In spite of all the fabulous cruising adventures available today, some queer folk scoff at taking a “mainstream” cruise and opt for all-gay charters by companies such asRSVP Vacations, Atlantis or Olivia.
“I don’t want to be seated next to the fundamentalist Christian couple,” “I want to be able to hold my lover’s hand and kiss openly,” or simply “I just want to party all night!” are familiar reasons to justify a preference for all-gay charters.
They’re looking for the totally open environment, intense bonding, easy access to new gay friends from around the world and, sometimes, the hard-partying atmosphere that only an all-gay cruise can provide. A week in the sun on a luxury ship, holding hands, kissing flirting, and dancing — without any judgments — is something many look forward to all year.
These gay charters focus on the most-popular itineraries such and besides a plethora of onboard activities — sometimes more than you’d find on a mainstream cruise — gay passengers can also look forward to excellent food and amenities, as well as friendly crowds at the gym and a very popular spa! Be sure to sign up for spa services at the earliest possible opportunity.
All-gay charters generally attract comfortably “out” and somewhat well-off passengers, although the reputation that these ships are only for “pretty boys” or “circuit party queens” is highly exaggerated. You’ll usually find a nice mix of gay and lesbian couples, singles and groups of friends traveling together. The all-gay charter companies report that the average age of their passengers is in the late 30s to 40s (all ages are welcome, naturally). And guests come from all over the world, a diverse group that’s representative of the large segment of gay men who love to travel, socialize, and experience new things.
The two big players in the gay male all-ship charters are RSVP Vacations and Atlantis Events. Note that RSVP Vacations usually boasts 10 to 15 percent women; on Atlantis it’s generally less than 10 percent women. RSVP Vacations, the pioneer in this category, began offering all-gay cruises in 1985; Atlantis began later, in the early 1990s, and took over RSVP in 2007.
Today, both are hugely successful, chartering some of the best and newest ships (such as the Celebrity Millennium and Holland America’s Westerdam), expanding their sailings and opening long waiting lists for those who don’t book early. As well as large ship cruises, RSVP Vacations offers trips on Star Flyer and Star Clipper, two small luxury sailing ships that each host fewer than 220 passengers and ply the waters of the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Atlantis serves more than 12,000 guests annually. Besides its popular Caribbean and Mexican Riviera sailings, Atlantis also offers a popular and exotic Spain, Italy and Greek Isles cruise in August each year on a 2,000-passenger Royal Caribbean ship.
Both companies hire A-list onboard entertainment and boast experienced, friendly onboard staff members that go out of their way to make sure everyone is mingling well. These companies know what they’re doing — over 90 percent of passengers book another all-gay cruise with the same company.
The sole big player in the all-lesbian cruising market is Olivia. They started as a music label 30 years ago and began offering cruises much later. Olivia’s numerous cruises, from the typical (Caribbean and Alaska) to the more unusual (Antarctica), always include seminars and panels on women’s issues of political and sexual importance.
You’ll find many more couples than you’d find on a gay male cruise as well. Of course, lesbians like to have fun, too, so the Olivia folks also bring aboard musical performers such as k. d. lang and the Indigo Girls, or comedians such as Kate Clinton to entertain passengers. Olivia charters top-flight ships from Holland America, TDI, RSS and others, and delivers a relaxing, well-organized vacation full of diverse lesbians from around the world.
Lesbians and gay men with children have now become a sought-after traveling demographic in their own right, with the launch of Rosie O’Donnell’s R Family Vacations
Between choosing an all-gay charter and just signing up for whatever mainstream cruise tickles your “pink” fancy is the option of joining a gay affinity group, organized by travel agencies or companies. You’ll be traveling on a regularly scheduled cruise with a large contingent of other gay and lesbian folk, often with a “host” on board, and you’ll enjoy special group amenities such as private dinner rooms, cocktail parties, and shore excursions.
The two biggest organizers of gay groups on board mainstream cruises are Ocean Voyager Cruise Consultants and Pied Piper Travel. Known for its upscale gay groups, Ocean Voyager Cruise Consultants organizes several groups on Celebrity, Holland America, and Norwegian cruise lines. Pied Piper Travel organizes gay groups on board Cunard’s new Queen Mary 2 behemoth, Princess, and Celebrity cruise lines.
Two other tour companies that organize similar gay groups are: Above and Beyond Tours andAquafest. Likewise, luxury gay tour operator David Travel books cabins aboard premium cruise lines such as Radisson Seven Seas or Silverseas. Passionate and attentive, David arranges special amenities and dinner for his upscale gay clients (and their friends).
The big benefit of joining one of these groups is the promise of gay bonding, if you’d like it, as well as the ability to just meld into the larger group of passengers and be anonymous, so to speak. Prices are generally comparable to regular rates — less than the all-gay charters. Gay and lesbian travelers who aren’t ready for the sheer numbers of fellow queer folk (which can be overwhelming) on an all-gay charter may find that joining one of these groups organized by experienced companies, such as Ocean Voyager or Pied Piper, is a fine introduction to the gay cruising lifestyle.
Just be sure to spend the time to fully research the specific cruise you’re interested in before committing. Important questions like whether you have assigned seating at dinner, gratuities are included or not, what is the typical guest profile, and so on should best be answered by the cruise company you’re working with or by a knowledgeable gay-friendly travel agent, so you’ll get a perfect “fit” with the cruise vacation you’ve chosen.