Cruising on the High Seas

Traditionally afraid of gay cruises, one man takes his chances with a gay cruise company aboard an otherwise straight ship and lives to tell about it.



Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to enjoy a cruise to the Caribbean as part of Aquafest.

Aquafest is the brainchild of Tom Baker, president of CruiseCenter, and winner of Condé Nast Traveler 's prestigious title "World's Leading Large Ship Specialist." Aquafest organizes cruise packages for LGBT folks (and friends thereof). Significantly, their events are integrated with nongay cruise lines, offering a chance to be out and proud without being segregated.

I love traveling… However, I've never journeyed in tourism circles, never been part of a larger group -- gay or straight -- nor have I ever been on a cruise. Every time I tried to imagine what to expect, all I could see was the huge face of Gavin MacLeod -- his gleaming, bald head blinding me with reflected sunlight. I bought dark sunglasses.

Eager to assimilate myself into the alien world of cruise culture, I arrived in Fort Lauderdale with my boyfriend and boarded the MSC Lirica , the Italian, Mistral-class cruise ship that would be our home for the next 10 days.

The ship's interior, with its colors of emerald, coral, and camel -- and accented with enough brass to craft a French horn for every child in North America -- reminded me of those Reno casinos you find near but off the Strip.

We met our gracious host, Tom Baker, and the rest of our queer peers. We were a group of about 70 -- small in relation to previous groups, as we were told by the event manager, Tom Thompson (Aquafest clearly has a strict "Toms-only" hiring policy).

The majority of the group was middle-aged, middle-class, and middle America. I got the sense that this opportunity, to be openly gay en masse in a predominantly heterosexual environment, was a rare event for most of the group; not so for me and my boyfriend, coming as we were from Los Angeles, where being gay can sometimes feel like an afterthought -- something as important as your religious beliefs, but not as socially weighty as, say, your choice of footwear.

Tags: Travel