Going Gay in Miami: Destination Honeymoon
When it comes to creating a romantic getaway, nothing beats a tropical vacation, where sea breezes blow gently over white sands while you sip on a fruity concoction. Equally important is finding a place where you and your partner are free to express your feelings without the fear of homophobia. Enter Miami, the tropical destination that welcomes LGBT couples with open arms. Best of all, you don't even need your passport!
"The areas of South Beach" to Greater Miami and the beaches "have a very gay-positive culture," said Karen Brown, executive director of the Miami Beach LGBT Visitor Center. (http://www.gogaymiami.com) "It is probably one of the sexiest destinations in the world. You don't lack for anything you want to do, from recreational activities to good places with great drinks and wine lists and spectacular views, with no fear of judgment."
An Enchanting Tropical Getaway
In Miami, South Beach’s 12th Street Beach is legendary. This gay beach is ground zero for sunbathing, people watching, volleyball and assorted canoodling. For sunbathing au natural, head 30 minutes out to Haulover Nude Beach, to the north. Active types can hit Key Biscayne for windsurfing or snorkeling, or biking. Rent a DecoBike, Miami’s official rent and share bike program, or explore South Beach’s Art Deco district with a Bike and Roll guided tour.
The Art Deco district is an ideal place for LGBT couples to stay. In South Beach, gay Hotel Nash is located one block from the beach, and features three plunge pools in its courtyard.
Other hot spots that are diverse and trained in gay hospitality include the Z Ocean Hotel South Beach, Beacon Hotel, The Betsy Hotel, W Hotel South Beach, Dream South Beach, Beachcomber Hotel, Viceroy Miami Hotel and Trump International Resort.
You have Brown to thank for ensuring that local hotel employees are trained in how to deal with LGBT visitors. Through the Pink Flamingo Hospitality Diversity Training Program, hotel employees are educated on LGBT sensitivity. For example, desk clerks are taught not to assume that just because two guys check in, they want two smaller beds instead of a king-sized one -- a surprisingly common assumption, said Brown.
"These are people that walk the talk and are not just checking a box," said Brown. "They are taught on sensitivity, cultural divides, and even transgender issues.’"
Michael Jamrock, co-founder of EnGAYged Weddings, said that his hometown area of South Florida is consistently amongst the top LGBT wedding and honeymoon destinations, despite the fact that Florida does not have marriage equality. He has seen his business increase fourfold since the federal DOMA ruling, especially in the Miami area.
"Most of the hotels in Miami specifically cater to the gay wedding market," said Jamrock. "The Miami market is probably the most competitive wedding market in the country, second only to L.A. in regard to opulence and beauty. The best wedding vendors in the country are in Miami, so whether you want a $1,000 beach wedding or a half-million dollar affair, they will have what you need."
Rest and Relaxation in South Florida
With the help of the Visitor’s Center, located near the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, gay and lesbian guests can connect with great hotels, spas, restaurants and nightclubs.
"This area has all kinds of things to do, from fantastic restaurants and caterers to spas and hip clubs," said Brown.
For those in search of a relaxing spa and a bit of individualized pampering, the Viceroy Hotel has welcoming facility with a lesbian spa director and a gay-friendly general manager. For a scene that is "hipsters meet SoBe gorgeous," the Standard Hotel’s spa is the place to go. And the Dream Hotel’s Shala Spa is another hot destination, with friendly people and a soft touch. For a more typical "bathhouse" hookup scene, visit Club Aqua Miami.
Dining options abound, with many culinary treats on the main drag of Lincoln Road, among them Escopazzo, a toothsome, organic Italian restaurant. City Hall The Restaurant in Downtown Miami is another winner, with owner Steve Haas saying, "Our goal is to create a restaurant for Miami’s diverse communities to gather."
The James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz recently opened Restaurant Michael Schwartz in the Raleigh Hotel, which Brown called a "beautiful venue for a wedding."
Miami is also legendary for its parties. From Miami Beach Gay Pride in April to Aqua Girl and Sizzle Miami in May, to the Miami Beach Bruthaz Conference in July, the summer sizzles for LGBTs.
But every night is a party in Miami. Score Bar at 727 Lincoln Road is a pulsating dance club featuring a video bar in the front, and a large dance floor in the back. Theme nights pepper the week, and a large outdoor terrace allows for a relaxing respite.
