A gay and lesbian travel column

Sand, Celebrations, and Search Engines

by Sasha Alyson

Looking for a warm winter getaway? Making last-minute Millennium plans? Here are some suggestions.

Above: Time will take on a different meaning for those who join Family Abroad to greet the Millennium surrounded by the pyramids, camels, and history of Egypt.



The author: Sasha Alyson is the founder of Alyson Publications, the country's leading publisher of gay and lesbian books. He sold that company in 1995 to start Alyson Adventures, which specializes in active and adventure vacations for gay men and lesbians.


Table of Contents of Venturing Out columns


Also of Interest

Gay Adventure Travel

Comparing gay travel packages

Travel in Australia

Gay holidays from Alyson Adventure


As winter approaches, many of us start looking for a warm-weather getaway to break up the weeks of grey. If a good beach is among your vacation priorities, here are some spots to consider.

For those who enjoy the sand more than the water, South Africa's beaches are superb. Half a dozen beaches around Capetown offer golden sand and beautiful vistas. Clothing-optional Sandy Bay Beach, nestled against the dunes, is particularly popular with gay visitors. But be warned: The Capetown sun may be warm, but the waters are cold.

Warmer waters await in Hawaii, which would dominate anybody's list of the world's best beaches. Allen Walden, whose agency Gay Travel Plus (877-845-1660) gives him a wide perspective, says his favorite waves are at Waikiki, "simply because of the outstanding pure blue turquoise of the water." Volcanic formations along the shoreline also add to the scenery. A more unusual Hawaiian getaway is Kehena Beach, on the island of Hawaii, created by a volcanic eruption in the 1950s. Now Kehena is awash in black sand, gay men, and nude sunbathers -- quite a combination.

Closer to home, you can dance as well as swim if you head to Florida for White Party Week, Nov. 24-28 (305-757-44448). More than 15,000 of our nation's hunkiest come together to raise money for a local AIDS organization. It's hosted at Vizcaya, a sixteenth-century Italian Renaissance-styled villa with formal gardens. And it's white all right: Expect to see guests attired in everything from white boxer shorts to white gowns sparkling in the sunlight. The week's festivities include a host of parties, each with its own theme: White Party, Noche Blanca, Salvation, Snow Ball, Muscle Beach, and The Victory Party.

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Still don't know where you'll be when the Millennium arrives? You're not alone. Despite all the hype last January, with the implied threat that you'd better "reserve early and pay through the nose" or be left in the cold, lots of New Year's packages still have space. In general, however, prices have not dropped significantly; expect to pay a premium for Millennium travel. Some of your choices from gay tour operators:

Above and Beyond still has limited space for a nine-day extravaganza on Fuji's Coral Coast. New Year's Eve features a poolside dinner and show, fireworks, and dancing all night (800-397-2681). Air from LA is included, with prices starting at $2698.

It somehow seems appropriate to welcome a new millennium amidst pyramids that have seen their share of millennia roll by. Join Family Abroad (800-999-5500) in Egypt, on a package which includes a celebration at the great pyramid of Cheops, along with tours of Aswan, Luxor, and the Valley of the Kings. With air from New York, $4795.

Mariah Wilderness Expeditions (800-462-7424) has a few spots left for women on trips to Peru and Baja. The price is right ($1395-$1495), but call soon if you're interested. And Davids Trips and Tours (888-723-0699) can put you amidst a celebration in New Orleans (from $1200) or a game lodge in Botswana ($6500). Airfare is not included on these, so be sure plane tickets are available, at a price you're willing to pay, before committing.

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More and more of us use the web to explore our travel options. Gay travelers face a special problem when using Internet search engines, because once you include the word "gay" in your search terms, some engines swamp you with porn sites. For my May 1998 column, I compared the leading search engines to see which performed best. The contrast was dramatic; some engines found not a single truly relevant site in their top 10 listings for a phrase such as "gay Paris hotel"; others were right on the money.

Equally dramatic is the extent to which some engines have improved, while others have deteriorated, since then.

Excite, a waste of time 18 months ago, now ranks well above average. Infoseek still remains top-notch. Alta Vista and Hot Bot, two of my favorites back in 1998, have become largely irrelevant. But my favorite is a new one: Google, which blows away the competition in its ability to find the sites you want, put the most relevant pages first, and screen out the spam.

If you haven't used search engines, or tried and gave up, experiment with Google. Just remember to type in several words to define the subject matter you want. Ask for "gay travel", and the request is so vague that no human being or program will know what you really want. But type in something more specific, like "gay cruise ship Mexico", and you'll quickly see just what's out there. Not long ago, the Information Highway seemed more like a swamp. With search tools like Google, it has become a freeway.

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Next Month: Comparison Shopping for a Vacation