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Friday, February 4th, 2011
by David Cohen

Atlantis Events, Inc., the world’s largest company specializing in all gay/lesbian cruises and resort vacations, announces its embarking onboard the largest gay cruise ever. This Sunday, February 6, Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas leaves port with nearly 5,400 gay and lesbian guests.

Celebrating the line’s 20th anniversary cruise, the voyage departs from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and promises a lineup of the best gay and lesbian talent. From comedians to cabaret stars and seven of the world’s top DJs taking the boat’s signature stages–this pleasure cruise stands to set sail as possibly the biggest production Atlantis has ever orchestrated in its 20-year history.

“Our guest response was incredible,” said Rich Campbell, CEO of Atlantis.  “Our guests always want the newest and most exciting experiences in the world. We knew they would love this cruise, but had no idea just how strong the response would be. So much of what we are creating onboard is the culmination of 20 years of experience and getting to know what our guests really love.”

The company also confirms that Allure of the Seas is booked for next year. The 2012 cruise will depart  from Ft. Lauderdale on January 29, 2012, with stops in Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico and Labadee in Haiti.

Other cruises planned for this year are the Southern Caribbean cruise in March, the 20th anniversary Mediterranean cruise this summer,  and The Mexican Riviera cruise on the Oosterdam in October, 2011.

For reservations call Atlantis at 1-800-6-ATLANTIS.  For detailed information visit www.atlantisevents.com.
 
 
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Thursday, October 14th, 2010

The Tourist Office of Spain in Chicago hosted dozens of travel, media and sales professionals in the lower ballroom and conference center at the city’s Park Hyatt Hotel Wednesday, October 13, 2010.  In celebration of “It & Me” 2010’s Motivation Show—an annual convention featuring programs geared toward the incentive, recognition, loyalty and motivational meetings industry—The Tourist Office of Spain showcased an evening of mingling, dining and dancing.

The night’s highlights featured an open bar and a buffet of Spanish delicacies, such as seafood paella, two carving stations and an individual conference room filled with dessert. A live band, performing native songs as well as mainstream favorites, took the stage while couples in attendance (some wearing boots as exotic as the Spanish-themed backdrop) enjoyed the adjacent dance floor.

The Tourist Offices of Spain are the representatives abroad of the Instituto de Turismo de España (TURESPAÑA), which is the Administrative unit of the Central Government of Spain in charge of promoting Spain abroad as a tourism destination. Their website offers visitors a comprehensive look at the culture, cuisine and attractions available to those traveling to Spain. www.spain.info/index.html?l=en_US

Pictured above, left to right: Live band sings esoteric Spanish songs, carver cuts esoteric ham and attendees wear esoteric shoes.
 
 
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Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Per the American Airlines corporate communications office in Fort Worth, Texas—As people around the world prepare for Oktoberfest merriment, AA is showcasing Germany as its featured destination by celebrating the country’s culture with the new Leder Posin’ photo contest, currently highlighted on the company’s AAdvantage® MilestonesTM online travel guide.

The Leder Posin’ photo contest, which runs from Septempter15-October 15, encourages customers to submit photos of people dressed in lederhosen or any traditional German attire at Oktoberfest celebrations or other global tourist attractions for a chance to win a grand prize of 275,000 AAdvantage miles. After the submission period, ten finalists will be chosen to each receive 25,000 miles. Milestones visitors will then be able to vote for their favorite photo, which will award the grand prize winner an additional 250,000 miles. Photos can be uploaded to the Leder Posin’ photos gallery at www.aa.com/milestones.

In addition to the photo contest, customers who visit the Milestones online travel guide and vote for their favorite photos will be entered in a sweepstakes for a chance to win 100,000 AAdvantage miles. Voting runs from November 1-30. For more information on the AAdvantage program, including a list of participating companies, visit www.aa.com/aadvantage.
 
 
Posted on June 11, 2010
by David Cohen
 
The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) sent me an email, and I need to share the news with you the readers.

