When I found out I had the opportunity to visit Wichita, I was really excited. I had never been to Kansas before (aside from Kansas City) and was eager to see what “Cowtown” had to offer. First, a little history lesson. The city actually began as a trading post on the Chisholm Trail in the 1860s and became a key destination for cattle drives traveling north from Texas to access railroads, earning it the nickname “Cowtown.” In the 1920s and 1930s, businessmen and aeronautical engineers established a number of successful aircraft manufacturing companies which helped transform the region into a hub for aircraft production. Wichita got a new nickname, “The Air Capital of the World.” Manufacturers including Airbus, Beechcraft, Cessna, Learjet, and Spirit AeroSystems currently operate large facilities there.
In addition to planes, Wichita is also known for its weather. I know this may sound strange, but I was really hoping to witness some intense storms. Kansas lies in tornado alley, so I was in full storm-chaser mode. However, all I experienced was a small thunderstorm, but it was cool none the less.
I digress. Wichita is home to Tanganyika Wildlife Park. Yes, it took me the entire trip to remember how to pronounce the park’s name, but I got it eventually. Tanganyika offers more hands-on opportunities and up-close animal experiences than traditional zoos. My first stop was the penguin encounter, an indoor/outdoor exhibit filled with cuteness. I learned firsthand that penguins like to play with shoelaces and anything colorful. And speaking of colors, they also enjoy painting. I left with a beautiful work of art painted by one of my new friends.
With my masterpiece in hand, I headed to the lemur feeding area where I had a chance to feed the adorable Primates. Although Tanganyika doesn’t let you pet the lemurs, the experience was still really fun. Tanganyika Wildlife Park opened in 2008 with 15 exhibits and three interactive areas. Today, they boast over 40 exhibits featuring 10 interactive stations, over 400 animals and 37 successful breeding programs. Zoos sometimes get a bad reputation, but I was really impressed by high level of animal conservation efforts and care exhibited by the staff.
After freshening up at The Courtyard Wichita at Old Town, it was time to begin the Wichita Pride festivities. The Opening Night Drag Show drew nearly 400 guests to WAVE, a hotspot a few blocks from my hotel. For a small city pride festival, Wichita sure organizes a jam-packed weekend of events for all ages. The following evening, families were encouraged to attend the Saturday Night Pride Party. Although it was geared to teens, it was great to see a Pride organization support all members of our community, regardless of age, sex or gender orientation.
Sunday afternoon kicked off with a Community Rally on the steps of the historic Sedgwick County Courthouse. LGBTQ community leaders and local politicians gathered in front of a crowd of a few hundred people all in support of LGBTQ equality. I was really impressed at the size of the crowd. Rallies can be hit or miss depending on the city, but the people of Wichita really came out in full support. After the rally, the Pride Parade began with companies including Cargill, Cox and T-Mobile taking part in the march. It was the first time I walked in a pride parade as I am usually working a booth at the festival itself, so this was a very memorable moment for me. As I strolled along the nearly mile-long route, I noticed the endless number of smiles from not only the participants but also the onlookers showing their support for us as we waved our rainbow flags.
The parade ended at Mid-America All-Indian Center and the main festival began. Hosted by Dick Von Dyke, the festival contained about a dozen drag queens and kings including Cynthia Doll and Ms. Amanda Love. I quickly noticed how diverse the crowd was. Every letter of the LGBTQ rainbow was represented, more so here than in prides I’ve attended in larger cities. I guess when you live in a small city, you need to stick together. The Mid-America All-Indian Center sits on sacred ground to the Native American people and is highlighted by the Keeper of the Plains, a 44-foot steel iconic sculpture standing at the point where the Big and Little Arkansas rivers merge. It was the perfect setting!
The celebration continued at Boomerang and XY Bar, two of Wichita’s gay nightlife venues. Boomerang prides itself in welcoming all members of our community including those in the bear and leather communities, while XY Bar is the place to go to dance with Wichita’s younger gay folk. A third bar called J’s Lounge, which labels itself an upscale dive bar, was also hosting some festivities, but I didn’t have a chance to visit. My partying days are behind me and visiting two bars in one night was almost too much for me to handle. The Courtyard across the street from XY Bar, so it was the perfect place to end my evening.
I spent the next day walking around the city. It was a beautiful Sunday morning and felt it would be a great time for a leisurely stroll. Wichita is home to a lot of public art displays and murals as well as the Museum of World Treasures, which boasts one of the most complete skeletons of a T-Rex in the country. You know I had to check that out!
During my stay, a local theatre group housed at Roxy’s Downtown was putting on a production of Tick, Tick…Boom!, a musical about turning 30 and not yet realizing your dreams. The message really hit home as I am one year from 40 and still feel like I have so much to accomplish. In 2020, Roxy’s will stage their rendition of The Golden Girls. I may have to visit again to see that production.
Although Roxy’s serves food, I decided to head to Rain Café & Lounge after the performance, an LGBT-owned restaurant/bar located a block from the theater, in the heart of downtown Wichita. The decor was really nice, and the staff was quite friendly. I was told that Rain is the place to have brunch on Sunday, so I’ll have to add that to my itinerary next time I visit.
The next morning, I woke up early and headed to Botanica, The Wichita Gardens. Botanica consists of 30 additional themed gardens and exhibits. The year-round attraction now comprises of over 18 acres and features over 4,000 species of plants. As I was walking around the park, the staff was preparing for their annual holiday light spectacle. It was barely October, yet it takes weeks to prepare and is one of the busiest times of the year.
Even though I didn’t get to witness any tornadoes, I still enjoyed Wichita. I really didn’t know what to expect before visiting, especially when it came to the LGBTQ community, but I left pleasantly surprised at how large and proud the community is. If you ever find yourself wanting to experience a small city with lots of charm, I’d add Wichita to your list.
Enjoy the Journey!
Pride Journeys: Palm Beach
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: Iceland
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: Atlanta
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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