Cruising Armenian Style

The Armenian Heritage Cruise XII

The Armenian Heritage Cruise XII, sponsored by the Armenian Cultural Association of America, Inc. (ACAA), sailed from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. on Sun., July 11 for a week long cruise.
Neither rain nor sleet nor snow stopped nearly 1,800 Armenians from boarding the Costa Cruise Line’s premiere ship, the Costa Fortuna. For one week, the passengers were immersed in luxury aboard the elegantly decorated Italian cruise ship. The destinations of the cruise included Cozumel, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; Roatan, Honduras; and the Grand Cayman Islands. In the spirit of Armenian and Italian hospitality, this was a cruise to remember. Many of the exciting activities included educational programs, Armenian music, dancing, and movies, and much more.
From the moment everyone boarded, there was an energy that flowed throughout the ship full of sounds, sights, and rhythms. There was a fascinating camaraderie among the Armenians on the ship, who had come from all over the world and represented many countries, such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, France, Lebanon, Mexico, Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland. The United States was well-represented with people from almost every state. Armenians regardless of age or country of residence enjoyed a week of fun in the sun, leaving the hustle and bustle of everyday life on hold for one week. Many people had tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces as they reunited with long lost relatives, friends, and classmates aboard the Armenian Heritage Cruise (AHC).

Each guest received an AHC tricolor tote bag and a card holder as a gift from the ACAA and Travel Group International. The guests were also given a tricolor ACAA Heritage Cruise cabin key card, which granted each guest entry into all the activities for the week. Each morning the daily activities were announced in Italian, French, German, English, and Armenian.

On board were His Eminence Archbishop Souren Kataroyan, the former Prelate of the Armenian Prelacy of Canada; Rev. Fr. Vazken Bekiarian of Ft. Lauderdale; and Rev. Fr. Daniel Kikuyan of Krasnodar, Russia. They conducted the morning church service daily in the ship’s chapel, which was always filled to capacity.

When the stars came out the fun didn’t stop. The evenings were filled with dancing and listening to great music. Three bands performed nightly, each with their own unique flavor of music. The three bands were: Arthur Apkarian and his Armenia Band from Montreal, featuring Paul Zeitounian, Avo Nigoghossian, and Chantal Dupuis; Khoren Mouradian and “D-On-Knowns” with Giro Tavitian and Sergoon Ibrahim; and the All-Star Armenian Traditional Band with Khatchig Jingirian, Mal Barsamian, Jim Kzirian, Antranig Kzirian, and Aram Hovagimian.

Throughout the week, guests sat poolside and enjoyed the tropical weather. Others jogged, played Bingo, listened to lectures, or watched Armenian movies. For those who did not wish to always venture outside of their cabins, the ship provided 24-hour Armenian song and dance programs on two of the television channels. On Sunday evening, there was a reception for all the guests. Introductions and information were presented of the week’s events by hosts George and Shakeh Basmajian. This was followed by a talent show.

In the mornings, there were Armenian conversation classes conducted by Ara and Arevig Caprielian. Margo Kaftajian taught Armenian dance classes. Guests could register for tavlou and belote tournaments under the direction of Antranig Boudakian and George Basmajian. The athletically inclined joined the annual “three on three” basketball tournament under the direction of John Jerikian. There was a table set up for the Armenian Heritage Tour 2009 with Maro Asatoorian, the ACAA liaison; people had the chance to register for a 15-day tour to Armenia from Sept. 1-15, 2009. The Hairenik Bookstore was busy every day, selling traditional Armenian products including CD’s, movies, books, and artifacts.

After dinner on Monday, there was a Singles/Mingles Cocktail Party. So far the AHC has been the catalyst for five marriages and three engagements, and a couple that met two years ago on the cruise may have their wedding reception on the ship next year. Congratulations to all the couples. This Armenian networking is growing each year.
In Cozumel, many of the Armenians went to Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club. Belize, Central America, and Roatan, Honduras were the two next stops for some shopping and swimming. In Belize, guests enjoyed the abundant reef life, great coral formations, crystal clear water, and some of the best snorkeling in the world. That evening, there was an ACAA Gala Cocktail Party sponsored by Travel Group International and the ACAA Armenian Heritage Cruise Committee. Everyone enjoyed complimentary champagne and cocktails. At dinner, the guests dined to a unique Armenian menu with hummus, taboule, boureg, lamb loin chops and chicken kebob, bulgur pilaf, salad, and pakhlava.

In the deep blue waters of the Caribbean lies one of the most inviting places: the beautiful island of Grand Cayman. Many people enjoyed the world-famous, seven-mile long white sandy beach with its azure blue water. Grand Cayman also provided us with many duty-free stores and last-minute souvenirs.

On Friday, Anne Samuelian, the ACAA cruise ambassador, along with her committee organized the Armenian Festival Day pool party. Prizes were awarded for the best Armenian tricolor outfit. This has become an annual event and people came prepared with original-designed outfits. Along with face painting, there was an Armenian dance contest. Much to everyone’s delight, Margo Kaftajian’s dance class performed the “Tamzara,” “Haleh,” and other shourchbars they had learned throughout the week.

Each day there were speakers and programs about relevant Armenian subjects. The Jemaranagan’s Reunion included a tea reception and reunion for all the alumni from the Jemaran in Beirut, Lebanon. Antranig Kasbarian, in a presentation, outlined the significance of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh) and its liberated territories viewed in the context of regional geopolitics and recent negotiations toward a lasting settlement. The Armenian Relief Society (ARS) held a tea reception for all guests and members of the ARS. The Hamazkayin Cultural Association also invited its world members and guests to a tea reception. The Knights and Daughters of Vartan held a reception and presentation for members and friends of the fraternal organization. Nouritza Matossian, a film director and the talented author of the Black Angel, the Life of Arshile Gorky, which inspired Atom Egoyan’s “Ararat,” discussed her upcoming film Hearts of Two Nations, based on private talks with Hrant Dink, the heroic editor of Agos. The Shushi Armenian Dance Ensemble, under the auspices of the St. Vartan Cathedral in New York, and under the direction of choreographer and artistic director Seta Paskalian-Kantardjian, had two spectacular performances featuring famous vocalists from Los Angeles, Hovig Krikorian and Armen Hovanessyan, along with musical director Andranik Mouradian. ANCA-ER executive director Karine Birazian presented a lecture on the negotiations between Armenia and Turkey, and genocide recognition. And finally, the French Armenian Himnadram explained its activities in Armenia and Karabagh.

From all over the world, Armenians came together to experience an action-packed week full with fun on the hye seas, an atmosphere of being Armenian, and a sense of Armenian pride. This was the 12th consecutive year that the AHC has organized the cruise, and each year the guest list gets bigger and bigger. The unprecedented success of this cruise is a result of the Diaspora’s unshakeable belief in our mission “to foster better relationships for the Armenian people.” Proceeds from the cruise are given to the ACAA, a 501 © 3 non-profit organization that primarily assists in Armenian research and cultural events, and provides assistance to Armenian-language newspapers. There is no other event in the world that brings Armenians together for seven full days of fellowship and camaraderie. We look forward to seeing you on our Armenian Heritage Cruise XIII, sailing next year from Jan. 16-23 on a seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise to St. Thomas, San Juan, and Grand Caicos Island on the beautiful Costa Atlantica.

For more information visit or call Travel Group International at (866) 447-0750. Enjoy the experience of a lifetime on the original Armenian cruise.

Barbara Haroutunian

Barbara Haroutunian

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