Atlantis Events -- the largest company specializing in all-gay and lesbian cruises, which brought us this year's biggest-ever gay charter aboard Freedom of the Seas -- has announced that it has acquired its sole major competitor in this market, RSVP Vacations.

Both Atlantis and RSVP (credited with pioneering the all-gay cruise vacation) have been chartering large and small cruise ships from major lines such as Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Celebrity for all-gay trips during the past fifteen years. These popular trips, which include special entertainment, such as dance parties and onboard activities, have become big business in the past decade, with more guests and more exotic itineraries (such as Atlantis' Rio Carnaval Cruise in South America and RSVP Vacations' Queen Mary 2 crossing this summer) than ever before. In 2007 alone, Atlantis will host 20,000 guests on its various cruises and land vacations.

Two years ago, RSVP Vacations was acquired by PlanetOut, Inc., the leading gay and lesbian entertainment and publishing company responsible for Out Magazine, The Out Traveler and, among other properties. PlanetOut's goal was to leverage its numerous and popular media vehicles in the gay community to help build the RSVP cruise business, but in the past year, the number of cruises offered by RSVP has actually declined compared to past years.

Meanwhile, Atlantis has been more successful in building its core business by focusing on chartering the biggest and most glamorous ships afloat; the upcoming February 2008 Liberty of the Seas cruise will be the largest gay cruise ever, trumping even this year's Freedom of the Seas charter (check out our virtual cruise from that sailing). Karen Magee, CEO of PlanetOut, states, "The size of the combined company will allow us to better deliver an unparalleled guest experience, and provide us with the opportunity to offer more unique itineraries at great prices."

According to Atlantis CEO Rich Campbell, as of now the RSVP brand will remain intact and distinct from the Atlantis brand, and all of RSVP's previously scheduled cruises in 2008 will sail as normal (Exotic Caribbean cruise in February, Barbados Bliss in March and Tahitian Treasure in November), with the same high-caliber entertainment and onboard activities. Campbell states, "Future RSVP cruises will continue to be consistent with our heritage, our culture, and our guest expectations. RSVP will not be merged into Atlantis and RSVP cruises will not be Atlantis cruises. In fact, this acquisition is a great opportunity for RSVP to differentiate our cruises from Atlantis cruises."

Atlantis has appointed Charlie Rounds, the one-time co-owner of RSVP Vacations, as the new President of RSVP. Rounds will manage RSVP's cruises planning and execution, including the announcement of new cruises, from the current Minneapolis office. West Hollywood, California-based Atlantis, now clearly dominant in the all-gay cruise vacation market, has not revealed any changes to its full slate of upcoming cruises that might occur (such as price adjustments) as a result of this RSVP acquisition.

As a sidenote, Olivia, based in San Francisco, remains the sole and leading company focused on lesbian cruises and resort vacations.

--by Stan Wu, Cruise Critic contributor