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Honolulu is perfect escape from mainland wintertime blues

Be wary of resort fees and paltry flight snacks when planning your Hawaiian vacation

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Hawaii travel, gay news, Washington Blade
Waikiki in the distance seen from Diamond Head in Hawaii. (Photo by Bill Malcolm)

Sick of winter yet? Honolulu is a perfect escape. The temperatures are in the low 80s year round. I only packed shorts. 

What to do

The first day I hiked up Diamond Head State Monument for great views of Waikiki. Take the no. 2 bus to the trail head near the community college. It’s not only a mountain but a giant crater with lots of interesting plant life. On the way back, I stopped at the Pineapple Shack for coconut juice (and pulp to eat). They also sell fresh pineapple juice. Stop by the Diamond Head Market and Grill on the way up to pick up a picnic lunch. 

On day two, a friend and I toured the beautiful University of Hawaii at Manoa campus. Stop at the Student Center for lunch for local fare. The L&L Hawaiian Barbeque had great garlic shrimp. We hiked up to the Lyon Arboretum which is run by the university. You will learn about the endemic plants of Hawaii and hike through fern valleys, a native Hawaiian plant garden, and more. The no. 5 bus will get you there. 

Day three featured a hike through the St. Louis neighborhood to Wa’ahila Ridge Regional Park. It features a Norfolk Island pine forest and great views of the city. We hiked up and took the bus back down. 

Day four included a tour of the Army Museum at nearby Fort DeRussy Beach run by the military. The beach is handy and open to everyone. 

I went swimming everyday with my friends at Queen’s Surf Beach. Honolulu apparently does not have a gay beach anymore, but this one was close enough. 

Night life

Bacchus Bar at 408 Lewers is a lot of fun. It has bingo on Thursday nights and features a friendly neighborhood crowd with great nightly specials. Its owners boast that it’s one of the best gay bars in the U.S.

Check out Hula’s Bar (134 Kapahulu Avenue) for the sunset views. It had live music and great happy hour specials the night I was there and is close to the beach. 

The In Between Bar (2255 Lauula) features karaoke every night and a friendly local crowd. 

Where to stay

I stayed in Waikiki at The Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club, which was perfect. I had a small apartment with balcony. The Surfjack features local room design and art work and local fare in its restaurant, Mahina and Sun where guests at the hotel get a $10 per day credit for a meal. 

Surfjack has live music every night at 7 p.m and wine tasting on Tuesdays.  

Free bikes and helmets are nice too not to mention its pool (with free towels and sunscreen) and a tote bag to take your stuff to the beach. 

The hotel is right next door to Bacchus. Next door is an ABC Store (408 Lewers) that has everything you would want to eat or drink. Show your Surfjack room key at the Honolulu Museum of Art for free admission. The Surfjack has it all and is highly recommended. 

What to eat

Bargain hunters will love Da Spot where dinners start at just $6. You will find the at 2569 King Street near University Avenue. 

Getting there

I redeemed just 19,000 points for a free ticket on Southwest Airlines through Oakland (from Indianapolis) to Honolulu. It’s a new route for the company. However, the five-hour-plus flight on its new seating types was uncomfortable and the crackers and cheese snack (plus pretzels and fruit candy) was insufficient for a dinner-hour flight. No food was offered for purchase either. 

The flight attendant barked at me for not separating my cup trash from other trash for pick up as instructed. Another complained when I had the temerity to ask for a full can of Diet Coke on a four-plus hour flight from Indy to Oakland. Worse, the gate they use at HNL is a 20-minute walk to baggage claim and the main terminal where you catch the bus to town, although there is a shuttle bus.

The flight back on American Airlines was much better. Besides being in the main terminal, the red eye through Phoenix featured a great cheese and fruit tray for purchase plus French wine. The seats had chargers for your electronic devices (unlike Southwest). The staff was professional and top notch. 

You won’t need a rental car for your Honolulu trip. It is a very walkable city (especially Waikiki). You can take “The Bus” (their name for the city bus system) everywhere. 

Take the no. 19 Bus to and from the airport for just $2.75. Better yet, by an all-day pass for $5.50 

Travel tips

All the hotels charge a resort fee of around $25-35 so always check what it is when you get a hotel room quote. (At least you are at a resort area, unlike downtown Portland, New York City and other places that now also tack on a resort or amenity fee.) Resort fees are the worst trend of the year in travel. 

Most of the Honolulu hotels are expensive and the ones that aren’t are not part of national chains. Many of these get so-so reviews (see TripAdvisor), so shop around but be prepared for the high room rates. It took a lot of research to track down the Surfjack. 

