In a historic ceremony hosted on board Celebrity Equinox, Francisco Vargas and Benjamin Gray became the first same-sex couple ever to be legally married at sea on a major cruise line.
The grooms were joined by their immediate family for an intimate ceremony officiated by Captain Dimitrios Manetas. They exchanged vows against the signature backdrop of the rose wall in Blu Restaurant, the location befitting the most memorable of moments.
“Words cannot express how proud I am to congratulate Francisco and Benjamin at this truly historic moment, both for them and for Celebrity. It’s a true privilege to know that the ceremony performed onboard Celebrity Equinox has made history as the first legal same-sex marriage at sea,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO, Celebrity Cruises. “Together we are paving the way for couples around the world to know that their love and commitment is to be celebrated equally, and that everyone is welcome on board a Celebrity cruise.”
“There are only so many firsts in life, and we are thrilled to be the first-ever LGBTQ+ couple to marry at sea,” said Gray. “We are humbled to follow the trailblazers in the LGBTQ+ community who paved the way for us.”
As first announced in October 2017, the motion follows a transformative vote in Malta, where a majority of the Celebrity fleet is registered, which passed the country’s parliament 66-1. The long-awaited referendum opened the door for Celebrity to legally recognize same-sex marriages performed onboard while at sea, and have the fleet’s captains officiate the ceremonies.
Vargas, who works for one of Celebrity’s top Travel Partners, Cruise Planners, said: “Traveling is in my blood – and when we heard Celebrity Cruises was celebrating equality and embracing our community, we wanted to be a part of it. We are grateful for the outpouring of support from our Cruise Planners family and hope our story brings strength for others in the LGBTQ+ community to confidently love whoever they choose.”
The Celebrity Wedding Cruise program offers onboard ceremonies and destination weddings for lovebirds. The Nautical Nuptials at Sea package includes a Captain-led ceremony, an event coordinator’s services, live music, one hour of photography, cake for two, a bottle of champagne, plus additional romantic turndown amenities post-ceremony, and more.
The mission of the Gay Travel Awards is to recognize and promote select LGBTQ welcoming properties, events, destinations and travel-related companies around the globe. These distinguished organizations lead by example and help to inspire other companies and brands around the world to follow their spirit of inclusiveness and acceptance.
This year, the 23 winners were selected from over 100 nominees. The Gay Travel Awards support and promote LGBTQ travel and tourism by identifying and rewarding select organizations which exemplify a spirit of inclusiveness, acceptance, exemplary customer service and hospitality excellence.
Stephen Prisco, Vice President, GayTravel.com
“The Gay Travel Awards support and promote LGBTQ travel and tourism by identifying and rewarding select organizations which exemplify a spirit of inclusiveness, acceptance, exemplary customer service and hospitality excellence,” said Stephen Prisco, Vice President of this year’s sponsor, GayTravel.com.
A complete list of this year’s categories and winners are listed alphabetically below:
Bed & Breakfast of the Year – Worthington Guesthouse – Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Car Rental – Advantage Rent A Car
Casino Resort – Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, FL
Destination Domestic – Orlando, FL
Destination International – Vienna
Fan Favorite Hotel – Nikki Beach Resort Koh Samui
Gay Bar of the Year – Palace Bar – Miami Beach, FL
Gay Pride of the Year – New York City
Hotel Collection of the Year – Starwood Hawaii
Hotel Luxury, Europe – St. James’ Court, London
Hotel Luxury, Mexico – The St. Regis Mexico City
Hotel Luxury, US – Rancho Valencia – Rancho Santa Fe, CA
Hotel, Wedding Resort – Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island
LGBT Cruise Operator – Atlantis
LGBT Tour Operator – Toto Tours
LGBT Travel Agency – Cruising with Pride
Ocean Cruise Line – Royal Caribbean International
Romantic Hotel or Resort – Castlehotel Schönburg
Spa of the Year – Meadowood Napa Valley
Summer Event – Gay Wine Weekend
Travel App – Hopper
Value Hotel – Doubletree by Hilton Orlando Downtown
Winter Event – Whistler Pride
GayTravel connects the LGBTQ community with gay-friendly destinations, hotels, cruises, tours, events, entertainment, attractions, clubs and restaurants throughout the world. Their mission is to provide the community with safe, welcoming and unique recommendations to ensure that every vacation is both pleasurable and memorable.
