Whether you are looking to hop aboard a Pride Week cruise with a major line or sail away with a smaller company that specializes in LGBTQ voyages, the following cruise operators promise a fun, safe and memorable vacation.
(Note: While many of these cruise lines sail to LGBTQ-friendly ports of call, travelers should research destinations to learn more about cultures, customs and safety in each location and determine what’s right for them.)
Gabriel Goldberg|Courtesy of VACAYA
Founded by avid travelers Randle Roper, Patrick Gunn and John Finen, VACAYA bills itself as the first all-LGBT travel company in the full-ship charter/resort buyout sector of the travel industry to launch in more than 25 years.
“[VACAYA] was sparked by our own vacations, where we all had encountered two very different experiences,” says Gunn. “The all-gay cruises were liberating, empowering and fun, but limited to a small spectrum of people. And while everyone loves a good time, there’s more to a memorable vacation than just parties. Mainstream vacations offered more activities and destinations, and were accessible to a diverse set of people, but didn’t always feel like a friendly, judgment-free environment.”
As such, VACAYA set out to bring LGBTQ travelers from across the spectrum together in a welcoming, inclusive setting, while offering varied onboard activities and immersive itinerary options. Cruisers will enjoy traveling to ports around the world, in the Caribbean, the Galápagos, Europe, Antarctica and more. You can participate in shipwide events ranging from themed deck parties to performances by LGBTQ entertainers to rejuvenating yoga classes. Note that VACAYA’s cruises are for adults only.
Previous cruisers had abundant praise for VACAYA’s voyages, highlighting the company’s responsiveness when booking and the kindhearted staff, as well as the genuine connections they made with other passengers on board. Many were also impressed by the events and entertainment options throughout their sailings.
In 2024, VACAYA will offer a number of voyages worldwide. The seven-night Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Apex in February will sail round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, with several fun-filled days at sea in addition to stops in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Antigua. In August, VACAYA has a 12-night river cruise in Northern Europe on board Advance by Transcend Cruises; this sailing includes the Amsterdam Pride event. The 11-night Antarctica expedition on Atlas Ocean Voyages’ World Navigator in December 2024 is sold out, but you can join the waitlist.
(Courtesy of Virgin Voyages)
The Virgin brand has long been known for its celebration of the LGBTQ community, and cruise line Virgin Voyages is no different. The strictly adults-only cruise operator aims to provide a unique experience, with onboard tattoo parlors, impressive live entertainment, and dining options that include more than 20 eateries and menus created by Michelin star chefs. This line gets the stamp of approval from previous LGBTQ cruisers, who praise the ships’ gender-neutral bathrooms, diverse staff and onboard shows with resident drag queens.
Virgin Voyages offers gay-specific sailings through travel companies like Atlantis Events, but its more mainstream itineraries still offer a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere that attracts LGBTQ cruisers year-round. Virgin hosts a number of events during Pride Month each year, including deck parties and interactive social media campaigns.
“Each June here at Virgin Voyages, we like to go big for Pride Month with larger-than-life events … all monthlong,” the cruise line says in a statement on its website. “It’s an important time for us – both internally within our crew and for our sailors – to honor and celebrate the LGBTQ community; who for so long has had to continually fight for equality and the right to be seen, heard and included.”
Virgin Voyages sails to a variety of LGBTQ-friendly countries, including New Zealand, Greece and Spain. In June 2024, consider a seven-night sailing aboard Scarlet Lady departing from Barcelona with stops in Marseille and Cannes in France as well as Spain’s Palma de Mallorca and Ibiza.
The world’s largest gay and lesbian travel brand, Atlantis Events was founded in 1991 and welcomes more than 20,000 travelers annually on LGBTQ vacations. For its all-gay cruises, Atlantis charters megaships from popular lines like Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages in addition to smaller vessels with companies like Oceania Cruises so cruisers will have a fully immersive experience.
On board, travelers can enjoy all the perks these ships have to offer (think: pools, hot tubs, sports courts and plenty of dining choices), plus special events like drag performances, motivational speakers, LGBTQ movies on demand in each cabin and high-energy circuit parties across the ship.
“As an LGBTQ cruiser, you’re looking for a ship with lots of entertainment, including dance parties and events,” says Marcos Martinez, founder of Men Who Brunch, a Black gay lifestyle blog. “One of the best cruise [lines] for gay cruising is Atlantis, since you’ll be able to meet hundreds of attractive men and party all day and night on the ship.”
Atlantis hosts primarily gay men; women make up about 5% to 10% of bookings, according to the Atlantis website. Previous cruisers said the atmosphere on board was fun, friendly and welcoming, though some noted that the company’s customer service could be better, especially when it comes to details about the cruise.
Due to the company’s popularity, its three 2024 cruises are already sold out.
