Gay marketing maven and dedicated do-gooder Shannon Wentworth has rebuilt the gaycation from the ground up. Sweet, a new lesbian cruise line and environmentally-friendly travel company, takes the guilt out of luxury travel while leaving in all the parties and fun. Come along on Sweet’s maiden voyage this November. Vacation rules are in effect and Sweet’s special brand of responsible tourism is certain to help you make up for any trouble you might get into.
“I love to work all the time and I like to feel like I’ve earned my vacations. Hmm, maybe that’s why I’m still single,” says Shannon Wentworth, founder of Sweet, the newest and most progressive addition to lesbian travel. “I’m really lucky that what I do for a living is so much fun. I get to take beautiful women on vacation to beautiful places, and what could be better than that?”
A passenger liner filled to the brim with lesbians might sound like the start of a sexy fantasy, but who knows? It may very well spark up your love life. “About 25 percent of the women on board are single, and while we can’t promise the romance, we’ve designed all sorts of activities to help our single passengers meet new people,” says Wentworth. For women traveling in couples the cruise offers incredible fine dining experiences, romantic lounges and Love Boat-worthy star gazing opportunities. And in case you do meet the love of your life, “We’re also working with wedding planners to help our guests plan private weddings on board,” she explains.
It’s Wentworth’s approach to vacation that makes Sweet cruises different. “I’ve been environmentally conscious since I was a teenager,” says Wentworth. “My objection to big package vacations is the toll they take on the environment. I wanted to find a way to make that type of vacation totally guilt-free and that’s what we’ve done with Sweet.”
Vacationing with Sweet feels like a luxury experience but with a true twist. The company’s mission is to take women on a fun, fabulous but also empowering travel experience. “Staying true to my ideals is important to me,” says Wentworth. “I want to make a difference in the way women experience their surroundings.”
Sweet’s approach to eco-tourism combines travel itineraries with volunteer programs that provide aid to under-served communities and fund-raising activities that support non-profit groups around the world.
In addition to offering feel-good travel for the activist-minded, Sweet has partnered with Carbonfund.org, one of the country’s leading carbon offset organizations. Through their partnership Sweet is able to offset the carbon emissions from all of its cruises and business operations.
“I had the opportunity to start this company from scratch. Once I realized I could start a business around carbon offsetting it just made sense. If I was going to do it, I wanted to do it right and do it in a way that held true to my vision. And I wanted to prove that it was possible to create a successful business that was also responsible,” explains Wentworth.
Going on a guilt-free vacation is a great thing, but not if you can’t afford it. Wentworth is well aware that luxury vacations are hard to justify in tough economic times. But Sweet’s vacations are totally doable no matter what your price range. Packages are comparable in price to other cruise lines and actually less expensive than many. “And we’ve come up with great deals to make it even more affordable,” explains Wentworth. The company offers an unprecedented monthly payment plan and their rates include all the taxes and fees that many cruise companies usually pile on top of your fare. Not only that, but they’ve hooked up with Southwest airlines to get you reduced airfare. “Right now we even have threesome and foursome specials where we will add a 3rd or 4th person to your room for free. We really want to make Sweet vacations affordable for younger women,” says Wentworth. “We have a super fun crowd booking Sweet vacations. When people call in to make reservations everyone seems so excited. And so many people are coming out to women’s events early to meet us. From what we can tell we have all kinds of guests. There are a ton of young and young at heart folks cruising with us.”
Sweet’s 2009 Caribbean Cruise sets sail from New Orleans on November 8, 2009. The 7-day voyage lets you traipse through the Western Caribbean, hitting Costa Maya, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; Roatan, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico. “I scuba dive so I’m really excited to hit Costa Maya where we’ll be doing a small reef clean-up,” says Wentworth enthusiastically. Sweet is coordinating excursions to historical sites of Mayan ruins and other architectural relics, as well as off-shore activities that involve snorkeling in clear turquoise waters, shopping in local villages, and for the foodies, there will be trips to sample local fare.
Sweet’s choice to charter Norwegian Cruise Lines gives them the opportunity to provide a necessary break from the often navy-style restrictions and regiments that travelers usually conform to on cruise ships. NCL Freestyle Cruising has no set dining times, dining partners or dress codes, meaning you can do what you want when you want. Show up to dinner with bedhead, or deck out for champagne brunch. Sweet lets you set your own schedule and you don’t even have to clean your room.
Also offering land excursions, the travel company offers a wide range of activities from historical and cultural outings to volunteer opportunities. They’re featuring a 3-day pre-departure package in New Orleans, where guests will be able to explore the big easy and work with Bayou Rebirth planting trees in wetlands devastated by Katrina. “The New Orleans trip is the one I’m most excited about right now,” says Wentworth. “We’ll be helping restore the wetlands lost to Katrina. It’s the kind of thing that makes me feel good about travel.”
Further south the company has been working with local agencies in western Caribbean ports to develop projects for guests in areas such as education, wilderness and natural resource conservation, aid in school construction, beach clean-ups, and wildlife habitat restoration. “We want to leave the communities we visit in better condition than before we came,” says Wentworth.
On top of it all, Sweet seeks to enlighten and improve the lives of travelers themselves, with programs focused on health, wellness, empowerment and a drive to form and strengthen lesbian communities through shared fun and effort. “One of the tenets of Sweet is to encourage people to become engaged with their surroundings. But all our earnest greenness might make us different but it doesn’t mean we left out the fun!”
Sweet has partnered with Club Skirts founder Mariah Hanson, who serves on the company’s Board of Advisors, to bring tea dances and the famed “The Dinah” parties into the mix. Club Skirts is throwing several huge parties on board and DJ durtyKURTY of San Diego will be spinning the hot tracks she’s known for, joined by Kathy V, Trina J and Disco Bambina. Nationally renowned comedians Suzanne Westenhoefer, Gloria Bigelow and Sandra Valls will keep the laughs rolling, and singer-songwriters Jen Foster and Edie Carey, with the help of a margarita or four, will certainly get you dancing.
The cruise will also feature several themed events, including “Bubbles and Champagne,” “Naughty and Nice” and 80s parties.
In January 2009, amidst celebrations of the company’s one-year anniversary, Sweet signed a sponsorship deal with “Nat and Meg’s Adventures,” a popular online video blog. The series, which follows two cute and vivacious baby dykes as they travel the country learning about lesbian culture and history, is now known as “Nat and Meg’s Sweet Adventures.” The two will be on board for the Sweet Caribbean Cruise, hosting events and posting vlogs throughout the trip.
In keeping with the goal of providing a nurturing and empowering environment for women and expanding the lesbian community, the cruise offers two unique opportunities for self-improvement and communication. Celebrity fitness trainer Shawnee Harkins will be hosting the “Sweet Sweat Bootcamp,” an intensive fitness program focused on exercise, healthy eating and overall wellness. You can work off your winter blahs and prepare some delicious dishes to feed your newfound fitness. The “Sweet Sparks” event is about networking and getting the chance to share your expertise with others. Guests can apply to make a 20-minute presentation on their particular trade, skill or insight in front of a large audience, and information sessions follow where listeners can interact with speakers whose message sparked their interest.
“We want everyone to have fun and feel good about themselves,” says Wentworth. The thing with Sweet is if you aren’t interested in volunteering or taking eco-excursions then you don’t have to do them. Our cruises offer everything other cruises offer. Being environmentally responsible doesn’t cost extra. It’s just an added bonus of traveling with us.”