Welcome to my first travel column for the Philadelphia Gay News. I am thrilled to share tips, deals and steals that can make your travel more affordable and more fun. The goal of this column is to be a resource to find great LGBT getaways that are easily accessible from Philadelphia. December is a good time to start a new column because traveling during the holidays is magical. And, 2010 promises to be the “Year of the Great Gay Travel Deal” as the travel industry will aggressively compete for your business.
NEW YORK CITY
December is one of the best times to visit New York City, and never has it been more affordable. Whether you’re into the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes” or the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, you will find lots to do for LGBT travelers at www.nycgo.com. Click on “NYC life” and then click “gay” for a calendar of events, things to do and places to eat for the LGBT community.
Check out the brand-new Kimpton Hotel, Ink48, in Hell’s Kitchen. Ink48 joins two other New York City Kimpton Hotels: 70 Park Avenue Hotel and the Muse New York. Use the “LGBT” rate code at any Kimpton Hotel and get 15-percent off the best available rate Thursday through Sunday, plus a $20 daily dining credit and 30-percent off any in-room spa service. Here is an insider’s tip: Kimpton might require a two-night stay during some dates, so when online, try booking both one- and two-night stays. For more information, visit www.kimptonhotels.com/programs/lgbt.
Alternatively, try the Out in New York package by Marriott Hotels. Use code “VIQ” in the corporate promotional code box when making your online reservation and Marriott will donate 5 percent of your room rate to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Plus, you will get a 200-page gay and lesbian travel guide to New York and breakfast for two. This offer is good through Dec. 31, 2010. Visit www.marriott.com/specials for more information.
There are many ways to get to New York City these days from Philadelphia, and it’s probably more affordable to leave the car at home. It’s hard to beat the less-than-$30 round-trip fares offered by Mega Bus (www.megabus.com) or Bolt Bus (www.boltbus.com) with free WiFi. Amtrak is offering up to 25-percent off the Northeast Regional train with 14-day advance purchase, about $45 each way (www.amtrak.com).
How about a quintessential Christmas in London? According to Visit London, the official tourism agency for Greater London, hotel and restaurant prices are one-third to one-half less expensive today than a few years ago. There are great deals at museums too. Don’t miss the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park with 200 rides, Santa’s Village, a giant ice monster and a German Christmas market spanning 32 acres. This festival drew 1.5-million visitors last year. For more information, see www.visitlondon.com.
Perhaps the best deal in London is “The Night Before and After Christmas” hotel package at the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel. This package offers a lot of extra value, including a one-night stay, afternoon tea, champagne and canapés in the Club Intercontinental, a 30-minute spa treatment in a dry floatation bed, full breakfast, free WiFi and an incredible view of the queen’s palace. This package is available from Dec. 18-30. Visit www.london.intercontinental.com.
New Year’s Eve is not just a night: This year, it kicks off a three-day weekend. The Empress Hotel in Asbury Park, N.J., is offering the New Year’s Eve Ball. Hotel guests will enjoy a 24-hour bar, open bar from 9-10 p.m., a performance by Lala, early-morning breakfast buffet on Jan. 1 and free admission for you and a guest all weekend to the onsite nightclub. You can also purchase tickets for the party for only $40 each (www.asburyempress.com).
Closer to home, New Year’s Eve in Philadelphia will be twice the fun this year with two fireworks shows at Penn’s Landing. The first show begins at 6 p.m. and the second at midnight. With the Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day and the South Philly party on Second Street, you will want to sleep over. Check out www.gophila.com for more information.
Jeff Guaracino is a vice president for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation and the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus, and also author of “Gay and Lesbian Tourism: The Essential Guide for Marketing.”