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Special Cruise Issue

Theme Sails That Will Float Your Boat

February 03, 2002|JAMES GILDEN

As if to prove that good things happen to bad people, Dr. Wilhelm Rolf stood on the deck of the ship, staring out at the sunset. He was savoring this, his first cruise, enjoying the waters of the Caribbean as they lapped at the side of the vessel.

Then there were his adoring fans. He was surrounded by them. It was a sweet feeling.

And it was all because he was evil.

At least his character is. In real life, Will Utay of West Hollywood portrays Dr. Rolf, "your basic evil but misunderstood genius" on NBC's soap "Days of Our Lives." Utay was one of six cast members on a so-called specialty cruise in 1999 who made appearances in exchange for passage on the Princess Lines cruise ship.

If exotic destinations, fancy meals and nightly entertainment aren't enough to get you on board a cruise, you can always hobnob with your favorite soap opera stars. Or you may prefer a voyage with your fellow philatelists (or stamp collectors, as most of us call them). Or perhaps you'd like to solve a murder.

There is a specialty cruise for seemingly every market niche: for gays and lesbians; coin collectors; miniaturists who build dollhouses; and doctors, dentists and chiropractors, who can earn continuing education credits right on board.

There is even a cruise for espionage buffs, with former spies, moles and secret agents from the CIA, FBI and KGB offering daily seminars on the presumably declassified ins and outs of the spook business.

Dozens of such specialty cruises sail every year. Third parties, not the cruise lines, usually organize them and, in turn, market the trips to specialty groups.

Some groups take over entire ships, others a small number of berths.

Don Fenwick, owner and president of CruiseWorks Inc. in Los Angeles, organizes specialty cruises for six organizations a year, who include groups as varied as soap fans to stamp collectors.

"Nothing we do is available to the rest of the ship," Fenwick says.

For the fans of the daily drama, such a cruise promises "autograph sessions, 'Days' mania games, stage shows, intimate gossip sessions and parties with the stars," according to a Web site promoting a 1998 cruise.

Although Dr. Rolf/Utay had to sing for his supper by reenacting scenes from the long-running TV show, he says he didn't mind and that the fans were friendly and fun.

"It was a terrific vacation," Utay says. "Just being on the ocean was wonderful, with the spectacular sunrises and sunsets."

Entertainment for the stamp group is in a different vein, Fenwick says. It includes lectures and discussions on such topics as fakes and forgeries; and how stamps are made. There are also mini courses on stamp collecting and a stamp auction.

Jim McAllister's goals in taking his first all-gay Windjammer Barefoot cruise six years ago were social. McAllister, an Austin, Texas-based sales manager, hoped to meet new people.

"It's an alternative to the big cruise lines," McAllister says of the relaxed, informal sailing ships operated by Windjammer, "especially for a single gay man who wants to meet others in a nonthreatening atmosphere."

Since that first trip, McAllister has been aboard Windjammer's Barefoot cruises twice. The friendships he has forged draw him back.

Plus, he says, "It's one of the best bargains I've ever found."

Here's a sampling of some upcoming specialty cruises. For more information, check cruise lines' Web sites or contact a group or organization with which you are affiliated.

* CruiseWorks has organized a 10-day Panama Canal murder-mystery cruise departing April 15 aboard Princess Cruise Lines' Sun Princess. The trip, which sails from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., features John Lutz, author of the mystery "Single White Female." Prices begin at $1,550 per person. Availability is limited. For information: CruiseWorks, (323) 467-6313.

* A Windjammer West five-night Caribbean gay cruise aboard the 64-passenger sailing ship Yankee Clipper departs June 3 from Grenada, starting at $900 per person, double occupancy. For information: (800) 4WINDJAMMER (494-6352), www.windjammerwest.com.

* For physicians, Continuing Education Inc. offers a seven-night Caribbean cruise with a continuing education program on infectious disease aboard the Maasdam, departing May 19. Course fee is $459; cruise begins at $793 per person, double occupancy. For information: (800) 422-0711, www.continuingeducation.net.

*

James Gilden is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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