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The Golden Gays with Marilyn Borth from Cruise Critic (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

Golden Fans at Sea: What It's Like on a Golden Girls-themed Cruise

The Golden Gays with Marilyn Borth from Cruise Critic (Photo: Marilyn Borth)
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Marilyn Borth

Apr 27, 2023

Read time
12 min read

Looking for new pals and confidants with whom to eat cheesecake, dance in vibrant caftans and share your mutual love for The Golden Girls? Then you just might want to add the Golden Girls-themed cruise called "Golden Fans at Sea" on Celebrity Cruises to your bucket list.

Golden Fans at Sea, which is sometimes referred to as The Golden Girls cruise, is a themed sailing centered around the popular, timeless sitcom The Golden Girls. The Golden Girls aired from 1985 to 1992 and stars Bea Arthur (Dorothy Zbornak), Betty White (Rose Nylund), Estelle Getty (Sophia Petrillo) and Rue McClanahan (Blanche Devereaux).

The show follows four single, mature women who live together in Miami, Florida. Each individual character brings her own unique and affable personality, and their unwavering friendships and love for one another are palpable and endearing. The show was not only relatable and comical, but it was also impressively progressive for its time, raising numerous social issues like no other show before it.

While all four of the show's main actresses have sadly passed on, fans' love for them, their iconic character portrayals in The Golden Girls, and the overall progressive -- and hysterical -- nature of the TV show live on, and that now includes on the high seas in the form of an annual partial charter.

The 2023 cruise took place in mid April on Celebrity Summit. Here’s the (herbal) tea on what went down.

Golden Fans at Sea: Five Days of Fun, Themed and Hilarious Guest-Exclusive Events at Sea and on Land

The Golden Girls at Sea Theme Cruise will be hosted on Celebrity Infinity (Photo: Flip Phone Events)

Golden fans of all levels of fanaticism can set sail on Golden Fans at Sea once a year to experience one-of-a-kind, Golden Girls-everything events no other cruise offers. Some of which are a bar crawl, caftan and cheesecake party, musical performances from an undeniably talented drag troupe, meeting celebrities and exclusive nighttime boozy pool parties.

We set sail from the home of Shady Pines: Miami. The cruise totaled five days in length and made ports of call in Key West, Florida and Cozumel, Mexico. No matter whether we were at sea or in port, there was always something exciting -- and usually belly laugh-worthy -- going on.

Day One Aboard Golden Fans at Sea 2023: Caftans, Cheesecake and a Game Show

Caftan and Cheesecake Party on Golden Fans at Sea (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

After embarking on the Celebrity Summit cruise ship and receiving Golden Girls swag and other important items (a T-shirt for the upcoming bar crawl in Key West, itinerary and badge for event access), there was the Caftan and Cheesecake Welcome Party.

Guests put on their favorite caftan, which is a long loose dress that the show's characters often wore, and met and mingled for the first time over cheesecake (because, well, The Golden Girls), drinks and dancing. I myself wore a floral caftan, drank champagne, ate cheesecake and even got to meet the Golden Gays, a Golden Girls drag troupe that were the main entertainment (and, of course, take advantage of a stellar photo opp).

The Golden Gays with Marilyn Borth from Cruise Critic (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

The evening included the "Thank You for Being a Friend" game show led by Frank DeCaro (an American writer, talk show host and performer), Jim Colucci (writer of "Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai" and several other notable works), and members of the Golden Gays.

Password Game with the Golden Gays on Golden Fans at Sea (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

Guests were chosen from the crowd to join in the "Password" game show as well, which led to hilarity and even inside jokes that lasted the entire cruise.

For just one fun example, a guest was given the clue "philanthropist" (the password was "charity"). Instead of guessing, the guest paused and said into the microphone, "Side question: what's a philanthropist?" The audience and those on stage erupted in laughter and from that moment on, "philanthropist" became an inside joke for all of us (fortunately, the guest didn't mind and loved being remembered by all, bless their heart).

