Tips and tricks for navigating the frothy waters of a gay cruise
STEVEN LINDSEY & JEF TINGLEY
To very loosely paraphrase 1970s cameo-machine The Love Boat, gay cruising is indeed exciting and new, offering something for everyone who sets a course for adventure. And if your mind’s on a new romance, that can be found there, too. Heck, even Charo’s still a possibility.
While some companies block out a few dozen rooms on cruise lines with nongay itineraries, there are four well-known companies that charter entire ships. Olivia Travel provides cruise, resort, luxury and adventure vacations designed especially for lesbians and women (see sidebar, Page 15). R Family Vacations focuses primarily on LGBT parents and their kids. The passenger logs on RSVP Vacations are mixed, but still slant toward a higher number of men (about 90 percent). And Atlantis Events cruises, where we’ve had the majority of our gay charter experiences, clock in at about 95 percent guys. (See sidebar.)
Many people think that translates to ripped models, skimpy swimsuits, free-flowing booze and hedonism in excess. Which is all there if you want that. But it’s also one of the most unassuming places we’ve found to make new friends of all ages, shapes, sizes and degrees of sass from among thousands of passengers from all over the world, each with the common interest of having the time of their lives in an environment that celebrates their sexuality rather than marginalizes it. Think of it as a really big gay bar where everyone knows your name, and no one gives you that Mean Girls glare.
While we’re not experts on cruising (of any variety), between us we have a decent amount of experience thanks to a total of 10 full-ship gay charters and three hetero-centric voyages where we learned why gay cruises are just so much more fun. So whether you’re embarking on your first gay cruise or planning your 99th, we present 10 easy ways to make it epic.
1. Judge a cabin by its cover: The importance of door décor. One thing that makes gay cruising much more akin to sleep-away camp is the tradition of festooning your cabin door with faboo decorations. Staples include everything from a dry erase board (for messages from cute boys) to visual tributes to the country/state you call home to photos of the room’s occupants. To really stand out, opt for vinyl clings, battery-operated lights or a full-size cardboard cutout of Jessica Lange in witch garb, her eye situated perfectly over the peephole. Just remember to pack it all in your carry-on bag so you can deck the halls while you wait for your luggage to arrive.
2. Junk in the trunks: Pack plenty of swimwear. From lounging poolside to dancing the night away, swimwear is the must-have cruise fashion. For a seven-day cruise, pack an equivalent number of square-cuts, Speedos and surf shorts, or 14 if you really hope to impress those who might be keeping tabs. Shop online in advance or out of season to scoop up the best deals. Typically smaller sizes are better, but wear what makes you comfortable, and you’ll avoid the nightmare that is having to re-wear a soggy suit. Blech.
3. Goodbi iPhone: Keep incommunicado at sea. Social media and texting addicts may face withdrawals within the first 24 hours as the open ocean and cheap data plans don’t mix. Instead, embrace this time to unplug, but keep in touch with new friends both on the ship and beyond with printed business cards including your room number (for leaving voicemails or whiteboard messages) and your contact info back on dry land. Make sure to include a photo, and your inbox will be filled with winky emoticons by the next port and three-bar status.
4. Dress for success: Costumes are (not really) optional. A cruise itinerary with five or more costume parties can make even a seasoned pro want to throw in the towel. Don’t! Instead, fill an extra suitcase with everything you’ll need to be the beau of the ball. Some of the usual themes are military, disco and white party. Start there and let your imagination go wild. Remember, there’s no costume that’s too much (or too little) as far as Maritime Law is considered. There’s also typically an unannounced underwear party the first night, so pack your best skivvies. Don’t forget the “costume emergency kit,” which includes sewing supplies, tape, scissors, face/body paint and, of course, glitter.
5. Hay is for horses. “HEEEY!” is for homos. Stepping onboard a floating city that’s packed port to stern with dudes can be, admittedly, overwhelming. Instead of retreating into your shell like a coquettish hermit crab, use the opportunity to simply say hello and meet new people. Whether making small talk about the Madonna music in the elevator ride with a harness-wearing bear or remarking on the size of the twink’s lobster tail in front of you at the buffet, conversation is key. Maybe it’s the salty sea air or the intoxication of vacation, but a well-placed wink and smile could be all that separate you from your new cruise BFF.
