Feb 1 2010

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Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras starts Feb. 19

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Gay travelBy Bryan Herb

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (Feb. 19 – March 6, 2010) celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2008, and the future looks promising for what many consider to be the largest gay and lesbian celebration in the world — a great excuse for gay travel to Sydney. The organizers are constantly tweaking and refining to improve upon prior years; in fact, they recently met with me and Joel Cabrera, the co-owner of Zoom Vacations, to solicit our feedback and suggestions.

What I love about the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is how fun and carefree the whole thing is. It’s also very busy, so expect your dance card to fill up quickly upon arrival.

There are pre-Mardi Gras parties about a month before the actual event (so make your travel plans accordingly), plus dance events, gay bar parties, gay cinema, gay art exhibits, and more. But of course, most people make gay travel plans to see the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade itself on Feb. 27, 2010, which is a zany, fun-filled, romp of a time, with occasional eye-candy and some sensational costumes and floats. The emphasis is on palling-around, not politics.

In years past, immediately after the parade is a huge dance party called the Mardi Gras Party. This year the party will take place a week later, which seems to be a strange decision because they may lose many of their international attendees. However, I am glad that the day after the parade will feature the Harbor Party, an outdoor party which boasts views of the Sydney Opera House. In the past, this party was always several days before the parade and I had to miss it.

OK, so it’s not all about the party. While it’s true that Mardi Gras adds a vibrant, fun element to Sydney, there are a lot of other things to do to round out a gay travel experience.

First of all, seeing a performance and/or seeing a show in the Sydney Opera House is a MUST. It has an incredible history, and I think the building is completely beautiful and inspirational.

The botanical gardens are stunning and certainly worth a visit. If you love the outdoors and picturesque vistas, then an excursion to the Blue Mountains is a no-brainer. You’ll immerse yourself in eucalyptus trees amid canyons and mountains. Plus, on the way you can stop off at the Featherdale Wildlife Park and see koala bears, kangaroos, dingos, Tasmanian devils and more. You can even touch and interact with some of the animals.

Lastly, I definitely recommend going to Bondi Beach, Tamarama Beach (referred to as Glamourama) and Manly Beach. All attract a gay following and are especially popular on the Monday following the parade. On sunny, non-windy days, grab your suit and towel and head to the beach. This is the place to be for the GLBT community.

I think gay travelers will feel comfortable in any of the Sydney hotels they choose.

Personally, I love the Sydney Amora Jamison, Blue, Four Seasons, Park Hyatt and the Shangri-La. All are five star, and, in my experience, all are pretty fabulous. Joel and I have used all of these in the past for our groups. Yes, you can stay in three- or four-star properties, but I haven’t noticed the price difference to be that great, so I would suggest you treat yourself.

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Bryan Herb is co-founder of Zoom Vacations, a award-winning gay tour company specializing in over-the-top gay group vacations all over the world.  Bryan has toured the ancient catacombs of Rome, swam with horses in Australia, climbed Guatemala’s Mayan ruins, haggled with Hong Kong merchants, danced the Samba in Brazil (though not very well), yoga’d his way through India, and has even studied ecology in a Scottish commune.  Bryan is also the Chairman of board of the IGLTA.  He was a travel expert for the Travel Channel’s hit show, “Vacation Challenge” and the South America travel expert for Logo’s gay travel show, “Bump.”

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