In an article published on Friday, January 14, 2022, The New York Times asked, “Can a Gay Cruise Keep 4700 Safe Amid COVID?” in reference to another gay travel company’s charter cruise on Royal Caribbean embarking January 16, 2022.
While VACAYA wasn’t mentioned by name in the article, our January 10-17, 2022 Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Millennium was referenced. Having just wrapped this nearly 2,000-passenger Caribbean Cruise, VACAYA can definitively answer that question with an emphatic “Yes!” With careful execution of recommended protocols, the LGBT+ community can safely navigate these incredibly challenging times.
We feel that the article did not live up to the journalistic integrity we expect from the Times, and was an affront to Atlantis Events, LGBT+ travel companies in general, and the gay community. As we begin to come out of the pandemic, it’s OK to ask questions about how, why, and when we’ll return to normal, but The Times completely missed the real story here.
Their decision to focus on errant quotes taken from various social media pages to sensationalize the story was both a misfire and (let’s hope unintentionally) homophobic. The focus should have been on the positive steps being taken by travel companies to adapt to life in a new world of testing, screening, and exposure reduction through contact tracing, upgraded onboard medical facilities and staff, and improved guest stateroom ventilation.
Everyone aboard VACAYA’s cruise on Celebrity Millennium had been vaccinated, most had been boosted, and all were tested shortly before boarding. Indoor masking policies remained in place. And despite the CDC’s recent decision to make the cruise industry a villain, we applaud the industry’s science-based efforts to mitigate risks.
The resulting positivity rate among VACAYA guests (to date) represents .017 percent of total passengers. By comparison, the 14-day positivity rate in New York City is 27 percent.
In a recent statement by CLIA (Cruise Line International Association), cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard – far fewer than on land – and the majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore.
Humanity’s return to normal won’t be easy and there will undoubtedly be pitfalls along the way, but someone has to make the first moves. As the LGBT+ community has done since the dawn of time, we will lead the way back to some semblance of normalcy. Yes, we might do that covered in sequins and glitter, but we will boldly take the steps others are afraid to make. Remember, this isn’t our community’s first pandemic and most of us understand how to adapt to protocols.
VACAYA’s 2022 Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Millennium was completely sold out, with nearly 2,000 guests scheduled to sail. With rigorous pre-sail protocols in place, several hundred passengers were ultimately unable to sail because of positive pre-cruise COVID test results. Most of those guests were well insured and have experienced minimal losses.
The ship sailed successfully with 1,568 passengers aboard. Over the course of the week, 27 guests tested positive for COVID-19 and were placed in isolation and 72 additional guests who’d been in close contact with a positive person (which is defined as being within 6 feet for 15 minutes or longer) were tested, placed in quarantine for the recommended 24 hours, and re-tested before being declared COVID-free and allowed to mingle again.
All in all, the pre-cruise, onboard, and post-cruise protocols have worked exactly as designed. And because of our adherence to those protocols, VACAYA and our strong LGBT+ community members have successfully taken those first bold steps back to normalcy.
As entrepreneurs in the travel industry during a historic pandemic, we’re often asked, ‘how do you feel confident traveling with large numbers of guests to your events?’ Our answer is simple: we follow the science. The science led the CDC, CLIA, and cruise lines to develop health and safety protocols second to none. Our cruise is proof they work. As an additional proof point, VACAYA experienced no COVID cases at our October 2021 Mexico Resort vacation, which welcomed over 700 travelers.
Historically, LGBT+ community members travel more than their heterosexual counterparts. The reason is simple: persecution in small hometowns drove LGBT+ community members to seek out havens in bigger cities and gay-friendly destinations around the world. As an example, VACAYA offers an environment where for one magical week, our community gets to be the majority and live life out loud in the blissful utopia VACAYA creates. That single change from being an always minority to a sudden-majority can have a profoundly positive real-world effect on individuals. So our view is that we owe our travel-hungry guests the opportunity to travel safely
Although the pandemic has been challenging, the human spirit is resilient. VACAYA has experienced a recent surge in bookings resulting in four out of six announced trips selling out in record time. VACAYA created the initiative #AdaptToLive to inspire guests to collectively come together to work through the various challenges everyone is facing so we could continue to live our lives.
VACAYA will continue to lead the way and continue to charter entire ships and resorts so LGBTQ+ travelers have the freedom to express their individuality, make personal connections, celebrate life, rev up, or simply relax… together.
Patrick Gunn and Randle Roper are the co-founders of VACAYA, the first and only large-scale adults-only vacation company created exclusively for the entire LGBTQ+ community.