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Travel Blog: Enjoying a late winter solstice on an Atlantis cruise

SOMEWHERE AT SEA -- "I am from Turkey. This is my 22nd Atlantis cruise and second aboard the Solstice. I love these cruises."

This enthusiastic quotation isn't from a fellow passenger. It's from one of the heterosexual crewmembers.

When gay cruising started about 25 years ago by Atlantis' sister company, tour and cruse operator RSVP, it was a very different world. Many crewmembers, especially men, opted not to work aboard the gay cruises. Now, most crewmembers clamor to work these cruises.

I always interview a cross-section of crew when I'm aboard a gay cruise. They tell me they love the friendly, relaxed vibe on the cruise, the younger age range than the typical cruise, and for some the lack of children on board. It probably doesn't hurt that gay men typically drink more and therefore the tip pool is significantly enlarged compared to the average cruise.

There's a lot to love on this cruise and it's only my second full day.

On Sunday evening we sailed away from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., arriving in CocoCay, Bahamas -- the private beach reserved for the cruise.

Monday, we had a day of beach going, swimming, nature trail walking and birding.

Tuesday, we were at sea all day.

My friend and paying customer Chris gamely joined me for a week.

We explored the ship from stem to stern. In my experience on a dozen cruises (gay and straight) on at least 10 ships, the Solstice is far and away the most beautiful ship I've ever been on and crammed full of cool features. From its pleasing décor, more reminiscent of a W Hotel than a Holiday Inn, to its stunning 15-story atrium and buffed out gym, it has kept us pretty entertained.

Check out the giant globe in the Team Earth room on Deck 7 and enjoy the interactive feature describing Celebrity's ecological and environmental efforts, which is extremely well done. Glass art aficionados will enjoy the Hot Glass Workshop and Show.

As usual, while you can tell a lot of guys spent a lot of time preparing for the cruise at their home gym, this Atlantis cruise has a wide diversity of ages and body types. Malcolm, Atlantis' cruise director, said that on this ship as on most of their cruises, the average age is 41.

Each year I take an Atlantis cruise, it seems like the international factor increases. So far on this trip we met Australian, Dutch, German, Austrian, Italian, Spanish and French passengers. That hunky couple in the blue bathing suits hails from Italy (left) and the Netherlands.

The entertainment and events programming are also diverse. For example, here were the options from 5 to 9 p.m. on Monday: Spa seminar; bocce tournament (on the gorgeous real lawn on Deck 15); abs workout at the gym; singles cocktails; hot glass show; Friends of Bill W; singles dinner; gay comedy showcase. Sometimes it's kind of hard to choose this embarrassment of riches.

Today, we land in the French-speaking isle of St. Barts (975 nautical miles from CocoCay) for a very long day, with sail away scheduled for 11 p.m.

Follow travel writer Ed Salvato as he floats around the Caribbean on the Atlantis Exotic Caribbean cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice (March 7-14) with 2,400 other gay men (and a handful of fabulous lesbians). Check back through the week for more posts.

Ed Salvato has been called “the world’s foremost expert in gay travel.” You might remember him as editor in chief of OUT & ABOUT and The Out Traveler. He also oversaw travel as senior online editor for Gay.com, PlanetOut.com and Advocate.com. He has logged over a million miles visiting countless destinations on six continents. Antarctica is next on his list. Reach him at Ed@EdSalvato.com.