Sunday, February 22, 2009



By Roy Heale

White sandy beaches and a calm, clear-blue ocean skirt the Gulf Of Mexico in Florida’s Suncoast region. The west coast cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg are year- round destinations perfectly suited for those who love the ocean and all that is associated with seaside holidays.
Time stands still when you bathe in the glow of a Suncoast sunset while enjoying a seafood dinner at Hurricane’s beach restaurant, it feels as though nowhere else in the world exists at that moment. The sugary white sand spit known as Pass-a-Grille Beach is renowned for postcard sunsets which bankrupt the English language. It also happens to be one of the five gay beaches in this region and an evening spent here will be the experience of a lifetime and a true photo opportunity to make everyone immensely jealous back home in the chilly north. This is the oldest resort destination on the west coast of Florida and is a national historic district.
Not surprisingly the largest gay resort on Florida’s west coast is located in St. Petersburg just minutes from the Suncoast beaches.
With one-hundred and twenty rooms and suites the Suncoast resort complex includes white sand volleyball courts, a heated pool, four bars, tennis courts, the Flamingo Restaurant and more. This is the exclusively gay accommodation for a relaxing stay in the Suncoast region and all that it has to offer for surfside leisure and night-time fun. The outdoor Tiki Bar beside the swimming pool is the heart of the resort especially during the weekly Sunday afternoon T Dance. This gathering is renowned by tourists and the local gay community as the only place to be on Sundays where you are certain to make new friends.
This resort also includes shops, a professional live theatre “Gypsy Productions” and large comfortable rooms making it a truly gay entertainment complex. The staff are friendly, helpful and full of great suggestions for where to dine and what to explore while you’re visiting this neighbourhood.
Gay nightlife in St. Petersburg and Tampa has much to offer with a diverse selection of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. If you want to remain close to the ocean the Backroom Bar at Madeira Beach is a perfect spot.
A short thirty-minute drive to Tampa will be rewarded with some of the larger bars and clubs. The largest is Club Chambers with dance floors on two levels and great DJs catering to a mostly young male crowd with drag shows and male or female dancers wrapped around a strippers pole on most nights. Just for the gals Tampa offers Flirt nightclub with regular drag king shows and younger large crowds on the weekends. Also in Tampa, The Azalea Lounge is located in an old brick building but when you enter it’s like stepping through a time portal into a swanky modern hideaway specialising in big, strong cocktails.
Back in St. Petersburg there is no gay village but there is a concentration of gay establishments in the downtown core and smaller neighbourhood bars around the city. Worthy of a visit is Georgies Alibi owned and operated by the same people who run the Wilton Manners, Fort Lauderdale hotspot of the same name. Grand Central Station and The Platform offer the choice between a neighbourhood pub atmosphere in Grand Central or Levi, leather and uniform in The Platform. There’s a very cruisy atmosphere and a secluded courtyard at the back of the building which houses both bars.
From gay beaches to restaurants and bars this region has everything to satisfy the gay traveller.
A car rental will be important if you enjoy exploring as there are so many sights and attractions to experience around the Suncoast region. However, there is also an excellent transit system if you plan to stay closer to home at the Suncoast Resort. The Beach Trolley runs every thirty minutes and will take you from one end of the beaches to the other with stops along the way allowing you to enjoy the sights and learn what the beach townsites have to offer. From the beaches the trolley also goes to downtown St. Petersburg, Baywalk and the Pier.
Whatever your mode of transportation it’s a must visit to Treasure Island and the historic John’s Pass fishermen’s village and boardwalk. The Pass was created in 1848 by a mighty hurricane and was named after John Leveque, a sea turtle fisherman, who was an early settler of the region. After the land was divided by the hurricane, fishermen settled along the shores and built the community which still stands today. The boardwalk is dotted with seafood restaurants offering the catch of the day and a multitude of fruits de mer. It’s a beautiful stroll along the boardwalk as you decide where to dine.
This is also the place for two fun and very different ways to enjoy some ocean cruising. The Pirate Ship and the Sea Rocket both launch from John’s Pass and each offers a unique experience on the high seas.
