All you need to know about gay cruises
Last updated on March 23, 2020
So you’re thinking about taking your first gay or lesbian cruise, and you’re probably wondering where to begin. Gay cruising is taking the cruise market by storm, offering a fresh take on what cruises can (and should) look like.
There has never been a better time to experience your first gay cruise, but we always believe it’s better to be prepared so you have an idea of what to expect.
First, you should probably ask yourself if and why you should take a gay cruise. Depending on your personality and expectations, they can be overwhelming for some, and the perfect holiday match for others. Then, remember to research the best (and worst) ports and destinations for gay cruises to avoid being discriminated against or feeling unwelcome.
Next, you'll want to plan your cruise, and that might include finding the best 2020 gay cruise deals out there and gay-friendly cruise lines and ships. Have you thought about trying a gay cruise for singles or a luxury cruise? Maybe you're a concerned about gay cruising as a woman or a lesbian group? What happens on a gay cruise, how much do they cost, how to gay cruise? We will try answering all your questions to give you a good idea of what a gay cruise actually looks like.
Now in this article, we provide gay cruising tips for first timers: how to pack, what to do and what not to do and how to stay safe during your cruise. Sounds good? Then jump to your preferred section to read our tips.
How to pack for a gay cruise
In many ways, packing for gay, lesbian, or bisexual cruising is no different from packing for any other cruise. However, if you’re looking to book a chartered all-gay cruise with an operator like Atlantis’ gay cruises, there are a couple special twists from a traditional packing checklist you should keep in mind.
1. Travel light
This is a great cruise tip regardless of whether you’re taking a gay or mainstream cruise. You don’t need as many outfits as you think you do! Try to limit yourself to some essential wardrobe pieces you can easily mix and match and save yourself some space for shopping.
One handy tip for staying fresh: mix a little vodka with water in a spray bottle and spritz your clothes. It’s a tried-and-true trick used by dancers to combat odors and works just as well on your favorite pair of shorts or blouse.
2. Stock up on swimsuits
This is particularly true if you’re on a gay cruise, but also applies to ladies booking a lesbian Southern Caribbean cruise: pack a couple extra swimsuits. For men, a good rule is one bathing suit per day. Gay cruise lines also feature lots of parties, and a festive speedo can double as a costume in a pinch.
3. Stay protected!
Sunscreen (what did you think?) is one of the items people consistently regret not bringing. You’ll probably be spending lots of time in the sun, so pack that SPF and have fun!
Of course, sunscreen isn’t the only protection you’ll need. We recommend stocking up before you depart, especially if you’re heading out into international waters, since safety regulations vary from country to country as do (surprise!) languages.
Also, if you’re planning on bringing sex toys, be advised that in some countries, possession of a sex toy or sexually explicit material can because for arrest or detainment. If you really want to bring it along, do your research in advance.
4. Pack your carry-on with essentials
An extra outfit and swimsuit in your carry-on means at least you can be comfortable if you need to work out the logistics of a lost or delayed bag with the cruise staff. We also strongly recommend you always carry medications and extra toiletries with you so you can stay healthy and fresh, even in the worst-case scenario.
5. They’re called airplane bottles for a reason…
You know those little tiny bottles available in pretty much every liquor store and duty-free store? Those are under the legal limit to carry-on. You can get the party started earlier by packing one or two in your carry-on bag.
We touched on this earlier, but costume parties are one of the things that make gay cruises special. Chances are you’ll have the chance to participate in at least one costume party on board, so bring a little something extra that you feel cute in.
If you can’t imagine cruising without stilettos, bring your favorite pair, but remember that kinky boots aren’t suitable for hiking, biking, or sunbathing. Pack some flats, some sandals, and maybe a pair of sneakers or hiking boots depending on how you prefer to explore in port.