For those who like to bar hop but don’t want to travel far, Twist at 1057 Washington Avenue is the place! With seven bars in one, each with its own unique flavor, you can find what’s right for you, be it a game of pool, live DJs or hot go-go boys.
For weekend fun, Club Boi is Black Miami’s dance spot for Hip-Hop, House, R&B, Soca and Old School. Just remember, Miami players roll big.
Tying the Knot
The first thing to note when planning a South Florida wedding is that the wedding season differs from the rest of the country. Because of the tropical heat, the wedding season runs from October through April, when it is "72 degrees without a cloud in the sky."
"No one gets married in South Florida in June through August," said Jamrock. "You’ll melt, and it rains every single day."
Brown noted that "This is why we hold our Gay Pride in April. June and July are sweltering here! We’re used to it, but it is very tropical here, and most people don’t realize that."
And just because gay marriage isn’t legal in Florida, don’t let that stop you. As Jamrock notes, "Because of the DOMA ruling, everything has changed. It now does not matter where you live in the U.S., the federal government is going to recognize your marriage. Who gives a crap if you are living in Kentucky, and you go to New York to get married? So people go have a quickie wedding where it’s legal, and travel to Miami for the reception."
Beach weddings are a popular choice for visitors tying the knot in Miami. Among the top spots are South Beach, Key Biscayne, Crandon Park, Matheson Hammock and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Many local hotels also offer wedding packages for same-sex couples, among them the Biltmore Hotel, Marriott Biscayne Bay and the Marriott South Beach.
"One hotel I think very highly of in Miami is Sense Beach House. It’s just 18 rooms, which is a great option for the unique ability to take over the entire hotel with your wedding party, friends and family," said Kirsten Ott Palladino, editor in chief of EquallyWed.com. "It’s very Hamptons-esque and really does feel like your own beach house."
If you want a bigger or brand option that still feels intimate, consider South Beach Marriott, said Palladino, noting that the hotel is currently undergoing a renovation to introduce a brand new look in the rooms that will be very retro-chic surf inspired.
"It has a beautiful outdoor terrace right alongside the beach, which is a great wedding venue," she said. "Both are along Ocean Drive, lending to that tropical/beach vibe and also in a fun South Beach neighborhood: South of Fifth (SoFi). It’s a great area because it’s not directly in the chaos, but close enough to all of it."
Other popular wedding spots are the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, the Ancient Spanish Monastery and the Venetian Pool. Welcoming churches include the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami and the Temple Israel of Greater Miami. You could even hop on the new cruise liner Oasis By The Sea, or charter a boat from the Gay Miami Yacht Charters and get married on the open seas!
"For the benefits of marrying in Miami, it’s definitely the beachfront
settings complete with romantic ocean views, which make for incredible
backdrops for photo shoots," said Palladino. And you don’t need to worry about discrimination.
"If I am walking with two women or two men to a spot where we will do the ceremony, we most often get cheers and congratulations from bystanders," said local celebrant Peggy M. Lewis, owner of Florida Ceremonies, who has been officiating same-sex unions for more than eight years.
The value of traveling to South Florida to get hitched is what Jamrock calls the "Weddingmoon": the wedding and honeymoon, all in one destination. EnGAYged Weddings is now struggling to find enough vendors to meet the demand for these weddings, which he has held at varied locales including the PGA-ranked Doral Golf Course, local hotels, and area beaches.
"The city and beach vibe are so intertwined as you move from downtown to South Beach. Because Miami is such an international city with so much to see and do, your honeymoon can be staying in the city, jetting down to the Keys and hopping on a cruise or a plane," said Palladino.
Whether you are headed to Miami for some much-needed R&R, to rekindle an old flame or fire up a new one, to tie the knot or to celebrate with a honeymoon, South Florida beaches offer among the country’s best tropical getaways. Best of all, you know that you will always be welcomed for exactly who you are.
For more information, visit www.MiamiLGBT.com.
For a complete look at Miami diversions, drop in to the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce LGBT Visitor Center. Open from Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., the center is your one-stop destination for information, advice, publications and wireless Internet access. Visit 1130 Washington Ave., 1st Fl., North, Miami Beach, FL 33139. Call 305-397-8914.