Few U.S. cities embrace their diversity like San Antonio, Texas. At the intersection of American, Texan and Mexican culture, the seventh-largest city in the United States knows how to celebrate traditions while making everyone feel welcome. (Can we all please take a cue from San Antonio!?)
This season, though tricky Halloween festivities still abound, it is the Mexican holiday of Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) that treats visitors most in San Antonio.
The traditional Mexican holiday, dating to pre-Columbian time, professes that during November 1, the distance between living and dead is at its closest point, creating the perfect opportunity to honor our dearly departed loved ones.
Considered the largest Día de los Muertos celebration in the United States, San Antonio builds traditional altars, throws parades and delivers delicious Mexican food offerings that remind you it’s tastier on this side of the divide.
Sail with IQ! I’m so excited to take my first ever cruise today! Fresh off its completely revolutionized makeover, the Celebrity Summit will sail from New York (Port Liberty, NJ) with stops up the coast in St. John, New Brunswick-Canada; Bar Harbor, Maine; and an overnight in Provincetown, Massachusetts to coincide with the Carnival Week kick-off party.
The Summit will be the largest ship to ever overnight in P-town and I’ll be sharing this “first” with about 2,000 new best friends, all joining VACAYA’s inaugural cruise.
VACAYA is the first LGBTQ+, adults-only vacation company to launch in decades–focused on creating bespoke experiences that welcome all members of our community. In their own words: “Traveling with VACAYA is all about being completely comfortable in your own skin, no matter where you fall on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Whether you’re single, coupled, black, white, skinny, thick, or even straight, you’ll easily find a welcoming tribe.”
Follow my travels through Instagram posts and stories to experience all the theme parties, destinations and the entire extravaganza of my first ever “gay cruise.”
Anna Wintour take note: the campiest event in New York City this year was not the Met Gala
The scene opens on a red carpet in the lobby of a storied New York City hotel. Models dressed in costumes representing various cultures strut down the catwalk, while an emcee describes the inspiration for their looks in a posh accent—she might be English… she’s probably English… or she might be Madonna right around the time she fell off that horse.
In an attempt to promote various cultures, the theme is “It’s a Small World,” because, it is, after all.
The event is equal parts Parade of Nations of the Miss Universe Pageant, a stroll through Epcot Center’s World Showcase and an unconventional RuPaul’s Drag Race design challenge.
The contestants vary in size, origin, gender, temperament, and socio-economic status.
It’s a level of diversity in representation the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has never achieved, or even attempted. The event is pure OPULENCE: They. Own. Everything.
Oh, and the models are all cats: like the real four-legged pet kind of cats… not Jennifer Hudson as a CGI Grizabella kind of cat.
To set the mood prior to the runway show, two opera singers accompanied by a piano performed a live duet, with full vocal commitment and physical gesturing, in a meow-like language. A reputable source reports the classical piece was written in “meow” originally and is attributed to Rossini. I can neither confirm nor deny the reporting, but it was a brilliant moment of performance art, nonetheless.
Patrons fumble, balancing a glass of champagne in one hand and a camera phone in another, maneuvering around each other for a clear photo of the feline fierceness. The woman behind me is so entranced that she spills a glass of wine down my back. At least it is white wine, and, frankly, my brain is exploding from so much excitement that I truly don’t even care.
The evening pays honor to one very special host: Hamlet VIII, The Algonquin Hotel’s resident feline, who has been greeting guests at the hotel’s reservation desk since the event began. He is adorable and a total hospitality pro.
The Algonquin Hotel has a long history of celebrating four-legged fuzzies and has counted a resident cat as a VIP guest since the 1920’s. Hamlet VIII is their 12th cat (boy cats are always named Hamlet while girl cats are always named Matilda). Our current Prince of Denmark is looked after by the hotel’s Chief Cat Officer, Alice De Almeida, and has his own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. He also has a cat therapist and reiki practitioner, Carole Wilbourn, with whom I had a twenty-minute conversation prior to the runway show in the cat green room, where pet fashion designer Ada Nieves dressed the models with precise artistry.