Try the Japanese food. It’s excellent and everywhere — even at the 7-11. This is because about half the tourists are from Japan. 

Aloha means hello and mahalo means thank you. 

Don’t jaywalk and don’t ride your bike on the sidewalk. These laws are strictly enforced. 

Be sure and take time to learn about the fascinating history of Hawaii and its world-famous plant life while you visit. The locals are friendly and welcoming.

Honolulu indeed makes for a perfect winter get away. 

For more information, try the LGBT pages at visit hawaill.com. The Good to Know LGBT Oahu Pocket Guide also lists everything you need to know in terms of LGBT activities plus lists great hike ideas and beaches on Oahu. Pick one up at a bar. 

Bill Malcolm’s syndicated LGBT value travel column appears in LGBT publications throughout the country. His opinions are his own. He resides in Indianapolis and writes as a hobby. He paid for his own travel and hotel for this trip. 

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Travel

Pride journey: Las Vegas

Start planning now for the October celebrations

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Las Vegas (Photo courtesy of Joey Amato)

Las Vegas, known for its vibrant and inclusive atmosphere, embraces LGBTQ culture with open arms, making it a thriving hub for the community. Iconic events like the annual Las Vegas Pride Parade and Festival bring together people from all walks of life to celebrate diversity and unity. The 2024 Las Vegas Pride festival is scheduled for Oct. 12, so start planning now.

The city’s commitment to inclusivity is reflected in the diverse range of LGBTQ-friendly accommodations, ensuring that visitors feel welcome and respected. Beyond the nightlife, Las Vegas hosts a variety of LGBTQ-focused community organizations, support groups, and cultural events that contribute to the rich tapestry of the city’s inclusive ethos. Whether exploring the famous entertainment offerings or participating in community-driven initiatives, LGBTQ individuals and allies alike find a warm and accepting home in the vibrant tapestry of LGBTQ culture in Las Vegas.

Ever since I was young, I have always wanted to stay at Bellagio. Its iconic foundations have fascinated me for decades. The hotel stands as an epitome of luxury and sophistication, offering an unparalleled experience that seamlessly blends opulence, entertainment, and fine dining. From the moment you step into the grand lobby, it’s evident that Bellagio is committed to providing a world-class stay, especially when you glance at the ceiling adorned with Chihuly glass sculptures.

I stayed in a recently renovated room in the Spa Tower with an unobstructed view of the Vegas Strip and the fountains. The attention to detail is evident in the tasteful decor, plush furnishings, and modern amenities. Beginning at 3 p.m. on weekdays and noon on weekends, the choreographed water show set against the backdrop of the Las Vegas Strip is a mesmerizing display of artistry, combining music, light, and water in perfect harmony. It sets the tone for the exquisite experiences that await within Bellagio.

Bellagio is also home to the famous Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, a lush oasis that undergoes seasonal transformations, displaying stunning floral displays and thematic installations. This botanical escape provides a serene contrast to the lively atmosphere of the casino and the bustling Strip. During our stay, the staff were completing the new springtime exhibition, which gave us Alice in Wonderland vibes. 

For those seeking entertainment, Bellagio offers the spectacular “O” by Cirque du Soleil, a water-themed extravaganza that complements the hotel’s overall theme. Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art is another cultural gem within the hotel, featuring rotating exhibitions that display masterpieces from around the world.

Although it is possible to never leave the hotel, we wanted to experience other MGM Resorts properties, so we headed to LPM at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas for dinner. LPM offers an exquisite dining experience that effortlessly marries Mediterranean charm with the vibrant energy of the Strip. From the moment you step through the entrance, you are greeted by an ambiance that strikes a perfect balance between sophistication and conviviality.

LPM’s interior is a visual feast, adorned with chic decor, warm lighting, and an intimate atmosphere. The combination of contemporary design elements and classic French accents creates a welcoming space that feels both elegant and comfortable. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or seeking a romantic dinner, LPM’s ambiance sets the stage for an unforgettable dining experience.

LPM’s menu is a culinary triumph, highlighting the rich and diverse flavors of the French Riviera. The emphasis on fresh, high-quality ingredients is evident in every dish. We began our meal with a variety of appetizers, including the Yellowtail Carpaccio, Escargots, and their signature Burrata prepared with heritage tomatoes and basil and topped with white truffles. For our main courses, we decided to focus on seafood entrees, so we tried the Lobster Risotto and grilled Chilean Bass. Both were prepared to perfection and paired very well together if you are looking to share entrees.

