The Pros and Cons of Gay Cruising: What to Know Before You Book

LGBTQ+ cruises have been historically safe spaces, but they're not for everyone

Cruise Ship

Jelena Matvejeva / Getty Images

It’s Pride Month! We’re kicking off this joyous, meaningful month with a collection of features completely dedicated to LGBTQ+ travelers. Follow along on a gay writer’s thought-provoking Kentucky road trip and learn about the tropical honeymoon hotspot that embraces all genders. Then, find inspiration for your future trips with our guides to the ins and outs of gay cruising, charming LGBTQ+ bookstores you can support, and the world’s most vibrant gay villages. However you make your way through the features, we’re glad you’re here with us to celebrate the beauty and importance of inclusivity and representation within the travel space and beyond.

Decades ago, before broader acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, gay cruises provided a contained environment for travelers to let loose and be themselves. That's still true today, although LGBTQ+ travelers are finding a greater tolerance for all modes of travel and to more and more parts of the world. Despite greater acceptance, a segment of LGBTQ+ travelers still appreciate the value of an LGBTQ+ only vacation, and many find affirmation in the out and proud arena of gay cruising.

There are two forms of gay cruises: groups and buyouts. LGBTQ+ travel groups will buy a block of cabins on an existing cruise departure, reselling them to clients, often hosting social events and other onboard activities. While the group may be sizable, it's still mixed among the general population of cruisers on a regularly scheduled sailing.

Buyouts are whole ship charters arranged by an LGBTQ+ travel company, such as Atlantis Events (which primarily attracts gay men), Olivia (women), or Vacaya (both). Whichever company travelers select, they can be assured of an almost entirely LGBTQ+ ship's company. The chartering company determines the fares, inclusions, onboard programming, and itinerary.

Not sure if gay cruising is for you? If you're dipping your toes into the world of LGBTQ+ cruises, we broke down the good and bad of what you can expect.

Pro: Topflight Entertainment

LGBTQ+ cruises control the entertainment programming onboard, and they’re known for tailoring spectacularly well for their audience. Think history and contemporary LGBTQ+ cinema, the best of drag, Broadway, and LGTBQ+ comedy, among other queer notables. Atlantis Events is particularly known for the quality of its dance parties, with notable DJs and themed circuit-style parties.

Con: They’re Comparatively Expensive

The entertainment doesn’t come cheap. LGBTQ+ cruises are notably more expensive than comparable itineraries on the same ships and cruise lines. Still, the travel companies typically do an excellent job of explaining the extra value worked into the cruise fare. They also don’t have any difficulty moving inventory—some categories sell out as soon as the sailings are opened for sale.

Pro: Friendly Environment, Friendly Ports

LGBTQ+ cruises are known for creating accepting, inclusive environments where LGBTQ+ travelers can let their hair down and be themselves. As full-ship charters, there’s some flexibility on which ports are included in the itinerary, so stops in less-welcoming countries can be avoided. The itineraries can also be tailored to the interest of LGBTQ+ travelers.

For example, many sailings in the Mediterranean stop in Ibiza from morning until early evening, but an upcoming Atlantis sailing takes advantage of the overwhelming interest in gay nightlife on the island, docking in the early evening and spending 25 hours in the famous port.

Con: They Can Be Conspicuously LGBTQ+

LGBTQ+ cruises have virtually 100 percent LGBTQ+ passenger compliments (particularly in the case of companies that market primarily to either gay men or lesbians), and it’s apparent, so even in the friendliest ports, there may be opposition by conservative groups who get wind of the group’s arrival. Not that there’s anything wrong with being out and proud, but LGBTQ+ travelers sit on a spectrum of comfort with how out they prefer to be, so it may be preferable for some to travel in the relative anonymity of a mainstream cruise.

There have also been reports that customs agents in the U.S. and other countries are fully aware of the freewheeling, party-like atmosphere onboard and may be more vigilant than they would be on mainstream sailings in screening passengers for recreational contraband.

Atlantis Cruise

Courtesy of Atlantis Events

Pro: The Sense of Community

While gay villages are disappearing and gay vacation spots like Provincetown and Palm Springs are gaining broader appeal, LGBTQ+ cruises remain exclusively LGBTQ+ enclaves (although there is typically a small cohort of allies on some sailings, often traveling alongside LGBTQ+ friends). For many LGBTQ+ people, however, particularly those who grew up in small or rural communities, seeing several thousand travelers just like them can be immensely affirming.

Con: The Environment Can Be One-Note

There's an enduring myth surrounding cruises designed for gay men that the entire voyage is just one big circuit party inhabited entirely by drugged-up muscle gods in Speedos, gyrating to electronic music for seven days straight. Atlantis Events goes to some lengths to dispel this notion—partially. Notably, most marketing images and photos on the company's social channels tend to reflect a particular body type, which they often laugh off in their FAQ with the explanation that "it's advertising, and we want it to look good."

Cruisers have reported in online reviews that Atlantis cruises tend to be bifurcated: the "circuit boys" who party all night and the "show-tune queens" who are there for the entertainment and the food. Prospective LGBTQ+ cruisers can, of course, always review the advertising and draw their own conclusions.

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