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Sweet Sets Sail With The Largest Lesbian Cruise Ever

Sweet Sets Sail With The Largest Lesbian Cruise Ever

Sweet, the lesbian travel company, sets sail on the Norwegian Spirit sails from New Orleans on Nov. 8 for a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise. When SheWired spoke with Sweet co-founders Shannon Wentworth and Jen Rainin last year, the cruise was more than a year away. Sweet is still on target to host the largest lesbian cruise ever, with nearly 2,000 women embarking on the ecofriendly, voluntourism vacation, packed with activities and events.

When the Norwegian Spirit sails from New Orleans on Nov. 8 for a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise, it will be the culmination of months of work and planning by Sweet, the lesbian travel company founded in January 2008. When SheWired spoke with Sweet co-founders Shannon Wentworth and Jen Rainin last year, the cruise was more than a year away. Despite the economy tanking since then, Sweet still is on target to host the largest lesbian cruise ever, with nearly 2,000 women embarking on the ecofriendly, voluntourism vacation, packed with activities and events.

 “I am probably more positive and upbeat about the future than I've ever been in my whole entire life,” Wentworth says. “The energy is flowing through me about this project now that more people know about it and we have honed the concept and developed really wonderful relationships …”

Wentworth knows the economy has had an impact on Sweet. “No one is going to say I was a genius on choosing when to start this company and at the same time we have had an incredibly successful year at list building and reaching out to people ... We are definitely going to grow slower than I predicted… the good news is that we have the ability to do that and we're also able to negotiate really, really great contracts with the different travel providers.”

Wentworth says that while cruise vacationers tend to be a little older, Sweet has developed several programs to attract younger travelers and to help people afford to travel, including all- in-one pricing, a three-some special and no interest, no fee financing:

·      All-in-one pricing includes accommodations, all you can eat (casual or dressy freestyle dining), entertainment, on-board activities, all port taxes and gratuities. You’ll pay for alcoholic beverages, soda and bottled water and guided tours. 

·       The threesome offer lets guests add a third and fourth passenger for free in select cabins (until June 30). “Not everyone wants to travel in that tight of quarters,” Wentworth explains, “but I know that when I was in college, I could have afforded that. It's less than $100 a day, you get all your food and your hotel moves from port to port...”

·       Payments can be spread over 12 months with no interested and no fees if you book by June 30.

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Sweet’s partnership with Southwest Airlines fits the Sweet value and service model and began with Wentworth’s own positive experience with the carrier. “They offer really competitive airfares …they let you bring on two bags for free. They let you make changes to your itinerary without charging you a penny. Southwest wants the customer for life...”

Wentworth admits they have seen a few cancellations due to the economy. “Nobody cancels a fabulous lesbian cruise without a good reason... something bad has happened to make you cancel your trip... As long as you give us 90 days notice on this first trip, you don’t lose any money. We don't want to punish you for losing your job... that sucks. We move your deposit to another trip and refund the rest of your money. If you end up breaking up with somebody and you want to bring a friend, it's free to change a name,” she adds. If you cancel inside of 90 days prior to the cruise, they’ll move your paid balance to another vacation, less a $100 per guest processing fee.

The mix of cruisers has been a little unexpected for Wentworth. “There are two things that are really striking... The average age is still around 40, but we have a really nice, large group in their 20s. We also have about 25 percent solos traveling with us right now... not something that I had expected. If you don't have anybody to come with you and you don’t feel like sharing a room, it is not that expensive to just take the room yourself,” she says. Sweet also offers free roommate matching.

Sweet’s on-board programs will help people get to know each other so they can do excursions and activities together, focusing more on friendships than romance. “We'll let romance take care of itself. We are going to put folks in situations where they can break the ice a little and develop friendships.”

And couples on the cruise won’t be left out. “We are offering weddings ... there is a commitment style one and a wedding style one,” Wentworth adds.

