BY CANDY PARKER
For a long time, contemplating lesbian travel options was much like pondering whether to bet “black” or “red” at the roulette table — a rather limited choice at best. Sure, you had the lesbian resorts in Key West, a smattering of bed and breakfasts in quaint settings across the country, and the big “O” with which your aunt and her “roommate” traveled for the last 40 years. But if you were looking for an updated lesbian travel experience, you were out of luck — that is until Sweet travel came on the scene.
Founded in 2009 by Jen Rainin and Shannon Wentworth, Sweet offers an affordable and distinctive lesbian travel experience, merging first-class tourism with community service, a blend known in the industry as voluntourism. Many Sweeties, as Sweet’s patrons are known, find this an appealing combination.
“Aside from Shannon’s warm and welcoming demeanor, what drew us to Sweet was the community service aspect which was unique to our previous vacation experiences,” said recent travelers Melody and Felicia. The couple set sail on a Short and Sweet Bahamas cruise in February 2012 to celebrate their second anniversary, an adventure that included a private Nassau tour and a stop at the Ranfurly Home for Children to deliver donations for the home’s residents.
“By far, visiting the orphanage and talking and interacting with the children there was the highlight of the trip for us,” offered first-time Sweet travelers Michelle and Gladys.
Also unique to the Sweet experience is the sense of community that exists amongst the guests, whether veteran travelers like Tamara who marked her fifth Sweet excursion in February or rookies like Melody and Felicia who noted, “Our favorite memory was the first day of the trip. We didn’t know any of the previous Sweet travelers, but they went out of their way to interact with us, including us in their conversations, and making us feel like family.”
The Sweet team is also uncommonly accommodating. “The Sweet staff was extremely attentive, which we never got on our non-Sweet cruises,” Michelle and Gladys affirmed. “Wherever we went, we were greeted by either Shannon, Julie (Scher, Sweet’s Director of Sales), or Babs (Daitch, Director of Programming for Sweet). We always felt welcome and they really cared that we had a good time. They were very organized, too, with numerous planned events and land tours.”
Many Sweeties are at a loss when asked to identify their single favorite memory from a Sweet trip, as for all the do-goodery that takes place, there is no shortage of fun and frolic. “Rescuing Julie Scher and a fellow Sweetie as their raft drifted out into the Caribbean at Great Stirrup Cay was a highlight for me,” mused newly initiated Sweetie Gina. “I’ve traveled with Olivia and can honestly say I’ve never gotten the opportunity to perform a rescue mission. The only down-side was that I had to put down my beer.”
Gina also echoed the sentiment of others new to Sweet, “The women who travel with Sweet seem to be a younger, more fun and friendly demographic than those I’ve met while traveling with the other major lesbian travel company,” she said, adding that her Facebook friend count has increased noticeably since returning from the Short and Sweet cruise.
Once Sweeties leave paradise behind, most are unflagging champions for Sweet and can’t wait to book their next trip. “We’ve been recommending Sweet to all our friends since the day we got back from our trip,” Kristi and Chloe beamed. “We’re trying to rally a crowd for Cozumel in September. There are so many positive things to say about Sweet that it’s hard to know where to start, but we find ourselves mostly talking about the people and the community that forms while on these vacations. We loved that we really got to know a number of the other women we were vacationing with. That’s not something we’ve ever experienced on any other vacations.”
In recognition of National Cruise Month Sweet is currently featuring several cruise specials through October 29, 2012.