KEY WEST, Fla. — The Key West Business Guild and its LGBT Visitor Center have relocated to a new, larger location. The guild, acclaimed as one of America’s leading gay business associations and among the oldest in the nation, and its visitor center are now located at 808 Duval St.
The new location is within Key West’s “Pink Triangle,” which includes a cluster of LGBT bars, entertainment clubs and stores around the 700 and 800 blocks of the iconic Duval. The area also is home to four permanent rainbow crosswalks that the city installed in May 2015.
The guild opened its doors in 1978 to support the LGBT community and promote tourism to the all-welcoming subtropical island of Key West. Today the organization and its visitor center provide important services to the destination’s LGBT visitors and their allies.
The island welcomes an estimated 225,000 LGBT visitors each year.
“We estimate 20 percent or more of Key West’s annual visitors self-identify as LGBT, and we are proud to assist thousands of travelers each year,” said the guild’s executive director, Matt Hon.
Services provided by staff members at the visitor center include recommendations for accommodations, dining, entertainment and attractions. The center also offers a wide selection of brochures, an LGBT map of the island and information about special offers and ways to maximize the Key West vacation experience.
The guild office and center are open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for walk-ins. Visitors also can call the guild for assistance at 305-294-4603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Florida Keys have reopened to visitors, exactly three weeks after Hurricane Irma impacted the island chain Sept. 10.
Local officials chose Sunday, Oct. 1, as the official reopening date based on the speedy completion of significant infrastructure repairs, almost total restoration of utilities, and necessity of resuming the tourism-driven economy that employs about 50 percent of the Keys workforce.
“By welcoming visitors to the destination, it will provide the jobs and the hope that our residents are looking for so they can begin to rebuild their lives,” said Stacey Mitchell, director of marketing for the Florida Keys tourism council.
While Key Largo and Key West were least affected by Irma, a number of lodging properties and other tourism facilities in the Keys haven’t yet resumed normal operations. Recovery efforts are ongoing, especially in the Lower Keys and parts of Marathon that were hardest hit by the storm.
“It’s been a road of recovery and continues to be so, but we’ve made enough progress where the infrastructure is ready to accept visitors,” said Mitchell. “By the visitor coming down, they’re helping in the recovery and being part of that process.”
Visitors will find the Key West and Marathon airports open as usual, and the Port of Key West hosting cruise ships again. The Florida Keys Overseas Highway has passed inspection and is easily drivable throughout the 125-mile island chain.
Even Key West’s Southernmost Point marker, an iconic photo stop that designates the continental United States’ southernmost land mass, is being repainted after damage from Irma.
A number of Keys special events scheduled for mid to late October — including Key West’s Fantasy Fest, Marathon’s Stone Crab Eating Contest and Key Largo’s Humphrey Bogart Film Festival — are to take place as planned, according to organizers.
Robust zinfandels. Floral chardonnays. Crowd-pleasing pinot noirs. Sonoma County is known for its many varietals and the oenophiles who flock there to sip and swill. More than double the size of its more popular neighbor, Napa, Sonoma is a sprawling, diverse locale that offers much more than what’s under the cork. From 300-foot tall trees to manicured tea gardens to farm-to-table dining, it’s easy to fall under its spell.
1) 3 P.M. Go Fish
Start what will inevitably be a decadent weekend with Sonoma’s purer draws: the spectacular landscape and outdoor activities. Lake Sonoma, formed in 1983 by the construction of a 319-foot-high, 3,000-foot-long dam, offers a surface area of more than 2,700 acres for swimming, boating and fishing. Rent a modest aluminum rowboat or double-decker patio boat ($45 to $110 for one hour) at the Lake Sonoma Marina and angle for rainbow trout, black bass and redear sunfish, all of which are plentiful in the lake. For land-loving mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders, there are 40 miles of trails through grassy slopes, rugged hills and mixed forests. And if archery is your game, bring your bow and arrows — there’s also a 14-target archery range.
