#travelthursday

Travel Thursday: Charleston, S.C. - Home to Southern Charm, Comfort, & Hospitality.

This is a repost of our trip last year to Charleston.  As Hurricane Florence lands in the Carolinas, we are thinking of you all. Stay safe and see you soon.  You are a resilient community and have faced hurricanes before and they recovery from them has become part of your history.


“Why did you come to Charleston, South Carolina?” I asked a nice couple having a drink at the rooftop deck of the Belmond. They stated that they had traveled down to Charleston from Maryland, because they had never been and they heard some great things about the city.

Why do we visit a place? Why do we choose to spend our time and money going somewhere we've never been?  One of my main reasons for going to Charleston was because my siblings had been born there and spent a couple of years of their early years while my father was stationed there during the Viet Nam War.  Besides my mother saying “you’re gonna love it” over and over again, others have stated it is one of the great cities of our nation and a true gem.  It was time for me to find out. 


THE SIGHTS –


- CARRIAGE TOUR - During our stay, we were able to squeeze in a city tour. I’ve been to New Orleans over 15 times, but never taken a horse carriage tour.  Jumping at the fact that the carriage tours are one of the more popular ways to see Charleston, we could not wait to see which sector of the city we would see. The structures around Charleston are quintessential southern architecture.  From the churches, meeting houses, government buildings, and the hospitality doors, my camera was very happy.  The guides for the Old South Carriage CO. dressed in Confederate garb, a red sash around the driver's waist. Our guide entertained us with both historical facts and humor. They guarantee satisfaction and we were satisfied.

CARRIAGE TOUR WITH OLD SOUTH CARRIAGE CO. | @oldsouthchs  12 Anson Street, Charleston
(843) 723-9712, oldsouthcarriage.com


 - HAUNTED JAIL TOUR -

Bulldog Tours runs many tours in the city.  One we were excited to attend was the Haunted Jail Tour. As seen on Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and The Travel Channel, we went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Old City Jail, which housed some of Charleston’s most infamous criminals, 19th-century pirates, and Civil War prisoners. The Old City Jail was in operation from 1802 until 1939, and most of the building’s original structures — like the cells and warden’s quarters — remain intact. If you want to learn the history behind the haunted, take our new Charleston Jail History Tour. Our tour guide was Eric Lavender.  I am sure the guides are all good, but Eric was perfection. I even had a little paranormal experience that I will remember forever.


 

- MIDDLETON PLACE - Besides the history downtown, we were fortunate to have some time to tour Middleton Place. This National Historic Landmark is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens and a lively stableyard with free-grazing sheep, cashmere goats, Belgian draft horses, guinea hogs, peacocks and majestic water buffalo. We did not stay for all of the demonstrations on making pottery, weaving, blacksmithing, candle-dipping, and open fire cooking methods. I was astonished to find out that this land was used for growing rice, a crop that made Charleston the wealthiest colonial city during the eighteenth century. I’ve been to several plantations in Louisiana and they all had a different “take” on the history of the land, the people that lived there, and the people that worked or were enslaved there. Take a tour like we did or do a self-guided tour of the gardens and property. Catch up on some of the history in a video below.

Downtown … check.  Out in the countryside … check.  Where else should we see Charleston?  How about from the water.


- COASTAL EXPEDITIONS -

We were lucky enough to secure a boat tour from Coastal Expeditions. While heading out into the bay, it was evident that shrimping was very popular and important to the local economy. Our captain and fellow guide Henry Brandt III and T.J. Chavis were great on the journey.  Their enthusiasm and knowledge were great to have as we learned about the history, present, and future of the Charleston and the water that surrounds it. As a history major, teacher, and lover, it was a chilling moment to see Fort Sumter along with other historical landmarks, ships, etc.

 

Since 1992, the basic mission of Coastal Expeditions has been to take people to beautiful places to experience meaningful things. Being that Charleston is a water town, the best ways to get to these spots are by kayak, canoe or powerboat.  Our guides delight in showing you dolphins feeding in a saltwater creek or the Holy City skyline at sunset.  And they can't wait to take you to the Boneyard on Bulls Island at daybreak or share Charleston history with you as you paddle by historic rice fields.  We offer something for everyone- kayak and paddleboard rentals, daily tours, blackwater adventures, camping and more. 

As we toured around where the two rivers met, the Ashley and Cooper, we were flanked by dolphins. Henry even pointed out that we were seeing them mating.  Of course we would be the group that would see that.  I would definitely book another excursion with Henry and T.J. and Coastal Expeditions.

 


THE NIGHT LIFE –


 

- DUDLEY'S - We had some time to play around and the place we decided to spend our fun money was at Dudley’s.  The full name of the bar is Dudley’s on Ann – Charleston’s “Everybody” Bar.  All the staff was great From Daniel Brinker , to bartender Chris, to DJ Matterhorn, to the other bartenders I saw hustling in this small and lively place, BRAVO. It was a great spot to spend a couple nights in.  The nights consisted of drag shows full of great talent, performers all around,  fun groups, yes, bachelorette parties, but they didn’t hang all night, and a mixed crowd of all members of society.  Tuxes with bowties next to shirtless boys next to silver-spooned preppies next to the shy silent types. Pick a person, they were there and that made the nights very enjoyable. There seems to always be a line to get into Dudley’s for it’s one business in from King Street and the straight bar nightlife. I did want to check that out, but we were too busy enjoying ourselves at Dudley’s.  


THE FOOD –


People rave about many things when it comes to Charleston and food is right around the top of the list. We had our opportunities to taste a great deal of what Chucktown has to offer.

 

- HOMINY GRILL - Our first wonderful instance of mouth happiness took place at the Hominy Grill. James Beard Awarding winning chef Robert Stehling takes this single home with charming courtyard and envelops it with offerings like a Southern-style cocktail, shrimp and grits, or the infamous Charleston Nasty Biscuit. This last option called my name and reminded me of the Biscuit Bitch in Seattle, Washington.  When something calls you, you need to go with it and I’m so glad I did. It was great to fill me up as we all ogled over the men in scrubs enjoying their meals in the courtyard.  That’s another thing that Charleston has going for it. There’s a good amount of young professionals, new growth, and great options for every age bracket, but it is nice to see a vibrance of post collegial peeps enjoying the city.


- MAGNOLIAS - This seems to be a must-eat-at locale when visiting.  Honestly, every place we dined at was impressive and satisfying. Nestled on East Bay Street, Magnolia's combines old world charm with contemporary excitement. Chefs Kelly Franz and Don Drake are recognized as pioneers in the creative use of the Lowcountry's bounty. What is Lowcountry? It’s a term I feel is used instead of local and fresh.  I’ve had fried green tomatoes before, but these had to be the best that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and eating. The home made chips were very crisp and the blue cheese was powerful, just how it should be.


 

- LEWIS BARBECUE - When in the south, anywhere in the south, you need to try the barbecue. Lewis Barbecue was the site of our meat coma of an experience.  They opened their doors and their smokers to us and we were very appreciative.  They didn’t have corn bread for us, but we had the corn pudding, which we all wanted to bathe in. The service was the type we have grown to experience in Charleston, from our first beer served to us at the Club Level at Belmond Place to the airport, the amazing southern hospitality lived up to his name. We were all very appreciative of the great food, good little gift corner, and the tour of the smoking room.  All the barbecue was perfect, but my favorite offerings from Lewis Barbecue, which surprised me, were the sausage and the turkey.

@lewisbarbecue   464 North Nassau Street, Charleston (843) 805-9500, lewisbarbecue.com

Former pitmaster at award-winning Texas restaurant La Barbecue, John Lewis brings his signature barbecue to Charleston with the opening of Lewis Barbecue.

 

Named “The Brisket Evangelist” by Garden & Gun magazine, Lewis welds his own custom-designed smokers to create expertly smoked beef brisket, pork spareribs and beef ribs.

 


- THE DARLING OYSTER BAR - And then there was brunch before we flew home after our wonderful long weekend.  No good gay goes without brunch. Executive Chef Joe DiMaio, former chef at the Old Village Post House and Stars Rooftop & Grill Room, opened The Darling Oyster Bar, a space featuring a 14- seat bar, a vast cocktail program, and a seafood inspired menu including fried, raw, and baked options.

Even if you are not an oyster fan like myself, there are plenty of options.  Maybe you could even start off brunch with the massive “The Captain” which contains vodka, hose mix, celery, pickled shrimp, hushpuppy, a king crab leg, and a lobster claw.  Some in our party had two, glushes!

@darling_oyster_bar 513 King Street, Charleston
(843) 641-0821, thedarling.com


LGBT HIGHLIGHTS -


- AFFA - I recommend making friends while in the city for it’s easily done.  Meeting up with some of the LGBT citizens in Charleston, we were invited to the home of Doug Warner, Director of Media Relations, Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. 

 

The evening was to honor Linda Ketner, Founder of Alliance For Full Acceptance (AFFA). It was interesting to learn about AFFA for its history highlights the Charleston LGBT community and how it has changed and grown over the past 25 years.

 


- LGBT TOURS - You can also check out this resource - New map highlights gay history in Charleston.  One of our new friends took a walking tour by Bulldog tours that was focusing on LGBT history.  It's good to see that there are options to learn about Charleston's history and it's homosexual side.

My last post on Charleston (Travel Thursday: Our First Visit to Charleston, SC.), highlighted where we stayed, Belmond Place, but this post hopefully filled in what else you can do during your stay in one of the best cities in the United States.


 

Travel Thursday: Maine Labor Day Tradition Mr Gay Ogunquit Turns 40

Sometimes you just need to just go home to get recharged. Luckily part of my home for 13 years while living in Southern Maine was a little beach town called Ogunquit. 

