Mission Bay: Almost Paradise
By Diane Anderson-Minshall
As we do in the Caribbean, the two of us spent a lot of time in the water, taking advantage of what is now the 4,600-acre Mission Bay Park. Anyone can access it from the outside rim (the area's planners hoped to make it available to anyone regardless of class or race), but only visitors to Paradise Point get the kind of exclusive access that lets you bunk for the night about nine feet from the ocean.
Water is key to the resort's success; there's a mile of sandy beach encircling the resort, a freshwater lake, and a rather intoxicating lagoon filled with sharks and rays and other large fish -- a focal point that draws kids and adults for hours of almost meditative staring. Add the five swimming pools and hot tubs, and that's a lot of liquid.
A good vacation spot offers plenty of options. At Paradise there were several lesbians paddle-boarding, families in pontoon boats and power boats, straight couples learning to sail, crazy middle-aged couples riding Jet Skis (ahem, that was us), and many other people, even kids, kayaking, bodysurfing, swimming, and snorkeling. Motorized watercraft makes it easy to go around the entire island without going out to sea (which you could do as well), and there are areas where you can gun your Jet Ski motor up to 60 miles an hour or more, which is why I was left feeling like Evel Knievel, my smile as wide as a Miss America contestant's.
The resort has its own private marina, so all you have to do is call down and tell the staff what you'd like to do, which could include a scenic bay cruise to see the sunset or an opportunity to get within arm's length of pelicans and sea lions in their own happy habitat.
If you're traveling with children, the resort also has its own water taxi service to SeaWorld (you'll definitely know you aren't at Club Med) and there are several fire pits for roasting s'mores over bonfires at night. The resort store sells s'mores-making kits that include everything from the firewood to the marshmallows, and other supplies such as pellets you and the kids can toss to the fish in the lagoon. Honestly, though, most of the kids I saw seemed to be happiest running in and out of the water and digging in the sand back on shore.
At any resort, finding same-sex couples is usually a bonus, not a given. But at Paradise we were surprised not just to encounter other queer couples but also to find such diversity among them. One 20-something black gay couple kissed and held hands outside their bungalow while they waited for one of the hunky concierge guys to pick them up (the concierge fellas drive golf carts and will give you a ride anywhere on the island at any time of day or night). In the bungalow next to us, a 40-something lesbian couple spent long hours in the Nantucket chairs outside their abode, talking until long after sunset. At breakfast at the Barefoot Bar & Grill (where the plates are piled high, the food is good, and you can dine al fresco next to the marina) two lesbian couples juggled five kids between them, all loud but adorable towheads who jumped and squealed every time one of the many birds perched near their table dared to move.