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Sun destinations for gay and lesbian seniors

Great gay global getaways, from cruises to resorts

Olivia always charters the entire ship (or buys out the whole resort) for its vacations, and while guests range in age from their early 20s to their 90s, the average age on Olivia’s riverboat and adventure trips skew toward the 60-plus set. Credit:

Even more than in the mainstream world, most ads and visuals that promote LGBT travel feature a bevy of fresh, youthful faces. But statistically, one in eight Americans (12.8 percent in 2009) and nearly one in six Canadians (an estimated 15.2 percent in 2010) are 65 or older. With the tourism industry seemingly focused on the young, where is an older LGBT person to go when temperatures sink up north and it’s time for some winter sun?

Well, ads for gay getaways are not always completely ageist. There is one sector of the travel world that does take the needs of grey gays into account. Cruise lines have always courted older customers, and that holds true in the LGBT arena. Gay men are spoiled, with a flotilla of enticing options to choose from.

The very active, international Prime Timers social organization for older gay men was founded back in 1987 and runs various annual events, including a popular Labour Day getaway in Oklahoma City, a biennial worldwide convention (next on in Las Vegas in October 2015) and a slew of groups on cruise ships, such as January 2015’s Western Caribbean cruise and November 2015’s Friends and Family Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand cruise.

Older men with younger admirers can embark on MIM Travel’s 12th annual affinity group on board the vast Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas, sailing from Tampa on Jan 31. In recent years, some older women have also joined MIM’s sailings.

Crystal Cruises, a luxury, big-ship, mainstream cruise line, attracts many older gay couples on board its trips, while women of all ages choose from Olivia’s offerings. The much-loved Olivia always charters the entire ship (or buys out the whole resort) for its vacations, and while, overall, guests range in age from their early 20s to their 90s, the average age on Olivia’s riverboat and adventure trips skew toward the 60-plus set.

According to the company’s media representative, Mary Christine, the bulk of passengers are over 60 on such adventure trips as the Discover China & the Yangtze River vacation in March and on April’s Amsterdam to Switzerland riverboat cruise. And, although the average age of vacationers on Olivia’s large-cruise (such as the 1,900-passenger 25th anniversary Australia and New Zealand outing in February) and all-inclusive resort vacations is between 49 and 59, between 25 and 45 percent of participants are over 60.

For LGBT folks who prefer to stay firmly on dry land, Anne Block, of Los Angeles-based tour operator Take My Mother Please, has been planning, providing and escorting custom-designed tours for more than 20 years, since her first paid trip: accompanying Lily Tomlin to Berlin in 1992. She also offers LGBT Prime-Time Tours, tailored precisely to whatever and wherever her clients desire. The top three destinations that she recommends for older LGBT travellers are Sicily, Arizona and Belize.

Even though Sicily is part of Italy, Block says, “it’s actually closer to North Africa than Rome,” and with its famously mild winters, the beautiful beaches of the island’s south side and the ruins left behind by Mediterranean cultures, from the Phoenicians, Romans, Saracens and Arabs to the Normans and the French, the island makes a fascinating destination in which to soak up some winter sun.

Block’s top North American choice, Tucson, boasts proximity to the desert and the Grand Canyon, “one of life’s thrilling experiences at any time of year,” and the city itself offers captivating neighbourhoods, great history and the stunning indoor-outdoor Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, home to creatures such as cougars, rattlesnakes and burrowing owls. Meanwhile, Belize has incredibly beautiful beaches and private cays, plus a river that winds all the way to the interior of the country, with its famous Mayan ruins and jungle full of unique plants and wildlife. Belize, Block says, “offers the chance to have a vacation that features both beach and jungle.”

LGBT travel expert Liz Devine says one of the top destination for European LGBT seniors is Maspalomas, a long-established resort town on the island of Gran Canaria in Spain’s remote Canary Islands archipelago, just off the coast of Morocco. In addition to the 1,100-square-kilometre island’s many gay- and gay-friendly accommodations, the volcanic island has incredible scenery — from the seemingly endless Maspalomas sand dunes to stunning gay beaches. Budget flights embark from the UK, Germany and other European countries all winter long.

On this side of the Atlantic, Curaçao is Devine’s top pick. The stunning, walkable, LGBT-friendly Caribbean island, with its liberal Dutch influences and wonderful sights, offers convenient flights from many Canadian cities and amazing food, plus excellent resorts, several with casinos. The island boasts beautiful beaches, charming locals and a daily social schedule that revolves around island bars’ happy hours.

For more adventurous hotspots in which to hide away from the snow, Devine’s top votes go to Cape Town and Mexico City. “For a bigger bang for your buck, Mexico City is convenient, welcoming and very affordable, with great all-inclusive options and convenient day tours,” she says, while Cape Town has a stellar selection of beaches, bars and restaurants within the city, plus an abundance of activities and sights to suit every activity level within easy reach, from spa visits and wine tours through South Africa’s top wine towns and regions, to game drives, safaris to Kruger National Park and hikes to the top of Table Mountain.

And, as a final suggestion for spots to soak up some winter sun, North America’s resort communities, with their existing retired/semi-retired communities, are perfect winter sun destinations for slower-paced getaways. Exceptionally LGBT friendly, with flexible accommodation choices (from guesthouses to apartments to small resorts), legendary gay mainstays such as Palm Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Key West and, across the Mexican border, Puerto Vallarta, all offer sun, poolsides, the company of our own and a charmingly relaxed pace of life.

For more on cruise vacations, read Is Taking a Cruise Vacation Right for You?, 9 Gay Cruises, From Winter to Spring and ‘Straight Cruising the Gay Way.