It’s About That Time: Gay Days Orlando 2010 (annually, the first weekend of June)
|by Paul Rubio|
Loud and proud, 3,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals took to the candy-coated streets of the Magic Kingdom in June 1991 to “wear red and be seen,” commencing what would become the fiercest and most inclusive gay event in U.S. history—Gay Days. In nearly two decades, Gay Days in Orlando Florida has swelled into a weeklong, citywide celebration of love, life, sex, and everything G-A-Y. The rightwing protests have faded, and with over 150,000 attendees, Gay Days (here in referred to as Gay Disney Weekend) offers events and parties catering to all crowds: muscle boys, bears, crack heads, butch lesbians, fem lesbians, families, pre-ops, post-ops, recovering alcoholics, sports fanatics, teens. It’s the most anticipated annual event in Florida and a mind-boggling explosion of gay subcultures.
Prior to 2009, the extended Gay Disney Weekend centered on four themed events—Gay Days, Girls at Gay Days, Girls in Wonderland, and One Mighty Weekend. Orlando Wonderland has now replaced the latter while Gay Days and Girls at Gay Days have engaged in a pseudo-merger. Following yet another year of economic tumult, broken promises, and new alliances, Gay Disney Weekend 2010 welcomes new host hotels, new parties, a hostile circuit scene take-over, and a bit of schedule shifting!
Choosing the correct themed event is crucial to making the most out of Gay Disney weekend without feeling misplaced. In the most general sense, Orlando Wonderland (markbakerevents.com) caters to scene queens, muscle boys, circuit partiers, fashionistas, and the general party crowd. Girls in Wonderland (girlsinwonderland.com) offers the female equivalent. Gay Days and Girls at Gay Days (gaydays.com) celebrate being gay and enjoying Disney, focusing less on the wild party aspect and more on the pride aspect. Each of these three event sponsors offers a host hotel, exhilarating pool parties, and a recommended series of activities and excursions specific to their demographic. Staying at a host hotel guarantees entry to popular pool parties within the hotel (and free admission in most cases). Make sure you choose the correct host hotel that coincides with your ideas of Disney “fun!” This will prevent disappointment and the blank faces of the multitudes that previously thought there was only one host hotel during Gay Disney weekend and chose the wrong one!
For: Circuit Boys & Scene Queens
Host Hotel 2010: Holiday Inn at the Disney World Resort (www.hiorlando.com)
Replacing former host hotel: Lake Buena Vista Palace
Major changes: Friday night is back at Typhoon Lagoon but sponsored by Gay Days; the
Universal Studios party is now on Saturday; Hard Rock Live Sunday returns; Friday’s pool party is free admission for everyone (not just hotel guests)
To see full program: www.markbakerevents.com
In the ultimate showcase of male dominance, territoriality, superficiality, and courtship, tens of thousands will gather for Wonderland Orlando to initiate the start of the summer breeding season. For a first-timer, Wonderland Orlando undoubtedly results in sensory overload—a plethora of hot men, scantily clad, hot and bothered, ready to party is the gay version of every straight man’s Miller Lite big-breasted fantasy. An ornate display of six packs, nine packs, and the occasional beer can itself down the pants, the sensory excess is physically inspirational for some and emotionally destructive for others.
Wonderland Orlando officially begins on Thursday, June 3 at the House of Blues. By late night Thursday, the hot tub cauldron at the Holiday Inn becomes a stew of scantily clad men. The first party at the Holiday Inn commences at 2pm on Friday, carrying on for 12 hours, but peaking at the pool between 3PM and 6PM. While Friday’s event is free for everyone, the superior Saturday and Sunday pool parties (11AM -5PM) come with a price tag and preferred admission for Holiday Inn guests. As the daylight grows stronger Saturday and Sunday, the gays get wetter and filthier, multiplying like Gremlins in the murky water, vying for space in sardine-packed swimming pools and patios! Conveniently located on hotel grounds, the Saturday and Sunday pool parties are the easiest way to gain notches on your belt, inviting new friends up to your room for cocktails and more (note: keep hefty supplies of liquor, mixers, and condoms in your room).
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday peak at nighttime circuit parties (8:30PM–2 AM) and late night events that carry on into early morning on Saturday and Sunday (1:30AM–8AM). The late night events at Arabian Nights are hardly feasible without substance abuse; and Arabian Nights I on Saturday indisputably constitutes the pinnacle of the circuit party hysteria. Lucky for the unsuspecting public, free shuttles to and from Arabian Nights are available from the Holiday Inn.
However, Friday night’s event at Typhoon Lagoon deserves the superlative for the best and most arousing gay event in America. Formerly known as Beachball, an official circuit party even, this party is now an official event of Gay Days itself. Imagine an entire mega water park crammed with beautiful men in Speedos, the sounds of world-renowned DJs, dance floors of powdery sand, copious amounts of alcohol, and exhilarating slides at your leisure—this, believe it or not, is the reality of your Gay Disney Weekend Friday night. Saturday night’s Stratosphere party at Universal Studios is a bit more hard-core, with the music and talents of DJ Tony Moran, dancing, and access to four of the theme park’s rides. The mega circuit party madness at Hard Rock Live returns this year, ending the weekend to the sounds of DJ Abel and spectacular displays of dance and light.
