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QueerVentures: Largest gay cruise - ever - was a floating vessel of costumes and culture

On Feb 6th, I had the opportunity to “set sail” out of Fort Lauderdale aboard the Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world.

As host of the 20th anniversary of Atlantis Events, the Allure of the Seas was packed full, with approximately 5,400 gay men, 81 lesbians, and 2,200 crew and staff on board, as it made its way through seven days in the Caribbean.

Thus, it was the world’s largest gay cruise on the world’s largest cruise ship.

Perhaps, then, it was also the largest symbol in the world promoting the advances made globally with human sexuality.

Sure, the ship was full of circuit-type dance parties. And, of course, people snuck alcohol illegally on board, concealing it in lube bottles and Listerine containers.

Were there drugs used, exchanged and available for purchase? Of course there were.

So it was not a surprise when many news organizations could not resist the story of a "major" drug dealer being arrested after customs agents boarded the ship in St. Thomas.

And, yes, I will confirm that in fact someone took a "dump" on the dance floor, causing quite a commotion. Cups were used to cover up the mess as the crew looked dumb-founded on what to do next.

And although these make good stories, as bad decisions often do, there are other stories much more deserving of attention; for those drug and circuit party stories pale in comparison to those of the personal exchanges and education that took place over the seven days aboard the ship.

The friends that were made will last a life-time. The conversations that took place will live on forever. The experiences and interactions with one another, from all different cultures around the globe, will continue to positively affect lives everywhere.

These connections occurred because the cruise allowed different people from all over the world to come together and discuss things that matter, having "real" conversations about things that affect real LGBT people and their communities.

Conversations ranged from stories about coming out, relationships, personalities, work issues, sexual preferences, drug and alcohol issues, and personal identity issues.

The ship created a space that allowed for these discussions, because the environment was liberating and free of worry about work, food, and chores. Any time left was for leisure, leaving each individual to be creative, more open, engaging, and seeking to understand the others on board.

Expressions of love were found everywhere on board, and two friends of mine from San Diego were married on the ship, Vince and Allan, celebrating a new commitment after being together for seven years.

Above all else, the diversity of the ship brought about an attitude of investigation, acceptance, and appreciation. Most notably, this circumstance was observed with the crew members, because for most, it was the first time many of them had ever interacted with GLBT people.

Knowing this, Royal Caribbean went through great lengths to educate their staff beforehand on what to expect and how to prepare for this particular cruise.

One staff member from the Ukraine informed me that he came to the company with his wife a year ago. Both were encouraged to work on-board the Allure of the Seas, a ship able to house couples. Both signed a 7-month contract, and both had their first experience with interacting with GLBT people during this cruise.

This particular crew member described with pride how Royal Caribbean brought a gay male on board to help educate the staff on what to expect -- a sort of sensitivity training.

My experience was probably not unique having this sort of interaction with a person far removed from the GLBT community. The crew consisted of 2,200 people from all over the world, many from several places not hospitable or even tolerant of GLBT people.

The Ukrainian staff member at one point asked me if he could speak openly, and proceeded to tell me what a wonderful time he has had, enjoying all the shows, dancing, music, and costumes. And how, for the first time, he was truly excited to interact with so many gay men. He also told me this cruise will forever change him, and was an experience he will not only take home with him, but will travel with him as he meets many more people along his journeys.

Gay cruises are not only a lot of fun, but they also help to educate other GLBT people about the struggles and successes around the world, uniting our people and common causes globally.

As observed through my interaction with the Ukrainian staff member, we as a community also had the opportunity to influence many people working on the ship, coming from countries like India and Pakistan, who have never had exposure to GLBT people.

Because of the myriad of roles they play in affecting change, gay cruises should continue to be a necessary endeavor, and one I hope many others get to experience in their life time.

Atlantis has its next cruise planned for late January next year in the Caribbean -– on the same ship --hoping to bring back the fun and excitement. Don’t lose out, and book before it sells out again! I promise you will not regret this decision.

Thomas Hughes, Esq., was born and raised in San Diego.  After attending college in Northern California, Thomas returned to Southern California in 2003 to obtain  his law degree.  He practiced criminal law as an openly gay attorney for nearly five years as both a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney.  In late 2010, Thomas left the practice of law to pursue his dreams of teaching and traveling.  In 2011, Thomas left for Changsha, China to teach college students English. In addition, he joined Teach for America Corps to teach English within New York City for the next three years. Thomas will be traveling extensively during these next three years, sharing these adventures with a gay perspective through his social column QueerVentures.