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LGBTQ+ Orlando: 4 Days of Grown-Up Play

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday November 28, 2021
Originally published on November 5, 2021

  (Source:Visit Orlando)

While Orlando is known for that famous mouse and superheroes, it's also one of the nation's top vacation destinations for grown-up fun beyond its theme parks. Families come in all shapes, sizes, sexual orientations and gender identities, and there's no better place for a getaway than a city packed with cultural attractions, first-class dining, hip hotels and plenty of sunshine.

We've taken the hassle out of planning by crafting the ultimate LGBTQ+ Orlando vacation guide — four days of dining, decadence, dancing and more. Of course, with Walt Disney World celebrating its 50th anniversary, taking a day to experience the Magic Kingdom is still a terrific addition to your itinerary, with exceptional experiences geared towards adults who are still kids at heart.

DAY 1: ART, SHOPPING & CULTURE

Winter Park
Winter Park  (Source: Visit Orlando)

Pack light and catch an early direct flight from dozens of departing cities to Orlando International Airport. Then, it's a quick drive just north of downtown to Winter Park, your first destination. Who says Park Avenue only exists in New York City? The namesake street is the central shopping and dining hub where you'll find curated menswear at Current, global gifts at Ten Thousand Villages and a late brunch of seasonal gastropub fare at The Ravenous Pig. (Our obsession: lobster tacos!)

Take a break from the afternoon sun and dip into The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art to discover the world's most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including the Byzantine-Romanesque chapel interior that Tiffany designed for Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

The Alfond Inn
The Alfond Inn  (Source: Visit Orlando)

Unwind and freshen up at the boutique Alfond Inn. The unique property was built through a grant to benefit Rollins College, a private liberal arts university in Winter Park, and proceeds from the property benefit the school's Alfond Scholars program fund. The 112-room hotel features its own stellar art collection worth checking out via a happy hour tour with the Rollins Museum of Art's curator Gisela Carbonell. (Tip: Check out the Packages & Specials page for seasonal deals.)

Head to the LGBTQ+-owned and operated Garp & Fuss for your first dinner in Orlando, a convivial gathering spot helmed by chef Liz Zucco and general manager Nikki Nielsen. The community-driven hangout features exposed brick and wraparound bar and casts a wide net with its culinary influences. Standout dishes include the namesake Garp — a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich with homemade hot giardiniera.

DAY 2: DISNEY — VIP-STYLE

Walt Disney World Resort re-dedication ceremony.
Walt Disney World Resort re-dedication ceremony.  (Source: David Roark)

Our favorite childhood characters come to life at Walt Disney World Resort, which kicked off its 18-month 50th-anniversary celebration this fall. From the new luxurious embellishments at Cinderella's Castle to the nighttime Beacons of Magic, shimmering with "EARidesence," discoveries await around every corner, including beloved Mickey and his pals adorned in 50th-anniversary fashion.

But with more than 42 square miles to canvass in just a day, strategy is your BFF, and that can include a private VIP tour. Customizable for up to 10 guests, perks include pre-arrival planning, private transportation, visits to multiple theme parks (admission not included in tour price) and personalized insights from your VIP Tour Guide.

A limited-edition 50th-anniversary tour also just launched, including favorite attractions and behind-the-scenes secrets of Walt Disney World's beginnings, such as the original Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, a private waterway charter to Magic Kingdom park and Epcot's evolution.

If you choose to spend the night on the property, Disney aficionados have long adored the Polynesian Village Resort, which recently underwent a "Moana"-inspired makeover. Want to spread out? Consider a water-front villa or bungalow.

DAY 3: AN LGBTQ+ ADVENTURE FROM DAWN 'TIL DUSK

Se7en Bites
Se7en Bites  (Source: Visit Orlando)

A full day at Walt Disney World Resort warrants a lazy morning; you're on vacation, after all. Sleep in, order room service and get ready for the day (and night!) ahead.

Drop off your bags at AC Hotel by Marriott Orlando Downtown, which offers a different vibe amid the city's buzzy downtown district. Marriott has long been a beacon for LGBTQ+ inclusion, repeatedly scoring 100% on HRC's Corporate Equality Index. Inspired by renowned hotelier Antonio Catalan, the AC brand celebrates its tenth anniversary this year as a minimalist, design-centric concept for savvy travelers, with the AC Orlando notable as the city's tallest downtown hotel, occupying the top eight floors of the SunTrust Tower.