Of course, one of the biggest attractions of Las Vegas is the Strip itself. Spend a few hours meandering through each hotel and taking in the Vegas vibe. There is no other place in the world quite like it.

If you are in the mood for a little adventure, head to Area15, located about 10 minutes from the strip. Area15 is an immersive entertainment complex that blends art, technology, and entertainment in a unique and captivating way. Boasting an otherworldly exterior and a dynamic interior, Area15 is home to a variety of innovative experiences, including interactive art installations and virtual reality adventures. Its anchor tenant, the Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart, is a surreal supermarket-like environment filled with mind-bending art and hidden mysteries. The venue also hosts concerts and live events including Beyond Brunch, a variety show hosted by drag queen extraordinaire Andrew Ryan. The two-hour spectacle includes a wonderful buffet and performances by talented acts ranging from hoop dancers to Cirque-style entertainers. The show is well worth the price of admission; it is not your typical drag brunch.

Spend the afternoon touring Area15 or head to The Sphere, Las Vegas’s newest concert venue. Rock icons U2 opened the venue with a 40-night run, but guests can purchase tickets to Darren Aronofsky’s multi-sensory film “Postcard from Earth.”

For a trip down memory lane, especially if you are in you were born in the ‘70s or ‘80s, check out Retro by Voltaggio at Mandalay Bay. The restaurant owned by Top Chef stars, Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, takes diners on a nostalgic journey through time, blending modern culinary techniques with comforting flavors reminiscent of classic American dishes set in a retro-chic environment. The space is adorned with quirky memorabilia, neon accents, and a colorful palette that captures a sense of nostalgia without feeling overly kitschy, creating a welcoming environment for diners to unwind and enjoy the culinary adventure.

Retro by Voltaggio’s menu is a playful exploration of classic American favorites. We started our dinner with the deviled eggs with smoked trout roe along with the beet steak tartare, which was incredible. Next came the bluefin tuna ceviche served over coconut crushed ice. For our entrees we tried the trout meuniere, which was served in a lemon and caper sauce, as well as the lobster thermidor with lobster waffles — yes, you read that correctly. It was as delicious as it sounds.

Save room for the dessert cart, which contains innovative creations that satisfy the sweet tooth. Whether you’re a fan of nostalgic flavors or simply seeking a unique and enjoyable meal, Retro by Voltaggio is worth the visit.

After dinner, catch a performance of Michael Jackson “ONE” by Cirque du Soleil also at Mandalay Bay. The show is a captivating tribute to the King of Pop that seamlessly blends the magic of Cirque du Soleil with the timeless music and iconic choreography of Michael Jackson. From the moment the lights dim to the final bow, the show is a high-energy, emotionally charged celebration of the legendary entertainer’s life and legacy. This isn’t your typical Cirque du Soleil show and is more like a concert featuring all of Michael’s greatest hits, memorable dance moves, and state-of-the-art production. I felt like “ONE” is the type of concert Michael would have wanted to perform if he were still with us.

The thing I like most about Vegas is it is always evolving. Every time you visit, there is something new to see or do. Viva Las Vegas!

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Hot fun in the desert sun: Your Palm Springs guide

Hiking, dining, bar hopping, and more await

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There are plenty of hiking options for visitors to Palm Springs. (Photo by Bill Malcolm)

Palm Springs is a favorite destination of mine. I have lots of friends there and there is always something new to do. This trip was no exception. Hiking in two new natural areas. A cabaret shows at Oscar’s. Swimming with the USMS Masters at the Palm Springs Swim Center. A bagel at Townie Bagels and a baguette at Peninsula Pastries. And a cocktail at PSP Air Bar were among the highlights.

WHAT TO DO

Enjoy the Villagefest Thursday night downtown. They block off the street, and it becomes a huge farmers market and art show.

Hit the PS Air Bar for an airline themed evening. They have piano bar Sunday nights in the front. Shop at the Revivals store in the same complex.

Hike in the new Prescott Preserve, formerly a golf course.

Take a hike at the South Lykken Trailhead in Oswit Canyon. Enjoy the cacti and wildflowers. We saw 3 big horn sheep in the meadow. Check out the Oswit Land Trust website for more information.

Go shopping on Sunny Dunes just off South Palm Canyon drive where you will find vintage stores, the Tool Shed leather bar, the new Club 541, antique stores, and a cactus and succulent gift shop (as well as Townie Bagels). Then walk or bike along the new trail along the river just south of Sunny Dunes Road. They even have the plants marked. All are steps from the Motel 6 Downtown.