Ms. Wilbourn eagerly explained how she helped Hamlet become the superstar he is now. After being rescued, Hamlet lived in the offices upstairs until, after reiki and play-therapy sessions, he became comfortable enough to use the hotel’s reception desk as his personal lounge area. He is also a fan of catnip and loves all types of food. Oh, and he’s currently on a diet.
I tell her how my cat, Dottie, passed earlier this year and she gifts me a cat toy so that my home can be ready for when I adopt my next kitty. It was an extremely kind gesture and I now wish I could afford to hire Ms. Wilbourn to therapize me. I too love all types of food and am currently on a diet. Her business card indicates that she also makes house calls and does phone and video consultations, for those interested.
Quickly becoming my-favorite-event-I’ve-ever-attended-ever, The Algonquin Hotel’s Cat Fashion Show donates 100 percent of its proceeds to the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a non-profit charity that works with more than 150 partner rescue groups and shelters that save the lives of NYC’s homeless animals.
During the event, an on-site mobile adoption unit sits outside the hotel to facilitate you meeting your new pet. Inside the hotel lobby, the $75 ticket includes cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, desserts and all the aforementioned awesomeness.
Please, if I am ever to influence you in any way, sign up for Traveling IQ’s “Email Subscription” to the right of this post so we can rejoice together when The Algonquin announces the official Cat Fashion Show date for summer 2020. And then immediately save the date on your calendar.
Enjoy some of the photos* from the event below …And you’re welcome.
“My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.”
Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay men ever elected to public office in the United States, started many of his most famous speeches with that line. He had a clear plan for LGBTQ progress: come out, be visible and take an active role in your community. And if you feel unsafe, seek refuge in the “nearest biggest city.”
Forty-one years after his assassination in 1978, I think Harvey would be very proud that a festival bearing his name—with the mission of “fostering the arts as a catalyst for social and political change”—marked its 10thyear in the not-biggest-city of Sarasota, Florida.
This May, the Harvey Milk Festival (HMF) celebrated the milestone anniversary with an art show and photo exhibition showcasing American LGBTQ+ history from the 1890’s to the times of Harvey Milk; a panel discussion with queer professors, historians and authors; an evening of dance, music and spoken word; and an all-day music festival in Downtown Sarasota, featuring 10 emerging musicians.
Beyond the yearly festival, HMF [a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization] launched a Youth Outreach Program in 2014, with scholarships and internship opportunities open to all LGBTQ+ students in Sarasota County between the ages of 13 and 25.
According to HMF: “The most significant benefit to participants in the HMF Youth Outreach Program is the encouragement and financial support that youth are given to continue their education… Many of our youth have experienced alienation and discrimination from family, friends and schoolmates and lack the essential network of support they need when they are in school. HMF Scholarship and HMF Internship programs offer participating youth opportunities to connect with the LGBTQ+ community through their work, receive feedback from youth, artists, mentors and allies, and further their professional development with support and encouragement from their community.”
This summer, Amtrak is making it easy to leave the car at home and keep your Pride on the rails.
Just in time for World Pride in New York, Amtrak Share Fares invite you and your crew to ride and save together. The deal is valid for up to four passengers on most Northeast Regionals between Washington D.C. and Boston, and on long-distance trains as far away as Savannah, Charleston and Atlanta. Here’s how the pricing works:
Passenger 1—full price
Passenger 2—15% off full price
Passenger 3—60% off full price
Passenger 4—70% off full price
All together you can save up to 35% on four tickets. So invite the throuple next door, pack some cocktails (or purchase them in the bar car) and start your kiki in the caboose.
Hilton Hotels of New York City are keeping you tipsy and sparkly this Pride.
To celebrate World Pride and the 50thanniversary of Stonewall, the crafty mixologists of Hilton have created Pride-inspired cocktails at nine NYC hotels. From sexy lounges to rooftop bars, follow their cocktail guide to sip, sample and saunter through NYC all month. I prefer my summer parties outdoors, so my favorites are the rooftops of The Bernic Hotel, DoubleTree Times Square, Conrad Downtown, Hilton Fashion District and the Embassy Suites in Midtown Manhattan.
