Break Away

Your decades-old passport is nowhere to be found, but you can’t wait to take a break. Here are two domestic trips that will take you worlds away!

New Orleans

We all know what it’s like at that point in the hot, bustling summer when the hustle of the city gets too overwhelming and we pine for a vacation somewhere far away, somewhere laid-back and friendly. But where to go? Why not head to the Big Easy — New Orleans, Louisianna, birthplace of jazz, fantastic Creole cuisine, and elaborate Mardi Gras celebrations?  A New Orleans vacation is a virtual guarantee of good food, good fun, and new good friends — after all, it wasn’t for nothing that New Orleans was the setting for  Tennesse Williams’ tragic heroine Blance DuBois’s most famous line from A Streetcar Named Desire:  “I’ve always relied on the kindness
of strangers”.

When you book your stay in New Orleans, one of the city’s many gay-friendly bed and breakfasts and hotels one way to go. Most of them are located in beautiful Spanish-inspired buildings, in culturally rich and vibrant neighborhoods. One such establishment, the Orleans Ballroom, the Bourbon Orleans Hotel (formerly  the Orleans Ballroom; from $132, 717 Orleans St, is part of the Wyndham chain. Located in the heart of New Orleans’ famous French Quarter, the Bourbon Orleans is a great place to stay in if you’re looking to sample the city’s nightlife. The hotel is also host to an array of annual LGBT events, including a Halloween bash, so definitely check out their events schedule before you book your trip.
Also in the French Quarter is the gay-owned Biscuit Palace Guest House (rates vary, 730 Dumaine St, Housed in a historic Creole mansion built in 1820 that has preserved all of the building’s original architectural feats, the Biscuit is a lovely guesthouse with accomodations that include a spectacularily ornate courtyard decked with wrought-iron chairs and tables where you can linger over  morning coffee. Another great stay is the Bywater Bed and Breakfast (from $65, 1026 Couet St,, a lesbian-owned traditional one-story Victorian cottage with an intimate patio. Stay in this friendly b&b if you want a quick history and taste of all things New Orleans—their walls are covered with a selection of traditional Louisiana art and their front parlor boasts a growing collection of New Orleans literature and music.

After you’ve settled in, it’s time to grab a bite to eat and go exploring. If you’re not already staying there, take a walk through the French Quarter, New Orleans’ most famous neighborhood and the heart of the city’s commercial, cultural, entertainment, and nightlife scenes. Stop by Bywater Bar-B-Que (3162 Dauphine St) to try its delicious BBQ or impressive vegetarian selection. Stop here on a lazy morning—their Sunday brunch is the stuff of legends.

Gay-owned, neighborhood staple, Eat (900 Dumaine St,, a bistro with a modern spin on traditional New Orleans dishes, is just down the road. If you want to check out the stellar selection of New Orleans seafood, check out Acme Oyster House (724 Iberville St,; their gumbo and jambalaya will have you begging for more.

Once your stomach is satisfied you can stop by a few New Orleans boutiques to satiate your shopping cravings. Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo (739 Bourbon St) is a good place to start. A world famous marketplace for all things voodoo, Marie Laveau’s (named after a famous practitioner of the so-called “black arts”) is equally suitable for curious beginners or those already proficient in the art. Pick up some light reading on the subject, or just chat with the folks working in the store, to learn more about vodoo and its place in New Orleans’ rich African-American history and cultural landscape. Le Garage Antiques and Clothing (1234 Decatur St) is also a must-see. This festive shop is a one-stop-shop for all your Mardi Gras, Halloween and Costume Party needs.

The French Quarter is not only famous for its food and hotels but also for its nightlife. Café Lafitte (901 Bourbon St,, one of the jewels of the Quarter, is the nation’s oldest gay bar and was a favorite Tennessee Williams haunt. Start off your night here and you’ll love it so much that you might want to stay for trash disco Sundays or karaoke Wednesdays. We all know that the best way to make friends in a new city is to throw back a few and get on stage with an oversized mic.

Later on, move on down to Club Tribute (3202 N Arnoult St), a lesbian hangout where the techno and dance beats will get your blood pumping for the night. Tribute is where you’ll finally be able to shake away the stress of a year’s hard work. Another hot New Orleans dance club is Rubyfruit Jungle (1135 Decatur St,, featuring three floors of rotating dance parties. Its mixed bar is also a favorite with the ladies—as if the name didn’t make that abundantly clear.

This is just a taste of New Orleans. Trust us, there is so much more to explore in this beautiful and mysterious Southern city.

Cruisin’ Alaska

If laid-back New Orleans doesn’t offer the excitement you’ll need, head to Alaska instead, where sea-and-land provide all the adventures a thrill-seeker could ask for in her vacation.

The forty-ninth state is the largest by area and is  a wintery wonderland of hidden treasures. And knock anything you heard about it from Sarah Palin out of your head: just in case you were wondering, no, you can’t see Russia from there…not unless you’re Sarah Palin, that is.

The best way to see Alaska is from the comfort of a cruise ship. With customizable itineraries, all-inclusive packages, and a wide selection of excursions, cruises will allow you to drink
in the splendor of the Alaskan wilderness
as you sip cappuccino from your veranda. From the breathtaking sights of Hubbard Glacier to the pioneering spirit of Juneau and the totem poles of Ketchikan, Alaska is unimaginably rustic and romantic.