Let that be just a taste of the camaraderie that can be experienced on the Golden Girls-themed cruise!

Day Two Aboard Golden Fans at Sea 2023: Themed Bar Crawl in Key West and Karaoke

Golden Fans at Sea in 22&Co Bar in Key West (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

It makes sense that there would be a bar crawl on a Golden Girls-themed cruise because, just like Sophia, we don't ponder whether a glass is half empty or half full. We just drink whatever's in the glass!

Even if that glass is poured at 10:30 a.m., the hour that our bar crawl commenced. Nearly all 270 of us took to the streets of Key West in our matching yellow T-shirts (which, of course, had the four Golden Girls printed on them).

Golden Fans at Sea on the Bar Crawl from Celebrity Summit (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

The bar crawl included four quirky bars in Key West, all of which were impressively decorated with various Golden Girls-themed items specifically for us. Plus, their cocktails were at a special discount solely for our crew (including the glittery and surprisingly delicious "Unicorn Pee Cocktail" at 22&Co).

Glittery drink on the Golden Fans at Sea bar crawl (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

In the evening (after our post-drinking naps, of course), Golden fans were invited to attend Rusty Anchor Karaoke, which was held on stage in the theater. Guests performed their hearts out to the delight of their very own vibrant, cheering (and maybe a bit tipsy) audience.

And as an added beautiful bonus, there was even a wedding proposal (we like to think the romantic sides of all the Golden Girls would approve).

Day Three Aboard Golden Fans at Sea 2023: Bingo, Celebrity Panel, Costume Contest and More

Bingo Card during Golden Fans at Sea (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

The first full day at sea included an abundance of things to do, starting with Rose's Saint Olaf Bingo (nope, I didn't win anything) and was immediately followed by a celebrity panel on the Golden Girls.

The celebrity panel was hosted by Frank DeCaro and the guests included Dr. Melinda McClanahan (Rue McClanahan's sister), Stan Zimmerman (writer for The Golden Girls along with Gilmore Girls and Roseanne) and Jim Colucci.

Celebrity Panel during the Golden Fans at Sea (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

The panel discussed all things Golden Girls, including eye-opening anecdotes about the actresses. For just one example, Dr. Melinda McClanahan shared how Rue used to often be exhausted being the mediator between Bea and Betty when they would feud on set, something TV show writer Stan Zimmerman could corroborate.

Following the celebrity panel was the parody musical performance from the Golden Gays called "Hot Flashbacks!" The musical performance was truly outstanding with equal parts talented singing, dancing and hilarious raunchy jokes.

The Golden Gays Performing Hot Flashbacks (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

Then there was the Happy Hour Dance Party, which was exactly what it sounds like but with Golden Girls costumes. That’s because the costume contest party, where guests dressed as their favorite character, immediately followed. Dorothy from the Golden Gays elected several winners with the best costumes based on the audience's highest amount of applause.

Dorothy hosting the Costume Contest on the Golden Fans at Sea (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

The costumes were of what you'd expect, like Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia, along with several surprising and creative ones, like Blanche's beloved vase from the episode "Break In" and Foxy Loxy from "Henny Penny- Straight, No Chaser." The collective dedication of the Golden fans was truly impressive!

Costume Contest during the Golden Fans at Sea (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

Day Four Aboard Golden Fans at Sea 2023: Beach Party in Mexico and Nighttime Pool Party

We arrived at the island of Cozumel in Mexico where we went on an excursion called "Shady Pines Goes to the Beach: Beach Party at Playa Mia in Cozumel, Mexico." Our bus took us from the Cozumel cruise port straight to Playa Mia, Cozumel's largest beach park that features pools, a beautiful beach, water activities, food and drinks.

