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Pride Journeys: Atlanta

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Almost everyone has been to Atlanta at some point or another. Whether for a conference or just passing through the Hartsfield-Jackson airport, the busiest airport in the world, Atlanta sees more than 100 million visitors per year. As the largest city in Georgia and one of the largest in the country by population, Atlanta has exploded to become an economic powerhouse. Skyscrapers are popping up throughout the city and many Fortune 500 companies have a presence in the region. Of course, the city is known for their hometown favorites: Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and Turner Broadcasting System, which was founded by none other than Ted Turner, who’s name is everywhere in Atlanta. Turner has a downtown street named after him as well as 3 namesake restaurants – Ted’s Montana Grill – just in the Atlanta city limits.

Joey Amato at Olympic Park in Atlanta. (Joey Amato/Pride Journeys)

Not too far from the downtown restaurant is Centennial Olympic Park, home of the 1996 summer Olympics. The park is adjacent to three other incredible attractions: the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola and National Center for Civil & Human Rights.

On this visit, I decided to first swing by World of Coca-Cola, which gives visitors a wonderful overview of the history of the brand, talks about the secret formula and of course offers the opportunity to sample Coca-Cola products from around the world. If you time your visit right, you may even get a chance to take a picture with their mascot, the Polar Bear.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta

Next, I stopped by the National Center for Civil & Human Rights, a museum I had visited in the past. This time I was given a tour by the Executive Director for the LGBTQ Institute at the museum. Although the Center doesn’t have a specific LGBTQ exhibition, it does talk about the fight for LGBTQ rights throughout the years. The Center also houses the largest collection of papers and artifacts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and has recently expanded their offerings to include a human rights training program for law enforcement officials as well as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) experiences for workplaces.

One of my favorite things about Atlanta is MARTA, their public transportation system. It is one of the most efficient and inexpensive in the country, easily connecting travelers from the airport to all parts of the city including Buckhead, where I was staying for this visit.

While the Buckhead neighborhood isn’t known for its LGBTQ nightlife, it is however known for its abundance of luxury shopping. Lenox Square is one of the most upscale malls in the country and boasts retail boutiques including Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Prada. Don’t forget to bring your credit card!

The entrance to the Kimpton Sylvan Hotel in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. (Buckhead ATL / Instagram)

The reason I chose to stay in Buckhead is because I wanted to check out the brand new Kimpton Sylvan Hotel. The mid-century modern property is a short ride, or 20-minute walk to the MARTA station and features a rooftop bar, daily social hour with complimentary wine as well as a 24-hour fitness center with Peloton bikes for those looking to work off some calories. Speaking of food, I would highly recommend the Charred Cauliflower + Cucumber from Willow Bar located just outside the hotel lobby.

The Kimpton brand is known for being one of the most LGBTQ-inclusive hotel brands in the country so whenever I have the chance to stay at one of their properties, I usually do. They are also a global partner of IGLTA.

This September, Atlanta will host the IGLTA Global Convention. The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association will welcome guests from around the globe to midtown Atlanta for possibly the first in-person LGBTQ convention since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Registration is now open through the IGLTA website. I’ve been to this convention numerous times and can’t wait to see all my friends and colleagues in the same room once again.

Midtown Atlanta is the epicenter of LGBTQ culture and nightlife in Atlanta. There is no lack of bars and restaurants here. Some standouts include Joe’s on Juniper, Blake’s on the Park, and My Sister’s Room, a two-story lesbian-owned dance bar which has become a favorite among Atlanta’s LGBTQ community.

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The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. (High Museum of Art, Atlanta / Facebook)

The Midtown neighborhood is also known as the cultural hub of the city with over 25 different arts and cultural venues and more than 30 permanent performing arts groups residing in the area including the Grammy-winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the world-renowned High Museum of Art.

Joey feeding an elephant at the Atlanta Zoo. (Joey Amato/Pride Journeys)

Not too far away is Zoo Atlanta, an AZA accredited facility home to over 1,000 animals. Having a deep love for animals, I decided to take the elephant encounter, a one-hour experience that gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at how zoo staff care for these majestic animals. During the program, we learned about the elephant’s behaviors and even had the opportunity to feed them. In this case, Tara was especially fond of the lettuce that I was giving her.