“No one needs glitter on Gay Pride” …said no one ever. To keep you glitzy, Hilton Hotels of NYC are creating complimentary Glitter Glamour Stations throughout the city on the Sunday of the Pride Parade (June 30). Makeup artists at select hotels will be transforming dazzle-deprived hotel guests and locals from 9am-12pm, with special glitter makeup and applique. For the added shimmer head to the Glitter Glamour Stations in the lobbies of the Hilton Garden Inn New York/Tribeca, Hilton New York Fashion District, Millennium Hilton New York Downtown and New York Hilton Midtown.
Make it a Pride to remember… and remember…and remember …as you discover glitter deep into August.
Sarasota County borders 40 miles of shoreline on the Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida and includes the City of Sarasota, several neighboring cities and a string of eight barrier islands. With a population of about 417,000 permanent residents and many more snow birds during winter months, it’s an area often associated with an older, affluent demographic.
But today’s Sarasota is expanding, evolving and enticing LGBTQ travelers of all ages to visit its powdery-sand beaches, world-class art institutions and growing gay (and gay-friendly) social scene.
Sarasota’s beaches are world-renowned. Perhaps the most famous, Siesta Key, has enjoyed multiple years on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award for the 25 Best Beaches in North America, including a coveted spot on the 2019 list. And it is welcoming to all.
The popular gay beach with the locals, however, is North Lido Beach. Walk about 10 minutes north of the main Lido Beach entrance, off St. Armands Circle, for a less-trafficked shore and dune-hidden trails that might embrace more private… conversations.
Should you work up an appetite from all that spirited sea-splashing (…and conversation) make your way to the south end of Lido Beach, where the no-frills Lido Beach Restaurant serves delicious beachside food and drinks. Try the Lobster Roll and sip on a cocktail while you tan. It’s legal to drink alcohol on Sarasota beaches
Culture aficionados will love that Sarasota is home to nine performing art organizations less than a mile from Downtown Sarasota and a private art collection that rivals European capitals. First, head to the Ringling Estate. The Godfather of the American Circus (Ringling Bros. and later Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus) fell in love with Sarasota in the early 20th century and chose the city for the 66-acre estate that houses his winter home Càd’Zan, a waterfront mansion completed in 1926 and built to resemble a Venetian Gothic palace, and the expansive Ringling Museum of Art and Ringling Circus Museum. You truly can spend an entire day roaming around these gorgeous grounds.
Don’t miss the Rubens Galleries and the Howard Bros. Circus Model, the largest circus model in the world, with 42,000 miniature pieces. On site is also the Asolo Theater, an 18thcentury playhouse dismantled from the Italian original and reassembled in Sarasota in the 1950’s.
Beyond The Ringling, Sarasota is home to the Florida Studio Theatre, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, Sarasota Ballet (the only professional ballet company on Florida’s Gulf Coast), Sarasota Opera House and Sarasota Orchestra, to name a few of their cultural institutions. And there’s more on the way. This December, the Sarasota Museum of Art will open its new home at the historic Sarasota High School, with 15,000 square feet of gallery space showcasing rotating exhibits of contemporary art.
Got your culture? Good. Let’s dance.
I always say I need my cities to have at least one gay bar. (Sarasota has two). It’s important for me to interact with my community and I usually learn much from half-drunken conversations with the locals. Lucky for us all Sarasota has Oasis. Oasis is owned by adult entertainer cutie Hunter Vance and features some very attractive go-go boys (and girls too!) on weekend nights. And what’s better than a really hot go-go boy? Well, a really friendly, hot go-go boy. And I’m happy to report the dancers of Oasis are lovely in every way. Catch a glimpse on my Instagram below (including a video peek when you click through).
