On every ship I’ve ever sailed, there are always meeting announcements in the daily schedule for various groups, e.g. the Smith family reunion, bridge players, or continuing education courses. Over time, I noticed that there was a meeting announcement of “Friends of Bill W.” on every single sailing. Who is this “Bill W.”? How can he sail on every ship and have all these friends?

Bill W. Founder of AAWilliam “Bill W.” Wilson is the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) along with Dr. Bob Smith. One of the core tenets of AA is the anonymity of its members as a way of keeping principles ahead of personalities. AA members always introduce themselves with just their first name.

When AA members started approaching cruise directors about holding meetings during the sailing and publicizing it in the ship’s announcements, the cruise lines were hesitant. There was a fear that blatantly announcing an AA meeting might upset some of the guests. Consequently the euphemism “Friends of Bill W.” began to be used.

These insider announcements have since expanded to include “Friends of Jimmy K.” and “Friends of Dorothy.” The “Jimmy K.” refers to James Kinnon who founded Narcotics Anonymous in 1953. NA was patterned on Alcoholics Anonymous, including the same tenet of anonymity reflecting that no addict is above any other.

Friends of Dorothy was originally for gay men but now encompasses Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT). But who was Dorothy? That one has no clear answer. The phrase “friends of Dorothy” dates back to at least WWII as a way of discussing sexual orientation without outsiders knowing; especially as homosexuality was illegal and often persecuted. In Britain, the term was “friends of Mrs. King”, i.e. a “Queen”.

Cowardly LionOne popular explanation is that it refers to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was accepting of others who were “different” such as the Cowardly Lion who was forced to hide his real identity and live a lie. The Lion had a line in the movie declaring “We’re friends of Dorothy.”

Others claim it refers to Dorthy Parker, the well-known critic and humorist who often included gay men in her social circles.

What impresses me about these announcements is how creative cruise lines can be at accommodating the needs of every passenger.

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Filed Under: Ask the Cruise Dork


  1. Dorothy says:

    In my research I discovered that “Dorothy” IS in fact in reference to the Wizard of Oz character, but is directly referring to the actress Judy Garland herself. Not only is she a massive gay icon today, but in her life she was a gay rights advocate and supporter.

  2. Lilly says:

    The T is LGBT is for transgender. Please amend your article

  3. Lilly,
    Kind of pushy, which turns many neutral people off on your cause.
    Its small point in the article…

  4. Richard Beaman says:

    All these are fine and are “religiously” set up by the cruise lines to assist these groups. BUT why cant there be a friends of JC especially when the cruise is out on a Sunday.

  5. Simon says:

    Yes, but the author amended the reference, so society has no spine, or hope…. so next extinction here we come!

  6. Cal says:

    Bully is Lilly

  7. Tamsyn Michael says:

    Hey, Derek? How is politely correcting a mistake “pushy?” I’m going to go out on a limb and say that anyone “turned off” by that is probably already against us. Thanks for your “concern” though. 🙂

  8. Kam says:

    Tamsyn, I am not against people who are transgender but I feel Lilly was being pushy in the statement of “Please amend your article”. That seemed a little too pushy to me.
    Simon, I am quite sure the author correcting an error is his prerogative. I for one like that it was corrected I don’t like reading article with typos etc. that days later
    still haven’t been corrected. Pretty sure the only thing “extincted” here was a typing error.
    Richard, we Christians aren’t victims unless we allow ourselves to be victimized. I’m pretty sure if a Christian group wants to be noted as such on a cruise it could be worked out or pick a Christian cruise, various radio stations announce them at last once a year.

  9. Li M says:

    As a gay man, I agree with Derek. The focus of the article was discrete methods cruise lines and other public venues use to notify/ identify an anonymous group. To simply point out a mistake without any other comment or mention to the merit, context, subject or reality of the article, does seem slightly forward.

  10. Seric says:

    Why can’t anyone just be happy that information is being presented and not judge each other. Every comment other than the first one seems have a lot of unnecessary “acid”. Have a great day, be less sensitive, and THANK YOU Barry McConnell for posting this. CHEERS!

  11. […] members of Alcoholic Anonymous have long announced meetings aboard cruise ships as a meeting of “Friends of Bill W”. This refers to the founder of Alcoholic Anonymous, William “Bill” Willson. Similar to the […]

  12. akima tendo says:

    Here to all Friends of Dorothy from a humble little Japanese American (Male To Female) Girl: Nonviolence, avoiding aggression and Nonsinning, avoiding harm to others – all around! Buddha, Tao, Kami (Gods), and Megami (Goddesses) Bless to us all – and to our Friends! Star Trek’s “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”, “Live Long and Prosper”, and “Nome (All)” – and Star Wars’ “May the Force be with You, Always”. Truce on Terra and Balanced and Appropriate Will Toward All Living Things! Cheers!

  13. […] Most cruise ship lines offer daily meetings on board, usually listed on the schedule as Friends of Bill W.  And if you can’t make a meeting in person, the Alcoholics Anonymous Online Intergroup even […]

  14. Jeff says:

    I thought the name AA ought never to lend their name but does not oppose any group. So why are we hung up on the proper use of identities… each of us has a first name and that is all that is important…

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