(CNN) – Imagine: Miami. February 2020. A time before the year became a litmus test for the human mind.
I planned to go on the journey of my life: a five night cruise that celebrates everything “The Golden Girls”.
If the trip sounds familiar to you, you probably saw headlines when it was announced in 2019. Or you heard about it from an avid fan of the show. Or both.
It was certainly all I could talk about until our booking was confirmed and long after that.
My travel excitement continued because my pitch to write about the cruise was accepted, and I was proud of the article I wrote about it immediately upon my return.
But that’s not that story.
This is the story of a dream vacation on the cusp of a global pandemic.
“The Golden Girls” was a legendary sitcom from the 1980s starring Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty that is still very popular with today’s audiences. Here are some of the show’s best moments.
A fly on the cheesecake
Hundreds gathered on board the cruise ship Celebrity Infinity and awaited a tribute to what brought us all together: “The Golden Girls”.
Most were strangers from diverse backgrounds but were united in celebration of the iconic ’80s TV show.
There was excitement, palm trees, glitter, caftans, wigs and of course cheesecake. And that was just the welcome party.
At that point, the world was pretty familiar with the novel coronavirus. We knew it was a little contagious and the crew emphasized the importance of good hygiene habits.
The ship has a occupancy of 2,170 people and most did not deal with face masks or social distancing. They weren’t yet part of the public vocabulary.
As far as we knew, it was no bigger threat than the flu. It didn’t seem like a big deal to casually ignore what we were all leaving on land.
And if you threw a party …
The Golden Fans at Sea adventure included a formal shoulder pad, performances by The Golden Gays NYC, a costume contest, bingo, trivia, and karaoke at The Rusty Anchor, Blanche’s go-to place for meeting men. Lots and lots of men.The gentlemen behind the drag comedy trio The Golden Gays NYC incorporate live music into their “The Golden Girls”-inspired performances. They sat down with CNN to discuss the iconic TV show, its impact on the LGBTQIA + community, and the art of pulling.The two-week themed cruises were designed by the Minnesota-based travel and events company Flip Phone Events.
The experience began in Miami – where the main characters Rose Nylund, Blanche Devereaux, Dorothy Zbornak, and Sophia Petrillo lived – with stops in Key West, Florida, and Cozumel, Mexico.
The first sail mixed 600 show fans among other cruise passengers; the second trip with almost 1,000.
Chad Kampe, owner of Flip Phone Events, told CNN Travel that when the cruise was first announced, around 100 people were expected to register. It didn’t take long for her waiting list to fill up with 9,000 hopeful travelers.
Plans for another cruise were already in the works for 2021, but Covid-19 took things in a different direction.
The party may not continue next year, but Kampe expects interest in the 2022 experience will be just as great. Fans will set sail on Celebrity’s new Apex ship.
Invited everyone you know
Stan Zimmerman, one of the writers from the first season, judged the dazzling costume contests and enjoyed mingling with fans after the events.
“It’s a sad thing the ladies couldn’t be here to appreciate this,” Zimmerman told CNN Travel. “I could imagine Bea Arthur getting her martini and throwing out ‘Bosom Buddies’. I could see Estelle sitting here with a table full of 20 gay men and feeling at home. She would have been adorable in a brightly colored caftan.”
In hindsight, it’s probably for the best that Betty White hasn’t been able to join the shoulder pad-clad night owls this year. As such a beloved icon, the White representative had to reassure concerned fans that spring that she was as healthy as ever.Author Jim Colucci led a challenging quiz game and signed autographs for his book “Golden Girls Forever”.
Melinda McClanahan, the younger sister of Rue McClanahan, met the late actor’s avid fans and took part in a panel discussion with Zimmerman and Colucci on the show’s legacy.
McClanahan also took her family and close friends on the second trip to celebrate a milestone.
“I was invited to come on the ship and I said I turned 80 this year! I would like to have a birthday party with my family.”
The funny and talented gentlemen of the drag trio The Golden Gays NYC interacted with the audience during their music productions. At the moment they have to bring their talents to the virtual stage until the theaters reopen.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” candidate Tempest DuJour, “The Daily Show” Frank DeCaro and entertainer Tygra Slarii attend other events that welcome the show.
thank you for being my friend
The fond memories of this last trip abroad helped me assert myself amid the stress of our new way of life. At a time when everything is changing, the girls still make people laugh.
Fans know the timelessness of the show and reliable comfort is nothing new.
Zimmerman said it was very rewarding to see how it touches so many generations year after year.
Stan Zimmerman, a screenwriter from the first season of “The Golden Girls,” sat down with CNN to talk about working on the show, how he started writing for the 1980s sitcom, and what the show did with younger people Keeps viewers alive.
The love of the show is always there, but the beauty lies in how each viewer is connected to it.
Many remembered spending their Saturday nights with close family members or friends. Others made friends later in life, much like the show that began by sharing an interest in the girls.
“You see yourself in this surrogate family,” said Colucci. “These women of a certain age found their tribe and years later we do this here.”
The sitcom redefined what family could mean, and some members of the LGBTQ + community found that bond deeply relatable.
Patrick Holt, who performs as Tempest DuJour, said he was deeply closed while attending Brigham Young University in the early 1990s and found hope to see the aftermath.
“In a strange way, it kept me sane to know that there was a world where I was not considered a sinner or mentally ill because of my sexuality.”
Robin Goldberg, a social worker at the New York Hospice, was diagnosed three years ago with metastatic breast cancer that spreads to the liver and spine. For her, the girls bring her peace as she embarks on her difficult journey.
An opportunity to reconnect, a reason to celebrate, a moment of peace – these “golden” voyages lived long after the cruise both on board and ashore.
The fans demonstrated the spirit of the show in terms of family and warmth, a final gesture of humanity that I fondly think of in our shared reality.
Of the fans I had the pleasure of sailing with, Dorothy Zbornak said the best: “You are angels. All of you.”