The cruise industry has come a long way, not merely acknowledging but embracing its gay and lesbian passengers and LGBTQ travel. It's really no surprise, given there is data suggesting that the percentage of gay and lesbian travelers who take cruises is the same as -- or even slightly higher than -- the percentage of heterosexual travelers who cruise.
Gay and lesbian cruise passengers haven't been shy about their enthusiasm, either. There are now dozens of Facebook pages and online forums, such as Cruise Critics' Gay and Lesbian Cruisers board, where information about cruise lines is readily shared. That enthusiasm isn't limited to the virtual world, as many gay and lesbian passengers are much more comfortable, compared to just a few years ago, in being open about their sexual orientation while onboard, and quick to call out incidences of perceived homophobia by fellow passengers or cruise-line staff.
In short, the gay and lesbian market is one the cruise industry cannot ignore.
As a result, nearly every cruise line has adopted policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, with a growing number also including gender identity. Indeed, many are proactively marketing to gay and lesbian travelers through traditional advertising, social media, onboard programming and sponsorships of LGBTQ events and organizations.
Along with this increasing openness of cruise lines, the options for gay and lesbian cruisers have never been better. There are exclusive all-gay and all-lesbian charters hosted by companies such as Atlantis Events, RSVP Vacations, Brand g Vacations, Olivia and VACAYA; non-exclusive cruises for gay and lesbian groups through travel agencies such as Pied Piper Travel; and, of course, the ability to book directly with a preferred cruise line.
The following list highlights 10 gay- and lesbian-welcoming cruise lines, illustrating a rainbow of cruise travel opportunities that are bound to suit nearly any taste.
1. Azamara Club Cruises
Accommodating merely 690 guests each, Azamara's three ships -- Azamara Journey, Azamara Quest and Azamara Pursuit -- are very appealing to travelers seeking a more intimate experience. Another of the line's strengths is its "Destination Immersion" program, which means longer port stays, affording passengers an opportunity to more fully explore and experience destinations. The line has been known to host parties where the ship's mast dons the Pride flag in certain welcoming ports. Azamara gets a great deal of praise for its inclusive amenities such as select alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, gratuities and self-service laundry.
What Cruise Critic members are saying: "We have always had a wonderful time on Azamara! They are always very gay friendly." (Phxazzcruisers)
Special notes: Azamara is part of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which received a perfect rating on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index. The index is a national benchmarking survey and reports on corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ workplace equality. Azamara has been extremely proactive in marketing to LGBTQ travelers, and its ships are frequently booked for gay and lesbian group travel.
2. Celebrity Cruises
Providing the "best aspects of classic, elegant cruising and updating them to reflect current lifestyles'' is Celebrity Cruises' goal -- and it meets it well. Celebrity became the first-ever cruise line to legally marry same-sex couples at sea in 2018. Celebrity's newer Edge Class (2,918 passengers), Solstice Class (2,850 passengers) and its older, refurbished Millennium Class (2,138 passengers) ships are very popular. Travelers are frequently drawn to Celebrity for its ships' upscale decor, spacious standard cabins and high level of personalized service.
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What Cruise Critic members are saying: "I've always found Celebrity extraordinary in the way gay people (really any people) are treated." (johhnnyt)
Special notes: Also part of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Celebrity occasionally sponsors LGBTQ Pride events during summer sailings with specialty entertainment including DJs, drag queens, and beloved queer icons.
3. Crystal Cruises
Luxury is Crystal's priority, and its two oceangoing cruise ships, Crystal Symphony (848 passengers) and Crystal Serenity (980), provide passengers outstanding service and the flexibility to work with the cruise director to setup custom LGBTQ+ socials and dinners once onboard. The cruise line operates on an all-inclusive model with one of the highest passenger-to-staff and passenger-to-space ratios in the industry. In addition to its big ships, Crystal operates a 62-passenger yacht, an expedition ship, and Crystal River Cruises.
What Cruise Critic members are saying: "My husband and I love Crystal Cruises. ... Very nice upscale passengers and crew that are very gay friendly." (movie buff)
4. Cunard Line
The operator of Queen Elizabeth (2,058 passengers), Queen Mary 2 (2,600) and Queen Victoria (2,014), Cunard dates back to 1840 and embraces the "Golden Era" of cruising. Every cruise includes afternoon tea served by white-gloved stewards. Among Cunard's most popular offerings are its iconic transatlantic crossings aboard Queen Mary 2.
