Oasis or overkill? Fort Lauderdale’s sun and sea, clothing-optional resorts, and gay mall give Marc Andrews pause for thought.
ON THE WAY into Fort Lauderdale from the airport there is a huge billboard for a local TV channel advertising “No news, more laughs.” Welcome to the super-sized sunshine state of Florida, in particular u¨ber-gay-friendly Fort Lauderdale, 37 kilometres north of Miami.
For decades this beach paradise has been home to one of the biggest gay holiday destinations in the US. For many years it was a favourite of the leather community, but more recently it has become less of a leather, and more a good weather, hotspot.
Boasting an average year-round temperature of 24 degrees and 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, Fort Lauderdale is gay, Gay, GAY! This rather spread out town offers a myriad of gayonly accommodation (many clothing-optional), a mall of gay shops and bars, plus a white sand and blue water gay beach that is pretty much the perfect place to show off your new skimpy swimwear and work hard on your tanlines. While not as picture-perfect as Miami’s South Beach, Fort Lauderdale boasts plenty of beautiful Art Deco buildings, most of them overshadowed by huge hotel complexes built right next door.
The Worthington, which anoints itself “North America’s largest and most popular all-male clothing-optional resort” offers not one but three swimming pools, not one but two hot tubs and not one but hundreds of horny men wandering around mostly in nothing but a smile and a pair of flip-flops. This is casual cruising, Florida style, but nudity only on the ground floor, please.
We realise early on that although we had never thought of ourselves as such, we are considered twinks here. The average guest is close to retirement age. There are gaggles of gay men who seem as if they have been itching to get away from their little towns and let down their hair (and get out of their pants) for some good old man-on-men fun. Although a sign says no sex in the pool, there is a heaving circle jerk going on when we arrive at around 10:30pm. Well, it is a Saturday night. We decide to spend our first day taking care of serious business – swimwear shopping.
Our hosts inform us that the best place to go for such important purchases is Wilton Manors, on the north side of town. The easiest way to get there is to call an Uber (half the price of a taxi, at $9). At first glance, Wilton Manors looks like a fairly unremarkable shopping mall. On closer inspection all of the stores are either selling swimwear, adult novelties, or gay candy. It’s a gay mall, basically. We visit one store which specialises in making its own swimwear with built-in cockrings. The handsome store attendant is so keen to assist my well-endowed boyfriend with his fitting that he offers him a free blowjob. We check out the other clothing stores and browse the adult novelty store to buy a douche (something lacking in our accommodation – a major oversight for a gay establishment). “An oasis for the GLBT community from around South Florida and the world,” as described by current Mayor, Gary Resnick, Wilton Manors is not just a collection of shops, clubs and douche sellers, but a large LGBT community centre, the Pride Center, and the World AIDS Museum And Educational Center.
We return later in the evening for dinner and to check out the bar scene. Eerily, there is not a single woman or straight man about. Things start relatively early here and by 10pm there is a huge crowd in and outside of Georgie’s Alibi, many will come right up and compliment you on your choice of tight T-shirt for the evening. We decide to check out “Chocolate Thursday” at nearby PJ’s, which bills itself as a social club for black and Latino men and their admirers. Ramrod is the one place in town offering a darkened area to use “at your own risk”.
On the night we visited you were more likely to be stung by huge mosquitoes than you were to meet the man of your dreams for five hot minutes or less. The next day we left the confines of our allgay, mostly-nude compound and ventured to the gay beach, Sebastian, a 15-minute walk away. Offering clear blue waters, white sandy beaches and plenty of handsome men of all ages 35-plus to ogle, this was one gay beach that did not disappoint. It was only when it came to hiring a sun umbrella and two sun beds that we got stung – $50! While drinks are cheap, and the men even cheaper, this is still a rather expensive destination.
The city is also sometimes referred to as “Fort Liquordale” because of its popularity as a spring break destination for thousands of college students. If you’re adventurous you can take a trip out to see the Florida Everglades, or visit up-market Las Olas Boulevard to break the bank. Fort Lauderdale is also where most big cruise ships dock and disembark. A few years ago, we stopped here briefly to board an Atlantis cruise of the Caribbean, which remains one of the gayest things we’ve ever managed to survive. In Fort Lauderdale, eating out is either fast food, or high-end restaurants with not much in between. Best of all is the myriad of CVS pharmacies where we stocked up on all our health pills, chocolate supplies and protein shakes. All the while we did our best to beat the heat inside air-conditioned locales.
An average of 32 degrees doesn’t sound too unbearable but when coupled with the humidity it feels like you’re inside an industrial clothes dryer. At the end of our short stay we felt exhausted just from being lethargic (or perhaps from too much time lingering in the hot tub?) and while we all agreed it was a relaxing stay, none of our party planned a return trip. At least until the next time we find ourselves needing a gay, Gay, GAY vacation, or are a little closer to retirement age perhaps.
MORE: Pride Fort Lauderdale 2015 is held October 10/11. www.pridefortlauderdale.org
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