Cruise ships & rainbow flags: how far we’ve come

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Recently, the crew of Azamara Journey raised the rainbow pride flag high above the ship’s upper decks to celebrate Pride. The awesome thing? Although the flag raising took place in Amsterdam, one of the gayest European cities, this was not a gay cruise.

As the cruise industry has lagged far behind other travel-related businesses in creating LGBTQ-specific products and marketing to our community, we’re thrilled to see this seemingly simple act of recognition.

We in the LGBTQ community often see the rainbow flag around in our neighborhoods. But seeing the rainbow flag fly proudly above a cruise ship on a mainstream cruise is a relatively new, and very exciting thing.

The rainbow Pride Flag flies atop Azamara Journey in Amsterdam, celebrating gay pride. Photo: Mark den Hartog

Why should we care?

First, the fact that you’re reading this says that cruise travel is something you value. Second, it wasn’t so long ago that gay passengers on mainstream cruises played coy about their identities. In 2004, my partner and I were the first known openly gay participants in a main stage game show onboard a Royal Caribbean ship. A lot of things have changed for LGBTQ people in the past 20-ish years, especially in the travel industry. Hotels and airlines now advertise directly to us. Unfortunately, the cruise industry hasn’t exactly led the way.

A few years ago, a rep at a major cruise line told me that their company’s senior management (which included a gay person in a leadership role) feared alienating mainstream passengers by reaching out to the LGBTQ community. That cruise line, and others, let us have our LGBTQ gatherings on board, some with varying degrees of crew/officer participation. On the positive side, most lines have been comfortable listing these as LGBTQ events rather than the former, coy title “Friends of Dorothy Meeting,” in their daily printed programs.

Slowly, and through many influences, the cruise lines are catching up with their travel industry colleagues. Those influences include all our increased “outness” and visibility when we travel, and societal changes such as same-sex marriage. We believe another influence is the tireless efforts and initiatives of the MeetMeOnBoard team to make the cruise industry aware of our value to them, especially the highly visible CRUIZIE© Awards, which opened the door to us attending cruise industry events nearly a decade ago and representing the LGBTQ cruise travel community.

How are cruise lines coming out?

Celebrity has become a substantial presence at Prides near their home base in Florida and onboard their ships. Holland America has donated to the gay men’s choir in their Seattle hometown. At different times, Celebrity, Azamara, MSC, and combined brands of Carnival Corp. have sponsored this online community. Celebrity and Azamara both have LGBTQ landing pages on their websites. And Azamara expresses their support via the thoughtful raising of our rainbow flag.

What can you do now?
  1. First, we suggest that if you’re planning a higher-end cruise, you consider Azamara. They have been a key sponsor of the MeetMeOnBoard community for several years. Plus, they continually show interest and appreciation for our community. Should you do so, thank every Azamara employee at every level, and ask your travel agent to do the same.
  2. We also suggest you book your travels with the above-mentioned cruise lines that have supported us at different times. Again, thank every employee at every level—from the call center, to the staff at the pier, to your room steward, to the captain.
  3. Continue to cruise openly and out of the closet. Ask cruise lines to provide things you value, whether it’s a special bar for LGBT happy hour, a unique specialty dining experience for a group of LGBT friends, or ensuring that your cabin has your preferred bed configuration. Put a rainbow flag on your cabin door, if you wish. Get your photos taken with your significant other or your gay pals, and thank the photo team for their friendliness. If you meet gay ship employees, buy them a drink (often only possible in port).

We hope our community is never seen as normal as in boring. However, we hope that the normalcy of others welcoming us will continue to evolve and improve on cruise ships. We’d love to see every line raise the rainbow flag for an LGBT Pride or other event without giving it a second thought.

*Note: Mark and Dale recently traveled as guests of Azamara Club Cruises. Read our disclosure policy here. From Mark: “Our gay opinions can’t be bought. We say and write exactly what we think—and we’re capable of throwing shade when necessary.”