LGBT Travel

Skiing in Vermont and sailing the West Indies

Richard Burnett
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stowe mountain
Richard Brunett
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  • Richard Brunett

My travel partner-in-crime Bicente and I were driving across the Quebec-Vermont border where our U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer asked us where we were headed.

 Richard Burnet“Stowe Mountain Resort,” I replied. “To go skiing.”
 
Now, we all know El Niño has been playing havoc with our winter this year, not to mention on this grey midweek morning in early February it was pouring rain. We are talking a deluge of Biblical proportions.
 
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer did a double-take and said, “Say what?”
 
It has simply been that kind of winter for ski resorts in the Northeast this year. In fact, on March 10, The Stowe Reporter newspaper reported that Stowe Mountain Resort had had a total natural snowfall of 113 inches so far this season, down from 249 over the same period last year.
 
Fortunately for Stowe Mountain Resort – which has pumped some $10 million into snowmaking investments over the past five years – they have 700 snow guns and computer systems backed up by Stowe’s massive reservoir which holds 110 million gallons of water. 
 
In other words, once the rain stopped, the snow guns were out in full force, turning New England’s top ski resort into a sparkling winter wonderland literally overnight.
 
While Bicente and I waited for the snow to accumulate, we wined and dined at Stowe Mountain Lodge – a 312-room, four-star hotel – and in the nearby Stowe village in style.
 
Just a short drive down the hill from the Lodge you will find the quaint and picturesque village is filled with plenty of arts and crafts shops. We especially enjoyed our meals in two local institutions: a leisurely midday lunch at The Whip Bar & Grill (18 Main Street) located in the historic 200-year-old Green Mountain Inn, and the superb Piecasso Pizzeria and Lounge (1899 Mountain Road).
 
The adventure At The Whip we washed down classic beer-battered fish and chips with a couple pints of Citizen Cider, made in nearby Burlington, Vermont. Great atmosphere, well worth the drive.
 
Over at Piecasso there is always a friendly crowd of young locals and tourists alike enjoying drinks at the bar, as well as dining on hand-tossed, New York-style pies and Sicilian-American pizzas in their very comfortable restaurant. Highly recommended.
 
If you don’t want to leave the resort, Stowe Mountain Lodge is also home to the high-end Solstice Restaurant and bar-and-grill-style Hourglass pub, which is also a fun place to hang out for apres ski.
 
Bicente and I stayed in one of Stowe Mountain Lodge’s fully-equipped Timberline Studios. We had our own private outdoor terrace with views of the ski slopes, our bedroom, walk-in kitchen, custom marble-finished bathroom with separate relaxation tub and a living room area with a fully-functioning fireplace. The place looked and smelled wonderful, especially our first cosy night when Bicente and I enjoyed chilled Vermont microbrews, vodka shots, gin-tonics, cheese, grapes and blackberries in front of our roaring fireplace.
 
Community bulletin boardWe nursed our hangovers the next day at the lodge’s Spa and Wellness Center which features 18 private treatment rooms; men and women Healing Lodges that include a steam room, rain shower, sauna and soaking pool; a relaxation sanctuary; a full-service salon; and best of all, a four-season heated indoor/outdoor pool with hot tubs. I also enjoyed a much-deserved massage.
 
There is more to Stowe than spa and skiing, of course: Stowe Mountain Lodge is located at the foot of Stowe Mountain Resort where you can rent all your ski equipment and whose new facilities being built include a new ice rink that will double as a community plaza in summer, with year-round daycare facilities, a children’s activities center, retail shops, the Stowe Mountain Club Golf Course, plus – in addition to golf and skiing – more sports for every season: tennis, hiking, biking, fishing and snowboarding.
 
There are also two special events of interest at Stowe each winter: The Stowe Derby – which turns 71 this year and is usually held at the end of February – is the oldest downhill/cross-country ski race in North America and features hundreds of skiers of all calibers racing a 20-kilometre course from atop Stowe Mountain Resort to the village; and Winter Rendezvous, Stowe’s annual Gay Ski Week which will host its 32nd annual edition from January 18 to 23, 2017 (guest entertainers in 2016 included comedy legend and LGBT icon Sandra Bernhard who headlined the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center).
 