2) 5 P.M. Plaza Shopping
Just southeast of the lake, the landscape is considerably different but no less inspiring. Healdsburg, a well-heeled town anchored by a central square that is surrounded by restaurants, shops, art galleries and, of course, wine stores and tasting bars, is the perfect place to transition into evening. Start at Shed, a cavernous culinary market and cafe devoted to local farming culture that features everything from butter churns and herb shears to umami salt and kombucha on tap. At Lime Stone, Lisa Palmer, the wife of the well-known chef Charlie Palmer, stocks the housewares store with cheeky-chic items: Sonoma wine label decoupage platters, shatterproof wine glasses and serving trays plastered with words to live by: “There’s always time for a glass of wine.”
The king salmon, with fried green tomatoes and caviar crème fraîche, at Barndiva. Credit Drew Kelly for The New York Times
3) 6:30 P.M. Cocktail Kickoff
Wine country is not immune to the cocktail craze that has swept the country, as evidenced at Healdsburg’s Bravas Bar de Tapas, a lively Spanish restaurant that opened five years ago and remains a local favorite. The fenced-in patio, strewn with fairy lights, has a small bar tucked under an overhang and a cocktail menu where gin plays the starring role. Try the Primavera, a gin and tonic made with locally distilled D. George Benham’s gin, fennel fronds, lemon and cucumber bitters, or the Levante, a gin cocktail accented with orange, saffron and cardamom ($11 each).
4) 8 P.M. Dine With The Locals
On the other side of the town square is another residents’ favorite: Barndiva. The large barnlike structure, designed and built from the ground up by the owners, Jil and Geoffrey Hales, offers an urbane country-meets-industrial chic interior filled with art and antiques, as well as a picturesque patio beneath arching mulberry trees. Ryan Fancher helms the kitchen, marrying French technique with California ingredients, many coming from the Barndiva Farm in Philo, to deliver crowd-pleasing dishes like goat cheese croquettes drizzled with wild lavender honey, duck leg confit with gnocchi and caramelized endive, and local petrale sole with lobster risotto and pickled fennel. Dinner for two with wine is about $120.
5) 9:30 A.M. Go West
Wend your way west on Route 116, through light-barring redwoods, past glowing green dairy farms and alongside the placid Russian River. Don’t blink as you near the Pacific or you might miss Duncans Mills (population: 175) and Gold Coast Coffee & Bakery. Inside the single-story strip mall storefront, you’ll have to wait your turn at the self-serve cabinet filled with turkey pesto croissants, blueberry lemon scones and generously frosted cinnamon rolls. Of all the tempting pastries, don’t miss the gigantic butterhorn ($4), which is made with swirls of cinnamon-saturated dough and topped with crumbled sugar bits. Pair it with the Rocket Dog ($3), a bracing mix of espresso and coffee.
6) 11 A.M. Ocean Views
Goat Rock Beach, located in Jenner just past Duncans Mills, is part of the Sonoma Coast State Park’s rugged expanse. Park at the top and hike the narrow path through the grassy bluffs and listen to the ocean roar, or drive down to the expansive sandy stretch of beach that sits at the mouth of the Russian River. While the currents make it too treacherous for swimming, it’s the perfect place for beachcombing, contemplating the grandeur of the jagged headlands and flat-topped rock formations, and potentially spotting wildlife — migrating whales are often seen from December to April, while a local colony of Pacific Harbor seals and their pups can be spotted from late spring through summer.
7) 2 P.M. Pick Up A Picnic
Established in 1881, the Dry Creek General Store is a historic landmark but has all the modern fixings for a picnic lunch. Go up the creaky front porch, through the swinging doors, and head to the deli counter, where an array of snackable goodies — deviled eggs! peppered beef jerky! — are the accompaniments you didn’t know you needed to go with your pressed turkey sandwich topped with homemade cranberry sauce and slaw ($12.95) or prosciutto tucked into a crunchy baguette ($7.95). As you wait for your sandwiches, do some time-traveling: The bar tucked in the rear has antiquated suitcases, cowboy boots, water jugs and other relics from yesteryears suspended from the ceiling.