Last night the US Department of State announced new guidelines for issuing passports to transgender people. Beginning today, applicants for a gender marker change on their passports will need to submit certification from a physician that they have received ‘appropriate clinical treatment’ for gender transition. Most importantly, gender reassignment surgery is not required under the new policy. The new rules will also apply to changing a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) for US citizens who were born outside of the United States. CRBA’s are the equivalent of a birth certificate.

For years, NCTE (The National Center for Transgender Equality) has been advocating with the State Department to change their rules about gender markers on passports and CRBA’s.  Previously they had required proof of irreversible sex reassignment surgery before the gender marker could be changed, although there were exceptions for temporary, provisional passports to allow someone to travel for surgery.

NCTE and other advocates have stressed with the State Department that this policy unnecessarily called attention to transgender travelers whose appearance and gender marker were at odds. In some destinations, this had the potential to create an extremely dangerous situation when a traveler is outed as transgender in an unwelcoming environment or in the presence of prejudiced security personnel.

Fortunately, the new rules represent a significant advance in providing safe, humane and dignified treatment of transgender people.  There are details in the guidelines about what information a physician must provide and we will communicate those to you as soon as possible. However, the State Department notes that applicants will not need to supply any additional medical documentation and that there is no SRS requirement.

“’We want to extend our thanks to the Obama Administration, and particularly to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, for understanding the need for this change and then responding to make travel safer for transgender people," commented Mara Keisling, Executive Director of NCTE.  This shows how changes in government policy directly impact people’s lives, in this case, for the better. "In the next few days, NCTE will be issuing a definitive resource that fully explains the new guidelines and outlines the ways in which transgender people can make changes to their passports and CRBAs." 

Many people—from elected officials to LGBT advocates—have worked for years to change these policies and deserve credit and thanks. Particularly important work was done by Rep. Barney Frank as well as Rep. Steve Israel in the House of Representatives; Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), which represents LGBT employees and their families working in foreign affairs offices for the US government; all of our allied LGBT organizations who have been committed to this work, including the Center for Global Equality, The Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign; and those working on medical policies, including the American Medical Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).
 
 
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Friday, June 11th, 2010

by David Cohen

Within walking distance from the world-famous Duval Street in Key West, the Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa is offering a luxurious vacation experience “par excel-lance”.
 
During Gay Pride, the Hyatt is offering a special deal to LGBT guests - The Pride Welcome Package which offers the best rates on the island, along with a welcome amenity valued up to $25, daily full American breakfast for two, 4 p.m. late checkout and personalized service from a GLBT focused concierge.

To take advantage of this special offer and enjoy posh accommodations for as low as $300 a night you need to mention the code LGBT10, by visiting www.keywest.hyatt.com, or calling 1-800-233-1234. This offer is good through December 30, 2010.

Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa featuring 118 guest-rooms, each with a private balcony boasting stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico.  A centrally-located swimming pool and the eclectic Blue Mojito Pool Bar and Grill provide the perfect ambiance for enjoying a cocktail or delicious lunch. When it’s time for total relaxation, the 24-hour StayFit@Hyatt gym is one option.  A visit to Jala Spa is the second option and it is a must. Treatments are ranging from deep tissue massage  to a Cuban Coffee Body Glow. There is no doubt in my mind, you will rejuvenate your body and soul.  For a true taste of the Keys, treat yourself to dinner at SHOR American Seafood Grill which features fresh seafood caught daily from the Gulf of Mexico.

Conveniently located the Hyatt is within walking distance of Key West’s top restaurants and attractions. My favorite restaurant is nine one five on Duval Street. Owner Stuart Kemp and his lovely wife make sure you will have one of the best dining experiences in Key West. The food is authentic, simple and fresh. Many of the ingredients are imported from  Europe and the restaurant has a great wine list at reasonable prices.

After dinner walk toward Petronia Street, the core of the gay nightlife in Key West. The legendary 801 Bourbon Street and 801 Duval bars at the corner of Duval and Petronia have been a part of the Key West landscape for over 30 years. In the Cabaret you will find nightly shows headlined by such famed performers as Sushi, Kylie, RV Beaumont, and many more. Don’t miss Aqua Nightclub, one of Key West’s largest gay dance club. It is the home for many life entertainment that include nightly drag shows, karaoke, dueling bartenders, Go-Go dancers and much more. A visit to the Island House is a must where clothing is optional. This is the biggest gay resort in Key West and recently was named “The best gay men’s resort in the world” by OUT Traveler Magazine.  For more information visit www.gaykeywestfl.com.