Golden Fans sailing in Cozumel (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

We had an area on the beach specifically for our group of Golden gals along with our own buffet and open bar. Those several hours in the Mexican sun with margaritas in such a well-operated beach park were certainly not half bad. Plus, I got to share a kayak with Jim Colucci -- even after having several margaritas.

Playa Mia in Cozumel Mexico (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

Our beach bumming day ended with an evening solarium and pool party back on the ship, which was certainly welcomed for soothing my sunburned skin.

Day Five Aboard Golden Fans at Sea 2023: Golden Girls Trivia, 80s-Themed Silent Disco and Farewell Party

The fifth and final day of our cruise kicked off with the second celebrity panel where the same group shared even more fun facts and anecdotes about the show and actresses. Shortly afterwards was the Golden Girls Trivia with Jim Colucci where fans could really test out their Golden Girls knowledge.

The Golden Gays put on a second dazzling performance afterwards called "The Golden Games! A Golden Girls Musical." The Golden Gays did it again by impressing us all with their musical talent and quick wit but also their ability to be game show hosts.

The Golden Gays playing Jeopardy! (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

During the performance, they hosted three different games: Jeopardy!, The Love Connection and Grab That Dough. The drag troupe brought various guests on stage and the winner of all the games was selected to be the Token Sophia (the troupe only has Blanche, Rose and Dorothy).

Grab that Dough with the Golden Gays on the Golden Fans at Sea (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

One major highlight of not only the final day but of the entire cruise for me was the 80s-themed silent disco. Guests dressed up in their favorite 80s attire and wore provided noise-canceling headphones. The headphones had three different DJ sets available to choose from and illuminated either yellow, green or red to indicate which one the wearer was jamming to -- and that makes finding new dancing partners a cinch.

80s outfits during an 80s themed silent disco (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

The music mainly consisted of popular 80s songs but some more modern music -- and even musical and Disney hits -- as well. Almost everyone there (including me) nearly lost their voices singing out loud we were so wrapping up in the fun (apologies to anyone nearby without those headphones on).

Silent Disco with 80s costumes (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

After we all made a much-needed pit stop at the Martini Bar on the ship (and tried the shockingly strong and delicious pickle martinis), we attended the Farewell Party in the Solarium. Guests soaked in hot tubs and swam in the indoor pool, tearfully reminiscing about memories made on board and exchanging contact details with new Golden friends.

The Golden Girls-themed Cruise: Who It's For

Golden Fans at Sea 2020 (Photo: Darin Kamnetz)

Do you love the Golden Girls, laughing, traveling, raunchy jokes and making new pals and confidants? Then the Golden Girls-themed cruise might just be perfect for you.

Don't be fooled into thinking that the only people on a Golden Girls-themed cruise are those in the same age bracket as the Golden Girls themselves. Guests typically have a wide range of ages, being anywhere from 21 to 80+. I myself am 31 and met plenty of others around my age and those who weren't, too.

A large portion of guests are also LGBTQIA+, so if you are too or you're an ally, then this cruise is very likely for you.

You don't have to be the world's biggest Golden Girls fan to have a good time on this cruise. As long as you have at least seen the series and know some references, you're bound to enjoy it. I personally have seen the show all the way through when I was much younger and binge-watched it again in preparation for this experience. While I may not have known every obscure quote and scene, I still managed to enjoy myself overall.

And if you do consider yourself a connoisseur of The Golden Girls, you'll almost definitely get a kick out of this cruise.

Whether you're an avid cruiser or a first-time cruiser, you would fit in perfectly on a Golden Girls-themed cruise as well. I met people of all kinds of cruising backgrounds who thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Note that this cruise might not be ideal for those with small children and families, however, as there is a good deal of colorful language, sexual jokes and boozy partying.

The Golden Fans: Easily Make (and Keep) New Pals and Confidants

Marilyn Borth from Cruise Critic (center) with guests dressed as Stanley (left) and Dorothy (right) from the Golden Girls (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

Many Golden cruisers had stated that they had made life-long friendships during their Golden Girls-themed cruise -- and we can agree with them with gusto. Fellow Golden fans are affable and open to anyone, no matter your size, shape, color or favorite Golden Girls character (shoutout to my fellow Blanche fans).

