A monthly column about gay and lesbian travel

Sailing the Friendly Seas

by Sasha Alyson


A cruise is an extremely popular way to vacation for many lesbians and gay men.

gay travel

Above: The S/V Polynesia will take gay travelers to the Caribbean islands of St. Barts, Anguilla, and Saba, in 1999.



The author: Sasha Alyson is the founder of Alyson Publications, the country's leading publisher of gay and lesbian books. He sold that company in 1995 to start Alyson Adventures, which specializes in active and adventure vacations for gay men and lesbians.



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Also of interest:

Gay Adventure Travel

Gay Scuba Diving site


As the autumn air turns crips, many of us start thinking about a warm-weather escape for the coming winter. A generation ago, that meant finding a beach resort and spreading your towel on the sand. But over the past two decades, cruises have skyrocketed in popularity.

Some vacationers are still skeptical, of course. "For several years, I resisted the idea of a cruise, because I didn't care to be stuck on a boat all day," Brian told me. "Finally I had a new boyfriend who really wanted to go on an RSVP cruise. We had a great time -- and never a dull moment. It wasn't at all what I had expected."

Four companies offer a variety of choices for gay men and lesbians looking for a cruise where they won't feel uncomfortable holding hands on deck:

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Way back in the 1970s, Windjammer Barefoot Cruises (800-327-2601) pegged one or two sailings a year to be gay, making it a true pioneer. I enjoyed everything but the food on my 1984 Windjammer voyage, and recent customers assure me that meals have improved since then. The company has also added entertainment for its gay departures: California drag performer Teflon Pan was on deck for the 1998 trips -- but the old Windjammer standby, the crab race, hasn't been forgotten.

Try Windjammer if you'd enjoy a smaller group (the four-masted schooner S/V Polynesia, with a gay departure set for Sept. 6, 1999, holds 126 passengers), and prefer snorkeling, hiking, or exploring an island over pool-party mixers. While improved since 1984, meals will be less elaborate than on the larger cruise vessels, and entertainment less elaborate. On the other hand, the informal atmosphere makes it easy to meet everyone on board, and a small Windjammer vessel can set anchor at out-of-the-way ports that are off limits to a ship about to disgorge a thousand passengers. Women are welcome on Windjammer's gay cruises, but most departures turn out to be all-male affairs, with far more couples than single guests.

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Windjammer was first, but it was RSVP (800-328-7787) that really opened up the gay cruise market. RSVP's 5-day Caribbean excursion (Feb. 13-18) could be just the ticket if you're still not sure you want a whole week on a boat. You'll get a full sampling of the cruise life: snorkeling, shopping, pool games, and underwear parties. RSVP also offers a 9-day Caribbean cruise departing Feb. 4. (Their week-long departures to Greece and Thailand are already sold out for 1999.)

With some 70 sailings under its waterline, RSVP is justly known for the smooth organization of its cruises, and for bringing aboard high-caliber entertainment. In addition to the ubiquitous tea dances, costume balls, and "dating game" mixers, past cruises have offered everything from tea with Harvey Fierstein to financial seminars to a presentation by Oregon activist Donna Redwing. Perennial favorite Danny Williams will return as MC in 1999, ready to offend all guests equally.

A typical RSVP cruise is about half couples, half singles. Women (nearly all as couples) account for 10-15% of a typical departure, says spokesman Paul Figlmiller.

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Atlantis Events (800-628-5268), best known for its Club-Med style beach vacations, now offers an annual cruise, as well. Its January 31 Caribbean trip is billed as "the largest all-gay cruise ever" with space for 1700 passengers.

What's the difference between RSVP and Atlantis? Not a great deal. Atlantis's brochures have more of a circuit-party look than do RSVP's, and although hard statistics aren't available, Atlantis seems to draw a slightly younger crowd, more single men, and fewer women. RSVP, with the benefit of many years' experience, sets a high standard of professionalism and organization.

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Olivia Cruises and Resorts (800-631-6277) is a women-owned company serving almost entirely a lesbian clientele. Olivia gets a much higher percentage of couples than do the mostly-male ships -- as high as 75% to 80% for a typical sailing. On a ship of 500 women, however, that still leaves a hundred who arrived by themselves, and Olivia has a designated Singles Coordinator to make sure they all get a chance to meet. Olivia's 1999 destinations include the Caribbean, Greece, and Alaska.

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Every ship has a tier of prices, depending on size and location of your room, ranging from $583 for an inside cabin on RSVP's 5-day cruise to $731 for a standard Windjammer share, and up to $3000 for the top cabins on the big ships. (These prices reflect the list price that appears in big print in the brochures, plus port taxes, mandatory "gratuities" and other surcharges of anywhere from $40 to $300 per passenger that somehow end up in a less visible spot.)

When budgeting, remember also that you'll have to get to the departure point: Miami is cheaper than St. Martin.

November, 1998

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Next Month: Out in Africa