msWesterdamI am in the middle of the ocean surrounded by approximately 1900 lesbians and life is good.

I’m aboard the Holland America MS Westerdam on the Olivia Leadership and Equality Cruise. It’s my third cruise with Olivia. But this one is particularly special.
Onboard are civil rights pioneer Edie Windsor; Florida Congresswoman and Chair of the Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman-Schultz; Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights Kate Kendall; award-winning musicians Indigo Girls; actress Meredith Baxter; comedians Gina Yashere, Karen Williams, and Vickie Shaw.
It seems only appropriate that my first Around the Block blog would be from aboard an Olivia Cruise and this one promises to be particularly stellar. You see I buried the lead a bit here. The keynote for this summit is Dr Maya Angelou. But more on that in a minute.
The cruise officially began on February 1. But as I have learned from past trips, it’s best to fly in a day early in case there are any weather or other travel issues. The ship waits for no woman. We spent the night at the Ft. Lauderdale Harbor Beach Marriott, which is a gorgeous property. Our room overlooked the ocean and boasted a balcony whose day views were rivalled only by the views that came up as night fell.
Nothing beats the sight of a bright moon rising over the ocean while light-filled palm palms trees sway to the rhythm of the evening breeze. And the scenery is not the only thing to get excited about at the property. The resort is also home to two notable eateries, 3030 Ocean and Sea Level. All I can say is don’t miss the octopus at the former and the crab cake sandwich at the latter.
Embarkation for the cruise started at 11:30 AM. We had wine shopping to do for the week. So we ventured to the boat at about 1:35 PM. We were in our cabin by 2:05 PM. I have to hand it to Olivia. When it comes to organization and efficiency, Olivia is so far ahead of the curve that other travel companies would be wise to take notice.
After unpacking, we decided to tour the ship. We have a rule on these cruises – no elevators. (It helps offset the 24-hour eating at least a little!) So there are lots of stairs in our future seeing as the theatre is on deck one and the pool is on deck nine.
But the gorgeously appointed rooms and public areas make it hard to complain about a few flights of stairs. MS Westerdam is one gorgeous girl.
At long last, we made our way to the pool for the Welcome Aboard party and introductions before changing for dinner and the evening’s big event, a keynote speech from Dr Angelou. Regrettably, Dr Angelou wasn’t able to come in person as planned due to her health. Three cheers for technology are in order though since she was able to come to us live via satellite instead.
Dr Angelou was brilliant and warm and encouraging, calling us rainbows in the clouds. She sang and read poetry and spoke warmly of her son and fellow writers. It was beautiful and touching and difficult too, her voice halting at times, her language sometimes confused. Her virtual visit was short but an inspiring thrill nonetheless.
After her appearance, it was time for dinner. We were excited to make friends while in the short queue for the table and ended up joining the five funny and brilliant women who were but mere strangers just a few moments before.
That’s the thing about Olivia, there are really no strangers on board.
Dinner was followed by the Sail Away party under the stars where we danced until our bodies refused to cooperate one minute longer. Then it was off to our cabin for a well-deserved night’s rest. Tomorrow will no doubt be another very big day.