Days before a Carnival Cruise Line ship is set to sail, many of those about to cruise are anything but content.
Shane Windmeyer, the openly gay executive director of Campus Pride, was to cruise with his husband, Tommy Feldman, to celebrate Windmeyer's 40th birthday. They planned for the Drag Stars at Sea Cruise, featuring 40 of the drag queens from RuPaul's Drag Race.
The cruise line was originally Norwegian, but, due to overwhelming response, travel agent ALandCHUCK.travel switched it to Carnival, according to Windmeyer, who said that about 1,500 were registered for the drag cruise.
"We're avid fans of the show. We enjoy drag and a full spectrum of gender-expression. We were really looking forward to it," Windmeyer said Tuesday morning via phone from his home in Charlotte, N.C.
"I presumed that the ship would have private parties where guests who are coming for the RuPaul Drag Race could dress in drag or costume."
Windmeyer and others learned Monday afternoon, less than a week before they were set to sail, that Carnival was clamping down on the drag divas.
Carnival issued a statement that it strives for a "family friendly atmosphere" and that many on the boat will be "families with children." Thus, "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," the Carnival statement said. "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."
The Carnival statement, issued by Vicky Rey, the company's vice president-guest services, says that any guest who violates Carnival 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.
Representatives from Carnival Cruise Lines were unavailable for direct comment; however, Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon, which Carnival representatives sent to Windy City Times.
"Within the last 24 hours, we became aware of a miscommunication between Carnival Cruise Lines and AlandChuck.travel, who have booked a large special interest group on the upcoming Carnival Glory cruise departing December 2, 2012," Cahill wrote. "The group, 'Drag Stars at Sea,' includes several performances by stars from Logo TV as part of a series of private events onboard. 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.
"At Carnival, we are proud to carry more than 4.5 million guests every year and we welcome them all aboard. We do not practice any form of discrimination against the LGBT or any other community. We sincerely apologize for the miscommunication and for any unintended offense we have caused."
Cahill added that, given the misunderstanding, anyone on this cruise who wishes to cancel for any reason may do so and will receive a full refund of their cruise fare, as well as reimbursement for any non-refundable travel-related expenses.
"We constantly strive to provide our guests with a fun and memorable vacation. We look forward to welcoming everyone onboard Carnival Glory and again want to apologize for the misunderstanding and for any offense we have caused," Cahill said.
Windmeyer is shocked, angered, and now not planning to go on the cruise. "I never once saw this in their policy and I am guessing that I was not the only one since this is an URGENT NOTICE less than a week prior to the cruise," he said. "The only thing in policy they said was no masks. I am left with so many questions and am a bit upset by this. Who is to determine what is drag and doesn't this present many safety issues for gender nonconforming passengers?
"The debacle of this URGENT NOTICE and the threat [of getting kicked off the ship] has really created a climate that is hostile and unwelcoming."
Windmeyer said they spent $2,500 for the cruise. He called his travel agent with ALandCHUCK.travel on Monday night, but no one answered and Windmeyer was not able to leave a voice-mail message. The agent's voice-mail was full, Windmeyer said.
Windmeyer sent an email to ALandCHUCK.travel stating his outrage and requesting a full refund. As of Tuesday morning, he had not received a reply.
"There is speculation that ALandCHUCK.travel knew this information all along, but didn't want to share it with their guests because if [the guests] knew that they too couldn't come in drag, they wouldn't have registered," Windmeyer said.
ALandCHUCK.travel, based in Sarasota, Fla., is part of America's largest gay owned travel company, according to the company website. "We have 11 offices, own our own motor coaches and plan cruises and tours worldwide to Pride Events, Gay Festivals, circuit parties and more," it states. "ALandCHUCK.travel is a top 1 percent travel company and this allows you to enjoy special features you won't find anywhere else in the gay marketplace."
ALandCHUCK.travel promotes the Drag Stars At Sea, set for Dec. 2-9, and that it is EXCLUSIVELY through ALandCHUCK.travel. "We regret that reservations through any other travel agency or through Carnival directly will not have access [to] Drag Stars at Sea Private events," according to the company website. "All ALandCHUCK.travel guests will be issued a nontransferable wrist band for each event and will have to check in with security at the door of each entertainment venue. Any passengers that have booked directly through Carnival can transfer their reservations to ALandCHUCK.travel and enjoy the many exclusive benefits and events offered ONLY for the Drag Stars at Sea Cruise."
Representatives of ALandCHUCK.travel were unavailable for direct comment Tuesday; however, the company's Facebook page offers an update, including the fact that it does not believe Carnival intentionally meant any offense.
"This is especially important in the cruise lines support of our community to make this statement to EVERY GUEST aboard the December 2 sailing," the statement from ALandCHUCK.travel said. "You can rest assure that they respect our community and you can be comfortable with the wonderful experience in store for you on this very unique cruise.
"As we pointed out earlier, we want to say we heard today's feedback and take it very seriously. Al and Chuck are 25-year partners and have experienced first-hand many of the issues that have been discussed today. They have been involved in every facet of the GLBT community. This year alone they participated with the President in the GLBT re-election summit, were table captains for the HRC National Dinner in Washington and financially support many of our community's most important charities. Even your Pillage & Plunder party in Ft Lauderdale is a fund raiser to support South Florida Summer Pride. Issues of equality are very important to them and our company. We are a UNIQUE COMPANY for our community and our staff includes men & woman including gay, lesbian, and straight employees. We are proud to stand on our record for issues of community with any travel company in America.
"Again, we apologize for any inconvenience or hurt that this situation may have caused any of you personally. While we are America's Largest Gay Travel company, we are still a small family company. We continue to do our best and will continue to try to do our best. The cruise is going to be unique in all the world and a wonderful experience."
Disappointed cruisers have become quite vocal on Facebook and other social media. In fact, a "Boycott Carnival — Refund the Drag Race at Sea Cruise" page has startedand already has almost 400 members.
Robin Day, according to his Facebook profile, lives in Montreal and is married to a man. Day wrote on Facebook: "We were so looking forward to this. We booked back in February and now we don't even want to go."
Jenna Talia, according to his Facebook profile, is a male living in San Francisco. He posted online: "I am so upset, not only because I have brand new pair of [expletive] heels I was about to bring on board, but because I've pretty much been told to put a foot back in the closet. I paid just as much, if not more, (luxury room) then a lot of people on the cruise and to be told I can't dress in drag at all is just total crap. Even if I wasn't, I still want that to be my choice. Very sad and offended."
According to the Boycott Carnival page on Facebook, RuPaul contestant Raja cancelled her scheduled appearance on the cruise after the announcementand speculation continues to mount that others will, too.
Windmeyer noted that RuPaul "has not yet responded to the complaints on her Facebook page."