THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

For gay-friendly travel, start at a website

Email|Print| Text size + By James Reed
Globe Correspondent / March 28, 2004

Humor us for a moment: Fast-forward to sunny, windswept summer. Yes, we're but a week into spring and temperatures are still dipping into the 30s and we had a snowstorm recently. All the more reason why summer vacation this year will be a welcome retreat from winter's frosty grip. But wait. You're using a mainstream travel agent to book your summer getaway? What? That's so 1999.

Most gay men and women are going online now and using gay-friendly websites to build an itinerary, says Ed Salvato, editor of Out & About travel magazine. ''The generic travel agent in a sense is the Pony Express of the travel industry. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn't specialize in something, because statistics show that gay men and women are more likely to buy products online, including their travel plans."

Gone are the days when gay travel was an underground industry, says Salvato. Now many chambers of commerce offer gay visitors tips and suggestions on everything from hotels to restaurants to piano bars. ''You know, 20 years ago, it was a big deal to get a copy of the Damron guide. It was like, 'Hey, get me a photocopy of Damron,' " remembers Salvato, referring to one of the earliest guides to gay travel (it has been around since 1964). ''Now, gay travel is such a part of the mainstream."

Websites devoted to gay travel have blossomed in the last few years. Some sport clever names (Now, Voyager quotes a passage from Walt Whitman, but we're sure Bette Davis was on the brain when they named it), while others offer gay-friendly travel packages to the Mexican Riviera, Iceland, Turkey, Italy, you name it.

Here are five for the road:
www.outandabout.com
www.travel-divas.com
www.nowvoyager.com
www.gaytravel.com
www.damron.com

As for where to go, consider this sampling of summer delights here and abroad:

April
''Dirty Blonde,"
San Francisco, April 24-June 26
www.nctcsf.org

As if gay men need more reason to see a play with the title ''Dirty Blonde," San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre Center throws Mae West into the mix. The romantic comedy, written by Claudia Shear, tells the story of two lovelorn New Yorkers who bond over all things Mae. Come up and see it sometime.

May
Dublin Gay Theatre Festival
Ireland, May 4-16

Dublin's first-ever gay theater festival paints queer life with a broad stroke, with emphasis on the contributions of gay men. The festival is ''designed to give contextual visibility to the talents of gay men, which historically were concealed by criminalization, and will present productions from Ireland and abroad." Sounds heavy, but this is, after all, the country that gave us Oscar Wilde. Write to dublingaytheatrefestival@hotmail.com for more information.

June
Gay Days
Orlando, Fla., June 1-7
www.gaydays.com

Mickey and Minnie roll out the rainbow carpet for gays and lesbians at this festival that has been a lightning rod for some politicians in the past. Come play on the rides at Disney World, or maybe snag a star map and find the home of your favorite Backstreet Boy (most boy bands, including 'N Sync, seem to spring from Orlando). There are also a carnival, mystery dinner theater, dance parties, and cruises (for the watercraft ilk, thank you very much).

July
Boston to Montreal Olivia Cruise
July 3-10
www.olivia.com

Ladies are lining up to catch a ride on the Fourth of July cruise that leisurely glides up to Montreal. Yeah, yeah, the vistas will be sprawling and beautiful, but the real draw is the cruise's entertainment. K.d. lang will be crooning some ballad (sans Tony Bennett) as you and your honey dance under twinkling stars on the deck.

Alas, Olivia caters specifically to lesbian travelers, so you won't have to contend with yours truly when you storm the stage during ''Constant Craving." We imagine it will be just like Margaret Cho's account of such a cruise, which she detailed in ''I'm the One That I Want."

August
Michigan Womyn's Music Festival
Aug. 10-15
www.michfest.com
That's Womyn's with a ''y," fellas (''woman," of course, is spelled ''womon" on the festival's website). For good reason: There's nary a male in sight when thousands of women descend on the festival grounds for five days of workshops, sports, and nightly entertainment.

This year's roster includes folk-rocker Jill Sobule (who apparently is still kissing a girl), California punks Erase Errata, wiseacre Kate Clinton, and a host of other Sappho-minded artists you don't know but should.

September
Southern Decadence
New Orleans, Sept. 1-6
www.southerndecadence.com

New Orleans knows a thing or two about decadence when it comes to Mardi Gras, which makes this annual gay arts festival even more, um, titillating. The events' descriptions alone are racy enough to make Peaches blush. There's skinny dipping, strip poker, DJed dances, and drag pageants -- oh, my!

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

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