8. Important documents
This is a pretty serious one, especially for LGBT cruisers traveling outside the United States. It may seem grim or paranoid, but we recommend bringing:
- Legal and health documents (like a living will or healthcare directive)
- Parentage and/or custody documents for your kids (especially if your children don’t share your last name)
- Emergency contact information (including contact info for your lawyer, just in case)
- Addresses and phone numbers for the US embassy or consulate in each country you visit (and we recommend you translate into the local language wherever you go, in case you need to ask local police or other authorities for help)
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What to do on a gay cruise
Once your bags are packed, what are you going to do next? Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway for you and your significant other or excited about your first lesbian singles cruise, there are tons of things that make cruises fun and exciting vacations for everyone. From classes and games to poolside lounging to taking a well-deserved break in the cruise ship spa, here are some things you can’t miss on a gay cruise.
Gay cruises are renowned for the abundance and variety of their parties. Costume and theme parties are a great opportunity to shine, show off, or simply be wowed by the creativity (and audacity!) of your fellow cruise passengers. When it comes to the dress code for many of these parties, anything goes, so let loose and have fun!
Take part in cruise ship activities
Games, classes, performances, shows – it’s worth getting up and powering through a hangover to meet new people, make some friends, and have some fun during the day. Norwegian Jade and Celebrity constellation are famous for them fun onboard activities.
Pro-tip to make friends on a gay cruise: print out customized gay cruise cards with a picture of you and your contact information. Hand them out to people you meet onboard. It’s a great way to keep in touch with new friends both during and after your cruise.
Go ashore and explore
Your gay cruise ship may sometimes feel like a floating city, but don’t forget about all the amazing places you have the opportunity to visit. Take the opportunity to get off the ship and take shore excursions, taste local cuisine, go to a private beach, pick up some unique souvenirs, snap some photos, and generally make the most out of each picturesque port.
Cruise ships offer plenty of dining options on board, so there’s something to suit everyone’s tastes. While it may be tempting to stick with the buffet or the main dining room, it’s worth it to splurge a little on specialty restaurants or a romantic dinner for you and your special someone (or someones). Plus, all that partying, dancing, exploring, and playing means you’ll need to replenish your energy, and what better way to do it than with some of the best cuisine available?
Bottled water on cruise ships is expensive (and rarely included) so bring a water bottle with you and fill it up in your stateroom sink - it’s totally safe to drink, and will save you from shelling out $4 for an Evian.
What NOT to do on a gay cruise
Are you ready to set sail? Before you go, have one last check about LGBTQ cruises don'ts. While some of these may seem like common sense, we still recommend you avoid doing the following during your gay and lesbian travel. They might just help make your holiday an unforgettable experience.
Don’t pay for internet
It’s expensive, often unreliable, and totally unnecessary. Take care of work before you depart, and unplug. Seriously - you’ll be surprised at how welcoming and sociable everyone onboard is. You don’t need social media to be social.
Don’t be shy
We get it - gay cruises for singles can be intimidating at times. And sure, sometimes it’s nice to have a quiet moment reflecting on your experience so far. But don’t be a wallflower. Remember that cruises are designed to be social and to let loose. Even if you aren’t looking for love, gay cruises are great places to meet gay men, make friends, connect with leaders in your industry, and generally just have fun.
Don’t bring drugs
This seems obvious, right? Maybe not. Drug usage on cruises hit the spotlight in January 2019 when 36-year-old Joel Taylor, star of Discovery’s Storm Chasers, died of an overdose while on an Atlantis events cruise.
It’s one thing to go with the flow and be up for new experiences, and another thing entirely to bring drugs or other illegal substances onboard. It’s a great way to put your life or the lives of others in danger, and put yourself at a higher risk of getting kicked off the cruise, being arrested, or facing other (expensive) legal ramifications.
Tips and advice before you depart
While many countries like Canada and New England accept and welcome the gay community, others do not. This is one of the reasons that LGBT travelers need to do some extra preparation before embarking, even when embarking on a gay, lesbian, or transgender cruise.
1. Research your destinations in advance
There are 82 countries where it is still illegal to be gay. This means that not every port will be welcoming to LGBTQ+ people, so it pays to do your research ahead of time and plan your excursions accordingly. If a port isn’t gay-friendly, simply stay on the ship and take advantage of the extra lounge chairs by the pool, snag a spot at trivia, bingo, or yoga, or indulge in a hot stone massage.