Key West draws many visitors from all over the world who come here to experience many of the water activities. para-sailing. With gentle dry take offs and landings, you will find para-sailing to be an exhilarating way to experience one of  Key West water adventures. From above you will enjoy breathtaking views of the emerald blue waters, and amazing panoramic sights of the southern part of the city that can only be seen from the air. With a friendly staff, the Fury Boats hold 12 passengers, they are safe, comfortable and reasonably priced. You can book any of the water  adventures at the gift store at the Hyatt.

For more information or for reservations, visit keywest.hyatt.com or call 1-800-55-HYATT.
 
 
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Friday, May 28th, 2010
by David Cohen

With Gay Pride approaching, many hotels and resorts all over the world are welcoming the GBLT community by offering great deals and new ways to celebrate equality and diversity during the month of Pride. I was recently invited to one of the best new Hyatt Rsorts in Florida, and shown what an incredible and exceptional the upcoming gay pride experience can be.

Located less than 25 miles from Tampa International Airport on the Florida ’s Gulf Coast, The Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort offers gay and lesbian guests one of the best ways to experience the sun, the sand and  St. Pete Pride festivities, one of the largest pride fests in Florida (www.stpetepride.com).

Also, in Pinellas county  where the Hyatt Clearwater is located, the city of Dunedin will host the First Pinellas Pride from June 18-June 20, 2010. “This event is to bring diversity to the forefront of the community for a weekend,” says Lil Barcaski, Co-Chair of North Pinellas Pride (www.NorthPinellasPride.com).

The Hyatt Pride Welcome Package will include stunning accommodations of one or two-bedroom suites with full kitchens and private balconies overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Also you can have an intimate dinner with your loved one, at the resort’s signature seafood grill SHOR.   Executive Chef Brad Gillespie is one of the most talented chefs I have recently came across, and will make sure you will have one of the most memorable romantic evenings ever.  And last but not least, indulge by visiting the full service eco friendly Sandava Spa and make sure to ask for Michael who gave me the best deep tissue massage  I have had in the last few months.  Believe me, this will be a once in a lifetime experience, and could be one of the best Pride you’ll ever have.

To top it all, the Pride Welcome Package is valid through December 30, 2010, at all Hyatt hotels and resorts worldwide. The only thing you have to do is to mention the LGBT10 code to receive these special rates, a welcoming gift bag, full breakfast for two daily, 4 p.m. late checkout  and much more.  “The Price Welcome package is a great way to experience Hyatt hotels around the world while celebrating Pride events this year,” said Scott Seed, director of leisure and business marketing for Hyatt. For more information on rates or for reservations, visit www.clearwaterbeach.hyatt.com or call 1-800-233-1234.

About Clearwater Beach: Clearwater Beach is a  friendly destination with boundless recreational and outdoor activities including fishing, golfing, hiking and more. A visit to Caladesi Island aboard the Dolphin Encounter is a must. This five-hour excursion travels to Caladesi Island the only rural and natural spot in the area where guests can relax on the white sands of one of the best beaches in America. I rented a chair and an umbrella and listen to the waves sounds and sketched the beauty of the landscape for hours.

Clearwater Beach is conveniently located within driving distance of notable museums. A visit to the Salvador Dali and to the Fine Art Museum in St. Petersburg is a must. There are many other cultural activities but a visit to the near by Orlando is highly recommended. For more information visit www.FloridasBeach.com.In 2009, Clearwater Beach was named one of the top beaches on the East Coast.  Consistently recognized for its beauty, Clearwater Beach has been named “Best City Beach on the Gulf of Mexico” by many well-known travel publications, and this year by PINK.

