I was in my 30s when I went on my first cruise, an (almost) all-lesbian cruise with Olivia Travel, and it changed my life — in part because the women I met for whom the cruise served as an annual lifeline in their normally semi-closeted lives back home in the states. Perhaps those forced-to-be-closeted women were only 10 or 20 percent of the travelers on the ship, but their story helped forever shape how I viewed the ways in which travel can positively impact the lives of LGBTQ+ people by empowering us, bringing us joy, and letting us have a positive impact on the world. (Many of those women came out after the experience.)
Fast forward 25 years later and Olivia is celebrating their 50th anniversary next year (and I’ll be on board!) and now other “mainstream” cruise companies have LGBTQ+ gatherings, events, or onboard affinity groups. Even on fairly recent cruises I’ve had on Princess (the “straight” cruise line featured in the popular ’70s TV series, The Love Boat), and Holland America (the classy older sister ship with a lot of folks over 50 onboard), LGBTQ+ travelers were abundant, openly queer staff was visible, and there were gatherings for queer and trans folks.
But two mainstream cruise ships blew my mind: Virgin’s Scarlet Lady and Celebrity Edge. A couple of years ago I was on the maiden voyage of Celebrity Edge, visiting the Caribbean from the port in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It’s the most millennial luxury ship I’ve been on, setting sail on a new era in cruising.
Celebrity Edge’s maiden voyage featured a moving ceremony where Andra Day sang “Rise Up,” and then the ship’s “godmother,” Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, spoke movingly about inclusivity and female empowerment before blessing the ship.
Heated tile lounge chairs
Yousafzai advocates for a world where every girl can learn and lead by investing in local education activists, holding global leaders accountable, and amplifying girls’ voices around the world. Celebrity Cruises raises money for her nonprofit Malala Fund. The ship is helmed by a woman, too: Captain Kate McCue.
“We believe in diversity and inclusion...and advancing gender equality,” Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, says. If you think having a female CEO impacts what a travel company does, you’re right.
Celebrity Edge Captain Kate McCue
While progress has been made, only 2 percent of the world’s mariners are women. Celebrity Cruises is leading the industry into a more diverse future with their bold initiatives to #BRIDGEthegap, recruiting and training more women for these jobs. The company hit another historic milestone: the first-ever sailing with an entirely female bridge and officer team, in honor of International Women’s Day 2020.
Their female crew ratio is 50 percent higher than any other cruise line (women are 30 percent of the crew), and 20 percent of their captains are female. “It takes a village and we’re all very committed and it’s purposeful,” says Lutoff-Perlo. “[We’re] putting money where our mouth is…and [plan to] increase that still.”
The Rooftop Garden on Celebrity Edge
Whole sections of the ship, like Eden, are designed to be living works of art where people weave in and out and the setting is ever changing. Sinful is an immersive theatric experience in the ethereal space.
Jouin Manku’s influence is strikingly apparent in the Main Dining Atrium, where the staircase is a work of art and features a gorgeous art installation known as The Pendulum.
The central atrium
Everything on the ship is outward facing so the view is phenomenal from any deck, but the Resort Deck is unlike any other outdoor space at sea. There’s a poolside gallery full of oversized art installations, martini shaped hot tubs, and high-ceilinged cabanas; and a rooftop garden that draws guests day and night. The ship caters to all ages, so the adults-only pool and hot tub in the Solarium were delightful refuges.
I won’t bore you with the tech details about the Myers Sound and “staggering number of mics and speakers” that director Scott Butler talked about, but it’s very cool how The Theater blurs the line between audience and performers since there’s never more than 60 feet between any audience member and the stages.
The pool with a view
The Spa is superb, with a 256-square-foot Rainfall Water Therapy Room where simulated rain showers—ranging from warm to cool, from light drops to a waterfall—helped wash away my jet lag. Then I fell asleep in the Float Room where you can swing into a meditative sleep, cocooned in floating basket chairs along with stunning floor-to-ceiling views of the ocean.
The Rainfall Water Therapy Room
The bathroom is the best on any ship I’ve been on, hands down. It had a full-size bathtub and separate shower and unlike the RV-style bathrooms on other ships that scare away some cruisers, every part of it was gorgeous, spacious, and as modern as a luxury hotel. I could have lived in that tub.
Everything else in the room was controlled by a bedside remote (shades between room and balcony, movie-style lighting, etc.).
An Aqua Class bathroom
There are 29 dining options on board designed by a Michelin-starred chef, including four main dining rooms, a steakhouse, French bistro, Raw on 5 (a sushi bar with amazing lobster roll), a juice bar, poolside cafes, and several ways to eat while staring at the ocean.
My favorite literally brings travelers’ tabletop to life with Le Petit Chef and Friends at Le Grand Bistro. In this fun and fascinating new experience, four animated chefs stroll across your table creating courses that then real-life chefs bring out. The animated, interactive show reportedly changes each visit and I guarantee if you have wee ones they’ll love it.
Animated dining experience at Le Grand Bistro
And why a millennial ship? Because there needed to be one. Celebrity (like Virgin) is modernizing the cruising experience and the impetus came, CEO Lutoff-Perlo says, from traveler feedback.
“They’re the cruisers and the vacationers currently and of the future.”
One millennial influencer who was on board blogging and posting IG reels, reported she had never gotten a reaction from more of her followers than she did when she was posting pictures of Celebrity Edge.
Floating basket chairs
Lutoff-Perlo adds, “I try not to bucket people into certain categories. I think what we’re looking for are like-minded people who care about the same things we do and want to see all the amazing places that we go to in the world. And the millennials are certainly a group that is among them, not all.”
But with 5 million millennials they have to be the new target market.
“We travel to beautiful places in the world and the millennials disproportionately spend on travel. We all know that they probably don’t buy houses as much as some generations or automobiles, but their aspiration for seeing the world in a meaningful way is quite high. That was something that we thought about because again, we’re trying to bring like-minded, new cruisers into the category, and we think the ship is a great opportunity to do that right.”
A Jewelry Box performance
Don’t think you have to be a millennial to enjoy it, however (I’m certainly not). And I saw gays of all ages on board. There are a number of high-ranking LGBTQ+ folks on staff at Celebrity Cruises corporate and onboard, including head of Entertainment Experience Development Bryan White.
And of course, the first out gay Olympic medalist and America’s sweetheart, Adan Rippon, is a fan. He served as the ship’s Pride Party at Sea Grand Marshal on the Celebrity Edge (when it sailed to Spain, France, and Italy). The Annual Largest Pride Party at Sea is part of the brand’s fleet-wide celebration of 30 Days of Pride. The kick-off featured a parade and official rainbow flag raising and a Color the Night White party. Travelers literally colored the night with rainbow throwing powder, body paint, and face makeup, with the live musicians playing in the background as the ship sailed off to Barcelona and Ibiza, Spain.
It doesn’t get much queerer than that on the seas.
This piece initially ran in the Summer 2022 issue of Out Traveler. FInd more of our cruising coverage here.
Adam Rippon celebrates Pride