It used to be common to see a “Friends of Dorothy” meetup listed in your cruise ship's daily newsletter (sometimes abbreviated as FOD), usually grouped among singles meetups, Friends of Bill W. or even the bridge club meetings.
The term “Friends of Dorothy “ is still in use on some cruise ships, although modernization efforts have put what these meet-ups are more front and center. Friends of Dorothy is an old euphemism for people who identify as LGBTQ+: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and all other members of the queer community. With more openness around sexuality now, the term Friend of Dorothy has become merely quaint, and LGBTQ+ events at sea are labeled with clear language on most major cruise lines.
And while the term Friends of Dorothy has faded from common use, many members of the queer community continue to enjoy cruise vacations. If you're among them, here's everything you need to know about LGBTQ+ meetups at sea.
The History of the Friends of Dorothy
The term Friends of Dorothy reaches back more than half a century, coming into popular use in the 1950s as gays and lesbians developed a connection with the musical icon Judy Garland, whose relentless spirit epitomized camp and glamour, while her rather tragic life circumstances mirrored their own struggles in everyday life.
Garland's most famous role – as the ever-optimistic and wistful Dorothy in the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz" – gave gays and lesbians a "secret" code word that they could use to refer to themselves. At cocktail parties or company gatherings where one could not be comfortably "out and proud," gays would inquire discreetly of each other, "Are you a Friend of Dorothy?" The admission of "I am, too!" would likely lead to fast bonding in an age when gay bars were clandestine and, in some cases, dangerous.
Friends of Dorothy meetings began popping up on cruise ships' daily programs in the late 1980s as gay passengers began to seek out more social meetings with their own affinity group. They wanted an easy way to identify and socialize with other queer travelers on large ships.
These meetings occurred sporadically at first, dependent on the policies of the cruise lines and the whims of individual cruise directors. As gays and lesbians gained more acceptance and visibility, these meetings began appearing with more regularity.
Now, most major cruise lines have official policies to host and publicize these meetings on as many of their ships as possible.
What Happens at LGBTQ+ Meetups?
LGBTQ+ meetups are most commonly a casual cocktail party at one of the ship's bars or public rooms, sometimes with complimentary drinks and a member of the ship's social staff (an out staff member, if possible) on hand to get the conversations started.
Ideally, the cruise director will offer the LGBTQ+ meeting early in the cruise and on more than one day, to give everyone who wants to attend more options. The gatherings are great for making new friends who can then join you for dinner, drinks or shore excursions throughout the trip.
Sometimes meet-ups are self-led; you show up at the bar at the designed time on your app and program and introduce yourself to others.
Do All Cruises Have LGBTQ+ Meetups?
Though LGBTQ+ meetups may go by different names, you're likely to find that most large cruise lines have some type of get-together.
Celebrity leads queer experiences at sea, with fleetwide first-night LGBTQ+ Welcome Parties on almost every cruise. In addition, Celebrity hosts various LGBTQ+ events and social hours on a majority of its cruises and has a dedicated section of its website addressing its LGBTQ+ passengers.
The other major cruise lines approach LGBTQ+ meetings in their own way. Many designate one LGBTQ+ meetup per sailing. Some may omit LGBTQ+ meetings on a cruise for various reasons, such as scheduling, with no slight intended. Pandemic-related health and safety protocols are occasionally preventing cruise lines from accepting requests for private parties until further notice.
Most smaller cruise lines don’t offer official meetups onboard. Because of their more intimate size, they rarely feel it's necessary to offer LGBTQ+ get-togethers because the ships attract people who are usually drawn to the cruise for the destination and it’s easier to meet people organically.
Do LGBTQ+ Meetups Signal That a Cruise Will Be Gay-Friendly?
Cruising culture is designed to be as inclusive as possible. Diversity is a hallmark of cruising, as passengers and crew from many different backgrounds unite in the shared experience of travel. As for LGBTQ+ travelers, a designated meetup can be a welcome tip-of-the-hat, a sign that you're not alone.
However, it would be misguided to say that homophobia does not exist at sea, and how welcoming a ship feels can have more to do with who's onboard a particular sailing, rather than anything the cruise line does in an official capacity. Certain lines do get higher marks than others for being welcoming to LGBTQ+ passengers; consider starting your cruise planning with those companies.
Lines including Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Holland America regularly host entire-ship charters for the gay and lesbian markets, for which their officers and crew undergo custom LGBTQ+ diversity training. This training carries over onto regular cruises with gay passengers and can help make a ship seem more gay-friendly.
Why Did No One Show Up to the LGBTQ+ Meetup on My Cruise?
The biggest complaint from frequent gay cruisers is that turnout is often sparse at LGBTQ+ meetups. Yet when asked why he never attended a meetup, one-half of a gay professional couple that cruises at least once a year replied, "I don't need any gay meetings." Not every LGBTQ+ cruiser wants to socialize with other out travelers, and some don't want to be social at all. After all, just because you're both gay doesn't mean you have everything in common with some stranger you've just met.
Apps, too, have made meeting other LGBTQ+ travelers onboard much easier. In addition, some couples organize their own private LGBTQ+ parties in their staterooms for friends and new acquaintances they've made around the ship. They prefer more private events to the official meetups.
Another reason for poor attendance is that gay passengers may have forgotten about the meeting in the midst of a competing wine-tasting or spa treatment, or the beckoning waters of the pool. With so much going on, drinks at a designated time might not make the cut as travelers plan their day on the ship.
Can I Arrange My Own LGBTQ+ Meetup?
Arranging your own meetup depends on the cruise line, and most are not able to accommodate passenger-led meetups, particularly listing them formally in their schedules and providing a specific space.
That said, if you're on a cruise that doesn't have an LGBTQ+ meetup and you'd like to set one up, it's good to note that cruise directors are often keen on accommodating these kinds of special requests. Don't be shy in advocating for arrangements to gather friends -- new and old -- for activities, drinks and dinner.