 
 

by David Cohen
The Pearl of the Orient, China’s largest and most modern city, Shanghai is an exciting blend of traditional old neighborhoods and gleaming new skyscrapers. Home to some of the most innovative architecture in the world, Shanghai is breaking records as it races toward becoming one of the greatest 21st century cities. With grand hotels, sophisticated shopping, ancient culture and western influences, this city offers tourists an experience they will never forget.

Things to see and do
Shanghai History Museum
The Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Pudong is known for its panoramic views but the museum on its ground floor offers an equally impressive look at Shanghai’s past, especially the Concession years.
Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center
The showcase 6,400-square-foot planning model of Shanghai gives visitors a glimpse of just how much, and how quickly, this metropolis has been growing during the last decade. The model provides a sneak preview of the multi-national World Expo 2010 site along the Huangpu River in Pudong.
Walking Tours
The Shanghai Historic House Association is a volunteer organization dedicated to saving the city’s endangered architectural gems. The group hosts guided walks along the Bund riverfront or through the lanes of the former French Concession revealing a treasure trove missed by many visitors.
Xiangyang Market 
When bargaining at the markets, make your offer 50 percent lower than the initial asking price. If the shopkeeper doesn’t budge, walk away. He’ll likely call you back. End negotiations pleasantly by asking for the shop’s mingpian (business card) and accepting it with both hands and a smile. More than 400 vendors make this a brand-name reproduction Mecca.
Yu Yuan/Fangbang Lu
The Ming-style buildings surrounding Yuyuan (Yu Garden) and the five-story Cang Bao Lou Building sell traditional Chinese gifts, memorabilia and antiques. Buyer beware; many items are copies, so buy judiciously and pay accordingly.

Where To Eat
Jade On 36 Restaurant and Bar
Revered for its beauty and glow, Chinese emperors saw jade as the “stone of the heaven.” Pudong Shangri-La’s signature restaurant features its own heavenly panoramic views. Jade On 36 is where sophisticated avant-garde cuisine and décor come together.
M on the Bund
Opened January 1999, M on the Bund was the first fine-dining restaurant on the legendary waterfront. The idea was to create a dining experience as exciting, as sophisticated, and as delectable as Shanghai itself. Located at the historic Nissin Shipping Building, constructed in 1921, M overlooks Shanghai’s most famous sight: the Bund. Diners can sample a creative menu in a warm, refined art deco atmosphere.
Yi Café @ the Shangri La
Yi Café invites guests to take an international culinary journey with gourmet showcases and 10 live cooking stations presenting cuisine from China, Japan, Morocco, India, Southeast Asia and Europe.
T8
Set in the ultra-hip Xintiandi district, T8 offers diners a fusion eastern and western cuisine. Its Australian chef draws on his experience of cooking in multi-cultural Australia with Chinese traditional cooking methods and ingredients.

Future Developments in Shanghai
Mickey Mouse to Set Up House 
Pending government approval, Walt Disney Company plans to open its sixth theme park in Shanghai. The anticipated 1,200-acre park will be four times bigger than Hong Kong’s Disneyland. Construction is set to begin in 2008 with completion in 2012.
World’s Largest Ferris wheel to kiss the Shanghai Skyline
The Pearl Tower and Jin Mao Building will have some company on the Shanghai skyline in 2007. An 8.6-acre site along the Huangpu River has been purchased to construct the Shanghai Kiss, a Ferris wheel that will surpass the famous London Eye as the world’s largest. Designed by British architecture firms Alsop Design and Arup, Shanghai Kiss will be 558-feet in diameter, with 36 pods carrying 1,100 passengers.

 
 
 
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Recovering from the economic crisis of 2002, Buenos Aires is a bargain for any American who chooses to travel outside of the USA. Because of the devalued peso, it is one of the cheapest places to visit anywhere today. 