A wine tasting in the gardens at Quivira. Credit Drew Kelly for The New York Times
8) 3 P.M. Time to Taste
Of course you can’t visit Sonoma without sampling some wines. With over 400 wineries across 17 appellations, it’s best to focus on one or two regions and maximize your tasting journey. If you fancy zinfandels, sip in Dry Creek Valley. Quivira offers biodynamic gardens and electric car-charging stations outside — this is California, after all — and flights of elegant Rhone varietals inside its cool-as-clay tasting room, while Truett Hurst bustles with lolling couples, groups of friends and multigenerational families picnicking and sipping the bright, fruity zinfandels on the terrace’s comfortable couches and cherry-red Adirondack chairs. Just southwest, the Russian River and Green Valleys are forested, lower in elevation and cool — ideal conditions for pinot noir and chardonnay. The tasting room at Iron Horse Vineyards happens to be an outdoor bar made of reclaimed redwood planks and oak barrels. Take in the views of the undulating hills stitched with rows of grapevines and Mount St. Helena’s double peaks in the distance as you sample the silky Estate Pinot.
9) 7 P.M. Farmhouse Dining
Despite being one of the most refined dining spots in Sonoma, the Michelin-starred restaurant at Farmhouse Inn in Forestville manages to keep a comfortable, cool vibe. Located in a restored 1873 farmhouse, the soothing neutral shades in the dining room are given added character by the raw wood chandeliers and quirky mural that depicts scenes from the family albums of the siblings and owners, Joe and Catherine Bartolomei. The tasting menu ($99 for three courses, $115 for four) teems with local ingredients such as the ricotta from Bellwether Farms, an artisan creamery in Petaluma, that fills the delicate rainbow chard raviolis; fresh asparagus from Salinas; and hon shimeji mushrooms from Sebastopol that artfully encircle a filet of Alaskan halibut. Whether you opt for a modest half glass or splurge on the wine pairing ($74 and $84 for the three and four courses, respectively), wine service, led by Jennifer Jespersen, is as wonderfully unsnobbish as you can get.
10) 10 A.M. Heaven
Not many original redwood groves survived the West Coast’s 19th-century logging boom, but one of them, happily, is in Sonoma. Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, in the backyard of the thriving foodie scene along Guerneville’s Main Street, is a magical 805-acre oasis of old growth trees. Pick up the 1.7-mile Pioneer Nature Trail just inside the park entrance and meander past the tallest specimen in the grove (the Parson Jones Tree, at more than 310 feet) as well as the oldest (the Colonel Armstrong Tree, estimated to be over 1,400 years old). Educational placards along the flat, well-marked path relay biological and historic facts on the remarkable natural spectacle.
11) 12 P.M. Brunch Alfresco
After the cool, enveloping silence of the redwoods, the sunny energy at Canneti Roadhouse Italiana will be welcome. Created in the spirit of a Tuscan trattoria, the restaurant’s interior is painted a neutral Mediterranean palette, and a garden patio sits draped in wisteria. Have another glass of wine — perhaps a crisp pinot gris from the local Moshin Vineyards — with the creamy scrambled eggs with endive, served in a bowl of toasted brioche and saffron hollandaise sauce, or go for the gusto with pennette carbonara. Brunch for two with wine, about $70.
12) 2:30 P.M. Detox
Because it’s been so exhausting, finish your weekend at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in the historic village of Freestone. The grounds have been magnificently landscaped to include a Japanese meditation and tea garden, pagodas and hammocks, but the real reason to visit is for the Cedar Enzyme Bath ($109). A ritual in Japan, these baths are warm from the natural fermentation of finely ground evergreens and rice bran. The 20 minutes you spend immersed — with visits from an attendant who offers sips of water and cold compresses — are said to draw out impurities, relax joints and muscles and activate your metabolism. Finish with a shower and meditative lie-down in the spa.
With its 60-foot outdoor pool and Jacuzzi and in-house Charlie Palmer restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen, the 56-room (including six suites) Hotel Healdsburg has been a hot spot since opening in 2001. Located on the main square in Healdsburg, it’s perfectly situated for eating, drinking and exploring. Rooms in peak season start at $549.
For a more eclectic experience, check in at Boon in Guerneville. Tucked between Main Street and the redwoods, the 12 rooms and two suites (rates start at $225 on weekdays) are minimally appointed, but cozy, featuring organic linens, platform beds and custom reclaimed redwood furniture.
When you think of a gay vacation in Illinois you immediately think of Chicago, which has an incredibly vibrant community and a city that embraces it. But, if you need a little R&R and want to get out of the big city, head about three hours from Chicago to the quaint historic town of Galena in Northwest Illinois about a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River.
