As winter looms and temperatures start to tumble, it’s a perfect time to contemplate taking to the waves on a trip tendered by one of the two main women’s cruise companies, Olivia Travel and Sweet. With quite different philosophies and a wealth of itineraries offered between the two, women can easily find the perfect vacation, clamber up the gangplank and head for idyllic Caribbean islands, sultry South American cities, the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico or even the mysterious river Mekong. So book a berth, grab your water wings and dive in.
Set sail with Olivia Travel
In the world of women’s travel, the innovative Olivia makes a mighty splash with a star-packed constellation of cruises, safaris and resort vacations around the world. The market leader since it first morphed from a San Francisco record label into a travel industry powerhouse back in 1990, Olivia’s flocks of fans are treated to entertainment and appearances from lesbian and lesbian-adored stars of screen, track and field, music, politics, human rights and so much more. A huge selling point is the fact that Olivia charters entire ships for its cruises, allowing women a degree of openness that’s not always possible on mixed straight/LGBT voyages. With an understandably loyal following, Olivia trips sell out early, with popular departures often booking up more than a year ahead, so book early!
Ring in 2014 in the most luxurious way possible aboard Olivia’s Virgin Isles New Year’s Eve Cruise (Dec 28–Jan 4) on Windstar’s chic 300-passenger Wind Surf, sailing from the Dutch island of St Martin to Antigua, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, Tortola and St Bart’s. Your esteemed shipmates will include a raft of inspiring women, from sports icon Billie Jean King and LGBT rights hero Edie Windsor to military stars Colonel Grethe Cammermeyer and Brigadier General Tammy Smith.
Olivia’s Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro Cruise (Jan 21–28) on the 296-passenger, all-suite Silver Cloud offers a glamorous introduction to South America’s stunning Atlantic side. Olivia’s first Buenos Aires departure takes in a slew of dramatic destinations in three countries — Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil — including Montevideo, Punta del Este, Santos and Parati, and finally disembarking in Rio de Janeiro. Onboard entertainment is taken care of by comedians Vickie Shaw and Karen Williams. More serious topics are tackled by renowned financial expert Suze Orman.
On the Caribbean Equality and Leadership Cruise (Feb 1–8) you’ll spend a week on Holland America’s MS Amsterdam with none other than Dr Maya Angelou, the keynote speaker at the onboard Women’s Leadership Summit. Other big names on the bill include Meredith Baxter, the Indigo Girls and Edie Windsor. They are joined by a crew of fine, funny women, including Suzanne Westenhoefer and Gina Yashere. Departing Fort Lauderdale, the cruise calls at Grand Turk, San Juan, the US Virgin Islands and pristine private island Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.
Make friends with 60 women and various other wild types — including whales, blue-footed boobies, pelicans and dolphins — on the Whales and Sea of Cortez Cruise (April 5–12), onboard the Lindblad National Geographic Sea Bird. The ship departs from La Paz, on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, and explores the Sea of Cortez — also known as the Gulf of California, the Vermilion Sea and the World’s Aquarium — making stops at a number of its cactus-dotted islands, often called Mexico’s Galápagos, as the waters are brimming with sea life.
A riverboat, entirely crammed with women, follows a leisurely course along the Rhine river, from dynamic Amsterdam to stately Cologne, through the Rhine Gorge, past historic Mainz, elegant Heidelberg, French Strasbourg and Breisach, at the foot of the Kaiserstuhl Mountains, until finally docking in Basel, Switzerland. The Amsterdam to Switzerland Riverboat Cruise (April 20–27) offers a laid-back week that takes in museums, canal rides and evening wine-and-hot-tub sessions back onboard on the 138-passenger Avalon Felicity.
When contemplating doing one’s bit for the planet, one doesn’t usually snap up a cruise ship stateroom. There’s something about gambolling aboard a 14-deck, floating pamper palace that doesn’t often put cruise vacations on eco-hawks’ wish lists. But since 2009, Sweet has been changing that. Across its enticing selection of resort vacations and mixed cruises, Sweet shows a strong eco-ethic. At all ports of call passengers can opt for traditional activities and bask, shop or explore, or they can take part in a slew of meaningful “voluntourism” projects. Sweet’s karma count doesn’t stop there. Even before the first woman walked up the gangplank in New Orleans for Sweet’s very first trip, back in 2009, the voluntourism initiative was well underway, thanks to a wetlands replanting project in Louisiana. Seemingly seamlessly, Sweet blends this altruism with a hectic party, comedy, live music, film and networking schedule. It certainly seems like a fabulous way to save the planet. Sweet has a trio of enticing adventures coming up, with monthly payment plans and deals for up to four people per room.
Next on the calendar is a large group of women onboard the first ever LGBT Vietnam and Cambodia River Cruise (Oct 15–30), run with Brand g Vacations on Amadeus Waterways’ 124-passenger AmaLotus. Rosie O’Donnell’s R Family Vacations — the LGBT tour company for families — also has a group of LGBT folks on this trip that sails the Mekong from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City.
A number of women will be onboard a mainstream cruise on the Norwegian Jewel for Sweet’s Western Caribbean Cruise (Nov 10–17). Leaving from New Orleans, the floating vacation calls at fishing village Costa Maya; colourful Belize, with its Mayan ruins and jungles; coral reef paradise island Roatán; and beach mecca Cozumel. A pre-trip party in New Orlean’s boisterous Bourbon Street sets the tone for the exuberant and enjoyable week ahead.
Another gorgeous group onboard a mainstream cruise leaves Los Angeles for Mexico’s Pacific coast on Sweet’s Mexican Riviera Cruise (March 2–9). Cruisers will have a packed itinerary of cocktail parties, optional community-service projects onshore, karaoke and port outings, plus a pre-embarkation party in Long Beach. Port calls include Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and LGBT favourite Puerto Vallarta.