The name of the town is a little different, pronounced O–Gun-Quit, or if you ask Edie the Entertainer, host of Zumanity in Las Vegas, it's pronounced O-Go On-Quit.  However you want to pronounce it, Ogunquit, Maine is one of the gayest places in New England.  If you had to name the top three places to enjoy being gay with other gay people in New England, it would be Provincetown, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island, and Ogunquit, Maine.

I’ve been lucky enough to celebrate many summers in Ogunquit. The town has been celebrating being LGBT longer that I have been alive.  One of the town’s celebrations is just about as old as I am as this year marked the 40th year of the Mr. Gay Ogunquit competition. 

Before the competition began on the beach, one of the hosts of the event from the Mainestreet bar in town polled the crowd to see if there were competitors from previous years.  Hands went up from multiple participants from the early '00s and the ‘90s.  It’s a great simple event where anyone can participate in the fun gathering where contestants parade in front of the judges, run down to the Gulf of Maine/Atlantic Ocean, and then jog back up to the judges while glistening and suffering from shrinkage for their final review to hopefully place in categories like Best Buns, Best Package, Best Legs, Best Chest, Best Personality, and Best Overall.

What keeps this competition fresh and new is that it is a tourist town.  Over the years, contestants have been local as well as from all over the country and the world.  We love hearing French, German, Spanish, Tagalog, etc. being spoken on this little gay beach in little ol' Maine.

Here are some pictures (thanks David Sullivan Photography) and videos from the event.


Thanks to the DJ, we had some great tunes before, during, and after the competition.

 

 

 

 

 

This contestant won for best legs.

 

 

 

 

As the event closed, even the drag queen hosts took to running the sand runway to the water and back.

 

 

 

 


Yes, anyone can participate and me as a bear thought about entering and throwing a wrench into the buff and ottery mix.  I haven’t seen many bears participate over the many years, but it’s open to anyone, but contestants are also sought out by organizers. There was some hair present this year, but many were of the more fit and trim crowd.  Maybe if there was a Best Belly category which could go either way to a bear belly or an ab show, maybe I could have won a category. As to the judging, with finding out that there were previous participants, I would have also varied the judges in their demographics, by inviting previous years’ contestants to be judges.

Being gay in Maine was an enjoyable experience, but it would have been very different if I did not have my summers in Ogunquit. I often try to get back there to see friends and acquaintances.

Ogunquit is great any time of the year.  It all depends on what you are looking for.  From a leaf peeper’s hub for exploration, to a beach town during the summer months, to a beautiful winter getaway, people in mid-New England, Montreal, and New York know that this local gay vacation spot always offers a good time, especially Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve.


Ps.  

If you are looking for other places besides the beach and Mainestreet bar, definitely check out:

Restaurants:

So Zap, So Zap is an Urban Thai Kitchen that serves foods from all over Thailand. It takes the most popular and traditional flavors from every corner of the country and combines them into a multitude of  mouthwatering goodness. Located on Route 1 and next door to Mainestreet, it is the perfect location to enjoy a bite to eat and jump back into enjoying town.

Roberto's - Reservations are welcomed here (open table or call), but we tried our luck and were able to eat at the bar with an amazing bartender John.

If you are looking for Italian restaurants in York County Maine there is only one place you need to know about Roberto’s! We have a beautiful menu of your favorite Italian foods cooked authentically to give you the real taste of Italy that you crave! We serve the Italian food in York County Maine that makes even a Wednesday night a special occasion!

Place to Stay

Bourne Bed & Breakfast (B3).  Besides its quaint size of 7 guest rooms, the location is perfect.  B3's placement equidistant from the center of Ogunquit Village and picturesque Perkins Cove makes it ideal for explorers.  Both destinations are just a 5 minute walk from B3 and in both areas of town, you will find convenient simple dining next to some of the best eateries New England has to offer tucked between shopping, art galleries, and other tourist delights. The Bourne Bed & Breakfast is under new management and we wish Jimmy and Brian the best.  Travelocity reviewers seem to like them.

 


h/t:  https://www.mainestreetogunquit.com/

http://www.dsullivanphotography.com/


If you have travel ideas, places we should visit, or work for a PR company and are looking for writers to visit, please reach out to customerservice@instinctmagazine.com and address your comments to the Managing Editor.


 

Travel Thursday: Calgary Draws Us In With Its Plentiful Food Scene, Buzzing Arts & Culture, And LGBTQ Acceptance.

We took the #ExploreAlberta as a challenge and came away with loving two great cities, Edmonton and Calgary.  We’ll mention Calgary, Alberta, Canada first, since that city will be having their pride festivities this weekend. Hold on to your cowboy hats and let’s go to Calgary!

Arriving into Calgary, we did not know what to expect.  We had heard the city over the past few years to a decade had been transforming from a Dallas-like oil driven city to a more white collar, artistic and cultural city. We experienced at every turn in the city the western hospitality the city is known for. Yes, yes, yes.  We joked all the time that Canadians apologize for everything and are overly polite, but to be honest, it’s no joke.  They are so polite! And so honest! And so accommodating.  We joked about it, but it just made us feel guilty that we were not like that, that they were better. 

The first real taste of hospitality came from the Hotel Arts, our accommodations that were in the best location geographically. The moment we walked through the door, we could tell this hotel was designed for function, appearance, appreciation of art, and the happiness of the customer.  Art, design, extraordinary service and a dash of whimsy were all present. We noticed while staying there that through personalized service and a boutique experience, the Hotel Arts welcomes both locals and tourists to enjoy the grounds, restaurants, bars, pool, and ballrooms (where they have hosted several same-sex marriages).

Soon after checking in we walked around the small pool area, which had been rumored to be very busy with hotel guests and locals most sunny weekends, and checked out the Raw Bar for their nightly $5 happy hour.

Yes $5 Canadian or $3.85 American at the current exchange will get you a nice happy afternoon drink.  It’s not that we needed it, but it as there, so we had two, each.  Don’t judge.

Well, go ahead and judge.  We had a brief respite on our private balcony in our room as we prepared for our next stop, Betty Lou's Library (The Devenish Building, 908 17 Avenue Southwest).

Walking into the building we were soon halted by a velvet rope and were presented with a phone near a hidden entry. ‘m not sure if I am supposed to give you the password or not so I won’t, but we gave it and were let into this hideaway.

Take a step back in time when you walk through the hidden door and have a seat in a vintage velvet chair. Their chandeliers give off a soft glow while their bartenders prepare original cocktails of superb quality. Sip, savor and socialize in this unique space that marries the American 1920’s Prohibition era with Paris’ Lost Generation.

Yes, the prices were a little more than I would usually spend, but my barrel proof old fashioned was a treat, making the $20+ bill so worth it.  They often have a limit of a 2 hour visit since the place is not a large space and gets very busy so they want to guarantee turnover. Go for the experience, the drinks, and the award-winning staff Thanks Jimmy for the great service and letting us benefit from your bartender expertise.

Frenchie Wine Bar (616 17th avenue SW) was our next stop, a short stroll from Betty Lou’s Library.  The walk, to the back of the building and behind UNA Takeaway and Bread and Circus Trattoria, made the experience more secretive and special.  I cannot tell you when the last time I had fondue, and it was great.  Along with the fondue, we had other small plates and a plethora of adult beverages in this 20-seat wine bar which also had spirits flowing in this once again speak easy ‘30s style environment. I could not find the menu online and the reason many be that their food menu features cheese that rotates weekly. Frenchie also serves house made ricotta, cheese fondue and desserts.

Why stop there, with drinks at Betty Lou’s Library, more drinks at Frenchie, we were off to Ricardo's Hideaway (1530 5 St SW).  The name is misleading as this restaurant sits out in the open especially with its large deck along 5th Street.  I think the Hideaway name is to prepare you for the great rum (and other spirited drinks) and food that has been inspired by parts of the Caribbean and Cuba and a little bit of the South Pacific, every place you want to have a hideaway. The walk from Frenchie to Ricardo’s was short once again, which did not work up our appetites too much, but when in a hideaway, who’s counting calories!

 Gay bar? Sure!  Twisted Element was our bar of choice that night. The self-proclaimed “Calgary's hottest LGBTQ nightclub, and the largest gay bar in Western Canada” Twisted was hosting one of its well-attended drag shows.  The large space has been operating since 2004 and also hosts variety shows and weekly karaoke nights.  The space would be one I could see myself coming back to.  The night we were there, the crowd was very mixed as locals say it usually is.  So when I say gay bar, it’s more LGBTQ+ bar.  Some other comments about the night.  I think there were two bachelorette parties there that night and they did take up most of the seating at the front of the stage, but they did bring in a large crowd that had never been there before.  The performers ranged in talent from “awesome they are trying and they’re doing better than I could” to “daaaaamn, there’s some talent.”  That night, I think I saw one of the best drag king performances ever.  Bravo!

 

We had noticed in Edmonton that there were many ethnic food offerings everywhere so when we started the next day with brunch at Calcutta Cricket Club (340 17 Ave, SW), we were very ecstatic. A mix of West Bengal, India and Golden Girls’ lanai, this barely one month old Indian restaurant gets its name from the Raj-era Calcutta Cricket & Football Club that dates back to 1792.

Clean.  Yes, the restaurant is fairly new, but I could not get over how clean everything was.  The brunches are packed as well as being a great deal economically for the culturally amazing servings of goodness you receive.  Not only is the food great, but the heart is too.  As we were leaving, they were setting up outside in their courtyard  a benefit for children with HIV. I bought a ring and met some wonderful people.  Food and heart will bring me back here on my next visit. 

