I’m not ashamed to admit that I love queer cruising (the ocean kind). My very first gay cruise was with Olivia Cruises when I traveled with the crew of The L Word interviewing fans for my documentary, The L World. I was lured yet again onto the inaugural Sweet cruise (RIP to the short-lived lesbian company), where I filmed the pilot episode of a webseries called The Lez Boat, a freshman project that never made it out of dry dock.
With those early adventures behind me, I had been wondering when my next queer cruise would come knocking. And then, like magic, came VACAYA, and the chance to film the "women’s experience" on their inaugural LGBTQIA+ cruise. Of course, I said yes.
Unlike the (mostly) all-women Olivia vacations and all-male Atlantis and RSVP cruises, VACAYA is an adult cruise and luxury resort travel company aimed at every adult in the LGBTQ universe.
This video is my scrapbook from an amazing adventure and a tribute to the women of VACAYA:
Beyond filming, I had other reasons for cruising. I wanted to make new friends. I wanted a little dose of East coast summer and had no plans to crash anyone’s share on Fire Island this year. This might be my next best opportunity, since Provincetown, Mass., has been on my big gay to-do list for a while.
The other two destinations — Saint John, New Brunswick, and Bar Harbor, Maine — appealed to my newest hobby: rockhounding. This part of the East coast, formed during Silurian and Devonian times, boasts an excellent selection of semi-precious stones, masquerading as everyday beach rocks. Deeper in the Bay of Fundy, it’s not uncommon to find whole amethyst geodes on the beach. I wasn’t that lucky but I did find jasper, jade, agate and a tiny pegmatite studded with tourmaline on a secluded beach just outside of Saint John.
Back on board, the entertainment schedule was brisk. Each night offered several shows and at least two theme parties. This is where the cruise shined, but honestly, during the first few days, I skipped all of it to go to bed early. I love sleeping on cruise ships, the gentle hum of the engine and rocking of the sea puts me to sleep — and keeps me there. Not to mention, in grand lesbian fashion, I can be a little shy in groups.
Eventually, though, I needed to film, so I threw on my hastily assembled Vogue-themed outfit and headed to the pool deck to join the frivolity.
Pictured: The one and only Kristin Chenoweth wowing the crowd.
And there I found myself in a babe oasis. Of course, most of the babes in this oasis were gay men, but I am one of those lesbians who loves partying with men. I also met other women who felt the same — many happy couples (like the one pictured here) looking to avoid drama, or singles who blended perfectly with the packs of scantily clad hardbodies roaming the ship looking for dance partners and conversation.
The steady drumbeat of the disco allowed me to dip in and out of the entertainment schedule to enjoy the ship's amenities, stunning sunset views, and delicious food and still have my own quiet time, knowing there would always be a party raging up on deck.
As the week wrapped up, some of the sassy attitudes and superficial divisions melted away into a genuine connection among the group, as people exchanged contact info and said they’d keep in touch. It felt a little like the end of a week at summer camp. I certainly found new friends and cool rocks I was looking for on the inaugural VACAYA cruise.
There was a sex-positive vibe on this cruise, which I 100 percent supported. During those few moments where I could use a break from the 360-view of peen (or it’s barely concealed outline), I honored my feelings and headed to a different venture.
While VACAYA strives to make this cruise welcoming for everybody, there were some, shall we say, missteps around women. The funniest being an in-room promotion of Pure, a laxative product who’s tagline is “Be Clean, Be Ready,” that put off a few female cruisers. Less amusing was the lack of a women’s meet up on the first day — when singles, bisexuals, polyamorous folks, and BDSM practitioners were all invited to find their tribe, but women and lesbians weren’t. When this kind of meetup finally materialized on the schedule, it was called “The Wonder Women of Vacaya,” a confusing name that I thought had something to do with Comic-Con style cosplay.
