By CHRIS BROOKE
A cruise around the Caribbean aboard one of the world’s largest passenger ships carries connotations of glamour, elegance and sophistication.
Unfortunately for Gail Empson and her family, the 2,500-strong gang of raucous, heavy-drinking, leather-clad bikers and their partners who were sharing their voyage had rather different ideas.
From the moment the bikers stepped on board the Freedom of the Seas ship, which carries 3,600 passengers, the trip to celebrate Mrs Empson’s 50th birthday was a disaster.
The gang, who were on their annual ‘High Seas Rally’, could not have been much further removed from the usual cruise’s sedate complement of families and retired couples.
They monopolised the swimming pool areas on board, holding rowdy competitions such as ‘belly smacker’ diving and a contest in which women judged topless men’s bodies by rubbing baby oil on them while blindfolded.
One passenger complained of bikers wearing sexually explicit T-shirts, fighting, and even having sex in hot tubs, despite there being youngsters on board.
Even on shore stops there was no escape. A visit to the beach in Haiti was spoiled when hundreds of the bikers turned up.
‘They were very loud and sitting so close they could have held my hand,’ said Mrs Empson. ‘I went back to the ship because I couldn’t stand it.’
On another stop the ship was over two hours late leaving port because hundreds of the bikers failed to return on time.
Cruise firm Royal Caribbean had given no warning to other families that the voyage would be mostly taken up by the bikers’ event.
Mrs Empson, a school administrator, and her auditor husband John, 42, from Bristol, went with children Holly, 12, and Austin, 13, as well as four other relatives, including Mrs Empson’s sisters.
The total cost for the group of eight was around £4,000, not including flights. The week-long cruise started from Port Canaveral in Florida at the end of October and included stops at several Caribbean islands.
Initially the sea was choppy, due to the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy, and the family went straight to their cabin. But the next morning they discovered that it wasn’t only the seas that were a little on the rough side.
Mrs Empson said of the bikers: ‘We went to sit around the pool and they quickly took over the whole area. I was very upset and just thought, “Oh my God, this is horrendous”.
They were drinking heavily all day and it was just very inappropriate for children.’ Some areas of the ship were cordoned off for the bikers, who even had their own shows in the evening.
Mrs Empson had been looking forward to dressing formally for ‘fine dining’ in the restaurant and had bought several outfits. But on the first night they walked in to discover all the other diners in jeans, T-shirts and leathers.
One biker said to her: ‘I think you are in the wrong dining room, ma’am.’
‘We didn’t dress up at all after that,’ she recalled.
‘I was absolutely disgusted by the whole thing,’ said Mrs Empson. ‘When we complained about not being warned, we were given some ridiculous excuse blaming it on data protection.
'All they offered us was £150 in credits for a future trip.’
After the Daily Mail contacted Royal Caribbean, it increased its offer to a credit for the full value of the cruise for Mr and Mrs Empson and their children, to be used for a future booking.
A spokesman said: ‘We welcome all groups who choose to sail with us and we are not prejudiced against any guests.
‘On this particular sailing, the majority of customers had a great holiday.’