All-gay charter companies like Atlantis Events and RSVP (focused on gay men) and Olivia (exclusively for lesbians) charter entire cruise ships or riverboats and customize the whole trip. The charters work closely with the cruise line to develop itineraries, and they always bring aboard their own group of entertainers, musical guests, D.J.s and more to transform the ship into a floating world of frolicking and fun on the high seas. During the past 25 years, both Atlantis and RSVP have been chartering large and small cruise ships from major cruise lines, such as Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity and Azamara. Olivia joined the party 20 years ago by focusing exclusively on women-only cruises and by chartering similarly mid-range and high-end ships. All of these gay charter companies also regularly charter European riverboats for more intimate, culturally rich experiences for their passengers.
The "Big Three"
Atlantis continues to be the dominant player in the gay cruising industry by chartering the biggest and most glamorous ships afloat -- such as Royal Caribbean's 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas, which was used for the largest gay cruise in February 2012.
RSVP was sold to Atlantis Events in 2007. As a result of these transitions, the number of cruises RSVP offers has fluctuated from year to year. Olivia will recently celebrated its 40th anniversary as a company (with 20-plus years in gay travel, specifically).
The Best of the Rest
New players in the market offer smaller, more intimate full-ship gay charters. Among them are Source Events, a gay travel company based in Miami, and r Family Vacations -- which will offer one full-charter "group cruise" in 2015 to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
Houston-based travel agency Concierge Travel has made a name for itself by expanding the market through high-quality, lively gay-affinity groups aboard regularly scheduled cruises (i.e., partial, not full-ship, charters). Note: Partial charters are not listed below, but you can find more details on each company's website.Where You'll Cruise
Gay and lesbian charter companies conduct extensive research before committing to a foreign destination. 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, so the gay charter companies generally steer clear of controversy and head to the "greatest hits" port stops, mostly in the Caribbean and Europe. Gay travelers should be aware that, at some ports, they might be faced with different levels of social tolerance.
2015 - 2016 Preview
A continuing trend we're seeing for the coming year are more intimate, limited-availability sailings. However, cruise companies are continuing to offer many diverse choices for all-gay cruising -- in various sizes and itineraries. Travelers can choose trips to the most popular itineraries in Europe and the Caribbean or explore more bucket-list type places like Southeast Asia and South America, among a wide range of options.
Below is a roundup of gay and lesbian cruise departures through fall 2016. This information, with specific dates, offers a snapshot of some of the adventures, but it's not meant to serve as a comprehensive calendar. Refer to each company's website for any updates or additions. Be aware that some gay and lesbian cruises sell out very quickly.
Trip: Rome to Istanbul Cruise
Ship: Celebrity Equinox
Dates: August 14 - 24, 2015
Details: Atlantis is offering its cruisers a 10-night taste of Europe with two overnight stays in Mykonos, Greece, and Istanbul, Turkey. The ship will also include stops in Italy's Rome, Naples and Sicily; various Greek islands; and throughout Turkey. Onboard, the ship will host well-known gay and lesbian performers, top-deck dance parties with DJs and more. Available fares start at $2,699 for a balcony cabin, but are limited availability and subject to change.
Ship: Norwegian Jewel
Dates: October 25 - November 1, 2015
Details: Break out the costumes! Celebrate Halloween on a 7-night Halloween cruise to Mexico's Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan from Los Angeles roundtrip. Atlantis' second-ever Halloween cruise, it will include themed entertainment, deck parties and more. Available fares start at $989 for an obstructed oceanview cabin, but are limited availability and subject to change.
Ship: Holland America's Westerdam
Dates: May 13 - 20, 2015
Details: Olivia will take on the Last Frontier next year as the warm weather rolls in, when Holland America's Volendam navigates the Inside Passage from Vancouver roundtrip. Highlights of the cruise include the otherworldly Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay, as well as the fun easily walkable cities of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. Fares start at $1,299 for an inside cabin (waitlist).
