Olivia, which caters to lesbians, is not the same as a gay cruise. Which is just how it should be

I’ve never been on a gay cruise, only a lesbian one, so I don’t have first-hand experience with the famed debauchery of the former. I have heard stories of the “dick decks” and barely-there costumes, and a gay cruise is definitely on my to-do list (for the parties, not the dick deck — I swear).

Rumor has it girls are rare but welcome on a gay cruise, at least according to some new friends I made on the way from the Ft. Lauderdale airport to the Harbor Beach Marriott for my pre-cruise overnight stay a few weeks ago. (An overnight is a must, FYI, if you’re traveling by plane to your cruise port —flight delays can torpedo a cruise). These folks were in town to embark on an RSVP Cruise, while I was about to hit the high seas on my third Olivia adventure.

On our van ride to our hotels, one of my new friends showed me snapshots of his outfits for the planned week of parties: A boa and briefs. Dilly boppers and briefs. A headband, an afro wig and briefs. Wings and briefs. A cape and briefs. My speculations seemed correct. Gay cruises are a big, naked dance party with glitter and strobe lights. And plenty of sex. And briefs.

Lesbians do it a little differently. Don’t get me wrong — the dance floor is always full whether on-deck for a theme night, or in “Club O” (what they call the dance party each night in the ship’s club The Crow’s Nest). We have a few theme nights (White Party, Show Your Roots [as in your hometown], Shero [as in a female hero] and a formal). And I definitely have displayed my share of skin, as have some of the other girls. But that was the exception more than the rule. Personally, I like it that way. It’s fun to be “that girl” for the week.

Some girls do literally party ’til dawn, night after night. And although I went out dancing nearly every night, I only managed to linger until 1 a.m. — 2 at the latest. The reason reflected perhaps the biggest difference between the gay cruises and their lesbian counterparts: The days are just as important, if not more important, than the nights.

That’s especially true on the trips like my most recent, called the Leadership and Equality Cruise. It boasted speakers including Maya Angelou, Edie Windsor, Kate Kendall, Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Elizabeth Birch.

Don’t laugh. Truth is, the panels were too enticing to miss by staying out too late.

That wasn’t the only thing I didn’t want to pass me by. I also enjoy the connections you make; they are amazing. Despite the fact that the “Ladies of Olivia” (as founder Judy Dlugacz calls us) are incredibly diverse when it comes to age and race and backgrounds, we all get along shockingly well. OK, not all. It’s not like we all became best friends. But when you go to the dining room and they ask you if you want to sit with other women and you say yes, you end up having a great time, even if at first it seems that you have nothing in common. Maybe you’ll be seated with a gynecologist and a bookstore owner and a technical writer and a professor, then the next night an artist, two therapists and a managing editor, or a yoga teacher, a musician and two retired, vegetarian Unitarians. (True story.)

Women are funny like that. Or maybe lesbians are funny like that. Or maybe the Ladies of Olivia are funny like that. All I know is that every dinner that started with strangers quickly became one with friends. The “liking the people I meet” versus “people I want to kill” ratio was insanely high compared to life on land.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. Olivia cruises are about being “beautiful together” and “feeling free” as the Olivia theme song lyric professes. They’re about being who you really are and about connecting with other women. They’re about living in a perfect world for a week, a world where you’re not judged for loving another woman or dressing androgynously or being scantily clad or going topless or spending your day drinking by the pool or gambling in the casino or snorkeling in the sea or eating in the fancy restaurant or whatever else it is that you might want to do. It’s the perfect combination.

Still, I look forward to my first gay cruise. I have my wings and my boa and my go-go boots and my cape all ready to go.

— Jenny Block

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 28, 2014.