All-gay charter companies like Atlantis Events and RSVP (focused on gay men) and Olivia (exclusively for lesbians) charter entire cruise ships or riverboats and customize the whole trip. The charters work closely with the cruise line to develop itineraries, and they always bring aboard their own group of entertainers, musical guests, D.J.s and more to transform the ship into a floating world of frolicking and fun on the high seas. During the past 25 years, both Atlantis and RSVP have been chartering large and small cruise ships from major cruise lines, such as Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity and Azamara. Olivia joined the party 20 years ago by focusing exclusively on women-only cruises and by chartering similarly mid-range and high-end ships. All of these gay charter companies also regularly charter European riverboats for more intimate, culturally rich experiences for their passengers.
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The "Big Three"
Atlantis continues to be the dominant player in the gay cruising industry by chartering the biggest and most glamorous ships afloat -- such as Royal Caribbean's 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas, which was used for the largest gay cruise in February 2012.
RSVP was sold to Atlantis Events in 2007. As a result of these transitions, the number of cruises RSVP offers has fluctuated from year to year. Olivia recently celebrated its 40th anniversary as a company (with 20-plus years in gay travel, specifically).
The Best of the Rest
Houston-based travel agency Concierge Travel has made a name for itself by expanding the market through high-quality, lively gay-affinity groups aboard regularly scheduled cruises (i.e., partial, not full-ship, charters). Note: Partial charters are not listed below, but you can find more details on each company's website.Where You'll Cruise
Gay and lesbian charter companies conduct extensive research before committing to a foreign destination. There have been well-publicized incidents of all-gay charters facing opposition and scattered protests at ports in such countries as Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Turkey, so the gay charter companies generally steer clear of controversy and head to the "greatest hits" port stops, mostly in the Caribbean and Europe. Gay travelers should be aware that, at some ports, they might be faced with different levels of social tolerance.
2016 - 2017 Preview
A continuing trend we're seeing for the coming year are more intimate, limited-availability sailings such as river and luxury small ships. However, cruise companies are continuing to offer many diverse choices for all-gay cruising in various sizes and itineraries. Travelers can choose trips to the most popular itineraries in Europe and the Caribbean or explore more bucket-list type places like French Polynesia and the British Isles, among a wide range of options.
Below is a roundup of gay and lesbian cruise departures through early 2017. This information, with specific dates, offers a snapshot of some of the adventures, but it's not meant to serve as a comprehensive calendar. Refer to each company's website for any updates or additions. Be aware that some gay and lesbian cruises sell out very quickly.
Ship: Holland America's Westerdam
Dates: October 29 - November 5, 2016
Details: Grab your costume, and get ready for the ultimate Halloween party at sea. Atlantis will soon host its first-ever San Diego to Mexico Halloween Cruise, complete with DJ-led dance parties, cabaret stars, drag performers, comedians and more. Onboard Holland America's Westerdam, the cruise will include stops in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. Available fares start at $849 for an inside cabin, based on double occupancy, but are subject to change based on availability.
Ship: Allure of the Seas
Dates: January 22 - 29, 2017
Details: Atlantis is taking over one of the biggest cruise ships in the world. For seven nights in the Western Caribbean, Allure of the Seas will treat more than 5,400 cruisers to an array of dance parties, performances by guest acts and other themed activities. Itinerary stops include Cozumel, Costa Maya and Royal Caribbean's private island, Labadee. Available fares start at $1,099 for an inside cabin, based on double occupancy, but are subject to change based on availability.
Ship: Oceania Regatta
Dates: February 25 - March 7, 2017
Details: Is the Rio Carnival on your bucket list? If so, there's no better place to celebrate than on Atlantis' new Rio Carnival to Buenos Aires Cruise. Kick off your week with three days of festivities in Rio de Janeiro, before diving into a week of DJ-led dance parties, musical performances and top-notch dining on Oceania Regatta. Additional ports include Parati, Brazil; Santos, Brazil; Punta del Este, Uruguay; and Montevideo, Uruguay before ending in Buenos Aires. Available fares start at $3,199 for an inside cabin, based on double occupancy, but are subject to change based on availability.
