Summer Travel: Summer cruises for the LGBT traveler

Picture it—Sicily. Now seriously, imagine for a moment that you and your partner or closest friends are on board one of the most fabulous cruise ships ever created—sailing to some of the world’s most exotic locations. Luxury, culture, dining, and non-stop partying beckon you to clock-out from your 9 to 5 and clock-in to paradise. I bet you don’t want this moment to end.

And guess what? It doesn’t have to. There’s a number of cruises designed specifically for the LGBT traveler in mind. The hardest part may be finding a cruise that isn’t sold out or one that caters to your specific travel needs. Do you want to take your White Party experience from land to the sea? Or maybe you’re looking for a lesbian cruise or an experience that includes the entire family? There are a few things you need to know before you set sail on your fabulous gay cruise.

Setting sail to Cuba

Most LGBT cruises are chartered by one of “the big three,” which includes Atlantis Events, RSVP and Olivia, although there are others. These companies have the ability to charter some of the world’s largest ships from companies like Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, which allows them to provide a customized experience and itinerary specifically for the LGBT traveler. Every detail from on-board entertainment—some of the worlds best gay DJs and entertainers are booked—to selecting port cities that are welcoming to LGBT people is carefully considered.

“There have been well-publicized incidents of all-gay charters facing opposition and scattered protests at ports in such countries as Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Turkey,” says travel and cruise expert Gary Buchanan. “The gay charter companies generally steer clear of controversy and head to the ‘greatest hits’ port stops, mostly in the Caribbean and Europe.”

And now, LGBT travelers can add Cuba to their list of cruise destinations thanks to ease on U.S. travel restrictions to the country and a second exclusive gay cruise by Aquafest planned for 2017.Aquafest was the first LGBT cruise company to arrive in Cuba with nearly 300 gay and lesbian passengers on board the intimate Celestyal Crystal in January 2016.

“I encourage anyone who wants to experience a vacation that is like stepping back some 50 years to do it now before things really do change,” said Cruise Center President Tom Baker in a statement.

“The Cuban people are kind, warm, willing to talk to you and have a strength that is amazing given their strict communist government implications.”Aquafest has made it fairly simple for U.S. citizens interested in travel to Cuba to complete the “Cuba/U.S. People to People Partnership,” which grants the license to travel to Cuba for “educational activity.” A $95 donation to the Fund for Reconciliation and Development is also required and you’re on your way.

Exploring other LGBT cruise options

So what do cruise companies like Atlantis Events, Olivia Travel and R Family Vacations have to offer the LGBT traveler? Let’s take a look.

Atlantis Events

Go big or go home. Atlantis caters to a mostly gay clientele and roughly half of the passengers on board their cruises are single. They’ve chartered and sold out the largest ship in the world—Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, which accommodates 5,400 passengers. Only about 5 to 10 percent of passengers on Atlantis cruises are lesbian. Caribbean and Mediterranean cruises are scheduled to start on May 21 through 2017. You’ll also pay a pretty penny for an Atlantis cruise, but with the finest in accommodations and LGBT entertainment, guests don’t seem to mind.

Olivia Travel

Lesbians should have a cruise experience designed specifically for women who love women and Olivia Travel has been in the business of making this happen for over 40 years. Olivia provides intimate sailings to the French Riviera to grand cruises to the Caribbean and Mediterranean on ships with over 2,000 lesbians. It’s common to experience the talents of entertainers like Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang, Margaret Cho and Lily Tomlin on board an Olivia cruise. Of special note, Olivia offers the Sisters at Sea program designed specifically for lesbians of color and a solos/singles program for passengers to connect through special on-board events.

R Family Vacations

The entire family is always welcome on cruises by R Family Vacations. Founders Kelli Carpenter and Gregg Kaminsky are teaming up with Olivia Travel for the Puerto Vallarta, Mexico resort experience in 2016 with their signature Broadway Cruise to follow in 2017. Many passengers choose R Family Vacations for the relaxed atmosphere with less emphasis on all-night dance parties.