Gay-friendly Galena is perfect for a romantic getaway where you can get lost in each other as you meander down Main Street by well-preserved buildings — some dating back to the Civil War. Here you can enjoy microbrews and locally made spirits, go antiquing, play a few rounds of golf, hit the slopes in winter and so much more to bring you and your significant other closer together.
When you get hungry or need a drink …
One Eleven Main – Romance is in the air at One Eleven Main, one of the more upscale yet very approachable Galena restaurants. With a farm-to-table menu featuring locally sourced ingredients from farmers, artisans and purveyors, the delicious options include poutine with homemade fries and cheese curds; almond-encrusted walleye with seasonal veggies and sour-cream mashed potatoes; and braised pork cavatappi pasta with bacon, spinach and onions. And many of the cocktails, beer and wine all come from places in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Otto’s Place – With the look and feel of an old country inn set inside a classic red building dating back to 1899 adjacent to the circa 1857 Train Depot, Otto’s is a great spot for breakfast and lunch. Come for butternut squash, kale and smoked gouda frittata; bread pudding French toast; and corned beef hash — and of course a Bloody Mary with homemade mix.
Fried Green Tomatoes – With a name like Fried Green Tomatoes, you’d think it’d be a country diner, but this Italian-inspired restaurant set inside a building once owned by Ulysses S. Grant’s father, offers hearty steaks, great seafood and a Wine Spectator-recognized wine list.
Little Tokyo – Yes, it may seem a little strange to get sushi in Northwest Illinois, but Little Tokyo has super-fresh fish for their sushi and sashimi. And they have other Japanese dishes like teriyaki chicken, shrimp tempura and a range of hibachi dinners including filet mignon, lobster tail and scallops.
Galena Brewing Company – When you want award-winning beers like IPA, hefeweizen and amber ale — all handcrafted on site — to go along with baked chicken wings; hefe lime nachos; and slow-roasted hand-pulled pork while listening to live music, you definitely want to be here.
Get active in Galena
Galena Wine Cellars Tour – What’s better than seeing a gorgeous country vineyard up close? Getting to taste through a bunch of their delicious wines! Take an approximately hour-long tour that first covers the history of the winery before you visit the vineyard to see the 22 grape varietals they grow. You’ll then tour the cellars before returning to the tasting room to get six half-ounce wine pours chosen from the 40 wines they make on site. Public tours cost $10 per person with an additional $7.50 admission fee.
Breakfast Diva Cooking Class at Farmers Guest House – You don’t have to book a room at Farmer’s Guest House to take advantage of the cooking prowess of Susan Steffan, a.k.a. the Breakfast Diva. The 90-minute classes cost $35 and Steffan will teach you how to make a multi-course meal with dishes like chicken piccata, barbecue ribs or some of her renowned breakfast desserts.
Blaum Brothers Distilling Co. Tour – Blaum Brothers is growing acclaim within the craft spirits world with its bourbon, gin, moonshine and other spirits and you can see how everything is made. The $10, 45-minute tours take place daily and you’ll learn about the entire process and end with a guided tasting.
Chestnut Mountain – Whether you want to check out the Alpine slide or go zip lining in summer or hit the slopes to ski or snowboard in winter, this year-round resort offers plenty of things to keep you moving.
Golf and Spa at Eagle Ridge Resort – The Galena area has 10 top golf courses, and you’ll definitely want to play some rounds at the award-winning Eagle Ridge. The property has four championship courses set among natural beauty. And when you’re done on the links, hit the Zen ambiance of the 6,000-square-foot Stonedrift Spa for facials, body work, couples massage and more luxurious indulgences.
Galena on the Fly– What better way to see the full scope of the countryside than from the basket of a soaring hot air balloon? Each balloon can hold up to 14 people and you can book a sunrise or sunset cruise and even get married at 3,000 feet up!
When you want to get your shop on
A Bushel & a Peck – About 25 minutes from downtown Galena, this country store is an antiquer’s treasure chest. Find vintage and reclaimed furniture, house wares and locally crafted foodstuffs including honey, maple syrup, cheese and eggs.
Galena Clay Works – If you love handcrafted functional objects like bowls, dishes and other beautiful pottery, you must make a stop at Kent Henderson’s adorable studio in Galena’s “Old Town” district. You’ll likely end up leaving with a bunch of goods.
