Historic crossing for Queen Mary 2 

Established in 1985, RSVP Vacations, a San Francisco-based travel agency, knows a thing of two about gay and lesbian cruises. Having worked in this market for more than 20 years, the company has sent more than 80,000 men and women on small ship cruises, riverboat cruises and now luxury ocean liners to destinations that include the Caribbean, Central America, the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, French Polynesia, Peru and Thailand.

From May 29 to June 4, the company will launch its most ambitious — and historic — trip to date: the first-ever gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender charter to cross the Atlantic on Queen Mary 2, the longest ocean liner ever built.

With a 2-to-1 guest-to-crew ratio, this luxury liner is hard to miss: when the QM2 made a two-day stop at Pier 29 in San Francisco in February, the ship could have blended right in with The City’s skyline. With 14 decks, 22 elevators and 5 pools, she is 147 feet longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall (984 feet).

Back in New York after her inaugural round-the-world trip, the QM2 — along with 1,253 ship personnel and 2,620 guests — will depart on Tuesday, May 29, at 5 p.m. from the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal for a six-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean to Southampton, England.

The charter, organized by RSVP, will offer all travelers access to all of the ship’s standard amenities, such as its 20,000-square-foot health club and Canyon Ranch Spa; five pools, 10 dining venues (from 1,300-seat dining rooms to the 156-seat Todd English restaurant); constellation programs held in the world’s only shipboard planetarium; an 8,000-volume lending library with a full-time librarian, clubby leather sofas and armchairs as well as Internet stations; a nautical bookshop; luxury shopping (Hermes, Chopard, H. Stern, Harrods to name a few); a formal wear shop; and seven classrooms that house the ship’s enrichment programs in subjects ranging from wine appreciation and cooking to foreign languages, painting, design, seamanship and navigation.

In addition, RSVP has arranged for an impressive line-up of entertainers specifically for this voyage. Performers scheduled to appear include: comedians Margaret Cho, Ian Harvie and Suzanne Westenhoefer; Broadway performers Franc D’Ambrosio and Liz Callaway; singer Ann Hampton Callaway; entertainers Amy Armstrong and Freddy Allen; actor Jeffery Roberson (Varla Jean Merman); "American Idol" alum RJ Helton; Tony-nominated actor and singer Brian Lane Green; impressionist Michael Holmes; aerial performers Eric & Neal of the "Eye of Newt Circus"; and Anthony Rapp, who originated the role of Mark Cohen in the Tony Award-winning "Rent."

"RSVP was the first in the all gay and lesbian travel experiences — and is a trailblazer in this market," said Rob Pritchard, director of operations of RSVP Vacations, which is owned by PlanetOut.

The charter is close to being full — including all of the high-end suites that start at $70,000. However, there are still some mid-level ocean-view cabins and lower-level balcony rooms available, Pritchard said.

For bargain hunters, RSVP is currently offering its remaining inside cabins at $798 per person. If you are a last-minute single traveler on a budget, Pritchard added, RSVP has a special cabin share program — in which the travel agency will match you with a roommate. For more information on this crossing, visit www.rsvpvacations.com. For more information on the Queen Mary 2, visit www.cunard.com/QM2.

If you go » Queen Mary 2

May 29 to June 4

New York to Southampton, England

» Booking your trip: With less than two weeks to go, RSVP advises you to first call for availability and cabin assignment (800-328-7787). Upon confirmation, you must then visit www.rsvpvacations.com, select "Book Now" and download a reservations form, which you must complete and fax to RSVP. The form includes biographical data (passport info), which is required before you can board the ship. Rooms start at $798 per person, based on double occupancy.

» Those extra fees: All passengers are required to pay a flat port fee and gratuity ($360 per person) on top of their fare.

» Getting there, getting home: If you are planning to cross the Atlantic as a last-minute trip, you will also need to plan for your air travel to New York (JFK, La Guardia and Newark airports are all in the vicinity of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal) — as well as your air travel from London to the Bay Area. Transfers from Southampton to Heathrow are available from the ship. RSVP has also partnered with a few London hotels for discounted rates — if you plan to stay in the U.K. following your trip.

» Travel documents: U.S. citizens need only a valid U.S. passport. Non-U.S. citizens should consult their embassy for visa requirements.

» Your cabin: With 14 decks, the ship feels like a luxury Las Vegas hotel — but with a view of the ocean, not the Strip. All cabins feature interactive TV (with multi-language film and music channels), direct-dial phone, individual thermostat control, hair dryer, 110/220 volt outlets, nightly turn-down service and a full bathroom with tub and/or shower. Nearly three-fourths (72.9 percent) of QM2 staterooms include 8-foot-deep balconies.

» Shipboard amenities: Beauty salon, medical center, business center, photo shop/gallery, Canyon Ranch SpaClub, saunas, shuffleboard, swimming pools (five), table tennis, golf driving range, golf putting green, gymnasium, piano bar, casino, disco, theater, restaurants (10), planetarium, children's playroom (with nannies), self-service laundry, currency exchange, bank, dry cleaning/valet, sundry shop, duty-free shops, Internet/e-mail, tuxedo rental shop, jogging track and kennel.

» The ship's liquor policy: Duty- and tax-free alcohol is available for purchase and will be delivered to your stateroom on the last day of your voyage. You may bring one bottle of wine or champagne per person onboard to celebrate special occasions. If consumed in dining rooms, alternative restaurants or bars, each bottle will be subjected to a $15 corkage fee. Guests who are under 18 years of age are not permitted to purchase or consume alcohol onboard. However, while in U.S. waters, the ship enforces and abides by the U.S. legal drinking age of 21 years.

kathleen.j.jay@gmail.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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