Although river cruising continues to enjoy a diverse audience, river cruise companies still lag behind ocean cruise lines when it comes to catering specifically to the LGBTQ market.
Perhaps it is because river sailings put a stronger emphasis on ports of call than on onboard amenities and activities, or that river cruises are smaller, making them a more intimate experience that is already inclusive of everyone.
Many cruise lines offer special training for staff about the nuances of personal relationships, including LGBTQ couples.
Other lines note that while they don't have specific cruises aimed at LGBTQ travelers, river cruising overall is very popular within the demographic. According to David Winterton, Global Director of Brand & Marketing for Emerald Waterways, "We found that LGBTQ guests love our product and don't want to be restricted to just one cruise on one date." The company does have a page on its website that lists Pride events in different European cities, however.
A common thread connecting most cruise companies is the viewpoint that river cruising should be a memorable experience for everyone no matter who is on board. We agree wholeheartedly. Here is a look at what some of the major players offer LGBTQ passengers.
Avalon Waterways has chartered some cruises in the past and typically books several sailings throughout the year through LGBTQ travel providers. On these cruises, Avalon customizes its excursions to be of particular interest to LGBTQ travelers, but any charter client can ask to create their own unique itinerary. This can include designing specific activities in ports of call to mapping out popular night spots or areas of interest in each city.
Brand G Vacations is well-known in the marketplace for its numerous river cruise trips and land tours, in addition to small ship ocean sailings. The company offers a single supplement for those traveling solo and wanting to make new friends. On some cruises, they even offer a roommate matching program that helps individuals both save cash and meet another passenger, citing that as many as 40 percent of their passengers are traveling solo. According to the company, most travelers are in their fifties, but there are often younger people onboard.
Brand G Vacations itineraries span the globe, and include trips on the Amazon, Danube, Douro, Ganges, Mekong and Rhine rivers among others, using ships chartered from some of the world's top river cruise lines. This is a top choice when it comes to river cruising with like-minded travelers.
Some of Europe’s most welcoming and diverse cities are on the agenda with Emerald Cruises. The river cruise line is one of the few brands acknowledged by the DIVA Awards, a celebration of LGBTQ women and non-binary people. Their itineraries to the gay-friendly cities of Amsterdam, Prague, Antwerp and Vienna can be timed to coincide with LGBTQ events and festivals in each town.
Olivia is a specialist in the lesbian cruise market and charters sailings on both river and ocean ships. The company notes that river cruising is a growing market among lesbian travelers. Onboard, entertainment and programming is geared toward the interests of its passengers. Similar to Brand G Vacations, it provides solo passenger rates and even has onboard coordinators that are focused on keeping single travelers engaged and involved. Room sharing is also an option.
Uniworld launched increased sensitivity training with onboard staff and its sales team in 2017. ManAboutWorld co-founders Billy Kolber and Ed Salvato flew to Cologne, Germany, to meet the staff and crew and help conduct various breakout sessions with ship captains, cruise managers and all employees who interact with guests to explain what is important to LGBTQ customers. They shared examples of how customers may feel underserved, as well as guidelines for treating everyone without bias or disrespect.
Uniworld and its sister company U by Uniworld both support their LGBTQ guests with special sailings in partnership with LGBTQ-vacation pioneer R Family. These charter cruises are hosted by gay and lesbian travel veterans Gregg Kaminsky and Kelli Carpenter, and feature LGBTQ performers, dance parties and theme nights.
VACAYA specializes in LGBTQ travel, providing sensitivity training to cruise line staff when chartering its own sailings. In addition to onboard staff, the company adds gay staff of its own. Their trips include outreach programs that allow passengers to give back to communities to promote understanding through voluntourism while in port. Weeks before a charter sailing, executives travel to the ship to talk with the onboard staff and explain the needs of their clientele. The brand also monitors interactions between crew and guests during a cruise, summarizing their notes in daily meetings.