Galena Canning Company – Discover a bounty of delicious sauces, jams, jellies, dressings, olive oils, barbecue sauce, seasonings, rubs, relishes, pickles, bloody mary mixes and even more to stock up your kitchen back home.
All That’s Vintage – For antiques right on Main Street, you can’t go wrong with All That’s Vintage. You’ll snag house wares, bake ware, vintage cameras, fancy hats and so much more.
And when you want to sleep
Aldrich Guest House – This gay owned, five-bedroom B&B about five minutes from Main Street dates back to a time when both President Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant roamed the halls. It has a very lovely, country feel with plush brass beds and rooms with sitting areas, free Wifi throughout, Beekman 1802 bath products, full hot breakfast and wine and snacks daily at 5 p.m.
Jail Hill Inn – The nicest thing about the Jail Hill Inn is that, unlike when it was a real prison, you actually get to leave when you want. But seriously, this charming inn set inside a 135-year-old building atop a hill overlooking the Galena countryside underwent a complete renovation in 2015. Today, the six-suite, four-story inn features rooms each boasting king size beds with luxe linens, Aveda products, fireplaces and Kohler bathrooms with steam showers or massage tubs. Guests are welcomed to their room with chocolates and Champagne upon arrival and enjoy three-course breakfasts each morning.
Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa — In addition to golf and spa services, Eagle Ridge is the area’s premier resort set over 6,800 acres. You’ll find well-appointed rooms and villas, award-winning restaurants, hiking and biking trails, fishing, kayaking and a host of other activities.
INNdulge, a leading gay resort in Palm Springs, is inviting men to get in touch with their bodies and spirits this fall at NAKED ARTISTS & FRIENDS WEEKEND; three fun days of uninhibited camaraderie under the hot desert sun. NY artist Shungaboy will lead the festivities that include Naked Figure Drawing, a Naked Hike in the desert, Naked Yoga and relaxation by the pool. “All activities are optional, so men can enjoy the weekend at their own pace,” says Shungaboy. “It will also be a judgment-free weekend, meaning weight, fitness level, penis size and drawing skills don’t matter!” NAKED ARTISTS & FRIENDS WEEKEND takes place at INNdulge Palm Springs beginning Friday, Sept 29 and continues through Sunday, Oct 1, with an optional day on Thursday, Sept 28 for those who want to start the weekend early.
“As we navigate through our busy lives in these tech-driven times, it is important for men to be in touch with their bodies and spirits,” explains Shungaboy from his home in New York. “A deeper understanding of ourselves enables men to steer through the distractions and obstacles of life and work toward achieving our dreams and goals.”
“Being naked also peels away the outer layer most of us use to deceive ourselves and it encourages us to love who we truly are,” he adds.
The weekend’s signature activity is Naked Figure Drawing, a process that requires mental concentration. Artists need to be able to focus on the naked model and translate his figure into pencil lines on a piece of paper. The drawing itself isn’t the important thing; it’s the internal journey of the artist. Still, with time and practice, drawing skills do improve and Shungaboy is there to provide one-on-one drawing instruction to anyone seeking guidance. Sketchpads and pencils are provided, though guests may bring their own art materials.
Unlike traditional drawing groups, where the model is naked and the artists are clothed, everyone is naked at NAKED ARTISTS & FRIENDS WEEKEND. It encourages a camaraderie not found in traditional groups. Additionally, as there is no hired model; guests take turns posing for each other. Anyone interested in posing is encouraged to give it a try. “It’s empowering and a lot of fun!” says Shungaboy.
The Naked Hike allows men to commune with nature in the vast California desert. “It’s liberating to feel the breeze on your skin while trekking through the dramatic desert landscape with its immense flora and rocks,” says Shungaboy. Local members of the Naked Hiking in Palm Springs hiking club will lead the morning expedition. Of course, sun block, good walking shoes, a hat, and plenty of water are musts.
Following the hike, guests may choose to enjoy Naked Yoga. It’s a wonderful way for men to stretch out their muscles after the invigorating excursion. Then men may decide between sliding into the pool or hot tub or they can opt for Naked Massage. Massage is not included in the package cost, however, local masseur Larry is offering a discounted rate for in-room massages for attendees staying at INNdulge.
