ORLANDO – Back in the olden days – well, 1990, anyway – it started out so modestly, as a one-day event, when a group of gay residents and tourists decided to visit the Magic Kingdom together for a single afternoon.
Out of simple plans can come very big things, indeed.
Fast-forward more than two decades, and welcome to Gay Days Orlando 2013, which kicks off on Wednesday, and is now celebrating its 23rd anniversary bringing together Central Florida’s unique combination of gays, straights and those who just love to party and have fun.
To get a good sense of just how rapidly this celebration has grown since those modest beginnings, consider that Gay Days Orlando 2012, held last June, attracted more than 160,000 people from all 50 states and several neighboring countries. That’s a lot of tourists with disposable cash to spend in Greater Orlando, but as Gay Days has demonstrated in the past, they come here for a reason.
“For those of you who are visiting for the first time, Gay Days Orlando is a week of special events all around town,” noted Chris Alexander-Manley, president of Gay Days Inc., in his introductory letter to this year’s calendar of events. “Plan on making new friends and possibly learning a new language.”
For the second year in a row, Gay Days Orlando’s host hotel will be the Doubletree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld Orlando on International Drive. The week’s busy calendar of activities actually begins tonight with the Gay Days Kick Off Party from 5-9 p.m. at Macy’s at the Mall at Millennia. There will be plenty happening at the kickoff, including music, fashion, food, and shopping discounts.
Then on Wednesday, the main Pool Parties begin, and those popular Gay Days Welcome Bags will be available from the Gay Days Welcome & Information Booth in the Doubletree lobby. The booth will be staffed by members of the Joy Metropolitan Community Church.
The Gay Days Silent Auction also starts on Wednesday in the Mediterranean Ballroom off the main lobby at Doubletreee, and then on Thursday at 11 a.m., the 15th Annual Gay Days Orlando Expo opens. It’s free to attend, and more than 100 vendors will be there offering everything from jewelry, clothing, travel items, and more. Some of the vendors have donated items to the Gay Days organizers, so these gifts will be given away every hour on the hour, and you can also pick up a free raffle ticket at the entrance to the Expo.
There will also be an auxiliary expo that hosts non-profit groups, including animal rescue organizations.
Thursday will also be the day for Taste of Gay Days, a beer, wine, spirits and food tasting on the property. It runs from 6-10 p.m., and it’s an opportunity to sample beers, wine and meals from a host of area restaurants that include the Funky Monkey at Pointe Orlando, Bananas Diner, Jack’s Place, Dave & Busters, Houlihans on International Drive, Unos Chicago Grill, and Coppy Canyon, among others.
As Alexander-Manley noted, back in 1990 Disney had the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, but has since expanded and now includes Disney Hollywood Studios and Animal Kindgom as well.
“Now twenty-plus years later, Walt Disney World had three other great parks, so pick up a Park Hopper at the Gay Days Ticket Center in the lobby of the Doubletree and see all of them,” he noted.
One of the oldest sponsors of Gay Days is The Parliament House, the gay resort on Orange Blossom Trail in downtown Orlando. This year, as in past Gay Days, Parliament House has a full lineup of entertainers for this week, including the PH Explosion Dancers, Deborah Cox, Erasure’s Andy Bell, Kat Deluna, and Belinda Carlisle of the Go Go’s. Parliament House also offers Roundtrip Shuttle Bus to and from DoubleTree Host Hotel each day.
Then there’s Gay Days: An Evening of Laughter with Judy Tenuta and Patty Accorso, held on Saturday June 1 at the Doubletree in the Great lakes Ballroom. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8.
Tenuta is the winner of the Best Female Comedian award at the American Comedy Awards and two-time Grammy nominee.
Accorso is the entertainer and impersonator best known for her impersonations of Kathy Griffin.
And just think — it all started with a trip to Magic Kingdom one June morning a long time ago, by a group of folks who just wanted a gay old time.
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