1. Women, Go Beyond
Very much a lesbian rite of passage, Olivia (800-631-6277; Olivia.com), the undisputed queen of lesbian cruises' all-women voyages, offers top-tier destinations like Antarctica and top-tier entertainment like Melissa Etheridge. Clear your calendar for the 35th Birthday Bash Caribbean Cruise (November 23–30; from $999, wait list only), Olivia's biggest cruise ever.
2. Hopscotch Across Europe
Atlantis Events (800-628-5268; AtlantisEvents.com) sashays into our top spot for first cruises for gay men with its exuberant party schedule and the smorgasbord of friendly guests the cruises attract -- a lively "global gay village" eye-opener for the uninitiated. Its "Europe's Largest All-Gay Cruise" showcases Atlantis's strengths: a top-of-the-line ship, the 3,200-passenger Navigator of the Seas, and a crammed itinerary featuring spectacular parties and ports from Barcelona to Mykonos to Rome (July 5–13; from $1,499).
3. The Calming South Pacific
If you're more in the mood for intimate, elegant expeditions than Speedo-adorned party boats, nothing beats RSVP's (800-328-7787; RSVPVacations.com) sophisticated, all-gay, small-ship voyages. Launch your cruising career in style on the 170-passenger Tahitian Treasure Cruise (November 27–December 7; from $2,995).
COMEDIAN BOB SMITH ON HIS FIRST GAY CRUISE:
"On my very first Rosie O'Donnell gay family cruise, I overheard two little bosys fighting. One said to the other, 'I bet my two moms can beat up your two dads!' And later I saw the boy's moms, they definitely could have."
First Trip as a Couple
1. Rent a luxury villa in St. Barts
The quiet Caribbean island of St. Barts allows for a lot of cuddling time, and we love the Villa Atalante in Pointe Milou, a romantic one-bedroom gem with sunset views, spectacular outdoor dining options, and a sapphire pool (from $3,940 a week). Book through the gay-owned and -operated Islanders Travel, with 20 years' experience (212-228-7100 or 888-839-0550;
2. Explore the City of Lovers
David Travel (949-723-0699; DavidTours.com) offers a selection of elegant Parisian accommodations, from refined boutique properties to urban resorts. It can custom-tailor any travel service with its in-depth personal questionnaires that help anticipate your every desire, from art classes to antique shopping.
3. Do Sydney in Style
If you're looking for a urban setting for your new romance, get in touch with gay Australia and Pacific specialist Above and Beyond (800-397-2681; AboveBeyondTours.com), which can customize an independent Sydney in Style package with air, luxury accommodations, and activities like gentle harbor cruises (from $1,175) -- or you can add on side trips to wineries and reefs and beyond. (You may want to avoid the free-for-all, party-ladened Sydney Mardi Gras during your nascent courting, though!)
AUTHOR EDMUND WHITE ON FIRST TRIPS WITH LOVERS:
"My advice for a gay couple -- especially if one of the two has traveled a lot or is older -- is don't take your new, naive lover to the city that you love and know best. Go to a city that neither of you have ever been to before. Because if you know everybody in Venice, and you've been to Venice a million times, and you speak Italian, and you take your young lover, he's gonna hate you within a day. Because you're going to be showing off, saying 'Now you must see this altarpiece from this angle' and all this stuff, and he's going to be ready to wring your neck. When one man is older and more experienced and richer than the other one, there's already a very delicate problem of a balance of power, and you have to be very respectful of the younger one's integrity. If you don't know how to do that, you aren't going to keep him very long."
First Trip in Retirement
1. Educate Yourself in Malaysia
Our choice for your first solo adventure in retirement: Coda International Tours (888-677-2632; Coda-Tours.com). Its cruises and private land itineraries offer mature gay travelers cultural and intellectual emphasis on destinations from the Poles to the Indian Ocean. Now that time is on your side, savor the discovery of Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur and Borneo (August 11–22; from $2,595).
