Most cruise lines consider all guests to be equal on their voyages and mainstream sailing with mixed passengers is always an option for gay travelers. However, for those who seek an environment where other guests share similar interests, there are plenty of charter boats and large ship group bookings available. Like any vacation at sea, gay cruises offer choices for romance, excursions, relaxation or adventure, as well as a wide range of social or organized activities.
Booking a Gay Cruise
Whether you're looking for a gay-exclusive charter or a group booking on a gay-friendly ship, there is no shortage of experienced tour operators and specialty travel agents to help with your booking.
With 30 years in the business of organizing gay cruises, RSVP Vacations touts inclusiveness, welcoming travelers from all demographics. Pioneers of gay singles' dinners and theme parties on board ship, RSVP itineraries always include inspirational speakers and movie screenings. They're also known for world class, gay-positive entertainment, cabaret acts and esteemed guests.
The Caribbean (MSC Cruises) and Amsterdam (Holland America) top their list in RSVP big ship cruise destinations, but RSVP also offers intimate itineraries like ultra-luxe European river cruises (Avalon Waterways).
When it comes to cruising, single supplement fees can be prohibitive on for anyone, but the RSVPs Roommate Share Program offers solo gay travelers the opportunity to cruise within budget. The company maintains a 'singles' traveler database and can match roommates based on personal preferences at no additional cost.
Passport magazine says "Atlantis gay-cruises are famous for their party vibe and impressive crowds," and owner Rick Campbell probably wouldn't disagree. Stocked with professional party planners, travel experts and customer service specialists, Atlantis charters only the newest, state-of-the-art ships from the fleets of leading cruise lines such as Celebrity, Azamara, and Holland America. Offering creative itineraries and bucket-list destinations, gay Yelpers agree that the extra cost of an Atlantis cruise is well worth it.
Concierge Travel is a boutique, gay-owned travel agency and tour operator that customizes vacation experiences for LGBT guests on its own exclusive small ship cruises and land tours. This company creates once-in-a-lifetime sailings for gay travelers to exotic locations such as Costa Rica, South Africa and Machu Picchu, Peru. Another Concierge hallmark is their proactive sense of building 'community,' and they are frequently found publicly supporting gay and lesbian rights issues and regularly 'giving back' to important LGBT organizations.
Along with RSVP and Atlantis, which cater primarily to gay men, Olivia as a premier provider of quality lesbian cruises. Booking entire ships with hundreds to thousands of women who wish to cruise in a private, open setting, Olivia's entertainment roster includes such headliners as Lily Tomlin, Sweet Baby J'ai, and Wayne Dyer. Acording to travel blogger Diane Anderson-Minshall, Olivia cruises offer much more than a vacation getaway. She describes them as "sort of cultural touchstone" for lesbians, saying that they have "the best elements of a protest, a women's studies seminar, and a wild party. It's as if we've marched on Washington but brought along performers, DJs, and swimsuits."
Gay-Friendly Cruise Lines
Gaysailaway.com says, "A truly gay-friendly cruise line markets directly to our community through targeted advertisements, offers all-gay sailings, understands our needs ... (and) makes our journeys safe and comfortable."
Specialized Group Packages
There are plenty of gay-friendly cruise lines offering group packages and specialized itineraries. There is a great selection of gay-friendly cruise lines, each offering a slightly unique onboard experience. Three such cruise lines include:
Favored by frequent cruisers, Meetmeonboard.com reviews tout Crystal Cruises as a top pick for gay travelers seeking a luxurious cruise. In addition to top class luxury accommodations and amenities, the impeccable service on board means every passenger feels special.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL)
LGBT Rights and same-sex marriages are gaining momentum everywhere, and NCL has taken leadership in creating onboard opportunities for gay marriages, vow renewal, commitment ceremonies and wedding receptions. With The Learning Channels' Cake Boss onboard, wedding cakes are also a cinch! NCL also received a 2013 Cruizie Award for Best Onboard LGBT Gatherings.
Cruise Lines with Gay-Only Activities
Even without a special itinerary, many cruise lines offer gay guests meet-and greet get-togethers and variations of Friends of Dorothy (FOD) socials, which are organized and scheduled gatherings for gay vacationers. These cruises can also include gay-only parties, events, shore excursions and dining, making the cruising experience more interest-specific.
Despite growing tolerance amongst guests, Cruise Critic has identified three distinct categories when it comes to big ships and FOD policies:
- Norwegian, Holland America, Carnival and Princess Cruises, the luxury lines Crystal and Cunard, and the 'luxury lite' line Azamara Club Cruises rank as the most open and accessible. They include at least one FOD meeting on every ship and on every cruise, and they have moved in recent years toward a consistent policy for their valued gay/lesbian passengers. According to Cruise Critic, most of these lines now also include the LGBT in the listing to avoid any confusion.
- The second group of cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises list FOD/LGBT meetings on the community bulletin board near Guest Relations (vs the daily activity schedule).
- The final group, luxury and luxury-lite lines like Regent, Seabourn, Silversea, SeaDream Yacht Club, Windstar and Oceania, rarely list FOD meetings. However, due to the small size of their ships, cruisers are likely to run into like-minded passengers in restaurants and public spaces
Gay Family Cruises
Rosie O'Donnell and her then-partner Kelli Carpenter partnered with travel entrepreneur Gregg Kaminsky back in 2003, to launch R Family Vacations catering to LGBT families. Today, Kaminsky and Carpenter successfully satisfy this underserved niche market with a signature brand of programming and entertainment for both adult and younger guests.
With a cast of talented entertainers and the 'R' Team, family cruises are filled with activities day and night, from private cocktail parties, Broadway star performances, comedians, R Family dance parties, and workshop presentations from the Family Equality Council. R Family has also added two unique specialty gay cruises to their roster: The Broadway theme cruise, and Kelli and Gregg's Adventure (for adults only).
Gay and lesbian charter companies conduct extensive research before committing to a foreign destination. There have been well-publicized incidents of all-gay cruises facing opposition and scattered protests at ports in The Bahamas, Dominica and Turkey, so charter companies generally steer clear of potential controversy or homophobia.
What makes a cruise great follows the same criteria for LGBT travelers as for any others; the key is to avoid doing business or visiting places where same-sex tolerance is low or where there are strict laws. There is a vast selection of gay cruises to choose from, with itineraries that will make time spent at sea memorable.