From the best parties in the world, to relaxing on a tropical beach, or just taking in amazing views, blogger Marcus Adams (aka Sparkx) selects the top 10 LGBT and LGBT-friendly cruises and cruise lines
1. Celebrity Cruises: Mardi Gras and the Caribbean
Surely there’s no better party than Mardi Gras? If you want to enjoy Fat Tuesday to its fullest, then immerse yourself by boarding a cruise to New Orleans. Sail on Celebrity Reflection, part of the Celebrity Cruises fleet, spending three nights in New Orleans, then travel around the Caribbean to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico.
Celebrity Reflection is one of the new ships in the Celebrity Cruises fleet. It is one of my personal favourites, with signature features including a half-acre of real grass on the top deck, amazing cocktails from the Martini Bar, as well as a range of mouthwatering cuisine. What more could you wish for?
Celebrity Cruises is well known for being LGBT friendly, including being awarded 2016 LGBT friendly travel company of the year at the TTG Travel Awards. Meet-ups are generally advertised in the daily newspaper as well as via the community bulletin board found near guest services. The line is also known for sponsoring annual LGBT pride events and, in 2018, it made history by performing the first legally recognised same-sex marriage at sea.
Celebrity Reflection sets sail on 1 March 2019 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
2. Disney Cruise Line: The Bahamas
Bring out your inner kid by sailing on Disney Cruise Line – a perfect option for both families and couples. Take a cruise from the sunshine state to relax in the Bahamas for three or four nights and visit a number of islands, including Disney’s own private island, Castaway Cay. The island features a number of sprawling beaches and lagoons perfect for snorkelling, as well as walking trails, shops and barbecue dining locations.
And since you’re in the neighbourhood, start or end your trip by heading to the most visited place on the planet, Walt Disney World. Every year Walt Disney World holds a number of special LGBT days – in 2018 this is between 29 May and 3 June across the various parks. And don’t stop there – Orlando has a number of attractions including Universal Studios, another destination you’ll not want to miss.
Disney is known for being very inclusive across all of its parks and resorts, and its cruise line is no different. Staff are very welcoming to the LGBT community and all guests are made to feel part of the experience. While the line caters heavily for family holidays, the added benefit of adult-only areas appeals to many couples as well.
Disney Dream sails from Port Canaveral throughout the year on three- and four-night Bahamas cruises.
3. Cunard: Transatlantic
Sailing with Cunard is an experience like no other. Follow in the footsteps of the rich and glamorous by taking a transatlantic crossing on Queen Mary 2. The only liner still in service, travelling on Queen Mary 2 is a very special experience, which makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back to the golden age of the liner. Here, dinner and evenings are an event. Don your glad rags and take in the opulence of your surroundings, before enjoying walks along the authentic promenade deck and dancing the night away in the Queen’s Room – the ship’s very own ballroom.
Why not time your trip to coincide with one of the many events and festivities that take place in New York across the year, such as NYC Pride (15–24 June), New York Fleet Week (24–30 May), or even Thanksgiving (22 November).
Cunard has a long history of supporting human rights, including for the LGBT community. Like most cruise lines mentioned here, it regularly organises and promotes LGBT meet-ups on board, advertised via its daily on-board newspaper.
Sail on Queen Mary from either Southampton or New York for seven-night transatlantic journeys throughout the majority of the year.
4. Celebrity Cruises: Italy and the Greek islands
Following Celebrity Reflection across the pond, why not embark on an Atlantis Cruise for 10 nights visiting Italy and the Greek Isles? Soak up the sun in Santorini, take in the history and culture of Athens, before an overnight in stunning Mykonos. Atlantis is an LGBT charter company, very well known for its entertainment, activities and parties in addition to the existing Celebrity activities on board.
Sail on Atlantis from Civitavecchia (Rome) on 21 August 2018. Similar itineraries are available on Celebrity Reflection across the summer season in the Mediterranean.
5. Royal Caribbean International: Western Mediterranean
If you’re looking for something bigger and bolder, Royal Caribbean‘s newest ship, Symphony of the Seas, might just be the ticket. Symphony of the Seas will debut in March 2018 and will spend most of the summer sailing a seven-night western Mediterranean itinerary. Embark in Barcelona, and visit a variety of ports including Palma de Mallorca, La Spezia (for Florence and Pisa), Civitavecchia (for Rome), Naples and Marseilles.
Symphony of the Seas will be the largest cruise ship in the world with extraordinary features. If you’re anything like me, and enjoy having choice, this ship represents the perfect option to do a wide variety of things, all in one space. Built around a series of distinct neighbourhoods, take in the sights and sounds of the outdoor boardwalk, or take a stroll through the ship’s most unique feature, a full-size park carved through the middle of the ship. Thrill-seekers won’t be disappointed either. Why not try the longest slide at sea, rock climbing or even surfing? When you get thirsty, ask your friendly robot bartender if he can knock something up before sitting back to watch some unique entertainment, including diving shows, ice-skating and even enjoying a west end production of Hairspray.
Royal Caribbean is another line with a history for being very LGBT-friendly. Ships are regularly chartered by companies such as Atlantis, providing a fun-filled environment that can cater for all tastes. Meet-ups are generally organised via the community bulletin board found near guest services on most ships.
Spend a few days before or after your cruise taking in the sights and sounds of Barcelona, a city full of culture, history, as well as some amazing food and drink. See Gaudi’s masterpieces up close or visit Carrer de Blai and experience some authentic Pintxos tapas. Barcelona Pride, now in its 10th year, kicks off from 23 June through to 30 June with celebrations held across the city.
Sail from Barcelona on Symphony of the Seas from March 2018 to October 2018.
