So Carnival Cruise arranged with a specialty travel agency, a booking of 30-some of the stars of the popular reality TV show, RuPaul's Drag Race to be feature attractions on a cruise to depart this week. It was then marketed at the show's audience as Drag Stars At Sea!

This is a thing in niche marketing. If you've ever dreamed of sailing around with Rich Lowry (and who hasn't?), well you can sign up for the National Review Cruise, and as a bonus, you can also meet Dick Morris, John Yoo, John Sununu, Jonah Goldberg and Tim Pawlenty!

Or perhaps a less frightening cruise might be Royal Caribbean's zombie-themed "Ooze Cruise" where guests were encouraged to get their living dead on.

So, this is just another variation, men who wear dresses and the men who love them.

So, Monday, just days before departure, guests received an email that was marked as an "urgent notice" from Carnival's Vice President of Guest Services, Vicky Rey.

It read:
Vicky Rey
Carnival attracts a number of families with children and for this reason; we strive to present a family friendly atmosphere. It is important to us that all guests are comfortable with every aspect of the cruise. Although we realize this group consists solely of adults, we nonetheless expect all guests to recognize that minors are onboard and, refrain from engaging in inappropriate conduct in public areas.
It's pretty obnoxious to think Carnival felt they had to send a special warning to this group to remind them to behave appropriately in public, because of the families...

Surely the ship has ample staff to keep an eye on guests at all times. Don't tell me heterosexuals don't like to get drunk and act like inappropriate fools at times. I've seen you people. I'm fairly certain a professional cruise line staff, like the staff of a popular restaurant or bar, is trained to spot problems and intervene "appropriately."

Carnival's Rey also puts the gays on notice:

We're sorry to say that any guest who violates our policies and/or whose behavior affects the comfort and enjoyment of other guests, will be disembarked at their own expense and no refund will be given.
So, essentially, Carnival has decided they like collecting gay people's money by marketing to the community. But, if the gays' "behavior affects the comfort and enjoyment of other [heterosexual, bigoted] guests", they're kicked off the ship.

One passenger is understandably confused by the vague directive on what is appropriate behavior that will not disturb "the comfort and enjoyment of other guests." The gay experience is heterosexual people can be very easily disturbed by relatively minor things, he asks:

I'm worried that holding my partner's hand could get a rise out of some parents... Will I be kicked off for that? What about a romantic kiss at dinner? This is awful!
Not a great way to create a fun, relaxing environment Carnival issuing vague warnings to behave yourself, or walk the plank.

It gets worse, after the fold...

Now, this is the really bad part:

Arrangements have been made for drag performances in the main theater featuring stars from LOGO TV. These functions will be private and only the performers are permitted to dress in drag while in the theater. Guests are not allowed to dress in drag for the performances or in public areas at any time during the cruise,
That drag on the "Drag Stars At Sea" cruise was banned for everyone but performers on stage was late-breaking news to cruise-goers and came as quite a surprise to many. The travel agency who collaborated with Carnival on marketing this cruise, Al and Chuck Travel, who seem to be a major sponsor of the reality show Rupaul's Drag Race, tried some damage control on their Facebook page, saying it wasn't discriminatory toward drag, merely all "costumes" gay and straight.

Carnival was however comfortable hosting an elaborate Halloween costume contest on previous cruise among a handful of other examples drag travelers found.

The agency's response included this strange declaration:

Finally, Drag Stars At Sea is a cruise venue for you to meet the stars of RuPaul's Drag Race UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL. Just as you would not go in costume (other than on Halloween) to a club to see them perform, neither should you on the GLORY.
Featured guest on
National Review Cruise,
or Drag Stars At Sea?
I don't know what his perspective is, but from my perspective, lots of people feel moved to dress in drag to go see a drag performance. One of the bigger annual fundraisers for AIDS in New York City is the Night of a Thousand Gowns. The group organizing it puts on a great and elaborate drag show, but virtually every audience member who's so inclined dresses up as well. (Full disclosure, I wear a tux. Not because I'm butch, but because I make a very ugly woman.)

Al and Chuck's efforts at damage control on Facebook seems to have steered into rough seas. A not atypical response:

"If they had made this information available 6 months before the cruise (instead of 6 days), they wouldn't have been able to fill a pontoon. I am so disgusted by this."
The comments are not kind:
When were we to be told this? We've spent hundreds of dollars on new outfits, and we learn NOW?
Knowing this policy ahead of time might have influenced our decision regarding booking this cruise, and now we feel trapped on a vacation where we no longer feel welcome.
This story has caught the eye of Jim Walker, a "maritime personal injury attorney" who operates the Cruise Law News blog (who knew, right?). A straight, married guy, he notes his son survived Mrs. Doubtfire and The Birdcage just fine. He says,
"Wow, that's some serious chutzpah! Take money from your guests for a drag queen cruise and tell them that, uh, they can't dress like a drag queen."
He thinks there may be basis for a lawsuit here. In his post Who Will Be The First Drag Queen Kicked Off The Carnival Glory? he wonders about the actual logistics of enforcing the "no drag" policy:
And how can the dozen or so Carnival security guards think they can possibly handle several hundred men if they try and arrest everyone in drag who is on the cruise?
This thing could get interesting, let's not forget, drag queens were the powder keg that set off the Stonewall riots. Do not piss off a drag queen if you can avoid it (or several hundred).

I think Carnival screwed up, perhaps by not really knowing what they were signing up for. The travel agency screwed up by not negotiating with Carnival better, and by not knowing and appreciating their own audience very well. The agency now seems to think their job is to spin for Carnival, instead of sticking up for their own customers who they sold tickets to. Foolish choice, in my opinion.

I mean, you don't book a big drag cruise, and market it to an audience who will obviously be big fans of drag—the art form, the life style, the activity, the pursuit, the idenity—and tell them they can't do drag—on their own fricking vacation! That's just plain dumb. Like booking a baseball cruise and telling people they can't wear pinstripes.

Or booking the National Review Cruise and telling them their TVs only get MSNBC.

Update: The Washington Blade is now reporting that Carnival has relented on the ban on drag, and anyone who wishes to be refunded for any reason will get one, including non-refundable travel-related expenses. The Blade quotes a letter from Carnival President Gerry Cahill who says the controversy was a result of a miscommunication, apparently between the event's organizer's Al And Chuck and the cruise line. Excerpt a letter the line will be sending to customers:

“The group, ‘Drag Stars at Sea,’ includes several performances by stars from Logo TV as part of a series of private events onboard,” he wrote. “When the group was presented to us we were advised that only the performers would be dressed in drag during the private events. However, we are now aware that this was not clearly communicated to members of the group and therefore anyone who wishes to dress in drag may do so. Please keep in mind that our safety and security procedures require guests to present government-issued ID, and to be recognizably that person.”
Carnival to their credit, after some clumsy initial messaging, has resolved this issue in the best possible way, it seems. No response from Al and Chuck if they sold the event to Carnival as Carnival claims they did.

Originally posted to Milk Men And Women on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 06:06 AM PST.

Also republished by TransAction and Angry Gays.

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