From the food and heart, we went to talent.  If you have the chance and love music, you need to do the Backstage Pass Tour Studio Bell National Music Centre (850 4 Street, SE)

His name escapes me, but our tour guide of Studio Bell’s artist spaces not only provided us a behind-the-scenes look at three world-class recording facilities, but also a look at an epic collection of musical instruments that spans 450 years of music innovation and technology.

Studio Bell is the first national cultural institution of its kind dedicated to celebrating music in Canada in all of its forms. More than a museum, Studio Bell rises in nine interlocking towers, clad in glazed terra cotta in the heart of Calgary’s East Village. The 160,000 square-foot building includes five floors of exhibition space, a 2000+piece collection of artifacts, instruments and music technology, and other features including recording facilities, workshops, classrooms, an event space, and a 300-seat performance hall.

Tours are just on Sundays and well worth it. I enjoyed my experience here more than most of the Museums in Nashville. 

Food and music culture were now satisfied.  LGBT history and culture were next. Reservations had been made to leave Studio Bell and to go on a Historic LGBTQ Walking Tour through Inglewood, Prince's Island Park, and East Village.

Kevin Allen (LGBTQ community leader) led us through the downtown area of Calgary and namely Inglewood, Prince's Island Park, and East Village. Kevin has been documenting and profiling queer people and events for 25 years through freelance writing and editing for various queer publications including: Clue! Magazine, QC Magazine, Xtra! West, and Xtra.ca. He is a career arts administrator and the past Executive Director of the Alberta Media Arts Alliance (AMAAS), and has previously worked for the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF), NUTV, and the EPCOR CENTRE for the Performing Arts.

Kevin Allen is also a founder of Calgary’s now largest queer non-profit organization, the Fairy Tales Presentation Society, which produces many cultural events including the very successful Fairy Tales Film Festival every year in May. More cities need caring individuals like Kevin Allen to share the LGBTQ history of their cities.  I always hope for a resource and a person like Kevin when I travel so I get to know a city even more, especially from “our” perspective.

Charbar: (Simmons Building, 618 Confluence Way SE) would be our dinner venue where we experienced a variety of items from the ocean, prairies, and local gardens. The Argentine wood-fired grill is the star of the restaurant and the source of charbar's identity. 

We were fortunate enough to have Jason A KingsleyExecutive Director, Calgary Pride: join us at Charbar. He is currently serving as the President and Executive Producer for Calgary Pride, is the Vice President of Travel Gay Canada, and is the Regional Director, Prairies for Fierte Canada Pride, having recently brought the National Fierte Canada Pride Conference and AGM to Calgary for the first time since the organizations founding in 2004. Over dinner we were able to learn more about Calgary Pride.  Since I had been very vocal in the past on police presence in Pride Parades in the US and Canada, I asked Jason about what Calgary was doing in regard to the “issue.” His answer was well explained and I won’t transcribe it all from my brain, but what it boiled down to was that they were going to lead the discussion by having a conversation.  By talking to the people involved.  There isn’t a Black Lives Matter group really in Calgary, so pride organizers talked to a group that resembles other cities Queer People of Color (QPOC) and that group is Voices - Calgary's Coalition of Two-Spirit & Racialized lgbtqia+.  Jason said they were dealing with the concern by having a conversation.  The result is that Calgary police will not march in uniform and will not march together, but they will march with t-shirts that will identify them as police, but they will march with the group or organization they identify with or belong to if they choose to march at all.  I thought this was great since it would show that police are more than police, are more than an entity, but members of our community in many ways and many different levels. Calgary, you are leading the way with this year’s solution.  Bravo.  Of course, next year’s solution may be different, but let’s see how this year goes.

With a little drizzle in the air, Gears and Beers Bike Tour (1048 21 Avenue SE)was up next.  A tour guide service to get you around town and enjoy the craft beer culture, Gears & Beers Bike Tour made me realize that I was out of shape so I should just stop and drink more. It was a fun time and gave us all another way to see and feel the city. We were running late and the tour does not go after dark so we had to minimize our breweries to two.

Cold Garden Beverage Company: (1100 11 St. SE)
Cold Garden Beverage Company is a Calgary-based microbrewery. Cold Garden brings a casual and eclectic vibe to the community, along with a lineup of traditional and more...eccentric beers. 

The Dandy Brewing Company: (2003 11 St SE). The Dandy Brewing Company is Calgary's original little brewery. Although it has grown some, it's still small at heart. They produce inspired ales, with lots of care, in small batches. Their unique approach to brewing and keen eye to every detail fosters creativity in both our recipes and beer styles. On site, they are pleased to offer a unique brewery experience, featuring a full service tasting room with an exquisite menu of fine dining drinking food, a curated selection of cocktails, glass pours of selected wines, and 20 taps of Dandy beers.

Throughout Canada, you will see many young breweries. The reason being that Canadian laws were suppressing the brewery business, but in recent years, legislative changes have allowed the beer and imaginations to flow.  Turn any corner in Calgary or even Edmonton and you will find new and successful baby breweries.

Our last full day in Canada was to be one to remember.  We started off with a small breakfast at Little Henry (next door to Ten Foot Henry and across the street from Hotel Arts) (1209 1 Street SW). In the morning, the restaurant is a local favorite grab-and-go cafe (Little Henry), which opens at 8 a.m. Ten Foot Henry is quite literally a 10-foot replica of the famed 1930 comic strip character named Henry. This cartoon boy became larger than life as a muse for Calgary's creative community in the 1980s.

The sustenance was just enough for our 90-minute trek to Banff National Park. For over 125 years, Banff National Park has been known as Canada’s Alpine Adventure. The unspoiled wilderness, refined amenities and endless array of opportunities for active exploration combine to make this UNESCO World Heritage Site a “must-see” destination for travelers around the world.  The pure and sheer beauty of this destination and it being so close to Calgary makes it worth the simple voyage.  As part of our trek we enjoyed the Banff Gondola.

Journey to the top of the Banff Gondola to see a whole new side of Sulphur Mountain and the Canadian Rockies. We’ve completely rebuilt, redesigned and reimagined our mountaintop experience, creating a world-class indoor experience that equals the awe-inspiring ridgetop boardwalk 2900 ft. above Banff. From new restaurants and interactive exhibits to a multisensory theatre and a breathtaking 360-degree rooftop observation deck, the all-new Banff Gondola experience heightens every sense.

Atop of the Banff Gondola on the summit of Banff’s Sulphur Mountain was Sky Bistro, a dining sanctuary in the sky.  A distinctly Canadian menu that features the unique flavors of Canada through a hand-picked selection of regionally-sourced local meats, produce, and ingredients. Enjoying the cuisine and the view was an experience that seems from dreams or a James Bond movie.  Plan accordingly, take your time, and enjoy this adventure that Calgary citizens get to enjoy whenever they want to.

Coming off the mountain, we then went to Pomeroy Kananaskis - Nordic Spa.

Don't forget your bathing suits as day passes are available so guests can enjoy the much-anticipated, newly renovated Nordic Spa.

We relaxed and enjoyed the hydrotherapy cycle as the picturesque mountains looked down upon us. The 50,000 sq. ft. of contemporary indoor-outdoor space, Kananaskis Nordic Spa is purposefully designed for those seeking equal parts stimulation, recuperation and balance. 

Save time for a glass of wine, cheese plate, or other offerings after the body scrub/steam room. 

 

 

Departing the mountains and getting back to the city, a quick freshen up at Hotel Arts and then a walk to our dinner at Foreign Concept (1011 1st Street SW). An upscale restaurant featuring modern pan-Asian plates and craft cocktails in an elegant, airy space. The award-winning Canadian chef Duncan Ly mixes his Vietnamese roots, infused with inspiration from executive chef Jinhee Lee’s Korean background and their combined love for bold flavors, charm, and whimsy.

The duo’s commitment to sustainable, seasonal and local ingredients makes the dining experience at Foreign Concept a true fusion of their passion for scratch made food, traditional cooking techniques presented with modernity.

Just around the corner from Foreign Concepts was another gay bar I wanted to frequent.  I convinced some fellow travelers to journey over to the Back Lot. A small dark bar with two floors and a back area patio, I found this place entertaining. After ordering a drink down stairs and heading upstairs to listen to some very good karaoke, we struck up some conversations with some very friendly Canadian men.  Would this be my haunt of choice if I lived in Calgary?  I think it would be a good option.  A little dark, seedy, mysterious, but very welcoming with nice attendees.

On our day of departure, we had to say goodbye to Calgary and Hotel Arts.  Our final meal was at the Yellow Door Bistro, where we met Fraser Abbott, Director of Sales and Marketing at Hotel Arts. If you ever need anything, I think this man could get it for you.

Opening in 2013, with a nostalgic yet creative design, this contemporary restaurant features bistro-style dishes with modern and seasonal twists. Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, Yellow Door Bistro believes in elevating simple food with quality ingredients.

Calgary has emerged as a must-visit culinary destination with a buzzing arts and culture scene. Restaurants with chef-driven cuisine, classic and quirky theatre, and lively music events and outdoor festivals, Calgary is a vibrant city that is centered around four UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park - making it the perfect complement to any Alberta adventure. WE only had time for one park, looks like we have to go back again to complete the rest .. as well as to find our cowboy.


For more information on some of the great places mentioned above, check out the following links.