6. Princess Cruises: Norwegian Fjords
The “Love Boats” of the Princess Cruises fleet offer a huge variety of interesting itineraries. For the 2018 and 2019 summer seasons, Sapphire Princess, who is proving very popular, will make Southampton its home. She will sail on a variety of itineraries to both northern Europe and the Mediterranean. A one-of-a-kind voyage for 2018 will be sailing to the Norwegian Fjords during the Summer Solstice. Many argue that the only way to truly take in and experience this picture-postcard landscape is to sail through the fjords and see them up close.
Princess has a very popular following, and it’s easy to see why. Sapphire Princess is packed full of exceptional dining options, including its signature Italian restaurant Sabatini’s. It also has a number of interesting bars and clubs, such as the unique Skywalkers nightclub that overlooks the wake of the ship, as well as very friendly and helpful staff ready to take care of every need. You can see why Princess Cruises has won Best Cruise Line for four years running at the Cruise Awards.
Princess actively promotes meet-ups in the daily onboard newspaper and is a popular choice for LGBT-cruisers. Crew have also been known to host LGBT events to bring together like-minded travellers. Like some of the other lines here, Princess has a lot of repeat LGBT passengers that return year-on-year, so they must be doing something right.
Sail on Sapphire Princess from Southampton on 16 June 2018 to see the majestic fjords during Summer Solstice.
7. Viking River Cruises: Europe
With an ever-changing vista, river cruising is the perfect way to experience the historic towns and cities of Europe. The Viking River Cruises Longships are perfect for this, providing contemporary elegance and comfort. Enjoy fine dining, spacious staterooms and suites, some of the best designed scandi-inspired ship interiors, and enriched shore excursions that get you into the very heart of these locations. For me, this is a winning combination.
In my opinion, the quintessential river cruise is along the romantic Danube River, sailing between Nuremberg and Budapest, taking you through Germany, Austria and Hungary. Particular highlights include Vienna, experience the Baroque architecture and feel of the city, and then in the evening take in a classical music concert and indulge in the local wine.
River cruising is much more intimate than sailing on the big ocean-going ships, so be prepared to get to make a lot of friends on board. Viking openly welcomes LGBT passengers, and regularly hosts LGBT charters and group booking on its river fleet.
You can sail on a number of the Viking longships along the Danube throughout the year.
8. Azamara Club Cruises: Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam
Azamara Club Cruises‘ fleet of small-boutique ships let you sail into smaller, more intimate ports across the world – and Azamara prides itself on destination immersion. This means you tend to stay longer and experience more on your journey.
Where better to immerse yourself than Asia? This one-of-a-kind voyage will take you on a tour across Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. You’ll spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City, experiencing the history of the city that was Saigon. And due to their small size, Azamara ships are able to get into places that others just can’t, so sail all the way up the Chao Phraya River to the heart of Bangkok. Here you’ll stay for two nights, allowing you to fully experience all the culture, from ornate shrines, to the infamous vibrant street life. There’s even a chance to fly to Cambodia to see the temples and treasures of Angkor Wat.
Azamara proactively markets itself to the LGBT traveller, where its ships are frequently booked for LGBT groups. LGBT ‘Happy Hour’ meet-ups are promoted on board, where staff, including the Captain and Cruise Director, will regularly attend.
Sail on Azamara Quest from Singapore on the 26 November 2018.
9. Holland America Line: Australia and New Zealand
At the top of my bucket list is a cruise around Australia and New Zealand. Year-on-year Atlantis team up with a number of cruise lines to offer one-of-a-kind cruises Down Under. Atlantis have not revealed their 2019 plans, but if their 2018 cruise (which takes place between 18 February and 1 March 2018) is anything to go by you’d be in for a treat.
Sail on Holland America Line for a cruise that kicks off in Auckland, New Zealand during its pride celebrations and finishes in Sydney during its annual LGBT Mardi Gras -which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary from 16 February to 4 March. Take in the beautiful scenery and savour some of the world-famous wines New Zealand has to offer. You’ll then cruise to Hobart, the capital of the island of Tasmania, before spending an overnight in cosmopolitan Melbourne. You’ll then arrive in Sydney just in time for the Mardi Gras, the world’s largest LGBT celebration.
Holland America is a very openly LGBT-friendly cruise line, but is a relative newcomer to hosting LGBT meet-ups on board. You can expect at least one meet-up at the start of the cruise, with subsequent meetings available on request.
You can sail on Noordam in 2018 on similar itineraries during the southern hemisphere summer season.
10. Silversea: Panama Canal
A Panama Canal cruise is a unique experience. Most cruise lines offer spectacular cruises which typically travel from southern Florida, the Caribbean, through the amazing man-made locks and lakes of the Panama Canal through to the Pacific Ocean, Costa Rica, Mexico and the western United States.
Join the intimate Silver Whisper, from Silversea Cruises, as she sails from Florida through to San Francisco, via the Panama Canal. The Silversea fleet has been designed to deliver an ultra-luxury experience. With an all-suite offering, expect personal butler service, the finest accommodation, and sumptuous dining.
Start and finish your cruise in two of the most LGBT-friendly places in the world. Fort Lauderdale is considered by many to be a tropical paradise for LGBT travellers, with a variety of bars, hotels and restaurants catering for everyone. Equally, San Francisco has one of the largest and most prominent LGBT communities and has been dubbed as the ‘gay capital of the world’. LGBT culture is part of the fabric of the city, so finish off your cruise by taking in all that it has to offer.
Silversea does not offer specific LGBT meet-ups on board, rather it promotes an atmosphere of class and elegance for like-minded travellers, which if you’re anything like me will appeal.
Experience a Christmas like no other by sailing on Silver Whisper on 20 December 2018 for 17 nights. Then why not welcome in 2019 by spending New Year’s Eve in San Francisco.