Every December, we look at destinations around the world to highlight the standouts for the LGBT traveler. This year, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., earned the “Destination of the Year” title.
With a beach-chic vibe, a new upscale foodie allure and the ultimate commitment to LGBT tourism, Fort Lauderdale has redefined “Where the Boys Are.”
Greater Fort Lauderdale is much “greater” than before: a refreshing mix of sun, fun, culture, community and appreciation of the LGBT traveler (who spends more than $1 billion a year in Broward County). Long gone are the spring-break days and cheap hotels; today, there is a thriving gay guesthouse culture alongside posh beachfront hotels and a growing beachfront nightlife and dining scene.
Always ahead of the curve, Fort Lauderdale announced this month at the 15th-annual Community Marketing International Conference on Gay and Lesbian Tourism that, for the next three years, it will host the Southern Comfort Transgender Conference.
When it comes to culture, Greater Fort Lauderdale has one of the largest Pride centers and is home to the Stonewall National Museum and Archives. Next year, ground will be broken on the $55-million LGBT-focused senior rental community Pineapple House, 92 units offering independent and assisted living.
Fort Lauderdale’s new “must visit” is the first World AIDS Museum and Educational Center (worldAIDSmuseum.org), an informative and empowering exhibition combining contextual panels, art and, soon, multimedia to the disease that transformed generations of our community. Don’t miss the weekend mixers.
R Family Vacations makes its weekend debut in 2015. (Philly was the first non-cruise R Family destination). RSVP and Atlantis Vacations have 2015 cruises departing from the bustling Fort Lauderdale port, and the city is increasingly gaining international status (especially with Brits and Brazilians).
A great deal of credit goes to local leadership, small businesses and the community. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, led by visionary president Nikki Grossman, has a dedicated LGBT market managing director, Richard Gray, himself an industry pioneer (and a mentor of mine). Since it began its LGBT outreach in 1996, the agency has been a true stand-out leader.
It helps that Fort Lauderdale boasts the highest concentration of same-sex-couple households in the United States, helping drive the renaissance, while new small businesses caterer to visitors, including boutique-clothing shops, bars and clubs.
Guesthouse and hotel
Gay guesthouses define Fort Lauderdale’s gay travel experience. No matter your taste, price point or comfort with nudity, you will find a guesthouse experience just for you. (Of note: There is still no lesbian-focused guesthouse).
The Grand Resort and Spa (grand- resort.net) is still a class act all its own. The quaint spa is highly rated and offers affordable, friendly spa treatments. The Grand consistently lives up to its name. Here, a couple’s massage assumes it will be two gay men and not the other way around. How refreshing.
A standout for Fort Lauderdale’s clothing-optional, all-male guesthouses is the luxury Pineapple Point (pineapplepoint.com). Centrally located between the beach and Wilton Manor, and in walking distance to the posh Las Olas Boulevard restaurants and shops, Pineapple Point sets a new standard on attentive service. With 26 units, including several “residences” (one with a private pool), Pineapple Point’s staff does not miss a detail. Complimentary morning papers served with a continental breakfast and a daily, evening wine/beer and cheese cocktail hour are presented with a “whatever we can do for you” attitude. The guesthouse is immaculate. Our recent visit included the fresh-paint smell of December touch-ups before the busy season.
A foodie destination
Fort Lauderdale is becoming a real foodie town. While Rosie’s Bar and Grill (rosiesbng.com) remains a constant for the community, it is certainly not alone. Not to miss are S3: Sun, Surf, & Sand (s3restaurant.com) at the Hilton with a cool beach-party vibe and fresh sushi. The other hot spot is Dapur, Asian Tapas and Lounge (dapurkitchen.com), where chef Edi Mulyanto uses fresh herbs from an onsite garden to create fusion spirits and exotic herbs in the dishes. Stick around for a fun lounge scene.
Jeff Guaracino is the author of “Gay and Lesbian Tourism: The Essential Guide for Marketing.”