Almost every cruise line, from luxury to mid-range to mass-market, works to attract gay and lesbian travelers, who are known for being avid cruisers. Passengers will find gay and lesbian travelers on just about any cruise, but some companies offer specialized sailings catering specifically to gay cruisers.
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, 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.
A continuing trend we're seeing for 2015 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 spring 2015. 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: Silhouette Caribbean Cruise
Ship: Celebrity Silhouette
Dates: February 1 - 8, 2015
Details: For those looking to escape the frigid February temps, Atlantis has the ultimate Caribbean getaway lined up. On February 1, passengers aboard Celebrity Silhouette will sail from Fort Lauderdale roundtrip, to Labadee, Haiti; Phillipsburg, St. Maarten; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, one of the gayest destinations in the Caribbean. The seven-night itinerary also includes a few days of partying at sea. Fares start at $1,349 for an inside cabin, but space is limited.
Trip: Auckland to Sydney Mardi Gras Cruise
Ship: Holland America's Oosterdam
Dates: February 24 - March 8, 2015
Details: Passengers on Atlantis' Auckland to Sydney Mardi Gras Cruise can enjoy visiting six different locations Down Under before sailing into Sydney for one of the largest gay and lesbian celebrations in the world. After departing Auckland on February 24, Holland America's Oosterdam will call in New Zealand's Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin before making its way over to Melbourne and Sydney, Australia. Onboard, passengers can relax -- or party -- day and night, saving most of their energy for the celebration in Sydney, which will feature performers like George Michael, Kylie Minogue and Boy George. Fares start at $1,599 for an inside cabin, but space is limited.
Trip: Singapore to Hong Kong Cruise
Ship: Celebrity Millennium
Dates: March 29 - April 9, 2015
Details: An exotic 11-night itinerary awaits on Atlantis' Singapore to Hong Kong Cruise. Celebrity Millennium will call throughout Thailand and Vietnam, offering a variety of options for relaxation and adventure. Onboard entertainment includes dance parties and production shows in the two-story theater. Fares are all-inclusive and start at $1,699 for an inside cabin.
Trip: Panama Canal to Costa Rica Cruise
Ship: Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf
Dates: January 24 - 31, 2015
Details: Olivia cruisers can unleash their inner Indiana Jones on the Panama Canal to Costa Rica Cruise this coming January. Opportunities for adventure will abound in each port of call, as small ship Wind Spirit makes its way around the tropical rainforests. Fares start at $4,199 for an oceanview cabin, but space is limited.
Trip: Australia and New Zealand Cruise Odyssey
Ship: Holland America's Oosterdam
Dates: February 13 - 24, 2015
Details: Holland America's Oosterdam will set the stage for an Australian summer with Olivia, beginning February 13. The ship will begin in Sydney and make its way through Tasmania, Fiordland National Park and New Zealand's Dunedin and Christchurch before ending in Auckland, New Zealand. Special guests include actress and musician Olivia Newton-John; musical performers Beccy Cole, DJ Ruby Rose, Teresa Trull, Barbara Higbie, Sweet Baby J'ai, DJ Rockaway and Olivia regular, Roxanna Ward; comedians Vickie Shaw and Karen Williams; musical comedian Lisa Koch; and performance poet C. C. Carter. Fares start at $2,099 for an interior cabin, but space is limited.
Trip: Alaska Inside Passage and Glaciers Cruise
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).
Trip: Greek Isles and Turkish Delights Cruise
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: RSVP 30th Anniversary Cruise
Ship: Princess Cruises' Regal Princess
Dates: February 8 - 15, 2015
Details: To celebrate its 30th anniversary, RSVP will be hosting a Caribbean getaway aboard Princess Cruises' newest ship, Regal Princess. The cruise will sail from Fort Lauderdale roundtrip, making stops in Grand Cayman and Cozumel, with a few days of partying at sea. Onboard, passengers can relax by day and soak up the entertainment by night, courtesy of the current lineup: Fan Favorites Amy and Freddy; Ann Hampton Callaway in Concert; Paul J. Williams and his host of characters, including Sister Helen Holy; legendary comic and singer Khris Francis; drag favorite Gert Crawford; DJ Robbie Leslie; and VJ Tony Built. Fares start at $999 for an inside cabin, but space is limited.
Trip: All-Gay French Caribbean Cruise
Ship: Windjammer's SV Mandalay
Dates: February 15 - 21, 2015
Details: Catering to gay naturists, Source Events' All-Gay French Caribbean Cruise (jointly hosted with Gay Naturists International) offers a relaxed dose of adventure. Passengers can explore the scenery and wildlife while treating themselves as the ship makes its way from St. Maarten roundtrip, to Anguilla, Nevis, St. Barts (two days) and Tintamarre. Fares start at $1,659 for an inside cabin.
--by Stan Wu, Cruise Critic Contributor; Erica Silverstein, Features Editor; and Gina Kramer, Associate Editor