Ponce City Market, located in the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building, is an indoor/outdoor market that offers dozens of dining and retail options. (Ponce City Market / Facebook)

After touring the zoo, head over to Guac y Margys, an LGBTQ-owned restaurant located along the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail. Everything I tried here was on point, from the house-made guacamole to the slow roasted pork tacos. If you are in the mood to sample a variety of different cuisine, check out Ponce City Market, located in the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building. The indoor/outdoor market offers dozens of dining and retail options including my favorite, Botiwalla Indian Street Food.

Atlanta is truly a multi-cultural destination that needs to be explored in its entirety. Venture away from the tourist-focused neighborhoods and meet the locals. You are sure to find surprises around every corner.

To learn more, visit www.discoveratlanta.com.

Enjoy the Journey!

Pride Journeys is an LGBT travel website dedicated to sharing travel reviews and news of interest to the LGBT community. For more info, visit www.PrideJourneys.com.

Joey Amato is the publisher of Frugayity, a personal finance advice website geared towards helping the LGBTQ community live a more frugal life and save for the future. Amato has been in LGBTQ media for over a decade, having published his own lifestyle magazine UNITE in Nashville and Indianapolis. He is also the publisher of Pride Journeys, a syndicated LGBTQ travel column and website. For more information, visit www.frugayity.com.

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Pride Journeys: Palm Beach

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On my recent visit to The Palm Beaches, I wanted to explore parts of the region I hadn’t had the chance to visit when I lived in the area a little of a decade ago. Palm Beach County encompassed dozens of cities and towns, each with its own unique charm and attractions. While most people think of Florida’s beaches as the main attraction in the Sunshine State, Palm Beach County stretches all the way to the Everglades in the west and has developed into one of the top agri-tourism destinations in the country.

Delray Beach

The Yamato-kan, a Japanese style house in the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens (Fragments / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

I began my trip in Delray Beach, the town I used to live in. One of Delray Beach’s hidden gems is Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Guests get to experience authentic Japanese culture and stroll through acres of lush trails transporting them to a different land. I didn’t even feel as if I was in Florida as I spent time at the reflection pond, the bamboo forest, or the old museum. While in Delray Beach, head to the Pineapple Grove arts district, a stretch of downtown devoted to art galleries, cafes, and boutiques. Swing by City Oyster on Atlantic Avenue for lunch and try order the Lobster Roll. You will not be disappointed.

West Palm Beach

Front angled view of redesigned Norton Museum of Art in February 2019, designed by Foster & Partners. (Nigel Young / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0)

From Delray Beach, head north on I-95 – or jump on the Tri-Rail to West Palm Beach and visit the Norton Museum of Art. During my visit, the museum was exhibiting Origin Stories: Photography of Africa and Its Diaspora, a collection that confronts the intertwined relationship between identity and colonialism in communities across the African continent. The museum also contains a permanent collection of Asian and European artwork.

After the museum, take a walk along Clamatis Street, the dining and entertainment hub of West Palm Beach or journey over to Palm Beach Island, where the world’s wealthiest people go to play during the winter months. Mansions and sprawling estates surround the island which includes many historic properties including the Flagler Museum, The Breakers and Mar-a-Lago, which was originally built for cereal company heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.

The Hilton West Palm Beach is the ultimate place for convenience and comfort. Hilton West Palm Beach is the very embodiment of refinement, located within the epicenter of Downtown and connected directly to the Palm Beach County Convention Center. (Discover ThePalm Beaches)

There are many hotels located on Palm Beach, but they can get a bit pricey depending on the time of year you visit. A great option is the Hilton West Palm Beach, located across the street from Rosemary Square and within walking distance to many of the area’s main attractions. The luxurious property features a grand lobby, large fitness center and massive outdoor pool, perfect for a nice relaxing dip after a long day of sightseeing.

Table 26’s Zucchini Pasta, featuring roasted heirloom tomatoes, pine nuts, and basil pesto. (@libbyvision / Table 26 Palm Beach / Facebook)

Grab dinner at Table 26, one of West Palm Beach’s most popular LGBTQ-owned restaurants. My guest and I began our meal with the Squash Blossoms and Burrata & Tomato salad, a simple yet delicious selection that is always a favorite of mine. For dinner, we wanted to order something a little on the lighter side, so we opted for the Zucchini pasta prepared with roasted heirloom tomatoes, pine nuts, basil pesto and shaved parmesan. If you are in the mood to grab some cocktails, head to The Mad Hatter Lounge located in Lake Worth, a town known for its thriving LGBTQ culture. Lake Worth is also home to Compass, the area’s LGBTQ community center.

