BearCruise is Back!

Bear World Magazine sat down with Dan Howell, owner of Dan Howell Travel and, and Al Parker, the Cruise Director, to find out about and their upcoming plans for a post-Covid-19 world.

Richard Jones: There are a lot of different LGBTA+ cruise groups and other “bear” groups out there. What do you think differentiates Bear Cruise?

Dan Howell: We are a fully accredited travel agency with 25 years + of experience. I am always looking for great experiences and destinations and the best value for my clients. Our cruises often include perks such as free drink packages, free internet, paid gratuities, or onboard credit at no additional cost.

We also provide service for our clients before and after their trips with arrangements such as hotels, travel insurance, and installment payment plans. We also have a single share program to match up single travelers with a roommate. Other groups often have someone organizing trips as a side hustle. This has been my full-time occupation for the past 25 years. Our customer service sets us apart.

Al Parker: I’ve worked with Dan for the last seven years. I have always been impressed with his dedication to his clients, but never more so than during the last year as cruising ground to a halt during Covid-19. Dan has kept his clients informed, and their safety has been his number one concern. We have big plans to restart with our first cruise departing October 30, 2021 sailing from Miami to the Western Caribbean which includes Rotan, Belize, Costa Maya, and Cozumel on the NCL JOY!. All our 2022 cruises will be departing from USA ports. All our 2022 cruises will be departing from USA ports.

RJ: From the Cruise Director’s perspective, tell us what you believe differentiates BearCruise?

AP: It starts with the foundation that Dan provides, and then the rest comes from the clients and how they react to our interactions with them and with each other. One of our guests a few seasons ago told me that Bear Cruise clients are “the friendliest bears afloat”. I have used that phrase ever since,
because it is so true.

I was a Bear Cruise client on the very first Bear Cruise sailing. My partner Ken and I had such a great time we came hack for more. When Dan learned of my own history working as a singer / dancer / cruise director in my previous career, he asked me to help create the Bear Cru
experience and come on the trips as the official group cruise director.

DH: We have this amazing group of friendly people who enjoy meeting and being around other friendly people. It is so awesome, though, in that it is not cliquey at all.`

AP: I totally agree. Newcomers to BC are just as welcome as our regular clients. They find that that they assimilate into the group quickly. We break the ice quickly by meeting every afternoon for our pool and hot tub “takeovers”, then cocktails before dinner, and then group dining for those who wish to eat with the larger group. We also help our single travelers integrate with other single travelers as well as with the entire group. We do not want anyone to feel left out.

DH: We had a couple of new clients send us some comments after their first trip with us. Rick from Maine said, “We felt welcomed immediately. Everyone we met was so friendly. We instantly felt as if we’d known everyone for years even though we had just met everyone.” Alex from Michigan said, “This was my first cruise experience, and it was amazing!

AP: Let me share a couple of quotes our clients posted on Facebook. David from Ohio, one of our original BC clients said, “I absolutely love this group. Many like myself have traveled with the group for multiple cruises. Everyone is friendly and fun to be with and make you feel welcome even if you are traveling alone. My favorite thing is the Catamaran excursions with open bar and a buffet of great food for lunch. I can’t say enough good things so just give it a try!”

Another one of our regulars, Matt from Delaware said, “This is a special group. We have made lifelong friends. There is something for everyone- whether you enjoy keeping busy with the variety of scheduled activities or you would rather be low key and just laze around the pool. We look forward to our next sail with this welcoming group and to expanding our cruise family!”

RJ: What is the difference between and some of the large all-gay charters ?

DH: The all gay charter companies are actually our friends and our business partners; we have been RSVP’s /Atlantis largest volume agency for over 20 years. We often have our bear groups on board as a subset of their larger all-LGBTQA+ cruises. Next year we have over 150 bears booked on the Vacaya Caribbean Cruise January 10-17, 2021.

In addition to what the gay charter experience offers, we supplement that with a private cocktail party, nightly Beartails get together and group shore excursions. We also arrange for a pre cruise hotel and have a bon voyage party the night before. They are amazing vacations.

BearCruise group vacations are a group of mostly gay men on a large ship where there are other passengers on board. Our cruises are much less expensive (often by almost half), and you get more bang for your buck in that we can usually get you additional perks like a beverage package. Our groups are anywhere from 50 to 400 people, depending upon the destination, cost, and interest.