(Courtesy of Brand G Vacations)
Specializing in all-gay river cruises – and now luxury ocean liners – Brand g Vacations was founded in 2011 and explores destinations all over the world. Chartered river cruises typically welcome between 40 and 200 LGBTQ passengers (and their straight allies), which allows cruisers to get to know one another in a smaller setting. Guests tend to skew more mature (think: 40 and older), and the line attracts both men and women.
Onboard entertainment differs slightly from larger ocean voyages: Expect more cabaret-style entertainment than massive all-night dance parties. Cruisers will also enjoy performances by drag queens, gay Broadway stars and more, on top of typical river cruise perks like sightseeing and lavish meals. Past guests recommend choosing Brand g if you’re looking for a well-planned, relaxed and luxurious experience over a busier, more party-heavy vacation.
Brand g aims to provide a nearly all-inclusive cruise experience, with Mercedes or small van airport transfers, upscale hotel stays prior to embarkation, and unlimited alcoholic beverages as well as meals included in the fare. As such, prices tend to be on the high end. Plus, cruisers can feel good about their trip knowing that Brand g donates to causes in the U.S. and around the world that assist LGBTQ refugees, AIDS organizations, LGBTQ centers and more.
In 2024, Brand g sails through unique waterways around the world, including the Amazon, the Loire, the Danube, the Mekong, and the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest. The line’s small cruise ship charters also take guests to Iceland, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Croatia and other European destinations.
(Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)
Celebrity Cruises sets the scene for an excellent vacation for gay travelers, from its extravagant annual Pride parties to its daily LGBTQ programming throughout the year. The mainstream line has received numerous awards for its inclusivity, receiving accolades from the Cruizie Awards, TTG Travel Awards and Travel Weekly’s Magellan Awards for being one of the best cruise lines for LGBTQ passengers.
LGBTQ cruisers can start their vacations off on a high note with a special welcome party on the first night of their voyage to meet other travelers on board. After night one, there are other social events for gay cruisers to party and hang out together. Additionally, Celebrity Cruises was the first cruise line to legally marry a couple at sea in 2018, and it continues to perform same-sex marriages on its ships.
Past cruisers enjoyed their voyages with Celebrity, noting that the line was welcoming, the food was delicious, and there were plenty of areas to hang out as a group with fellow LGBTQ passengers or other companions throughout the ship.
Although all itineraries are gay-friendly, consider booking a sailing during Pride Month in June for an extra special experience. Onboard entertainment during this month includes guest entertainers, a flag raising ceremony, Celebrity’s signature Pride Party at Sea and more. The Italian Riviera & France cruise will depart from Barcelona on June 8, 2024, on the new Celebrity Ascent; this 10-night Mediterranean sailing stops at ports in France, Italy and Malta. Private travel companies like VACAYA also charter Celebrity ships for all-gay voyages throughout the year.
Specifically marketed toward lesbians and LGBTQ women, Olivia has hosted more than 350,000 travelers by land and sea over five decades. Cruisers can choose between river voyages or ocean sailings to destinations around the world. On the lesbian cruises, expect a mix of nostalgic decade-themed dance parties, folk singers, writing workshops, karaoke and other activities. Cruisers can also relax poolside, spend some time in the onboard spa or take it easy in one of the ships’ lounges.
Travelers who are looking to connect with others who share similar backgrounds can do so in one of Olivia’s specialized programs. There are group and solo traveler meetups, as well as programs like Sisters, which is for LGBTQ women of color; Gen-O, for cruisers 40 and younger; Women in Uniform gatherings, for veterans and those currently in the armed forces; and events for OWLs (which stands for “older, wiser lesbians”). Past cruisers on Olivia’s voyages report feeling a true sense of community and belonging on board, resulting in a fun, carefree trip.
In June 2024, set sail with Olivia from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Dublin on Windstar Cruises’ Star Legend. Or, visit the islands of Tahiti on the line’s Star Breeze in September. Other cruise itineraries include Alaska, the Greek Isles, Mexico and the Panama Canal.
(Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International)
Royal Caribbean International provides a welcoming and inclusive experience for LGBTQ travelers. The popular cruise line frequently partners with Atlantis Events to offer all-gay voyages throughout the year, but even the standard sailings earn praise.
Highlights of the sailings are the ships’ entertainment options (including the Tony Award-winning musical “Mamma Mia!”) and attentive staff, according to past cruisers. Itineraries typically include LGBTQ meetups at the beginning of each cruise for gay travelers to meet like-minded passengers. Outside of the sailing experience, Royal Caribbean has also publicly committed to supporting the LGBTQ community throughout the year, and it was the first cruise line to earn the title “Gay Traveler Approved” from GayTravel in 2016.
In 2024, consider a Royal Caribbean voyage that sails to gay-friendly destinations. “Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, [is] full of gay bars, clubs and gay beaches,” says Martinez. Hop aboard Navigator of the Seas in May for a seven-night sailing round-trip from Los Angeles that stops in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Ensenada, Mexico. Navigator of the Seas also hosts a seven-night itinerary throughout the year that calls on Mazatlan, Mexico, as well.