Jupiter

Welcome Center building entrance at Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter. (Discover ThePalm Beaches)

After grabbing a morning coffee, head to Jupiter, about a 20-minute drive north from the hotel to the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. The free attraction relies on donations to help maintain the property and support its animals. Last year alone, the sanctuary cared for over 6,000 animals who arrived to the facility, which was established to care for sick, injured and orphaned wild animals, while promoting wildlife and habitat conservation. All of the animals at Busch Wildlife Sanctuary are native to Florida.

PonTiki boat cruising the Loxahatchee River with the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse in the background. (@yourdailynaturefix / PonTiki Boat Cruises / Facebook)

While in Jupiter, head to Lucky Shuck for lunch and grab a table with a view of the intracoastal waterway. The restaurant offers wonderful service, fresh and simple food, and a relaxed island time environment. I decided to try the Ceviche Trio, prepared three different ways and was so surprised at the differences between each of the preparations. For dessert – yes, I had dessert for lunch – try the Key Lime pie served with a coconut meringue and passion fruit glaze. It was one of the most delicious items I had on my entire visit. After lunch, jump on the Love Street Outdoor Center PonTiki Cruise a few steps from the restaurant, for a 30-minute or hour-long cruise around Jupiter inlet before heading back to the Hilton for some R&R before dinner.

A tiger playing at the McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary. (McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary)

Although it is easy to navigate West Palm Beach via public transportation, I would recommend renting a car if you really want to explore the destination and some of its most popular attractions including McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary. The guided tours are so informative, and guests learn the stories of each animal and how they arrived at the Sanctuary. Whereas Busch Sanctuary only cares for animals local to the region, McCarthy’s is home to a variety of animals from all corners of the globe including Amur leopards, Bengal tigers, lions and even a snow leopard. Many of these animals were illegally owned and taken in by the sanctuary as they can’t be allowed into the wild.

All of the animals are well cared for and were quite friendly and playful. The jaguar was purring during our entire visit and the beautiful white tiger was rubbing up against the encloser seeking some attention from us. In addition to big cats, the sanctuary also houses exotic birds, lemurs, and a feisty fox.

Worth Avenue is an upscale shopping district in Palm Beach, Florida. (Discover ThePalm Beaches)

No trip to Palm Beach would be complete without a shopping spree or stroll along Worth Avenue. High-end boutiques such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Akris line the street. Even if you don’t want to shop, it is still a fun experience to window shop and watch the parade of exotic cars that drive up and down the avenue.

It takes a good week to explore the destination, especially if you want to visit numerous cities and attractions. One of my favorite times to visit Florida in general is the spring and fall, as the weather is divine.

To book your West Palm Beach gaycation, visit www.Orbitz.com/pride

Enjoy the Journey!

Pride Journeys is an LGBT travel website dedicated to sharing travel reviews and news of interest to the LGBT community. For more info, visit www.PrideJourneys.com.

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Pride Journeys: Iceland

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The only way to describe Iceland is…magical. It truly is. Iceland is like no other place I’ve visited in the world. It’s topography, climate, people, culture, history, and nightlife blended together make Iceland a surreal adventure that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. In my case, this is my second visit to the country, and probably not my last.

The first time I set foot on the island, I was on a mission to see the elusive northern lights. While they evaded me during that visit, this time was different. I didn’t see Aurora dancing through the sky, but I did see a hint of the lights, enough to make me stop and stare in awe of their beauty.

One of Iceland’s many strengths is its people. I met an incredible group of people who helped make this visit extremely memorable, including openly gay Icelandic pop star Friðrik Ómar, who invited me to his Christmas concert. Although most of the concert was in sung in Icelandic, many of the songs were recognizable, including a fabulous version of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”. Friðrik was a former contestant on Eurovision, and it was easy to see why. His vocals and stage presence were extraordinary, reminiscent of George Michael.

Reykjavík

Situated on a hilltop near the center of Reykjavík, Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland and among the tallest structures in the country. (Ferdinand Stöhr / Wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Book your stay at the Reykjavík Konsúlat hotel located in the heart of the downtown Reykjavík, just a short walk from all of the city’s main attractions including Harpa concert hall, Sun Voyager and the iconic Hallgrímskirkja cathedral, the largest church in the country which and towers over the center of Reykjavík. Its 240-foot-high tower provides a wonderful 360° view of the city. Visitors can either walk up the stairs to the top or pay a small fee to use the elevator.

