Updated October 2, 2017
The gay and lesbian cruise market has been served by themed and chartered cruises for more than 25 years. But not every LGBTQ traveler is seeking an entire ship of the same gender. Sometimes you simply want to walk onto a ship full of diverse people and feel completely accepted for who you are.
That's the culture that Celebrity Cruises is trying to foster onboard its ships, in the community and throughout its company.
For that important reason, we've compiled a list of why Celebrity is an excellent cruise line to choose if you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
There are no secret meetups under the guise of "Friends of Dorothy" on Celebrity. (The name was changed in 2014.) Instead, get-togethers for the LGBTQ crowd are listed on the daily program as exactly that: LBGTQ social hours. Not only is this demographic of cruisers recognized publicly, but social gatherings are scheduled almost nightly. "I think of our ships as ... a community of people from different backgrounds and places, and they should be celebrated for that [diversity]," says Peter Giorgi, Chief Marketing Officer for Celebrity Cruises. "We want them to have their best week or two weeks all year, onboard."
Crew onboard cruise ships hail from countries all across the world. The blend of nationalities onboard -- somewhere between 50 and 60 on Celebrity -- is enriching, and a point of pride for many cruise lines, but different cultures mean many different viewpoints on sexuality and gender identity. That's why Celebrity makes sure that staff -- both shoreside and onboard -- undergo special cultural sensitivity training so they are equipped to treat all passengers, regardless of sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity or any other identifier, with equal respect and dignity. Celebrity also offers an unconscious bias training so staff can be cognizant of any bias that they might have and not be aware of.
The environment is not only welcoming onboard, but Celebrity Cruises makes a point to partner with many land-based organizations that support LGBTQ rights. Celebrity has sponsored the Gay Pride Festival in Miami Beach, where the company is headquartered, and won best float in 2017. "We will continue to sponsor the Pride Parade in our own backyard," Giorgi told Cruise Critic. "I believe the LGBTQ community in Miami is underserved, and the parade should be on the map in a big way. Talking about what we could do to bring the experience onboard, we thought people should still have a chance to celebrate, even at sea, so we decided to host a global pride party. There was a pride event held at the same time across nine ships, and it's something I think we will continue into the future."
Haute on Hudson is another event Celebrity co-sponsored with OUT Magazine, which benefited a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center in New York City called The Center. More corporate sponsorships and LGBTQ initiatives are on the horizon, with the potential for diversity summits at sea.
Celebrity Cruises' emphasis on LGBTQ inclusion doesn't feel like a forced marketing ploy, but a true effort made in earnest. CMO Giorgi told us "[Inclusion] has always been at the heart of what we do and it's one of the first things we did when I joined, which is uncovering our brand purpose -- who are we, what do we do. We're not manufacturing it -- it's more about how do we bring it to surface more. We're this global community that travels the world, and our offerings have always transcended strict views of what constructs a family or couple. So we just peeled back the layers and brought to the surface values that weren't as overt, historically."
When asked about LGBTQ offerings across the line, hotel director Christophe Belaubre, who's been onboard Celebrity ships on and off for 14 years, told us "We've always been open to diversity, and hopefully LGBT is just one example of it…. It's refreshing especially when you look at the world we live in to see that; to be working in an environment and see what should be happening is actually happening, and everybody works together to make it happen, it's crazy."
One way in which Celebrity practices what it preaches is by hiring people who align with its values. For example, when the cruise line hired celebrity designer Nate Berkus as the brand's design ambassador, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Celebrity's CEO, told Cruise Week in an interview they didn't choose Berkus "just because his design credentials are superb. It was also because he represents a community that we care about. He was aligned with our values." Among those values, according to Cruise Week, is that Berkus is openly gay.
In addition, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. group (Celebrity's parent company) appointed Grant Van Ulbrich to Director of Diversity & Inclusion, a new position for those brands, in 2016. An entire team is now devoted to diversity and inclusion, making sure the line appeals to travelers of all backgrounds and taking the lead on sponsorship opportunities like the Pride Parade.
Celebrity also aims for inclusivity in its marketing efforts. "Right now, there's no single LGBTQ initiative," says Giorgi. "It's a holistic relooking at imagery and language -- who is in the marketing and what we say about them, the casting and photography. Our social media channels have been more inclusive, and we feel it's important that it's year-round, not just in June [for Pride Month]. Around Valentine's Day, we ran a Sweethearts at Sea album on Facebook and one of the photos was of a same sex couple. The response was overwhelming. Couples of all kinds were sharing their own stories, and commenting. It was touching."
"Inclusiveness is shown in the company and by the people we work for every day -- you can't help but have it on your mind; the fabric of who we are is reflected in what we do," Giorgi says.
Cruise Ship Offerings
An inclusive cruise is still no fun if it's boring. Luckily, Celebrity offers a vibrant nightlife with special events like concerts on the lawn, flashy production shows and a silent disco that is a total riot. Main dining offers a high caliber of food, but alternative restaurants elevate special evenings with themed menus and a sophisticated atmosphere. (You can even book a private room in many restaurants for just your crew.) Long and exotic cruise itineraries are available, with a noticeable dip in the number of kids onboard, if that isn't your thing. A peaceful Solarium pool lounge and enrichment like glass-blowing demonstrations are some other examples of at-sea amenities that appeal to all Celebrity cruisers.
The Vibe Onboard
All of the advertising, the programming and the sponsorships add up to a distinct message of support, but none of that matters if the onboard atmosphere feels off or unwelcoming. Onboard Celebrity, LGBTQ cruisers not only report more gay couples and groups, but also allies. Allies are considered anyone who is open, accepting and supportive of the LGBTQ community. We met Michael and Jim, a couple who was celebrating their 30th anniversary, and they mentioned that the night before in the dining room, the crew brought them an anniversary cake and Champagne. Not only that, but they were touched that everyone at surrounding tables cheered and clapped like they were any other couple. Because they are. Diversity is a Celebrity credo, and fellow passengers subscribe.