Instagram @TourismCalgary #CaptureCalgary

Twitter @TourismCalgary #CaptureCalgary

Facebook @TourismCalgary


Hotel Arts:
T: @HotelArtsYYC
I: @hotelartsyyc


Betty Lou's Library
I: @bettylouslibrary
F: Facebook.com/BettyLouslibrary


Frenchie Wine Bar
I: @frenchiewinebar

T:@restofrenchie


Ricardo's Hideaway
I:
 @ricardosyyc
T: @ricardosyyc


Twisted Element: http://www.twistedelement.ca
I: @twistedelementyyc 
T: @twistedelement


Calcutta Cricket Club: http://www.calcuttacricketclub.com
T: @CalcuttaCricket
I: @calcuttacricket


Studio Bell National Music Centre http://www.nmc.ca
I: @nmc_canada
T: @nmc_canada
F: @NationalMusicCentre


Charbar:
I: @charbar_yyc
T: @charbar_yyc


Gears and Beers Bike Tour
W: Gears and Beers YYC
I: @gearsandbeersyyc
F: @gearsandbeersyyc


Cold Garden Beverage Company:
I: 
@cold_garden
T: @cold_garden

 


The Dandy Brewing Company:
T: @DandyAlesYYC


Little Henry (next door to Ten Foot Henry)
www.tenfoothenry.com.cafe-menu
I: @tenfoothenry
T: @10foothenry


Banff National Park
http://www.banffgondola.com

 


Sky Bistro
http://www.skybistro.ca/


Pomeroy Kananaskis - Nordic Spa
www.knordicspa.com
Facebook:@knordicspa
Twitter: @knordicspa
Instagram @knordicspa


Foreign Concept
I: @eatforeign
T: @eatforeign


Yellow Door Bistro
I: @yellowdoorYYC
T: @yellowdoorYYC

 


 

If you have travel ideas, places we should visit, or work for a PR company and are looking for writers to visit, please reach out to customerservice@instinctmagazine.com and address your comments to the Managing Editor.


 

Travel Thursday: Our Time At Maui's South Shore Paradise - Fairmont Kea Lani

Traveling to Hawaii has been one of our loves ever since my partner and I started vacationing as a couple.  The ease of getting to the islands and the costs have become easier and easier over the years.  What we personally have found is that the island of Maui is our home away from home.  Our last journey had us experience the lovely Fairmont Kea Lani.

After landing at the Kahului Airport, we boarded our transportation for the brief and beautiful 30-minute ride to Hawaii’s only all-suite and villa luxury oceanfront resort.  Situated on Maui's Wailea coast, we knew we were going to enjoy the spectacular sunsets while we enjoyed the legendary Fairmont hospitality.

We settled into our one-bedroom suite, checked out the large private lanai with its spectacular ocean view.  The personal slice of paradise would be ours to enjoy for the next few nights.

For our first night, we wanted to celebrate being on Maui. We chose to visit Luana. The  venue was the perfect spot start our immersion into Hawaiian modern culture with the view of the ocean and the sun setting.  We enjoyed conversing with the mixologists and enjoying their cocktails and spirits along with the great offering of live music and pupus or light fare.  We watched as others joined us and celebrated the pau hana, translated to “finished work.”  Luana, just open in the evenings after 4 PM, was the perfect choice of places to begin our enjoyment of the Fairmont Kea Lani.

And that is one thing that you should always familiarize yourself with, which eating venues are open for which meals.  While enjoying our coffee on our lanai we examined the list of other eateries we would enjoy during our Maui stay.

Kea Lani Restaurant was where we would dine for breakfast during our stay.  The offerings consisted of breakfast favorites and fruits of the islands all presented on a wonderful buffet.  The open-air dining area was an ideal place to start our days enjoying the comfort breakfast foods, guavas, mountain apples, rambutans, papayas and even some Asian style breakfast foods.

The other best practice we do when on vacation at such a wonderful resort like this is to either book a spa treatment before or as we arrive.  Resorts are usually very accommodating and will give you a tour of the spa to entice you even more.  No enticement needed here as we’ve spent a good many hours in a spa at the beginning of our stays at resorts as it sets up the relaxation mode right from the beginning.  The experience we had at the award winning Willow Stream Spa (recognized as "World's Best Hotel Spa - Hawaii") was full of  state-of-the-art, locally inspired, and tried and true relaxation options for guest to experience.  Make sure you treat yourself to a spa treatment as we do.

As we let our spa treatments and thiri after effects calm our bodies even more, lunch was in order.  Coming to Maui, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you are able to experience more than just Hawaiian culture and cuisine.  , the Fairmont Kea Lani’s signature restaurant, embraces its location on Maui as well as the island’s heritage and offers plantation-inspired cuisine featuring Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese menu items.  The recipes used by Executive Chef Tylun Pang are island family recipes that have been passed down for generations, all the way back to the days of sugarcane plantations.

We definitely enjoyed the options Kō offered for lunches and dinners, not only the international cuisine, but we would recommend checking out the Twilight Dinner, a four-course dinner in a private candle lit cabana.  On the flip side of the private romantic dinner is the Sunday Night Laulau, a true celebration of food, Hawaiian style.

The Fairmont Kea Lani, with its the spa treatments and food options, truly satisfied our soul and bellies, but now it was time for the poolside cabanas and beach.   The pool and beach attendants were very accommodating in assisting us in finding the right spot to continue our relaxation.  We found it perfect to enjoy a cabana as it allowed us to go from sun to shade and back again as our hearts and skin desired. 

As always, leaving paradise is hard.  The ride back to the airport was still beautiful and enjoyable, the fight off the island, breathtaking.  We will return Maui to enjoy the award winning Fairmont Kea Lani again.  If you need more enticements that the Fairmont Kea Lani is the place to stay, here are some recent accolades of Fairmont Kea Lani as well as link to promotional offers (https://www.fairmont.com/kea-lani-maui/special-offers/hotel-offers/) such as free nights, food and beverage credits, and amazing discounts.

 

2018 AWARDS  

FAIRMONT KEA LANI  
TravelPulse.com, Best Destination Wedding Hotel/Resort - Hawaii, Silver
TravelPulse.com, Best Honeymoon Hotel/Resort - Hawaii, Silver
U.S. News Travel, Best Maui Hotels and Best Hawai’i Hotel

 

 2017 AWARDS  

FAIRMONT KEA LANI  
Travel + Leisure Magazine, The World’s Best Awards, Top 25 in Hawai’i
Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, Top 25 Best Resorts in Hawai'i
BRIDES, 2017 Best Honeymoon Awards, Top 10 Resorts in Hawai’i
Trip.com, 2017 Family Tribe Best Hotels
Family Vacation Critic, 2017 Family Vacation Critic Favorite
TripAdvisor, 2017 Certificate of Excellence
USA 10Best Awards, Best Waterfront Resort
Travel Weekly, Silver Magellan Award, Beach Resort/Hotel category

KŌ RESTAURANT 
Maui No Ka Oi, 'Aipono Award, Best Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, Gold
TripAdvisor, 2017 Certificate of Excellence 
Wine Spectator Magazine, 2017 Award of Excellence
Maui Time Weekly, 2017 Best of Maui,Best Kama’aina
The Maui News, 2017 Best of Maui, Best Multinational Cuisine

LUANA
Maui Time Weekly, 2017 Best of Maui, Best Mixologist - Aaron Alcala-Mosley


 

If you have travel ideas, places we should visit, or work for a PR company and are looking for writers to visit, please reach out to customerservice@instinctmagazine.com and address your comments to the Managing Editor.


 

Travel Thursday: When Key West Calls, The Ocean Key Resort & Spa Has The Answer.

In all my travels to Key West, I’ve always stayed with a very good friend.  Now that she has moved back to New Hampshire, It was time for me to find a different place to stay than a guest room. Since I had been to Key West many times, walked around, knew where all the hot spots were, I knew where I desired to be and at which resort I wanted to stay.

Ocean Key Resort & Spa at 0, yes, zero Duval Street was to be my home for the next three days and two nights.  Arriving at the resort, I was greeted by the handsome hockey knowledgeable valet, Jeremy. He was the first and last face I would see staying there and all others at the resort would follow his lead of having a pleasurable and helpful personality. Cara Johnson, Director of Sales & Catering, would later give me a tour of the picturesque resort, educating me on everything from the spa to the hand-painted ceiling tiles in the Hot Tin Roof Restaurant to the soon to be reconstructed Sunset pier.

When cutie Jeremy showed me to my suite, I think my face may have said what my brain was thinking, “Seriously? This is my suite?”  The resort used to be all time shares but has since been taken over by Noble House Hotel And Resorts.  Some of the time share residences are still owned by families, but maintained and handled by Ocean Key.  My suite with one bedroom, living room, dining area, full kitchen, and massive bath was more than I expected. The cathedral ceilings throughout added a wow factor to my lodgings.

I had two reasons for coming to Key West that weekend.  One was to see one of our writers that I had never met in person, and second was to have a relaxing weekend in a Key West resort.  The amenities at Ocean Key Resort & Spa allowed me to do both.

Dinner at the resort’s restaurant Hot Tin Roof was amazing as I enjoyed its Little Gem Salad (tomato, pickled red onion, humboldt fog cheese, billionaire’s bacon, buttermilk dressing) followed by Albondigas Picadillos (pork & beef meatballs, tomato, queso blanco) and then the Sunset Ale-Braised Lamb Shank (smoked gouda polenta, wilted spinach).  Dinner was accompanied by a 2015 Zinfandel while the dessert, a salted caramel and dark chocolate tart, was enjoyed alongside a Tawny 10 year old port. I will say, the service was remarkable.  I was eating by myself so besides enjoying the great food, I admired the service and the great team someone assembled.  My Ukranian waiter was visually stunning and a great conversationalist.  The rest of the staff assisted each other with ease, grade, and accuracy. It was a symphony and I told that to the head of house. I was impressed.

Brunch was just as exceptional and had the same view as the first night's dinner.  Many more families were present as the Hot Tin Roof is known to have one of the best brunches on the island, reservations recommended, but walk-ins welcome.

