Vacationers aboard the Apex Source: VACAYA/Gabriel Goldberg @HollywoodBruisers

Kindness Reigns on VACAYA's Caribbean Cruise

Ivan Quintanilla READ TIME: 14 MIN.

"Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?" sang the glorious Vanessa Williams from the mainstage of the Celebrity Apex, as a headliner on VACAYA's 2024 Caribbean cruise.

Well, it turns out, VACAYA can!

VACAYA launched six years ago with a mission to create an all-adult, LGBTQ+ travel company that serves our entire community–and they are inviting every hue on the journey.

As I danced on the pool deck of the Apex, timing my steps to the sway of the ship, it was inspiring to see 3,000 guests celebrating their own version of queer joy. And there were many interpretations on display.

Of course, VACAYA threw elaborate dance parties every day, with themes including Wild Wild West, Euphoria (their kink party) and Prom. But this year's Caribbean cruise–their biggest to date–was grander and more ambitious than previous trips. And I should know. I've now been on four VACAYA vacations.

As I chatted up fellow passengers, channeling the keen curiosity of Carrie Bradshaw: I couldn't help but wonder... Why VACAYA? Out of all the LGBTQ+ travel options out there–many of which are very good–why have all these people chosen this experience?

Across the board, the responses highlighted VACAYA's commitment to inclusiveness and the kindness of the community it attracts.

"The folks on a VACAYA cruise have no rules of 'I'm too young, I'm too old, I'm too hot, I'm too not.' It's just humanity and a safe space," said my new friend Thom Meredith from Rhode Island, sailing on his second VACAYA cruise.

Source: VACAYA/Gabriel Goldberg @HollywoodBruisers

"Being a plus size model, what I like to refer to myself as," said Jay Vachon from Massachusetts with a wink, "VACAYA has made me feel safe and accepted, like part of the family. On my first trip with them I was very reserved and anxious, because there's such a stigma that revolves around the gay community. If you're not a twink or a twunk you have no business identifying as gay. So, being able to come here and see embracement and love was amazing." This was Jay's third VACAYA trip and he's already booked on the 2025 Caribbean cruise, sailing out of New Orleans.

That sentiment was echoed by Ed May, a first time cruiser who splits his time between New York and Florida. "I like the mix of people on the cruise. I like the openness. There are no cliques or anything like that. Everyone is not just about looks. You want to feel that you are welcomed. And I have."

Source: VACAYA/Gabriel Goldberg @HollywoodBruisers

The company also actively works at creating a big-tent approach to queer travel. Since the inaugural cruise in 2019, VACAYA Co-founder Patrick Gunn has been saying "If you believe love is love, you belong on our vacations." And though the largest demographic is gay, cis-men, VACAYA crafts programming to ensure everyone has a seat or sofa or sectional on every trip.

"I'm here with my husband. We're an open bi-couple and this is our first VACAYA cruise," said Brie Shroll from Alaska. "Everybody's been so friendly and easy to talk to and we've made a ton of new friends. I think we lean a little more on the gay side. And living in Alaska, he doesn't get much of an opportunity to express himself. So for me, it's been really cool to see him get out of his shell and try on different outfits and do things that he hasn't had the opportunity to do in the past."

Source: VACAYA/Gabriel Goldberg @HollywoodBruisers

At the beginning of the cruise, VACAYA held their COBALT (Community of Bisexual, Asexual/Ally, Lesbian and Trans) Meet-up, to ensure guests who identify in all ways feel included. They created the Transcend Lounge with daily programming welcoming guests who identify as women, trans or non-binary. On their Mexico all-inclusive resort takeover, later this year, they are holding a few rooms for COBALT guests, to ensure everyone has an opportunity to join the festivities.

"I've been on lesbian cruises and this is, by far, the best cruise I've ever been on," said Lisa Bassi, a "self-identified lesbian" from California. "The performances are fantastic! And everybody's so friendly! The guys I've met are so comfortable in their skin and that makes them more open to having a good time. Like, we're all just humans and we're here for a mutual reason: to have a good time and make connections."

Beyond the parties, activities included two book clubs, one of which welcomed the author Ari Shapiro (of NPR fame) to join in the discussion. Ari also revealed new talents by performing "Och & Oy," his cabaret with Alan Cumming in the Theater. And damn, Ari Shapiro can sing! There were crafting events, drag shows, a medium, a tantra master, singers, comedians and four venues, at least, with daily rotating performances.

Source: VACAYA/Gabriel Goldberg @HollywoodBruisers

They even brought out Wilson Phillips–as a surprise–to serenade us during the Prom dance, affirming to every queer kid who harmonized with them in the 90s that...if you hold on for one more day, things will go your way.

VACAYA has also led the way in sex-positivity. On their big-ship cruises, like this one, they create a Red Light District where (any and all) guests can enjoy the pleasures of each others' company at night. On this cruise, it was held in a gorgeous open-air garden on the ship's top deck, complete with slings and other sex furniture. It was quite the sophisticated play space, always with a VACAYA employee present to assure everyone's safety.

On the 2024 Caribbean cruise, the draws ranged from Alan Cumming performing on the mainstage to a guy named Al cumming in an open-air garden. That's range! Yet even with the extensive programming that VACAYA creates for all the colors of our LGBTQIAPK spectrum, it's the kindness of the VACAYA community that proves to be their greatest asset.

Source: VACAYA/Gabriel Goldberg @HollywoodBruisers

In 2025, VACAYA is offering two opportunities to experience their big-ship cruises: a Caribbean cruise sailing from New Orleans in February and an Alaska cruise sailing from Seattle in July.

Follow this link to visit the Vacaya website.

View additional photo from the tour on the following page.

by Ivan Quintanilla

Cuban born, Miami raised, Dallas and London educated and New York seasoned, Ivan Quintanilla is a travel writer and professional actor living in Hell's Kitchen, NYC. Read about his latest destinations at TravelingIQ and follow him on Instagram at @TravelingIQ

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