Ready to plan a cruise? Find the best value sailings on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.
(Courtesy of The Cruise With La Demence)
According to past cruisers, if you’re looking for one of the best party scenes on the open seas, consider an all-gay cruise with La Demence. Powered by a popular gay nightclub in Brussels with the same name, La Demence – French for “the madness” – primarily caters to a European crowd. Most passengers are male, though women are also welcome.
On board, passengers should expect to dance the night away at massive deck parties that last into the wee hours of the morning. The line prides itself on its top-notch DJs, impressive light setup and electric party atmosphere. Previous cruisers had high praise for the itineraries – which exclusively visit gay-friendly locations – as well as the fruity cocktails, themed nights (costumes strongly encouraged) and glamorous entertainment. Enjoy unique events like drag bingo, high heel runs and more.
La Demence sails every summer to European destinations like Greece, Italy and Malta. The 2023 cruise was chartered on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas. Fares include all food and nonalcoholic beverages, plus access to all parties, shows and the onboard gym.
Source Journeys has been planning luxury vacations for LGBTQ travelers for more than 20 years. The Miami-based company, with the vision of founder and chief executive officer Craig Smith, offers small group land tours and full-charter cruises for like-minded travelers with a focus on giving back to the communities they visit. The company also supports LGBTQ organizations, such as the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign.
Past guests of their tours say their fellow travelers were as fun and interesting as the destinations. They appreciated the excellent personalized planning for the trips by Smith and his life partner, Rafael Rodriguez.
The company’s cruises in 2024 include a seven-night Galápagos sailing in late September on a Relais & Chateau luxury yacht: Ecoventura’s new ship, Evolve. The intimate ship accommodates just 20 passengers. Source Journeys is also offering a seven-night river cruise through Burgundy and Provence, France, in June on Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Poetry II, as well as a seven-night voyage from Venice along the Dalmatian Coast. This ocean cruise scheduled in August is chartered on Star Clippers’ masted sailing ship, Royal Clipper.
Frequently Asked Questions
When it comes to gay cruising, gone are the days of discreet “Friends of Dorothy” meetups. The term – a euphemism that dates back to the 1950s – was once used to indicate gay social events on daily cruise line programs, without explicitly calling out members of the community on board. It’s a far cry from today’s LGBTQ cruising industry, which loudly and proudly celebrates passengers from all walks of life.
According to experts, LGBTQ cruising is a market that will only continue to grow. Travelers can take their pick between cruise operators tailored specifically to queer communities and major cruise lines that offer festive Pride celebrations and inclusive onboard entertainment. As travel on the high seas continues to grow in popularity for vacationers, gay and lesbian travelers should consider setting sail on a fun-filled cruise vacation for their next trip.
When planning a cruise, vacationers should first consider what their ideal sailing looks like.
Gay-friendly vs. all-gay sailings: Cruisers should think about whether they’d like to travel aboard a gay-friendly mainstream line – such as Celebrity Cruises or Virgin Voyages – or opt for an all-gay, full-ship charter with a third-party vacation company.
“Each and every LGBTQIAPK person has a different level of comfortability in their ‘outness,’ ” says Patrick Gunn, co-founder and chief marketing officer of LGBTQ vacation company VACAYA. Of VACAYA’s all-gay charters, he adds, “For one magical week, our community gets to be the majority and live life out loud in the blissful utopia VACAYA creates on a gay cruise. That single change from being an always-minority to a sudden majority can have a profoundly positive real-world effect on individuals.”
- Travel style: Some cruise operators (think: Atlantis Events and La Demence) are known for their electrifying all-night parties, which may be perfect for gay groups of friends. Meanwhile, other companies like VACAYA and Olivia look to provide a more diverse selection of activities, ranging from tea dances (LGBTQ parties that, historically, included tea service) to philanthropic service activities to immersive onshore experiences.
- Ports of call: Some of the most LGBTQ- and gay-friendly destinations for cruises include: Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Sydney; Barcelona, Spain; Taipei (Keelung), Taiwan; Helsinki; Quebec City; Auckland, New Zealand; Mykonos, Greece; Reykjavik, Iceland; Amsterdam; Tel Aviv, Israel; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and San Francisco. Countries that gay travelers may want to avoid include the Maldives, Jamaica, Morocco, Malaysia and Haiti, as homosexuality is illegal in these destinations.
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Gwen Pratesi has been an avid cruiser since her early 20s. She has visited destinations around the globe on nearly every type of ship built, including the newest megaships, luxury yachts, expedition vessels, traditional masted sailing ships and intimate river ships on the Mekong River. Pratesi covers the travel and culinary industries for major publications, including U.S. News & World Report.