Buenos Aires is not called the Paris of South America for nothing. The city streets are reminis- cent of the grand boulevards of Champ d’Elysee in Paris and the Grand Via in Madrid. With magnificent architecture, many parks, outdoor cafes, good restaurants and great shopping, Buenos Aires is a city that you want to visit over and over again. With its passionate people, liberal attitude and vibrant gay nightlife, Buenos Aires also is one of the best destinations for the gay traveler and stands proud as the gay capital of South America. This is a city faithful to its traditions and at the same time, con- stantly experiencing its own rebirth.
Buenos Aires is a city with many diverse neighborhoods and, while exploring the city, you will find it a city of contradictions. Great wealth exists alongside often hidden poverty.

One of the most picturesque and histor- ic neighborhoods of Buenos Aires is La Boca (meaning mouth in Spanish). Painted in vibrant colors of yellow, blue, green and orange, the old houses of La Boca were once crammed with Italian immigrants. It is the home of the Tango. In the early 20th century, tango was a dance for two frustrated men to perform while their women were paid for their services in the rooms above. To pass their time downstairs in the street, the men held each other in their arms, pressed tightly, putting their flesh together with both passion and anger. That was the original tango, performed by men. It was a dance that a woman could never dance. In La Boca today, with many tourists watching, there always will be a tango couple dancing on the sidewalk or on the cobble street stones.

The same passion and sensuousness of tango can be felt in San Telmo. At El Lugar on Defensa 1120, or at La Marshall where you can take gay tango lessons. You don’t need to know Spanish. Just hold him tight, be strong and lead. The rest is history. I promise, it’s a lot of fun and you’ll get to meet the hot Latin boys that you always wished for. San Telmo is a trendy gay neighborhood and home of many antique stores and restaurants. You must go to the famous San Telmo Street Fair held every Sunday. This street fair is a shopper’s heaven at a bargain prices. It will be impossible not to find that special thing you are looking for. It is colorful, fun and entertaining. If you decide to take a peek into Buenos Aires history, walk toward Plaza Mayor. There you’ll see the Pink House as the peasants did when Eva Peron stood in front them promising a new life and bright future. 

Nearby Palermo is divided into sections. Palermo Hollywood is the home for TV and movie studios and Palermo Soho is named after the New York neighborhood. SoHo is the home of many local designers and trend leaders. Start your Saturday with a spa treatment at Home and then stay for lunch. Walk down toward Hollywood where every Saturday local artists and merchants display their goods out of doors at the Street Fair at the center of this neighborhood. The local boutiques, restaurants and cafes are beautifully designed. They all have that European flavor, which makes this neighborhood so unique– a mixture of elegance and culture. Believe me when I say, “You can shop till you drop.” From clothing and shoes to music and flowers, everything is a bargain here. The day won’t be complete without a drink or coffee in the afternoon at one of the outdoor cafes while you people watch. Trust me; it will be fascinating and intriguing. Don’t get confused when you see males kissing each other. Local Porteños (boys who live in Buenos Aires) give a kiss to greet each other—even straight guys.


Recoleta is the home for the most famous cemetery in South America. Eva Peron is buried there among the elite of Buenos Aires aristocrats. It is the area where you will find the most expensive stores in the city. From Hermés and Ralph Lauren to D&G, this is where the rich and famous shop. The luxurious Alvear Palace Hotel stands tall in the center of this rich neighborhood. To peek into the lifestyle of the elite, we highly recommend having lunch or afternoon tea at the Alvear—it is glorious. Be certain to dress appropriately. Then walk around and enjoy the beautiful mansions and parks, perhaps include a visit to Museo National De Bellas Arts, Malba or Museo Evita is highly recommended.

As a wine lover, a visit to Casa Coupage is a must. Sommeliers Santiago and his wife, Ines, open their house to visitors every Wednesdays for wine tasting with tapas, and on Thursdays for a four-course dinner. Serving only 15 people, it is one of the things to do in Buenos Aires. The tapas and wines are incredible. We sampled Argentine
Malbec wines and we learned a lot on how to pair the right food with the right wine. The tasting is also an opportunity to discover how people live there and meet the locals. Believe me, this will be one of the best meals you’ll ever have. For only best-kept secrets of Buenos Aires—for sure the best surprise of your visit. Due to limited space, advance reservations are required. In Buenos Aires, call 4833-6354.