For those who want to venture on their own, away from the group, that’s ok too. There’s plenty to do in Palm Springs: from the springs to the golf courses and spas, to hiking along the numerous hidden trails in the Coachella Valley. There are also tons of gay bars, restaurants and nightclubs and the shopping cannot be beat, with major retailers in Downtown Palm Springs and on El Paseo Drive in Palm Desert.
Since the 1920s, the vintage resort town, world renowned for its midcentury-modern architecture, has been the desert playground for gay men and women. 50s-era stars like Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter made Palm Springs their second home because the town allowed them to escape the hustle and bustle of Hollywood and enjoy sexual freedom without fear of being outed. It is that same sexual freedom that continues to be a popular draw for gay travelers today.
NAKED ARTISTS & FRIENDS WEEKEND is sex-positive but it’s not a sex party. Says Shungaboy, “We believe erections are natural and we welcome them at any time.”
NAKED ARTISTS & FRIENDS WEEKEND will take place at INNdulge, a spectacular clothing-optional resort that has enjoyed a 21-year history in Palm Springs. It’s popular for its epic mountain views, marvelous courtyard with immaculately landscaped lawns and large sculptures, as well as its magnificent kidney-shaped pool and 12-man keyhole whirlpool spa. Jon Jackson and his partner purchased the property six years ago.
Shungaboy started NAKED ARTISTS & FRIENDS as an alternative to traditional figure drawing groups, but the therapeutic aspect at INNdulge inspired him to build a weekend of it. “Palm Springs is an ideal escape from the chaotic daily life most of us endure,” he explains. “This will be a time to connect with other men and recharge our spiritual batteries.”
For those who may feel reluctant to attend a nudist weekend, Shungaboy understands. “It’s perfectly natural as we have all been ingrained by media and society to be insecure about our bodies. We’re all friends at NAKED ARTISTS & FRIENDS WEEKEND, so c’mon and dive in! You’ll be glad you did.”
This past March Break, we travelled as a family to a small island off the coast of Cancun called Isla Mujeres. We love going to Mexico when given the opportunity. We enjoy the weather, the food, the beaches, the people. One day in the far-off future when it’s time for us to retire (we’re talking like many, many decades here!) we hope we can retire somewhere in Mexico.
We always find Mexico to be very accepting of same-sex families. Isla Mujeres is very kid-friendly and the locals seemed to be accepting of our family. When we travel, we have to take this into consideration, not only for Milo’s safety, but ours as well.
As much as the locals are open and accepting of same-sex families, some of the tourists were not. On a few occasions, we were walking by the pool, and we would see this one family whisper, stare and point at us. The second time we saw them do this, we decided we would stop and say to them, “Hi! Yes, we’re gay!” They quickly turned around and didn’t make eye contact with us again.
We have travelled many times with Milo, and have been stared at, but this was the first time that we felt we were being made a spectacle of. Normally we receive stares as we walk by, or when we both play with Milo. We don’t think too much of it. We look at it as opening up people’s minds and educating them that there are different kinds of families out there. Our friends, Jason and Dan, were visiting Cancun with their son, Theo, and they had similar experiences at their hotel of people staring and whispering.
We need to not only normalize families like ours, but all families that don’t fit into a very narrow definition of what makes a family.
This family who was staring at us happened to be from the United States. Perhaps in their community, same-sex families are not that common and they felt the need to point us out to their family and talk about us. Or perhaps they pointed at us because he wanted to say, “Look at that fabulous couple there!” (We are going with the latter.) By the end of the vacation, two of their children were playing with Milo in the pool. It doesn’t matter that Milo has two dads — he is well-adjusted and mischievous, just like their little girls were.
When you look at our family, you see the same thing as any other family. We spend our days trying to keep our two-year-old happy, occupied and fed, all while trying to have a cocktail or two and a relaxing time. This is why it is important for same-sex families to be visible and vocal. We need to not only normalize families like ours, but all families that don’t fit into a very narrow definition of what makes a family. As you know, we define family on something very simple… love. Love is what makes a family.
Our friends Jason and Daniel, their son Theo and our family at Isla Mujeres.
We are parents, just like any other family — traditional or otherwise. We raise our child with love, we teach him to be respectful and inclusive. We raise him to laugh and embrace life. Most important, we are a family.