Ship: Azamara Quest
Dates: August 16 - 23, 2015
Details: From Istanbul to Athens, Olivia's Greek Isles and Turkish Delights journey will enlighten cruisers in a region rich in history and culture. Azamara Quest will navigate the waters of Turkey and Greece, allowing ample opportunities to explore Old World cities and nearby landmarks. Fares start at $1,999 for an inside cabin (waitlist).
Trip: Mexican Riviera Cruise
Ship: Holland America's Veendam
Dates: November 12 - 19, 2015
Details: Sailing from San Diego roundtrip, Olivia cruisers can experience three highlights of Mexico's west coast: Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. Academy Award-winning and Grammy-winning artist Melissa Etheridge will be performing onboard, along with other special guests to be announced. Fares start at $1,499 for an inside cabin.
Trip: Caribbean Escape Cruise
Ship: Holland America's Westerdam
Dates: January 30 - February 6, 2016
Details: Escape to paradise with Olivia next winter. From Fort Lauderdale roundtrip, the 7-night cruise will visit Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Thomas/St. John and Holland America's private island, Half Moon Cay. The entertainment line-up has yet to be announced, but inside cabin bookings are already on a waitlist. Prices start at $1,499 for an inside cabin.
Trip: Lisbon to Dublin Cruise
Ship: Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf
Dates: June 26 - July 4, 2016
Details: Raise a glass with fellow Olivia cruisers in a 300-year-old pub on the Lisbon-to-Dublin cruise. The masted Wind Surf will visit various ports in Spain and Ireland, as well as Porto, Portugal; Brest, France; and the U.K.'s Isles of Scilly. The entertainment line-up has yet to be announced, but inside cabin bookings are already on a waitlist. Prices start at $4,599 for an inside cabin.
Trip: Pacific Coastal Cruise
Ship: Holland America's Zaandam
Dates: September 25 - October 2, 2016
Details: From Vancouver/Victoria, B.C., to San Diego, Olivia cruisers can explore treasures of the Pacific coast in Seattle, Washington; Astoria, Oregon; San Francisco, California; and Santa Barbara, California. Attractions include Vancouver's gay-friendly Davie Village, Napa Valley and the cobblestone streets of Solvang, a quaint Danish town outside Santa Barbara. The entertainment line-up has yet to be announced. Prices start at $1,599 for an inside cabin.
Ship: Holland America's Westerdam
Dates: August 1 - 8, 2015
Details: The company continues to celebrate its 30th anniversary this year, with a second celebratory cruise -- this time, in Alaska. Sailing from Seattle roundtrip, the cruisers will explore Alaska's Glacier Bay, Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, as well as Victoria, Canada. Onboard entertainment will include RSVP signature acts, a performance by Will & Grace's Leslie Jordan, a costume contest, themed parties and more. Available fares start at $1,319 for an obstructed oceanview cabin, but are limited availability and subject to change.
Ship: Star Clippers' Royal Clipper
Dates: September 12 - 19, 2015
Details: The five-masted Royal Clipper will take cruisers on a journey throughout Croatia, from Venice roundtrip. Stops include Croatia's medieval town of Dubrovnik and beaches of Pakleni Islands, as well as Kotor, Montenegro. Sip a Bellini in Venice, trek the Krka River Waterfalls outside of Zadar, Croatia, and enjoy Source Events' entertainment onboard. Available fares start at $2,799 for an inside cabin, but are limited availability and subject to change.
Ship: Mekong Princess
Dates: October 5 - 17, 2015
Details: An intimate adventure awaits with Source Events onboard the 12-suite Mekong Princess. After three nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia, cruisers will continue to explore Cambodia before making their way to Vietnam, where they will spend an additional two nights. Highlights include the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Wat as well as temples, Buddhist monasteries and floating markets along the river. Available fares start at $5,689 for a Saigon Suite, but are limited availability and subject to change.
--Updated by Gina Kramer, Associate Editor