AP: We bring on our own entertainers, depending upon the size of the group and the amount of time we have at sea during the voyage. Our most popular acts have been Miss Conception — an all-live singing comedian, dancer, female impersonator act with crazy live costume changes right on stage. Miss Conception sells out each summer in P-Town and each winter in Puerto Vallarta. We are so happy to get her on board with us between her permanent gigs.

Tori Scott is a fantastically bawdy cabaret singer from New York with amazing pipes! She totally blew our clients away on our last cruise. We also do “Bearoke” which my husband, Ken, hosts. We have had game shows, board game meet-ups, and one Halloween cruise we even had a tarot card reader in the group. Our Halloween cruises are great, as no one does Halloween better than our community. We always do a big Halloween party or some other theme party during a cruise, and usually an afternoon tea dance.

RJ: What are some of the unique parts of a BearCruise or your other cruise offerings?

DH: We want to help you find the right vacation that fits you. If it is BearCruise, then we would love to have you sail with our group. If it is a all gay charter, we will help book you on their cruises. At the end of the day, its all about making sure you have a fantastic time.

AP: We’ve had clients who brought their siblings, friends, and even parents on board. We are very inclusive, and they are welcome to attend our BC activities — or they can enjoy the full range of activities that the ship has to offer.

DH: We also do our own shore excursions that are exclusively for our clients. The most popular is always the catamaran during our Caribbean cruises. It always sells out!

RJ: How does Bear Cruise restart after Covid-19?

DH: Very carefully. We’ve had five planned cruises cancelled since the pandemic began. Of course, the cruise lines are not sailing now, but when they resume, we will not go until we feel secure that our passengers will be safe. We are telling all of our clients to get your vaccine as soon as you can.

We are in close contact with Norwegian, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Virgin Voyages, and the other lines we sail with, to ensure that they have excellent safety protocols in place. We’ve got a great Western Caribbean cruise coming up over Halloween 2021 on the Norwegian Joy out of Miami,. Our offer includes free internet and a free premium beverage package (yes! that includes alcoholic drinks), plus we plan to have Miss Conception back with her new show, and our favorite Catamaran out of Cozumel.

AP: Gene, one of our clients from Michigan, had always done the large all-gay charter cruises until he and his husband decided to sail with Bear Cruise to Greece.

He wrote on our Facebook page after he returned home: “Wow what a great gay cruise. We just got back from the 2019 Greek Isles Cruise and all I can say is wow wow wow!! What a great time. Dan, Al, and Ken made this trip of a lifetime. We have done a lot of all-gay cruises but never felt so welcomed as on this one. From the first night of drinks at the host hotel to the last night after the cruise it was a trip of memories. This was our first actual Bear Cruise. Dan and his staff keep us informed with all the details right up to the trip.

Having issues in London with our flights Dan was informing our hotel and transfers of our delays. When we arrived in Athens 12 hrs later everything worked out perfectly. Al and Ken every night welcomed anyone new and introduced them to group. We soon became one huge family. Dan, Al and Ken made sure nobody was left out of the group and always watched over everyone needing a little extra help or time. Pretty impressive that this was their group and they wanted us all to have the best trip of a lifetime.

We have never made so many lifetime friends out of a cruise. All we could talk about is when is the next Bear Cruise and yes we are booking. A lot of the new friends we met are repeat BearCruise guests and we are now also. It was a group of 84 guys singles and couples who made this trip so wonderful. What was so cool as there was every size shape color of guys and everyone treated everyone with so much friendship and love. Felt so welcomed to this group. On the ship this group made you so welcomed. You could be part of the big group or you could do your own thing. All I can say is if you ever are thinking of doing a BearCruise trip, do it!”

AP: Plus, BearCruise is going back to Hawaii in March 2022. We did that one three years ago, and it was one of the best cruises I’ve ever done. We also have a land / sea trip in Alaska in summer 2022 and a Mexican Riviera trip out of Los Angeles for Halloween 2022.

DH: There is so much pent-up demand for travel right now! Everyone tells us that they feel “vacation deprived”. We do, too! We can’t wait to get back out there on the open sea!

AP: What I tell people to do is put down a refundable deposit to save your spot. If you decide you are not comfortable, cancel before the deadline and get your deposit refund back. One day soon we’ll all be ready to head out on anther fantastic Bear Cruise. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay informed about all of our upcoming cruises.

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Richard Jones

Richard is the Co-Founder of Gray Jones Media, the parent company of Bear World Magazine, and was the magazine's creator and editor for its first three and half years. He is busy developing the business in many other directions, but loves coming back to contribute when he can.