NIGHTLIFE

Catch a show or go to the Sunday T Dance at Oscar’s. They also have a drag brunch both Saturday and Sunday called “The Bitchiest Brunch.” I saw the fabulous trio, Brandon, and James with Effie, on a Thursday night.

Toucans Tiki Lounge has a popular drag show Monday night. Pick up some new underwear or adult novelty items at the Not So Innocent store next door, 200 N. Palm Canyon.

The Tool Shed at 600 E. Sunny Dunes has a Sunday beer bust and BBQ. They also have an underwear night on Thursdays.

Hunters Palm Springs on Arenas Road has a fun happy hour. (This is the same owner as the one in Wilton Manors, Fla.) You will find 10 other bars nearby.

Fasten your seat belts for the Karaoke Thursday night at PSP Air Bar. The airline themed speakeasy is inside Bouschet. Sit in an old first class American Airlines seat (or an old coach Southwest Airlines seat) while the captain pours you a drink at the PS Air Bar. Then enjoy a show at the Revolution Stage Company next door.

WHERE TO EAT

Grab your morning bagel and coffee at Townie Bagels at 650 East Sunny Dunes. Get there early or expect a line. They open at 6:30 a.m. They are at 650 E. Sunny Dunes Road and have a cult following.

Enjoy a café Americano and pastry at Ristretto For Coffee Lovers (500 S. Palm Canyon Drive).

Enjoy a French baguette or pastry at Peninsula Pastries, 611 S. Palm Canyon in the Sun Plaza. They are only open Thursday to Sunday starting at 8:30 a.m. Get there early to avoid the line. All baked goods use French flour. Like Townie Bagels, they are quite popular. Next door is the Palm Greens Café for a healthy lunch.

Nature’s Health Food and Café (555 Sunrise Way) has fresh juices like carrot juice and vegetarian items like the eggplant wrap. You can sit outside on their patio with your to-go food.

Pick up fruit, yogurt or a pre-made sandwich at Grocery Outlet, Bargain Market in downtown Palm Springs.

GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND

I took United through Denver on the way out and through their Houston hub on the way back. United had the best fare and best departure times so I chose them despite my disdain for their policy charging for carry on for basic economy passengers. I had Economy Plus so I got a no charge carry on.

Palm Springs has a cute, small airport with a huge outdoor area. It’s the nicest airport I have ever been to. However, pack something to eat as they have few food options at the moment.

Hop on the #2 SunLine Bus across the street from the airport to go downtown. It’s a two block walk and costs $1. Rental car not needed if you stay downtown. (The lines for the rental cars can be long and they are packed with fees and surcharges.) I used Uber when not taking the SunLine. (SunLine.org)

Leave your bike helmet at home. The city does not have a shared bike system and is not pedestrian friendly outside of the downtown area despite being flat and having a warm climate.

WHERE TO (AND NOT TO) STAY

I stayed at the very handy and very affordable Motel 6 Downtown, 600 S. Palm Canyon. It is across the street from the Sun Plaza, which consists of many shops and restaurant, is a short walk to the bars on Arenas Road, is around the corner from Townie Bagels and the Tool Shed Bar, and more. Rooms are cleaned daily without asking – unheard of with most motels and hotels. The internet is good. No annoying resort fees. Free coffee every morning at 6 a.m. Get a quiet room on the third floor facing east.

Beware of junk fees like resort fees at other Palm Springs hotels. Most hotels in Palm Springs now have them and they are only disclosed on third party booking sites at the end of the reservation process making the room rate look lower than it actually is.

Often, they are lumped under “taxes and fees” to make you think the government requires them. My favorite (not) was the mandatory “community impact fee” at the Hotel Zoso. It is for a mandatory contribution to a charity.

Happily, I have yet to see hotels add a “pillow fee” or “key fee.”

Palm Springs has many lodging options including VRBO and specialty resorts. Men will like the new Twin Palms Resort as well as their sister property, The Descanso Resort. Both are excellent. Service is top notch. Lunch catered everyday. And more.

MORE INFORMATION

GED is the local magazine. RAGE Monthly out of San Diego also covers PS as does the Los Angeles Blade.

The weekly is the Coachella Valley Independent, which covers upcoming events, restaurants, hikes, local politics and more.

Palm Springs also has a gay radio station. Pick up a copy of their KGay desert Guide or view them at kgaypalmsprings.com (106.5 on the FM dial).