One of the most illuminating moments on board was my excursion to the (oddly named) “Red Light District” — a.k.a. the basketball courts, which morphed into a "sex deck" after 10pm.
My companions for the field trip were two lovely married men from Seattle, who I’ll call Kevin and Steve. Steve and I stood off to the side, giggling, as Kevin hovered by the door, anxiously avoiding an unwanted hookup. We were all voyeurs, but I was the only one called out for it. This left me wondering how VACAYA will ensure safety, fun, consent, and connection for all their guests, while still catering to the wide range of tastes in our LGBTQIA+ family.
With regards to filming, I did worry there wouldn’t actually be enough women on the cruise to film. However, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter just enough queer female passengers having genuine fun on their VACAYA vacation who also gamely allowed me to stick a camera in their faces while in swimwear to fill a one-minute clip.
Ready to Go? Here are Some VACAYA Tips:
The SLAP! party.
SLAP! is VACAYA’s signature party taking the traditional queer/leather “hanky code” and thwacking it onto your wrist with classic '80s slap bracelets. Discover what floats the boat of fellow guests by comparing their bracelets to the classic codes. The party was so successful onboard that VACAYA is likely to make it a tradition for future cruises.
Through the ReachOUT program, VACAYA partners with local organizations in the communities they visit on each vacation to lend a helping hand where they can, something that Sweet popularized and Olivia does in certain locales. VACAYA hopes to take it to the next level. For some Vacayans, the program manifests itself through actual sweat equity, like volunteering a couple of hours to help clean a beach (although some travelers will opt to just donate and get back to their pina coladas, which is fine too). More and more travelers, especially millennials, want these kinds of programs, which help unite travelers with the local communities who welcome them, creating a more rewarding trip.
On the Provincetown Cruise, VACAYA orchestrated a reuniting of the Gilbert Baker rainbow flag. Since the 1.25 mile-long flag was created for Key West’s Pride Parade in 2003, pieces of it have been scattered throughout the United States. In August, VACAYA volunteers and travelers reunited the giant flag and paraded it through the streets of Provincetown, kicking off the town’s 41st Annual Carnival celebration. Future projects to commemorate the LGBTQ community will be shared at MyVacaya.
Everyone enjoyed the Rainbow flag reunion in P-Town!
It's not just cruising, though...
This year, VACAYA chartered the glorious Celebrity Summit but the company plans to partner in the future with other cruise lines (next up: Emerald Waterways and Ponant) as well as resorts that offer a boutique, luxury experience.
From October 27 to November 2, VACAYA will be checking into UNICO 20°87°, an all-inclusive resort in the Riviera Maya just outside Cancun, Mexico.
Celebrity Cruises, of course, is ready to host another VACAYA cruise.
“Celebrity Cruises is proud to have long supported the LGBT+ community and we couldn’t be happier to hear the positive reviews from VACAYA’s Inaugural Cruise on Celebrity Summit,” Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruise Lines, said in a statement. “This was a very successful charter and we can’t thank VACAYA enough for trusting us with their first cruise. We are honored they chose Celebrity Cruises and look forward to the next one. Congratulations and welcome to the Celebrity family.”
Entertainment at Sea
Every Tuesday night, New York City-based lesbian performer Susie Mosher hosts an eclectic anything-goes variety show, THE LINEUP, at Birdland, one of NYC’s hottest cabaret houses.
Her show features entertainers from the Broadway, cabaret, and comedy worlds. The talented host brought the epic show to VACAYA in THE LINEUP at Sea, setting up the ship’s “All-Star DIVAS” lineup of performers that included Broadway stars Katharine McPhee, Leslie Jordan, Alex Newell, and Lesli Margherita. Talent from the Great White Way never disappoints on a queer cruise.
Travel writer Ravi Roth enjoying the sun (@RaviRoundTheWorld)
Singer Alex Newell belting high notes on the high seas.
The sail away from New York City!
Who doesn't love a good Elton John costume, right?