Missing the mark: gay social gatherings on cruise ships

Randall Shirley Gay Cruise EditorMeetMeOnBoard research shows that most LGBT cruise passengers deeply value gay social gatherings on cruise ships.

Yet in my experience and from anecdotes from cruising friends, no cruise line has figured out how to do these gatherings consistently well.

Keep reading to learn the cruise lines’ policies for LGBT meet ups

With the amount of money our community pumps into cruise travel each year, it’s disappointing that no cruise line makes LGBT gatherings a signature onboard experience.

Why don’t the cruise lines “get” it?

My educated guess: cruise lines’ senior managers fail to comprehend the value gay people place on community. They see us as a special interest “group.”

In fact, we are not a group with a shared interest—we are a unique people who’ve built our own bars and created our own villages. Many of us continue to value the social aspects of those engendered. Socializing with other gays seems to be part of our DNA.

I also believe they’ve yet to realize the dollar amount our community pays to play on their ships. Until a few years ago when MeetMeOnBoard began surveying the LGBT cruise community, there was no quantitative data for them to draw from, and I think the only place they could really see our dollars was when a company like RSVP did an all-gay charter.

Our personal experiences.

cocktail_chartMy husband and my most-recent cruises have been with Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines–twice with each line.

With Celebrity, on our Sept. 2015 Vancouver-Hawaii itinerary, we discovered that what’s happening on the ship doesn’t always reflect a cruise line’s company policy. (See policy below; click for my review on what we did love). No one from the ship’s staff showed up to welcome us, and the bartender in the first night’s announced venue seemed disinterested in/oblivious to the presence of the small gay group (8 men) that did gather. This gathering was held just hours after embarkation causing me to think few LGBT travelers would have seen the announcement in the printed cruise bulletin, let alone find the unusual bar. On additional nights, the company’s policy of only posting the meeting place on an obscure bulletin board (plus changing the bar location from night-one) was ineffective, and the gatherings were busts. Our honeymoon Celebrity cruise in 2012 had successful LGBT gatherings, due to a large gay group onboard the ship–there were so many gays in the Martini Bar each night you couldn’t miss it.

On our most-recent Norwegian cruise around Hawaii, the meetups were indeed posted in the daily program, and a member of the ship’s activity staff was present for each; yet they were very poorly attended. I don’t have a clear answer for why this was, other than there were no sea days on the Hawaiian Islands itinerary. And like our previous Celebrity experience, our earlier NCL Alaska cruise included a large LGBT group onboard, ensuring successful gatherings.

Reaching further back, a mainstream Holland America itinerary along the Mexican Pacific Coast had wildly successful gatherings, with the ship’s piano bar entertainer acting as host and overall bon vivant (unfortunately, he is no longer with the line).

Cruise lines’ policies

To try and better understand the inconsistencies around the onboard gatherings, MeetMeOnBoard reached out to the major large-ship cruise lines attracting North American passengers (since this is where we personally are located, and our expectations reflect those of current North American LGBT cultural acceptance). We asked each to provide us with their company’s policy for onboard LGBT meetups. Here, in alphabetical order, are their responses (edited only for grammar/clarity):

Carnival Cruise LineFor many years, Carnival Cruise Line has hosted a meet-up for its LGBT guests once each cruise regardless of itinerary or duration (we operate about 1,800 cruises a year). The event is hosted in a lounge or bar and is advertised in the Fun Times daily shipboard newsletter which is distributed to all guests in their cabins and available at guests services as well. Shipboard staff follow the same procedure fleetwide to organize these events.
Celebrity CruisesCelebrity normally hosts an “LGBT Happy Hour” on day one of a cruise. The LGBT Happy Hour’s location and time is publicized in the daily newsletter, Celebrity Today, on page three as “LGBT Happy Hour.” A dedicated onboard officer attends the event as a host and is available for questions about the ship, events and ports of call etc. At the happy hour it is noted that all future LGBT events during the cruise are posted on the community board that is located by the guest relations desk.
CunardOur Friends of Dorothy meetings take place once on every voyage on board our three ships, Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.
These are relayed to our guests via our Daily Programme which is placed in staterooms every evening.
Disney Cruise LineRequest for information not acknowledged.
Holland America LineWe note in our daily program a gathering in a specific locale. [A ship staff person] shows up for the first one to see what the response is and make sure folks meet each other. Then the future meetings are listed but they handle as a group, etc. and decide what to do.
MSCLGBT gatherings are normally done on board MSC Divina on a regular basis (1 per cruise, normally on a sea day). The time/date/location will be reported on the Daily Program on board.

If guests are sailing on another MSC ship, a get-together can always be requested through our office (groups dept/agency, etc) and we will try to accommodate as best as possible based on what they are looking for.
Norwegian Cruise LineEach ship organizes a gathering during each cruise that is advertised in the ship’s Freestyle Daily schedule of activities.
Princess CruisesThe gatherings are labeled “Friends of Dorothy” in the Patter and generally occur once a cruise so folks can make introductions.
Royal Caribbean InternationalWe offer daily get togethers for LGBT and we advertise them in our Cruise Compass and on our Community Bulletin Board. We do not refer to these gatherings as “Friends of Dorothy.” The gatherings are scheduled by the Cruise Director and locations vary throughout the ship.

We want to know what you think? Share your experiences regarding onboard LGBT gatherings in the comments below. Be sure to identify which cruise line, and what you feel made the event(s) a success or a bust. What would be your ideal onboard LGBT meet up (format, time, place, frequency, etc.)? Be creative!

Note: the writer sailed Celebrity’s Solstice and Millennium, and Holland America’s Oosterdam, as a guest of the respective cruise lines. Unless otherwise stated, opinions are the writer’s own and have not been approved nor pre-reviewed by any travel provider. We strive for fairness and balance in our coverage. Read our disclosure policy here.

JOIN OUR EMAIL LIST. You can opt-out at any time. Promise.