(RNS) — Cruising is one of my favorite kinds of vacation. Cruising to the Bahamas with women who are interested in Mormon history? That’s basically a dream come true for me. So the same day I learned such a cruise was scheduled to happen in July, I signed up.
I also talked with two of the organizers, historians Laurie Maffly-Kipp and CarrieAnne DeLoach. Both have been part of a multiyear women’s history consultation run by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU. But when the funding for that group ended, they found they still wanted to continue meeting — hence the cruise, which they’re opening up to other women beyond their core group.
The prices are reasonable, starting at $627 for a four-day cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, including a shared inside cabin and meals on the ship.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. – JKR
So, why a cruise?
DeLoach: In academia we’ve traditional ways to fund things — grant applications and institutional support. Those things take a lot of time. They’re also unreliable. I’m an entrepreneur, I own a vintage clothing wholesale distribution company in addition to being a scholar. So as we thought about fundraising I was looking for ways to capitalize that could use our expertise and also provide other women, maybe nonscholars, with the same type of atmosphere and connection and sisterhood that we have.
I am partially disabled because of a military injury. I love cruising. That’s the only kind of family vacation we take, because it’s accessible for me. So I just thought, “I don’t think anybody’s taking just women to learn about Mormon women’s topics in this kind of environment where we don’t have to cook and we don’t have to worry about where we go and we don’t have to worry about where we sleep and we don’t have to clean up after ourselves.” So let’s do it.
Maffly-Kipp: Part of our goal is to be able to talk about Mormon women’s history to people who are not professional academics at all. There is so much to share and so many sort of interesting ways of looking at this that we feel would be a benefit to all kinds of different women, not just keeping it in university settings.
DeLoach: Yes. The speakers are always going to be scholars who are experts in their fields. I just don’t think that there’s another opportunity for everyday Mormon women to have that type of one-on-one access like we’re offering. We’re going to eat meals together and workshop together and go on shore excursions together and hang out together. Hopefully the retreat will create lasting relationships and disseminate knowledge to a more diverse group.
Can you explain what’s included?
DeLoach: The fare includes a $50 fee for our group, which covers three daily workshops and a small swag bag. For a group tour $50 is actually really reasonable — most groups charge a lot more than that. The rest of the fare goes straight to Royal Caribbean. The fare does not include getting yourself to Port Canaveral.
You can pick your own roommate, or we’re happy to put you with someone else in a cabin. Or you can pay the single supplement (which is double the fare) to have a cabin all to yourself. We’ll eat together every night and have icebreakers so people can get to know each other.
What will the workshops be like?
Maffly-Kipp: I’m talking about global Mormon women — the LDS church around the world. Amy Hoyt, one of the other organizers, is talking about sisterhood. And she and I are doing a shore excursion together [at an extra cost].
DeLoach: My talk is going to be on fashion and Mormonism and modesty between the 1920s and the 1960s. And I’ll bring some examples. We run a private archive of about 7,000 pieces of clothing.
Maffly-Kipp: Just to be clear, all of the activities are voluntary. It’s a vacation. So if you don’t want to go to any talks at all, you just want to hang out with interesting women on a boat, you can do that too.
How many people are coming with us?
DeLoach: We have space for up to 80 women. Since it’s our first year, I think Royal Caribbean wasn’t sure there would be enough interest. They were like, “Do you think Mormon women really want to do this?” And I’m like, “I’m positive.”
Maffly-Kipp: My motto for this is prove CarrieAnne right by coming on this cruise, showing that there is an audience for this. There are other kinds of gatherings for Mormon women, like Time Out for Women, which is one day. But this is four days out. This is fabulous. It’s an extended time out.
DeLoach: Our hope is that it’s successful enough that we could do a larger group next time, and also that we can change our destinations. I think there’s a lot of interest in a U.K. experience because we have such a rich history of female missionaries also going to the U.K. There’s some really great itineraries that hit the U.K. and Ireland that I think would be fantastic. We didn’t want to take such a bold and aggressive step our first year, because European airfare is quite expensive. But there’s also fantastic things closer to home, like Mississippi River cruises and Northwest Passage Cruises and Hawaii. I mean, Hawaii, oh my God.
Do you have to be Mormon to come?
Maffly-Kipp: You do not have to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the wonderful things about the initial group that met is that it was made up of some women, like CarrieAnne, who were church members, some like me who had never been church members, and other women who had been in the church but were questioning things. So there will be all manner of approaches.
DeLoach: We’re not endorsed by the church, but I don’t think anything is going to happen there that would upset the church.
And it doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re in — married, single, retired, kids, no kids, college kids, baby kids. I think it’s very hard for women, particularly LDS women, to find time for themselves. And it’s so important to find time for intellectual growth. It makes us better at everything that we’re doing. On this cruise you get to learn and to relax. I’m particularly excited about the food. I love when I don’t have to cook.
Retreats offer a safe space to be both Mormon and real