6. Come for the parties, not the food. For decades, oceanliners have had the reputation of offering spectacular cuisine in abundance, but from our travels, it’s mostly about quantity. To many, that may be enough. But we’ve actually lost weight after a week of vodka sodas, grilled chicken and salad without dressing. Oh, and a countless number of pizza slices from the 24-hour pizzeria, but at 3 a.m. it doesn’t factor into our calorie equation — you can’t put on weight after midnight; everyone knows that.
7. Sea men everywhere. While exotic (and often tropical) ports of call are an exciting part of your vacation, it’s the days at sea where the true bonding among passengers takes place. Trapped on the ship with nowhere to go but the pools, outdoor bars, indoor bars, hot tubs, spa, skating rink, bingo hall, movie theater, rock climbing wall, miniature golf course, piano bar, restaurants, live theater or fitness center, embrace the chance to meet new people.
8. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It ain’t a bath house. Even though this is a safe environment to hold hands, kiss and cuddle with your significant other or newfound spooning buddy, there’s a crew who has specifically chosen to work the gay cruise because we treat them like actual human beings (and tip really well, too). At many ports, gay sex is illegal, so avoid the temptation to cross “beach sex in Barbados” off your to-do list. Same with the balcony where the passengers on the Disney ship docked next door can see. You don’t have to keep it in your pants, just keep it in your room.
9. Dinner and a show. Or several. One of the best aspects of a gay cruise is the on-board entertainment, filling up the schedules throughout the day. From comedians and singers to lounge acts and drag performers, making time to attend several shows is part of the experience. Even if you’ve never heard of a performer, they’ve been booked for a very good reason: They’re great at what they do. There’s always a big-name secret guest, too. Past headliners have included Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, Roseanne Barr and Deborah Cox.
10. Thank you for being a friend: Travel in packs. If you’ve got a gaggle of gays, get them all together and convince them to join you on the cruise because if you travel solo and don’t opt to be paired with a random (possibly psycho roommate), you’re going to pay twice as much for your stateroom. Besides, traveling with friends equates to attention-grabbing group costumes at theme parties and tea dances, as well as an onboard support system in case that Australian with the six-pack-abs turns down your invitation to the midnight buffet.
Most of all, just have fun and let loose from the moment you board the ship to the minute you disembark. Because once the ship’s docked and you’re walking through customs toward baggage claim, attitudes can revert back to bitchiness, and all those friendly glances tend to disappear.
If you’re lucky, however, you’ll have more than just memories to last a lifetime, but also several new friends.
Upcoming all-LGBT cruise charters
Ahoy, there! One great thing about LGBT cruises is the vast selection. Available year-round and to a variety of top destinations on the best ships in the industry, there truly is something for every person and every budget. Contact a local travel agent who specializes in LGBT travel for best service and insider tips.
Atlantis Events (AtlantisEvents.com)
Bali to Singapore, March 15–25, aboard the Seabourn Odyssey (From $3799).
Copenhagen to Stockholm, July 20–27, aboard the Holland America Eurodam (from $999).
Barcelona, Italy and Ibiza, Aug. 2–12, aboard the Celebrity Equinox (from $1799).
Olivia Lesbian Travel (Olivia.com)
Montreal to Boston, May 17–24, aboard the Holland America ms Maasdam (from $2099).
Mayan Caribbean Culinary, Nov. 23–30, aboard the Holland America ms Ryndam (from $1099).
Australia and New Zealand Odyssey, Feb. 13–25, 2015, aboard the Holland America ms Oosterdam (from $1699).
Alaska Indie Passage & Glaciers, May 13–25, 2015, aboard the Holland America ms Volendam (from $1099).
R Family Vacations (RfamilyVacations.com)
Anniversary Cruise, July 13–20, aboard the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas (from $1309).
Enchanting Rhine River Cruise (adults only), Aug. 11–20, aboard the Amadeus Waterways’ MS AmaCerto (from $2899).
RSVP Vacations (RSVPVacations.com)
Pride River Cruise, July 23–Aug. 1, aboard the Avalon Affinity (from $3399).
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 28, 2014.