct but I’ve never seen it so up close and in so many, it was like being on a boat with a troop of performers working through their schizophrenia. Some are the same in drag and out, some are polar opposites, some more outgoing, some paradoxically less so, it was fascinating.
On the first night alone we (ok, mostly my chattier partner Dom) had pretty long conversations with Darienne, Alaska, Mariah, and Sharon. Every night out there were some absurd moments on the deck, like Dom sitting between Alaska and Detox, holding court and telling everyone how I threw him in the fire that one time…
Basically the queens were split into “Super Lovely”, and “Didn’t really speak to”. Darienne and Mariah were deserve a special mention though; just shockingly nice – legit some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met and full of banter for everyone. Shangela, Detox, Adore, and Manilla are awesome party girls. Sharon was hilarious but prickly at times. Didn’t so much talk to Latrice, or Bianca, and only chatted to Pandora while probablytoodrunk but again with the Super Lovely. Alaska’s basically my fave and her understanding smile warmed my cockles.
This trip was going to be epic. It’s easily the most money I’ve spent on anything, so I doubled down and got a posh hair & beard trim on the day before, booked a pre-flight hotel and a business class flight. (It was my birthday! #treatyoself.) Business class lounge etc was lovely. (Overlooking the fact my laptop was dusted down for drugs twice and I had to fill in a bunch of forms #racialprofiling.) Breakfast on the flight was just like the awesome airline meals I remember as a kid, but with more champagne.
Venice was ridiculous. Pretty, pizza, prosecco, and much paddling. High tide meant we had to wear waterproof over-boots, but it was all super-lovely, as was the hotel. Getting to the ship was epic stressy as I didn’t work out exactly how that was going to happen, but I needn’t have worried.
Once on and settled into our room we bumped into old friends Chris and Gareth and caught up, and at one point we turned around and there were half a dozen ru girls out of drag chatting with their various people, but that proved to be par for the course.
That first night was the masquerade ball, but I was still feeling shy so only took my pocket camera. It was hellishly packed as the muggles took up a lot of room, sitting and watching the pomp of queens in full drag and dozens of fans in various states of glitter and masks. Things got better once they went to bed though, unlimited drinks did flow, and we got enough space to dance, so we did.
Next morning we awoke to sunny views of Dubrovnik. Apparently the ship travels at night then stops outside the destination and waits until morning for a dramatic arrival. The hungover logistics to visit the old city was an effort but it was well worth it: Lovely time, lovely place, great weather, great company.
That night was a “Michelle and Friends cabaret show” with actual singing. Michelle compèred and did Sondheim, Jinx and Alaska were obviously amazing but Willam was excellent too (her shtick is pretty busted but she is so not). Bendelacreme did a great comedy act and Sharon was good too, though the highlight was her falling flat on her ass. After that it was more drinks at the Viking lounge, though less crowds and costumes than one of the official parties.
Next day was a “relaxing day at sea” which was just as well because I had slept terribly. I went to find friends for sanctuary and sympathy so sat at a table with Gareth and Chris, but I was so tired I didn’t realise that Jinx and Sharon were there too crowing about something awful so I actually had to leave. The day was spent in recuperation. I should have investigated the spa but the whole concept is alien to me so I never went in the whole time I was there. That evening was a Shangela show which was hilare and flawless (srsly she killed it), followed by a more traditional lip-synchy drag show.
We failed to get places on the Ephesus tour so bummed around the ship the next morning as the port town of Kuşadası looked uninviting. Soon enough it was time to prepare for the White Party, Kieron, Dom and Robin got ready in our room and so bolstered by three drag queens on my arm I finally took my camera and flash out and it was pretty awesome. It was the first time we saw Bianca resplendent in drag, Detox looked absurdly amazing in orange, and Adore pulled some amazing lip-syncing hairography to Super Base that I was thinking about for weeks. I didn’t get nearly enough good pix given all the material that was around but I was still quite hesitant with it.
Next day we found ourselves in Santorini, so we hopped on a boat to shore, a cable car to the top of the village, and went for a relaxed wander. We headed back for lunch and a carb nap but I was crashing bad, beginning to feel the effects of unlimited cocktails and buffet. Dom brought me little bottle after little bottle of water from the bars because it was so hard to stay hydrated there. I’d recovered enough for more shows though: from Jinx (& Major Scales) and Pandora Boxx where they struggled to stay upright during the only real rocking the boat did. Manila came and sat on the arm of my chair and asked how we all were and we got talking to Bendela about tipping and such; so surreal. It was an early night for me though. (Which is to say about 3? The clocks seemed to keep changing so it was difficult to keep track.)
Another morning, another destination, this time Katakolon Greece. We gathered in the ship’s theatre before heading off to the buses that took us to Olympia, birthplace of the Olympics. The museum there was pretty cool, the ruins were mostly a series of low walls, but the real star was the torrential rain that trapped us in the museum, creating waterfalls and ponds all around us. After a quick browse in the local town (fridge magnets yay) we hopped back on the bus satisfied with a job well done, though we’d missed the Olympic field that was probably the main point.
Again we arrived back in time for lunch and slept between lunch and dinner. (There was only enough time for 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night so we had to get creative) and after dinner another round of dragging up for the Black Party! This time I was feeling a bit more comfortable and less worried about being obnoxious with the camera, so between that and Dom introducing everyone to Petron, I don’t remember too much but did take plenty of photos for once.
The last day was mostly hangover. A bit of on-board shopping, watching some kareoke, having a final dinner, then to the main event; the big drag show on the big stage with real lights! It was so much better with some real space and proper lights, and everybody killed it with Shangela & Latrice as stand-out slayers. Later when I went to bed Dom gave my drinks pass to Manilla. True story.
On the 8th day we travelled. We had to be up at 4:30am to be the first off the ship, the clocks changed twice, we waited in a stairwell with all the queens, and Dom reeked of booze and garlic. It felt a lot like the tribulations of getting home after a music festival; exhausted but with grim determination, except the trip was longer and there was entirely less mud.
We got the select drinks package for about a couple of hours of bad wine before upgrading to the premium, similarly we went to the main hall for a bland and glacially-slow dinner before we started patronising the buffet. We paid for wifi and maybe shouldn’t have. We didn’t pay for water bottles and maybe should have. We had to get our keycards replaced twice. And I should have taken the big camera everywhere.
I wasn’t sure at first if we’d repeat the experience, as I don’t think we were sold on cruises in general, but as the next one is leaving from England it’d be rude not to wouldn’t it? So we’re doing it again in October, but with different destinations and a much bigger ship.