Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Southwest Airlines' Plus-Size Passenger Problems Continue

A Southwest Airlines flight crew is under fire after they removed a 5'4” 110-pound stand-by passenger to make room for an obese ticket-holder who needed a second seat. The airline's normal policy for over-booked flights is to ask for a volunteer among the passengers to deplane.

This is not Southwest's first run-in with plus-size problems. The actor-director Kevin Smith criticized the airline in February after they kicked him off an Oakland-Burbank flight because of his girth. Referred to as “Fatgate” by the Twittering masses, Smith was outspoken about the incident, which he said was emblematic of the embarrassment and prejudices endured by overweight Americans.

A spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines, Marilee McInnis told the Sacramento Bee that this recent situation was “awkward” and admitted that the flight crew should have handled it better.

One reason she gave for breaking the rules: the late-coming obese passenger was only fourteen years old and already quite embarrassed. The flight crew didn't want to prolong the conflict and tried to act quickly.

As more and more Americans reach for the seat belt extenders, airlines are caught in a touchy position. Who get's priority in the battle over those 17.2 inches of navy-blue cushion? While airlines around the country struggle to set fair policies, Smith continues to find humor in the humiliation:

About Southwest's recent snafu, Smith tweeted: “Now me AND my [skinny] wife can get booted off Southwest... TOGETHER!”


Beaches and Boys of Brazil - from OutTraveler

Take a headlong dive into the surf, sand, and soul of Brazil's obsessively sexy beach culture. With 5,000 miles of coastline, there's a lot to choose from.
Brazil is guilty of a torrid love affair with the sun. When it's raining in Rio, locals hurry by with umbrellas cloaking expressionless faces like shocked victims of sudden infidelity. But when it's sunny, especially in the summer months (our winter), it seems the entire population can be found basking on the sand. Spanning the equator and nearly 5,000 miles long, the shimmering Brazilian coastline is host to regions as diverse as the arid northeastern flatlands of Salvador, the misty Atlantic rain forest of the Discovery Coast near Porto Seguro, and the mountainous tropical zone of Rio de Janeiro. So there's a perfect beach for everybody: lovers, divers, hang gliders, snorkelers, surfers, nudists, or dime-store mystery readers. Most big urban beaches, like Ipanema and Copacabana in Rio, and even some smaller beaches have sections primarily for gays and lesbians. New Year's Eve and carnival (the infamous four-day midsummer celebration during late February) are siren calls for travelers all over the world to drop their anchors and let the tide wash them onto Brazil's shores.

It was raining when I arrived in Rio last September, so I escaped driving north to Búzios, where cariocas (citizens of Rio de Janeiro) go to really cut loose. Búzios was a lazy fishing village until it was made famous by Brigitte Bardot, who spent a summer there in 1964 with her Brazilian boyfriend. Bardot's legacy has transformed Búzios into a resort town: Top-tier guesthouses and pampering hotels nestle in its hills.

As much as I liked my sunga (bikini), I couldn't wait to take it off and let the sun envelop me. I'd parked close to Praia Olho de Boi, a naturist beach on the eastern tip of the Búzios peninsula, at an adjacent fishermen's beach, Praia Brava. From here a red dirt path meanders up and over the mountain separating Brava from Olho de Boi. Along the way I met three proud fishermen carrying the morning's catch (this evening's dinner), a burnished mare grazing on hillside vegetation, and a small crab skittering down the basalt that frames the beach. The morning sun smiled on me as I windmilled down the steep path, tore off my sunga, and raced across shell fragments worn smooth by the waves to float in the warm tidal pools that make this cozy cove a bather's paradise. Though not specifically a gay beach, Olho de Boi is popular with gay men and straight couples, resulting in a relaxed mix of blissed-out nudists.

If Ipanema is where Brazilians go to cruise, and Búzios is where they go to relax, then Porto Seguro is where they go on honeymoon. Here in the Bahia, 600 miles north of Rio, Brazil was born. Pedro Cabral, a Portuguese explorer, discovered this coastline in 1500, and it retains a rustic, historic authenticity. Small
pousadas (guesthouses) are the rule in the neighboring beach town of Arraial d'Ajuda. The beaches here are narrow and tranquil, the waters clear and green. The surf is calm, tempered by a long offshore reef system, and when you wade into the waves the sand is so soft that your ankles sink into the seabed. You literally become one with the beach as the water cascades ashore in a cool, gentle froth.

Just south of Porto Seguro is the Atlantic rain forest, large parts of which are still protected. I wanted to see the savage coast and booked a trip through Selvagem Adventure, a gay-friendly company that specializes in taking visitors to the remote cliff towns that date to the earliest Portuguese missions. Eduardo, Selvagem's owner, put his Land Rover into four-wheel drive, and we chugged through arroyos cut deep into dirt roads from the recent rains. A swath of blue appeared to the east. As we approached the last hill before the coastal town of Espelho, the Atlantic wind pushed the southern clouds behind us into the forest. We trekked down a wild oceanside bluff and found ourselves facing a lashing steely sea. To our right was infamous Praia do Amores.

"How did it get the name?" I asked.

