Friends Of Dorothy Meetings On-Board Cruise Ships. What Are They?

If you have been cruising you will probably have seen that Friends of Dorothy meetings are held on most cruise ships most days. They tend to be listed in the daily program as informal and un-hosted get togethers, and other than a room and time there is very little information about who these mysterious friends of Dorothy are, and why they are meeting up.

So just who is Dorothy? And why does she have so many friends on-board that she has to have a special meeting advertised in the daily program?

A “Friends of Dorothy Meeting” is a dated way of saying that gay travellers are invited to meet with other gay people on that ship. I find it really strange that in today’s world, cruise lines are still using a term that dates back to a generation when being gay / homosexual was illegal. I also suspect that the generation of cruisers coming through will be as uninformed about what a “Friend of Dorothy” means as my mother was when she saw it in the cruise listings. This means that gay cruisers of younger generations are unlikely to even be aware they are happening!

Definition of a “friend of Dorothy”?
The Oxford University Press defines a “friend of Dorothy” as “a homosexual man”.

Origins of the term “Friends of Dorothy”?
Many believe that the term is linked to the gay icon Judy Garland, and her classic role as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. A camp classic in the gay world. This is a nice idea, but unlikely.

The more accepted origin of the term is linked to the poet, scriptwriter (of the Academy Award Winning “A Star is Born” and others), critic and civil liberties campaigner Dorothy Parker. She was known for having a lot of gay men in her glitzy social circle in the 1940s and 1950s, and one of her husbands was apparently bi-sexual.

The term was used as far back as World War II when homosexuality was illegal. It was a code to identify fellow gay men by referring to them as friends of Dorothy. It is even reported that as recently as the 1980s, when homosexuality was still not permitted in the USA military, that the term was still being used.  It allegedly confused some investigators into homosexuality in the forces when it was thought there was some spy ring linked to a mysterious Dorothy ring leader. This may just be a fanciful story, and is fun if it is true. It does though further add to the argument that it is probably a dated and silly way of identifying gay people for a get-together on a cruise ship.

Why did Cruise lines embrace “Friends of Dorothy”?

Cruise lines actually enthusiastically embraced the term as far back as the 1980s, as they feared the reaction of passengers if they were more overt about having gay get-togethers on their ships. It has become the standard code now, and unfortunately seems that it will stay entrenched. It does feel old fashioned, out dated and an unnecessary code in today’s world of gay partnerships and more open integration into society.

Do all cruise lines have “friends of Dorothy” meetings?

Most do, although cruisers report that Carnival, Princess and Norwegian tend to be less enthusiastic, and they are less likely to be held and publicised through their on-board channels. They are, though, a regular fixture on some more progressive and inclusive cruise lines, especially lines like Cunard which attracts a fairly significant proportion of gay passengers on their scheduled Transatlantic Crossings.

What happens at “friends of Dorothy” meetings?

Wild drug taking, excessive drinking, outrageous flirting and generally inappropriate camp behaviour? If that is what you are looking for then you probably should have gone on a different vacation! On mainstream cruise lines the events tend to be more sedate. And usually are reported to be sparsely attended.

This probably because there are more likely to be couples than singles on cruises, and so may be less concerned about making gay specific connections and friends. They are often held around about tea time, late afternoon, or around about dinner sitting times when the public lounges are quieter and less busy, enabling them to be held. But, by definition, this is also when the gay passengers who may want to attend are also busy.

Is there really a role for “friends of Dorothy” meetings today?

I am not convinced that there is a real role for meetings like friends of Dorothy any longer.

It harks back to an age when gay men and women needed to live a more ghetto lifestyle. Today, society – certainly that among many cruise passengers in my experience – take the fact that a couple is gay more as a fact than an issue. Surely it is better to mix on-board with people with the same interests and passions more generally, than just those based on sexuality?

There are some exceptions I think where they may still play a role:

•    If I was a solo traveller (either straight or gay) I would want to connect with other solo travellers, as there are many benefits to doing things with others than by yourself. It can be lonely doing everything by yourself when everyone else is travelling with other people. Meeting other solo travellers can mean shared experiences, arriving at events with someone and even reducing costs.
•    If there is some gay specific attraction, area or event in a port that you want to attend and want some company, a crowd for security or to share costs with.

What other options are there other than “friends of Dorothy” meetings to meet fellow gay cruisers?

There are other ways to connect with like minded people before the cruise, if you want to do that anyway. You can use forums like those on CruiseCritic.com where they have roll calls and gay sections to chat before a cruise, or even use sites like Meetmeonboard.com where gay people can join roll calls and discuss meeting up for social events, tours and excursions before a cruise.

Simply going to popular bars like the Crows Nest on many ships, or the Commodore Club on Cunard after dinner, and you will see if there are other gay couples there that you can meet and chat to.

Final word!

I can see why “Friends of Bill” (those on AA alcohol recovery programs – which are also held on-board) may want to attend a meeting as a part of their programs, as meetings are a key part of their recovery and commitment to staying dry. But being gay should not need the same structure. Should it?

I struggle to see the benefit and need for the Friends of Dorothy events. Something I suspect many others do as well, as having popped my head around the corner to see just how many people go to them, it is clear that usually they are not well attended. I think the time has come to be less ghetto and more mainstream. Time to stop being a friend of Dorothy, and time to just be friendly with anyone that interests you on-board?

Do you have a different view, experience or tips on the topic? Please add your thoughts to this discussion.

Related Links. Read more about cruising on Tips For Travellers:

16 Top Tips For First Time Cruisers

Transatlantic Crossing on the Queen Mary 2

What to expect when cruising in the Caribbean

Cruising the Caribbean Like an Expert: 6 Tips

The Ultimate Guide to Cruising the Norwegian Fjords

One thought on “Friends Of Dorothy Meetings On-Board Cruise Ships. What Are They?

  1. I was part of the group which created “Friends of Dorothy” meetings. Here is how it came about. I went solo on a cruise. I went to the dining room for a pre departure lunch, I was seated at a large table for 12, there were 4 other men at the table. shortly the table was filled with 12 men. The rest of the dining room was partly empty. It was odd and sort of amusing, the 12 of us eyeing each other until someone said. “All right, guys, who’s gay besides me? There was laughter as all the hands were raised. Don’t know why the waiter seated us all together but it turned out to be grand. One of the guys was reading the ships newsletter and asked “what’s a friends of Bill W meeting?” When he was told that is was code for AA he said. We should have a meeting and see how many other gays are onboard. Somebody else said “Yeah, instead of Friends of Bill we’ll call it Friends of Dorothy.” We all laughed about it until one guy said “I’m going to taolk to someone about it. The next day it was in the newsletter. We met in a bar in the afternoon and more than 50 guys showed up. For the rest of the cruise we took over one of the pools, and one of the bars at night. We even reserved one of the special restaurants one night. I made a lot of friends, some of who I am still in contact with, You’re right that the term is dated. And it is also true that most were couples, But it is a great way to meet fellow, like minded travelers quickly. Especially when you are traveling solo

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