Imagine a cruise ship filled with fun-loving passengers who believe "love is love," no matter who you are. Add in life-affirming dance celebrations, talented entertainment and attentive hospitality and you'll find Vacaya, a new LGBT+ charter cruise.
Vacaya runs full ship charters best described as weeklong gay weddings for 2,000 passengers. The company is making waves in the gay travel market as the first to expressly address and welcome all genders and sexual identities on the same cruise. We sailed on the inaugural Provincetown voyage on Celebrity Summit, decked out with a full rainbow wrap.
Here are the top reasons any fun-seeking LGBT+ vacationers should consider a Vacaya cruise.
Vacaya is the first gay cruise company to address the full LGBT+ spectrum, expanding the "plus" to LGBTQIAPK (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans persons, queer men/women or those questioning their sexuality, intersex, asexual, pansexual or polyamorous, and kink individuals). Meet-ups for each letter of the acronym fill up the schedule on the first day of the cruise, offering the chance to find your people.
Passengers are noticeably friendlier and more eager to get to know each other than on a typical cruise, and relationships grew organically throughout our voyage. Vacaya creates many opportunities to mingle, and it feels like gay summer camp, bringing everyone together to share stories, dance and celebrate life.
As one passenger put it, "I can't be my true self at home, but here I can be free, and that is just wonderful."
Vacaya reaches for the stars and literally books all of them. The inaugural sailing hosted an embarrassment of entertainment riches on its Provincetown cruise, and the entertainment alone was worth the price of the cruise.
Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth led the kick-off ceremony with a performance before she was declared the godmother of Vacaya. Onboard headliners included "Smash and Scorpion" star Katharine McPhee, "Glee" breakout star Alex Newell, "Will and Grace's" Leslie Jordan and Broadway's Lesli Margherita. New York cabaret favorites like Susie Mosher, Tori Scott and Michael Orland brought musical chops that made every show an "I can't believe how good this is!" moment.
Bringing the energy and ensuring all things ran according to plan, the Vacaya staff (known as the Vacayans) were a well-orchestrated team of friendly guides. Identifiable in their pink shirts, the Vacayans went out of their way to get to know everyone onboard.
They were stationed around the ship, as well as at Vacaya's pop-up support desk, to field all questions and address any concerns. The team helped to connect passengers socially, bridge any communication gaps between the passengers and the cruise line, and gathered feedback to improve the trip as it progressed.
The trip also had two cruise directors, Celebrity's designated cruise director plus Vacaya's own cruise director, Jaymes Vaughan. Together, they kept passengers informed about the ship's activities, ports and customs, offering favorite tips throughout the trip. Vaughan, a natural extrovert with a genuine touch, was especially welcoming and helped to establish a playful vibe onboard.
Anticipating the demand at the bars, Vacaya created a bar ticket program to expedite all drink transactions. Each paper ticket bought in advance cost $7.67 and could be used for drinks up to $9 at all restaurants and bars throughout the ship. For drinks above $9, the ship would bill you the difference on your SeaPass card. No drink tickets were included in the cruise fare, but the tickets were available in a bulk discount before sailing.
By eliminating the need for everyone to always sign a chit, the drink ticket system kept the parties lively and the bars moving.
From the raucous cheers of the sail-away party to the rousing beats on the late-night pool deck dance floor, there's a celebration at every turn on a Vacaya sailing. The pool deck parties are the highlights of nights at sea, as the ship transforms into a haven for fun-spirited partygoers who understand how to make the most of a theme. Come prepared with your best threads, though dressing up is certainly not a requirement. Vacaya is the rare gay charter that ditches house music for tunes you can sing along with, filling the dance floor with nostalgic joy.
Sailing into uncharted territories in the gay cruise scene, Vacaya created a safe public space for sex called "The Red Light District." Set on the top deck basketball court from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. nightly, the space was the first of its kind in gay cruising, offering passengers and voyeurs the chance to flaunt their kinks consensually in the open air.
Vacaya delivers an escape into a queer utopia, where the entire LGBTQIAPK (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Polygamous/polyamorous, Kink) community and their allies can relax in an accepting environment. Vacaya's commitment to all aspects of the queer community runs deep. The recent sailing welcomed a racially diverse crowd, with the age ranges spanning generations, all commingling and sharing stories.
One exception: Vacaya's minimum age is 18, so the atmosphere is adult, and the pool decks are not dominated by children. Also, while the ship advocated and welcomed straight allies, there were few to be found onboard.
Many passengers we spoke to note the stark difference from Vacaya's primary competition, Atlantis Events and RSVP Vacations, saying that Vacaya's commitment to embracing all races, gender identities and body types ran far deeper. Events onboard had a very "come as fabulous as you want to be" attitude, utilizing the Vacaya's staff of all ages, sizes and backgrounds as hosts to set the tone.
Body positivity was an integral part of the culture onboard, as the nonjudgmental atmosphere had almost no limits on clothing, or lack thereof, welcoming passengers to sunbathe topless. For the more free-spirited, nude sunbathing was available on the secluded top deck.
Fostering a safe environment both at sea and port, Vacaya only travels to destinations safe for LGBT+ folks, taking much of the guesswork out of travel planning. In addition, Vacaya's shore excursions offer the chance to engage with the local communities on a personal level with the company's ReachOUT program. The Provincetown cruise's inaugural ReachOUT initiative was its Rainbow Flag Reunion, reuniting pieces from the largest rainbow flag ever assembled on the beach of Provincetown, in celebration of pride and the 50-year anniversary of Stonewall.
Excursions on Vacaya are a little different from those on your typical cruise. Whether hosted by Vacaya (there are a few special Vacaya-organized excursions per voyage) or by the cruise line, the shore excursions (for an additional fee) are tailored to be more vigorous for Vacaya's younger audience, offer options that start later in the day so those that have been up late partying the night before can get a good night's rest, and end later to take advantage of the full day in port instead of rushing back to the ship for a meal.
You know you're going to get a nice ship when you book Vacaya, but the line will offer three types of vacations for different travel styles and budgets. The inaugural voyage sailed on the newly refreshed Celebrity Summit and launched the Vacaya Bliss concept. Vacaya Bliss is targeted at the traveler who seeks out a large-ship experience, complete with grand parties, entertainment and nonstop activities.
Vacaya Luxe will focus on intimate, luxury cruising, launching this December with a series of European River cruises on Emerald Destiny and an Icelandic cruise on the soon-to-launch Le Jacques Cartier from Ponant Cruises. Vacaya Oasis is the third component of the Vacaya brand, encompassing full buyouts of five-star luxury resorts.
Updated November 21, 2019