You won’t run out of fun things to do in Palm Springs and summer is their value season.

There is nowhere else where you can enjoy the desert sun surrounded to the west and north by snow capped mountains. And you won’t find a gayer city anywhere.

Bill Malcolm is an award-winning travel writer. His syndicated travel column in run by select LGBTQ publications throughout North America. You can find him on Facebook and read his columns at the travel blog section of the IGLTA website. He received no compensation of any kind for this column.

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Gay hotel company brings luxury to Puerto Vallarta

Tryst Puerto Vallarta to open this spring

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Tryst Puerto Vallarta (Photo courtesy of Tristan Schukraft)

The Tryst Puerto Vallarta begins welcoming discerning gay guests this spring, just in time for the Mexican resort city’s Pride celebrations. 

The 55-room resort includes a penthouse suite featuring two terraces, three large suites with expansive living areas and terraces and several junior suites with unique features. A highly anticipated rooftop pool with a bar area and restaurant offering fine Mexican cuisine are just some of the highlights. 

“You can stay here and never leave the resort,” said Tristan Schukraft, the driving force behind Tryst Hotels, and self-described CEO of “everything gay.”

While he started out in his career working in the early days of electronic ticketing, Schukraft may be more known for his work with MISTR, a popular online source for PrEP. He also recently entered into an agreement to purchase the Abbey in West Hollywood, Calif.

With Tryst he promises “it’s a fun, exciting atmosphere.” 

“The idea is not just the guests are coming to the resort, but locals,” said Schukraft. “So, when you stay here it’s the way to mingle with the local gay community.”

To welcome and include both guests and locals, the resort will host drag brunches in the hotel restaurant. Weekend parties featuring DJs on the eighth floor pool and bar area also seeks to make this not just a place to stay, but one to celebrate with the community.

Schukraft hopes visitors will get to know guests or locals poolside, or in the restaurant, and make lifelong friendships. 

Or perhaps find a bit of romance: After all the hotel is set in the famed Zona Romántica.  

“Tryst Hotels are not merely luxury destinations; they are a celebration of gay culture, where every guest is embraced,” said Schukraft. “Our mission is to create spaces where luxury and identity flourish without compromise.”

Tryst Hotels CEO Tristan Schukraft. (Photo courtesy of Tristan Schukraft)

The D.C. Travel and Adventure Show took place last month in D.C., and LGBTQ-specific travel was among the topics the convention highlighted. The Washington Blade in its preview of the expo noted LGBTQ travelers may book a resort or vacation that promises “everyone is welcome,” but upon arrival feel uncomfortable by reactions of staff or other guests due to expressing their identity as queer people. 

Schukraft has experienced this. 

“I was at a hetero-friendly hotel Miami, but it was also marketed to gay men,” he explained. “So, you have two guys kissing at the pool and you have a straight couple looking over and wondering are they staying at a gay hotel. It’s sort of an awkward occurrence.” 

Everyone, therefore, is welcome at Tryst resorts, but it is not being marketed outside of the community. 

“My boyfriends and I have even experienced side-eye glances for our choice of swimwear,” Schukraft said. “You won’t find that at Tryst Hotels.”

Speaking of attire: Many luxury guesthouses, inns and hotels catering to gay men offer clothing-optional zones for guests. It’s an allure for some travelers. 

But, not at Tryst.

“Don’t get me wrong, clothing optional resorts are fun, but that’s not our concept. Our concept is a luxurious, inclusive resort,” Schukraft said with a touch of elan apropos for the “CEO of everything gay.” “Of course wear your thongs [and] Speedos.”

Tryst Puerto Vallarta and Tryst San Juan in Puerto Rico, which is slated to open in 2025, are being marketed as gay-owned, gay-focused resorts with luxurious offerings and amenities. Many resorts known to epitomize luxury may be seen as slightly conservative or “stuffy.” 

Luxury promises not to come only in the form of superior bedding, bathrobes, slippers and skincare products, but also in the stunning interiors. 

The Puerto Vallarta property engaged the same studio known for their acclaimed work at the Four Seasons Tamarindo. Designers from Estudio Esterlina bring a refined mix of minimalism, modernism and Mexican. 

“Why can’t you have fun and luxury in the same space? Here, you let your hair down by the pool, enjoy a pool party, a fine Mexican meal in our full-service restaurant, a drag brunch on weekends and socialize with new friends all while feeling safe,” Schukraft said. “Our goal is to show luxury doesn’t have to mean stuffy.”

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