4 things to consider before booking an LGBTQ cruise

Jul 13, 2021

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Although Pride Month has come to a close, the celebration continues with LGBTQI+ cruises.

According to its most recent survey of the LGBTQI+ community, the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA) found that “the majority of U.S. respondents (77%) said they plan to take their next major vacation before the end of 2021.”

And with the cruise industry already making its comeback, we know many travelers might already be planning to set sail before the year is up.

Whether you’ve embarked on LGBTQ cruises before or are looking to dip your toes in the water for the first time, here are four tips to know before booking your trip.

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Celebrity Edge. (Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)

You can go with a group — or not

There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all cruise experience for the LGBTQI+ community. Travelers might be searching for a large party ship or prefer a small expedition ship. There are cruises specifically for women and family-friendly sailings as well. And that’s just the beginning.

Travelers searching for an LGBTQI+ cruise might prefer to go with a group. An organization can book a certain number of cabins on a traditional ship and plan shore excursions and dinners just for the people booked in that group. For example, Aquafest Cruises offers a variety of group cruises, from its annual Halloween-themed groups to the 12-night Best of Japan experience.

Then there are full-ship charters, when an organization books every cabin on the ship. In this scenario, you’re guaranteed a very LGBTQ-friendly experience. Vacaya is a cruise company known for chartering full ships that serve the entire LGBTQ+ community. Other companies, such as RSVP Vacations, charter entire ships with a mostly male clientele (about 10% lesbian), while Olivia Cruises offers women-only sailings.

Of course, you could also book a traditional cruise with a major line, such as Celebrity, Azamara, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises and Holland America, all of which are known for their LGBTQ-friendly services.

“Royal Caribbean was the first line to appoint a manager in charge of engagement, diversity and inclusion and promote their services for same-sex weddings,” said Dave Fowlie, a travel advisor at Cruise Planners, a large travel agency network. “Lines such as Carnival, Disney and Royal Caribbean have all received perfect ratings on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index,” he added, “[which shows] how their practices support inclusion and the community.”

Related: These LGBTQ-focused travel companies can help you plan the perfect cruise

Use an LGBTQ-friendly travel advisor

Planning a trip can be overwhelming. Fortunately, some companies — such as Cruise Planners — train advisors on how to help travelers find the best LGBTQ-friendly destinations and onboard experiences.

They are trained professionals who understand the nuances of LGBTQI+ travel and can find the best experience for your needs.

Fowlie even hosts “group cruises for the Bear Community,” such as a group Bear sailing to the Mediterranean on Virgin Voyages in August 2022.

Plus, Cruise Planners COO and co-owner, Vicky Garcia, has dedicated her career to championing LGBTQI+ diversity and inclusion in the travel industry. In a phone interview with TPG, Garcia recommended that travelers “use a travel advisor that can … help guide you into picking the right destination that will be safe for you and give you the most joyous … experience when you’re there.”

Other companies such as Virtuoso, Signature Travel Network and Ensemble also have expert advisors in LGBTQ travel.

Related: Choosing the best American Express card for you

The entertainment is more LGBTQ-focused

According to several TPG readers who have traveled on full-chartered and themed LGBTQ cruises, these sailings are much like any other cruise … except for the entertainment. You won’t find these experiences if you’re only looking to book a cabin on a traditional cruise.

“We expected it to be a lot like every other cruise we have been on, but with more drag queens,” said Jeff Wooster, a global sustainability director at Dow who traveled with his husband on an inaugural Celebrity cruise with Vacaya in 2019.

Your sailing might have LGBTQ comedians, drag queens and musical numbers, and travelers said they appreciated how the entertainers were either themselves members of the LGBTQI+ community or were known for performing at LGBTQ venues.

“It did seem [that] the entertainers … were more sociable with cruise guests at the buffet, at bars, at the pool … than I have seen [on] other cruises,” Wooster said.

Not a fan of big parties and over-the-top entertainment? There are plenty of other cruise activities, too, from relaxing cocktail hours to smaller LGBTQ shore excursions.

Chicora Martin, a higher education administrator from the Bay Area who has participated in these types of events, told TPG, “it’s a great way to meet other LGBTQ passengers and make connections. It’s nice to connect with [the] rainbow family, especially if you are not able to travel with your biological family.”

The prices can be higher than on regular cruises 

Costs tend to be higher on big LGBTQ cruises as compared to other cruises. This is largely because LGBTQ cruises offer premium experiences such as celebrity guest appearances (think: hanging out with LGBTQ stars such as Leslie Jordan or allies like Kristin Chenoweth).

Say you’re planning a cruise to the Caribbean: A seven-day Celebrity Millenium LGBTQ cruise to the Caribbean with Vacaya has interior stateroom prices starting at $897 per person for two guests. By comparison, a seven-day traditional cruise to the Caribbean on the Celebrity Summit has prices starting at an average of $639 per person for an interior stateroom.

If you still want an LGBTQ-focused experience but don’t want to pay a higher price, you might consider a smaller ship such as the Marmaris-Fethiye Blue Cruise.

Below are examples of full-chartered ships with LGBTQ cruise companies:

Vacaya Olivia RSVP Vacations Atlantis
Trip length Seven days Eight days 10 days Eight days
Ship Celebrity Millenium Windstar’s ms Wind Spirit Celebrity Infinity Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas
Itinerary Aruba and Curaçao Tahiti, French Polynesia Miami, Florida; Aruba; Curaçao; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Labadee, Haiti Miami, Florida; Dominican Republic; St. Thomas; Haiti; Puerto Rico
Starting cost $897 per person for two guests $4,199 per person for early bird prices $1,099 per person $1,099 per person


Bottom line

There are plenty of options to consider for an LGBTQ cruise experience, whether you’re seeking a full-chartered ship, a group cruise or a solo trip. When considering important details such as pricing, amenities and entertainment, we recommend working with an LGBTQ-friendly travel advisor to create an experience that’s right for you.

Featured photo by Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images.

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