Beyond the performers, the crowd at Oasis was a true mixture of our LGBTQ community and allies, all coming together for a great time. And it was at Oasis that I met the “gay mayor” of Sarasota, Joshua Beadle. I would later learn the title is unofficial but well-deserved. In 2016, Joshua launched SarasotaOUT.com, to promote Sarasota as a welcoming LGBTQ destination for visitors, businesses and residents alike. He partners with community organizations, local non-profits and the tourism industry to host events throughout the year. According to Joshua: “Sarasota is coming out of the closet.”
SarasotaOUT.com’s Gay Group Happy Hour (G2H2)takes place the first Thursday of every month at a new LGBTQ-friendly location. G2H2 brings the community together to network and have a great time—all while raising money for local and national charities. On June 9, SarasotaOUT.com is taking the party to North Lido Beach for its annual Big Gay Beach Party, a day of fun-in-the-sun, with beach games, contests and, yes, even jello-shots!.
Sarasota, Florida, may not be the first place you think of when planning a gay vacation. But with gorgeous beaches, a thriving cultural scene, and a growing LGBTQ community focused on activism and a good time, Sarasota will make you rethink Florida’s Gulf Coast.
We talk a good talk about the strength of a more unified community. Over the decades we’ve added letters to the movement to create a more diverse, welcoming, and clear representation of who we are. But though we’ve become more inclusive in our language, inclusiveness hasn’t necessarily applied to our travels.
Take the gay cruise as an example. There are cruises that focus on lesbians, gay men, bears, party boys, families, drag-queen enthusiasts, and even an upcoming Golden Girls cruise (it’s not specifically gay, but c’mon!). Can’t we all just vacation together?
Enter VACAYA. The first adult-only, large-scale LGBTQ+ travel company to launch in decades, VACAYA is making it its mission to welcome the entire LGBTQ spectrum…
*Read the full article published in Logo’s NewNowNext
Last month, travel professionals representing 49 countries converged in New York City for IGLTA’s Annual Convention, the premier educational and networking event for LGBTQ+ tourism. The convention was the largest in the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association’s 36-year history, with nearly 700 delegates. And though it was my first, it will most definitely not be my last.
Under the banner of “Unite: Travel-Learn-Connect” the convention was a packed few days of panel discussions, presentations, networking events and fantastic parties. Truly an opportunity to unite the LGBTQ+ travel community.
As the host city, New York made me proud! On the 50thanniversary of Stonewall and the year we welcome World Pride, the city where I’ve lived for twenty years showed the travel world why there’s no place like (my) home. Not only were the locations spectacular (the Pre-Conference reception was held at One World Observatory) but the programming reminded me that no other city can feature performers from the Broadway casts of Be More Chill, Mean Girls and Wicked at a rooftop party DJ’d by Lady Bunny…all like it’s no big deal. Literally every-thing about that previous sentence is a big deal. And IGLTA and NYC & Company brought it!
It was an opportunity to meet exciting new friends (did you know that the Lt. Governor of Guam, Joshua Tenorio, is the first openly gay Lt. Governor elected anywhere in the U.S. or its territories?) and connect with a new generation of travel media who I previously only knew by their Instagram handles.
But beyond the people and places, the convention was an opportunity to learn. I learned more about the experience of trans travelers and the importance of inclusive communication practices. I was inspired by the amazing work of Rainbow Railroad, the organization that helps persecuted members of our community escape violence and death in their home countries, where being LGBTQ+ is a criminal offence.
I emerged from the convention a little smarter, better connected and more energized to continue growing within the travel sphere. And with a rekindled love for my city, “Famous Original NYC!”
New York is a city of immigrants, a place where diverse cultures co-exist, thrive, expand and blend. We are a mish-mash of transplants. And that mish-mash tastes real good.
Last month, I had the delicious joy of joining Cristina Lombardi, the insanely knowledgeable owner of Follow Me New York City Adventures on their “Taste of Queens Adventure.” This private, customizable walking tour focuses on the neighborhoods of Astoria or Flushing, depending on the interests of the guests. In fact, Follow Me NYC can customize pretty much any type of tour you’d like: from a tipsy tour through the city’s speakeasies to a sweet-tooth tasting of the city’s best candy and dessert spots. They also offer a la carte adventures exploring Times Square & Theater District, Wall Street & Financial District, Central Park and Greenwich Village.