Most will leave Wonderland Orlando with many fewer brain cells than when they arrive but with some of the most incredible memories of the year. Monday morning feels almost like camp, where you don’t want to say good-bye to the names and places, both old and new. But alas, it’s time to start a new workout plan for next year and to start eyeing the new swimsuits!
Girls in Wonderland
For: Lipsticks, younger lesbians, and their admirers
Host Hotel 2010: Marriott Courtyard and Fairfield Inn @ Marriott Village
Major changes: 2nd pool party on Saturday at Fairfield Inn
To see full program: www.girlsinwonderland.com
Meanwhile, cross town . . . the young and trendy female demographic mirror the insanity of Wonderland Orlando through Girls in Wonderland at the Marriott Courtyard and Fairfield Inn within Orlando’s Marriott Village. They party to the same homo-thumping beats echoed across town and strut the poolside runway in fashionable two-pieces. This year, Saturday will boast two pool parties, one at each hotel, both of which are free to host hotel guests (Friday and Sunday pool parties will remain at just the Courtyard). The nighttime party on Friday takes place at Bongo’s while Saturday’s bash at the House of Blues packs 2,300 women to the backdrop of a Carnival-themed contemporary circus set aglow with seductive go-go girls and mesmerizing sounds.
Gay Days and Girls at Gay Days
Host Hotel 2010: Doubletree Resort Orlando – International Drive
Replacing former host hotel: Royal Plaza Hotel (men) and Regal Sun Resort (women)
Major changes: Friday night’s Typhoon Lagoon is an official event this year.
To see full program: www.gaydays.com
Though Wonderland Orlando may feel like gay judgment days, this is only one event among many during Gay Disney weekend. The original Gay Days itself is a place where gays of all genders, shapes, sizes, and ages bask in the gayness of the happiest place on Earth. Surely the original intention of Orlando’s gayest week was not to conjure inner demons of insecurity.
The host hotel for Gay Days and Girls at Gay Days is the same – the Doubletree Resort Orlando on International Drive. However, pool parties and certain events will be held in separate areas (all pool parties are free to hotel guests). Girls have daily pool parties Friday to Sunday (12PM-6PM), another fabulous Friday night pool party (6PM -12AM), two pool parties Saturday night, followed by a dance off in the host hotel ballroom. Gay Days will also hosts a zillion pool parties at the Doubletree, including one on Thursday night; daytime as well as nighttime pool parties take place Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Special parties are held for the bear community – Tidal Wave at Wet ‘n Wild on Friday night (6PM-12AM), a dance party at the Doubletree on Saturday night, and the Wet Bears party at the Doubletree on Sunday.
The Doubletree also hosts the Gay Days Exposition 2010. The expo itself is a fantastic way to collect lots of cool goodies, to learn about what’s going on in Florida (culturally, travel-wise, politically), and to meet some pretty awesome people who work damn hard to make gay life better for all of us. Each year booths distribute innovative and fun marketing products.
The Gay Days/Girls at Gay Days crowd divides time between socializing at pool parties, the exposition, visiting the theme parks, seeing comedy shows, and visiting local Orlando nightlife venues. The official theme park lineup begins with Thursday at Animal Kingdom, followed by Friday at Disney Hollywood Studios, Saturday at Magic Kingdom, and Epcot on Sunday. It’s recommended to buy a multiday pass if you wish to experience more than one theme park.
Saturday at the Magic Kingdom marks the actual “Gay Day” where everyone wears red to commemorate pride and the park fills to capacity early in the day. This is probably the one day of the year you won’t rush to use a Fast Pass. Standing in line is almost as fun as going on the rides. The crowd is warm and welcoming, strong and united. Strangers approach you. New friends are made. It’s a beautiful sight to witness children from loving gay homes in a daylong safe haven. Even most token straight couples with children who unknowingly came to Magic Kingdom this fateful Saturday fall in love with the “gay day.”
Around town, local venues get in on the action and host outrageous parties! The Parliament House, for example, continues its popular Gay Disney Weekend concert series with Deborah Gibson on Friday night and Taylor Dayne on Saturday. They pack a full house to a strong mix of Central Florida locals and visitors. There’s no shortage of comedy shows over the weekend, either. Vickie Shaw, Michele Balan, Joan Rivers, and Alec Mapa are all performing this year. Check the official www.gaydays.com calendar for tickets.
If you need a place to sleep but want to avoid the chaos of the host hotels, you should consider staying at another International Drive hotel such as The Peabody Orlando or the Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive. Read more Gay travel on Paul's blog on Oyster, http://locals.oyster.com/author/paulrubio/
Select portions of this guide were originally published in the award winning, The Out Traveler: South Florida, copyright Alyson Books and Paul Rubio.