The Pirate Ship is a fun cruise for all ages and offers games for the kids and free beer and wine for the adults while dolphin watching with the wind in the sails floating you across the ocean at a gentle pace.
At the opposite end of the spectrum the Sea Rocket travels at more than sixty miles per hour for a heart-pounding, adrenaline rush as you traverse the Gulf of Mexico. A sunset cruise is available and will afford the opportunity to see the horizon from several different vantage points as the sun goes down.
Travelling north along the beach road a rich reward awaits every explorer at Tarpon Springs. With dockside attractions and downtown treasures this small waterfront community combines the feel of a Grecian fishing port with historic Victorian era homes in the village. The vintage mansions are hosts to numerous antique shops for those who love to find keepsake treasures and the lively Greek fishing community proffers the atmosphere of a Mediterranean escape. Just one visit will leave you wanting to return as soon as possible.
The beaches and villages with everything they have to offer will provide days of exploring possibilities or simply fabulous sandy stretches for decadent relaxation by the calm blue ocean.
Further south in Sarasota Bay the Ringling Museum Of Art is a unique experience and provides hours of fascinating entertainment. The waterfront mansion Ca d’Zan was once the home of John and Mable Ringling during their circus years and where they entertained the rich and famous. The Circus Museum houses the world’s largest miniature circus covering 3300 square feet and the galleries house the Ringling’s historically significant art collection and the legacy built during their lifetime. Located on sixty-six beautiful waterfront acres this a day trip worthy of the drive south. Well organised guided tours are available or you can simply stroll the grounds at your own leisurely pace and enter the buildings that interest you the most.
Flamboyant, eccentric and brilliant Salvador Dali made his dreams come to life on canvas and St. Petersburg is home to one of the largest collections of his unique works housed at the Salvador Dali Museum. His unforgettable art made him a celebrity and established Surrealism-the 20th century art movement-as a worldwide sensation and changed the history of art, film and culture forever. This is a great place to spend some time wandering amongst his shocking and often controversial artistic creations.
Just a short thirty-minute drive to the northern end of Tampa brings you to the world of Busch Gardens Africa. This combination of African Safari natural wildlife and hair raising amusement rides will take you across exotic terrain or climb two-hundred feet high for a view from the sky of all that the park has to offer. A leisurely train ride will take a circular route and show you where every attraction is located in just over one hour or a thirty-minute jeep Serengeti Safari will take you right into the natural habitat of zebras, giraffes, elephants and many more exotic African animals. Restaurants such as Zambia Smokehouse, Sahara Snacks, Kenya Kanteen and Sultan’s Sweets will tempt your palate. On stage Katonga, Musical Tales From The Jungle, is a stirring theatrical event filled with music, dance, lavish costumes and larger-than-life puppets. Amusement rides and roller coasters with names like SheiKra, Python, Scorpion, Rhino Rally, Gwazi and Montu will satisfy the biggest thrill seekers. It wouldn’t be a trip to Florida without a theme park visit and Busch gardens has everything for any vacationer.
Just a short drive back towards downtown Tampa is Ybor City, the historic Latin Quarter, providing an interesting blend of architecture, aromas, flavors, sights and sounds that remind one of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Watch the historic art of hand- rolling cigars, relax with a famous café con leche, or stroll down La Setima looking for a great place to dine or dance the night away Latin style. Founded by Vincente Martinez Ybor in 1886, old brick buildings with wrought iron balconies give Ybor City charm and the creative Latin people give this community character and excitement.
From the cultural cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg to the gay beaches along Florida’s Suncoast, this region is rich in experiences for the gay vacationer. The locals are friendly and happy to see tourists of all kinds and a gay-friendly welcome is almost guaranteed wherever you end up visiting during your stay. There is so much to see and do it is certain to be a place where you can visit often and not run out of fresh holiday experiences. And then there’s the beaches, the sunsets, the seafood and more.
A diverse gay get-away for sure.

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