On my last day at Ocean Key Resort & Spa, I checked out of the resort and into the spa (it's in the same building, but that just sounded cool). Spa Terre has many different services to choose from and I actually chose two, the Balinese massage and a facial.  Being a man with a beard, I was unsure how a facial would go, but the experienced staff, both for the facial and the massage, were friendly and excellent with their hands.

I hated to leave, but now being relaxed and more clean than ever, it was time. 

Recommendations off the chart for the Ocean Key Resort & Spa.  One of the best locations on the island at 0 Duval Street, a staff that strives for nothing but excellence, and amenities and rooms that will satisfy you and your memories.


There's a lot more to the keys than just one resort Here are some other aspects of my trip to the keys.


Getting to Key West

Since my first trek down 95, to Route 1, to the end of the state and country, I’ve been to Key West several times, none of them will match the beauty and awe I experienced the first time, going over the bridges, hopping from one island/key to the next, seeing the magnificent indescribable hues of blue and green seawater. Many wrinkle their nose at the 4.5 hour drive from Fort Lauderdale (3 to 3.5 from Miami), but it is truly an enjoyable and important part of visiting the keys.  Yes, you can fly into Key West International Airport or take the Key West Express departing from Fort Myers Beach at 8:30 am, from Key West at 5 pm, with a travel time of about 3 1/2 hours once underway.

 


Since Hurricane Irma

It had been about 9 months since my last journey to Key West.  I had gone down Route 1 in November of last year, just two months after Hurricane Irma blasted through the middle of the archipelago. Key Largo at the top of the keys and Key West at the end were the least damaged of the keys, but everything in the middle was affected.  I didn’t want to stop and stare at the devastation, but I was able to take some pics from my car as I drove.  What I notice was how much greenery was gone, how many homes were gone, how much garbage there was alongside the roads on keys that I never thought had homes to begin with.   This most recent journey down, there was so much lush greenery present, new construction, activity, and promise.  There was still talk of the damage, a great amount of repair still going on, some keys were a little further in the process of recovery, but none were still in devastation mode.


More to see than just Key West?

I will always enjoy my expedition to the Keys for I truly have just scraped the surface of what they have to offer.  Being in Florida, I am bombarded with many resorts marketing that they are coming back alive and will be at full swing in 2019.  I love Key West, but with having 7 trips down there under my belt, maybe it is time to explore more destinations along one of my favorite roads in America.  


Enjoy these other pics and their descriptions from other aspects of my trip.

 


If you have travel ideas, places we should visit, or work for a PR company and are looking for writers to visit, please reach out to customerservice@instinctmagazine.com and address your comments to the Managing Editor.

Travel Thursday: Cities Welcome LGBT+ Travelers With Visitor Centers Made For Us. Add Fort Lauderdale, Florida To The List

With LGBT Travel being a multi billion dollar business ($200 Billion in 2014), cities are working to market themselves even more.  We know of the gay meccas in the nation like San Francisco, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and New York City, with the smaller beach towns of Rehoboth, Saugatuck, Ogunquit, and Provincetown, but what the heck do you do when you get there?  Or what the heck should you do before you get there?

Just a little over a month ago Fort Lauderdale, Florida opened up its LGBT+ Visitor Center. It's a wise move since the Greater Fort Lauderdale welcomes 1.5 million LGBT+ visitors annually who spend roughly $1.5 billion. The Visitor Center is a result of a partnership between the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau & the Greater Fort Lauderdale LGBT Chamber of Commerce. 

We are proud to have a long and positive history of supporting the LGBT+ community. The opening of this Visitor Center marks another important milestone in the uniqueness of our area in recognizing the value and needs of the LGBT+ visitor. We are very excited about this latest advancement in calling attention to all of our great attractions, hotels, clubs, bars and restaurants that cater to this important audience. - Richard Gray, Vice President of LGBT+ for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Remember sending letters into or calling visitors bureaus to request brochures and trip guides from cities as you planned your vacations? Pouring through the selections and pages was always fun with great pictures of destinations, but where were the rainbows? Well, here come the rainbows. The World Tourism Organization estimated in a 2016 report that LGBT travelers account for five to 10 per cent of global tourists.  We have the money and we are spending it, but we need the help to know where our money should be spent on quality and at gay owned businesses and businesses that welcome us.

There are hundreds of gay-owned and operated businesses in the Greater Fort Lauderdale Area as it arguably has the highest concentration of same-sex couple households in the country. Th diversity in Southern Florida is quite noticeable and that does include LGBT+. 

The economic impact the LGBT+ community locally cannot be understated, especially by LGBT+ visitors that come here from all over the world year after year. While LGBT+ travelers have many of the same needs as straight travelers, many unique needs exist. This Visitor Center will serve as a place where people can stop in, ask for recommendations and receive information about the community, our member businesses, events and organizations. - Keith Blackburn, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale LGBT Chamber of Commerce

When it comes to gay travel, Instinct Magazine posts its Travel Thursday pieces each week as a way of sharing with its readers our own experiences from our own personal travels.  The trips our writers share are ones they have been invited to go on while others share their personal vacations to destinations all over the world.

We are just visitors in some of these communities. We do our research as well as inquire from locals what things we should be doing while visiting. Now, cities are doing the work for us. There are other cities across the nation that have a dedicated LGBT Community Center, LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and LGBT Visitor Center. 

Here are some other LGBT Visitors Centers we know of across the nation. Feel free to give a nod to others you know. 


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 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 office@gaykeywestfl.com. - http://gaykeywestfl.com/


San Diego LGBT Visitors Center

San Diego's official travel resource for LGBT tourists and our allies. We provide the most trusted and useful information, maps and local recommendations. 

The goal of the San Diego LGBT Visitors Center is to share San Diego's LGBT friendly brand and image with the world. We are partially funded by the Southern California Equality Business Alliance, operating under the fiscal guidance of the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation, a 501(c)3 charitable organization.  - https://www.lgbtvisitorscenter.org/


 

LGBT Visitor Center Miami Beach

The LGBT Visitor Center in Miami Beach, at 1130 Washington Avenue, opens its door with Pride to thousands of tourists from around the globe each year. Situated in the historic Old City Hall building, we’re literally at the epicenter of LGBTQ activity in South Beach. Steps to Ocean Drive and the Beach, a few blocks from famed Lincoln Rd and right in the middle of bars, restaurants, shops and hotels. Our vibrant LGBTQ community helps make Miami and the beaches one of the top LGBTQ destinations in the world!

The LGBT Visitor Center builds strong community by fostering social engagement and community wellness. We enhance the health and well-being of the LGBTQ communities by providing activities, programs and services that create community and empower community members. We also provide essential resources for the LGBTQ tourist promoting socioeconomic development and tourism. 

1130 Washington Ave, First Floor North, Miami Beach, FL 33139-4600 - http://www.gogaymiami.com/
 
h/t:  skift.com  , www.sunny.org/lgbt , https://www.gogayfortlauderdale.com/visitor-center

If you have travel ideas, places we should visit, or work for a PR company and are looking for writers to visit, please reach out to customerservice@instinctmagazine.com and address your comments to the Managing Editor.

Travel Thursday: Scottsdale, Arizona Stimulates And Satisfies Us This Summer.

When in Scottsdale, Arizona, do as the locals do.

We recently enjoyed an exciting long weekend in one of the top Spa / Resort cities in the country.  Scottsdale, Arizona offers not only great beauty, but great resorts, as well as outdoor activities.  Yes!  Enjoyable outdoor activities in the desert. The highlight of our trip was staying at the Andaz.

Andaz – Scottsdale Resort & Spa

Our picturesque Arizona nights were spent at the Andaz - Scottsdale Resort & Spa, a "World of Hyatt" resort that I had only heard great things about from friends out west.  Driving up to the resort, walking to my Saarinen Bungalow, I could see why they loved the Andaz brand so much.

The bungalows bare the name of Finnish American architect and interior designer Eero Saarinen, designer of Washington Dulles International Airport and the St. Louis’ Gateway Arch.  The largest bungalows the resort offers are 485 sq ft, with one king bed, spacious mid-century modern interiors, an oversized dual-fixture shower that could fit nine people comfortably, a banco terrace, as well as a private patio with luxurious outdoor lounge seating. The comfort and design of the bungalows made it hard to depart any of its 7 amazing spaces: the shower, the separate multiple sitting area inside and out, the bed, and even the walk-through closet/changing area wowed us.

Once we were able to gain the internal strength to leave our beautiful bungalow, the rest of the resort did not disappoint.  Any resort in Arizona needs a pool and the Andaz has three. The Turquoise Pool is the central pool of the resort where cabanas can be rented and bar food and drinks enjoyed.  The Palo Verde Spa & Apothecary pool was a pleasant surprise to find after our spa treatment.  The views from every part of the resort were breathtaking, but the spa pool kept us in awe for some time.  The third pool, the Retreat Pool, is a little more private as it is among a cluster of private cabanas and only useable by those guests.

The main building housed reception as well as Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen, where we had most of our meals, unless it was the phenomenal room service.  Two recommendations – get room service to bring you breakfast one day as it is epically wonderful – and – get the dirty hash when you go to Weft & Warp.  Most of the menu is breakfast items that you can order throughout the day, but the dirty hash danced all over my taste buds, especially when I added the homemade hot sauces.

Living in Florida, I know heat and humidity.  I had not been to Arizona in well over a decade and I could not remember what the dry heat felt like.  It did worry me knowing that temperatures would easily reach triple digits, but as a heavier set man that sweats at the drop of a hat, as long as there was some shade, the Arizona dry heat was so much easier to handle than the Florida humid heat.

And not knowing how that heat was going to be, I was rethinking a couple of my planned activities in Scottsdale. I went forward with them anyway and I am so happy I did.