Trip: Pacific Coastal Cruise
Ship: Holland America's Zaandam
Dates: September 25 - October 2, 2016
Details: From Vancouver/Victoria, B.C., to San Diego, Olivia cruisers can explore treasures of the Pacific coast in Seattle, Washington; Astoria, Oregon; San Francisco, California; and Santa Barbara, California. Attractions include Vancouver's gay-friendly Davie Village, Napa Valley and the cobblestone streets of Solvang, a quaint Danish town outside Santa Barbara. The entertainment line-up has yet to be announced. Prices start at $1,599 for an inside cabin.
Ship: Windstar Cruises' Wind Star
Dates: December 2 - 9, 2016
Details: Soak up some sun, make a splash in crystal-clear waters or hike a lush rainforest. Olivia's Windwards Islands Luxury Cruise will take passengers through the less traveled part of the Caribbean, visiting ports like Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada and throughout the Grenadines. Onboard activities include cooking classes and top-notch Olivia entertainment. Prices start at $3,199 for a porthole cabin, but are subject to availability.
Ship: Windstar Cruises' Star Breeze
Dates: January 7 - 14, 2017
Details: Olivia cruisers can unleash their inner Indiana Jones on the Panama Canal to Costa Rica Cruise this coming January. Opportunities for adventure will abound in each port of call, as small ship Star Breeze makes its way around the tropical rainforests. Fares start at $4,399 for an oceanview cabin but are subject to availability.
Ship: Holland America's Eurodam
Dates: February 4 - 11, 2017
Details: The Caribbean Festival at Sea takes the cake for Olivia entertainment. The 2,104-passenger ship will host a number of musical and comedy acts, theater productions, dance shows, workshops more. Off the ship, passengers can indulge or explore on island time, in Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Key West and Half Moon Cay, Holland America's private island. Fares start at $299 for an inside cabin, but space is limited.
Trip: Majestic Alaska Cruise
Ship: Holland America's Amsterdam
Dates: June 25 - July 2, 2017
Details: Nature lovers, rejoice. Olivia will kick off next year's Alaska season with a weeklong Alaska cruise that includes visits to Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Hubbard Glacier and Victoria, B.C. The entertainment lineup has yet to be announced, but in port, passengers will have a wide range of options like fly-fishing, floatplane tours and English tea afternoons. Fares start at $1,799 for an inside cabin, based on double occupancy.
Ship: Windstar Cruises' Star Legend
Dates: July 28 - August 4, 2017
Details: A "once in a lifetime" opportunity awaits, just below the Arctic Circle. Cruisers on Olivia's Iceland Midnight Sun Cruise can explore breathtaking scenery, natural baths, charming villages and more as the ship makes its way from Reykjavik to Grundarfjordur. Entertainment will soon be announced. The cruise is currently sold out, but those interested can sign up on the waitlist for a chance to get onboard.
Ship: Holland America's Emerald Waterways'Koningsdam
Dates: February 5 - 12, 2017
Details: Enjoy RSVP entertainment under the Caribbean sun, on Holland America's newest ship. For seven nights, Koningsdam will set the stage for top-deck dancing and theme parties -- including a YouCreate Party, for which passengers get to choose the theme. The itinerary includes stops in Grand Cayman, Roatan and Cozumel. Available fares start at $1,799 for a family ocean view cabin, based on double occupancy, but are subject to change based on availability.
Trip: Dreams of Tahiti Cruise
Ship: Windstar Cruises' Wind Spirit
Dates: September 16 - 23, 2016
Details: This September, the four-masted Wind Spirit will take cruisers on a journey through the South Pacific. Sailing from Tahiti roundtrip, passengers can enjoy stops in Moorea, Bora Bora and other Society Islands -- including two overnight stays. Activities off the ship may include kayaking, snorkeling and an authentic Polynesian feast with fire dancers, while Source Events will host a series of exclusive entertainment onboard. Available fares start at $3,699 but are subject to change.