My first cruise was in 2021 on P&O Cruises Britannia. Less than 2 years later, I have taken 9 cruises. It's very addictive -- but for me, it's also safe. I'm a trans person, and from the moment I first stepped onboard my first cruise, I immediately knew that this was a safe space for me to express myself as a trans person.
The diversity found aboard cruise ships is sweeping, from passengers who hail from all different backgrounds and walks of life, to the diversity of crew onboard. On my travels aboard ship, I have met many LGBTQIA+ passengers and crew onboard, including several trans people. I have always felt as though I belong, and have never felt as though I am the "odd one" on cruises.
For trans and LGBTQIA+ travelers, however, their first cruise can be a daunting experience. These are my experiences and tips for fellow trans passengers considering or already booked to go on a cruise.
Dress codes are one of the most debatable subjects in the cruise industry. As a trans person, adhering to strict dress codes can be extremely difficult, particularly when the dress code is written in a very "gender segregated" way.
For example, ‘Tuxedos for men and cocktail dresses for women' is a common but gendered suggestion offered up by many cruise lines. In my experience, I have found this extremely difficult to adhere to, and I imagine some fellow trans/non-binary passengers to find these dress codes difficult to follow. I now usually try to wear slight feminine/gender neutral cruising (I am trans MTF) and try to make sure it is smart for formal night. For example, on my last P&O Cruises' celebration night (Formal night) I wore:
This was fine for the head waiter at the Chef's Table (an included restaurant on Iona only operating during formal nights), though I did get some very strange looks from fellow passengers, especially as some passengers pointed out that, strictly speaking, I was in breach of the dress code.
The good news is most cruise lines are relaxing the wording of the dress code and making the dress code more of a suggestion than a strict requirement. Cruise lines like MSC, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean have very relaxed dress codes, and trans cruisers might feel most comfortable sailing on such a line.
On paper, P&O Cruises has quite strict dress codes, but the line has hinted it is looking at relaxing the dress code or at least making it more inclusive. Cruise lines would do well to make sure their dress code is "gender neutral," like many workplaces are doing.
If you think you will have issues with the dress code, you can also email the cruise line and request an exception. On its website, P&O Cruises has confirmed that it gives dress code exceptions.
Other cruise lines are likely to have similar policies. When in doubt, we recommend contacting customer service teams for further information.
I never had an issue with transphobia from crew.
Several lines we spoke with, including P&O, MSC Cruises and Cunard, have strict training for crew members as part of their induction programs, which includes training about transgender guests and how to make them feel comfortable and safe onboard. Such training can include encouraging crew not to assume a person's gender and the enforcement of evening dress codes in a flexible manner. Training can also include on how a person's preferred name can be different than their legal name (more on that later), and also information on pronoun badges (she/her, he/him and them/they) and how some people where them.
Cunard goes above and beyond, offering the opportunity for transgender passengers to have a meeting with the Customer Service Manager onboard to discuss arrangements and any requests that the passenger might have to make them feel comfortable. This extra layer of understanding goes a long way to addressing the fact that different passengers will have different personal needs once onboard.
I have found the crew very understanding and respectful about gender and pronouns, and have felt comfortable enough to talk about my gender identity to some crew members onboard.
If you are still nervous about crew understanding of trans considerations, you can always email the cruise line in advance. Most are more than happy to send a memo to all guest-facing crew with extra guidance and training prior to your arrival.
For example, for a cruise I took aboard P&O Cruises Azura, I notified P&O Cruises in advance. My cabin steward was briefed by the Customer Service Manager onboard Azura, which made the experience comfortable right from the start.
What if you experience any sort of transphobia or issues with crew onboard? Go to reception and advise them; they will usually deal with it in a professional manner and ensure problems are rectified. If you are nervous to speak to reception in person, consider using the cruise line's app to chat with reception in a more private setting. I have found the chat feature extremely useful to speak about sensitive issues.
In my experience, fellow cruise passengers have been extremely nice and understanding, however demographics and understanding do play a part.
Personally, I feel more able to express myself easily on a ship with a younger demographic such as P&O Cruises' newest vessel, Iona, while I have felt more restricted in expressing myself on some cruise ships that cater to an older demographic that are likely to be more conservative. However, this does not mean that older ships have a less accepting crowd, nor have I ever felt unsafe or uncomfortable on older ships. But trans passengers might very well feel more accepted on bigger, newer ships that cater to a wider variety of cruiser.
For what it's worth, I have experienced very little hate onboard cruise ships. My comfort level is such that I have started wearing pronoun badges when I am onboard to make myself more comfortable. I’ve only experienced one hate incident where a passenger shouted and laughed at me for wearing a pronoun badge; this was uncomfortable, but I just left the area and did not engage them.