On a sunny and blustery fall day, our small group set out to taste our way through Astoria, Queens. Queens is the most diverse borough of New York City and, depending on what survey you read, it is either in the top three or the most diverse county in the entire United States. According to the last U.S. census in 2010, 48.5% of the population of Queens is foreign-born.
We began our tour with a brief history lesson. We learned Astoria was named after the wealthiest man in America (at the time), John Jacob Astor, in the hopes he would invest in his namesake neighborhood. And though he could literally see it from his palatial home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it is rumored Mr. Astor never actually set foot in Astoria, nor invested any substantial money. Regardless, the name stuck and, through the years, Astoria became home for every wave of immigrants that landed on our shores.
Throughout the early to mid 1900’s it was primarily Irish, Italian and Jewish. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Greek immigrants began flocking to Astoria and creating one of the largest centers of Greek culture in the United States. So, it was fitting that our first stop was the family-owned Yaya’s Bakery for a taste of Galaktoboureko, a traditional Greek phyllo dough pastry filled with warm custard and drizzled with a light syrup made from honey and lemon juice. Not only was it delicious, but it was a dessert I would have never thought of ordering had it not been for our guide, Cristina, who chose this pastry specifically for that reason.
With warmer bellies, we headed to La Cabaña Grocery for Tacos al Pastor (a pork taco with fresh cilantro, pineapple, chopped onion and a squeeze of lime). The bodega sells traditional spices, authentic ingredients and beloved Mexican treats in a no-frills but all-taste setting.
Samosa at Seva Indian Restaurant
From one characteristically spicy cuisine to another, we next savored a vegetable Samosa at Seva Indian Restaurant, which specializes in Northern Indian dishes. Don’t forget to dunk the potato, onion, pea and lentil-filled pastry in the mint chutney for the full flavor explosion.
Our walk continued to Djerdan for a Spinach Burek, a Balkan staple and probably my favorite of the day. The crispy phyllo-dough pastry is filled with cheese and freshly sautéed spinach and shaped like a (very tasty!) cigar. Insider tip: In between trips to Astoria, you can order from their online store.
At our next stop, Zenon Taverna, a member of the family that owns the restaurant greeted us with a crash course in Cypriot cuisine, explaining “we use a lot of mint and cumin… we use all the spices that Greeks won’t.” He continued describing the flavors as a blending of traditional Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern influences, before serving us Trahana Soup. The traditional Cypriot soup is made with bulgur wheat, thickened in chicken stock, Greek yogurt, halloumi (a type of goat cheese) and finished off with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
From the traditional to the trendy, our group headed to the very popular Queens Comfort, which had a line of folks waiting to enter. Inside, there was a DJ spinning for a brunch clientele that was equal parts multi-generational families and Millennial hipsters. Our takeaway was a taste of the Atomic Fire Balls–deep-fried, Siracha-infused mac ‘n cheese balls. If these spicy nuggets were indicative of the other menu options, I can easily understand the long line of eager diners.
Atomic Fire Balls
Our final stop took us to Little Morocco for a taste of the Merguez sausage, a minced lamb sausage spiced with cumin, chili peppers, sumac and harissa. The area of Steinway Street, where the restaurant is located, is often called Little Egypt or Little Morocco, as Lebanese, Northern African and Middle Eastern immigrants have been steadily settling in the area since the 1980’s.
This tour through Astoria was a much-needed reminder that diversity makes New York City great—always! As a now seasoned New Yorker I too often stay within my own neighborhood out of habit and, well, laziness. But no one moves to New York to stay within his comfort level. Especially as politicians are using the topic of immigration to stoke unfounded fears, it’s important to remember that our diversity makes us stronger, makes us better, and makes our walks through Astoria all the more tasty.
(The restaurants we visited on our tasting adventure; our fabulous guide, Cristina Lombardi, in center; Trahana Soup lower left.)