Where to Stay
Located in the heart of San Telmo, the Axel Hotel is the best upscale gay hotel chain in the world. The new hotel offers more that just luxury—it provides the freedom to be openly gay. With modern design and many amenities such as sauna, Jacuzzi, two swimming pools and one of the best restaurants in town, this hotel is heaven for gays.
You will meet people from all over the world and for sure it will be an unforgettable experience. It is a place where everyone is welcome, respected and valued without any prejudice of sexual orientation. If you need to find out anything about anything in Buenos Aires, you just need to ask the staff at the front desk. They are friendly and very knowledgeable. Last but not least, don’t miss the Sunday Pool Party. It’s the best you’ll ever have.

Gay Nightlife. 
Argentina’s gay community is very lively and active, especially in Buenos Aires. Gay Argentina’s main Pride Parade is held in Buenos Aires the first Saturday of November of each year. It marks the formation of the first-ever gay group in Buenos Aires in 1969. In 1996 measures forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation were introduced and passed, making Buenos Aires the first Spanish-speaking city in Latin America to do so. In 2002 same sex civil unions were approved in Buenos Aires. As a result Buenos Aires became a popular gay travel destination. It is one of the most open-minded cities in Latin America.
The gay scene is vibrant and sophisticated. In many ways it is similar to the American one but with a European flavor. There are many discos, bars, saunas, movie theaters and sex clubs. The only caveat—everything starts very late, well after midnight, but it’s all worth it. The guys are hot and the women are sexy, and they love to party.
Some of the places to mention are Amerika and Alsina discos, Sitges and Chueca bars, Full Sauna, Zoom bar and back room, and for bears the Contramano bar. Women flock to Bach Bar and Entremujeres or La Casa Del Encuentro and Marlene. Pick up a copy of Gmaps (Gay Maps of the World) at the hotel or simply check out www.gaymaps.org for what is happening in this city that never sleeps.
Additional Information:
www.aa.com • www.alvearpalace.com • www.axelhotels.com • www.casacoupage.com • www.homebuenosaires.com • Buenos Aires: www.destinoargentina.info 



 

 
 
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story and photo by David Cohen 

Wildlife, glaciers and lush natural landscapes make Alaska one of the most exhilarating and beautiful places to visit. Inspired by last year’s unforgettable vacation to the Kenai Peninsula, PINK has opted to host annual group trips for LGBT travelers. The first took place in the summer of 2006, bringing nine lesbian friends on an adventure to the last frontier.

Our intrepid group arrived in Anchorage via American Airlines, and spent the first night at the Puffin Inn next to the airport. After breakfast we loaded up our rental SUVs and headed south toward Seward. This charming coastal town is one of the oldest and most scenic communities in Alaska. Home to a small and charming boat harbor, Seward has a lot to offer. From fishing, hiking and kayaking to cruise tours of massive glaciers and three different fjords, this is sure to be the most breathtaking experience of any sightseer’s life. The Kenai Fjords Tours explore the region’s wildlife—whales, otters, puffins, seals, white eagles and bears—all found in the Gulf of Alaska and at the Kenai Fjords National Park. Seward is simply nature at its best.

We stayed a night at the Seward Windsong Lodge nested in a glacier river valley next to Exit Glacier where we hiked the following morning. Spending a night on Fox Island, to experience the remote wilderness retreat of Resurrection Bay, is highly recommended. These are ideal places to enjoy the “real Alaska.” If choosing to stay in town, the Holiday Inn Express, next to the strip of shops and restaurants, is also an excellent option.
After a few days in Seward, it was time to hit the road and travel north toward Denali National Park. To enjoy nature’s wonder, we had to stop along the way to soak in the spectacular views.

En route to Denali, the group paused to relax for one night at the Alyeska Resort. Though located in the quaint town of Girdwood, this resort offers world-class accommodations. Here, the luxury of fine dining is discovered at Seven Glaciers, the hotel’s top-of-the-mountain restaurant that sits 2,300 feet above sea level. The restaurant continually receives the Wine Spectator Restaurant Award, and is one of the two AAA Four Diamond restaurants in Alaska.

