In the world of gay cruises there are two juggernauts: RSVP Vacations and Atlantis Events. Both companies charter entire cruise ships and have multiple destinations around the world. From Asia to Europe and Mexico to the Caribbean, the two offer a huge variety of destinations to customers. And while RSVP was one of the original cruise companies, having launched in 1985, it was acquired by Atlantis Events in 2007.
Both companies maintain separate and distinct operations and marketing plans. While people of all ages, colors, orientations and genders use both companies, RSVP Vacations has a reputation of a more gentrified and bear crowd. Atlantis, on the other hand, is often known for its wild parties and younger crowd.
After going on an Atlantis and an RSVP cruise, I have learned that there are more similarities than differences, but I can also say finding the right fit for your vacation can make the week even more fabulous.
You can find whatever you’re looking for on a gay cruise.
If you’re looking for a quiet time while relaxing, drinking, meeting new people and enjoying interesting destinations, you’ll find it. If you’re looking for more intense partying and rendezvous of the sexual nature, you’ll find that, too. The cruise companies ensure you have everything you need to enjoy a fabulous and wonderful week and just like any gay bar, event or festival, you can enhance the experience however you’d like.
I went on the Holland America MS Eurodam to Curacao, Aruba and a privately owned Bahamas island called Half Moon Cay. The trip was seven days and left from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., one of the gayest cities in the world. Holland America had delicious dining options, innovative and interesting cocktails and an attentive staff. The destinations were astounding and I was able to scuba dive, snorkel and participate in Curacao’s Carnival — walking the 5-mile stretch on the parade route while drinking a local beer is one of the highlights of my trip.
On-board the ship, I was impressed to encounter people of all ages, body types and income levels. I met many retirees and enjoyed learning about their experiences watching the gay rights movement evolve. Several bear and cub-specific travel agencies also had a representation on board and the cruise was marketed toward a crowd that didn’t necessarily have perfect Adonis bodies so often seen in gay advertising. Despite the marketing and agencies, it would be an enormous miscategorization to call this a bear cruise. In general, the crowd followed cruising trends and simply attracted an older, sophisticated crowd of men.
On the cruise, multiple themed parties were sponsored by RSVP Vacations and the themes included ‘80s in New York, glitter, animal and an anything-goes costume party. The themes were approachable and I was able to participate without too much effort or cost. Many people dressed up and had extravagant costumes, but there were plenty just enjoying the spectacle and a cocktail.
Parties usually ended around 2 a.m. and had a moderate attendance. There was some dancing, but more mixing and chatting than moving and shaking. Finding friends was very easy and nearly everyone I spoke with was happy to make my acquaintance. The people in attendance were generally in their 40s to 80s and very friendly.
Along with the parties, RSVP Vacations brings select entertainment specific to the gay crowd. This year we were able to see several stand-up comics, cabaret singers, drag queens and even Carrie Fisher. I was lucky enough to meet Fisher during one of the parties. She was extremely friendly but she also had a breakdown that appeared to be drug-induced. I say that because she told us during her performance that she had taken drugs from passengers on the ship and then proceeded to point out her drug dealer by name. The actress behind Princess Leia could have wowed us with stories of intrigue and Hollywood glamour. Instead, we witnessed an emotional breakdown on stage and most left during the performance. Shortly after returning from the cruise, Fisher was hospitalized.
RSVP Vacations staff was incredibly accommodating and friendly. The staff has a desk on the main floor where cruisers can go to find out more about parties, entertainment and other information. Overall, RSVP Vacations is perfect for those looking for a quieter, gentler cruise with a more refined crowd.
In January 2012 I took the Atlantis Royal Caribbean Allure cruise to Labadee, Haiti, Costa Maya, Mexico and Cozumel, Mexico. We were on the largest cruise ship in the world as we sailed across the deep blue. I could not speak more highly about Royal Caribbean. It outperformed Holland America in every standard. It had better service, more comfortable rooms, better food, cheaper and better drinks and the ship was newer, larger and had more entertainment options.
On this cruise I was able to snorkel, scuba dive and enjoy some much-needed relaxing beach time. The destinations were interesting and had various options, including zip lines, ruin tours and beach visits. The excursions are offered through the cruise line and don’t differ much from options with RSVP Vacations.
That’s not to say the two gay companies are the same.
Where RSVP Vacations is a cruise that happens to be gay, Atlantis Events is a gay cruise.
The experience was like a floating Pride Festival with branding, decorations and all-night parties. There was thumping music playing 24-hours a day on one part of the ship or another. The party decorations were ostentatious and the costumes were astounding. Nearly every day and night there were themed parties with world-class disc jockeys and thousands in attendance. There’s no doubt that the Atlantis parties were bigger and grander than those offered by RSVP Vacations.
I was surprised to find the cruise was not full of twinks or those in their late teens and 20s. Instead, the most common age appeared to be 30s and 40s. There were bears, muscle boys, average Joes and everything in between. I made many friends and found nearly everyone I encountered to be friendly and helpful. We were all on vacation and had more alcohol than was really necessary, so making friends seemed to be fairly easy.
Much like RSVP Vacations, we also had gay-specific entertainers with hilarious drag queens, comics and even the amazing Idina Menzel, who originated the role of Elphaba in Wicked and plays Rachel’s mother on Glee.
Both Atlantis Events and RSVP Vacations have a lot to offer and the tools to have a fantastic vacation are readily available. I would personally recommend Atlantis Events for those who like dancing, clubbing and are looking for a more active crowd. There were plenty of bears, cubs and people of all ages on board. If you’re looking for a quieter, more gentrified crowd and you aren’t interested in dancing or parties, RSVP Vacations might just be the perfect fit.
Whatever you decide, a gay cruise is a phenomenal experience. Every bar turns into a gay bar. Every restaurant turns into a gay restaurant. For an entire week you’ll live in a world where being a gay man is the norm and everyone else is a little strange and out of place. My experiences have been unequaled in scope and scale. I would highly recommend a gay cruise through either company.
For more information or to book a cruise, go to rsvpvacations.com or atlantisevents.com.