Gaydays 2002 - Orlando, Florida

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Gay Disney Weekend - Orlando Florida

GayDays began 12 years ago in 1990 as a day out in Walt Disney Worlds - Magic Kingdom. The single day event has grown over the years to become one of the largest gatherings of the gay community in the world, this year attracting an estimated 130,000 people. What was once a single day event, has now become a long weekend of circuit parties, concerts and other gatherings throughout the city of Orlando in Florida. The Gaydays weekend has also become one of the top ten economic producers for the city. Hotels, restaurants, theme parks and many other local businesses benefit greatly from having the gay community flock to the area on an annual basis.

The main day, the traditional first Saturday in June, is spent at the Magic Kindom, however if you're one of the circuit boys then the thought of getting out of bed at 10am, driving up the motorway to be surrounded by families and kids in a commercialized micky mouse land is the last thing you want to do. In fact 10am is probably the time you're getting into bed, rather than getting out of it. Gaydays has become as big as it has because it offers something for everybody.

If family theme parks aren’t your cup of tea during the daylight hours, don't worry, there are wild pool parties taking place during the day. The traditional, biggest and best is at the Hyatt Orlando hotel run by Brian Bottorff and Rob Iles, two guys from the local city of Tampa. They came up with the idea of getting all of there friends together that were planing on attending the annual event and booking a bunch of rooms in the same hotel. At last minute they got together a sound system and a DJ friend to spin for them. It has grown so popular that all of the 800 rooms in the Hyatt sell out usually with-in the same week of the previous year. Speedo clad muscle boy's gather together in mass amounts, socking up the sun as they dance to the chilled-out tunes and play in the pool. It's a pool party that you would usually only dream about. The pool water level actually dropped about three feet because there were so many boys in it all weekend!

Due to the shear popularity of the event and to keep the crowd from going over capacity, you're only allowed access to the pool party if you're a registered guest at the hotel. Many security guards are employed and the use of wristbands is implemented to keep the party at a manageable level. That's why it's really important to book up at the hotel early, because if you don't have a room then you won't get access to the event.

One of the first circuit parties of the Gaydays weekend is at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon water park, called Beach Ball. It’s a one of its own kind of circuit party that takes over the park for an amazing night. Boys strip to there spandex and party in what has to be the most unique event I've been too. The park comprises of a realistic artificial beach, complete with wave machine. Numerous waterslides also stay open throughout the night. The main dance area is located on the beach itself, it creates an atmosphere you've really got to experience to believe, the music fills the balmy air and the lights and lasers cut through the Florida night sky.  New York's David Knapp spun out the tunes as colourful circus performers performed amongst the crowd through the night.

I caught up with Keith Peterson who's runs Beach Ball and asked him what sort of relationship he had with Disney and how did they first feel about entertaining "naughty but nice" circuit boys in there squeaky clean theme park? He replied by saying "When I approached Disney in early '97 they approached this like any other corporate event that would happen on their property. I worked for Disney for 9 years and was confident that they would work to make it a very successful party. When we first developed the idea of Beach Ball we never envisioned it as a circuit party. As the event has developed the numbers of "circuit-boys" attending has grown, as well as the "circuit" elements, but we still try to design the party for the entire gay community."

This year Beach Ball had a bit of competition from the likes of Mark Bakers Colosseum Party, moved from the closing night of previous years. It's been voted best circuit event by many U.S. publications, however the venue at Universal's HardRock Live Colosseum only holds 4,000 which left thousands more stranded outside on previous years. Mark, who's famous for his circuit parties during the Miami White Party and Winter Party weeks, moved the night to purposely clash with Beach Ball, as both events in previous years had sold out days in advance. It was feared by some that one may not do as well as the other, but instead both sold out again at an amazing rate. It really shows the rate at which Gaydays is growing.

Replacing the Colosseum Party on the closing night was an all new circuit party from Mark Baker, the Stars Party. This time he wasn't restricted to the size of a venue, as he took over Universal Studio's newest theme park Islands of Adventure. Some of the rides stayed open for the first half of the night and some of the superheros also stayed on. I remember a group of, totally off there face boys, swarming Spiderman for photos and gropes as he walked around in his lycra suit - it was a classic. When I asked Mark if he had anything new planned for next year, he replied with "I think its better to do a few things well, rather than a lot of things".

As tens of thousands of Gay Day attendees stand in line for lunch, drinks, ice cream cones and merchandise, its easy to understand why Disney has been a subtle supporter of the event for years. I wrote to Disney asking for a short statement about their thoughts on Gaydays, they replied by saying "Traditionally, individuals of the gay and lesbian community visit the Central Florida area the first weekend in June each year.  Since the Walt Disney World Resort represents the largest attraction in the area, the organizers of this independent event naturally encourage their attendees to visit our theme parks and resorts.  Please understand that the WALT DISNEY Company does not discriminate against anyone wishing to visit the theme parks." Which I guess bluntly means "as long as you spend money, you're welcome here."

So if Disney World can do so well out of the pink pound, could Euro Disney maybe follow suit? I put this to Beach Ball's Keith who said "I think the potential exists for a Gay Day at Euro Disney and I believe a Gay Day at Tokyo Disneyland has already taken place. The big parties didn't start happening until 1997 here in Orlando. The event here started with people talking on bulletin boards and making plans to visit the Magic Kingdom on the first Saturday of June. The event took on a life of its own and as the attendance grew people wanted more things to do."

While some say the week has become very commercial over the years and has lost its charm, nobody can argue that whenever you can assemble 130,000 members of any community, together in one city, it makes a good impression. This year an estimated revenue of $140 million was generated from the event. If you get the chance, get out to Orlando and experience it for your self. There's something to suit everyone, whether you young or old, a muscle-mary or a camp-queen you're guaranteed a good time. The parties will blow your head off!

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