"In the 1950s, before TV," explained Eduardo, "Teenagers used to come down here at night. Now away from their families, they would light bonfires, talk, and have sex for the first time. And even now"--his eyes lit up--"it is very private."

Bordered by sharp coral formations that were left behind when the seas last receded, Praia do Amores was uninhabited this cloudy morning. But our presence there triggered the sun to fight its white cover and cast it away. I pretended I was a castaway as we wound north down the flat white virgin sands to Praia Espelho. I stood on the veranda of a gracious guesthouse and watched the sun advance from the sea. A great band of vibrant green striped the cobalt cloud shadows one cresting wave at a time, until what came crashing to the shore was not just meringue foam--or salt or wind or sand--but the very soul of Brazil, the equatorial inferno of the bright spring sun.

In an open-air café that night in Arraial d'Ajuda, a bossa nova singer swaggered to my table and handed me a gourd to shake in rhythm to his fingerpicking. "Tall and tan and dark and lovely," he sang gently, "The girl from Ipanema goes walking / And when she passes, each one she passes goes, ‘Ah.' " I understood then the true nature of saudade, my longing deep as ocean blue for Rio de Janeiro. For if you could bring together the finest aspects of every urban beach you'd ever been to, you'd wind up on Praia Ipanema in Rio, a mile-long strip of soft natural sand blessed with tropical weather virtually year-round. It has the surf of Waikiki--and its surfer mentality--with the diversity and tolerance that comes from big-city life and centuries of cultural blending.

Ipanema shares with Waikiki a glorious vista of natural beauty (Rio has Sugarloaf, Honolulu has Diamond Head) and a promenade of luxurious hotels ringing the ocean. Yet Ipanema--and its more famous neighbor, the curvaceous Copacabana--also contains the playground athleticism, contented faces, and gleaming hard bodies of Mediterranean beach towns. There's the happy backbeat of lapping surf, soccer balls smacking off thighs, the slap of paddleballs on wood. Silent capoeira dancers leap to these rhythms and to the laughter that accompanies another Brazilian invention, futevole, which resembles beach volleyball (only it's played with a soccer ball, and you can't use your hands).

Rio's beaches are a wonderful mix of locals and tourists, as in Barcelona or on Venice Beach in Los Angeles, with room on the sand for necessities like jungle gyms and free weights. Brazil promotes a culture of the body, and the most beautifully honed muscles in the world are here. Ipanema has inherited the drumming counterculture of Holland's Zandvoort, and like the Caribbean beaches of Montego Bay, Jamaica, it is fragrant with bonfires, incense, and marijuana without Montego's homophobia or violent hustling. It has the open gay life of parts of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Sitges, Spain, with an entire section dedicated to gays and lesbians. Cariocas practice the "any excuse for a party" joie de vivre of boozy Midwestern lakefronts, giving it a cruisy down-home feel with plenty of beer and boom boxes, even steamed corn on the cob. This close to the equator, the Atlantic is warm and welcoming year-round, and if the surf's high, it only means it's happy to see you and wants to take you for a ride.

My friend Rostand, cofounder of Rio G, a gay and lesbian travel center just off the beach, was not impressed.

"There's nobody here," he protested. I looked around. There were at least 200 people on the gay beach: coupled barbies (gay yuppies) lounging with friends and small children, single buffies (muscular machos) strutting from parasol to parasol, a happy threesome of two guys and a girl toweling each other off. "Today it is completely empty. It is like having sex without an orgasm. You must return in the summer when there are 2,000 of us."

I didn't agree with him then, but now that I'm back in the States I know he's right about one thing. I have to go back--and the sooner the better.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lesbian cruising with Olivia: Top 9 tips for cruise virgins

By Jennifer Vanasco ,
07.23.2010 11:03am EDT

My partner Jenny and I didn’t know what to expect on our first cruise. Would we get seasick? Would we get along? Would we get the Norwalk Virus?

Our ship- The Ryndam!

In our first year and a half together we had done only a little traveling – to Chicago, to DC for the Inauguration, and to North Carolina to visit relatives. We have pretty different styles: Jenny is more social and does more advance destination research; I’m more spontaneous, bring a lot of reading material along and am more prone to napping.

Neither of us were sure we were “cruise people.” Jenny worried about feeling trapped or getting sick. I worried about hating everyone and seeing only Disneyfied versions of the countries we were visiting.

It turns out that we I had a great time on Olivia’s 20th anniversary cruise to the Western Caribbean (we were their guests) – still, there are things we wish we had known before stepping on board.

Here are the nine things you need to know before you go off cruising into the sunset.

Jenny and Jay monkey around on an excursion to a Honduras zoo.

1. Know thyself.
There is a lot to do on a cruise ship. Maybe too much. Every hour or so on our ship, there would be an announcement about some incredibly fun activity happening somewhere else.

There are BBQs. Pool games. Informative seminars. Comedians. Dessert extravaganzas with chocolate fountains and bread baked in the shape of mice. Before you go, talk to your partner (or have a long conversation with yourself) about what you actually need.

- Are you looking for serious R&R? Then limit yourself to one activity a day, sleep in, and don’t get off at every port.

