Gay and Lesbian Travel: Options

Ever since the gay and lesbian market began attracting the attention of "mainstream" suppliers in the early 1990s, one thing has been a sure bet: every new year witnesses the entry of new tour operators into the market.

Some of the newest additions to the North American gay and lesbian market are British Airways Holidays, German tour operator Holigays and San Francisco-based Venture Out. Long-standing companies such as Family Abroad and Hanns Ebensten, meanwhile, continue to expand and diversify their offerings.

Several destinations continue to build their popularity as gay and lesbian hot spots. Amsterdam is sure to be a popular destination this year, especially during the time surrounding the 1998 Gay Games Aug. 1 to 8.

In addition to the perennially popular destinations -- such as Australia, Florida, Hawaii and Western Europe -- tour operators are also offering a greater variety of packages to up-and-coming places like Russia, Asia and Latin America.

Following are highlights of some of the programs for this year.

Above and Beyond Tours. San Francisco-based Above and Beyond is featuring the following tour packages:

  • Amsterdam Gay Games, July 31 to Aug. 9. Packages start at $835, double.
  • A post-Gay Games package, called Cycle Holland, runs from Aug. 9 to 16, beginning in Amsterdam, for a land-only rate of $1,325, double.
  • A variety of group and independent departures to the South Pacific, Europe and Latin America.
  • Alyson Adventures. Alyson's package tours include a diving trip to Saba; bicycling in France's Loire Valley, and trips to Australia and France's Cote d'Or.

    Atlantis Events. Atlantis specializes in all-gay charters of resorts and cruise ships. This year's remaining schedule features all-inclusive Club Atlantis packages at Blue Bay Village, on Mexico's Pacific coast (Manzanillo).

    British Airways Holidays. British Airways has announced its support of the Rainbow Card, a Visa card co-founded by tennis pro Martina Navratilova, that funds causes of interest to the lesbian and gay community. This follows British Airways Holidays' introduction of gay and lesbian departures of its South African safari holidays.

    Club LeBon. Club LeBon will offer a variety of packages specializing in lesbian travel and travel for gay people with children.

    Connections Tours. Miami Beach, Fla.-based Connections is a receptive tour operator selling Florida vacations to destinations including Orlando and the Miami area. A Cancun package is also available.

    Damron Atlas World Travel. Damron is planning trips to Venezuela, the hill tribes of Indonesia and the White Party (a charity event) in Miami. Additional tours focus on Shamans and Medicine Journeys in Central America, the Thailand Party (another charity fundraiser) and whale watching season in Maui.

    David's Trips & Tours. David's, based in Corona del Mar, Calif., is offering the following tours:

  • Trips to Hungary and the Czech Republic.
  • Multiple departures to South Africa (including a South African New Year's trip).
  • A Halloween package tour to New Orleans.
  • Departures International. A specialist in escorted tours to Russia, Departures International is planning two gay and lesbian community tours that will focus on the art, the architecture and the people of Russia. The eight-day trips include city tours of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and visits to major historic sites. The land-only price is $788, per person, double. Travelers also have the option of extending their visit in Moscow or St. Petersburg, or adding a two-night visit to Kiev.

    Different Roads Travel. A division of New York City-based Tzell Travel Specialists, this operator is dedicated exclusively to the gay and lesbian community. Plans call for two spa retreat packages to Cuernavaca and Acapulco, Mexico from May 16 to 23 starting at $1,599. Different Roads Travel also offers packages to the 1998 Gay Games in Amsterdam with air packages starting at $800.

    Doin' It Right. Doin' It Right specializes in Mexico, and promoting Puerto Vallarta as the most gay-friendly destination in the country. Villas and hotel packages are available.

    European Gayways. This tour operator is offering packages to the Gay Games which will be held in Amsterdam.

    Family Abroad. New York City-based Family Abroad offers a wide range of escorted tours to Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Some are combined land/cruise tours, visiting locations such as Alaska, Greece and Egypt. The supplier has a promotional video available, for a nominal fee, that highlights their products and services.

    For 1998, Family Abroad is offering trips to Australia, Hong Kong, India, Nepal, Peru, Greece, France, Scandinavia, St. Petersburg, the British Islands, Spain, Italy, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa. Event packages include trips to the Gay Games in Amsterdam and Carnival in the Canary Islands. A safari trip to Kenya and Tanzania is also available.

    Cruises include:

  • An "Orient Explorer" cruise that visits Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand and other destinations.
  • A Costa Rica cruise.
  • A "Burgundy Barge Cruise and Paris" package.
  • Good Time Tours. This Miami Beach-based operator is arranging packages for the eighth annual Gay and Lesbian Day at the Magical Kingdom (That Walt Built), a reference to the annual event when thousands of gays and lesbians visit Walt Disney World. The event is slated for June 6. Prices start at $169, land only.

    Hanns Ebensten Travel. One of the pioneers in the gay travel market, Hanns Ebensten continues to offer tours to a variety of destinations in 1998. Included are a safari in Africa, a cruise to the Galapagos Islands, an Easter trip to Easter Island and a Grand Canyon Expedition.

