Table of Contents
When it comes to gay cruising, gone are the days of discreet “Friends of Dorothy” meetups. The term – a euphemism that dates back to the 1950s – was once used to indicate gay social events on daily cruise line programs, without explicitly calling out members of the community on board. It’s a far cry from today’s LGBTQ cruising industry, which loudly and proudly celebrates passengers from all walks of life.
According to experts, LGBTQ cruising is a market that will only continue to grow. Travelers can take their pick between cruise operators tailored specifically to the queer community or hop aboard some major cruise lines that offer festive Pride celebrations and inclusive onboard entertainment. As travel on the high seas continues to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic, gay and lesbian travelers should consider setting sail on a fun-filled cruise vacation as their next trip.
When planning a cruise, vacationers should first consider what their ideal sailing looks like. Some cruise operators (think: Atlantis Events and La Demence) are known for their electrifying, all-night parties, which may be perfect for gay groups of friends. Meanwhile, other companies like VACAYA and Olivia look to provide a more diverse selection of activities, ranging from “T-dances” (LGBTQ parties that, historically, included tea service) to writing classes to immersive on-shore experiences.
Cruisers should also think about whether they’d like to travel aboard a gay-friendly mainstream line, such as Celebrity Cruises or Virgin Voyages, or opt for an all-gay, full-ship charter with a third-party vacation company.
“Each and every LGBTQIAPK person has a different level of comfortability in their ‘outness,’ ” says Patrick Gunn, co-founder and chief marketing officer of LGBTQ vacation company VACAYA. Of VACAYA’s all-gay charters, he says, “For one magical week, our community gets to be the majority and live life out loud in the blissful utopia VACAYA creates on a gay cruise. That single change from being an always-minority to a sudden majority can have a profoundly positive real-world effect on individuals.”
Whether you are looking to hop aboard a Pride Week cruise with a major line or sail away with a smaller company that specializes in LGBTQ voyages, the following cruise operators promise a fun, safe and memorable vacation. (Note: While many of these cruise lines sail to LGBTQ-friendly ports of call, travelers should research destinations to learn more about cultures, customs and safety in each location and determine what’s right for them.)
(Courtesy of VACAYA)
Founded by avid travelers Randle Roper, Patrick Gunn and John Finen, VACAYA bills itself as the first all-LGBT travel company in the full-ship charter/resort buyout sector of the travel industry to launch in more than 25 years.
“[VACAYA] was sparked by our own vacations, where we all had encountered two very different experiences,” says Gunn. “The all-gay cruises were liberating, empowering, and fun, but limited to a small spectrum of people. And while everyone loves a good time, there’s more to a memorable vacation than just parties. Mainstream vacations offered more activities and destinations, and were accessible to a diverse set of people, but didn’t always feel like a friendly, judgment-free environment.”
As such, VACAYA set out to bring LGBTQ travelers from across the spectrum together in a welcoming, inclusive setting, while offering varied onboard activities and immersive itinerary options. Cruisers will enjoy traveling to ports around the world (including the Caribbean, Asia, Europe, Antarctica and more) and participating in shipwide events, ranging from themed deck parties to performances by LGBTQ entertainers to rejuvenating yoga classes.
Previous cruisers had abundant praise for VACAYA’s voyages, highlighting the company’s responsiveness when booking and kindhearted staff, as well as the genuine connections they made with other passengers on board. Many were also impressed by the events and entertainment options throughout their sailings.
(Courtesy of Virgin Voyages)
The Virgin brand has long been known for its celebration of the LGBTQ community, and newcomer cruise line Virgin Voyages is no different. The strictly adults-only cruise operator aims to provide a unique experience, with onboard tattoo parlors, impressive live entertainment and dining options that will make foodies’ mouths water. This line gets the stamp of approval from previous LGBTQ cruisers, who praise the ships’ gender-neutral bathrooms, onboard shows with resident drag queens and diverse staff.
Virgin Voyages offers gay-specific sailings through travel companies like Atlantis Events, but its more mainstream itineraries still offer a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere that attracts LGBTQ cruisers year-round. It also hosts a number of events during Pride Month each year, including deck parties and interactive social media campaigns.
“Each June here at Virgin Voyages, we like to go big for Pride Month with larger-than-life events … all month long,” the cruise line says in a statement on its website. “It’s an important time for us – both internally within our crew and for our sailors – to honor and celebrate the LGBTQ community; who for so long has had to continually fight for equality and the right to be seen, heard, and included.”
Virgin Voyages sails to a variety of LGBTQ-friendly countries, including New Zealand, Greece and France. In August 2023, consider a seven-night sailing aboard Resilient Lady (Virgin’s newest cruise ship debuting in May 2023) through Athens, Santorini and Mykonos, Greece, with special musical guests and LGBTQ comedians.
The world’s largest gay and lesbian travel brand, Atlantis Events was founded in 1991 and welcomes more than 20,000 travelers annually on LGBTQ vacations. For its all-gay cruises, Atlantis charters megaships from popular lines like Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line, so cruisers will have a fully immersive experience.
On board, travelers can enjoy all the perks these megaships have to offer (think: pools, hot tubs, sports courts and plenty of dining choices), plus special events like drag performances, motivational speakers, LGBTQ movies on demand in each cabin and high-energy circuit parties across the ship.
“As an LGBTQ cruiser, you’re looking for a ship with lots of entertainment, including dance parties and events,” says Marcos Martinez, founder of Men Who Brunch, a Black gay lifestyle blog. “One of the best cruise [lines] for gay cruising is Atlantis, since you’ll be able to meet hundreds of attractive men and party all day and night on the ship.” Atlantis hosts primarily gay men; women make up about 5% to 10% of bookings, according to the Atlantis website. Previous cruisers said the atmosphere on board was fun, friendly and welcoming, though some noted that the booking process could be better organized.
