4 min

Is taking a cruise vacation right for you?

Tips and tricks for high-seas cruising

Cruises can be wonderful experiences, but they are not for everyone: consider and plan carefully. Credit: Jeffrey Luscombe

Cruises are not for everyone. However, if you have been longing to dip your toes into the lido deck pool since your days of watching The Love Boat, there are a few things you should know.

First things first
First of all, if you are planning a gay cruise, expect to pay more — up to 30 percent more. The gay-cruise tour operators will tell you this premium is due to the added cost of holding parties with well-known DJs and booking special gay and gay-friendly entertainment from the likes of Kathy Griffin, Patti LuPone and Cheyenne Jackson. Still, many gay cruisers seem quite willing to swallow the extra cost since it is these nightly entertainments that attracted them to a gay cruise in the first place.

However, if the added price of a gay cruise sticks in your craw or a straight cruise is more your speed (perhaps you have been wishing upon a star for that Disney cruise), there are websites, such as Meet Me on Board that allow LGBT passengers booked on straight cruises to connect with each other before setting sail. Once you board, check your daily itinerary for “Friends of Dorothy” meetings where you can hook up with your fellow LGBT travellers.

Reducing the cost
Whether the cruise you choose is gay or straight, remember that all cruise ship companies are in business to make money, and the way they do it is by persuading passengers like you to buy “extras.” Extras are all those things not included in the price of your ticket (and they can really rack up by the end of your cruise): specialty restaurants, alcohol, optional land excursions, casinos, spa services and art auctions will all increase their bottom line by decreasing yours.

So if you have a passion to swim with dolphins on your Caribbean cruise, prepare to pay through the nose. Optional land excursions, though convenient, are expensive. The cost on a Celebrity cruise to “submerge yourself in the dolphin world” is $200. Is golfing on the beautiful island of St Kitts more your thing? That will be $191. Dreaming of scuba diving in Grand Cayman? Prepare to fork over $110. Seasoned cruisers have learned that by doing a little homework and booking similar excursions themselves before they leave, they can often save big. Taxis at ports are often reasonably priced and can take you to any golf course, scuba school or beach.

As for those extra-cost specialty restaurants (did you know they even had one on the Titanic?), I have been to a number of them on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Holland American, and, in my opinion, they really were not worth the extra money when compared to the food in the main dining room. But if you really want to try one and are willing to pay more — go for it. I just wouldn’t do it more than once per voyage.

A quick note about alcohol: yes, it is quite expensive on cruise ships, and it is true guests are not allowed to bring their own alcohol onboard. Still, cruisers like to share all the elaborate ways they have smuggled their booze onboard, including, as one passenger proudly told me, by putting their vodka in a Scope bottle and adding blue food colouring. A word to the wise: don’t do it. Penalties for smuggling booze onto cruise ships range from confiscation to being tossed off the ship with no refund. And who wants their vodka to taste minty fresh?

Staying healthy
No matter how enormous they are making cruise ships these days, the fact is that all boats move. They rock, they sway, they roll, and you can still get seasick even on the newest, fanciest, super-sized ship (having been on an Atlantis cruise that had to skirt around Hurricane Rick, I can speak from experience). So pick up some Bonine or a similar product at a drugstore before boarding. Motion sickness pills are sold onboard, but you will pay a premium for them.

Staying well on a cruise takes some effort. Norovirus has hit a few ships over the last few years, but there is no need to panic or avoid them. There are hand sanitizers at the doors to the dining room and the cafés. Use them. The disease is easily spread, so wash and sanitize your hands often for your own sake and the sake of everyone else. And pack some Imodium just in case.

If you plan to try to stay in shape during your cruise, remember that some ships have an extra cost for using the gym. On the gay cruises I’ve been on, the gym has been quite busy (hardly a surprise); the best time to get there is early in the morning. Also, keep in mind that it may take a few minutes to get used to running on a treadmill on a bouncing ship.

Sex at sea
And finally, how can I talk about cruises — especially gay cruises — without mentioning sex? I am often asked, “Aren’t those gay cruises really just floating bathhouses?” Well, not quite. There is no public sex allowed on gay cruises (ask those two guys arrested in Dominica last year for having sex on their balcony); however, the saunas are known for being quite active during the day (I am told that this is also true, albeit more discreet, on straight cruises).

As for nude sunbathing, I have seen it tolerated on one or two gay cruises, on the higher decks on sea days, but don’t count on it.

Late at night, don’t be surprised to find men congregating on the highest (and usually darkest) deck of the ship, referred to ironically as “Deck 13” (so called since many ships still, due to superstition, do not have a 13th deck). And, of course, Deck 13 disappears when the sun rises.

But the best tip I can give to the novice cruiser is to just relax and have fun. Cruises really are what you make of them. You can spend them quietly reading around that lido deck pool, dancing all night long, or maybe doing a bit of both. And for the most part, seasoned cruisers are a pretty amiable bunch, quite happy to share their own tips and tricks with newcomers.