What Cruise Critic members are saying: "In general, I find Cunard to be the most gay-friendly cruise line sailing today." (eroller)
Special notes: Cunard has been a supporter of the Human Rights Campaign and has a long history of partnering with LGBTQ travel agencies for full charters and group bookings.
5. Holland America Line
A sister cruise line to Cunard, Holland America also offers a traditional cruising experience with modern touches. HAL's fleet range from the nearly identical 2,600-plus passenger Nieuw Statendam and Koningsdam to the 1,432-passenger sister ships, MS Volendam and MS Zaandam. The emphasis here is on worldwide, often lengthy, itineraries.
What Cruise Critic members are saying: "My wife and I have cruised twice on HAL. First with another lesbian couple, and the last with a straight couple. At no time did we feel uncomfortable as being 'gay women' on either cruise." (SweetP2)
Special notes: Holland America is a dependable supporter of LGBTQ organizations, including the National LGBTQ Task Force and The San Diego LGBT Community Center.
6. Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian takes a youthful approach to its cruising, having pioneered the "freestyle" concept. That translates to a relaxed dress code, flexible dining and the best of Broadway. Norwegian is also known for its large number of continental U.S. homeports, including New York, Seattle, New Orleans, Boston and Tampa.
What Cruise Critic members are saying: "I've never not met gay folk on Norwegian ships." (Cruiser Bruiser)
Special notes: Norwegian has supported organizations such as the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, and its ships are frequently chartered for gay and lesbian cruises.
7. Princess Cruises
Princess caters to a wide variety of cruisers. The "Love Boat" line offers approximately 100 itineraries, ranging from one to 100-plus days, and calling on more than 300 ports. That range is also reflected in its roving fleet of 18 large ships. Princess' innovative OceanMedallion is making cruising more convenient than ever. The quarter-sized device allows for touch-free boarding, onboard payment services, and helpful location tracking for onboard deliveries.
What Cruise Critic members are saying: "I keep going back to Princess. ... Food is good, service great and all staff are welcoming to LGBT travelers, which there almost always are quite a few." (yyjguy)
Special notes: Princess' ships have often been chartered for gay and lesbian cruises. RSVP Vacations, for example, selected Regal Princess for its 30th anniversary Caribbean cruise.
8. Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean is one of the largest cruise lines in the world, boasting an ever-expanding fleet of 24 vessels. The line puts a great deal of focus on onboard activities with such innovations as indoor skydiving and surf simulators. The line is also very tech savvy, offering some of the best internet service at sea, along with robot bartenders on some newer ships. Royal Caribbean also likes to live large with four of the world's largest cruise ships: Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas. These mega-ships hold more than 5,000 passengers each.
What Cruise Critic members are saying: "My husband and I met lots of people on Oasis and Allure, some through the roll call, but mostly just bumping into them in one of the bars. The Rising Tide Bar is a hoot, and we always saw 'family' there." (CntPAcruiser)
Special notes: With its parent company's perfect rating on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index and a rich history of hosting gay and lesbian charters and groups, there is little doubt that Royal Caribbean is a welcoming cruise line.
9. Seabourn Cruise Line
Seabourn delivers an intimate, luxury cruise on a small fleet of beautifully designed ships. The line is highly praised for its outstanding customer service, quality dining and inclusive extras such as complimentary cocktails and fitness classes. The fleet is made up of three 450-passenger ships -- Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest -- and two, newer 600-passenger ships, Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation. Standard rooms measure a generous 300 square feet, and all ships feature a restaurant by renowned chef Thomas Keller. Seabourn leans toward exotic itineraries, but mainstream ports certainly make it into the mix.
What Cruise Critic members are saying: "Having over 200 days on Seabourn (and have cruised most all the other lines), I find the line one of the most gay friendly!" (Host Dan)
Special notes: Seabourn has hosted gay and lesbian charters with Atlantis Events and frequently has gay and lesbian groups on board.
10. Virgin Voyages
With grand overtures of drag queens and bottomless-brunch, Sir Richard Branson built Virgin Voyages with the LGBTQ+ community in mind. The queer sensibilities onboard can are exuded through the line's youthful, friendly entertainment staff and the many spaces onboard where alternative art and culture is celebrated. Interested in a lasting impression after your cruise? The tattoo parlor on board is real and a souvenir you'll never forget.
Special notes: Atlantis Events partnered with Virgin Voyages to charter LGBT+ cruises. It's likely that Virgin will partner with more LGBT+ charters in the near future.