Know that your fellow passengers are probably very curious. I also get asked "You must be the only transgender passenger onboard?" a lot. The answer most of the time is that no, I am far from the only trans cruiser aboard. On a Norwegian Fjords cruise aboard Iona, I met 5 trans people. So, fellow trans passengers, you are not alone.
If you're wondering where you can meet fellow trans passengers, the answer is the LGBTQIA+ meet ups offered onboard.
Most cruise lines including Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, MSC, P&O and Cunard have LGBTQIA+ meet ups on sea days on most itineraries, and some even have them on port days. On my last cruise with P&O Cruises, the LGBTQIA+ meet up was held every day at 5 p.m. in the Crow's Nest, which I thought was the perfect time to have them, as it coincided with sailaway.
I have always found the LGBTQIA+ meetups to be a safe space where I can express myself and talk about things in general. In these meetups, you are not expected to talk if you do not want to, and there is no minimum amount of talking required if you are nervous. These gatherings are usually self-hosted, but some cruise lines have their meetups hosted on the first night of the cruise by a member of the ship's staff.
Some trans people are unsure about taking a cruise because they fear getting "deadnamed" -- the act of referring to a transgender or non-binary person by a name they used prior to transitioning -- by crewmembers.
What cruisers mght not know is that you can tell the cruise lines that you have a different name that you want to go by onboard rather than your legal name. Most cruise lines have policies ensuring that this can be facilitated for the passengers upon request.
For example, passengers wishing to go by another name sailing aboard P&O Cruises and Cunard will get two keycards: one with your legal name, and one with your "preferred name." You can use any card you want onboard, but you will need both cards when going ashore for security reasons, which require that your legal name and ID be presented. For P&O Cruises and Cunard, customer service teams will advise on what to do. Both lines have a dedicated guest support manager who is responsible for this policy.
Holland America Line told Cruise Critic it has a similar policy, stating, "We need the legal name for our manifest --whatever matches up with a government issued ID or passport. However, we can issue keycards to show only preferred names. This means that staff would only see the preferred name on the keycard, and address the guest by what they prefer to be called.
"The guest would visit Guest Services to have the change made, and then guest services, in turn, would advise the security team that the preferred name may not match up with the manifest when a guest is disembarking or embarking at a port."
Carnival Cruise Line stated the same was true for trans passengers cruising aboard its Fun Ships. "At Carnival, we are committed to a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion for our team members and our guests. Our company brings together many cultures, backgrounds, beliefs and points of view and every person shall be treated with dignity, courtesy and respect.
"As part of that commitment, guests may request a Sail & Sign card with their preferred name, and they are welcome to use this card while on board. For security purposes, all guests must use their legal names that match their picture ID cards to get on and off the ship."
MSC Cruises stated, "Guests can add this request to their booking, which will be visible to all crew when they swipe your card. This can be done either by your travel agent or manually, if booked directly on our website."
Princess Cruises has a very cool feature where you can set your preferred name via the Princess Cruises Medallion app, though your legal name remains on screens outside your door and on staff devices. Princess Cruises confirmed that its Medallions -- devices used oboard and ashore in lieu of keycards -- need to match passengers' legal names. "Regarding the Medallion itself, it is an official identifier that has to match a guest’s passport for security purposes," the line said in a statement.
Royal Caribbean's policies were murkier. The line responded to a query, "As diversity and inclusion are part of our core values, Royal Caribbean Group has been a leader in equality and equity for all, and we support all our LGBTQ+ guests, crew, employees and their families."
Sister-brand Celebrity Cruises told Cruise Critic it was working through policies and training as this article went to press regarding preferred names.
I have usually had a smooth experience regarding changing the preferred name onboard, but on a cruise last year, I did have an issue where the cruise line issued and printed a boarding pass for my charter flight in my preferred name. Airline boarding passes do need to show the legal name of the passenger, but after a quick visit to the friendly reception team, a new boarding pass was reprinted with the correct name.
Apparently, this happened due to the outdated computer system not being set up to accommodate preferred and legal names. Trans cruisers should always ensure they doublecheck that their documentation appears in preferred and legal names, where appropriate.
Some countries are more accepting than other countries regarding transgender people. Some countries -- particularly many on Middle Eastern itineraries -- are sadly not accepting of this and might not be safe for transgender passengers.
Trans cruisers considering any itinerary should always research their ports of call in advance. Resources like the U.S. Department of State, Government of Canada's Travel Advice and Advisories and GOV.UK are invaluable. These offer travel advice for every country, including relevant information the LGBTQIA+ traveler needs to know. Research each port of call long before booking the cruise.
The responsibility is yours: Cruise lines will rarely issue warnings if a port is unsafe for LGBTQIA+ passengers
Updated April 24, 2023