We queers have fought against fear, hatred, and ignorance long enough to now be met with the same from people within our own community. I originally didn’t want to go on the cruise because of how I saw it portrayed by the naysayers online. The only photos I saw were of conventionally attractive cis, masc, white men, so the barrier to entry was already too high before even looking at the price tag. The especially conservative gays among us paint it as a week-long, drug-fueled orgy of 5,000 influencers who would call you unattractive to your face, while ironically judging and shaming people they do not know who are enjoying something of which they know very little. When I inquired more about their experience at such events, many often said they would never participate or dismiss it entirely by recalling a time they’ve been made to feel unwanted in similar spaces.
These comments, fueled with so much anger and pain, were disheartening but worth exploring further. I wondered if the fear of not being accepted leads some to lash out against those who they assume, through personal experience or secondhand account, would reject them based solely on what makes them different. I am fully aware that, regardless of my identity as a queer, non-binary, femme-presenting person of color, that I still benefit from the privilege of being able to cosplay into a role that attracts the gay male gaze. We all bear the weight of our unique struggles, and they are all too interconnected to isolate one variable and claim it as the source. But when the people we accuse of gatekeeping try, not only to tell but show through their actions, to welcome us to their table, what is preventing us from accepting their offer? Now that I have embarked on three of these cruises, I have more insight on the hidden magic that has made this trip so much more memorable and life-changing.
1) OTHERS WILL JUDGE YOU FOR ATTENDING THE CRUISE
Taylor Swift once said, “The worst kind of person is someone who makes someone feel bad, dumb, or stupid for being excited about something.” Those who travel to various gay parties and events around the world – lovingly dubbed ‘circuit queens‘ – and especially those who attend gay cruises, are often criticized for the frivolity of our interests and the vibrancy of our interpersonal relationships. Not to beat around the bush, because we certainly don’t, but what business is it of other people how consenting adults spend their time? To shame others for the sex they’re having and the way they display their sexuality is an old trope used to spread bigotry, and it needs to be retired.
Admittedly, it’s not particularly helpful when the most widely circulated images of the Atlantis Cruise are that of a homogeneous group of Ken dolls. If we’ve learned anything over the past few decades, it’s that representation matters. Travel, and especially cruises, by their very nature are already exclusionary on socioeconomic grounds, so that alone should be a top consideration in any discourse regarding accessibility. While there are always a handful of rotten eggs in any group, the larger majority of us understand our privilege and actively try to create an inclusive space for everyone to feel welcome. This invitation has led many to break the mold, challenge stereotypes, and create the changes we want to see. What you’ll find is a community drawn together by our similarities while simultaneously celebrating our differences.
2) YOU MUST ENDURE ONE WEEK OF BEING SURROUNDED ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY BY GAY MEN
Nothing sounds more miserable than spending seven consecutive days with 5,000 hateful gays in open water with no means of escape. Thankfully, that’s further from the experience you’ll have when you board the ship. Any claustrophobia I had melted away upon realizing the ship is the size of a small city, but even more poignant was a shift in the energy. If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting places like Provincetown, MA or Fire Island, NY, you can attest to the palpable magic in the air. All pretenses are left onshore and I was left with a sense of excitement, curiosity, and freedom I haven’t experienced since I was a child.
A wonderful thing happens when you meet others who, like you, have had to carve out a place in this world for themselves. We discuss the potency of having a chosen family, especially if you’ve had the misfortune of being cut off from your biological relatives, and the passengers on the cruise are as tight knit as they come. I’ve witnessed solo travelers being invited to join established friend groups and people going out of their way to help someone they don’t know. We are not only geographically diverse, but also showcase the full spectrum of personalities, presentations, and physical traits that fill me with pride. While making memories under a disco ball with a captivating stranger is a true highlight of the cruise, nothing compares to the quiet minutiae of the most seemingly pedestrian moments.
The most magical experiences are those that form organically between the glitter and the dance floor. I sometimes get emotional as I stand in line for food at the Windjammer after a tea dance and see gay men of various ages, colors, and sizes sharing a meal together while still wearing their creative, sometimes silly, outfits without worrying about how they look. I beam with hope seeing an elderly gay couple holding hands as they walk through the Royal Promenade on their way to see a drag show. I am amazed by the thoughtfulness of people trying to learn the basics of American Sign Language so they can better communicate with their new deaf friends. Most of all, I’m thankful that for the seven days I don’t have to code switch and be on guard every time I meet someone new. I don’t have to worry about the swish in my step, the inflection in my voice, or the way my very existence gives away a part of me I’ve been repeatedly told is undesirable or unworthy of respect.
3) IT IS EXPENSIVE AND NOT WORTH THE MONEY
Traveling can be expensive and the total cost of a cruise, combined with the requisite number of days you need to take off from work, make it especially challenging for most people to make the commitment. That’s not to say it’s without its merits, and I hope that I’ve been able to shed light on some of the misinformation about what it is and the type of people who make this trip an annual priority. Aside from it typically coinciding with my birthday – the 21st of January for all who celebrate – the Atlantis Cruise is where I continuously make lasting friendships and find a deeper appreciation for safe, queer spaces.
If you have additional questions about the cruise, I outlined in a previous blog post The Top 5+ Things I Learned from My First Atlantis Cruise. Most importantly, if this is your first time taking an extended trip such as this one, I highly recommend booking through a travel agent. They have the resources and insights to better answer any questions you may have about your reservation, excursions, payment plan, and more. My friend and travel agent, Destination By David, has been an asset throughout our cruise experience and has helped many of my friends book the trip of their dreams!