Wentworth attributes the broader demographic partially to the voluntourism aspect of the cruise. “The women we are attracting are young or young at heart... people who are really active and like to have their actions match their beliefs in all aspects of their lives ... it's a really energetic audience... a group of people who work hard and play hard and really know how to have a good time. Everybody is so enthusiastic about our mission even if they don't want to get dirty... they don't have to get dirty. People love that something is being done regardless if they want to do it.”

The Sweet cruise, however, will not be all work and no play. “We are incorporating voluntourism aspects into our Sweet vacations. We are making them really digestible -- short and not overwhelming -- you don't have to commit to a week counting turtle eggs, which is a wonderful thing to do, but you can commit a morning to going out and doing a community project …”

The volunteer projects involve a commitment of three or four hours and are designed to show a measurable difference. “You are going to have fun because you are in a Sweet group and then we are going to party and we are going to recognize your achievements ... but you are not going to have to join the Peace Corps or spend a whole week... you still get to have a vacation. I think more people can handle this kind of voluntourism.

“Can you imagine... how wonderful it would be for understanding other cultures if cruise passengers got off in groups and went and met people in the local communities and came back having a much deeper understanding of the people in the world we live in? Our goal is to get lesbians out in the communities and really demystify lesbians for the rest of the world... by meeting us, people are going to be much less scared of us.”

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While voluntourism events are still being developed, current plans include:

·       A three-day pre-cruise land package in New Orleans where some 100 guests will spend four hours replanting 10,000 plants destroyed during Hurricane Katrina and learning about New Orleans' fragile local ecosystem, followed by a look at New Orleans’ gay nightlife.

·       In Costa Maya, Sweet will take 600 people to a beach resort for music, beach volleyball, kayaking, and other festivities. Tons of trash, mostly from other countries, have washed up on shore on either side of the resort. Sweet teams will collect bags of trash for 30-60 minutes of the total five-hour resort stay. There will be scavenger hunts to see who can find the item from the farthest away, the most flip flops, oddest piece of trash, etc., with the goal to clean up a mile-long section of the beach on each side of the resort.

·       In Belize City, they hope to create a Sweet library for students at a poor school and paint a wing in the children’s hospital ward of a Belize City hospital.

On board the travelers will have plenty to do to keep them busy… or not… it’s up to them. Offerings include:

·       Sweet Sweat - a fitness boot camp run by SheWiredFat 2 Fab! celebrity fitness trainer Shawnee Harkins

·       Sweet Sparks - 20 minute presentations followed by breakout sessions to spark creative juices. But don’t write these off as boring classroom lectures. Sweet has teamed with Babeland to host sex toy parties, presentations, contests and games. “We’re looking forward to some fun and frisky workshops!” Wentworth says. Other sessions will tackle career, health, and lifestyle kind of empowerment. “I really want to foster the sense of community on board and get people to network and help each other out,” she adds.

·       Sweet Beats – four DJs will be spinning tunes – DJ Dirty Kurty from San Diego, DJ Kathy V from The Dinah Shore Weekend, animal lover DJ Trina J and Disco Bambina from Paris

·       Entertainment - comedians Suzanne Westenhoefer, Erin Foley, Sandra Valls and Gloria Bigelow and musicians Jen Foster and Edie Carey

The itinerary for Sweet’s 7-day Western Caribbean cruise includes:

·       Sunday, Nov. 8  - depart New Orleans

·       Monday, Nov. 9 – at sea

·       Tuesday, Nov. 10 - Costa Maya, Mexico - beaches, water activities, Mayan ruins

·       Wednesday, Nov. 11 -- Belize City, Belize -- rain forests, Mayan ruins, second largest barrier reef

·       Thursday, Nov. 12 -- Roatan, Honduras -- mountains, scuba diving to coral reef and shipwrecks, snorkeling

·       Friday, Nov. 13 -- Cozumel, Mexico -- Dos Ojos Caves, Tulum Mayan Ruins, Xcaret, snorkel, scuba, sail

·       Saturday, Nov. 14 -- at sea

·       Sunday, Nov. 15 – arrive New Orleans

For more information visit the Sweet website at www.discoversweet.com 

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Edie Stull