Kayaking the Lower Salt River with Arizona Outback Adventures

A water adventure in Arizona? Why not? We were picked up at the Andaz for the simple van ride out to the Lower Salt River.  The plan was to float down the relaxing, class-1 Lower Salt River surrounded by spectacular and unobstructed views of four different mountain ranges. But there is enough water in Arizona to make this happen? Flowing from the mountains in Northern Arizona, the Salt River is captured by four dams and released for use by Phoenicians and farmers.

The paddling was more like floating and pointing on that day and we didn’t mind one bit. Some of us had never kayaked before and this was an easy and great first experience for them. We saw many different birds, like the great blue heron, as well as many wild horses. I would take anyone on this kayaking journey again. Wear a bathing suit and a light shirt and a hat and you’ll have to wear shoes so bring some water shoes or sandals and they will provide you with a life jacket.   www.aoa-adventures.com/daytours/half-day_kayak_tours.html

A Balloon Experience by Hot Air Expedition, Inc.

So, yeah.  I did that.  We left the Andaz at 4:30 AM for yet another short van ride to go and experience something I cannot wait to do again.  If you’ve ever been on a plane, this is 1,000 times easier.  If you’re afraid of heights, don’t worry.  By the time you realize you are off the ground, you’re smiling from ear-to-ear.  Just don’t look straight straight down.  The view from the balloon’s handcrafted wicker basket is virtually unobstructed during your approximate hour-long flight.

We did partake in the morning flight, but afternoon flights occur, too.  Both provide magnificent views of desert terrain and towering mountain ranges, as well as the opportunity to spot local plant life and wildlife – all from up to 5,000 feet.  We could not tell what some of the animals were as they ran around, but once the shadows were elongated, we could tell most were rabbits.  Breakfast/evening hors d’oeuvres are provided immediately following the balloon ride. You are welcomed back to earth in the traditional manner with flutes of champagne and delectable gourmet cuisine, a custom dating back more than 100 years.

 

 

It is recommended that you wear sunglasses, sunscreen, and closed-toed shoes. The temperature in the air is the same as on the ground, so dress for the day’s anticipated temperatures. We would also recommend wearing a hat and a thin long-sleeved shirt as the heat from the balloon’s fire is intense so any way to block that direct heat from your skin is advised.

Other Places To Stay

The Andaz Resort & Spa was a great place to call home for a couple of nights and the summer rates are quite exciting.  Definitely check out the summer deals as some are great discounts, many waive resort fees, and others provide some free adult libations, and some do all three and more!  We learned that in the summer, when rates are lower at hotels, resorts, and spas, the locals will find these great deals and have staycations or pampering days.  We met many wonderful locals enjoying the summer pricing.

We desired to check a couple of other places to stay while in town.

The Scott

The Scott Resort & Spa was a refreshing palate for this Floridian’s eyes.  The mix of natural wood and elegance gave this downtown Scottsdale resort a feeling of warmth and comfort.

Both The Canal Club Restaurant and The Canal Club Poolside helped us fill up on amazing food and drinks our first night in Scottsdale.  We also checked out the two pool areas the next day, with one being a sandy beach pool, where sand castles are definitely encouraged. 

The Spa was not as large as others in the area, but for the amenities it offers, it ranks a respectable 7th best spa in Scottsdale, a town of resorts and spas.  If I had more time, I would work in another stay at The Scott.

Hotel Adeline

This simple yet well designed hotel was my last place to stay for the evening.  When I arrived at Hotel Adeline, the pool was hopping with a great young and attractive crowd enjoying a live dj.  I was told that I had a great room overlooking the pool and one of the more perfect spots to enjoy the live music later that evening.  I was worried that the hotel would be hopping all night long, but the bustling crowd must have been out and about in Scottsdale as Hotel Adeline was a quiet place to lay my head. 

Places to Eat

Besides the amazing room service and the Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen at Andaz, we tried out a couple of other places. 

FnB

Tucked inside the charming and historic Craftsman Court in the heart of downtown Scottsdale, FnB, short for Food and Beverage, owes its praise and passion to its owners, Chef Charleen Badman and Front of House Manager and Beverage Director Pavle Milic.

As chef and co-owner of the award-winning FnB restaurant in Scottsdale, Charleen Badman is one of Arizona’s most celebrated chefs. A four-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef of the Southwest, Charleen is known as the “veggie whisperer” for her ability to coax the very best flavor out of locally grown vegetables, which are featured prominently – although not exclusively – on the FnB menu. Her unfussy, yet boldly flavored menu changes seasonally, and sometimes even week-to-week with tweaks based on what’s currently available from local farmers.

We ate family style at the restaurant.  I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy, but the way that Chef Badman worked her magic with a large variety of vegetables (and meats), I was a fan and will be a fan of her work.  Others are fans, too - “Best Chef Southwest Nominee 2014 + 2015 + 2016 + 2017” by the James Beard Foundation Awards.

Culinary Dropout

This chain restaurant was one I had never heard of when in Maine or Florida so when my friend from Tempe recommended it, I was up for something different.  We were well taken care of by the polite staff and our server Sarah. Muscles for an appetizer as well as a brussell sprouts dish kept us going until the main dishes came out.  We would recommend Culinary Dropout and basically anything on the menu.

If you find yourself passing through Arizona and cannot decide on which part to prop your feet up in, our vote is for Scottsdale.  The over all feel of the area, the artistry, the welcoming and happy people, as well as the views and opportunities to go hiking, kayaking, ballooning, and other outdoor activities make this part of the desert a beacon for travelers, adventurers, and those seeking relaxation.


Here are some other pictures from our trip.


If you have travel ideas, places we should visit, or work for a PR company and are looking for writers to visit, please reach out to customerservice@instinctmagazine.com and address your comments to the Managing Editor.

Travel Thursday: Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, All-Inclusive, All Friendly, All Fun

For my first trip to Mexico, I wanted an environment that I knew would have the quality, safety, and resort like amenities.  I also desired to be able to experience the culture and the history of the region.  My choice was Hard Rock Hotel in Riviera Maya.

With a simple two-hour $200 roundtrip direct plane ticket on Southwest, I was on my way from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Cancun, Mexico. Before boarding the plane at FLL, I had heard some college kids obtaining a shuttle for $25 per person.  I thought about finding a cheaper shuttle than the Hard Rock recommended $60 roundtrip resort shuttle service, but my choice to stick with the higher resort recommended shuttle was reaffirmed when we landed in Cancun and I saw the kids pile into a mini minivan with 7 other people and all their bags.  My ride to the hotel was a great start to the trip as our 8-passenger luxury SUV whisked us three away, me and a Canadian couple to the Hard Rock.  I think I always meet wonderful Canadians when I travel.  This wonderful couple from Alberta had been to this resort before, once before and once after it was rebranded as the Hard Rock.  The couple gave me some great pointers and our conversation reassured me that I made the right choice with the Hard Rock.

Located just off the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya offers the ultimate vacation for guests of all ages with both the adults-only and family friendly resort experiences. With a combined 1,264 ultra-posh and lavishly appointed guestrooms boasting balcony, terrace views or new, expansive sky terrace options with picturesque views, hydro tubs in each room, world-class shopping and endless style and the largest celebrity-branded Rock Star Suite in the Hard Rock International collection designed by legendary singer Bret Michaels, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya is nothing short of the ultimate crowd-pleaser. Complete with expansive outdoor pools and private beach, this all-inclusive escape offers nine world-class restaurants, eight bars and lounges, in addition to 88,915 square feet of state-of-the-art meeting and event space ideal for elegant banquets, themed parties, weddings, concerts and more. Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya offers several youth-friendly components including the brand-new Woodward Riviera Maya action-sports facility, The Cavern — a teens lounge, snorkeling and kayaking for an unparalleled adventure and more. In addition, the “resort within the resort,” adults-only section Heaven, includes the Hard Rock signature Rock Spa® with 75 treatment rooms, four restaurants and three sophisticated bars and lounges, including a premium service nightclub.

Margaritas where at the ready when I arrived at Heaven, yes, Heaven, the lobby was the opulent plush oasis I was seeking.  Booking a stay at the Hard Rock Riviera Maya, one can choose Heaven (Adults Only) or Hacienda (Adults & Kids).  More about that later. Guest services gave me my liquid libation while the front desk provided me with the bracelet (key) to my Rock Royalty – Deluxe Premium room. Some of the perks of the level of room I booked were:

  • Rock Royalty Personal Assistant
  • Personal Assistance with reservations (on and off property)
  • Balcony with hammock in most rooms
  • Premium Liquor Dispenser – Absolut, Bacardi White, Johnny Walker Black Label, Jose Cuervo Especial
  • Mini bar with soda, bottled water, juice, domestic beer and snacks
  • Free wireless internet

What I grew to love was the personal assistant.  If I had any need, the personal assistant team of Antonio and Abraham met and exceeded my expectations.  The ability to contact them through WhatsApp made it even more convenient, especially when I was returning from the excursion they helped me coordinate.  I had reservations for 8, but the bus was still 40 minutes away at 7:30. They were there to alter the reservation and when I arrived at the restaurant, Antonio was actually there to say hello.  Antonio and Abraham, thanks again for helping me truly enjoy my time at the Hard Rock.

What I also enjoyed was even though the resort was massive, it did not seem so.  The adult and family sections, restaurants, and pools were well divided. I did stroll around the entire resort and even had breakfast on the family side.  Besides seeing some hot daddies, I was happy I was staying on the adult only side.

