LGBTQ Tour Operator VACAYA Completes Caribbean Cruise, Responds to Scathing NY Times Article

Monday January 17, 2022
Originally published on January 17, 2022

Onboard VACAYA's 2022 Caribbean cruise.
Onboard VACAYA's 2022 Caribbean cruise.  (Source:VACAYA)

In an article published on Friday, January 14, 2022, The New York Times asked, "Can a Gay Cruise Keep 4,700 People Safe Amid Covid?" referencing the Atlantis Events 30th-anniversary cruise on Royal Caribbean, which departed January 16, 2022. While VACAYA wasn't mentioned by name, the LGBTQ+ tour operator responded quickly, having just completed its own Caribbean itinerary.

The company released a detailed and transparent statement, claiming, "Yes, with careful execution of recommended protocols, the LGBT+ community can safely navigate these incredibly challenging times."

The venerated Times, whose article quoted several people not even traveling on either cruise, did not live up to the journalistic integrity we expect and was an affront to Atlantis Events, LGBT+ travel companies in general, and the gay community," stated VACAYA co-founder and CEO Randle Roper. "This certainly wasn't news 'Fit to Print.' As we begin to come out of the pandemic, it's OK to ask questions about how, why, and when we'll return to normal, but The Times completely missed the story here."

"Their decision to focus on errant quotes taken from various social media pages to sensationalize the story was both a misfire and (let's hope unintentionally) homophobic," Roper continued. "The focus should have been on the positive steps being taken by travel companies to adapt to live in a new world of testing, screening, and exposure reduction through contact tracing, upgraded onboard medical facilities and staff, and improved guest stateroom ventilation.

Everyone aboard VACAYA's cruise on Celebrity Millennium has been vaccinated, most have been boosted, and all were tested shortly before boarding. Indoor masking policies remain in place. And despite the CDC's recent decision to make the cruise industry a villain, we applaud the industry's science-based efforts to mitigate risks."

In late December, the Cruise Lines International Association, called the CDC's raised level of warning for cruises "perplexing," further stating that "cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard — far fewer than on land — and the majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore."

Information provided to EDGE by VACAYA indicated that its Caribbean Cruise onboard Celebrity Millennium was initially sold out, with nearly 2,000 booked guests. The tour operator states, "With rigorous pre-sail protocols in place, several hundred passengers were ultimately unable to sail because of positive pre-cruise Covid test results. Most of those guests were well insured and have experienced minimal losses. The ship sailed successfully with 1,568 passengers aboard. Over the course of the week, 27 guests tested positive for Covid-19 and were placed in isolation and 72 additional guests who'd been in close contact with a positive person (which is defined as being within 6 feet for 15 minutes or longer) were tested, placed in quarantine for the recommended 24 hours, and re-tested before being declared Covid-free and released."

The resulting positivity rate among guests (to date) represents .017% of total passengers. By comparison, the 14-day positivity rate in New York City is 27%.

Patrick Gunn, VACAYA Co-Founder & CMO, adds, "As entrepreneurs in the travel industry during a historic pandemic, we're often asked, 'how do you feel confident traveling with large numbers of guests to your events?' Our answer is simple: we follow the science. The science led the CDC, CLIA, and cruise lines to develop health and safety protocols second to none. Our cruise is proof they work.

Although the pandemic has been challenging, the human spirit is resilient. VACAYA has experienced a recent surge in bookings resulting in four out of six announced trips selling out in record time. VACAYA created the initiative #AdaptToLive to inspire guests to collectively come together to work through the various challenges everyone is facing so we could continue to live our lives."

VACAYA guest William Onieal said, "As a registered nurse at the first hospital to receive Covid positive patients in New York, I was one of three people who at the height of the pandemic had the unenviable task of determining which patients would receive lifesaving resources and which would not. This VACAYA Caribbean cruise became the light at the end of the tunnel. As the cruise got closer, [my husband and I] never worried about not knowing what we needed to do to stay safe. VACAYA's and Celebrity Cruises' health and safety protocols helped us feel confident we could safely enjoy our vacation and our first respite from the pandemic."