2. Be Guided Through Brazil
Get well-grounded by gay locals with Rio-based, Brazilian-owned Rio Pride Tour (RioPrideTour.com). It specializes in a variety of trips to Brazil for mature gay men, with professional and knowledgeable English-speaking gay guides revealing the secrets of Bahia's beaches, Rio's lounges, São Paulo's nightlife, the Amazon tributaries, and the towering Iguaçú Falls.
AUTHOR AND FILMMAKER CLIVE BARKER ON ONE OF HIS FAVORITE PLACES ON EARTH:
"Kauai, where I set my novel Galilee, has a different energy. It feels like another planet; it's its own wonderland. There used to be a gay beach, Donkey Beach, but they cleaned it all up. I'd be there all day long, and once I watched two guys there, one black guy, one white guy, playing volleyball naked, and it seemed to me perfectly endemic. It was as about as beautiful an image as you could get to paradise, these two beautiful guys playing in the sun, and the breakers. The island, you know, gets me in that particular headspace."
COMEDIAN AND ACTRESS ROSIE O'DONNELL ON STARTING A FAMILY CRUISE COMPANY:
"When Kelli was pregnant we went to Provincetown for family week and brought our children. It was a really magical time for us…. That's when I turned to Kelli and said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could do something like this on a yearly basis?' Gregg, Kelli's partner and best friend, had worked for a gay cruise company. He said, 'Well, we could book a cruise ship.' We all kind of looked at each other, and then I said, 'Get it.' I know that's all I said. [Laughs] And here we are."
First Trip With Your Straight Family
1. America's History Via Mickey
Although popular with straight families with kids, Disney Adventures (877-728-7282; ABD.Disney.Go.com) is extremely gay family–friendly. Its colonial-themed Spirit of America trip in the Northeast is perfect for gay Mickey-lovers who want to spend time with the nieces and nephews experiencing U.S. history up close by day, and hit the lively gay bars of Philadelphia and D.C. at night (various dates; from $1,599).
2. Under Morocco's Sheltering Sky
Upscale and tasteful Hermes Tours (877-486-4335; HermesTours.com) has an excellent selection of trips for LGBTs that their straight friends and family will not feel out of place on. Show the folks how a fab gay trip is done with Hermes' tour of Morocco, as you travel from Casablanca to Marrakech seeing souks and sunrises, Saharan dunes and oases (November 14–24; from $2,395).
1. Charter on the Black Sea
Call Zoom Vacations (866-966-6822; ZoomVacations.com) when you have got a significant to celebrate, since it customizes landmark trips for important birthdays and anniversaries. The nearly one-to-one guest-to-staff ratio on its 100-passenger Black Sea Luxury Yacht Voyage (August 23–30; from $4,799) to Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, and the Ukraine is perfect for you and a group of your well-wishing friends.
2. Himalayan Hideaway
Outwest Adventures' (800-743-0458; OutwestAdventures.com) sophisticated and adventurous gay and lesbian expeditions (think trekking Kilimanjaro or heli-skiing in Canada) are a unique way to mark that milestone. Its Overland Journey to a Remote Himalayan Kingdom takes you to seldom-seen Bhutan and makes for excellent bragging rights (November 15–24; from $3,195).
