Steampunk Cruise Interview with S.L. Chernik

How Did You Find Out About the Steampunk Cruise?


I follow a lot of steampunk related pages on Facebook and a mention of it popped up on my newsfeed one day.  I soon realized they had their own Facebook page, which I liked to get more information.

What Prompted your Interest in a Steampunk Theme Cruise?


While I had never been on a large cruise boat, I had attended Animethon, Edmonton Expo and Pure Speculation and knew I enjoyed conventions.  I am a costumer and cosplayer so the idea of a seven day costuming event rather than a three day one sounded like a lot of fun and a great challenge.  On the Steampunk side I had a lot of fun at all the Steampunk events I have had the opportunity to be part of as a member of the Official Edmonton Steampunk Group.  I really enjoy the both community of people Steampunk draws as well as the ingenuity and detail people are inspired to put into their costumes!

I loved the idea of the combination of a convention, Steampunk and a cruise.  If the convention portion turned out not to my liking, I would have the regular cruise activities to explore, or vice versa, but if the convention and the cruise both turned out to be enjoyable I would get to experience double the fun!  Plus (in 2013) the cruise was going to several places I had never been – New Orleans, Jamaica and Grand Cayman! (I had previously been to Mexico, which was the third port that year).

Is it Expensive?


Not if you take advantage of early bird pricing.  The early bird prices for the 2015 cruise range from $769 US per person (before tax) based on shared occupancy for the cheapest cabin option to $1239 US (before tax) for the most expensive.  You spend very, very little time in the cabin except for costume changes/ prep and sleep so you don’t need the fancier options.  The price includes three meals a day everyday of really good food, and all the water, tea, coffee, and juice you can drink.  Pop and Alcohol cost extra, but if you drink six or more of these type of drinks per day there are packages you can get that help with the cost, as well as wine packages for the wine connoisseurs.  Starbucks is on board but the fancier coffee options cost extra so be prepared!  Paying for the trip can be done in installments and right now if you mention the NY times Steampunk Cruise article you can reserve your spot for $100.  Pricing it out, each year the cruise has cost less than staying for seven days and buying three meals a day in most hotels in my own city!

The cruise organizers have also managed to get group rate pricing on the hotel in which the pre-party is held for those who manage to make it to the departure destination early and those who stay a day or two after the cruise which helps on cost.  The airfare each passenger’s own responsibility but I have had good luck with travel points and seat sales.

Remember to bring extra to tip anyone who helps you with your luggage (porters, cabbies, etc.) since it tends to be heavy and bulky if you are into costuming (one family brought a full steamer trunk and nine hatboxes in 2013!) In general I have found tipping and the expectation of tips to be much higher in the USA than in Canada, I think it is because of the difference in minimum wages.

If you are traveling by plane watch out for the extra luggage fees and weight allowances.  Some airlines will bump your luggage up to freight weight if the suitcase surpasses the weight allowance, even by 1 lb, which can be an extra $200! (In 2013 we were warned about this by a very helpful porter in the airport.) Other airlines will charge you $25 for the first or second suitcase then bump it up to $100 for a third!

What are the Steampunk Cruise Activities?


These include workshops and readings with two guest authors, G.D. Falksen and Mary Robinette Kowal, private performances from musicians (in 2013 members of This Way to the Egress and Abbney Park, in 2014 members from This Way to the Egress and in 2015 it will be Death of the Cog!).  In 2014 and 2015 Tasha Dee performed as a Clockwork Ballerina, Absinthe Fairy and Mermaid.  For 2015 I am proud to announce I have been invited to be the part of the entertainment as the dancer.  I specialize in folkloric Middle Eastern dance (similar to what would have been seen at the 1851 London’s World Fair and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair) as well as Steampunk and Electro-swing fusion style belly dance.

One of the nicest thing about the cruise is the Entertainers/ Convention Guests are part of everything – so you don’t just get to meet them for an hour or two like you would at a Convention/ Expo, you hang out with them for the whole cruise, and get the chance to make friends with them (and pull them into impromptu photo shoots!) While not a scheduled activity the late night conversation amongst participants has been amazing and one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip.

Each year the itinerary has changed but there have always been contests of some sort (e.g. bathing suit, mad scientist monologue, improvisational story-telling) and dances, including a formal masquerade.  I have heard that rather than a bathing suit competition next year might include a mermaid/ merman costume competition.  In 2014 a Steampunk Hot Tub party was invented on the spot, with participants jumping in their Victorian bathing suits and top hats.  2014 also included a costume swap, regency sewing lessons and an excellent in-depth lecture/ show and tell on the art of straight razor shaving.

Is Seasickness an Issue?


Not that I’ve seen.  I was worried about this before I went on the first cruise but the ship is so big that the motion of the ocean is really minimized.  On the second year there was a little rougher weather and you could kind of feel the sway of the boat at the bow and the stern (the very front and the very back) of the boat but amidships it was barely noticeable.

How is the Cruise for Special Dietary Needs or Accommodating Physical Disabilities?


The cruise line (Royal Caribbean) is really good about working with special dietary concerns (allergies, food preferences) so long as you inform the kitchens in advance (or at least at the beginning of the meal).  The ship has fantastic rooms for those who need physical accommodation – wheelchair accessible showers, etc.  My roommate the first year uses a cane and was very impressed by the provisions; in the second year we had a couple of wheelchair users who had no problems aboard ship.  Excursions can be a little tricky, especially to historic sites that may not have been built to be wheelchair accessible, so you may need to do additional research before signing up for an excursion.

What are Excursions?


