The adults-only vacation company exclusively for the LGBTQIAPK community addressed the story published Jan. 14 in reference to another gay travel company’s charter cruise on Royal Caribbean embarking Jan. 16. While VACAYA wasn’t mentioned by name in the article, its Jan. 10-17 Caribbean cruise on Celebrity Millennium was referenced.
Having just wrapped this nearly 2,000-passenger trip, VACAYA asserted: '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,' VACAYA Co-Founder & CEO Randle Roper said in a media release. 'This certainly wasn’t news "fit to print,"' he added in reference to the Times' slogan.
'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.'
Fully vaccinated and tested
According to Roper, everyone aboard VACAYA’s Celebrity Millennium cruise was vaccinated, most received their booster shot and all were tested shortly before boarding. Indoor masking policies remained in place.
He cited a recent Cruise Lines International Association statement: '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.'
Roper continued: 'Humanity’s return to normal won’t be easy and there will undoubtedly be pitfalls along the way, but someone has to make the first moves. As the LGBT+ community has done since the dawn of time, we will lead the way back to some semblance of normalcy. Yes, we might do that covered in sequins and glitter, but we will boldly take the steps others are afraid to make. Remember, this isn’t our community’s first pandemic and most of us understand how to adapt to protocols.'
Several hundred turned away in pre-cruise testing
VACAYA said its Celebrity Millennium cruise was sold out, with nearly 2,000 passengers scheduled to sail. With 'rigorous' pre-cruise protocols in place, several hundred passengers were not able to embark because of positive COVID-19 test results. According to Roper, most of those were 'well insured and have experienced minimal losses.'
27 tested positive/isolated during trip
The ship sailed with 1,568 passengers. Over the course of the week, 27 passengers tested positive and were placed in isolation and 72 additional passengers identified as close contacts —defined as being within six feet for 15 minutes or longer — tested, placed in quarantine for the recommended 24 hours and re-tested 'before being declared COVID-free and released.
'All in all, the pre-cruise, onboard and post-cruise protocols have worked exactly as designed,' Roper said. 'And because of our adherence to those protocols, VACAYA and our strong LGBT+ community members have successfully taken those first bold steps back to normalcy.'
'We follow the science'
Patrick Gunn, VACAYA co-founder and chief marketing officer, added: '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 [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], CLIA and cruise lines to develop health and safety protocols second to none. Our cruise is proof they work.'
Gunn asserted that historically, LGBT+ community members travel more than their heterosexual counterparts because 'persecution in small hometowns drove LGBT+ community members to seek out havens in bigger cities and gay-friendly destinations around the world.' VACAYA offers an environment where 'for one magical week, our community gets to be the majority and live life out loud in the blissful utopia VACAYA creates. That single change from being an always-minority to a sudden-majority can have a profoundly positive real-world effect on individuals. So our view is that we owe our travel-hungry guests the opportunity to travel safely.'
VACAYA reported a recent surge in bookings resulting in four out of six announced trips selling out in record time.
Testimonials from the cruise
According to VACAYA guest William Onieal, '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. As the pandemic progressed, my husband and I desperately needed to find something to look forward to and help us manage the additional stress that had been thrust upon our otherwise charmed lives. This VACAYA Caribbean cruise became the light at the end of the tunnel.
'As the cruise got closer, we 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.'
In a further testimonial, VACAYA guests Brian and John (no last names given), who held their wedding aboard the Celebrity Millennium cruise, said: 'We postponed our wedding three times during the pandemic, so we were thrilled VACAYA and Celebrity didn’t postpone the cruise again. We happily adopted VACAYA’s "adapt to live" mantra that enabled us to finally tie the knot in front of friends and family onboard.'