LGBTQ Cruises Sail on as CDC Issues Warnings, Some Lines Cancel

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday January 11, 2022
Originally published on January 7, 2022

The COVID-19 omicron variant is putting a damper on winter vacation plans, but some travelers and cruise linesare taking to the water all the same.

Just over a week ago, the Centers for Disease Control issued a warning for travelers to avoid cruise ships "regardless of vaccination status" as the BBC reported, due to the dangers posed by the omicron variant of COVID-19. The agency sees the risk posed by shipboard conditions as being so conducive to disease transmission that it "has elevated its travel warning for cruise ships from level three to four — the agency's highest," the BBC noted.

The CDC cautioned that "even fully vaccinated passengers who have received a booster dose can spread the virus while onboard," the BBC noted.

Some lines have taken the step of scrapping scheduled itineraries. The New York Times reported that "Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line canceled several voyages in response to the growing number of coronavirus cases onboard some of their ships."

Insider detailed that Norwegian Cruise Line "canceled sailings aboard eight of its 17 ships," including "itineraries aboard the Norwegian Pearl, which recently returned to its homeport early following a COVID-19 outbreak among crew".

Meantime, "Royal Caribbean Cruises has also called off its January 6 Spectrum of the Seas sailing in Hong Kong," an "update [that] comes after Hong Kong's health department detected nine guests aboard the vessel's previous voyage who may have been exposed to COVID-19."

Data collected by the agency shows "the majority of cruise ships operating in the US have reported COVID-19 outbreaks," Insider detailed and reports say the CDC is currently monitoring 92 cruise ships around the world.

Illustrating the scope of the problem, Insider noted that in "the last two weeks of 2021, cruise ships reported over 5,000 coronavirus cases, 31 times the cases reported in the first two weeks of December."

The Times story noted criticisms alleging that COVID cases onboard cruise ships may be more numerous than the cruises are letting on. "The captain announced that five people had tested positive for COVID and were quarantining," Carnival Cruise Lines passenger Jesse Suphan told the Times. "But, then, talking to the crew, they told me there were between 100 and 150 crew members who also tested positive, but the captain didn't mention that."

While responses and reactions in the wider cruise industry appear somewhat mixed, LGBTQ+ cruises, it seems, are sailing onward, undeterred. Royal Caribbean's sold-out 30th Anniversary Caribbean Cruise, slated to voyage to multiple ports of call between Jan. 16 and Jan. 23, beginning and ending in Miami, Florida.

Likewise, the website for LGBTQ cruise line VACAYA indicates that its own Caribbean Cruise, scheduled for Jan. 10-17, is still set to proceed. The site shows that the voyage — scheduled to feature entertainers like Bob the Drag Queen, Marilu Henner, Alec Mapa, and Shangela, among others — is, like the Royal Caribbean cruise, sold out.

Meantime, lesbian cruise line Olivia appears to be carrying on as scheduled with its Jan. 15 - 22 Costa Rice & Panama Canal Luxury Cruise.

LGBTQ+ cruises are not the only ones forging forward; the Times pointed out that the "Cruise Lines International Association, called the CDC's warning 'perplexing,' and said that cases identified on ships 'consistently make up a slim minority of the total population on board — far fewer than on land.' "

But gay travelers have come in for harsh criticism, even from within the community, for high-profile instances of revelry in far-flung vacation locales as the pandemic rages. Almost exactly one year ago, a Jeffrey Sanker-organized event prompted outrage when a gay cruise catamaran sank in Puerto Vallarta during a New Year's bash.

Newsweek reported at the time that the gay press slammed Sanker "for organizing a 'super-spreader' New Year's Eve weekend party in Puerto Vallarta," and noted that the boating excursion "advertised an open bar aboard the boat and a clothing-optional secluded beach party, with a live DJ and go-go boys and admission running from $120 to $150."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.