Our spacious room at Reykjavík Konsúlat included a walk-in shower, king bed with ultra-luxurious linens as well as a seating area. Every day the hotel offers a complimentary happy hour as well a delicious breakfast buffet, featuring a variety of local specialties including smoked salmon. The hotel also offers a nice fitness center as well as bath house complete with sauna and hot tub. Don’t get too excited, bath house means something completely different in Iceland than it does in the United States.

South Coast

Going to Iceland in the winter is an adventure. It definitely isn’t a relaxing trip; more like a journey to the most extraordinary ends of the earth you will ever discover. With that in mind, book a full day private excursion to the South Coast with Friend In Iceland. Our wonderful guide Gunnar picked us up from our hotel in a Mercedes mini-bus and we were off to explore a part of the country I hadn’t been to on my prior visit.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Suðurland, Iceland. (Pixabay)

The nearly 9-hour tour took us to Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls where we had the opportunity to stand at the base and feel the power of these natural wonders. Next, we journeyed up to the top of a cliff which provided views of the ocean as well as a rock formation jutting out into the sea which connects to Reynisfjara black sand beach. Words can’t describe how beautiful this moment was. I’m almost in tears again just thinking about it. The waves crashing on the beach coupled with a clear sky and mesmerizing sunrise made for an absolutely majestic view.

Gunnar then brought us to a cute restaurant where we had lunch which consisted of pizza and a sandwich, not typical Icelandic cuisine, but it was delicious non the less.

Reykjavík is home to one gay bar, called Kiki. Although it was closed during this visit due to COVID-19 restrictions, we did happen to meet the owner who invited us back to the country this summer for their pride celebration. 2022 marks the 23rd annual Reykjavík Pride, which is held in early August. The festival attracts over 100,000 people to the city for a week-long celebration including a festival, parade, and numerous parties.

Golden Circle

Wake up early the next morning and get ready for your next Icelandic adventure in the Golden Circle. Although this region is easily drivable from Reykjavík in the summer, I wouldn’t recommend venturing on your own during the winter months as many of the roads are icy and the weather can be quite spontaneous. One moment it will be sunny and then 30-minutes later you can find yourself in a winter storm with 40-mile per hour wind gusts.

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Begin your Golden Circle tour with a trip to Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO heritage site and home to Gullfoss, also known as the ‘Golden Waterfall’, one of the most beautiful and powerful waterfalls in Iceland. I recommend descended the stairs to the lower viewing area to really comprehend the size and scope of this natural treasure. Not too far away is Geysir, Iceland’s version of Old Faithful. The geyser erupts about every 7 minutes, so keep your camera ready.

Finally, end your tour with a snowmobile ride on the Langjökull glacier. This is also something I didn’t experience on my first visit, and I can honestly say it was one of the coolest (literally) experiences of my life. We had to jump off our luxurious tour bus and board a souped-up monster truck looking bus which transports you to the glacier where a team is ready to outfit you with protective gear and teach you how to use the snowmobiles. The hour tour of the glacier will make you feel like you were on another planet. There are points where the sky and the glacier meet, and you can’t tell them apart. I was fooled by a few optical illusions a few times.

Iceland can be inexpensive to get to, but then very expensive while you are there, so please plan accordingly. Food and alcohol can add up really quickly, so pace yourself when visiting the bars. One of my favorite restaurants we visited in Reykjavík was Noodle Station. Guests can order soup three ways: with chicken, beef, or just vegetables. It is the perfect way to end a long day spent playing in the ice and snow and quite affordable. Do your research before visiting to find some of the city’s hidden gems and cheap eats.

Icelandair offers direct flights to Reykjavík for relatively low prices from Boston, New York, Chicago, Raleigh-Durham, and a few other U.S. cities, so check their website regularly to catch a great deal.

Enjoy the Journey!

Pride Journeys is an LGBT travel website dedicated to sharing travel reviews and news of interest to the LGBT community. For more info, visit www.PrideJourneys.com.

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Pride Journeys: Palm Springs

Pride Journey’s Joey Amato visits the gay desert mecca of Palm Springs in the heart of the Cochella Valley during Pride.

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Palm Springs is one of those destinations that you never get tired of. I’m not sure if it’s the landscape, or the abundance of over-the-top gayness that makes the city truly magical. On my most recent visit to the desert gay mecca, I attended Palm Springs Pride, an event headlined this year by TLC and Kristine W. This year was the largest pride celebration in the city’s history. I even had the opportunity to meet Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon.

Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon (left) with writer Joey Amato (right). (Joey Amato/Pride Journeys)

First impressions are everything and I had forgotten how easy Palm Springs airport is to navigate. Within minutes after walking off the plane, you can be laying poolside at your hotel or shopping along the boutique and art gallery heavy Palm Canyon Drive.

Mr Gay Canada 2019 Josh Rimer (left) with writer Joey Amato (right). (Joey Amato/Pride Journeys)

I was visiting with my friend and fellow journalist Josh Rimer, who was named Mr. Gay Canada 2019. He and I met on a media trip in Phoenix/Tempe and have traveled to Columbus, Ohio together as well. Visiting a destination like Palm Springs is more fun if you travel with someone, unless you are an extreme extrovert, which neither Josh nor I are. Having traveled together in the past made this visit fun and enjoyable.

Alcazar Palm Springs, opened in 2011, just north of Downtown Palm Springs in the Uptown Design District, is a 34-room boutique hotel. (Alcazar Palm Springs)

After checking in at Alcazar Palm Springs, we headed straight for the Opening Night Pride Party at Trina Turk, which was hosted by Brandon Liberati and Craig Ramsay. The party drew a who’s who of Palm Springs glitterati. Every year, Trina Turk donates a portion of proceeds from items sold during the event back to the pride organization.

Before heading out on the town, grab dinner a Trio, a staple in Palm Springs since 2009. In fact, the first time I visited the city almost a decade ago, I dined at Trio. Josh and I decided to share a few starters including the Coachella Valley Dates and Ahi Tuna Tower. We were both hesitant to order the dates as they are filled with blue cheese, which neither one of us are a big fan of, but they turned out to be delicious. The blue cheese complimented the sweetness of the dates which simply melt in your mouth. Trio also hosts one of the best parade-viewing parties in town, so if you come to pride in 2020, be sure to make a reservation.

Palm Springs nightlife is truly one of the best experiences in the country. There is a bar or club for every type of person, ensuring that whether you are LGBT or Q, you will fit in. Arenas Road has emerged as the epicenter of nightlife in the city with venues including Hunters, Chill Bar, Quadz, Stacy’s, The Eagle and BlackBook all within a 2-block radius. Other nightlife venues are scattered throughout the city and in neighboring Cathedral City.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway gives you a bird’s eye view of Palm Springs and the surrounding Coachella Valley. (Joey Amato/ Pride Journeys)

After a night of partying, retire back to the Alcazar for a restful night’s sleep before heading out to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to get a bird’s eye view of the city. I’ll admit, I don’t like heights nor roller coasters, so the tram made me nervous. The ten-minute journey to the top, aboard a rotation car is quite the experience. There are 5 towers along the way and as the car passes each tower it swings back and forth, sometimes slightly, other times, enough to make you a bit queasy. A little side note, the temperature is at least 20 degrees cooler on top of the mountain, so dress accordingly. Josh and I wore our traditional tank top attire and were a bit chilly to say the least.

The Schnitzel at Johannes is one the restaurant’s signature dishes and a must have when you’re in Palm Springs. (Johannes/Facebook)

Located adjacent to Arenas Road is Johannes, a lovely restaurant owned by chef Johannes Bacher. The modern décor is accented by the establishments menu which includes an assortment of house specialty Schnitzel. Hailing from Austria, Johannes brought his favorite dish to Palm Springs and it quickly became a favorite among the locals. Of course, we had to try some, and I can tell you, it does live up to the hype. I don’t remember the last time I saw schnitzel of any kind on a menu, outside of a German restaurant, which I learned is a different type of preparation. Another one of my favorites at Johannes was the Grilled Marinated Peaches & Burrata. I’d give that a try if you are looking for a lighter option.

Music lovers should also take note that Palm Springs is the gateway to Coachella and Stagecoach Festival, two of the largest outdoor music festivals in the country. Stagecoach has grown into the premier country music festival in the United States since its inception in 2007. The three-day event will take place April 24-26 and feature headliners Eric Church, Carrie Underwood and Alan Jackson.

Palm Springs is a destination that always lives up to my expectations. Whether you are looking to party until dawn, relax by one of the dozens of pools around town or go hiking in nearby Joshua Tree National Park, the destination really does offer something for everyone.

Enjoy the Journey!

Pride Journeys is an LGBT travel website dedicated to sharing travel reviews and news of interest to the LGBT community. For more info, visit www.PrideJourneys.com.

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