When my partner and I went to buy our first car together, the Hyundai sales associate was confused by our relationship. I’m of East Asian descent and my partner is Caucasian. We look nothing alike, but still, the salesman asked, “Are you sisters?” These uncomfortable interactions happen to almost every same-sex couple. For the most part, they’re rare in our everyday lives. We only think about awkward moments such as these when we plan our vacations.
Last year, we decided to escape a particularly nasty winter with a trip to warmer weather. In our eight years together, we had never taken a sun vacation and we didn’t know where we should go. We just knew that we wanted the pleasures of an all-inclusive environment and we wanted to not only feel safe, but welcomed as a couple.
Online, I read other LGBT couples’ accounts of awkward check-ins when hotel staff asked if they wanted separate beds or questioned their relationship. Even worse, there were stories of resort staff harassing same-sex couples, sometimes forcing them to end their holidays early.
We already knew that countries such as Jamaica were especially unfriendly toward gays. It was only in 2004 that the couples-only resort company Sandals quietly allowed same-sex couples as guests – a year before Canada legalized same-sex marriage. This, combined with reports of homophobia at various on-land spots, left us feeling unenthusiastic about vacationing at a resort.
We ultimately chose to take a five-day cruise over staying at an all-inclusive resort because we thought it would be more LGBT-friendly. I read message board threads on CruiseCritic.com assuring me that ships welcomed gay couples and most cruise lines hosted LGBT happy hours.
When we boarded the Caribbean Princess ship in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., we had no plans except to relax with frozen pina coladas and go on preplanned excursions at our two ports of call. In Costa Maya, we would tour Mayan ruins and in Playa del Carmen, we’d have a chance to see the breathtaking underwater caves in Rio Secreto.
At the first LGBT get-together, we were surprised by the number of attendees. Aboard our ship, we were significantly younger than the average traveller but there were dozens of queer passengers of all ages at the cocktail event. It was here that we met Ellen and Judy, a retired couple from Brooklyn, N.Y., who had recently got married.