Wet Hot Gay Summer! Orlando’s big gay weekend succeeds despite the weather and a year of mourning

By : Billy Manes
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ORLANDO – It was the best of times, it was the wettest of times.

Whether it was a pool party or a thunderstorm, the underlying theme beneath the gray skies of Orlando’s resort area in its big gay weekend occupying June’s first week was one of water falling, often with thunder and lightning included.

For 27 years, GayDayS Inc., One Magical Weekend and Girls in Wonderland have been tourism drivers for the area, growing from simple notions of red shirts at theme parks all the way to huge circuit parties and even bigger profits. In economic development parlance, the annual June event brings hundreds of millions of dollars to the region.

“This year has been a really interesting year, granted we were one year out from Pulse tragedy,” says GayDayS director of entertainment Steve Erics. “It definitely set a different tone for the attractions and different events.”

However, he says, celebrants remained undeterred. There were 400 rooms reserved at the official host hotel The Doubletree by Hilton by first-time visitors, he says. In the wake of the Pulse nightmare, “A lot of them wanted to find new ways to celebrate.”

While official numbers have yet to materialize so soon after the event, Erics says that Disney reported that it was at “phase one” by 11:30 a.m. Saturday, meaning it was nearing capacity. Universal Orlando likewise reported that it was experiencing “larger numbers than expected,” he says.

And though the poor weather blanketed a large portion of the weekend, the main event carried on through the circumstances. It changed, as they say, for the good.

“Since Pulse, there’s just been a lot of love,” Erics says. “No matter who you are,.”

One Magical Weekend events coordinator Tom Christ concurs. That event, which is separate from the GayDayS brand, centered its events on the B Resort and Spa and House of Blues.

“We were up from last year for sure with Typhoon lagoon,” he says. “The venue at Hollywood Studios was a little smaller Friday. Disney told me that their numbers were up more than the system was telling us. We were very pleased with the attendance all weekend long. It was unbelievable, and then suddenly the Wednesday before we start, it starts raining.”

Just in case, the planners, minus microphones, made the decision to keep the party going indoors back at the B Resort and Spa at Disney Springs.

As for next year, spirits remain high for One Magical Weekend, he says.

“Absolutely full-speed ahead. I think next year, we can expect an increase in attendance,” he says. “If you look at the audience, it’s a shifting audience. Everyone thinks we’re the circuit hotel, the drug hotel. That’s just not true anymore.”

Yesi Leon, co-owner of the lesbian-themed Girls in Wonderland extravaganza shares in the feeling of optimism amid the clouds and darkness.

“I thought it went really well. People showed up,” she says, referring to the 6,000 women she estimates attended events. “People did ask more about security this year. More people volunteered to make sure people were secure.”

Next year, the GayDayS brand hopes to expand on its annual Miss GayDayS pageant and this year’s inaugural Mr. GayDaySLeather competition, all under the overarching theme of Mardi Gras.

“We’re always going to continue looking at new ways to build,” Erics says. “We want to be a little more over the top and a little more flamboyant!”

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