“I’ve been on other gay cruises where I’ve sat in a Jacuzzi with 10 people and no one talked to each other,” my new friend Thomas from New Jersey said. “On VACAYA everybody in the Jacuzzi knows everyone by name within five minutes.” Thomas is right. There are no strangers on a VACAYA cruise. I met Thomas through my new friend Terry from Illinois, who I met through my new friend Nick from North Carolina. In February, I joined them and 2,700 new friends on VACAYA’s Caribbean cruise out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., celebrating the company’s fifth anniversary.
From my perspective, VACAYA’s greatest asset is attracting supremely friendly guests. It seems simple, but it’s quite the mysterious magic trick: to draw a crowd that values community and kindness and still has a blast together.
PHOTO BY GABRIEL GOLDBERG/HOLLYWOOD BRUISERS
If you build it, they will come.
When VACAYA launched in 2018, the company sought to create a travel space serving our entire LGBTQ+ spectrum, including straight allies. Having traveled on its inaugural cruise and now again this year, I’ve witnessed this journey firsthand. Though the largest demographic by far is still gay men, there’s a diverse range of ages and body types — which greatly contributes to the welcoming atmosphere. On a ship of nearly 3,000 gays, I didn’t encounter one bitchy queen in seven days. That’s pretty spectacular.
I have also seen how the company’s staff — the Vacayans — has evolved to include more women, trans, and nonbinary members, while VACAYA has increased programming for guests who identify in those ways as well. Yes, VACAYA throws fantastic ship-wide theme parties, but it also offers multiple entertainment options each night and social opportunities that extend beyond shirtless boy dances.
Be sure to check out video from the VACAYA Caribbean Cruise 2023 below
During the friskier leather-themed party — at which everyone was welcome — VACAYA created another event especially for women and nonbinary guests, because not everyone wants to see a sea of men in jockstraps, even though I very much do. Opportunities to bond beyond the dance floor included makeup tutorials, a board game night, a book club, and small group dinners for solo, women, trans, and nonbinary travelers.
Now, to be clear, I didn’t participate in most of those activities, but I love that they were available. We all deserve our own perfect version of a queer vacation, and that’s exactly what VACAYA facilitates. For me, that meant bopping in the pool with my boyfriend and our thousands of new friends. It was exactly what we wanted, needed, and got. But each individual experience was unique on this trip, and there was an open lane welcoming everyone’s journey.
This vibe was set from the top and radiated down to the guests through the Vacayans. “The VACAYA staff took so much pride in everything,” noted Thomas. “They always greeted you at the dining room, going to and coming from shows, and at every happening. That doesn’t happen with other companies. I was on another gay cruise recently, and not one staff member ever thanked me or showed appreciation to me for being on their charter, at any time.”
PHOTO BY GABRIEL GOLDBERG
Dribble, shoot, score: VACAYA reimagines the basketball court.
Sex positivity has also been part of VACAYA’s mission from day one. On its big-ship cruises like this one, that includes creating a sanctioned safe space for sexual activity.
Every night, VACAYA turned the ship’s basketball court into its Red Light District, complete with multiple slings and other sexual furniture. The court was in a secluded area of the ship, so no one would stumble on it by accident. It might not be a part of everyone’s journey, but for others, the Red Light District was a revelation. “We don’t really have many opportunities to connect in these ways where we live,” said Robert from Idaho, who was vacationing with his husband. “We don’t live in a big gay city. For us, it’s an opportunity to let loose and meet other guys, who are nice even on the basketball court! What I love most about VACAYA is that it’s respectful. I’m not gonna be fucking on the dance floor. That’s not my style, and I love that it’s not what this cruise is. Everyone seems so keen on being respectful of the other guests’ experience.”
For the remainder of the year, VACAYA will continue to celebrate its fifth birthday on luxury, small-ship cruises and resort takeovers, but the company has already started planning for 2024, when its Caribbean cruise will take over the Celebrity Apex, VACAYA’s biggest ship yet. And if the company’s track record is any indication, there will be many new friends waiting in the Jacuzzi…or on the basketball court.