'Mean Girls' Star Jonathan Bennett Talks LGBTQ+ Cruise Co. He Founded with His Husband-to-Be

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday September 12, 2021
Originally published on September 3, 2021

Jaymes Vaughan and Jonathan Bennett
Jaymes Vaughan and Jonathan Bennett  (Source:Jonathan Bennett/Instagram)

"Mean Girls" star and "Cake Wars" host Jonathan Bennett, and his fiancé, fellow actor and television presenter Jaymes Vaughan, appeared on the Travel & Leisure podcast Let's Go Together to talk about their new gay cruise company, OUTbound.

"What we did was we looked at gay travel and things that we liked about it and things we didn't like about it," Bennett recounted. "And we said, 'OK, let's take all the things that we're not huge fans of and change them and create the experience that we want.' "

OUTbound, doesn't lack for choice: Upcoming adventures feature a "Greek Isles Cruise" (Nov. 1 - 7 of this year), a "Mekong River Cruise" (April 21 -May 1, 2022), a "Lisbon Pride & Douro River Cruise" (slated for June 17-26, 2022), a "Berlin Pride to Amsterdam Pride Cruise" (July 25-Aug. 5, 2022), and an "Adriatic Sea Cruise" (Sept. 4-11, 2022).

"What we love is the idea of an intimate, more family-based experience," Bennett said, "because we are all members of the LGBTQ+ community and we want our experience to feel like you're a family and a community at sea."

"How cool is it, now that the world is opening back up," Vaughan enthused, "and these opportunities to travel are now presenting themselves?"

Vaughan, who is also known for having competed on travel adventure reality series "The Amazing Race" in 2012, detailed his philosophy of travel, saying that when a person is in a place where the language and customs are unknown — and where they are clearly not like everyone else — "it really teaches you a lot about yourself, and it also teaches you how to be better to other people."

Added Vaughn: "When someone has only been the majority, you can tell. They behave differently."

Vaughan's cruise trip expertise has a sterling pedigree: Just under three years ago, he joined VACAYA as cruise director for the company's Inaugural Provincetown Cruise, as EDGE reported at the time.

Similar to VACAYA's modus operandi of chartering a ship or booking a whole resort for the exclusive use of its LGBTQ+ guests, "Each OUTbound adventure completely takes over the entire ship, resort or riverboat," text at the company's site explains, "transforming it into our own unique and exciting LGBTQ+ adventure."

The LGBTQ community is known for its interest in travel, and the hunger to get out in to the world has only grown over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic with its resulting lockdowns and travel restrictions. Though the global health crisis is still unfolding, there's a strong sense of optimism about the travel industry's resurgence.

Along with that hunger for travel there's a longing for community — a core value that Kelli Carpenter, the co-founder of R Family Vacations, extolled to EDGE Travel Editor Matthew Wexler on a recent episode of On the EDGE.

"In the beginning we were looking for a safe space for LGBTQ families," Carpenter reflected, going on to say that even as the LGBTQ+ community has made significant gains since she cofounded R Family Vacations in 2003, it's still the case that "people are looking for a sense of community, like-minded people, a culture that feels conducive to their families."

VACAYA CEO Randle Roper recalled in the same episode that when VACAYA introduced an Antarctica cruise, the voyage quickly sold out despite not centering around a more usual LGBTQ+ travel destination — and despite a high price point, since Antarctic travel is inherently expensive. The response "let us know that, okay, things are different now," Roper told EDGE. "People are ready to go."

OUTbound is eager to help soothe the itch for those who've been bitten by the travel bug. But, as Bennett noted, "when you're two gay men starting a travel company for the LGBTQ+ community, you're already in the thick of it" — so is there room for another LGBTQ+-focused travel company in a crowded market?

The market itself seems to indicate that there is. Even as COVID put a damper on travel to many familiar destinations, "LGBTQ+ people... went to smaller places, to outdoors and adventure locations, which introduced them to be a whole new group of destinations," Business Insider quoted David Paisley "of CMI, an LGBTQ+-focused consumer-research firm," as saying.

And while some of the world's nations have become less friendly toward sexual and gender minorities, hotels and resorts have increased their sensitivity and inclusivity in order to provide a warm welcome to LGBTQ+ travelers, and are making use of companies like Queer Destinations, a firm that offers training specific to ensuring that guests from across the rainbow spectrum experience genuine hospitality.

To hear Bennett and Vaughan on "Let's Go Together," follow this link.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.