|Judy Dlugacz founded Olivia Records in 1971, which evolved into Olivia Travel. The photo (right) is from the first cruise in 1989.
By Kirsten Kruse
Mention Olivia to a lesbian and evoke smiles, excitement, and fond memories of luxurious cruises with complete freedom to be out among hundreds of other women. Add destinations like the Caribbean, the Greek Isles, and the Galapagos Islands and famous entertainers like Kate Clinton, Marga Gomez, Julie Wolf, and Blair Hansen, and you have the perfect vacation mix.
For its 40th anniversary, Olivia is organizing the largest lesbian cruise ever on Holland America‚Äôs newest 2,100 passenger ship. The ship will depart Fort Lauderdale, FL, on January 27 and February 3, and will visit ports in the Caribbean, including the Bahamas, Aruba and Curacao. This cruise has the biggest line-up of entertainers ever: singers Cris Williamson and Meg Christian, comedians Kate Clinton, Vickie Shaw, Karen Williams, Michele Balan, Julie Goldman, Dana Goldberg, Gina Yashere, Mimi Gonzalez and Marga Gomez, musicians Suede, Sweet Baby J'ai, Dianne Davidson, Barbara Higbie, Teresa Trull, Zoe Lewis and Julie Wolf, and entertainers Lisa Koch, Roxana Ward, Elvira Kurt and C.C. Carter.
Judy Dlugacz, President, and one of the original founders, says the anniversary celebrates the women who created the ‚Äúlargest, most successful lesbian company that exists in the world.‚ÄĚ That‚Äôs why the anniversary cruise features entertainers going back to the beginning ‚Äď like Cris Williamson and Meg Christian‚Äôs 30-year reunion. Typical of any Olivia trip, guests who range in age from their 20‚Äôs to their 80‚Äôs, are of any ethnicity, single or couples, have a variety of interests. Tisha Floratos, Vice President of Travel and Cruise Director, said Olivia creates an inclusive experience by choosing entertainment, DJ‚Äôs, and activities to appeal to all ages and ethnicities. The company books an entire resort or ship, creating an almost exclusively female environment. Because Olivia‚Äôs history reflects lesbian history, a video-booth on this cruise will document how the company has touched lesbian‚Äôs lives.
‚ÄúOnce you step aboard the ship, you know you are among friends and family, and it‚Äôs just natural to talk to anyone,‚ÄĚ said Tisha Floratos. Solo travelers make up 15-20% of guests. Olivia offers them special programs such as dances and seating with other solos at meals. ‚ÄúSisters at Sea‚ÄĚ is a program for women of color. Tisha Floratos added ‚ÄúOlivia is about creating life-long friendships.‚ÄĚ
Olivia has enjoyed tremendous success. The ship booked for the 30th anniversary had 12,500 spots, sold out, and a second trip was added. The first ship for the 40th anniversary has 21,000 spots, is close to being sold out, and a second cruise has been added already. The company organizes 12 ‚Äď 13 cruises and two resort vacations catering to younger and single women per year. Cruises are expensive, but similar vacations‚Äô costs for rooms, food, entertainment, gratuities, and activities, are actually slightly higher, and the value of a women-only environment is priceless to many lesbians.
Olivia is known for travel, but it started out as a record company. In 1973, Judy Dlugacz, and nine other women, members of the Radicalesbians and the separatist The Furies collectives, founded Olivia Records in D.C. They wanted to spread the word about lesbianism, because they honestly felt that if women only knew, they would choose to be lesbians themselves. They believed if feminism was the theory, lesbianism was the practice. Not knowing how to implement this dream, in the meantime, one of the women, Meg Christian, promoted small, local women‚Äôs concerts. Her friend, singer Cris Williamson, suggested they start a women‚Äôs recording company because she was looking for a new label outside the male dominated recording industry. The day after Cris‚Äô suggestion, Olivia Records was born.
Olivia‚Äôs first recording was a 45 by Meg and Cris, which made enough money to produce Meg‚Äôs first record in 1974, and in 1975, Cris‚Äô ground-breaking album The Changer and the Changed. In two years, Olivia grew from barely having funds to produce one 45 to selling 80,000 records. Attendance at concerts increased from 50 to 2,000. Olivia Records, then consisting of Judy Dlugacz, Meg Christian, and only three of the original ten founders, moved to Los Angeles, and in 1978, to Oakland. The company grew through a grass-roots movement at women‚Äôs concerts as the women who travelled to the shows bought recordings, and then became independent distributors, taking the records back to their hometowns and selling them at local record stores. ‚ÄúWe had a ‚Äėwe can do anything‚Äô attitude‚Äô,‚ÄĚ said Judy Dlugacz. ‚ÄúIt was a tremendous collective subconscious that was being stirred.‚ÄĚ Olivia eventually produced 40 records in the singer/songwriter, jazz, fusion and R&B genres.
Olivia‚Äôs 10th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall attracted women from all over the country and sold out. A second concert was added immediately following the first. Although this concert was Carnegie‚Äôs largest grossing event at that time, the New York Times printed no more than 1-1/2‚ÄĚ about it - same-sex relationships were taboo in 1984.
Olivia Records became Olivia Travel in 1989, when a woman at the 15th anniversary concert at Carnegie suggested ‚Äúa concert on the water.‚ÄĚ Dlugacz was ready to take Olivia into a new direction. She developed the idea into the first cruise. Six hundred women signed up for it in 3 months, and by 1990, the company quadrupled its gross income.
If you have the chance, celebrate Olivia‚Äôs anniversary by going a cruise. We salute the company, the history it has created, and the women it has empowered for 40 years.