Driving north the next morning, Denali National Park’s Mount McKinley was clearly seen on the horizon, something that doesn’t happen very often. The Athabascans referred to it as the “Great One” because of its massive peak—the park itself is larger than the state of Massachusetts. Denali remains one of the world’s last great frontiers for wilderness adventure, largely wild and as unspoiled as the natives knew it. Here the PINK pack stayed at the Denali McKinley Chalet Resort located in the middle of town. The hotel offers a package including mini-suites, dinner with a show, a guided Tundra Wilderness Tour to the park, and a paddle rafting trip along the Nenana River. To get a sense for how enormous Denali really is, flight- seeing over the park and Mount McKinley is highly recommended. The view is unlike anything

Traveling with a group enhances any destination’s experience when perceiving it through camaraderie. Making our way to the airport, we were both happy and sad. Happy to have experienced an unforgettable week of adventures. Sad that we had to leave such a beautiful place and our friends. The awesome sights of the last frontier and the good times we had there would not have been possible if not for our wonderful group of Alaskan adventurers.


 
 
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Over the glaciers near Seward
by David Cohen (story and photos)

The mainstream mental picture of our most northern state as a deserted frozen tundra is not entirely accurate. Sure there’s ice, but as summer blankets the land and the blooming season erupts, there are gorgeous scenic views and waterfalls everywhere you go. The colors of blossoming plumage are at their most vibrant. The air is the freshest and most pure you’ll ever breathe. The sun never goes down in June and July and nature is simply at its best. To me, Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
I flew into Anchorage and stayed one night at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel. But Anchorage is not all that Alaska has to offer. As a person who loves the outdoors, I wanted to be in the more rural areas. However, it is definitely worth a short stay in the city if only to visit the Alaska Heritage Museum at Wells Fargo. Exhibiting artifacts native to Alaskan cultures, this is by far one of the best museums in the region.
On our first night, my boyfriend Casey and I checked out a couple of the gay bars in town. Places like Raven and Mad Myrna’s were fun, but much more low key and less flashy than the bars you’ll find in mainland major cities. The people there are amazing. They’re always eager to meet new gay people and have a few drinks; start up a conversation and you’ll find them to be the most open and affording people you may ever meet.
On a clear day in Anchorage you can see Mount McKinley just north of the city. You can get an even better view on an aerial tour, which I recommend.

We drove our rental car south and began our tour of the Kenai Peninsula. In between the little towns, we had to stop along the road to soak in the spectacular views. The serene settings of the mountains, ocean and wildlife pulsate with pure vibrancy and natural wonder. They were so inspiring, I paused to sketch and paint the majestic sights.
With its frequent snowfall and high mountaintops, Girdwood is home to some of the best skiing in the country and KEUL FM, the “legal private radio station" founded by an openly gay local in 1997. On your way to town, you should definitely stop off at the animal refuge and see the large roaming bison in their natural habitat.

Gliding at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood
Easily accessible to the Alyeska Resort, other outdoor activities include mountain top gliding (I can’t believe I did it!), white water rafting and hiking. While in Girdwood, we rode the tram to the top of a mountain and took up with local openly gay and well-known stained glass artist Jim Kaizer. We enjoyed lunch at The Bake Shop, where Jim’s work is on display. His studio and exhibit space is next door and showcases some of the best stained glass I’ve ever seen. Be sure to look him up when you’re in town – he was so hospitable that he invited us to tour his home.
The Portage Glacier is a popular site 10 minutes outside of town by car. It’s worth a stop if only to take a deep breath and be intrigued by the beauty of the rock formations and the reflecting spectrum of color off the glacial ice.
The only place to see the massive Harding Ice Field is at Exit Glacier just outside of Seward. There, you can choose one of the trails that takes you right up to glacier’s edge or the more wooded route showing the temperate rainforest that emerges when the ice recedes.
At Seward we stayed at the Adams Street Bed and Breakfast. I’d highly recommend taking a private room with a bathroom. It costs a little more but as a gay couple wanting the extra privacy, it’s worth it. Don’t miss the Seward Aquarium and Wildlife Research Center, where you can take a behind the scenes wildlife tour of the habitats and the research. You’ll get the chance to touch baby seals, starfish and other marine creatures.

