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.
The following day we sailed into Jamaica and the huge party at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville in Ochos Rios. To say the party was off the hook would be an understatement. I don't think I've ever seen so many biker people have so much fun. Let's just say you had to be there to experience the games, waterslide, pool, and general mayhem that ensued. I could have stayed in Jamaica forever; the beauty of the island combined with the ever-smiling Jamaican people and hospitality made me feel right at home. Lots of sun, Red Stripe beer, and reggae-ahh, heaven. Pirate Bingo and the One-Eyed Starin' Contest followed up dinner once back on the ship.
Sadly, Jamaica would be the last day of sunshine as a tropical storm was brewing. Upon arriving in George Town, Grand Cayman, the clouds began rolling in and it rained on and off throughout the day. That didn't deter Dean and Debbie's party at another of Jimmy Buffet's establishments. The day was filled with fun and laughter, contests, dancing, and more partying. I didn't get to see much of Grand Cayman due to the weather but it was another great day spent with rally-goers. After a few days together people were really getting comfortable and more outgoing, especially for HSR virgins like me. Many of the attendees were seasoned veterans of the HSR and different colored wristbands indicated to some degree how many times they'd been before.
On the sixth day of the cruise we landed on the shores of Cozumel, Mexico, and the two largest HSR parties held at Carlos'n Charlie's and, yep you guessed it, another Margaritaville. The weather was on and off rain again, but it was warm and made for a great day of wandering around the old shops in Cozumel. Cozumel was the least resorty of any of the stops and was the perfect place to explore. The city has an old feel with shops of every variety to peruse. The scene at the parties was crazy with bikes riding through the bar and lots of dancing and partying. I almost missed the boat and got stranded in Mexico, but did manage to make it back to the ship thanks to a led-footed taxicab driver.
As the week went on it was easy to tell from the empty seats at dinner that the hectic party schedule was catching up to people. But, that didn't stop many of the revelers that boogied into the night at one of the three major clubs on board the ship. DJs spun the tunes while HSR attendees and the regular ship-goers hung out together. By the end of the week there was quite a bit of intermingling and lots of jealousy. At first I think many of the non-HSR guests were questioning our-less-than-traditional group of cruise passengers. But as the days went by, the non-riders learned what many of us did a long time ago: just how cool and non-threatening us biking types are.
All of the bike-oriented events on-board the ship were for HSR passengers only and it should be pointed out that the HSR is an adult-only event, although there were some children on the ship that weren't a part of our HSR group. Each day the vendor area was open to HSR guests where they could check out and speak with each company. Among the vendors were Diamond Heads, Billet Eyewear, Nolan Helmets, Big Ear Inc., Condor Products, Hardcore Watches, Custom Engraving Ltd., Razor Custom Paint, Küryakyn, Scott Jacobs Fine Art, The Leather Lady, SK Tools, Shop Main Street, Motor Marc Art, Klock Werks, Delkron Manufacturing, EZ-Up Center Stand, and The Easy Strap. Each vendor also donated prizes to be given away during the contests and raffled off. In total the vendors donated almost $120,000 worth of merchandise. That's a lot of prizes. Each of those contests, raffles, and 50-50s also paid out more than $75,000 in good old American cash. A major highlight was the bike giveaway where one lucky HSR passenger got chosen at random to win a brand-new, custom bagger (worth almost $40,000). If you were part of the HSR, you were eligible to win the bike, no raffle, no extra tickets-just a free custom bike. All in all, the total in giveaway money and prizes added up to roughly $232,000. Among the best news was that the dialysis fund made more than $123,000. That money will help future patients take a cruise of a lifetime.
Our last day on the ship was another spent at sea and it was both an exciting time and sad that we'd all be going our separate ways. Many of the people on board were already booking next year's cruise and reserving blocks of adjoining rooms to make the party even better. Lots of the people were first-timers like me and yet we all left with new friends, connections, and plans for next year. It really was that good and unfortunately it had to end. Luckily I have the memories and the hope of getting back to the Caribbean now that I have some idea how it all works. There is just too much to do and see, people to meet, and stories to tell.
The next HSR cruise is set in the Western Caribbean Cruise October 31 to November 7, 2010. Check it out and register fast as the spots fill up early. In addition, Debbie and Dean have organized HSR trips to Alaska and the Mexican Riviera. Check out the extensive website with a ton of valuable information to make your trip as great as possible. Debbie and Dean have done all the hard work, all you need to do is sign up, show up, and live the dream. Hope to see you there.
High Seas Rally