One For All and All For One
Orlando hosts annual Gay Days and one-year anniversary tribute to Pulse victims
As the award-winning Hamilton composer, lyricist and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda proclaimed during last year’s Tony Awards ceremony, “Love is love is love is love.” The date was June 12, 2016, and the world had awakened that morning to news of a mass shooting in Orlando – the deadliest in U.S. history. A lone gunman walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub, and opened fire. It was a shocking and heinous act of terrorism and hate against the LGBTQ community.
However, the attack that was meant to divide people instead brought them together like never before. That Sunday, thousands of Central Floridians waited in multi-hour lines in the hot sun to donate blood. Others delivered water and food to blood donors, as well as to first responders who were still working the scene.
In the weeks following, locals and visitors alike paid their respects by leaving flowers, candles and handwritten notes on the sidewalk and fencing around the nightclub, which was put in place to secure the crime scene. On several occasions, the community gathered to mourn, as well as to send messages of love and hope, and to show the world that hate has no place in Orlando — or anywhere else for that matter.
Around the globe, people took to social media to show their unity, sharing hashtags such as #LoveWins, #SomosOrlando (We are Orlando), #OneLove, #OnePulse and #OneOrlando.
In the months and now nearly the year that followed the Pulse tragedy, the nightclub has remained closed, the memorials have been removed and the community continues to heal. While it will never fully recover from the wounds left by the senseless act of violence that night, it continues to grow stronger – together.
On June 12, 2017, the one-year anniversary of the shooting, the Central Florida and LGBTQ communities will once again come together to honor the 49 lives lost, as well as the survivors, during Orlando United Day – A Day of Love and Kindness. Activities include a public gallery display of Pulse memorial items, the unveiling of the Sea-to-Sea Flag and readings of the 49 names, among others.
Prior to the Pulse tribute, more than 180,000 members of the LGBTQ community are expected to flock to Orlando for the city’s annual Gay Days event, which celebrates diversity and inclusion for all.
Happy (Gay) Days Are Here Again
Hosted by Walt Disney World Resorts, Gay Days is a vacation celebration for the LGBTQ community. This year’s festivities kick off May 30 and run through June 5 and include pool parties, expos, competitions, concerts and more, as well as visits to all of the Disney theme parks. Getting to each of the Gay Days events around town is easy — when you use E-Z Rent-A-Car, that is. Pick up a cute and sporty Hyundai Accent or Kia Rio at the airport counter and set your navigation for magical adventures.
Speaking of magic, this year’s Disney “Red Shirt Days” include:
- Animal Kingdom (June 1) — What’s new: Pandora — The World of Avatar transports guests to a “visually stunning world complete with floating mountains and bioluminescent plants.”
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios (June 2) — What’s new: Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks show “puts guests in the middle of the action as they gaze upon Tatooine’s famous twin suns, fight through an army of Trade Federation battle droids, navigate a swirling asteroid field, rocket down the Death Star’s narrow trench and deliver a heroic final blow to Starkiller Base.” Also, The Music of Pixar Live, which opens at the end of May, is a nightly, live concert series featuring soundtrack favorites from Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars” and Up.
- Magic Kingdom (June 3) — What’s new: The Happily Ever After fireworks show takes you through 17 Disney stories brought to life through “more lasers, lights and projections than any other fireworks spectacular in the history of the Magic Kingdom park.”
- Epcot (June 4) — What’s new: Frozen Ever After, which replaced Maelstrom in Norway, celebrates “a very special Summer Snow Day with Queen Elsa, Anna Olaf, Kristoff and friends, where you’ll be whisked away for an on-the-water journey through Arendelle — set to the tune of your favorite songs from Frozen.”
If you’re extending your trip to attend the Orlando United events, be sure to check out some of the other new attractions in the area, such as:
- Disney Springs – Formerly known as Downtown Disney, Disney Springs underwent a major transformation and expansion, adding numerous dining, shopping and entertainment options. Restaurants that opened in 2017 include Paddlefish, Planet Hollywood Observatory and The Polite Pig.
- Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon – In March, Typhoon Lagoon opened Miss Adventure Falls, a family raft ride that takes guests on a two-minute whitewater adventure through Captain Mary Oceaneer’s treasures.