News last year that Signapore removed it’s barrier on HIV-positive travelers reminded us that if you’re HIV-positive and looking to visit or work in another country anytime soon, you had better know whether your status will be a source of trouble. In some places, stories of travelers who ended up at the emergency room after an unexpected accident and then found themselves immediately deported for being HIV-positive aren’t uncommon. Forty-five countries, territories, and regions have some legal restrictions on foreigners known to have HIV, according to a 2012 study compiled by UNAIDS.
Turks and Caicos (above) in the Caribbean are a sightseer’s paradise, but the islands bar HIV-positive people from working or residing there for even a short period. But if your hopes are set on escaping to the Caribbean, there are no laws on the books barring HIV-positive tourists from St. Lucia or Trinidad and Tobago, and, let’s face it, they probably have better beaches.
Headed to Zion
Surprisingly, some of the places that have restrictions on HIV-positive travelers are known for social and political acceptance of LGBT people. For example, LGBT-friendly countries including Israel, Australia, and New Zealand have laws requiring HIV testing for foreign workers, and the United States barred HIV-positive visitors until fairly recently.
Israel requires HIV testing for certain foreign workers, and the Ministry of Interior reserves the right to deny work permits to those who are HIV-positive. The law appears designed to largely to prevent people from countries with particularly high HIV rates, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa from entering the country, but it can affect anyone with HIV, including Americans.
The Bustle of Asia
A record 6 million travelers visited Taiwan (above) in 2011, yet the country is anything but friendly to those with HIV. Foreigners planning on staying in the country longer than three months can be forced to take HIV tests or other medical examinations, according to the Tainan City Health Bureau, and are not allowed to stay in the country if they test positive.
If you’re looking to visit pyramids, you might want to plan your vacation for Mexico or Peru, since Egypt is strict about deporting HIV-positive foreigners.
Going Down Under
In Australia restrictions come into play primarily when HIV-positive people wish to stay in the country for longer than 90 days. HIV testing is required for anyone older than 15 applying for a permanent visa. Being HIV-positive does not usually disqualify an applicant, but government officials may take the cost of the applicant’s care or public health risks into consideration.
New Zealand’s law is similar to Australia regarding the treatment of HIV-positive people: Tourists who are staying in the country less than 90 days do not have to declare their status upon arrival. However, people applying for work permits or residency must be tested for HIV and can be turned away if they are positive. Also, a New Zealand policy on accepting refugees from political persecution reserves 20 places for people with HIV.
The Rest of the Best
Most countries, territories, and regions have no HIV-specific restrictions on entry, stay, and residence these days. The United States is now included in that list (after lifting its ban on HIV-positive foreign visitors in 2012), along with such major nations as the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Japan.
For more on places where it’s OK to travel (or not) visit UNAIDS.org.
Research has shown that one in three LGBT travellers experience homophobic or transphobic treatment while on holiday.
The news comes from a report into the issues faced by LGBT travellers worldwide.
The report reveals more than one in three (37%) LGBT travellers have experienced some form of discrimination whilst on holiday, with 6% experiencing a threat of physical violence due to their sexuality.
The report also highlighted that sexuality had a major influence on where LGBT Brits travelled, with two thirds (63%) refusing to travel somewhere that had an unwelcoming attitude towards the LGBT community.
A quarter (23%) of LGBT travellers admitted changing the way they act and try to camouflage their sexuality when on holiday.
Most alarmingly, an overwhelming 80% said that the travel industry don’t do enough to inform the LGBT community about local laws prior to departure.
The research was carried out for Virgin Holidays, which has launched a campaign with Stonewall on the issue.
There have been a series of high-profile cases in recent years of LGBT British holidaymakers experiencing discrimination abroad.
Ruth Hunt, Stonewall CEO, said: “It’s difficult for travel companies to negotiate the ever-changing landscape around global LGBT equality.
“Travel companies should be doing everything they can to keep their staff and customers safe when travelling anywhere in the world.
“We would love to see others join forces with Virgin Holidays and work towards a world where lesbian, gay, bi and trans people feel able to travel freely without fear of discrimination, and are accepted without exception.”
Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson said: “We believe everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, has the right to be whoever they are, wherever they are. That’s why it is shocking that in today’s society some of us can’t even enjoy a simple holiday without fear of discrimination.”