A few years back one of my closest friends encouraged me to give an Atlantis gay cruise a try. I thought to myself, “It honestly sounds overwhelming and almost scary.” Yet I was intrigued. I am not a fan of cruises as is; the idea of being stuck on a boat with the same people and following some “cruise director’s” events/destinations sounded limiting and deflating. However, after his continued persistence I eventually caved, and embarked on what would turn out to be a truly life-changing vacation. Sounds crazy right? It was not, and in fact, was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. The precious memories and strong friendships with people from all over the world I have developed wouldn’t haven’t have been possible anywhere else.
My initial reluctance and eventual realization of what these cruises could mean is why I feel so strongly motivated to share the experiences I and many others had on this year’s trip and hope to convince you of how “worth it” a vacation like this can be.
So first, what is an Atlantis Gay Cruise? Atlantis is a company that charters cruise ships (ex. Royal Caribbean) for a week’s time, on which they organize and coordinate most of the events and entertainment. These cruises are designed for the world-wide LGBTQ community. The diversity is one of the most incredible aspects. You have every age, body, gender, race, and type within our community! Everything from a zestful twink to a powerful bear, to a gentleman in his 70s sharing the dancefloor with a youthful jock. Yes, even women and they’re always a big hit amongst the crowd (including the 55 woman from the most recent cruise). These trips encourage thousands and thousands of people from all over the world with different backgrounds and stories to coexist and affirm each other together, all in a safe place.
There are no other places, outside of my own home, where I have felt so relaxed, comfortable, and safe with either friends or strangers (the closest place I can compare this feeling to is Provincetown, yet it still somehow isn’t comparable to a gay cruises). Sure, gay bars and nightlight offer a safe-haven from the pressures of society. But, as we all know first-hand, bars often struggle to create an environment where people from different demographics or backgrounds comingle. You can go to a bar anywhere in the world and you have your cliques, and each comes with its own stereotypes. Because of this, people keep up their emotional walls and maintain guardedness amongst their group and only interact with strangers–and even sometimes friends–on a somewhat superficial level.
The cruise is not like this. Everyone there comes from all over the world, but is together on one boat for the next seven days. You board the ship ready to meet and comingle with diverse people. The safety and relative isolation of the ship allows people to let their guard down and embrace each other and the experience they about to share. The connections you can find on the ship are much deeper than those that can be made at a bar, not to mention the all-to-common phone app. For example, meeting someone at a bar in NYC you might hang out with them for the night or the weekend. Perhaps a friendship is created, but how deep can it be? On the cruise, however, you can spend time with your new friends all week, in your own shared back yard. Go to shows, explore islands and excursions, enjoy dinner, and dance at some of the best parties under the night sky! You truly get to know people and create unforgettable memories you’ll share and cherish forever.
You make it what you want! – or “Cruise your own adventure”
These cruises offer anything and everything for everyone. You make it what you want! Looking to spend your night dancing until the sunrise? They showcase world-class gay DJs with sound and light productions that make these parties like no other. Looking for a simpler more relaxing time? No problem: you can enjoy boundless shows all geared to the LGBTQ community. Everything from aerial acrobatics, drag shows, comedy shows, or musicals, just to name a few. Each cruise showcases a special celebrity guest or two, the latest ones being the incomparable Olivia Newton John and the world-renown EDM DJ team Galantis. The diversity in these two headliners reflects the diversity in the Atlantis audience and together this team was able to put on the biggest concert ever held on the open seas.
Speaking of making your own adventure, one of my favorite aspects of the cruise are the theme parties which encourage everyone to consider costumes (If you know me, you know I am all about pulling a look). These are opportunities for cruise-goers to let their creativity sail! The imagination and thought that goes into the costumes is both inspiring and mind-blowing. The boat allows people to get creative outside their comfort zone in ways they never would have before. Whether it’s a costume the makes a social statement about femininity/masculinity or simply a silly look to get a laugh. Some choose not to participate in the costumes, and that’s fine; it all comes back to the idea that the cruise is what you want it be. But no matter your own look, you are sure to enjoy the creativity and diversity of your cruise mates self-expression and freedom.
The Most Important Part
There is stigma surrounding these cruises that its all about partying and sex. Although this is part of the trip for some, it is still not the main focus and there’s much more to discover on this trip. The most important take away from this trip is the overwhelming feeling of belonging and love. The cruise can bring old friends closer than ever thought before and bring deeper meaning to that friendship. The vibe of unity forges new and lasting friendships. Many even find it an opportunity to advance their romantic love to the next level. On the latest cruise, there was a wedding and several proposals, each of which is an amazing story in itself. Yet the most powerful impression on me was a photo that was shared on Facebook towards the end of our journey:
Simply imagining the lives these two men must have lived, the struggles they must have shared, and the battles they must have fought–and ultimately won–to pass along to future generations the opportunity to openly celebrate ourselves and one another on a gay cruise, is moving beyond words. They embody the magic of these cruises that is impossible to share in words, and so if nothing else, I hope this simple image of two men in love is enough to convince you, no matter who you are, that a gay cruise might be worth your time.
Below are some photos both sent to me and some I found to better paint a picture of the true diversity and pure bliss!
(Full disclaimer, neither I nor any of my friends have any sort of business relationship with Atlantis or Royal Caribbean, this post is motivated by a wish to spread the joy of these cruises to anyone who might not be aware of them).
Co-writer and editor: Drew Milligan