K.D. LANG ON HER 40TH BIRTHDAY:
"We ended up in Varanasi [in India] on my 40th birthday. At 4:30 a.m. there were Hindus, Muslims, Brahmans, Pagans, Buddhists…hookers, everyone, using the Ganges to either cremate bodies or dive for gold fillings or wash their babies or take a poop. I got on a boat floating down the Ganges and it's the equinox, so the moon is up, the sun is up -- it's mind-blowingly surreal. I had a cut on my finger, and I unconsciously put my hand in the water. As soon as I did, I went, 'Oh, shit.' Afterward, we drove to Bodh Gaya, which is essentially 250 miles and should take four hours. Well, the trip ended up taking 12 hours [over terrible roads] and I got very, very sick. I'm assuming it was [because of the contact with the Ganges] or the guava we bought on the side of the road. We stopped at this gas station for supper -- which turned out to be a truck-stop brothel -- and I stay in the car because I'm so sick. Then I have to make a run for the bathroom, and there's no toilet, it's just a hole that you have to squat over. And then the power goes out. Finally, we get to the hotel in Bodh Gaya, and I just crash. I wake up the next day, stumble across the street, and I'm at the Bodhi Tree, where the Buddha attained enlightenment. It was just this amazing, epic 40th birthday."
First Summer Away From Home
1. The British Motherland
The British travel agent and tour operator Mantrav (888-890-7296; Mantrav.com) has an extensive list of gay European city breaks. Opt for its London and Brighton trip with a savvy local guide giving you an incomparable introduction to these two thrilling and youthful cities (various dates; from $2,626).
2. Beach-Bumming in PV
Where better to spend a long, hot summer than in gay-thronged Puerto Vallarta? Doin' It Right's (800-936-3646, DoinItRight.com) strengths are its fabulous choice of apartments and condos, many in the nontouristy part of the vibrant town, with villas within a few steps of the gay bars and boys.
FILMMAKER JOHN WATERS ON HIS FIRST TRIPS AWAY FROM HOME:
"Mona [Waters's boyhood friend] and I loved to go New York. To finance these trips, I'd type elaborate permission slips for nonexistent weekend sorority field trips, and Mona would give them to her mother, who would dutifully sign them and fork over the necessary expenses We'd either hitchhike to New York or hop the bus. On one trip, Mona horrified one fellow passenger by piercing my ear on the Greyhound bus…I felt quite avant-garde arriving in New York with a stupid earring hanging from my ear, even if it was caked in blood…. Once we'd get to Greenwich Village, we'd boldly approach strangers on the street and ask for a place to stay. We met all sorts of interesting characters this way."
THE LATE SINGER FREDDIE MERCURY ON HIS FIRST TOUR OF SOUTH AMERICA:
"[Queen] went to South America originally because we were invited down. They wanted four wholesome lads to play some nice music. By the end of it I wanted to buy up the entire continent and install myself as president.… They were worried that with such a vast audience it might become political, and they pleaded with me not to sing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina"…. We were actually taken from one place to another in armored vehicles that were usually used for riots. My dears, it was the most exciting bit of all. There were six motorcycle police roaring in front of us, ducking and weaving in and out of the crowds and traffic just like a display team. The van had holes in the side for police to stick their guns through; and there we were, screaming out of the stadium in the most dramatic way. It was fantastic."
First Tour Group Experience
1. Istanbul with Insights
Venture Out's (888-431-6789; Venture-Out.com) winning combination of luxurious comfort and small groups (gay, lesbian, and friends) underscores their casual atmosphere and unique insights into a culture. Head with them to Turkey for ten days of mosques, museums, and spicy Turkish delights in Istanbul, Turquoise Coast, and Cappadocia (October 16–28; from $3,195).
2. Icelandic Adrenaline
Alyson Adventures (800-825-9766; AlysonAdventures.com) powers ahead of the competition with adrenaline-stirring biking, hiking, and kayaking trips to destinations from the Loire to New Zealand (gay, lesbian, and friends). Join Vikings, Volcanoes, & Trolls (August 2–9; from $2,995)
and explore the extremes of Iceland by bike, kayak, raft,
and on foot.
3. Scuba with Sharks
If you're going to dip your toes in gay-friendly waters, you should do it on Undersea Expeditions' (800-669-0310; UnderseaX.com) gay dive tours. Make a splash on the mixed gay and lesbian trip to the fascinating Island of Sharks, Cocos Island, Costa Rica (June 28–July 6; $3,095).