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Way back in 1987, the first cruise of its kind embarked with 750 ‘Friends of Dorothy’ aboard. As the popularity of gay cruises grew, they began to conjure up specific albeit lurid images: floating bathhouses, weeklong circuit parties, and carnival spectacles that warrant a vacation AFTER your vacation. Today, options have expanded. There are lesbian cruises. Bear cruises. Even family-friendly LGBTQ+ cruises so you can bring your kids along.

Gay cruises have not only grown…but shrunk.

While you can board a vessel with 5,200 revelers aboard, you can also board riverboats, sailboats, yachts, and baby barges barely big enough for a handful of homosexuals. Collectively, our team at Out Adventures has done them all. And while we specialize in smaller sailings (you can check out what cruises are currently available here), we want to give you the lowdown on all these vessels to help you decide which might be right for your next departure.

Big Boat Bona Fides

The Amenities

With ships continuing to grow ever larger in size, now carrying up to 7600 passengers, the question goes from “What CAN you do” to “What CAN’T you do on this boat?!” Broadway shows. Ice rinks. Climbing gyms. Waterslides. There are casinos for the gamblers and yoga classes to align your chakras. The fact that you never need to leave the ship is both good and bad.

One notable concern with all these people is the most popular amenities and attractions fill up fast. Early birds claim the best deck chairs. Specialty dining reservations book up immediately. And if there’s a popular singer or comedian on board – even if you line up early – those seats may go to VIPs of the ship’s loyalty program. Now you’ll have not only missed the entertainment, you’ll also be surrounded by a bunch of salty sisters scorned. While it is possible to navigate around these bumps, it takes a lot of work and careful planning to do so.

The Revelry

If you live to be extra, and enjoy a good theme party, this is where larger cruises excel. You may need a spare suitcase (or two) for all the lascivious theme party costumes. But if you like to get your groove on, there will be top-name DJs that keep the dancefloor bumping until the sun comes up. You can spend every night partying, skipping excursions so you can sleep in, and waking up just in time for more pool parties and tea dances. It’s a lot of fun. But it’s also just…a lot.

The drawback to there being oh-so-many themed parties is planning, purchasing, and packing a multitude of costumes takes a ton of work and can be stressful. However, the adulation that comes with sporting a fierce outfit might make it all worthwhile.

The XXX Factor

Let’s not be coy. When you send off several hundred queens for a week, some will act like kids in a candy store and treat it like a floating bathhouse. But it’s a niche group within a niche community. There are just as many (if not more) onboard for the food, excursions, and leisure rather than the “activity area” on the top deck.

The $$$ Factor

Based on the sheer volume of passengers, it can be easy to score a deal on a mega cruise. Your cabin may not be glamorous. It may not even have a window. But just like hotels, some people would rather splurge on anything but where they sleep. Then again, if money is no object, you can book a suite so large it’s referred to as a townhouse.

But beware…while you may get a deal upfront, you will quickly begin to feel nickel-and-dimed having to pay for extras like the spa, sauna, Wi-Fi, specialty dining, behind-the-scenes ship tours, shore excursions, and private cabanas. All those extras can add up quickly and it will no longer feel like a bargain holiday.

The Crowd Control

Like it or not, with hundreds of people aboard, you really are just a number. But cruise lines are making great strides towards mitigating the feeling that you’re part of a herd. For example, facial recognition cameras can help the crew identify and greet you by name when you grab a cocktail at the bar.

The Waiting

Regardless of size, when coming or going from the ship, everybody has to use the same door. It’s a bottleneck under immense pressure at peak times. Imagine going through airport-style security every day, with lineups and metal detectors and surly security to boot. This might be fine if you’re heading on a daylong excursion. But if you only want to grab a coffee and postcard, the effort may seem futile…especially when you have to board a tender.

Tenders are small boats that ferry passengers to shore when the ship is too large for the port. Even if the ship can dock at a pier, it may not be anywhere near the centre of town because it’s simply too big. So along with the hassle of getting off the boat, you now have a commute into town. Like we’ve said before, it all just becomes…a lot.

The Distances

The Oasis of The Seas (shown below) is nearly a quarter mile long with 18 decks. You do *not* want to forget anything in your room. You’ll need a comfy pair of walking shoes just to get to breakfast (but at least you’ll have worked up an appetite). Yes, there are elevators, but you may find them overwhelmingly busy and opt for the stairs instead. With so much precious vacation time lost traversing the length of the ship again and again, you may wonder if these boats have gotten a wee bit too big.

The Food

When you’re feeding so many people, the food will be reliable, but not necessarily remarkable. Think upscale convention centre. If you’re feeling fancy, there are specialty dining and boutique restaurants onboard, but they require hard-to-get reservations and come at an extra cost.

The Small Ship Sitch

When we launched the first Out Adventures cruise along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast in 2013, we threw the traditional playbook overboard and set out to rethink what a gay cruise could be. By offering a more intimate and personalized experience, we (and our clients) quickly learned private yachts excelled in areas the big boats could not.

On small ships, everyone’s a VIP.

Today, our coziest embarkation is a 15-person expedition to the Galápagos Islands, and our most extravagant is our Greek Aegean Sea Cruise in 2025. But even that departure will only hold 66 passengers.

