North, south & in between

Posted on 19 Feb 2009 at 1:30pm
By Andrew Collins Contributing Travel Writer

Bargains abound on either side of the U.S. border — and at home


Some of Las Vegas’ more lavish hotels are ready to make great deals.

The travel and tourism industries have suffered severely in recent months, as cash-strapped consumers pull back on discretionary spending and either cancel vacations or plan them closer to home. But if you’re looking for an inexpensive getaway to a GLBT-welcoming city, there’s rarely been a better time to travel, especially for international getaways.

The American dollar has gained strength against most major currencies since the fall, making forays into the Canada and Mexico particularly affordable. If you’d rather not travel abroad, consider glitzy Las Vegas, one U.S. city working extra hard to entice travelers with deals.

Puerto Vallarta
It’s hard to name a North American gay resort destination with more going for it than this fast-growing city on the fabled Mexican Riviera. PV’s historic downtown ("El Centro") is hemmed in by the verdant slopes of the Sierra Madre Mountains; south, in Zona Romantica, you’ll find a bustling gay scene. The Mexican peso has plummeted against the dollar recently, making this a great spot for budget-minded travelers right now.

Although this bustling resort community has become a bit more expensive as it has gained in popularity, it remains less costly than many other alluring tropical getaways, such as the Caribbean and Hawaii. Right in Zona Romantica, the stellar gay resort Casa Cupula excels as much for its stately accommodations as for its friendly, knowledgeable, and charming staff.

During the prime winter high season, flights to Puerto Vallarta cost as little as $300 round-trip from Dallas. If you’re willing to visit during the less-popular but still enjoyable late-spring or early-fall shoulder seasons, you can save a lot on flights and hotels. And visitors who come during the quiet summer months find especially enviable bargains.

Quebec City
You definitely don’t need to leave North America to enjoy a truly French vacation. The small French-speaking city of Quebec is within a day’s drive of Boston, New York City and Toronto, and just a three-hour jaunt from Montreal.

Coming from the U.S., you’ll also be rewarded with a favorable exchange rate in a city that already maintains a reasonable cost of living. The Canadian and U.S. dollars were nearly equal over the past few years, but U.S. currency enjoyed a major rally late in 2008 — expect accommodations, meals, drinks and other goods and services to cost you from 25 to 40 percent less than what they would in many domestic cities. Flying to Quebec City can be pricey, but the low prices you encounter once you arrive may help offset this.

This charming, gay-friendly city of steep hills, stone houses and cobbled lanes preserves its French heritage better than Paris. There are enough fine accommodations in Quebec to make choosing a place to stay something of a challenge; many of the best are enthusiastically gay-friendly.

Best bets include the uber-romantic Auberge St-Antoine, which sits next to the esteemed Musee de la Civilisation in Lower Town; and the luxurious Hotel Dominion 1912, a chic and gracious boutique hotel renowned for its stylish guest rooms and personable staff.

Las Vegas
Once characterized by rock-bottom-discounted hotels and cheap buffets, Las Vegas became considerably more expensive in the last decade as celebrity chefs opened fancy restaurants and developers built some of the most lavish resorts in the world. The city has been hit hard by the economy, however, and many of the swankiest new properties — the Trump International, the Palazzo and Encore — are offering highly competitive rates.

The city’s top restaurants still feature plenty of super-pricey dishes, but Vegas also has a nice selection of desirable, reasonably priced eateries. Buffets at the Mirage and Treasure Island have high-quality ingredients and trendy designs with great prices. And many of the famous chefs have more affordable venues, such as Hubert Keller’s hip Burger Bar at Mandalay Place, Mario Batali’s romantic Enoteca San Marco wine bar at the Venetian, and Tom Colicchio’s designer-sandwich joint, ‘Wichcraft, at MGM Grand.

As long as tourism numbers continue to fall flat, enterprising Las Vegas business owners will continue to entice travelers with inexpensive package deals, discounted tickets to shows, and reduced cover and drink charges at Krave and Piranha, the city’s top gay clubs. Las Vegas has direct air service on just about every airline in the country, so competition is fierce, too. Gay-friendly Southwest Airlines has been especially aggressive in offering great fares.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 20, 2009.

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