If you drive to Stowe from Montreal, I recommend daytime driving since Vermont’s roads are not very well-lit at night. Also, be sure to drop by the Essex Outlets, among the best in the U.S and where you can still find excellent bargains despite the prohibitive American exchange rate.
 
For more information, visit www.stowe.com and www.gostowe.com
 
After winter skiing in Vermont – which I like to call the most Canadian of all American states – the following month I traveled on my very first cruise ever, in the West Indies.
 
I travelled on one of Royal Caribbean’s most beloved ships, the well laid-out Adventure of the Seas, whose maiden voyage was in November 2001, and holds over 3,000 passengers and almost 1,200 crew. In the past, Adventure of the Seas has been based in the Atlantic in summertime, but when I sailed her on a six-island Southern Caribbean cruise, she was based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I boarded the ship.
 
The five other islands on this cruise were St. Thomas, St. Croix, Antigua, St. Lucia and Grenada. All offer similar duty-free shopping in their touristy port markets, with emphasis on gemstones and jewelry. But there is much to see if you book shore excursions to historic sites and beaches. These excursions can become pricey very quickly, so you may want to hop a cab instead. Remember, however, if your cab returns you late, the ship will not wait for you, whereas they will wait for the return of officially-sanctioned excursions.
 
St. Thomas is considered the liveliest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, 32 square miles with white-sand beaches. On this cruise, the shore excursions on St. Croix were the most expensive; and Antigua had the least to see, though I recommend the sightseeing tour to historic Nelson’s Dockyard National Park in English Bay. St. Lucia was my favourite stop, with excellent shopping, modern amenities, and many affordable shore excursions – including beaches and rainforest – to choose from. In Grenada, variety really is the spice of life: The wind carries aromas of spices throughout the island, notably around the town of Gouyave, the epicentre of the Grenadian spice industry, where the Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station is the world’s second-largest producer of nutmeg.
 
On board Adventure of the Seas, with its all-you-can-eat breakfasts, lunches and dinner seatings (count on two formal-dress dinners on a seven-day cruise), there is also plenty to see and do, from the ship’s 10 pools and whirlpools to a Vegas-style casino, a theatre with live shows, not to mention 15 bars, clubs and lounges. Problem is beverages cost a lot of money, and not just the booze. Soda pop, for instance, is not free. And if – like me – you enjoy a few daytime cocktails on vacation, Royal Caribbean will nickel-and-dime you for all you got. Plus, an 18 percent gratuity is also added to your bill. There are a variety of all-inclusive drink packages, but I suggest estimating your average beverage daily intake to see if they are worth your while. If you strike the right balance, you can save a lot of money.
 
Also, while I found Royal Caribbean’s Wi-Fi packages to be prohibitively expensive, I also quickly discovered that the free Wi-Fi in bars and cafes ashore were not very reliable.
 
Meanwhile, accommodations aboard Adventure of the Seas varies. I began this tour in a tiny and cramped interior stateroom, but finished the cruise in a spacious “Superior Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony.” Many people say don’t bother with a balcony since one ostensibly spends little time in their stateroom. But I found a balcony made all the difference in the world, a private oasis with spectacular views of the islands, and quite calming and hypnotic when cruising at sea. In fact, I read a book and drank many a chilled chardonnay on my balcony. I highly recommend it.
 
Lastly, LGBT travelers have every reason to be wary in the Caribbean, a region noted for widespread homophobia. It is wise to read up on each island destination, to find out whether, for instance, public displays of affection – such as holding your partner’s hand or kissing your spouse – may get you into trouble. But on board, Royal Caribbean’s ships are a gay-positive zone. On Adventure of the Seas, there was a daily LGBT get-together in the Champagne Bar, an opportunity to chat up like-minded LGBT travelers of all ages from around the world.
 
If you do not find an LGBT get-together listed in the ship’s daily Cruise Compass newsletter (delivered to each stateroom every evening), be sure to check out the community bulletin board by the guest-relations desk.
 
For more information, visit www.royalcaribbean.com
Read Richard Burnett’s POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette at montrealgazette.com/tag/pop-tart.
Read Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill online at www.bugsburnett.blogspot.com.