 

You never can plan the weather, even in paradise. One afternoon, I found myself grabbing a drink at the Eden Bar and then the rain came. I lost track of how long it rained as well as how many drinks I had, but the company of both the other guests and the bar staff were great.  When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, rum punches, daiquiris, tequila, and some other drinks I cannot remember the name of.  Another great benefit of staying on a resort is that you can stumble home, even if you don’t remember it.  If I had not been at the Hard Rock, I would not have been able to splurge as much, especially since I was traveling alone.

As mentioned, Antonio and Abraham assisted me in arranging a day long excursion to Chichen Itza and Cenote.  The trip took off around 7:30 am, included admission to all parks and a lunch buffet at a Cenote restaurant, and I was dropped off at about 8:15 PM.  The day was such a great experience, I would do it all again and the price was rather reasonable for all it included. I actually ended up misplacing my ticket for the day, but since the excursion company had service desks at the resort, it was easy to have another ticket printed in time to catch my transport.

 

My trip to the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya was a little too short for I did not have enough time to over eat, I mean try out all the restaurants. The ones I had a chance to sample are worth writing about.

Le Petit Cochon - Serving remarkable dishes à la carte, Le Petit Cochon features the finest ingredients for a delicious taste of the rustic French countryside.

 

My WhatsApp Personal Assistant Team high recommended Le Petit Cochon and I went with it.  Sitting down to the table and seeing the menu for the first time, I knew I was in for a treat as there was so much that were my favorites. From foie gras, to French onion soup to, a scallop dish that was creamy, spicy, and heavenly.  Can I get the recipe?  While enjoying my morsels of heaven, I overheard one table telling another that this was their third time eating at Le Petit Cochon.

 

Toro was the other restaurant I had time to enjoy.  Le Petit Cochon was for adults only, but Toro was open to all.  My reservations were always for later in the evening so I never saw kids in there.  Instead, I saw some great cuts of meat and multiple glasses of wine being consumed at my table.

Toro - The good life deserves a great steak. Step inside and enjoy premium cuts of the finest steak and a menu of lavish dishes served à la carte.

As I mentioned, I desired more time at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya.  This is a resort and a brand I will give my business to in the future.

 What I liked about this large resort was that it still had a small feel to it.  The video below shows the size of the property, but you still had intimacy and privacy as well as you were able to find where the parties were. With it's size, they can offer such great amenities, but still know who you are as an individual and help you keep that individual feel by giving you the chance to customize your escapes, your own personal sound track, to help you make your room truly your oasis, and everything else imaginable.

 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION Visit www.hrhrivieramaya.com or www.hrhallinclusive.com or call 888.762.5002.  And consider the rock royalty as I did and enjoyed.

 

 

 

As an added side note … I do have multiple friends that are looking for destination wedding venues so I do take it upon myself to do some research on the topic when I travel. I had the chance to ask Carilis Felipe, Director of Weddings North America, AIC Hotel Group, some questions about same-sex couples (SSCs) and their experiences at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Do you offer anything different or special for the SSCs than you do heterosexual couples? Apart from offering SSCs the option of having either two bouquets or two boutonnieres, the wedding process and amenities are the same for all couples. This also includes the same benefits and inclusions. Our weddings are customizable, so all couples can add a personal touch and have the wedding they’ve always envisioned. Additionally, all our weddings are handled by our event consultants, who are certified by 14 Stories and TAG approved.

What is the most common request from SSCs? Different than heterosexual couples?
The most common request we receive from LGBTQ+ couples is for their ceremony or wedding events to be held in private locations. While we offer SSCs and heterosexual couples the same location options, most of our SSCs do not want to be placed in locations where other hotel guests have access to walk by, as they prefer to opt for a much more intimate setting.

Carilis Felipe elaborated that last year, 3% of the weddings were SSCs, with it being split 50/50 between male and female couples. The most popular type of ceremony the couples choose is a symbolic ceremony, which is non-legally binding and performed by a non-denominational officiant, giving the couple flexibility to incorporate religious aspects into their ceremonies such as scripture, readings, or candle ceremonies. Carilis stated that this type of ceremony is popular because it is free of charge, and couples typically prefer to be legally married in their hometown. They are also able to perform same-sex civil ceremonies at the Hard Rock properties in Mexico, as same-sex marriage became legal in Mexico a few years ago.

Out of all the weddings, SSC or straight, what has been the oddest request? The most fun request?
Many couples look for different ways to make a special entrance on their big day. At Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta, one of our same-sex bride’s family was unable to travel and attend the wedding. So, to do something special, we helped her fiancée (soon-to-be- wife) arrange for the bride to arrive at the beach ceremony on a white horse covered in flowers.

Do you see small or large parties attending the weddings or does it vary?
Our average size wedding parties are between 40-60 guests. However, we occasionally have small weddings of just two people. Our Wedding Group Benefits vary from as little as 5 rooms, to as large as 100+ rooms so it helps cater to all types of weddings.

What makes you confident that you are providing the best wedding/services to SSCs that come to the Hard Rock?
The feedback we receive from our SSCs once they begin working with us, versus the information they received from other hotels during the shopping process clearly outlines that our wedding services are unmatched. We also have travel agents who specialize in LGBTQ+ travel who are continuously recommending our hotels to their couples.

What sets your services apart from others, may it be for straight couples or SSC? Why would I choose to get married at the Hard Rock over other places?
The main differentiator is the inclusions we offer, as well as the in-room amenities, resort credit, a complimentary wedding collection and wedding group benefits. The size of the group will qualify for the group benefits and entitles the couple to complimentary nights, room upgrades and private events.

We also offer a complimentary wedding collection for all ceremonies for up to 32 guests, so any couple travelling on their own would be able to enjoy all the package inclusions. We do not require the couple to book any specific room category or minimum length of stay in order to receive the complimentary wedding package.

Do you call in “more accepting” staff to assist with SSC weddings or is the same staff used for all weddings? We worry that we may not be accepted or not all employees would be open to seeing us getting married. How do you handle that? How do you counsel your staff?
The same staff is used for all weddings, and all our staff have past experience working with SSCs. At Hard Rock, “Love All, Serve All” is one of our mottos. Our staff is thoroughly vetted to ensure everyone on our team lives by this message, and delivers the same level of service and hospitality to all our guests and wedding couples – regardless of where they come from, whether or not they are a SSC, their age, etc.

For information on services, please refer to our weddings website:

https://allinclusivehotelweddings.com/same-sex-weddings/


If you have travel ideas, places we should visit, or work for a PR company and are looking for writers to visit, please reach out to customerservice@instinctmagazine.com and address your comments to the Managing Editor.

Travel Thursday: Mark Your Calendars - Pride of the Americas in 2020 Planned for Fort Lauderdale

Wouldn't you want to come to paradise and celebrate Pride with beautiful men from all over the world? Well, how about from half the world? Get ready for Pride of the Americas 2020.

When I moved to Fort Lauderdale, my friends said I moved to paradise.  The beaches, the men, the weather, the inexpensive alcohol, and people coming from all over the world to visit throughout the year.  I agree, it is paradise, but what is great is that this paradise I call home gets better and better every single year.

From its position in southern Florida, Fort Lauderdale celebrates life and gayness like no other city. The year I graduated from college was the year this city took a leap to become a hub of LGBT travel and tourism. 

In 1995, Richard Gray proposed to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) a business plan for marketing Fort Lauderdale as a gay destination.  It was accepted and in 1996 with a $35,000 gay marketing initiative, Gray went to work promoting the city and what it had to offer tourists.  Within a half a decade the number of gay resorts in the area grew to 30.  His work and the work of others in the CVB has been so successful and the returns so great that his position of LGBT Managing Director for the Fort Lauderdale CVB was made fulltime 7 years ago and now has an annual budget of $1 million.  The budget is impressive, but what also needs to be mentioned is that Richard Gray is one of a kind as it is believed (as of 2014 when we first chatted at length) that there are no other Convention and Visitors Bureaus in North America or Internationally that Gray knows of with an employee whose sole responsibility is the LGBT market.

I've been fortunate to see some of the great progress The Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB has made to make the city and the area more and more inclusive and welcoming. 

The support the CVB gives to the LGBT community has made it much easier for Fort Lauderdale Pride to move forward with bettering what they have to offer the citizens of southern Florida.

My first interactions with Pride in the FTL area had been the Stonewall Prides held in June every year in Wilton Manors.  It's a great celebration that mirrors other pride celebrations across the country.  But it wasn't until last year in February of 2017 that I attended Fort Lauderdale's Pride celebration during its first year on the Fort Lauderdale beach.  It was one of the happiest, sexiest, down to earth, inviting events I had been to in the United States.  This year in 2018, the event was repeated but was even more glorious and was even called the Love Pride.

One thing I loved about Richard Gray's and the Greater Fort Lauderdale's CVB's vision is that they all love where we live and want to share it with as many people as they can. Pride Fort Lauderdale did desire to host the WorldPride in 2021, but it was awarded to Copenhagen.

Related Post: Travel Thursday: The Love Pride 2018 Hits Fort Lauderdale In 10 Days.

What to do when you don't get the bid?  Lemons, lemonade, lemon drop martinis, let's party!  Pride of the Americas sounds like a great consolation prize and one that is not only still in my front yard, but a year earlier!

And Fort Lauderdale is the ideal spot to launch one. Our area is not just a premiere tourist destination, it also boasts a particularly diverse and welcoming community, with one of the largest concentrations of LGBT households in the nation. Broward County is the most diverse county in Florida and the second most diverse in the nation (we’re coming for you, Queens, New York!). More than 58 percent of our population is minorities, 32 percent were born in another country, and approximately 79 percent of those foreign-born residents are from Latin America. - hotspotsmagazine

The news is fresh and exciting about this event.  When the dust settles, it may be clear which organization is sponsoring, in charge of, or fully organizing the event, but what is seen now is that the Fort Lauderdale community will be hosting this event. The partnership with Broward County, Fort Lauderdale CVB, and the Fort Lauderdale Pride organization will make this event grand!