At each port passengers have the choice to either stay aboard ship, to disembark and explore on their own or to sign up for excursions offered by the ship or the steampunk supplement of the trip.  The portion of most ports by the cruise ship docks tend to be a bit of a tourist trap so watch out for this if you go on your own, plus you must be back by departure time since the ship will leave without you!  Excursions range in price and activity level from very cheap and suitable for all fitness/ ability levels to very expensive and/or physically strenuous.

Steampunk Cruisers can and often do choose to go on excursion in full steampunk gear – the parasols and fans are wonderful to have with you in the Caribbean heat! (Other Cruise passengers were asking where we bought them, as they all wanted them!)  Most people smile when they see our colourful group and we even stopped traffic in Nassau.  It is particularly fun to wear the gear on theme appropriate events, like on a pirate ship in the Grand Cayman or at a Jamaican High Tea.  If you do go in Steampunk gear be prepared to have people ask to take your picture.

In 2013 the Cruise departed from New Orleans and went to Mexico, Grand Cayman and Jamaica.  In 2014 it departed from New Jersey and went to Florida and the Bahamas.  In 2015 Cruise will be an 8 night adventure with four port stops and three days at sea.  It leaves from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and is sailing to St Maarten, St. Kitts, Puerto Rico and Labadee.  It will take place from April 25-May 3.

Do All Participants Dress Up All the Time?


It is very much a matter of individual choice since no one pressures you to dress up if you don’t want to.  Steampunk Cruise participants ranged from those completely new to the steampunk scene (often spouses or roommates of steampunk’s who came along for the fun) to those who embrace steampunk as a lifestyle or make their living as steampunk artisans or costumers.  Almost everyone dressed up every night for supper, but those who wanted to really take advantageous of the costuming/ cosplaying opportunities ended up changing costumes two to three times a day – one outfit for excursion, one for steampunk cruise events and possibly one more for supper.

Costumes ranged from very simple to very elaborate, especially during the bathing suit competition, the Masked Ball and the Captain’s Formal Night.  Everyone was very positive towards any costuming effort – it was all about having fun and any attempt at steampunk costuming was clearly appreciated.  It was amazing to see the generosity of fellow steampunk passengers regarding clothing – so long as items were respected and returned in good condition it wasn’t unusual to see participants lend each other clothing to take outfits to a higher level of awesomeness.  Since none of us had lady’s maids or gentlemen’s valet’s people offered assistance to each other when it came to hair, makeup and lacing up corsets and tying ties.  Some made use of the shipboard spa (which did offer a traditional gentleman’s hot shave in addition to professional hairstyling services).

Steampunk styles on the cruise have ranged from the heavily mechanical based (very punk) to the heavily Victorian based (very steam) to everything in between (warning: heavily punk wardrobes take longer to get back from security when you board and absolutely no weapons are allowed on board! Even costume ones!).  Eras of inspiration for steampunk costuming mostly stretch from the Regency through the Victorian and Edwardian periods to the early 1920’s, but there have also been a few post-apocalyptic examples of costuming.  Everyone brings their own creative flavour to their attire.

Personally I really enjoy multi-cultural influences so I focused on this as my main costuming inspiration in 2014. (Keep in mind that steampunk includes the entire world, not just London, England, and some of the multicultural inspired outfits suit Caribbean climates particularly well!).  Check out my Pinterest page Multicultural Steampunk Adventures, for specific examples or the following Facebook pages: S.L. Chernik, Melissa Wartenberg, Steampunk Cruise, Steampunk Cruise on Flkr or the New York Times Steampunk Cruise article for examples of the types of costumes worn on the cruise.

While very few of the Steampunk Cruise participant costumes have been directly inspired by specific characters/ historical figures (aside from Queen Victoria and Dr. Horrible), in 2014 Melissa Wartenberg and I were the first to cosplay as Babette and Ekaterine from G.D. Falksen’s The Ouroboros Cycle, the first book in the series that has inspired next year’s SassCon!

Melisa Wartenberg (recipient of the Steampunk Cruise Best Dressed Lady Award in 2014 and the owner of Attic Raiders and In the Attic) and I (recipient of the Steampunk Cruise Best Dressed Lady in 2013) have teamed up to write an extensive advice article on costuming for the Steampunk Cruise for those who want more detail, so keep an eye out for it!  The article deals with all the challenges involved, from fabric choice, to packing dilemmas and how to stretch your wardrobe over multiple days but still create epic looks for each event.

Does Everyone on the Ship Participate?


So far Steampunk Cruise participants have only made up a small (but growing!) percentage of the passengers on the ships.  It is very common for the regular passengers to ask if we are part of the shipboard entertainment! (Followed by the question, “What is Steampunk?”)

Both years many regular passengers have come up to members of the steampunk group over the course of the cruise and thanked us for being on board, telling us that our presence greatly enhanced their trip.  It was fun for them to see us throughout through cruise in our steampunk outfits, having a good time and doing what we enjoyed rather than worrying about what “other people” would think.  Many of the seniors, in particular, stopped to thank us, telling us that our outfits reminded them of either dressing up in their youth or watching their parents “dress” for a fancy night out.

Each year the crew of the ship seems to particularly enjoy having us on board and members have gone out of their way to ensure we have a good time.  The room attendants have been particularly awesome!

Would You Go Back?


In a heartbeat.  I attended the Second Annual Steampunk Cruise in 2014 and will be part of the Third Annual Cruise in 2015.  Each year the route and the steampunk programming is different, so there is always something new to look forward to, as well as the fun of meeting up with friends met on the previous trip!

Sum up the Experience If You Can


A week of fun, sun, costuming, modeling, learning and hanging out with the most awesomely eccentric group of adults drawn from across North America and Europe it has ever been my pleasure to meet.

How Do You Book?


Contact lisa@steampunkcruise.com, call (855) 783-2600, or steampunkcruise.com

~Sarah Chernik

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