Gay Days at Disney World is the subject of some debate, so much so that I’ve written and re-written this post several times over the years and never published it. In my job, it can be difficult to broach the subject. Do you tell a client that there will be same sex couples and run the risk that they’ll freak out and not go? Do you bring up the subject and chance that they’ll think you’re a bigot because you even bothered to talk about it at all? What if you avoid it altogether and a client comes back and trashes you all over the internet because you failed to “warn” them about something they felt strongly against? It’s a fine line, one that my co-workers and I often lament not really knowing how to straddle.
Of course, Disney straddles the issue as well. The event, the first Saturday in June (plus Thursday, Friday and Sunday) is an unofficial event by Disney standards. Cast members might welcome guests, who often wear red shirts in solidarity, to “family days” but no one at Disney calls it “gay days.” Still, in the last few years, rainbow colored pins, buttons and other souvenirs have been popping up during the event–and let’s not forget the cookies and cupcakes. Disney is one of the most gay-friendly companies in the United States right up to the top management, but they’re also a company that caters to families off all political and religious persuasions. Making everyone happy is no easy task.
I went to Gay Days last June with a group of guys and a couple of women. As you might imagine, it was your stereotypical Will and Grace situation (frankly, I liked Karen better), many times over. But that’s where the stereotypes ended. Some of the guys in our group were long-term couples, buttoned up with important jobs, grateful to be able to let loose for the weekend. Some were older, some were young. There was even a conservative republican in the bunch! And I saw these groups repeated many times all over the parks. I also saw lesbian moms with kids, looking like moms everywhere with their yoga pants and Starbucks cups, pushing huge strollers, the only difference being there were two moms instead of a mom and dad. And I saw two-dad families too, although they were usually better dressed than your typical dads, to be honest. What I’m saying is, I saw a lot of nice people and families.
At a certain point, I said to a friend of mine “You know, this was not what I expected.” I’ve literally seen worse things standing in line for It’s a Small World (darn teenagers!) or in the middle of Main Street during Christmas week while a man cursed loudly into his phone. But I had heard the stories, and it was confirmed that yes, off property at hotels that are part of the event, things get a little wild. And you know what? I would expect that with groups of 20-somethings anywhere, gay or straight. It’s why I would never vacation in Panama City during spring break or well, ever. But on Disney property, things looked pretty much like they always do but with more manageable crowds. I told my friend this and he deadpanned “You’re sworn to secrecy. Let people think it’s like a gay pride parade in the 70s. Keeps the crowds down.”
So what should you expect? Well, a lot of the above. Disney resorts are, as you might expect, not where a lot of parties take place. If you stay off property and want to avoid parties, don’t go to a hotel that’s booking Gay Days Packages. Trust me, you won’t accidentally book one of those. Every year, the gay day’s schedule is as follows:
- Thursday: Animal Kingdom
- Friday: Hollywood Studios (coincides nicely with Star Wars Weekend)
- Saturday: Magic Kingdom (this is the big event and the one with the highest crowds)
- Sunday: Epcot (expect groups “drinking around the world” much like during Food & Wine)
Crowds are probably at their worst on Saturday in the Magic Kingdom since that’s the day when most attendees will visit the parks. Having said that, that Saturday was the only time I’ve ever waited less than 30 minutes for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which I rode several times, since it opened. In fact, it was the absolute most relaxing time I have ever spent in the Magic Kingdom. One caveat: I found that dining reservations were more difficult to get and I’m guessing that it’s due to the fact that there’s a higher number of single people eating at the better restaurants. This is just anecdotal, of course.
Since these aren’t official events, you won’t find an actual schedule of activities, but there are lots of unofficial events that you can join like sing-a-longs at Country Bears Jamboree (sounds pretty wild, right?) and meet ups for drinking around the world at Epcot. If you want to take part in some group events, you can find folks on Disney message boards who would be happy to add you to their group.
Ultimately, I’m finding most of my clients don’t care about Gay Days and are happy to hear that they can expect lower crowds. The ones that do care? I’ve had a couple. One family I sent anyway and they came back with nothing but good things to say about their trip. But I’ve also moved families who were not comfortable visiting during that time. And that’s okay. Because here’s the thing: You don’t have to want to go to Disney World during Gay Days. Your feelings are your feelings, as are your beliefs, and it’s not for me to judge or to try to change your mind: At some point, I sunk into the comfortable realization that I can like someone, even love someone, and they can be very different from me.
Bottom line, go, don’t go. Do what makes you feel most comfortable. Know that the parks are generally going to look like they do every day of the year. Enjoy the lower crowds. Avoid the off site hotels catering to groups if that’s not your thing. And have a magical day.