Two LGBTQ+-owned restaurants offer lunch options of both the healthy and guilty pleasure variety. For plentiful vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, Hungry Pants satisfies with sharable noshes like citrus beets, black bean and sweet potato wontons, and cauliflower tots, along with hearty salads, bowls, and sandwiches. Ask a local, and they'll likely steer you toward Se7en Bites located in the Milk District just east of downtown. Southern-inspired comfort food will carry you over 'til dinner, such as the signature chicken biscuit, chicken pot pie and five-cheese mac n' cheese.

Pulse Interim Memorial
Pulse Interim Memorial  (Source: Visit Orlando)

LGBTQ+ nightlife is on tonight's agenda, but first, a moment of reflection reminds us of the fragility of life and the tragedy of the 2016 Pulse shooting. An interim memorial offers a respite to pay your respects to the 49 lives taken on that fateful night. An offering wall, three viewing areas, ribbon wall of photographs and digital guest book offer visitors the opportunity to pay their respects.

Coldefy & Associés with RDAI was chosen from 68 international entries to design the permanent memorial and educational center. onePULSE Foundation plans to build the National Pulse Memorial on the site of the former nightclub with the museum and education center within walking distance.

Return to the AC for some chill time, being sure to head to the SkyBar Rooftop Terrace where you can soak in 360-degree city views — an adventurous night awaits!

LGBTQ nightlife in Orlando.
LGBTQ nightlife in Orlando.  (Source: Visit Orlando)

Orlando's craft cocktail and dining scene are exploding. Consider a personal driver for the night to ensure everyone has a safe, celebratory time, beginning with a wow-factor dinner at Tori Tori located in the Mills 50 District. Chef/owner Sean "Sonny" Nguyen mashes up a modern-day cocktail bar with traditional Japanese pub food, where you can sample ten different highballs, more than 20 sake varieties and mouth-watering bites like pork belly gyoza, yakitori and kushiyaki (grilled skewers).

Continue bar-hopping with visits to Stardust Lounge, a throwback speakeasy located downstairs from its sister venue Aku Aku tiki bar. Sip on whimsical libations like The Liberace (Three Olives rose vodka, Giffard lychee, Luxardo Maraschino) or opt for bottle service. Depending on the night, you may stumble upon dirty bingo, burlesque or a DJ spinning everything from 80s pop to old-school hip hop.

Mathers is another hideaway to discover, tucked on the third floor of a vintage furniture store — a throwback to late-19th-century Orlando. Historically referenced cocktails include bathtub gin, Manhattans, Old Fashions, Gimlets and seasonal cocktails on tap.

If you'd like to feast on a show as well as delicious bites, head to Häos on Church, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. Enjoy craft libations, sharable bite and a roster of LGBTQ-friendly entertainment. Past shows have included the Orlando Gay Chorus, adult-themed "Uncut Cabaret" and Broadway series.

Are you ready to dance? Look no further than SAVOY Orlando. Each night offers something unique, from Noche de Extravangancia on Thursdays and Flashback Friday with drag host Chantel Rashae on Fridays to Musical Martini Mondays. Change up the scene with a final stop at Southern Nights Orlando, known for Twisted Tuesdays and a revolving roster of some of RuPaul's best, including Tina Burner, Sharon Needles and recent All-Stars winner Kylie Sonique Love.

DAY 4: PADDLE BEFORE DEPARTURE

(Source: Visit Orlando)

Your last view of Orlando should be from the water. The inland city boasts dozens of lakes and waterways to explore. Hop on a paddleboard with Epic Paddle Adventures — no experience necessary! Prefer to sit? Kayaks are available, too, to experience the region's natural wonders from Wekiva Springs up Rock Springs Run. It's the perfect ending to a full four-day getaway, and you'll be sure to sleep like a baby on your way home, dreaming of what Orlando has in store for your next visit.

Ready to discover more? Explore VisitOrlando.com for more vacation ideas.

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at www.wexlerwrites.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.