A gay cruise may not be on your bucket list, but it should be. You’ll find an unstuffy, non-judgy, too-fun week of island invasion, smart cocktails and cool camaraderie
By Doug Wallace
The slightest whiff of even a mention of a gay cruise vacation can cause many people to turn tail and run far, far away. I confess to originally harbouring the same eye-rolling tendencies—but after a week of zaniness with Atlantis Events in the Eastern Caribbean with 2,000 gay men and 27 lesbians, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Let’s start by separating the fact from the fiction. Nothing but a 24-hour disco for hopped-up brats? No. Big barge full of posing Muscle Marys in their thongs? Not really. Floating cesspool of naughty behaviour? There is opportunity, certainly.
The truth of the matter is that we found a full range of ages and interests, subcultures and body types, along with maybe a dozen gal pals and one very brave straight couple (and was the husband ever popular!). Everyone found something to tickle their own sense of fun, everyone was extremely polite (especially the Canadians), everyone had tiny trunks on the whole time regardless of their shape, and complete camaraderie ruled. Whaddya know: we really are family after all. One Atlantis team member hugged every single passenger upon embarkation, in a sign of the week to come.
For those who like to people-watch, this is the total ticket. You could spend all day gawking from behind your mirrored wraparounds, counting the costume changes or snapping pics of getups that must have required an extra suitcase or three. The wigs! The wings! The shoes! The battery-operated jock straps! I’m sure we brought bookswhose spines were never cracked. Who had the attention span to read? We were too busy making new friends.
The Celebrity boat staff was also fun to watch—some sported a perma-grin the entire week, others a bemused WTF face, especially during afternoons of giddy dress-up and bumless underwear. The security staff was especially salivated over, mostly due to the uniforms. The head of security actually became a regular topic of gossip: “I saw him this morning on the top deck…” “I heard he spent time in the Israeli army…” “Look at those shoulders…” Some gay staff members dragged it up. I didn’t recognize my regular bartender one evening when he showed up for his shift in full hair and makeup, tight skirt and heels. The accompanying Atlantis staff was also accommodating, fun and friendly. These people clearly enjoy their jobs, and it shows.
Cruise ships cater to the widest possible range of interests as a matter of course, and this one was no exception. It tried to find something for everyone: art auctions and wine tastings, special events for single passengers and casual get-togethers for special interest groups (my favourite was Guns and Hoses, for cops and firefighters). Did anybody ever go to the casino? No clue. The entertainment roster was awash in Broadway stars, crooners and comedians, and a sexy husband-and-husband aerialist team had us all fantasizing.
Out on the town
But it was the ports of call that provided the real fun. When hundredsof homosexuals invaded the streets and beaches of Barbados, St. Lucia, Martinique and St. Barths, most islanders reached right out with a welcome that belies some of their governments’ outdated human rights laws. We ditched the ready-made excursions at each port, stirring up our own fun with the help of Cruisecritic.com, which is super good for making a list of things to do in ports of call around the world.
Barbados is rife with beaches on the west side, including Brighton Beach, Brandons Beach, Brownes Beach and Pebbles Beach, all within a short cab ride from the cruise terminal. Day passes at places like the Hilton Barbados can set you up with a drink in your hand for an afternoon of lounging poolside or on the beach.
St. Lucia’s capital of Castries has La Toc Beach quite near the ship terminal, but your best bet is to hire a car for the day and drive an hour south to the old capital city of Soufrière, where most of the more unique sites are situated, including the drive-in volcano Sulphur Springs, Toraille Waterfall and Diamond Botanical Gardens. Anse Chastanet Beach sports a great place for lunch and a notable marine park for some really dramatic diving.
We nicknamed Martinique “the island that France forgot.”
St. Barthélemy is a real trip if you haven’t experienced this quirky island’s posh demeanour, full-on French vibe…and sticker-shock costs. We gave the Eden Rock and Nikki Beach a miss, and just wandered over to Gustavia’s Shell Beach, turning it completely gay for a day and languishing through a four-hour lunch. It was nice to see the influence of the Pink Dollar at work.
Meanwhile, back on board, the larger decks seemed to be in a perpetual state of scene changing, as staff prepped for one party after another: from the casual glitterati of the tea dances to the costume drama of the evening events. Even the biggest party poopers stepped outside their gay comfort zones and threw on bootie shorts with a spritz of body paint. Not naming any names.
And the sexcapades? They’re there if you’re looking, but nothing is shoved down your throat. There were certain friendships you could see developing as the week progressed, let’s say. Our naughty Cleveland neighbours were full-on handsie. (So much winking! Like, is there something in your eye?) A sign on a cabin door farther down the hall advertised “dirty cop looking for hole,” but I never saw anybody go in or out. I felt so bad for the maid. The cruise director came on the intercom mid-morning one day to enquire about a certain passenger: “If you have seen or are still sleeping beside someone named so-and-so, could you please have him call guest services as soon as possible.” Bet he got an earful.
Yes, I kissed the 85-year-old full on the old-school lips but, to be fair, he took me by surprise. Yes, I’m still dreaming about that nice young man from Washington, but we’re friends on Facebook now, so who knows? No, we didn’t learn about the dick deck until we
returned home, but that was likely a good thing.
Were it not for the fact that we were celebrating a friend’s birthday, we might never have booked this crazy experience, particularly with the exchange rate what it is. And like Provincetown, a gay cruise is not something I need to do every year—but I’ll be signing up again. It’s the feeling of being a majority for once, rather than a minority, that plays the heartstrings. When everyone is your pal, you’re left with one big, week-long high five. Eye-roll all you like.
DOUG WALLACE is the editor and publisher of the new travel resource, www.TravelRight.Today.