Scroll To Top

#57 of Our Most Amazing HIV-Positive People of 2016: Paul Stalbaum

Poz cruise director Paul Stalbaum

This travel agent has changed many people's lives with his poz cruises.

Imagine you live in Saudi Arabia, you’re gay, and have found out you are HIV-positive. You live in fear and can’t be out about your sexuality or your status. Then you go on vacation and your whole life changes. You meet the love of your life, get married, and emmigrate to the U.S.  Even more than that, you learn that you are not alone, and you make life-long friendships and connections with other people like you. That's happened.

That newleywed owes it all to Paul Stalbaum, a travel agent who organizes the HIV Cruise Retreat (a.k.a. the Poz Cruise), an annual cruise for HIV-positive people. And he's not alone.

“The number of people who have met their partners on our cruise is actually too high to count,” Stalbaum says. “Without exaggeration, dozens of partnerships came to be by meeting on the cruise. I’m very proud to have played a small role in bringing them together.”


It's a different kind of love and acceptance that the poz cruisers get from Stalbaum's trips.

During the trip passengers are immersed in a completely HIV-positive world. Those who’ve gone on LGBT cruises know how empowering it can be to not only be out, but to suddenly be in the majority for the first time in their lives.

Johnathan Goldman — one of the people who nominated Stalbaum for this honor — describes fellow positive passengers as “men and women who have felt alone in their home towns being HIV-positive…Strangers at first, casual acquaintances next —  then by week's end, close friends who check in with each other throughout the year and sometimes visit, too.”

Originally from Philadelphia and now living in Ft. Lauderdale, Stalbaum has been organizing his HIV cruises for nearly 15 years. Stalbaum has also fostered camaraderie on dry land by founding Positive Attitudes, the peer-led support groups for long-term survivors in Philly and Ft. Lauderdale (the latter of which is in its 16th year).

“Yes, we were all HIV-positve,” recalls Stalbaum about Positive Attitudes. "But I felt it was vital that we try to focus on living life fully, happily, and in good health — particularly mentally. This was no easy task back in the late '80s and '90s.”

During those early years of the epidemic, Stalbaum says he “lost many boyfriends and friends within a short time of their diagnosis. I was sure I'd never live past 40.”

Now 66, Stalbaum has been HIV-postive for 30 years, and "represents everything that is inspiring and resilient about long-term survivors,” says Mark S. King, who writes the blog My Fabulous Disease, and also volunteer emcees the cruise. “He was leading support groups for people with AIDS decades ago, saw a lot of dark times, and then through the years has evolved along with the epidemic, so that today he celebrates the joy of being truly alive in this world.”

Stalbaum says that when he was first diagnosed he was in a relationship "with a very supportive and spiritual guy. Despite having to deal with the anger and denial that comes when first diagnosed, he was there for me step by step.”

Now single (“Unfortunately, Ryan Gosling is already taken," Stalbaum jokes), Stalbaum isn't without family. "I have four amazing great nephews and nieces who light me up every time I am with them.”

Stalbaum’s initial positive cruise was booked for a group of straight Miami travelers living with HIV. But he soon expanded it, welcoming first gay men, then lesbians, families, friends, and allies.

“The first year I took the cruise I figured he was a travel agent who had found a niche audience,” admits King, who now regularly volunteers to emcee and pays his own way on board. “I don't know of another event quite like the HIV Cruise Retreat. I'm proud to be one of [the] volunteer hosts, because the instant community it builds among us — including a lot of people who have never been in the company of so many other people with HIV before — is truly a sight to behold. It recharges my batteries.”

The cruise started with 75 people mostly from Florida and the East Coast, but Stalbaum says, “recent cruises are about 300 people” who represent nearly every state in the union as well as several nations (including the lucky groom from Saudi Arabia).

“Thousands have joined us over the decades,” Goldman says. “And Paul has often helped change their lives for better…He is so successful in creating a 'new family' that when queried in focus groups, cruisers state they don't care where the ship is going, they just want to plan to be aboard.”

Stalbaum has been changed, too.

“When I look around at the people on our cruise,” Stalbaum says. “I see a group of powerful people who have taken control of their wellbeing and refused to be the victim. The vast majority have an amazing zest for life.”

Goldman adds that Stalbaum, “quietly offers scholarships for those in financial difficulties and has donated part of his proceeds to charities each year.”

Selling travel may be Stalbaum’s source of income, but he says, when it comes to the Poz Cruise, “each year I select various HIV organizations to make donations as part of my way to give back to the community.”

He estimates that over the years he’s donated “easily over $50,000” and that doesn’t count the scholarships he offers to those who couldn’t otherwise afford to "join in on the amazing camaraderie in this group.”

“Paul will kill me for saying this,” King admits, “but his profit is zilch on this event because he won't stop buying door prizes or helping a few folks out with their expenses every year. He's our captain and our hero. I love him to pieces."


Wanna Go?

The 12th annual Poz Cruise debarts October 29 for Grand Turk; La Romana Dominican Republic; and the Dutch islands of Aruba and Curacao. Learn more at

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Jacob Anderson-Minshall