Palm Springs is one of North America’s premier gay destinations. Its harsh, arid, desert setting offset by the surrounding snow capped mountains certainly make it a unique stop on the tourist trail. Sun, sun and more sun, a host of clothing optional gay resorts and a bumper crop of gay bars create a perfect sandpit in which gay men can play to their hearts content. Our two hour drive north west from San Diego was relatively easy, through spectacular desert landscapes and hillsides covered in vivid orange and yellow wild flowers, a product of the unusually plentiful spring rains. Visitors to Palm Springs soon learn the city is no metropolis. A small CBD with wide open spaces and light traffic flow make it very easy to negotiate, even for newcomers.
On Jewel of the Seas, heading from Miami through the Panama Canal to San Diego, we had the opportunity to chat with Alessio Quaglio who has only been with Royal Caribbean for one and half years. Before Royal he was with Norwegian Cruise Lines for six years. His interest in people and travel grew from being a tour and staff leader in his hometown of Civitavecchia, the port closest to Rome. He trained originally as a biomedical engineer but after his first contract with ship life he became ‘hooked’. His first job at sea was as an immigration officer, then front desk manger and now as a Guest Services Manger on Jewel of the Seas. Alessio has multiple responsibilities as the officer in charge of guest services. He looks after the loyalty program, front desk operations, guest administration and the huge task of printing the ship’s daily Compass Newsletter.
Our recent visit to Florida coincided with the Beach Pride Festival celebrations in Fort Lauderdale and gave us the opportunity to travel to Miami to meet Francisca Phillips, Engagement Diversity & Inclusion Manager for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. We were also fortunate enough to meet members of her team, Carlos and Ingrid, who gave us some fantastic insights into their roles and program responsibilities within the company. They have a complex task to manage working in a company with over 70,000 employees from more than 120 different nationalities. As our interest was the LGBTI+ community we were able to have a more focused discussion about that specific area. The team enthusiastically outlined a wide range of strategies they knew were being employed by the company, both on land and at sea.
While visiting the ‘gayborhood’ of Fort Lauderdale we decided to try out a day pass at one of the gay guest houses and Pineapple Point came highly recommended. Rated number one by TripAdvisor for gay accommodation in Fort Lauderdale, this luxury resort was certainly a relaxing and unique day out during our vacation and the staff couldn’t have made us feel more welcome. As a day visitor you don’t feel like the poor cousin, you are treated just like an honoured house guest and have full access to all facilities. Massage therapists are on site but day visitors need to book in advance to guarantee an appointment. Unfortunately your day pass does expire at 5pm, just before the happy hour happens for the regular guests at 6pm.
We certainly felt like novices arriving for our first visit to Fort Lauderdale in Florida. Unfortunately, we did not stay in one of the many gay guest houses in the area, but we did strike it lucky arriving in Beach Pride Week, the third week of February. The weather was dry and comfortable, at around 24 degrees and the sea temperature was warm and inviting, though some of the locals didn’t agree. Many don’t swim until the water temperature reaches a distinct ‘summer simmer’. Our first few days were very relaxed, lazing and gazing on golden Sebastian Beach, Fort Lauderdale’s best known gay beach and recently voted (2019) the best gay beach in the world. Our friends who live in this fabulous area, kindly accompanied us on our first foray into the venues of Wilton Drive, the ‘happening’ strip of Wilton Manors, the gayest precinct we have ever seen.
It has taken us twenty five years to return to Honolulu, the tropical Hawaiian capital located on the island of Oahu. There have been some big changes, but it is surprisingly familiar and the welcoming ‘Aloha’ charm never changes. Here are some of our impressions for the second time round.