Flightseeing with Scenic Mountain Air
To learn how spectacular Alaska really is, you have to go “flightseeing." Casey and I flew over the Bear Glacier with Scenic Mountain Air in a small Piper PA-18 propeller plane and watched bears fishing in the river. The view is unlike anything you’ll ever experience. It’s like being on the Discovery Channel. You really get a sense for how awesome and enormous the ice-aged ice fields actually are.
Then it was time to fish! Alaska’s got the best fishing opportunities for halibut, silver fish and salmon. You’ll need a license to go on any charted fishing tour. These are available at any bait and tackle shop. And once you get your license, there’s no better charter to take than the Puffin Fishing Charter.
I didn’t have any expectations when the Seward Chamber of Commerce set this up for me. However, I soon found out that Puffin Fishing is the only gay-owned charter in town and Captain and First Mate Leslie and Denni are amazing!

Puffin Fishing Charter
As two gay women, the other fisherman didn’t take them seriously when they first started out. Yet they have proven themselves to be the best in Seward. They will go out of their way to accommodate you (especially if they know you’re gay).
The charter starts around 6 a.m. Leslie, Denni and their beautiful assistant Melissa will provide you with everything you need, even filet your catch, freeze it, store it or vacuum seal and ship it for you. Keep in mind it is best to wear sturdy, slip-resistant shoes and multiple layers of clothing, as the temperature varies dramatically during the course of a long day.
Even carrying up to 16 people, the boat is very comfortable. The feeling of intimacy on board is second only to the warm and inviting ambience Leslie and Denni create. They made me feel free to be myself with my boyfriend, unlike the atmosphere on all the “straight" fishing boats I have been on in the past. Wanting us to get a better catch, they took us further out to sea where we spotted playful whales flipping their fins on the water’s surface.
This was the best time I’d ever had on a fishing boat. I was so grateful I invited them all out to dinner afterwards.
On the boat I met Jessey, Denni and Leslie’s best lesbian friend. What an amazing woman! If I were a lesbian, I would snatch her up right away. I am in love with her. It didn’t take much for her to invite Casey and I to spend some time with her at her log cabin on the river in Soldotna – that she built herself! Spending time with her there, watching her dogs run free on her land and going river fishing for the best king salmon in the region was unforgettable (we caught one that was about six-feet long). We stayed out fishing until 11 or 12 at night and prepared dinner at 1a.m. Jessey was right there with us, helping with the meal and making us feel right at home. I had another chance to do some painting there, and being grateful for all her hospitality, I gave Jessey one of my original pieces.

Catch of the Day from Puffin Fishing Charter
On the way to visit Jessey, we stayed at the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing. Though this town offers amazing mountain views of the Kenai River, famous for its dazzling blue-green hues, fishing, white water rafting and kayaking, here we choose to just take it easy. The lodge has a great restaurant and spa. Casey and I and took the opportunity to share a few romantic moments and took solace on the balcony overlooking the gorgeous scenes. There, I did a lot of watercolors and took tons of pictures.
The final stop was for Alaskan halibut in the native fisherman village of Homer. It’s a very open place with huge horizons over the land and water that seems to go on forever. The pier is lined with small bars and pubs and the town itself is reminiscent of the one portrayed in the George Clooney film The Perfect Storm. Though locals limit the amount of fish you can catch in one day, there’s no limit on the weight. Being that these halibut are some of the biggest in the country, running around 60 to 70 pounds each, you can still walk off with close to 350 pounds of fish at the end of the day.
Tears were in my eyes as I made my way back to the airport. I didn’t want to leave! I wanted to stay so badly. I had never known such a friendly and accepting gay community in Alaska, and I might have missed it had it not been for Jim, Denni, Leslie, Jessey and all the others. It was one of the best experiences I ever had in my life.
I was so enamored by the scenery of the Kenai Peninsula and hospitality of its locals that I’ve been inspired to start hosting organized trips for LGBT travelers.