Caribbean High Seas Rally
Imagine a bike rally with no ego, no attitudes, no cops, and more than 1,300 of the most generous riders from around the world. It's not a fantasy; it's the High Seas Rally (HSR) the brainchild of Debbie and Dean Anderson. The pair has been organizing and coordinating biker-themed cruises as a way to keep the party going after much of the country's riding season is over. There are bikes, riders, theme-based contests, raffles, parties, and vendors-just like you'd find at any land-based rally.
This past winter we had the opportunity to join the 7th Annual Western Caribbean HSR that departed from Port Canaveral, Florida. In addition to being one of the greatest vacations a rider could ever have, there is a heartfelt back-story to what and why the Andersons do what they do in the form of the HSR Dialysis Fund. Although the HSR is not a charity event, the big hearts and generosity of attendees benefitted 10 kidney disease patients that require dialysis. Dialysis patients require expensive and time-consuming treatment every two to three days just to stay alive, and the time and equipment-intensive treatment leaves patients with very little opportunity to take a vacation, let alone go on a cruise. Debbie and Dean contracted with a mobile dialysis company (Dialysis at Sea) that performed the necessary life-saving treatment while at sea.
Each night of the rally general funny-man and comedian Roy Riley served as host and comedic relief during most of the organized on-ship activities. There were raffles, vendor giveaways, bingo, and 50-50 giveaways with portions of the money going to the dialysis fund. Rally goers could buy chances to win prizes and cash and it was during many of the giveaways that the best in human nature came out. Most of the people that won cash in the raffles immediately handed the cash back to Debbie and Dean to be put toward the dialysis costs. It was evident that the patients on board were enjoying the time of their lives; for some it was their first vacation and for others it may have been their last. It was clear that all the rally-goers in attendance were into motorcycles but it was the love in their hearts that makes you appreciate this lifestyle we belong to. All in all I didn't really know what to expect before getting to the ship; the Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas (at that time the largest cruise ship in the world, now it's number two). Although the ship holds roughly 3,700 passengers (plus more 1,000 employees), the HSR attendees numbered 1,339. This made for an interesting scene with half the ship wearing biker shirts and the rest wearing more traditional cruise gear. One thing I did know before getting on the ship was that the normally formal dinner attire was waived for our group and instead there were theme nights at the massive dinner hall, such as biker, leather, and pirate wear. It was very relaxed and the unlimited food was very good. Once on the ship, drinks are about the only real expense, and even then the libations weren't overpriced.
After leaving Florida, the ship continued south for a day at sea before the first stop at Labadee. The day at sea was amazingly relaxing and I got to meet so many people that first day. There was an epic belly flop contest, music, and partying. The weather was perfect, the boat beautiful, and the people friendly. Labadee is often referred to as being on the island of Hispaniola, which generally speaking it is, but Labadee is technically in Haiti. Royal Caribbean has spent untold millions to develop Labadee into a resort complete with street vendors, café, bar, live musicians throughout, and both a bay and ocean-facing beach. It was beautiful but I decided to just relax and not get too much sun; after all this was a seven-day adventure. Once back on ship, there was a Treasured Chest contest as well as the Topless Man contest. Good times for sure.