Vacations with kids aren’t really vacations. Taking a break from the regular routine of a busy schedule is lovely, but I never use the word “relaxing” to describe a vacation that includes my kids. My kids are 10 and 8. We always have fun and (sometimes reluctantly) try new experiences and while we indulge in lazy movie mornings or evening fires, we stay busy. The parenting responsibilities don’t magically go away when you and your family get away from your house. Meals, laundry, and bedtime routines still exist. I love taking time off, packing the kids in the car, and heading out on family adventures, but road trips and vacations are work and can be stressful. When you’re a queer family there is the extra stress of making sure you’ll be safe and accepted while out there making memories. You need a LGBTQIA+ family friendly vacation spot.
I rely on word-of-mouth recommendations and tend to stick to popular, high traffic areas where I know—just by the number of people present—diversity is present and generally more accepted; cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are great LGBTQIA+ friendly places for queer families to visit.
I also rely on businesses and hotels that openly display signs of LGBTQIA+ inclusion on their website. When my ex and I traveled across the country over 20 years ago we relied on Let’s Go USA, a travel book that listed towns to see, activities to do, and places to eat. The book also told us about the presence of queer establishments and how accepting the city or town was toward gay people. Thankfully we now have more of both as well as a more efficient and plentiful internet to find the perfect destination for a perfectly queer and family friendly vacation.
Before you make any final travel arrangements, be sure to visit the U.S State Department’s section for LGBTQIA+ travelers. Because laws in each country are different regarding queer rights, and even areas in more progressive countries like the U.S. are still dangerous for LGBTQIA+ people, the State Department is a great resource to help you travel safely and more confidently with your partner and children. And it offers checklists to be sure you have all of the documents and resources you need in case of an emergency or experience a hate crime.
I did a little digging to find LGBTQIA+ family friendly vacation destinations that may not be your list of places to visit. I also tried to offer a mix of locations, DIY vacations, and all-inclusive resorts.
1. Walt Disney World Resorts, Orlando
Okay this one isn’t too out there and is probably already on your list. And while I wish Disney would push the envelope more with their queer representation in movies, their parks and resorts are often the gayest place on Earth. They recently adjusted their greeting to say ‘dreamers of all ages’ instead of the presumptuous and binary ‘boys and girls’ and ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ and Disney continues to score well with Human Rights Campaign Corporate Quality Index for LGBTQ Equality in the workplace. The commitment for inclusion with their employees feeds to their interactions with visitors to the park and their resorts.
Disney Destinations is a longtime global partner of the IGLTA, so queer travelers and families can feel confident when checking into a Disney all-inclusive resort that works best for you and your family.
2. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
I don’t think of rainbows and glitter when I think of Tennessee either, but there are pockets of the state that are super queer friendly and gorgeous. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have plenty of queer friendly establishments, The Great Smoky Mountains, and Dollywood. Dolly Parton’s allyship and advocacy for LGBTQIA+ folks has made space safer and much more welcoming for queer folks in small towns in Tennessee. In addition to the amusement park, kids will love Country Cascades Waterpark Resort and Dolly Parton’s Stampede, where dinner and theater combine for a night of entertainment. Fun fact: I went on a band trip to this destination in high school and will always have a soft spot for it.
3. San Juan Marriott Resort & Casino, Puerto Rico
If sand, swimming, and the sun are your top priorities for a vacation, the picturesque San Juan Marriott on Condado Beach offers white sands and crystal blue water. The general manager, Gonzalez Espinosa, says the resort is located in the Santurce Arts District, which is home to a large LGBTQ population. “LGBT families are welcomed with open arms as it’s a comfortable environment all around. Our hotel, the San Juan Marriott, is very family-friendly and we attract a diverse crowd of visitors from various backgrounds, including LGBT families, who really love our hotel — particularly the gelato shop, lively atmosphere, beautiful beach, and two-level pool with the largest double-helix slide in the neighborhood.” Be sure to ask for the “Pride & Joy” package which offers upgrades for LGBTQ travelers.
4. The Venture Out Project, United States
The Venture Out Project consists of a group of skilled and experienced outdoor instructors and guides who facilitate day hikes, backpacking trips, and other outdoor adventures for queer and transgender folks. The team is mobile and is currently hosting trips in the mid-west. Their mission is to specifically serve members of LGBTQIA+ community so that we can experience nature in safe and inclusive settings. They host a few Family Campouts a year where allies are welcome but TVOP is focused on hosting ‘family.’
5. Take Your Pick, Hawaii
Every search for vacations or destinations that are LGBTQIA+ friendly contains Hawaii and all of its islands so it just depends on what your family wants to do. Kauai is great for hiking; Maui is great for swimming and snorkeling, and Oahu has Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa. This is the only Disney Resort not connected to a theme park, but when Hawaii is under your feet it’s hard to want a roller coaster too. Auntie’s Beach House is the resort’s kids club and is open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and there is a teen spa area called Painted Sky that allows families to have a little time apart while spending so much time together.
6. YMCA of the Rockies, Colorado
Here me out. A few years ago, the YMCA launched a campaign to make YMCAs across the nation LGBTQ inclusive. The YMCA of the Rockies’ website is very clear about its mission to be a safe and welcoming space for all gender identities and sexual orientations. YMCA of the Rockies has lodging at Estes Park Center in Estes Park, Colorado and Snow Mountain Ranch, Winter Park, Colorado. You can rent rooms, cabins, yurts, or camp sites on the property. Some activities are seasonal but include swimming, archery, hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, playgrounds, mini golf, disc golf, zip lining, Nordic center, and dog sledding. And parents: there are day camps for kids who are staying on site. Day. Camps.
7. RV And Road Trip It
If you rather build your own trip and maintain some independence, rent a RV and drive across the country to get a taste of the hidden pockets of queerness in the United States. Sites like IGLTA, Purple Roofs, GayTravel.com, and Orbitz make it easy to find LGBTQIA+ friendly travel, events, destinations, travel agents, and accommodations.
When it comes to finding safe and welcoming vacation spots for your family, a representative for Orbitz tells Scary Mommy that several factors play into holding the title of “LGBTQIA+ Friendly” on their site. One of the most important requirements is that a company, service provider, or hotel has signed the Orbitz Pledge of Inclusion that sets the standard for discrimination-free experiences; some businesses also commit to professional diversity and inclusion development trainings. This in combination with guaranteed on-site or in-room conveniences and activities for kids makes life a lot easier and more relaxing for queer families like mine.
Happy trails, friends!