    Holigays Worldwide Travel. Holigays Weltweit Reisen GmbH, a Cologne, Germany-based tour operator, opened its North American subsidiary in June 1997. The company offers tour packages to Europe, Australia, Bali and Costa Rica.

    L'Arc en Ciel. Switzerland is the newest destination for L'Arc en Ciel Voyages, thanks to a new partnership with Swissair. Packages feature gay pride celebrations in July and a hiking tour through the Swiss Alps in September.

    The company also promotes packages to Iceland via Icelandair. L'Arc is the North American representative for Iceland's only gay guesthouse.

    L'Arc has also worked with the City of Berlin, Germany, and the German National Tourist Office to offer gay and lesbian packages to Berlin.

    Other trips include skiing and packages to a variety of gay-popular events in Europe, including Queens Day in Amsterdam, Bastille Day in Paris, gay pride and New Year's Eve in Iceland and Christmas shopping in London. L'Arc en Ciel is also a wholesaler for the 1998 Gay Games.

    To celebrate the turning of the century, L'Arc is offering a trip to Sydney, Australia for a large-scale New Year's party, followed immediately by a plane ride to Honolulu, across the International Dateline, to celebrate the turning of the century for a second time.

    Mariah Wilderness Expeditions. A specialist in women-only adventure travel, Mariah is offering three- and four-day rafting trips in southern Oregon, northeastern Utah and California's Tuolumne River.

    Men On Vacation. Men On Vacation is an official tour operator for the Gay Games, with eight-night packages priced at $849, per person, double. Additional destinations include Australia and the U.S.

    Mi Casa Su Casa. This Oakland, Calif.-based company arranges lesbian- and gay-friendly home exchanges in the U.S. and abroad.

    Ocean Voyager. Ocean Voyager arranges hosted gay groups on cruises, including a seven-day Alaska inside passage cruise aboard Celebrity's Galaxy on July 31. Prices start at $1,349, double.

    Pied Piper Travel. Pied Piper is a New York City-based travel agency specializing in gay group cruises, many of which take place on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2. Included for 1998 are itineraries to Bermuda and Christmas/ New Year's cruises to the Caribbean, as well as transatlantic and New England/Canada cruises.

    Port Yacht Charters. This Long Island, N.Y.-based company arranges all-inclusive private yacht charters to a variety of destinations, including the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Agents become preferred suppliers, earning a 12% commission instead of the standard 10%, upon their fourth booking. American Airlines AAdvantage miles are also available as an incentive.

    Progressive Travels. Progressive is a mainstream operator that offers gay and lesbian active adventure travel packages. Offerings include:

  • Biking and walking in Tuscany, Italy; Provence, France, and the Pacific Northwest.
  • A yachting tour along the Turquoise coast of Turkey.
  • A Nile cruise in Egypt.
  • Robin Tyler International Tours. Robin Tyler is offering two tours to the Amsterdam Gay Games: a women-only tour and a "Gold Medal" tour (including men); both featuring accommodations at the five-star Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky. This nine-night package starts at $2,499 per person, double.

    Royal Hawaiian Weddings. Royal Hawaiian arranges gay and straight marriages and commitment ceremonies on the island of Maui.

    RSVP. RSVP is offering a series of cruises to the Caribbean, the Mexican Riviera and Alaska. In addition:

  • Club RSVP features all-inclusive holidays at Mexican resorts.
  • Plaanet RSVP offers air and ground specials on independent travel in the U.S. and European destinations.
  • Skylink Travel. Skylink's women-only tours for 1998 include visits to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah; Dinah Shore Women's Week in Palm Springs, Calif., and a Kenya photo safari with the optional add-on of Uganda gorilla trekking. Skylink also offers Gay Games packages.

    Spirit Journeys. Spirit Journeys offers a variety of workshops, retreats and adventure trips, with a focus on spiritual development. Destinations for 1998 include the U.S., India and Mexico.

    Thanks, Babs. Berkeley, Calif.-based Thanks, Babs is offering the following trip:

  • Summer Alaskan Cultural Journeys, from May to September, with activities arranged according to interests of participants.
  • Toto Tours. Toto Tours offers about 20 tours per year, including active adventures such as hiking and biking.

    They publish a quarterly travel agent newsletter with updates on products.

    Among the offerings for 1998:

  • Whale watching excursions in Magdalena Bay/Baja, Mexico, and in Maui, Hawaii.
  • A tour of the Garden Island of Kauai, Hawaii.
  • Beach and inland tours of Costa Rica.
  • Undersea Expeditions. Specializing in scuba and snorkel vacations, Undersea Expeditions is offering tours to Curacao, Hawaii, Belize and Egypt's Red Sea in 1998.

    Venture Out. A start-up tour company based in San Francisco, Venture Out specializes in adventure and cultural tours for small groups of gay and lesbian travelers. Destinations include Costa Rica, Indonesia, Tuscany and South Africa.

    Windjammer Barefoot Cruises. Windjammer is offering one gay-specific cruise in 1998, a six-day tall-ship adventure launching on Nov. 8 in the Caribbean.

    Woodswomen. Woods-women offers a variety of outdoor vacations for women only (gay, straight and bisexual). Activities include backpacking, bicycling, canoeing, dogsledding and hiking. Destinations include the Caribbean, the western U.S., Canada and Ireland.

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