A large portion of fans are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, making it one of the most welcoming, friendly and open-minded groups. There is even an active private Facebook group available to facilitate camaraderie and extend friendships beyond the sailing itself.

The group was simply fun, easy-going and outgoing -- so much so that numerous people who were on the cruise but not a part of the Golden Fans at Sea crew wanted to join in on our exclusive events!

What It's Really Like Being a Part of Golden Fans at Sea

So what exactly is it like being a part of the Golden crew? Truly an experience unlike any other, to say the least.

The Golden Gays performance (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

Guests almost always wore vibrant outfits throughout the sailing, most of which being costumes in direct connection with the Golden Girls. Imagine caftans, gray wigs, gigantic "granny" glasses, gaudy jewelry galore and shimmering everything. All were commonplace at every Golden Fans at Sea event, but also often when Golden fans wandered around the ship on their down time.

There were times where I didn't have a costume to wear (or simply didn't feel like wearing one for just a moment, like at the celebrity panels) and that was welcomed, too. Others wore common cruise clothes quite often as well, because, after all, wearing a caftan and wig on the beach in Mexico isn't exactly a comfortable situation.

Sophia Costumes on the Bar Crawl in Key West (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

No matter how dressed up or dressed down I was (with or without makeup, too), I fit right in -- which was a semblance of the overall acceptance from this crowd. It didn't matter if we were old or young, LGBTQIA+ or an ally, a die-hard Golden Girls fan or a somewhat "basic" fan -- regardless of who you are, you could mesh well with this group.

Everyone there simply loved to imbibe, too, which means there was booze always within reach and the fans were almost always smiling (including yours truly). There were free drinks at several events along with small personal bars just for us at nearly all goings on (we had to pay for those drinks on our own). Did I mention the open bar at the beach in Cozumel and the entire bar crawl in Key West?

There were some moments and situations, however, that were a little uncomfortable. Cliques developed relatively quickly on this cruise and if I did miss an event, I felt a little left out at the next one and even experienced FOMO (or "fear of missing out") on future events.

And if you don't know nearly every popular quote and scenario from the show, feeling a little lost at some gatherings and in conversations is inevitable. Yours truly had seen the show all the way through, yet still managed to feel slightly lost when hearing obscure quotes from the show -- and that deterred a couple of serious die-hard fans from continuing the conversation with me.

Long story short, "study up" on the Golden Girls and you're bound to have an exemplary time -- and make even more friends in doing so, as you'll have so much more to bond over.

All in all, it was a well-operated and enjoyable partial charter that focused on (and hit) three things: love for the Golden Girls, having fun while being yourself and unforgettable experiences -- and it was all thanks to Flip Phone Events, Dream Vacations and Celebrity Cruises, a trifecta of professional and passionate organizers.

I would be remiss if I didn't say it: Thank you for being a friend, Golden Fans at Sea.

The Next Golden Fans at Sea Cruise: Picture It-- Sicily!

Golden Fans at Sea 2020 (Photo: Darin Kamnetz)

When is the next Golden Fans at Sea? Fortunately, it isn't too far away, pussycats; the 2024 Golden Fans at Sea cruise is open for booking -- and yes, the Golden Gays have thankfully been confirmed for this sailing, too. This cruise takes a different route and heads to the Mediterranean on the new Celebrity Ascent in September.

The 10-day Golden Fans at Sea cruise itinerary includes stops in Barcelona, Nice, Ajaccio in Corsica, Cagliari in Sardinia, Valletta in Malta, Sicily (picture it!), Naples and Rome.

Exclusive Golden Girls events are only accessible to those who book through Dream Vacations or Flip Phone Events (the head honchos of the Golden Fans at Sea).

Updated April 27, 2023
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