The Swim Stops

There might be a hot tub in case a salubrious soak is in order, but odds are slim you’ll find a pool on a yacht. Then again, who needs a pool when you can pull into a secluded cove for a swim stop? From there, you can dive into the turquoise sea, lay out on the sand and catch some rays, or swim laps around the boat. You may even be able to cannonball off the top deck (which would never happen aboard a big ship). It’s a truly liberating experience for first-time yacht-goers.

The Exercise

There won’t be a climbing wall or an ice rink. And if there’s a gym it will be quaint. But you’ll get to rack up your step count exploring a new port or two every day (instead of a major schlep just to get from your cabin to the dining room). You may even be able to borrow a bike and go for a spin.

The XXX Factor

To be blunt, smaller cruises aren’t renowned for their hookup culture. It happens. But it’s rare. And it can get awkward very quickly when there’s nowhere to hide after the fact. On the other hand, you may develop chemistry with someone, and enjoy a little ‘vacationship’.

The $$$ Factor

Small cruises tend to be a little pricier, with fewer cabin styles to choose from. Remember that you’re paying for exclusivity and a personalized experience. You will definitely get to know your crew on a first-name basis and also make fast friends with fellow travellers. The bartender will remember your favourite drink. Housekeeping will remember if you need extra towels. And dinner will feel like you’re being regaled by a private chef rather than fed en-masse at a banquet hall.

The Food

This is where small ship cruises can punch above their weight. With private chefs cooking local and authentic meals, lunch aboard may eclipse the posh restaurants we visit for dinner. Service will be pristine. Dietary restrictions are easily addressed. And you won’t even have to dress up (though you can if you’re feeling fancy 💅🏽 ).

The Entertainment

There won’t be circuit parties. There won’t be Broadway shows. But local musicians or dancers may join us for the night. Or, like on our Mekong Gay River Cruise, we might bring along a drag queen to entertain you during otherwise quiet evenings aboard.

Many of our cruises overnight in towns where you can catch live local shows and music, which is a much more authentic experience that celebrates the intention of visiting foreign lands. People also head to bed at a reasonable hour so they can be rested and revived for the daily excursions.

New Friends

The smaller the ship, the easier it is to make true, lifelong friends. It’s a more relaxed and intimate setting, with ample opportunities to socialize over meals and during excursions. Plus, you’ll never fear losing track of your husband/partner/boyfriend/travel buddy on board.

Intimate Ports of Call

Another bonus of private yachts and riverboats is you can visit smaller ports, often skipping the tender. On our Croatian yacht cruise, when we stopped in Trstenik, a lady remarked this was the biggest boat she’d ever seen on the pier…and the yacht only held 40 people!

And our Mekong cruise visits villages so rural they don’t even have a dock: the captain simply runs the boat aground then the crew digs out steps for us to disembark. Smaller boats can also be more flexible in the ports they visit…if something worth visiting arises, or there are issues at a port, they can make last minute changes to the itinerary.

It’s More, If Not All-inclusive

While a small boat cruise won’t necessarily be all-inclusive, you’ll definitely see fewer additional charges. Wi-Fi is typically included so you can stay connected. Basic beverages are usually free, and wine or beer is often included with dinner. On our Mekong River cruise, virtually all drinks (save for premium brand spirits) are included – who needs a drink package?! On top of that, we usually kick off the cruise with a sublime group dinner, and at least one night in a swish hotel, before we embark on our voyage.

(Lack of) Crowd Control

This is another area where smaller ships shine bright like a diamond. The best spots onboard feature plenty of room to stretch out without throngs of people bumping into you.

On top of all that personal space, you won’t need a lanyard and there won’t be airport-style security at every port. The crew will know you and you’ll simply have to leave your cabin key when you disembark. it’s an easy and relatively foolproof way to know who is and isn’t onboard when it’s time to depart.

Riverboats & Sailing Yachts: A Happy Medium

Along with those iconic mega cruises, some gay tour companies offer mid-sized cruises. These can include riverboats and sailing yachts that hold anywhere from 100 – 1000 passengers. They’re big enough for a couple of theme parties with DJs, but small enough to become familiar with your fellow travellers.

Gyms will be a decent size…and they may even have a steam room for ‘health’ (if you’re picking up what we’re putting down). And especially with riverboats, which generally cater to retirees because of their mellow pace and easy accessibility, the crew *LOVES* when gay groups come aboard to liven things up.

One More Option: Gay Cruises Within A Cruise

While Out Adventures doesn’t offer exclusively gay mid-sized cruises, our sailings to Greenland, Antarctica, and Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay provide yet another option. These are exceptional departures for the traveller who has seen it all, or simply someone that wants a truly unique experience. We’ll be a group of anywhere from 6 to 45 people aboard larger ships, the Ultramarine or The Au Co. Rest assured we’ve worked with these cruise lines before and you’ll be welcomed by both crew and fellow passengers.

There’s something to be said for going all-out on a mega cruise. But if you fancy a smaller vessel with a more personalized experience, Out Adventures may have just what you’re looking for. High Touch Service. Exquisite meals. Intimate stops mixed with popular hotspots. And a chance to meet new, lifelong friends. These are a typical part of holidaying with us. Check out our upcoming departures, and let us know if one catches your eye. See you on board!