Cruise with a difference... Sweet
Sweet things are happening in the specialty travel world.
In November 2009, Sweet travel will host its inaugural cruise, but it will be a vacation with a difference. It's targeted to lesbians, it strives to be eco-friendly and it offers the opportunity to combine volunteer work with travel.
Shannon Wentworth, Sweet's CEO and founding partner, and co-founder Jen Rainin bring years of travel and philanthropic experience to Sweet.
Wentworth was with Care2 (a social network that connects activists) and has worked in marketing at PlanetOut and at lesbian cruise market rival Olivia.
Rainin runs The Kenneth Rainin Foundation, dedicated to supporting the arts, education and medical research.
Sweet draws obvious comparison to its biggest competitor the popular -- and well established -- Olivia. The Sweet founders are convinced that with a potential lesbian market of nearly 5 million women, there's plenty of room for both companies.
"I see no reason why we can't co-exist, " Rainin says. "I have a huge amount of respect for Olivia... They've done an amazing thing ... they offer a different experience than we do," she adds.
Sweet is not an Olivia clone and the company is betting that price, eco-travel and philanthropy will help them carve out their niche.
"We are more affordable," Wentworth explains. "We keep our costs down by using more viral channels of marketing and using the internet and word of mouth and PR instead of advertising. We are also all-in-one pricing... the price you see, is the price you pay... there are no port taxes, gratuities, there are no other fees associated with cruising..."
Sweet's first trip will leave New Orleans on November 8, 2009, and will visit Costa Maya, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; Roatan, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico, returning to New Orleans, November 15.
Volunteer opportunities will begin before the ship leaves port. "We are going to do a project with Hands On New Orleans and help replant Cypress trees destroyed by Katrina," Wentworth explains.
They also are planning projects along the cruise route that will include things like beach cleanup, building projects or helping with wildlife rehabilitation. "We want to leave the places we go better than we found them," Wentworth adds.
While cruise vacationers tend to be a little older, Sweet is reaching a younger demographic, due in part to pricing as low as $750 per person. The company also offers a no fee, no interest, monthly payment plan, and a $50 on board credit for payment on booking.
Green travel is important to Sweet. "We are offsetting all the carbon for everybody's air travel, hotel stays and all the carbon created by the actual cruise for everyone onboard through CarbonFund.org. Basically, you make a contribution to a project that will lead to an equivalent amount of carbon being removed from the atmosphere. We are reforesting an area around the Tensas River in Louisiana ... the trees are going to pull carbon out of the air and help prevent erosion along the river bed..."
Wentworth's vision for Sweet was born from her own travel experiences. "I think there are a lot of women like me who want to get away but also want to do something that is really fulfilling beyond taking pictures and doing shots of tequila."
Rainin agrees. "Shannon and I were talking ... dreaming about what we would do if we could do whatever we wanted to do..." she recalls. "What's meaningful in life, what's the point, how do we make the most difference...how do we make the world as good as we possibly can make it. Shannon started musing about the travel industry... and she came up with all these ideas about how we could give back... while having a great time..."
Nicoll Quinn, Sweet's director of travel, is tasked with developing the trip itineraries, including all of the onboard programming and shore excursions. "It's kind of like putting a puzzle together," she says laughing.
Quinn finds the lesbian cruise experience very powerful... "to be in a setting and an environment while you are on vacation where you feel empowered to be who you are without judgment..."
Sweet will offer special opportunities for couples who want to celebrate milestones, and programming for singles to help them get to know each other and make friends.
"We are working on a series of mini workshops," Wentworth says. "We're going to ask people what kinds of things they want to learn about... how to quit smoking... get a better job... plan for retirement. This is a vacation... it's not school," she adds, so Sweet plans to offer short 15-20 minute presentations just to get conversations started and to connect people with resources.
"We also are going to bring fitness trainers on board and have boot camp excursions where we combine shore excursions with training so you might get together with your trainer and go to a beautiful beach and have a really fun workout and then everybody has lunch together and learns how to order from the menu in a way that is not going to put the pounds right back on.... We are going to bring on different kinds of trainers so that we can match athletic levels..."
The Sweet trip will not be all work and no play and cruisers can choose to work, play, or relax in any combination.
Singer/songwriters Edie Carey and Jen Foster, and comedians Suzanne Westenhoefer and Erin Foley will be on board to provide entertainment. The 2000-passenger Norwegian Spirit (Norwegian Cruise Line) also has a grand casino, 11 restaurants and 8 bars and lounges.
While proof of the Sweet concept is more than a year away, Wentworth and Rainin are optimistic about early response to their concept.
"People are so excited," Wentworth says, "They love the pricing, they love the politics. We call it a party with a purpose. They can have a blast and still be in a lesbian community."
"When we launched at the Dinah," Rainin adds, "people kept coming up to us and saying 'we are so thrilled, we are so excited ... it's about time.'"
More information about Sweet can be found at www.discoversweet.com.