The original gay and lesbian holiday

Sail away to the Caribbean, Mexico, Mediterranean, Trans-Atlantic, South Pacific, Baltic, Antarctica, Russia, Egypt, Russia, China, or take a European river cruise. New England, Canadian and South American cruises are also available.

Cruising is popular with both straight and LGBT travelers because it combines ease and comfort with a daily sense of adventure. All exclusive gay or lesbian cruises offer a queer environment where guests can be themselves - where being gay or lesbian is the norm, not the exception. Ports of call and entertainment are customized to gay and lesbian travelers.

Here are some tips to help you choose the right cruise for you.

Gay Group vs. Exclusively Gay or Lesbian

Exclusively gay men or lesbian departures continue to increase in popularity with increasing choices of departure dates and ports of call. These cruises offer a safe and diverse lesbian and gay community where you can truly be yourself.

Exclusively LGBT cruises are more popular with men, and lesbians are usually no more than 15% of the guests. Still, many women prefer these cruises because they like the mixed environment and the party atmosphere.

LGBT family cruises are a relatively new trend. These cruises are tailored for gay and lesbian travelers, their friends and family. It's definitely the gay and lesbian cruise on which you can bring your mother. They're designed specifically for families with kids, without the late night parties and high sexual temperature.

Gay group departure cruises include a group of 20 to up to half the ship of LGBT travelers on a mainstream cruise. You have more cruises from which to choose and these cruises are often slightly less expensive than the all gay or lesbian cruises. Gay group departures are available throughout the year, with destinations varying by season.

Everyday cruises are great for their wide range of itineraries and departure dates. While many cruise lines are gay friendly, you may not feel as comfortable being yourself on a ship full of straight folk.

Choose to Cruise

Gay and lesbian travellers today have a wide range of vacation options to choose from - thanks to companies like RSVP and Olivia which pioneered the exclusively gay cruise.

Having long been a favourite with the rich and famous - think formal wear for dinner, smart white suits for sitting in your deck chair and continual supplies of dry martinis - cruises were the perfect way to provide a safe, friendly environment for gay men and lesbians to meet other people like themselves. Since then, cruising - both gay and mainstream - has evolved to be much more casual and far less stuffy, with a wide variety of alternatives.

The all-gay or -lesbian cruises offered by RSVP, Olivia and Atlantis are just samples of what's now available. Even if an all-gay cruise isn't for you, the variety of group departure cruise options means that there's bound to be a cruise out there that fits your interests, your style and your budget.

Why Opt for a Gay Cruise?

Unlike a resort stay, you get a chance to experience a number of ports of call during your holiday - all without the packing and unpacking in each destination. Many of these ports of call may be harder to get to if you weren't on a cruise. For example, cruise ships can call into many of the smaller Caribbean islands which just aren't offered on traditional packaged holidays.

Most cruise ships are floating amusement parks with a huge range of activities - from casinos to rock climbing walls and skating rinks - to keep you entertained day and night. And if you're looking to be spoiled, cruise ships are notorious for the abundance of excellent quality food at any time of day - something that isn't always guaranteed on a resort vacation.

River cruises - particularly those along the famous rivers of Europe - are an ideal way to experience the great scenery and take in the culture and historic sites of some of Europe's great cities with the ship often docked overnight right in the heart of those cities allowing a chance to experience the nightlife all without having to unpack more than once when you board your ship

Queer cruises fall into two broad categories - those which are exclusively gay or lesbian (such as Atlantis or Olivia) and those which are gay group departures (such as Pied Piper).

Major Gay and Lesbian Cruise Companies

There are three major gay and lesbian cruise companies: RSVP, Olivia and Atlantis. Gay and lesbian group departures are also available from companies like AquaFest and Pied Piper.

The company that originated the exclusive gay cruise experience. While the majority of guests are gay men, RSVP has a strong following among lesbians. RSVP is at its best on the smaller, more intimate ships, such as the sailings in the Caribbean, to Tahiti or the European riverboat cruises. RSVP is a great choice if you're looking for a nice mix of people, including a wide age range and those not as interested in 24/7 partying.

The major lesbian cruise company, Olivia offers an amazing array of travel options for women. True to its roots in the women's music industry, Olivia cruises showcase entertainers - lesbian and straight - that have a strong following in the women's community. Recently Olivia has featured interesting cruise destinations and itineraries, making them the most innovative queer cruise company around. Their cruises are tremendously popular and often sell out early, so advance planning is key to landing many Olivia cruises.

The largest gay cruise company, Atlantis is best known for its big ship sailings with a strong emphasis on fun and entertainment. Although it has a reputation as the party cruise company, Atlantis attracts a broad range of guests (including a small contingent of lesbians) and features interesting itineraries. Because Atlantis offers their new cruises to alumni first, it can be hard to get space on the best cruises if you haven't travelled with them before. If you've never been on a gay cruise, the Atlantis winter cruise is a great (and affordable) introduction to this type of travel.

Some questions About Gay and Lesbian Cruises

What are independent Group Departures?

One of the hottest trends in the mainstream cruise industry is the rise of independent group departures. These groups are organized by the travelers themselves who usually share a common connection, such as workplace, membership in the same club or association or simply a group of friends who want to travel together. These affinity groups can consist of as few as five cabins, so even a group as small as 10 people can receive a price break as well as group and onboard benefits.

Depending on the cruise line and group size, you may even qualify for a free cabin. So you can create your own "gay" cruise by pulling together a group of friends, finding a ship and itinerary which your needs and taking advantage of the group pricing benefits offered by the cruise lines. Rainbow High Vacations can help you select an appropriate cruise itinerary and company as well as negotiate a group deal on your behalf. We can also assist you with promoting your group departure.

What type of people go on all-gay or all-lesbian cruises?

We continue to be amazed by the variety of people who choose an all-gay or -lesbian cruise. More often than not, a group of friends - some singles, some couples - will decide to take a cruise together. That being said, RSVP and Olivia tend to attract more couples while Atlantis tends to have a bit more of a party crowd on board.

What if I'm travelling on my own?

All the gay and lesbian cruise companies offer a share option where they will match you up with another traveller so you can avoid paying the single supplement.

Why is it so hard to find space on these cruises?

All of the cruise companies offer their new cruises to past guests before releasing them for sale to the general public. Many guests come back year after year, so it's not uncommon for most of the cabins on a new cruise to be sold out by the time it is opened up to "newbies". Most cruises are sold out six to twelve months prior to the departure date. Therefore, if you are interested in a gay or lesbian cruise, you must to plan in advance and move quickly when the cruise comes up for sale. A deposit is required to hold space, with final payment due a couple or three months before sailing.

Why aren't there any gay or lesbian cruises over the Christmas/New Years holiday?

The cruise lines are reluctant to charter a complete ship to a gay or lesbian company over the holidays because this is the one time during the year when the cruise lines themselves can sell out a cruise at top dollar rates. However, there are gay group departures over the holiday period.

Are gay cruises just floating sex parties?

There's no denying that the cruises can be sexy affairs - if you want it to be that way. But most people go on one of these cruises and have a great (but pretty tame) time.

Why are gay and lesbian cruises so expensive?

The cruise companies bring on additional entertainers and staff beyond the cruise line's regular crew. There are also huge marketing expenses that have to be shared across only two or three cruises during the year. Despite the somewhat higher cost, almost every guest we send on a gay or lesbian cruise comes back saying it was one of the best holidays they have ever had - and that it was worth every penny.