- Trying to immerse yourself in the lesbian community you don’t get at home? Go to the social hours, sit with new people during meals and dance into the night.

- Looking for adventure? Get off the ship early at your port of call and have your excursions lined up in advance. Use your at sea days to relax.

- Just know what you want before you get there, so you don’t stumble off the ship needing a vacation from your vacation.

We did not do this. Instead, we tried to do everything possible (you’ll get a hint of what “everything possible” is by watching the video we made of Jenny. And no, she wasn’t really drinking a beer on the treadmill.) We took a dance class. We swam in the pool. We went to mixers. We went to the shows. We met the Indigo Girls.
We were so tired that we got off the ship and slept for two days straight.

One of the many social events onboard - a lesbian dance.

Bring a sweater. In my imagination, cruises are all bikinis and fruity drinks on the outside Lido Deck.
In reality, when the boat is moving, it can be windy and cold. Also, ships keep the air conditioning up high in the inside public areas. So have a light jacket – and have warm clothes for dinner, socializing at the bar, gambling, and other indoor activities. You see the same people over and over. Don’t let them see you in the same sweatshirt every night.

3. Carry business cards.
Maybe not those stodgy ones from the corporate office. But a lot of women made
up special couple cards from places like Vistaprint.com that had both their names, their home contact info and their cabin number.

Then carry them. Business cards do you no good if they’re hiding in the top drawer of the dresser in your cabin.

Also, if you’re floating away on Olivia, decorate your door. That way people can find you – and they will leave you messages if you put up a wipe-off board. It’s like college! But no homework. And, unless you went to a women’s college (I did!) a lot more ladies.

The Indigo Girls were on board!

4. Do your research.
Sure, you can let the cruise line do everything for you, including selling you port excursions. But you’ll spend a lot less money – and likely have more fun – if you plan your excursions yourself.

TripAdvisor and CruiseCritic have advice in each port of call; sometimes you can get actual footage of excursions on YouTube. Olivia has a great bulletin board where you can meet women before you sail and invite others to join you on excursions you plan yourself.

Jenny and I went swimming with dolphins in Cozumel, inner-tubed down a river running through a cave in Belize and made friends with locals in Honduras. We did our sightseeing with smaller groups than if we had gone with the cruise line’s choices, saw more areas that were not specifically geared toward tourists and saved about $350.

5. Watch your alcohol. You will be offered Bloody Marys with breakfast, beers with lunch, cocktails with dinner – and specialty drinks anytime you step out of your stateroom. All that drinking is expensive (even soda adds up), so know before you go how much you can afford and keep track of your libations. Some who have posted on cruise bulletin boards say that they have come home to several thousand dollars worth of drink charges. Yikes.

If you know that you need your nightly – and afternoon and morning – cocktail, then most ships have drink cards you can buy in advance at a discount. It’s likely only worth it for really big drinkers, though – most women on our cruise were giving their drinks away by the end.

6. It’s fun to be single.
Olivia has special meet and greets and excursions for solo travelers. On our cruise, they traveled in packs and always seemed to be having a great time.
We found it tough to make friends with other couples (women seemed to be looking for a romantic vacation for two, or already were sailing with many other friends) so if you’re cruising for the first time – weirdly – going single might be best. Or hey, just go to the single social hours. No one will stop you.

One of the ship's pools was outdoor when docked and indoor while seabound!

7. Sanitize.
The Norwalk Virus, H1N1 and the common cold are all hanging out around a ship’s handrails, doorknobs and public bathrooms. Try not to shake hands. Cough into your elbow. Wash your hands whenever you pass a sink. And use all that hand sanitizer that is everywhere.

If you get sick – you’ll be quarantined in your room. Jenny caught a bad cough the last day, but otherwise we were illness-free.

8. Lesbian cruises: they’re not for cruising.
Sure, there are women who met their partners on an Olivia cruise. But unlike cruises for gay men, there’s not much of a hookup vibe. Most people come with their partners or in tight groups. If you want some action, you should go looking on land.

9. Prepare for re-entry.
I didn’t get seasick on the ship – but I sure did get landsick when I got home. My kitchen floor was rolling for days (this is not uncommon for people on week-long cruises). Happily, we also had messages from people on Facebook we had met on the cruise, great stories to tell our friends and silly pictures of us playing with dolphins. (We also had a great 12 hours in Tampa after wards.)

Women who’ve been on one Olivia cruise tend to take another – and we can see why. By the second day, Jenny and I were making lists of what we would bring next time and how we would plan differently.

Once you know what to expect and how to plan, you can lay back and let the cruise ship do the rest.

Guests were greeted everyday with a new towel animal.
Provence to Burgundy Riverboat Cruise
July 20-27, 2010

Cruising the Greek Isles & Turkish Coast
Oct 3-10, 2010

Palm Springs Spa Escape
Oct 13-17, 2010

African Safari Adventure
Oct 15-22, 2010

Club Olivia, Columbus Isle Resort
Oct 16-23, 2011

Caribbean Sun Cruise
Oct 30-Nov 6, 2010

Costa Rica Cruise
Jan 22-29, 2011

Mexican Riviera Cruise
Mar 26-Apr 2, 2011