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Rise of the small gay cruise: looking for some intimacy on your next queer voyage? A new generation of cruises awaits.

For the uninitiated the vision of The Love Boat and septuagenarian guest stars in Hawaiian shirts and white sneakers playing shuffleboard is far from the reality of today's competitive cruise industry. RSVP, Atlantis, and Olivia lease modern new "floating palaces" from the top cruise lines and do a top-notch job of offering an all-gay or lesbian experience that is a fully produced mix of sports, tourism, and entertainment, 24/7. So, what if a gay or lesbian traveler doesn't want a large, all-gay experience, but still wants to travel with other "family" members? The answer is simple: Book yourself and a small gay group on a mainstream cruise, or on a gay small-ship charter.

What's the difference between these and the larger all-gay cruises? On a small gay-group cruise (sometimes called a "gay-hosted" cruise) you are escorted by your own personal "Julie," a tour guide who arranges activities and events for an all-gay group ranging from a handful to hundreds of passengers. Small gay-group cruises offer the flexibility of many dates and points of departure and itineraries, versus the larger all-gay cruises, which have a more limited calendar. Also, smaller gay groups can hop aboard a wide variety of ships that the all-gay cruises don't lease, such as the historic Queen Mary 2 (on which I've escorted many a gay group).

What's more, the larger gay cruise companies are getting in on the all-gay, small-cruise act too--Olivia now has a 40-passenger cruise in Greece and a 100-passenger cruise to Antarctica, and RSVP has a 150-passenger river cruise from Budapest.

Travelers who enjoy small gay-group cruises see it as the best of both worlds--being able to enjoy the wider possibilities of a main stream cruise while feeling comfortable being out with other gay passengers. Gone are the lavish parties, DJs, and infinite gay events, but in their place is a stronger sense of intimacy as you bond with your fellow shipmates in smaller settings.

That's not to say there isn't a lot of fun too. During one cruise I worked on we opted for a morning excursion to legendary Super Paradise Beach in Mykonos. Once at the beach everyone was free to go local, sample snacks and drinks at the beach tavernas, swim nude, or just hang out. By splitting up the group and sharing cabs, everybody found something to do in port. The second advantage is that out-of-pocket day-trip costs were easily reduced by at least 75%. My groups would 'also take over restaurants, making them instantly gay, and even discos aboard the straight cruises would become all-gay events.

Roughly speaking, the passenger population on small gay cruises skews toward men from 35 to 50. For those concerned with age, a simple rule of thumb holds that the more expensive the cruise, the higher the average age. And event or party, cruises typically get higher proportions of singles than purely touristic cruises.

All the tour operators I spoke with agree on the amazing growth in the gay-cruise market (better than the industry norm of 13% per year) as word of mouth shifts more cruisers from mainstream ships to the unique world of gay groups or to all-gay charters on smaller ships. There are even more versions of the small gay-group cruise evolving. In 2004, Romance Voyages launched as a luxurious all-gay small cruises company; using intimate boats in exotic locales like the Yangtze River and the Galapagos Islands. So stay tuned: There are sure to be more to come.

Klein has worked as a gay-tour ship guide for 12 years.

Those Who Cruise Small and Gay

Above and Beyond

(800-397-2681)

Allura Cruises

(800-477-1088)

Alyson Adventures

(800-825-9766)

Aquafest

(800-592-9058)

Coda Tours Inc.

(888-677-2632)

Cruises Only

(800-429-2784)

Cruising With

Pride (800-627-8726)

Friends of Dorothy

(800-640-4918)

GayTravel.com

(800-429-8728)

Gay Travel

Destinations

(877-394-8130)

Gay Travel One

(760-327-5522)

Hermes Tours

(877-486-4335)

Ocean Voyager

(800-435-2531)

Olivia

(800-631-6277)

Out on the Water

(800-387-1483)

Pied Piper Travel

(800-874-7312)

Romance Voyages

(866-456-1269)

RSVP Vacations

(800-328-7787)

Toto Tours

(800-565-1241)

TravelPride

(877-774-3342)

Windjammer

Barefoot Cruises

(800-327-2601)

Windjammer West

(800-864-6567)

Zoom Vacations

(866-966-6822)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:TRENDS
Author:KLEIN, HARK
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Product/Service Evaluation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 26, 2005
Words:672
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