In early 2023, consider booking a trip through Atlantis Events on the Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas, which departs from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and visits Aruba, Curacao and the cruise line’s private spot in Labadee, Haiti. Or, hop aboard the brand-new Norwegian Prima, which makes stops in Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; and other locales.
Brand g Vacations
(Courtesy of Brand G Vacations)
Specializing in all-LGBT+ river cruises and land tours – and expanding to luxury ocean liners in 2023 – Brand g Vacations was founded in 2011 and explores destinations all over the world. The land tours and chartered river cruises typically welcome between 40 and 200 LGBT+ passengers (and straight allies), which allows cruisers to get to know one another in a smaller setting. Guests tend to skew more mature (think: 40 and older), and the line attracts both men and women.
Onboard entertainment differs slightly from larger ocean voyages; expect more cabaret-style entertainment than massive all-night dance parties. Cruisers will also enjoy performances by drag queens, gay Broadway stars and more, plus more typical river cruise perks like sightseeing and lavish meals. Past guests recommend choosing Brand g if you’re looking for a more relaxed, luxurious experience over a busier, party-heavy vacation.
Brand g aims to provide a near all-inclusive experience, with Mercedes van airport transfers, upscale hotel stays prior to embarkation and unlimited alcoholic beverages included in the fare. As such, prices tend to be on the high end. Plus, cruisers can feel good about their trip knowing that Brand g partners with LGBTQ organizations like the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
In 2023, Brand g sails through unique waterways around the world, including the Amazon, the Seine, the Rhine, the Danube and more.
(Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)
Celebrity Cruises sets the scene for an excellent vacation for gay travelers, from its extravagant annual Pride parties to its daily LGBTQ programming throughout the year. The mainstream line has received numerous awards for its inclusiveness, receiving accolades from the Cruizie Awards and Travvy Awards for being the best cruise line for LGBTQ+ passengers.
LGBTQ cruisers can start their vacations off on a high note with a special welcome party on the first night of their voyage, where they can meet other queer travelers on board. After night one, there are other social events for gay cruisers to party and hang out together. Additionally, Celebrity was the first cruise line to legally marry a couple at sea in 2018, and it continues to perform same-sex marriages on its ships.
Past cruisers enjoyed their voyages with Celebrity, noting that the line was welcoming, the food was delicious and there were plenty of areas to hang out as a group with fellow LGBTQ passengers or other companions throughout the ship.
Although all itineraries are gay-friendly, consider booking a Pride Party at Sea sailing (which takes place each June) for an extra special experience. The fifth annual Pride celebration cruise departs June 10, 2023, and will welcome LGBTQ travelers of all ages and backgrounds aboard the Celebrity Edge for a seven-night Mediterranean sailing through ports like Barcelona, Valencia and Ibiza, Spain; Rome and Florence, Italy; and more. Entertainment includes drag queen performances, queer DJs and more. Private travel companies like VACAYA also charter Celebrity ships for all-gay voyages throughout the year.
Specifically marketed toward lesbians and LGBTQ women, Olivia has hosted more than 350,000 travelers by land and sea over almost five decades. Cruisers can choose between river voyages or ocean sailings to destinations around the world. On the lesbian cruises, expect a mix of nostalgic decade-themed dance parties, folk singers, writing workshops, karaoke and more. Cruisers can also relax poolside, spend some time in the onboard spa or take it easy in one of the ships’ lounges.
Travelers who are looking to connect with others who share similar backgrounds can do so in one of Olivia’s specialized programs. There are group cruise and solo traveler meetups, as well as the Sisters at Sea program for LGBTQ women of color; the Gen-O and Friends program for cruisers 40 and younger; Women in Uniform gatherings for veterans and those currently in the armed forces; and OWLs (which stands for “older, wiser lesbians”) events. Past cruisers on Olivia’s voyages report feeling a true sense of community and belonging on board, resulting in a fun, carefree trip.
Royal Caribbean International
(Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International)
A member of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, Royal Caribbean International provides a welcoming and inclusive experience for LGBTQ travelers. The popular cruise line frequently partners with Atlantis Events to offer all-gay voyages throughout the year, but even the standard sailings earn praise.
Highlights include the ships’ entertainment options (including a Celine Dion tribute show) and attentive staff, according to past cruisers. Itineraries typically feature LGBTQ meetups at the beginning of each cruise for gay travelers to meet likeminded passengers. Outside of the sailing experience, Royal Caribbean has also publicly committed to support the LGBTQ community throughout the year, and it was the first cruise line to earn the title “Gay Traveler Approved” from GayTravel in 2016.
[Ready to plan a cruise? Find the best value sailings on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
The Cruise With La Demence
According to past cruisers, if you’re looking for one of the best party scenes on the open seas, consider an all-gay cruise with La Demence. Powered by a popular gay nightclub in Brussels with the same name, La Demence – French for “the madness” – primarily caters to a European crowd. Most passengers are male, though women are also welcome.
On board, passengers should expect to dance the night away at massive deck parties that last into the wee hours of the morning. The line prides itself on its top-notch DJs, impressive light setup and electric party atmosphere. Previous cruisers had high praise for the itineraries – which exclusively visit gay-friendly locations – as well as the fruity cocktails, themed nights (costumes strongly encouraged), glamourous entertainment, and unique events like drag bingo and high heel runs.
La Demence sails every summer to destinations like Rome; Athens and Mykonos, Greece; Kotor, Montenegro; Dubrovnik, Croatia; and more. The line’s 2023 cruise is slated for July 9 to 16. Past voyages have been chartered on ships like Regal Princess. Fares include all food, nonalcoholic beverages and access to all parties, shows and the onboard gym.