The most “bang for your buck” Alaskan vacation can be found on Celebrity Cruise Lines. From May through September, Celebrity offers a wide variety of packages for singles and couples, with world-class ships that are consistently ranked as the best in the industry. For your excursion, the Celebrity Infinity, Celebrity Mercury, and the Celebrity Millennium  offer world-class entertainment and every luxury that the mind can conceive  of (an on-board casino, luxury day spa, three swimming pools, and a wide variety of meals for every lifestyle—including a wide array of vegetarian, vegan, and organic options).

Prices for a seven night excursion with Celebrity start at $599, and the ships leave out of—and return to—Seattle and/or Los Angeles (making for further ease of travel, as many airline carriers offer direct flights to these ports of origin). The best time to visit Alaska is in June and/or July—May can prove to be a little too cold, and August is consistently damp and rainy.

One of the most unique sites to see on your Alaska cruise is the Hubbard Glacier, a tidewater glacier in the U.S. state of Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada. From its source in the Yukon, the glacier stretches 76 miles to the sea at Yakutat Bay and Disenchantment Bay. Named in 1890 after Gardiner G. Hubbard, it is the longest tidewater glacier in Alaska, with an open face over six miles wide.

Cruising through the Hubbard Glacier (the ships don’t stop at any port within the Glacier), you will bear witness to the stillness of Mother Nature,  and her fury. Once every six seconds, a piece of the glacier falls into the Bay with a crackle and a crash that is reminiscent of a crystal chandelier shattering onto a pure marble floor. If you look closely in the Bay, you can see humpback whales bobbing and weaving their way through various shards of glacier and ice.

Another unique natural offering on your Alaska cruise is the Inside Passage. Sometimes referred to as the Inland Passage, it extends 500 miles from north to south and 100 miles from east to west. The area encompasses 1,000 islands, 15,000 miles of shoreline and thousands of coves and bays. British Columbia’s southern portion of the route is of similar extent, with up to 25,000 miles of coastline, and includes the narrow, protected Strait of Georgia and the Queen Charlotte Straits, all between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland, and a short stretch along the wider and more exposed Hecate Strait near the Queen Charlotte Islands.

As with the Hubbard Glacier, the cruise ship doesn’t stop at any port of call within the Inside Passage. The sights, however, are beautiful; they feature virtually everything you came to Alaska hoping to see, including rain forests, glaciers, fjords and white-capped peaks, all of which create a setting that’s perfect for viewing whales and sea lions. By the time you’re finished with your cruise, you won’t find anything unusual about sharing your space with nature’s creatures that you’ve heretofore only seen in nature specials on the Discovery Channel.

The Celebrity Cruise also offers the more athletically minded traveler an option to see these sites by bicycle, especially in towns like Ketchikan. A recommended bike excursion starts with a ride descending 1,200 feet from the Eaglecrest Ski Area on Douglas Island. You then take a van ride to the Mount Roberts Tramway near your ship for an effortless 1,800-foot ascent up Mt. Roberts, where you’ll explore the Mountain House and the Bald Eagle exhibit. For approximately $100, this nearly five-hour excursion is cost-effective and well worth every penny.

But the most fun excursion—and one that simply must be tried by everyone, regardless of physical fitness (though be sure to consult a medical professional prior to doing this, or any other, physical activity)—is the Bear Creek Zipline Adventure. I, myself, have done this, and let me be absolutely frank: it was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

The Bear Creek Zipline Adventure is a pure rainforest adventure for those seeking excitement and exhilaration. It features 7 zip lines, Alaska’s longest skybridge, a 250 foot long mountain slide, and rappelling. Your adventure begins with a ride up the steep hillside in a custom all-terrain 4×4 Mercedes Unimog to the outfitting chalet. After outfitting (think skydiving harness meets Sergio Tacchini tracksuit) and orientation, it is an uphill hike via an improved rainforest trail to a ground-based practice zip line, where your guides introduce you to “zipping.” If the “ziplines” look suspiciously like clotheslines, you’re well on your way to enjoying this one of a kind adventure: this is your trial-by-fire introduction to 5,200 feet of dual cable ziplines, intersected with a 250 foot long suspension bridge, providing an aerial view of Bear Creek and a forest waterfall. No turning back now!

You will rappel to the ground from the last tree platform. Speeding down the mountain slide will be one of the highlights of your zipline adventure (and, if you’re not afraid to do so, look down as you rappel—you are, more likely than not, going to see a virtual menagerie of wildlife, including the ubiquitous bears and the equally countless moose). Board the Unimog for a forest hillside descent and transportation to the base camp, where you will be presented with a special award in recognition of your achievement (you, too, can feel like a gold-medal Olympian!). View your action photograph and shop in the General Store before departure for the dock.

The Bear Creek Zipline Adventure is, usually, the last excursion done before returning to the relative comfort of your port of origin—which, to be frank, is excruciatingly anti-climactic. In my case, however, on the day I returned to Seattle, John McCain announced that the then unknown then Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, would be his running mate, befuddling the world and contributing to his eventual defeat in the Presidential campaign. I took McCain’s surreal announcement as an ironicly fitting if unintentioned commentary on my trip to Alaska as well: it was full of surprises, unique, a bit damp…and one that I would never, ever, forget. n

What Do You Think?