The very first GayDays at Walt Disney World was really just a GayDay: On the first Saturday in June 1991, hordes of LGBT folks and friends — proudly decked out in red t-shirts for visibility — descended on The Magic Kingdom for a day of fun and celebration.
This spring’s event will be the 28th GayDays! And everybody knows the now nearly week long extravaganza touches down in Orlando every year at the same time, the week of the first Saturday in June. But for the last few weeks, we’d been hearing rumors that both the date and host hotel for GayDays 2019 might be changing, so we went straight to Chris Manley, who owns and produces GayDays with his partner Tommy, to get the skinny.
How did you get the idea to start GayDays?
Actually, it was a grassroots effort 28 years ago by the community, and it took off the first year in the parks. It slowly grew every year. Tommy, my partner, bought the domain name, and we decided to start a full weekend.
From the idea, how long did it take for you to produce the first year?
That first year we did a host hotel and parties.
How long did it take for the weekend to become successful?
It took a few years for the GayDays weekend to really become what it is. In my opinion, it grew so big for several reasons: our dedication to delivering a quality product, the fact that Orlando was already a popular destination, and, believe it or not, other promoters popping up to host their own events also helped — that brought more people, which only made GayDays weekend even bigger.
What’s the most successful part of GayDays?
The support that we give to nonprofits. Most attendees aren’t aware of us giving back, but I am definitely most proud of that because, in addition to a fun weekend, we are helping those in need. Another thing I’m proud of is the increased exposure we’ve given Orlando as a fantastic LGBTQ vacation destination.
How did you come to the Doubletree Hotel at Universal, and how long have you been there?
We were originally at the Summerville Suites. That was very small, so we moved to the Palace and then the Hotel Royal Plaza, where we were for nine years. In 2004 Hurricane Charley damaged the Royal Plaza, and it was closed for renovations, so we went to the DoubleTree in 2005, and sold it out in 3 months. It’s centrally located for all of Orlando’s attractions. After that, the management at DoubleTree got greedy, so we went back to the Royal Plaza. A couple years later, they went bankrupt, and DoubleTree wanted us back. And the rest is history.
I hear you’re switching hotels next year. Why the change?
Our weekend was booked right out from under us by the DoubleTree, so we had to move. We looked around the city, and we settled on the Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive, which we believe our guests will love. It’s in the heart of Orlando’s tourist area. In addition to the restaurant in the hotel, there are five or six other restaurants on the same block. Also, there’s free parking, and 2/3 of the rooms have private balconies or, on the first floor, patios.
I hear the dates are also changing. Why?
In 2019 we are moving to August 13–18. The traditional week for GayDays was originally one of the weakest tourism weekends of the year for Orlando, so we could always get our guests good deals from the hotels. Today, that first week in June is one of the city’s busiest, and it’s hard to find a deal. Also, over the years we’ve gotten lots of feedback from educators and students who couldn’t come that first weekend of June. So, we thought the middle of summer would be better. The date change will open it up to more people. The later date will also allow us to market to more Floridians at St. Pete Pride and the Stonewall Street Festival — and to Californians, too, at both L.A. and San Diego Prides.
So, you believe the schedule and hotel changes will make GayDays better?
We try and improve the events and increase customer satisfaction every year. I think the hotel’s location — with all the shops, restaurants and shows so close — will really take the weekend to the next level. There are so many fun things to do, just steps away.
What does the future hold for GayDays?
Hopefully, 28 more years! We’ll be opening reservations for GayDays 2019 on the Saturday of this June’s event. Beyond that, we are looking at a second city!