If you book an all-gay cruise with a gay cruise operator like Atlantis, RSVP Vacations, or Olivia, you won’t need to worry as much about this. However, if you’re traveling with an LGBT group cruise on a mainstream line, we recommend checking the country info pages on the US Department of State website.
2. Update your passport
We’ve heard some horror stories about trans cruise passengers being hassled or even denied entry to a cruise ship because they weren’t presenting as the gender indicated on their passport. Rather than risk experiencing this firsthand, we recommend the following options:
Use the name and gender on your passport to book your trip, and present as the gender indicated on your passport while flying, embarkation, and disembarkation.
If you don’t look like your passport photo, update your passport before leaving.
If you don’t have time to update your passport, get a note from your doctor explaining why your appearance has changed.
Is this unfair? Yes. Is it still a practical tip? Unfortunately, yes. Carnival has been known to require transgender cruisers to present as the gender on their passport in the past, while cruise lines like P&O and Royal Caribbean are very trans-friendly and have even provided cruise cards for both presenting and passport genders. Celebrity Cruises is also known to be gay friendly.
3. Buy insurance!
Cruise travel insurance is important for everyone, but perhaps especially for LGBT cruisers traveling outside the US, where laws, regulations, and rights may be different. Should the worst happen, it’s always best to be prepared! (We wrote a whole article on why you NEED cruise travel insurance, if you want to learn more.)
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Laws and regulations
You are subject to the laws and regulations of each country where you travel. The US Department of State cautions “In many countries, consensual same-sex sexual activity, public gathering, or dissemination of pro-LGBTQ material may be illegal.” We aren’t saying you need to closet yourself, but as with any cultural exchange, be respectful, be aware, and stay safe.
Be aware that police in some countries monitor some websites, mobile apps, and meeting places that are commonly used by the gay community. It’s important to be aware of these policies and avoid using these websites, apps, or neighborhoods to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during your cruise.
Segregation of gay-friendly resorts and communities
Even countries that are generally hostile to LGBT folks can be home to gay-friendly enclaves - from resorts to cities - where you can feel free to explore. But exercise extreme caution if you decide to venture out of the resort, community center, or neighborhood, because attitudes in surrounding communities may not be as accepting.
Contact the US embassy or consulate if you need help
As a US citizen, it’s your right to contact the US embassy or consulate to help you if you are arrested, face harassment, or are treated unfairly.
Transgender specific safety tips
Generally speaking, travel is particularly complex for trans cruisers. In many places in the world, gender identities and sexuality remain frustratingly conflated, which can cause embarrassment, stress, and increased difficulty for transgender travelers. Here are just a couple of tips specific to the trans community that can make transgender vacations and cruising a little easier.
Know the rules about traveling with needles and/or hormones
Here’s what you need to know:
- All syringes and hormones must be prescribed and be accompanied by the original box and pharmaceutical label
- Notify TSA that you are traveling with medication prescribed by your doctor
- Store all medications in a separate bag for easier screening
- Ask flight crew to keep medication in the refrigerator if they need to be chilled, or keep a thermos handy to do it yourself
- Keep pills in a safe, dry place in your carry-on
- Never freeze hormones
Never freeze hormones
Know your rights when it comes to airport security
Here are the basics:
- You can opt out of the AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology) booth, which shows TSA agents an image of your naked body and any binding or prosthetics. This will result in a pat-down by a security officer of the same gender indicated on your passport. You’re entitled to request a private screening and to bring a friend with you. You are also entitled to request to speak to a supervisor at any time during the screening.
- If a TSA agent’s conduct is unprofessional in any way, you can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Liberties. A TSA agent cannot ask you to remove binding or prosthetics. However, you may still be subject to screening. Prosthetics in your carry-on may also be subject to additional screening, and you are entitled to request a private screening in this case. We recommend you avoid prosthetics with any metal parts. Binding may raise concerns about hidden contraband, but remember your rights if you feel uncomfortable.
- You have the right to wear whatever you want and present however you want. However, in practice, presenting differently from the gender shown on your passport or wearing clothes with lots of metal can cause more hassle and stress, and can end up wasting a lot of your time.