Orlando is a welcoming and fun place to be an LGBTQ+ traveller — whether you’re coming for their annual pride festival in the fall, GayDays at the parks in June, or visiting at another time of year, you will have plenty to see and do.
Orlando Pride Builds from Pulse Tragedy
Orlando’s “Come Out With Pride” festival happens every October and the festivities take you to parts of the city that you may not have seen otherwise. The local LGBTQ+ venues and festival sites are nestled around the city in unique neighborhoods. Such integration within the larger community speaks to Orlando’s welcoming and supportive culture — while there is no “gay village”, you will feel welcome in many places around town.
The 2016 tragedy at Pulse nightclub where 49 souls were lost is a large part of why the city is so accepting and welcoming. The events at Pulse, and the subsequent outpouring of love and support from Orlandoans and around the world, transformed the Orlando LGBTQ+ community forever.
In June 2021, on the fifth anniversary of the attack, President Joe Biden declared Pulse as a national memorial, and there is a team of dedicated volunteers that has been working hard toward a permanent memorial. The onePULSE Foundation held an international design competition that saw submissions from 68 firms that represented 18 countries. When complete, the memorial will consist of three major components: the National Pulse Memorial at the site where the temporary memorial exists today, the nearby Pulse Museum, and the Orlando Health Survivors Walk. The target date for completion is 2026 — the year Orlando is hoping to host WorldPride, a supersized event lasting more than two weeks. It is often timed to mark historic LGBTQ+ moments (New York played host in 2019 to recognize 50 years since the Stonewall Riots), so awarding the festival to Orlando as it honors the Pulse victims on the 10th anniversary of the shooting would fit with WorldPride’s prior selections.
While the ambition to host WorldPride is exciting and significant, there are a lot of exceptional ways to experience Orlando’s LGBTQ+ community now.
Theme Parks and Thrill Rides
There is no place gayer than Disney. With princesses, fairies, and burly baddies strolling the park, it’s no wonder the LGBTQ+ community feels right at home at Disney World. In June 1991, the first non-official Disney Pride celebration — known as Red Shirt Days — kicked off. An informal gathering of gays, lesbians, and everybody in-between showed up wearing red shirts to “reclaim normal joys of childhood lost to homophobia in their earlier years.” What started as a 3,000-person, one-day event continued on to become a multi-day festival that includes off-park activities and events, and welcomes hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ families and friends to join in.
While Disney may hold the crown for LGBTQ+ families, the appeal of Orlando’s Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventures calls to the mature friend groups who like to live life in the “Fast and the Furious” lane. These parks offer some of the state’s most thrilling roller-coasters. Universal Studios’ “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmead” features “Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure”. The ride will have you straddling a motorcycle and accelerating at high speeds through its many twists and turns, then screaming backwards into new terrain with its sophisticated track-switching system. For those who are looking to be flipped and flung after surviving a terrifying free fall there is no ride as ferocious as the park’s “Jurassic World Velocicoaster”.
Now for those park-goers who like to keep their feet on the ground but are still looking to have their heart race, be sure to visit Universal during its Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). Beginning in early September and continuing through Halloween, HHN expands its scare fest onto the park’s backlots and invites you inside some of the most terrifyingly chilling haunted houses.
Past years have seen some of these houses themed around cult favorites like “Breaking Bad” and “Haunting of Hill House”, and classics frights such as “Beetlejuice” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. HHN is the perfect outing to invite a new crush and hang on tight to them all night long.
Luxury and Culture in Winter Park
For those travelers looking for less crowds and more time to connect, Orlando offers many LGBTQ+ friendly communities and businesses that cater to our artful fantasies and lux side of life. Take a vacation during your vacation by booking a staying in Winter Park, a small city just 15 minutes north of downtown Orlando.
Where to Stay Near Orlando: Immerse yourself in a colorful world of art during your stay at the Alfond Inn. This 112-room boutique hotel offers five-star luxury throughout the expansive property, and featurs a heated rooftop pool and lush gardens. Owned by Rollins College, a private co-ed liberal arts college in Winter Park, the Alfond Inn houses hundreds of pieces of contemporary art as a secondary gallery space to the nearby Cornell Fine Arts Museum.
Whether enjoying a uniquely guided “Happy Hour Art Tour” with Gisela Carbonell, curator at the Rollins Museum of Art, or dining in on property at Hamilton’s Kitchen, you’ll be surprised and delighted at every nook and cranny of the Alfond Inn’s art collection. As part of the hotel’s mandate to continue supporting arts and education, the inn directs all of its net operating income to The Alfond Scholars program fund, the college’s premier scholarship fund for future learning.
Scenic Boat Tours in Winter Park: As enchanting as a scene from “Gone with the Wind”, a ride with Scenic Boat Tours immerses you in the charm and beauty of Winter Park as you explore lakes Osceola, Virginia, and Maitland. This attraction is one of the Orlando area’s oldest continuously run tourist draws. During the unforgettable 90-minute ride you’ll meander through small canals and escape from the sun under an umbrella of historical oak trees cloaked in hanging Spanish moss. This picturesque tour shares the history of Orlando and the glamour of some of its lakeside residences, including views of the home Mr. (Fred) Rogers lived in before graduating magna cum laude in 1951 with a degree in music composition from the Rollins College.
Must-Dine Spot: It’s time to brunch queen and if you’re a Canadian who loves some American-style eats with southern hospitality and flair, you’ll want to brunch at the Briarpatch located along North Park Avenue in Winter Park. This bustling restaurant, which can see a line up down the block on a busy weekend, features mouthwatering biscuits, cheesy grits, and fried green tomatoes that will have you living your Jessica Tandy, Whistle Stop fantasy.
Drink and Dance in Orlando
You’ll find your flavor at one of the many clubs, pubs, and entertainment venues in Orlando. At the iconic LGBTQ+ institution, Hamburger Mary’s, you can dine with the Divas during an evening variety show or search for an O69 with Gidget Galore and Ginger Minj at Twisted Bingo. While over at Hank’s you can peruse the property’s outside jungle and have a look for “wild animals”.
Nightclubs like Savoy are a great place to dance the night away or catch a one-of-a-kind drag show like “Noche de Extravangancia” during Latin Night. Don’t miss the chance for fun at Southern Nights where the drink specials are phenomenal and the weekly Fresh Faces Talent Competitions are fierce.
Orlando’s vibrant LGBTQ+ community is broad and growing. The community has always stood up for equality and the massacre at Pulse was a defining moment that made the reasons for their struggle crystal clear. You can feel the love and support within the community when you speak to the locals, and there is an excitement looking towards the future. While you may have come for the theme parks, there will be plenty that will surprise you while you uncover what Orlando has in store.