Greater Fort Lauderdale’s growing LGBT-friendly reputation is making it a popular departure spot for gay and lesbian cruises.
On Sunday, more than 2,000 gay travelers will sail from Port Everglades on RSVP Vacations’ seven-night Caribbean cruise aboard Holland America Line’s ms Nieuw Amsterdam.
It’s the third LGBT cruise in recent weeks to sail from Fort Lauderdale, all of them sold out.
“Those sailings just always go like hot cakes,” said Richard Gray, LGBTQ managing director for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s a nice bit of bread and butter business for us.”
On Jan. 30, Olivia Travel of San Francisco had more than 1,900 travelers on its Caribbean Escape lesbian cruise on Holland America’ ms Westerdam cruise ship.
A week earlier, Atlantis Events’ winter Caribbean cruise aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Navigator of the Seas sailed from Port Everglades with more than 3,000 gay and lesbian passengers.
LGBT travel specialists like RSVP, Olivia and Atlantis vacations typically charter an entire ship for their cruises, with several sailing from South Florida ports in recent years.
Combined, the three large LGBT cruises are expected to have a $14 million economic impact on the area, Gray said.
That includes the dollars spent on pre- and –post cruise hotel stays and dining, shopping and entertainment and other services in the region.
In recent years, cruise lines have been courting LGBT groups for a bigger slice of this lucrative market, industry specialists say.
Travel studies have shown that LGBT travelers typically are in double-income households and are known to spend nearly twice the amount of the mainstream traveler.
Some 1.5 million LGBT travelers visited Greater Fort Lauderdale in 2014, spending roughly $1.5 billion, the latest tourism bureau data show.
In 2016, the tourism bureau is making a bigger push to bring more LGBT travelers with children to the area.
Greater Fort Lauderdale has the highest concentration of same-sex households in the U.S. and is home to hundreds of gay-owned and -operated businesses, according to bureau records.
The destination also has several significant attractions and organizations that serve the LGBT community, including the Stonewall Museum, which offers exhibitions relating to LGBTQ history and culture; the world’s first AIDS museum; and the global headquarters of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.
Local businesses generally benefit from walk-in visits by LGBT cruise passengers and by hosting special events before and after they sail.
The RSVP group’s schedule includes partying and dining at gay-friendly businesses in Wilton Manors such as the Village Pub, Hunters and The Manor nightclubs and Rosie’s Bar & Grill.
“It’s great business [for us], and we love when they come in,” said a manager at Rosie’s Bar, which expects to host RSVP cruisers Feb. 14 for Sunday brunch when they return to Fort Lauderdale.
Atlantis and Olivia cruisers also patronized Rosie’s during recent cruises.
LGBT cruisers also tend to book pre- and post-cruise stays in hotels and guest houses.
Recommended hotels for RSVP travelers included the W Fort Lauderdale, GalleryOne-A DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn Fort Lauderdale Airport-Cruise Port in Dania Beach, according to rsvpvacations.com.
“The LGBT travel market/business has been a huge part of our success story,” said Anna MacDiarmid, general manager at W Fort Lauderdale, which is hosting RSVP group’s official Sail Away event Saturday. “We’re elevating the experience and creating a wow atmosphere that is guaranteed to become a highlight of their weeklong cruise experience.”
Meanwhile, Olivia’s hotel partners were the Embassy Suites by Hilton 17th Street and Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty Six in Fort Lauderdale.
Smaller organized LGBT groups also cruise out of Fort Lauderdale.
Next Friday, Pied Piper Travel will have about 64 people sailing on its Ultimate Caribbean Gay cruise aboard Celebrity Equinox from Port Everglades, said Bruce Levy, director of sales and marketing.
Although the majority of Pied’s group members are male, the cruise is open to others in the LGBT community as well and their straight friends, Levy said.
The New York travel outfit’s most popular sailing is its post-Thanksgiving cruise, which attracted 700 people last year when it sailed from Fort Lauderdale.
This year’s late November cruise will sail from PortMiami.
“We have a very loyal LGBT clientele in South Florida, and many come for this cruise year after year,” Levy said. “It is convenient for them as they don’t have to fly, and there is a great camaraderie with friends they have met over the years.”
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