So you're thinking of sailing off into the splashy blue yonder. Only, you want something more than an occasional "Friends of Dorothy" gathering amidst a mainstream cruise. It's time to feel free to be yourself, whether you're planning to cruise solo, with your sweetheart, or even with the kids.
The good news is that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) travelers now have more options than ever for finding the perfect ship, destination, ambience, and price range. With LGBT travelers spending upwards of $80 million a year on vacations, companies that cater to their needs are steadily growing -- and crafting memorable journeys to suit any taste.
Cruises For Lesbians
Olivia: The first line to quench the lesbian thirst for cruising, Olivia (www.olivia.com) has for 20 years brought a bit of sophistication and romance aboard its ships. These ladies arrange journeys a little off the beaten path -- think a Provence-to-Burgundy riverboat cruise through France, or a five-star voyage around the Aegean Sea, or even Antarctica. Spas, wine bars, specialty shopping trips, and history tours are part of the Olivia experience. The option to book early and save keeps the 99-percent-lesbian crowd a bit more diverse.
Sweet: Launched in 2008, Sweet (www.discoversweet.com) cruisers skew a bit younger than Olivia. But the real difference is Sweet's "green" side and volunteer opportunities. One of its first trips had guests chipping in post-Katrina recovery help in New Orleans before shipping off to the Caribbean. Calling itself eco-friendly and service-oriented, the company partners with LGBT community centers and non-profits, offsets its carbon emissions, and offers eight ways to make the world a better place while on vacation -- from beach cleanup to kids' library projects (but no pressure!).
Cruises for Gay & Lesbian Families
R Family: Word is out -- there is a "gay-by" boom! And many of those LGBT parents are eager to set sail with their kids in tow (or in their rooms). R Family Vacations (www.rfamilyvacations.com) has pioneered the blend of cruises plus diversity plus family. As the only line that equally targets both lesbian and gay guests, Kelli O'Donnell's (Rosie's ex) company draws a good mixture of youthful and grownup seafarers. Upcoming cruises are headed to the Greek Isles, the Caribbean, and the European classic of Spain/France/Italy, with occasional partnered trips with Nickelodeon.
Cruises for Gay Men
RSVP: Bears, cowboys, power dykes -- they all RSVP (www.rsvpvacations.com). Arguably the most balanced ratio of gay men and lesbians after R Families, the company lowers the volume of an Atlantis cruise a few notches. Now in its 25th year, RSVP sells out large and small ships at a good range of prices. Later this year it will take its first journey to the Hawaiian Islands, and mixes up jaunts to Alaska, Europe and Mexico with a range of onboard entertainment.
Atlantis: Don't worry, you can't hear the party music thumping everywhere. The poster cruise for muscular sailors, mighty Atlantis (www.atlantisevents.com) draws a 95-percent male crowd on its tours to gay-friendly coastal cities like Barcelona, Puerto Vallarta, Athens, and Amsterdam. Bigger boats make for lower rates, and unexpected sports, nightly mega-discos, and celebrity entertainment are integral to that freewheeling vibe -- just don't expect to be up bright and shiny for an early tour of the island.
Gay-Friendly Cruises for Everyone
Of course, a queer-geared trip isn't everyone's cup of tea. For those who prefer to mix with the mainstream, there are plenty of big and small cruise lines -- some hosting Friends of Dorothy ("FOD") gatherings, and some not. But perhaps the gold at the end of the gay rainbow is that when you're out among the general cruising crowds of Norwegian, Princess, Carnival, Windstar, etc., you get to share your own little dinghy of joy from the LGBT community with everybody aboard.