Carnival Reverses Drag Ban on Drag-Themed Cruise

November 27, 2012

(Update 2:43 p.m. EST) -- A day after informing passengers booked on a group drag-themed sailing on Carnival Glory that dressing up in drag would not be allowed, Carnival Cruise Lines reversed its stance, citing a miscommunication between it and group organizer Al and Chuck Travel.

"When the group was presented to us we were advised that only the performers would be dressed in drag during the private events," Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, said in an e-mail to passengers booked on the December 2 sailing. "However, we are now aware that this was not clearly communicated to members of the group and therefore anyone who wishes to dress in drag may do so.

"At Carnival, we are proud to carry more than 4.5 million guests every year and we welcome them all aboard. We do not practice any form of discrimination against the LGBT or any other community. We sincerely apologize for the miscommunication and for any unintended offense we have caused."

Cahill further stated that because of the misundertanding, anyone booked on the cruise who wants to cancel "for any reason may do so and will receive a full refund of their cruise fare, as well as reimbursement for any non-refundable travel related expenses."

Immediate response has been positive.

"Good move by Carnival to recognize their error and backtrack," Cruise Critic member gtalum wrote.

robbieone was particularly pleased with Cahill's apology. "WOW, what an amazingly honest and unprecedented response from Carnival... To offer a full refund as well as reimbursement for any non-refundable travel related expenses is unheard of in the travel and cursing industry and indicates that this was merely an earnest miscommunication between the two organizations... Thanks Carnival, for clearing up this issue and going above and beyond in your response to it; I cannot wait to set sail next week."

(2:05 p.m. EST) -- One week before a group drag-themed sailing on Carnival Glory, Carnival Cruise Lines informed passengers dressing in drag during the cruise will not be tolerated. Rule breakers may be disembarked.

The cruise, arranged by Al and Chuck Travel and featuring several drag queens from TV show RuPaul's Drag Race, is set to depart December 2. On November 26, Carnival sent an e-mail to passengers booked on the group cruise stating "Carnival attracts a number of families with children," and therefore strives "to present a family friendly atmosphere." It is important, the letter stated, that all passengers be comfortable with every aspect of their cruises. Therefore, members of the group are expected to "refrain from engaging in inappropriate conduct in public areas."

"Arrangements have been made for drag performances in the main theater featuring stars from LOGO TV. These functions will be private and only the performers are permitted to dress in drag while in the theater. Guests are not allowed to dress in drag for the performances or in public areas at any time during the cruise."

The consequences of breaking this rule are severe. "We're sorry to say that any guest who violates our policies and/or whose behavior affects the comfort and enjoyment of other guests will be disembarked at their own expense and no refund will be given."

Reports of the e-mail began circulating on the Internet late Monday, November 26, and the reaction was heated, with people weighing in on both sides of the issue.

On Cruise Critic, member VibeGuy wrote, "As a stockholder in Carnival Corporation, I am appalled."

Maryscooking agreed. "Wow, I am also a little surprised by the e-mail… I wonder if this is a company-wide policy? I have certainly seen people I have suspected might be drag queens while on board – and didn't think two cents about it. If they are going to censor the LGBT community, they should also send out a cruise wide e-mail notifying all females that in order to be friendly family, there will be a skirt hem length and cleavage coverage check before entering public areas."

But others believed Carnival's letter and no-drag rule was in order.

"I applaud Carnival's foresight as a stockholder/owner of Carnival I hope management continues to keep the 'fun ships' family friendly," wrote PAPERBKWRITER.

Member CarnivalPlatCruiser said it wasn't a "gay/lesbian issue" at all, but rather a "let's keep the ship a family friendly atmosphere for the rest of the passengers that knew nothing about your group when they booked."

But for some passengers booked on the group cruise, it's not just a question of discrimination; it's a question of money.

"Al and Chuck not once mentioned that we could not dress up on this cruise," posted Reed Kilpatrick on group cruise organizer Al and Chuck Travel's Facebook page. "I do drag… and have spent a lot of money preparing clothing and everything that drag takes. It's misleading! Are they going to reimburse me for my expenses on this?"

Angry responses like this flooded the Facebook page of Al and Chuck Travel, which tried to play down worries that Carnival was being discriminatory in an open letter to its followers.

"As a gay man who has been partnered for 25 years, I have suffered many forms of discrimination because I am part of the GLBT community," wrote Al Ferguson, co-owner of the agency. "But please take note, Carnival's regulation is NOT [sic] an example of discrimination.

"Carnival's 'no costume rule' is NOT [sic] meant to be an insult to the gay community… This rule goes for both GAY and STRAIGHT [sic] passengers that travel on all Carnival cruises. It is in response to the post-911 world we live in. It is meant to protect passengers… NOT [sic] to marginalize a few."

Ferguson adds the cruise was never intended to be a dress-up drag event but a place to meet the stars of RuPaul's Drag Race. "Just as you would not go in costume (other than on Halloween) to a club to see them perform, neither should you on the Glory."

Though Ferguson refers to security issues regarding "costumes and masks" in his Facebook letter, such concerns are never mentioned in Carnival's letter to passengers. Neither Carnival nor Al and Chuck Travel had responded to requests for comments by Cruise Critic at the time of publication.

What do you think? Is Carnival being discriminatory? Weigh in on Cruise Critic's message boards.

--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor