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It's Hard Not to Feel Free with Olivia Travel

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I used to go to an all-girls summer camp when I was a kid. I loved it. No boys other than at the camp socials. So we could be our silly, unfettered selves, playing and laughing like the little girls we used to be and sometimes still wished we were.

Camp Louise offered a million activities, crafts and sports and shows and swimming and dances. I could never seem to fit it all in. But I loved trying. I loved the long days and the late nights. But more than anything, I loved the camaraderie, the friendship, the all-for-one-and-one-for-all stuff that didn't seem to exist anywhere else in the world.

It wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered it does still exist. And, interestingly, it was created by a woman who was after the same thing I was: a place where one could "feel free." Judy Dlugacz started Olivia Records 30 years ago so that women would have a place to feel free to record and produce their music.

In 1990, she started Olivia Travel so that women could feel free to be themselves when they traveled and not have to hide who they loved and how they lived. It started out with one cruise. Now it's year after year of cruises and resorts and exotic trips to places like the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, Africa, and Tahiti.

I recently returned from the Olivia Western Caribbean Cruise, aboard Holland America's ms Ryndam, that began in Tampa, Fla. and then traveled to Cozumel, Mexico; Roatán, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Costa Maya, Mexico. Each port meant a new adventure. We snorkeled in Cozumel and on Roatán and went ziplining in the rain forest in Costa Maya.

Those excursions were amazing: a beautiful sail on the Fury Catamaran to our snorkeling destination and then to a private beach in Mexico; a journey to Upachaya, an eco-resort on Roatán that offers a multi-stop snorkeling tour; and a trek through the treetops at a very nice clip in Costa Maya at BioMaya.

But as much as I loved those outings, what I loved even more was the community of Olivia. Don't get me wrong. I love men. And my day-to-day life is full of wonderful men. And I don't need my life to be 100-percent LGBT all of the time either. Variety is the spice of life and all of that.

And yet it was -- OK, I'm going to say it -- downright magical to be aboard that ship with all those women, nearly 100-percent of whom were lesbians (not a requirement, by the way). There was an incredible level of respect and understanding for the lives we lead and the struggles we face and the battles we have won.

There's no question about whether or not it's safe to kiss your partner or hold hands. No one assumes you're traveling with your sister. (OK, there was that one guy in the restaurant in Cozumel. But he was perfectly polite about it.) And asking for one king-sized bed in your cabin raises neither eyebrows nor ire. It was lovely, really.

And then, just like summer camp, as well, the days and nights were packed with activities and shows. You can play bingo or learn to two-step. You can sing karaoke or try your hand at bridge. You can enter the morning trivia contest in the library. (My girlfriend won three times!) Or you can partake in the pool games, gamble in the casino, lounge in the sun (or shade), shop, and even learn to make those towel animals that the stewards always leave for you in the cabin at night.

Of course, you can also just read or play Scrabble, or, heck, you can sleep in and order room service all week and only come out to play at night. And there is plenty to do at night, with shows ranging from comedy with Kate Clinton, Julie Goldman, Vickie Shaw, and Gina Yashere to The Oldyweds Newlyweds Game Show to Olivia Idol. And then, of course, there's dancing till the crack of dawn at Club O.

The food is great. The drinks are fruity. And even when the weather isn't so great, no one seems to really care, because, once again, it's all about being at sea with a bunch of like-minded folks whom you've never met but who would go out of their way to help you in any way. How's that for a nice way to live, even if only for a week?

There's also some good work being done. Massive amounts of donations for the Roatán Children's Fund were collected, and some big bucks were also rounded up to help with Obama's reelection campaign. The women onboard were some of the smartest, most interesting people I've ever met. Olivia draws a top-notch crowd. Women from all over the world come together to take these trips. This cruise had a major Aussie contingent and lots of women from Canada, as well.

One of the other things that really impresses me about Olivia is their Solos program. It takes a brave person to go on a cruise alone, and Olivia does an amazing job of setting up mixers and reserving tables at meals and orchestrating excursions. Will you meet the love of your life? Who knows. But I do know that every Solo I met made a ton of friends and had a great time.

Next year's a big one for Olivia, their 40th anniversary. They're celebrating with two Caribbean cruises, each loaded with famous entertainers, including musicians from the early days of Olivia Records, as well as the performers from this cruise and a number of other well-known musicians and comedians. I have no idea how they'll pack it all into one week. But I have no doubt that they'll do it.

I cried every year when my parents came to pick me up from Camp Louise. And I cried as we disembarked the ship. It isn't that I want to run away from the real world forever. It's just that I wish the real world would take a few notes from Olivia. It would be nice if every day, every person, no matter their race or sexual orientation, no matter the size of their paycheck or the size of their body, could, well, feel free.