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 GAY TRAVELS IN FLORIDA 
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I was looking forward to South Beach. Iíd seen  the travel programmes on TV in
England including the gay ones where everything looked so fantastic. The art deco
building glowed in their pastel colours, their curves and angles looking like childrenís birthday cakes stretched out along a golden beach.

I had not been to the United States for twenty years and then it was the mid west,
Oklahoma, Houston, Dallas and even the Ozarks where I was told I could get shot by wild men living in cabins if I ventured off the highway. The States seemed very foreign, more so that Holland or Germany where I felt perfectly at home.

Of course everyone said that the centre of the United States is different, but different to what ? Youíll love Florida they said, millions of Britons go there every year. You can buy the Sun newspaper at any general store. They even sell Kit Kats. So a quick phone call to that nice Richard Bransonís airline and Florida it was.

Being gay, myself and partner booked everything from the U.K. including gay accommodation in Fort Lauderdale, South Beach and Key West. After landing in Orlando, we picked up a rental car, which in itself is a test of oneís patience. The clerk tries his hardest to convince you that the economy car you want will never get you to Key West in one piece, and I explain that the car I drive in London is smaller, fifteen years old and has taken me some 100,000 miles without any real problems.

We set out and try to find the first hotel we were booked into. Road which look simple on a map turn into a nightmare with unfamiliar road signs, confusing junctions and misleading East/West/ North/ South signs. The road we were looking for actually had two different official names to make things even worse. I was ready to get back on a plane and head straight back to dear old London.

The receptionist in a hospital, in whose car park we finally ended up totally lost, baffled by the road junctions, caught with no money at toll booths and sure that the road was full of nasty people on the lookout for newly arrived tourists to beat up and rob, calmed us down and phoned our hotel for us. Turned out the car rental clerk had given us totally wrong information. Perhaps we should have upgraded.

The hotel was great and didnít bat an eye at two gay men checking in. We did all the Disney things and got used to the roads and automatic drive on the car and started to feel at home. We found Indian restaurants one run by a couple from Slough so we felt even more at home. A week later we set off for Fort Lauderdale.

After the luxury of the four star hotel in Orlando, the gay guest house was a bit of a comedown. Small and simple, not quite living up to itís brochure description, and not cheap, we had our doubts, but it turned out fine. We enjoyed having the swimming pool almost to ourselves in the hot evenings but we might just as well have stayed in a straight place with better facilities for all the ambience the place possessed. We didnítexpect all night orgies and naked room service but it was a bit dull.

We had taken the coast road on the way down but the sea was hidden for miles by
apartment blocks. Fort Lauderdale was more open but it had the atmosphere of a small Lincolnshire seaside town such as Mablethorpe only with money. We moved on negotiated Miamiís traffic with suprising ease and headed for Key West.

That was some drive and quite spectacular at times. The gay guest house we had booked out turned out to be excellent so Iíll name it, Coconut Grove. Although we had some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen, we also had some beautiful days and the whole place was magic. 

Our next stop was Miami South Beach, the place I had seen on a million posters, films and travel shows.

We negotiated the roads like experts, crossed the causeway and found the street where we had booked into a well advertised place called the European guest house. Frankly it was bad. Maybe it had once been OK but it was really run down. We stayed for three nights and my partner wanted to get away before that, but having paid in advance, we decided to stay. The so called breakfast room was dirty so we ate out and although the bedroom was OK it was cramped and well worn.

Exploring South Beach, we soon found that while it may be the playground of the rich and famous, in general it doesnít have a very exciting public face. Frankly Blackpool beats it every time. Behind the sands lies a scrubby grass strip and then the road and the hotels some of which are very attractive, some just plain dull.

Iím sure that there are fantastic bars, clubs, saunas and god knows what hidden away inside the mostly ordinary looking buildings, but we found the place a big disappointment. Funny enough having heard so much about the fabulous Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, when we got there it too, all looked a bit run down and tatty.

We were pleased to be in the car again heading north. We checked into a small motel in Orlando for $25 a night. The room was immaculate, the reception staff helpful and it felt like a palace after the South Beach room.

Three years before we had made a trip to Australia and booked blind into two gay places. Both were excellent as were the straight hotels. Perhaps with an Internet connection it will be easier to check out places in future.

Iím sure many people coming to the UK are disappointed by gay places here. I ended up in a terrible place in Brighton once and an even worse one in Blackpool. Just because a place caters for gays doesnít mean it can get away with indifferent standards but it does seem to be a problem. Gay run doesnít mean well run.

Later this year, itís off to India. No booking into gay places there and I have been before so I know what to expect, more or less. I will probably go back to the States again, although my partner isnít keen. I think as a kid, I spent too much time in the movies and all I saw was this wonderful place across the ocean. In reality it is just another country, a mixture of good and bad. Maybe travel destroys our illusions more than it enhances them. 

In the meantime, if you do go to South Beach, avoid the European Guest House.

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