Caribbean Calling: VACAYA's Record-Breaking Return to LGBTQ Travel

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday August 6, 2021
Originally published on July 14, 2021

Caribbean Calling: VACAYA's Record-Breaking Return to LGBTQ Travel

While most of us are trying to forget that our biggest trip last year was getting the mail, LGBTQ travel company VACAYA has all eyes on the future. A roster of wow-factor adventures awaits travelers eager to experience white sand beaches and crystal waters, savor somebody else's cooking, and hit the dance floor or lounge to rub elbows with today's top DJs, drag queens, and entertainers.

VACAYA's 2021-22 trip roster is a dream come true for wanderlust-driven consumers who can book an LGBTQ vacation in just a few clicks, but its co-founders, Randle Roper and Patrick Gunn, are likely the ones in need of a break. After successfully launching in 2019 with a full charter cruise to Canada and the first-ever LGBTQ overnight docking in Provincetown, VACAYA was poised to take the queer travel industry by storm. But the pandemic had other plans.

The team quickly pivoted to communicate with booked guests and negotiate contracts with cruise lines and other vendors to reschedule reservations while keeping a close eye on global developments. The harrowing days turned into weeks, then months. But at their core, the team knew travel would bounce back and the LGBTQ community would be at the forefront.

Data supports VACAYA's instincts. According to a survey by The Harris Poll, even within the first few months of the pandemic, LGBTQ travelers conveyed a stronger desire to travel, from staying in a hotel and flying a commercial aircraft to taking a cruise.

International LGBTQ+ Travel Association President and CEO John Tanzella, whose organization conducted its own studies, confirmed the findings, stating, "Previous studies have shown our community to be a resilient and loyal travel segment with a tendency to travel more than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts."

VACAYA forged ahead, planning a series of LGBTQ vacations that would entice people to pack their bags and explore parts of the world rarely traversed by queer travelers in a group setting such as Iceland, Seychelles, and Antarctica.

"Our years of experience in the industry led us to understand that LGBTQ people want to travel to new destinations that haven't been offered in these inclusive settings," says Gunn, VACAYA's chief marketing officer. "Our ambition withstood the pandemic with travel offerings that differentiate us from what else is out there, and guests are thrilled to see that. It's helped us to not only survive but thrive."

Thelma White
Thelma White  

Gunn also seized the opportunity to bolster the brand's outreach. "It's so exciting the LGBTQ community is leading the way in bringing travel back. All of us here at VACAYA are so proud of the work we do to enable our guests to travel together and advance LGBTQIAPK unity. For so long, we've all been segregated into our own tribes — only really coming together with any consistency during Pride Month. With VACAYA's mission to throw the doors of LGBTQ travel wide open to our entire community, we can regularly unite throughout the year as we travel the world together."

VACAYA will be collaborating with leaders throughout the LGBTQ community to reach audiences through authentic voices while lending a helping hand to other LGBTQ business owners. Thelma White of Beach Daze Entertainment is one of those business owners, and she's helping VACAYA to reach even more LGBTQ travelers for its Caribbean cruise. White had reached out to Celebrity Cruises to explore a full charter, but after several meetings, the savvy entrepreneur realized that although the itinerary planning and logistics were doable, the financial commitment was beyond the scope of her company. Celebrity connected White with VACAYA leadership and the synergy was instantaneous.

"VACAYA has done such a great job in terms of what they offer the LGBTQ community," says White, who did extensive market research on the cruise industry and LGBTQ travel. She sees the collaboration as an opportunity to grow her business while also bringing authenticity to VACAYA's diversity outreach. "I'm a triple minority: Black, female, and LGBTQ. I have to work three times as hard, but that lights a fire under me. I can be just as successful as my male counterparts, but it does go a long way when an established company lends a helping hand."

The cruise is one of three Caribbean and Central American VACAYA vacations tempting travelers in the coming year.

3 Can't-Miss Adventures


VACAYA Mexico Resort (October 30-November 6, 2021) — VACAYA returns to Mexico just in time for Halloween and Day of the Dead 2021 with a vacation that delivers all the luxury the LGBTQ community has come to expect without breaking the bank.

Initially planned for the fun-filled Panama Jack Resorts Playa del Carmen, VACAYA switched venues for a full takeover of the recently reimagine, luxurious four-diamond Hyatt Viva Riviera Cancun. And the best part? Pricing remains the same, enabling guests to take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime deals and upgraded perks, including nine pools (including one clothing optional), 17 restaurants and bars, and plenty of world-class entertainment. Don't forget to pack a costume!

VACAYA Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Millennium (January 10-17, 2022) — Sailing for seven nights from convenient Fort Lauderdale on the beautiful and fully-revolutionized Celebrity Millennium, VACAYA's taking guests deep into the southern Caribbean to explore two of the most idyllic islands in the world — Aruba and Curaçao! Only VACAYA takes guests there on a seven-night cruise from South Florida. VACAYA charters the entire ship and dazzles with star-studded onboard entertainment, with past performances having included Lady Bunny, Alex Newell, Kristin Chenoweth, and more.

Celebrity is spending more than half a billion dollars to transform its fleet. The Millennium features redesigned staterooms, RFID door-entry technology, a Daniel Boulud menu at one of the ship's signature restaurants, updated lounges, and more. Responding to guest feedback, this cruise will also offer money-saving Celebrity unlimited beverage packages for fun from dawn to dusk — and dawn again!

VACAYA Costa Rica Resort (June 5-12, 2022) — Imagine a hillside perch overlooking the Pacific Ocean, populated with a vibrant, pulsating community of LGBTQ travelers. Look no further than the eco-chic Andaz Papagayo — heaven on Earth for hikers, surfers, paddle boarders, animal lovers, snorkelers, divers, and anyone who feels happiest outdoors.

Breathtaking views of Culebra Bay set the scene for four restaurants, four pools, multiple bars and lounges, an outdoor theater, a pampering spa, and three unspoiled beaches anchored by Andaz Beach House. World-class dining, top-shelf drinks, and your amazing resort accommodations are all included. Feeling romantic? Bring an officiant! Last year, Costa Rica became the first Central American country to legalize same-sex marriage.

Whether the beach beckons or you're keeping an eye on VACAYA's next surprise (be swift, they sell out fast!), expect the unexpected. "VACAYA continues to push the bounds of what's possible, with nearly every cruise or resort adventure we do being a first in the world of LGBTQIAPK travel," says Roper. "From the first LGBTQ charter circumnavigation of Iceland; to the first U.S.-based river cruise on our New Orleans river cruise; to the first LGBTQ full takeover of a Costa Rica resort; and our history-making, first-ever LGBTQ Antarctica charter cruise, VACAYA is resetting the bar for LGBTQ travel — fulfilling bucket list travel dreams trip after trip."

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Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.