Related Post: Travel Thursday: The Love Pride 2018 Hits Fort Lauderdale In 10 Days.

The writers over at HotSpots Magazine have shared these possible tid bits with us all as what may occur during this celebration:

  • Possible 350,000 LGBT celebrants from around the world.
  • A Sunday parade and beach festival, capped off with a spectacular fireworks show.
  • A full week of Pride festivities with opening ceremonies, an arts festival, a business expo
  • A human rights conference focused on LGBT rights in the Caribbean and Latin America
  • Daily sunset concerts, a beach party, and dance parties and other social activities at venues all over town.

Pride of the Americas is a little over a year and a half away (omg that's not too far away), so they have a little time to iron things out.  Fort Lauderdale Pride is usually in February, but the 2020 celebration may explode in February or April of that year.  Latest announcement is for April.  Will it take some of the umph out of Miami Pride which is usually the first weekend of April or will it be later in the month?  They're working on it and we will let you know more when we know more.


h/t: HotSpots Magazine


If you have travel ideas, places we should visit, or work for a PR company and are looking for writers to visit, please reach out to customerservice@instinctmagazine.com and address your comments to the Managing Editor.

Travel Thursday: London, England - From Cursed Children to Gay Heavens

With the Royal Wedding just 2 weeks away, we thought it would be fitting to share this Travel Thursday piece on London, England.


A year ago, I decided to buy tickets to see the Harry Potter play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This was both because of my being a major Harry Potter fan and also because right before that I had just had my first trip abroad. After realizing just how accessible the rest of the world really was, I was ready to explore it again.

And finally, earlier this month, the time to see the United Kingdom had come.


The Boroughs

First off, the boroughs of London, like any other city, are very different in feel to one another. These are the understandings I got from each section.

  • Waterloo is understood as a section with not much to offer due to it being by a major public transportation area, but it surprisingly has several restaurants and stores to choose from.
  • Kensington had a very polished look to it due to being the home of several museums and universities. In fact, at one point I got lost while looking for a place to eat and I walked by several expensive looking apartment buildings and windows revealing lectures in session.
  • Southwark is home to several restaurants and stores. This is due to it being very packed with foot traffic thanks to sights like the London Bridge, the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, and the Borough Markets.
  • Soho is the kind of East Village and Broadway mix of London. In it, you can find stores, restaurants, West End play productions, and many gay bars/clubs.

​The Museums

Once again, there are many MANY museums in London (most of which are free), but I’ll give you a run down of the ones I visited.

  • The V&A

The Victoria & Albert Museum displays millions of decorative arts and designs for everyone to come see for free. This includes French clothing from Napoleon’s era to Roman sculptures, metalworking structures, and even David Bowey albums.

And, this museum is huge! I planned to spend 2.5 hours exploring it all but spent that much time just exploring the first floor.

  • The Natural Science Museum

While the V&A is full of beautiful and compelling works of design, the Natural History Museum is full of fun and scientific objects. This museum has a lot of fun interactive galleries about varying topics like the science of earthquakes, planetary science, dinosaurs, gems and stones, and much more.

Possibly my favorite section of the museums was the Japanese store model that you got to stand in as it went through an earthquake.

  • The British Museum

The British Museum is a classic history museum with galleries covering many cultures and time spans like Ancient Egypt and Nubia, ancient and modern Japan, Greek pottery and sculptures, and more. You get the idea.

Careful though, while a lot of this museum is free, some of its sections are pay for only.

  • The National Gallery

While the British Museum is an enlarged version of the classic history museum, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are large versions of the classic art museums.

Not only are the rooms large and spacious but many of the artwork displayed in said rooms are several feet tall!

  • The Photographers’ Gallery

While the National Gallery and British Museum are large and spacious, the photographers’ gallery is small and intimate.

That said, the two showing exhibitions were both interesting to me. When I was there, the exhibitions focused on photos from the first performance of 4 Saints in 3 Acts (a Gertrude Stein opera that was not only the first opera on Broadway but was also performed by an entirely black cast), and an exhibition of director Wim Weners’ personal polariods.

The gallery is free for all until noon and those two exhibitions will be running until February 2018, so check it out.

  • The Globe Theatre

Then, we have Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre which, while also being a fully functioning theatre, also works as a gallery and tour spot.

I spent a good 3 hours there looking through the gallery that talked not only about the rebuilt theatre but about England and the Bankside/Southwark area during Shakespeare’s time.

In addition, I was blessed by an informed and passionate tour guide who led us all over the wet (it was raining) Globe theatre and filled us in on its history.

  • Warner Bros./Harry Potter Studio Tour

Lastly, this tour wasn’t quite a museum in name but it works just like one. If you are a Harry Potter fan and in the London area, you should check out the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

It was just another brilliant money move from JK Rowling and Warner Bros. to make the old filming studio where the movies were made into a tour spot. The location now acts like a museum where several people pay a good amount (about 40-something pounds or approximately 50-something dollars) to stand where they (the cast and crew) once stood.

The tour is decked out with character costumes, information videos from cast and crew, and the original sets like the Gryffindor dorm room (sadly not the Slytherin dorm [Slytherin for life]), the Great Hall, and even the Forbidden Forest. Plus, plenty of moving machines like the spiders, the Weasley’s car, Buckbeak, and even broomsticks, keep the magic alive.

I think this tour is worth the ticket. Though, buy it ahead of time if you’re in a big group (and maybe a few weeks to a month ahead if you’re traveling alone like me).


The Entertainment

  • Cursed Child

As I said, the whole reason that I came to London was because I had Cursed Child tickets, and the show certainly didn’t disappoint.

While the writing won’t emotionally move you deeply, the script did triumph in giving the production ample room to explore and be creative with how to put magic on the stage.

The play was fun and exciting to watch, especially when (slight spoiler) a dementor came flying towards the audience. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket, I highly recommend you go see Cursed Child in London (or maybe in New York City or Sydney when they get their own productions).

  • Romantics Anonymous

The indoor theatre at the Globe is very small and intimate. It’s shaped like a U with the stage being a square starting halfway inside that U and ending against the wall of the two prongs. I, unfortunately, ended up with possibly the worse seat in the house. I was against the wall on the right prong of the U, so half of the night I watched the actor’s sides or backs.

That said, I still absolutely enjoyed the musical Romantics Anonymous, which is about a girl in France who wants to make chocolate but has social anxiety. Through circumstances, she ends up working at a chocolate factory for a man who also has social anxiety. The two then sing and cook their way into each other’s hearts.

As romantic (and some would say disgusting) as that synopsis makes the musical out to be, it’s also a very hilarious story with a talented ensemble where everyone, but the two leads, plays a track of multiple characters. I highly recommend you see this show if you’re in the London area sometime before January.


The Food

Of course, there is lots of great food to eat in the city of London. You could either stop at popular markets like the Borough Market or the Camden market, you could research and plan for a place to each, or you can just walk around the city and stop at whatever place gets your interest.

If you want to know what kinds of food London’s serving up, I’ll leave pictures of some of the food I ate as well as the restaurant names and links to their websites.

Viet Pho in Soho

La Roma Bella in Soho

MotherMash in Soho

Balans Soho Society Cafe  (you guessed it) in Soho

Applebees Fish in Southwark

Masters Superfish in Waterloo


The Gay Spots

Lastly, we come to the gay spots. To save you time, I’ll briefly describe what the gay places that I visited are here, but if you want to read a more in-depth description of what my time was like at each place you can read that over at my GayPopBuzz article.

  • G-A-Y Bar/Late

It seems that there is a company that owns a group of bars and clubs in London’s Soho borough and they’ve tagged on the “G-A-Y” label on those spots. Each spot has a slightly different feel and serves a different purpose towards the kind of night you‘re looking to have.

G-A-Y Bar is the early night bar that you can hang out at with friends for drinks and dance. But, while G-A-Y Bar closes at midnight, G-A-Y Late stays open until 3 am. This club serves as a nice spot for dancing and enjoying the company of others while still being a relatively intimate setting (until possibly closer to closing time).

  • Heaven

Then we have Heaven which is within the G-A-Y label but also appears as an entirely different venue on its own. The space in heaven is pretty big with two large dance areas (one with two floors) and several bar areas.

This is one of those gay clubs that’s so popular that it no longer belongs to just gay men. While straight people are found in all three spots, this one feels the most like a club with a gay twist and not a “gay club.”

That said, this happens to be my favorite spot out of the all the gay spots I visited and I highly recommend you check it out if you visit London. Just expect a long wait if you’re getting in on a Saturday night (I waited an hour).

  • Pleasuredrome

Now, this last entry is for the mature audience out there. Younger readers be warned. You won’t (or shouldn’t) get in.

Pleasuredrome is a gay bathhouse with a mixed reputation. Some say it used to be great and isn’t any more while others say it’s at a “good enough” phase. I went in and thought it fit that latter description.

There’s nothing amazing about this bathhouse but it seemed relatively clean (despite a slight B.O. smell), the staff were either courteous or just working in the background, and the other men were alright (mostly of 30+ ages but there were a few men in their 20s when I went there).


Journey's End

I had a wonderful time in London. I could write so much more about my eight days in the UK and there's even plenty that I missed out on.

That said, if you’re looking for a fun time, good food, hot guys, and interesting stuff to see, London is a great city to explore.

I’ll have to visit again, even if it’s just to revisit said hot guys.


If you have travel ideas, places we should visit, or work for a PR company and are looking for writers to visit, please reach out to customerservice@instinctmagazine.com and address your comments to the Managing Editor.

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