Gay and lesbian cruisers are like pretty much everyone else about to set off on the high seas - excited about their trip, but pondering some unknowns about the experience. However, G/L people often have a unique set of concerns when preparing to embark on a mainstream cruise line. Following are 10 of the most common questions we encounter on the Gay and Lesbian Message Boards here on CruiseMates.
1. Will there be other gay people on board? A cruise ship is like a microcosm of the world, so, yes, there will certainly be other gay people on board - both passengers and crew. Certain itineraries and lines may attract more than others, but you will surely not find yourself alone. I've found that the longer voyages (10 days plus) boast more gay passengers, as well as those that visit more out-of-the-ordinary ports, such as Hawaii, or repositioning cruises.
2. How do I meet other gay people on board? The first step to meeting others booked on your cruise would be to post a notice on CruiseMates' G/L Message Board, listed under "People." Once you embark on your sailing, just keep your "gaydar" turned on, and you will surely meet others. Remember, though -- it's up to you to say "Hello." This is no time to be shy. I've found some standard spots to meeting gay cruisers: the adults-only pool area, the piano bar, and the disco in the later evening. But even waiting at the elevator bank could produce a chance to chat up someone. Just keep your eyes open.
3. What's a Friends of Dorothy meeting? People on the CruiseMates G/L Message Board often inquire about Friends of Dorothy (FOD) meetings on board; sometimes they're even listed in the ship's daily newsletter of events. These are gatherings for gay and lesbian travelers on board, and are usually held in one of the ship's public lounges during the day to give people a chance to meet and greet. Often, one of the ship's social staff will act as host, and free champagne may be offered. This is an excellent way to meet your fellow gay travelers on board early in the cruise, without having to rely on "gaydar." I would also recommend that those traveling single or with their straight friends should attend these gatherings.
4. How do I request a FOD meeting? You could ask for a Friends of Dorothy meeting to be listed in the ship's newsletter by dropping a note to the cruise director, or one of his staff. The meetings are customarily held on one of the first sea days. But be forewarned, some lines are not open to official FOD meetings, including (based on my experience) Carnival. Princess and Norwegian are known as very open to the meetings, while on other lines it depends on the cruise director.
5. The cabin is set up with twin beds - what do I do? This is a simple fix. Just ask the cabin steward to combine the beds. Usually he will do so while you are at dinner the first night. Our most pleasant experience along this line of inquiry was our most recent cruise, aboard the Island Princess. We prefer the twin bed setup, but our cabin steward was kind and sensitive enough to ask us, "Is the bed figuration all right?" Now that is gay-friendly.
6. How will our straight dinner companions react to us? As you know, it's always a surprise when you finally sit down for dinner the first night of the cruise. On our very first sailing, we were paired with a 40-something honeymoon couple from the Midwest, who also were very apparently Christian. The first night's dinner was a little on the stilted side, but we did make efforts at getting to know one another and, of course, that meant them knowing that we were a couple. On our second night, Art and I headed into the dining room and I said, "Well, this will be the test" -- i.e., seeing if they would be at our table again. I'm happy to say they were, and we enjoyed nightly dinners with them so much that we often closed the dining room down; our waiter even thought we were traveling together.
Another fun story I have is from our six-night cruise to La Paz on the Carnival Spirit. We were seated with three very attractive 20-something women from Rhode Island and two older women traveling together. On the fourth or fifth night of the cruise, the photographer came along to shoot couple photos. Of course, he assumed we were traveling with "the girls," as we affectionately called them. So the next day in the photo exhibit area were shot after shots of us for all to see, playing lovey-dovey with our female cohorts.
The bottom line is simply to hope for the best with your dinner companions, but know that you can ask to have your seats changed if you happen to end up next to Jerry Falwell's assistant.
7. Can I dance with my partner on board? This subject recently came up on one of the cruise line message boards here on CruiseMates. The unofficial vote was 70 percent in favor and 30 against. So, I would say do what you want - this is your vacation, and if that means a slow or fast dance with your partner, then let the tongues wag. I have definitely noticed, though, that it matters much less in the late night disco. In fact, one time I saw the male production show dancers out on the dance floor together, and not a word was said in my vicinity.
8. Will they acknowledge our anniversary at dinner? I can happily report that we were on Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas on our tenth anniversary last year, and not only did our dinner partners arrange for a cake to be delivered, but also five waiters and the head waiter himself came over to serenade us with "Happy Anniversary." Do be aware that just noting the occasion on your check-in documents does not ensure your anniversary will be acknowledged, but all someone needs to do is mention it to the maitre d'.
9. What about public displays of affection? Personally, I don't like it when anyone decides to do an oral exam with their tongue on their husband/wife/partner/lover at the dinner table. However, I find nothing wrong with a quick kiss, an arm around your loved one, or even holding hands. Do realize, though, that there definitely will be people who will take notice and disapprove. But if you're OK with it, then go ahead and stroll arm and arm along the promenade deck under the moonlight.
10. What about gay charter cruises? There are several wonderful companies that charter all-gay cruises, including RSVP, Atlantis and Olivia. The cruise itself is not only all-gay or gay-friendly, but the entertainment is often geared toward our segment of the population, with performances by Melissa Etheridge, comedian Margaret Cho and others. Do expect to pay a premium for these cruises, and some passengers indeed rave about their fantastic time on them. Personally, I think those G/L travelers who will only take all-gay charters are missing out on some wonderful mainstream trips -- but it comes down to this: It's your vacation and your choice._________________________________________________________________ Harry Martin is the moderator of the G/L, Mexico and Hawaii messages boards on CruiseMates and a regular contributor.