- Universal Orlando Resort – Last summer, Universal’s Islands of Adventures park opened Skull Island: Reign of Kong, which takes riders on an exciting 3-D expedition where King Kong battles a T-Rex. This year, Universal Studios debuted Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon that lets guests “send a ‘thank you’ note, see Hashtag the Panda and enjoy a hip-hop barbershop performance by the Ragtime Gals” before joining Jimmy in a fun-filled race through New York City. Also, Universal celebrates the grand opening of its Volcano Bay water park at the end of May.
In addition to the attractions, Central Florida has plenty of other great things to do. Hop in your car and cruise over to:
- Alive After Five (Downtown Sanford)Join some locals for downtown Sanford’s monthly Alive After Five street party, where you can jam to live music, check out local artists and enjoy delicious food and drinks. The next soiree is June 8 from 5 to 8 p.m. (Drive time: 45 minutes to 1 hour)
- Blue Spring State Park (Orange City) — Put on your bathing suit and jump into crystal-clear Blue Spring, where you can tube, swim or snorkel in the constant 72-degree water. If that’s too cold for your tootsies (and other bits), you can stay dry and enjoy the spring from a canoe or kayak, or take one of the guided boat tours. If you’re feeling lucky while you’re in town, put on your best “p-p-p-poker face, p-p-p-poker face” and stop by Orange City Racing and Card Club, where you can bluff your way through a game of Texas Hold ’em, Seven Card Stud or Omaha. (Drive time: 1 hour)
- Bok Tower Gardens (Lake Wales) — Take a break from the hectic pace of tourist life and step into acres of tranquil, historic gardens, watch for some of the 126 species of birds and appreciate the beautiful music played by the Singing Tower, a 250-foot, 60-bell carillon. (Drive time: 1 hour)
- Church Street District (Downtown Orlando) — Check out Downtown Orlando’s historic Church Street District, which features restaurants such as Hamburger Mary’s, Wahlburgers and Harry Buffalo, as well as a movie theater, art gallery and nightlife venues. (Drive time: 20 to 30 minutes)
- Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park (Homosassa) — Descend into an underwater observatory where you can come face to face with West Indian manatees every day of the year. You can also meet Lu, the park’s resident hippopotamus, who turned 57 in January and is the oldest living hippo in captivity in the Americas. Venture down the paved trails and boardwalks to try to catch a glimpse of some of the other native wildlife, which includes black bears, white-tailed deer, bobcats, river otters, and American alligators and crocodiles. (Drive time: 1 hour, 40 minutes to 2 hours)
- Enzian Theater (Maitland) — Soak up some culture in Central Florida’s only alternative cinema. Sit table-and-chair style or cozy up on one of the couches and nosh on truffle Parmesan fries, fried oysters, a Cuban sandwich or one of many other delectable menu items. Don’t worry, the theater has popcorn (and kettle corn), too. Upcoming films include Paris Can Wait on June 2 at 3:30 p.m. and Black Orpheus on June 10 at noon. (Drive time: 40 minutes)
- Gatorland (Orlando) — Journey back in time to the age of dinosaurs when you observe the prehistoric creatures that call Gatorland home. Thousands of alligators and crocodiles await you, along with a petting zoo, animal shows, free-flight aviary and the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line, which sends you soaring right above some of the park’s giant resident reptiles. (Drive time: 20 minutes)
- Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (Titusville)— Go out of this world and walk among giant rockets from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions; shake hands with an astronaut; experience the 1968 launch of the first manned rocket to the moon; strap in for an 8½-minute simulation of the space shuttle’s ascent into orbit; and, if you’re lucky, catch a live rocket launch. (The next launch, the SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-11, is scheduled for June 1 at 5:55 p.m.) While you’re in the area, soak up some sun and take a dip in the Atlantic at one of the many beaches located up and down the 72-mile-long Space Coast, such as Canaveral National Seashore, Port Canaveral’s Jetty Park, Cocoa Beach or the clothing-optional Playalinda Beach. Just don’t forget sunscreen! (Drive time: 1 hour)
- Orlando City and Orlando Pride (Downtown Orlando) — Don your best purple gear and get ready to cheer for a “GOOOAL!” at Orlando City Stadium, home of the Orlando City men’s soccer league and the Orlando Pride women’s league. Upcoming home games include the Lions vs. D.C. United on May 31 at 7:30 p.m. and the Lions vs. Chicago Fire on June 4 at 7:30 p.m., while the Pride take on the Boston Breakers June 3 at 7:30 p.m. (Drive time: 20 to 25 minutes)
- Paddleboard Orlando (Winter Park and other locations) — Explore one of Florida’s beautiful waterways while getting your workout on. Learn how to standup paddleboard on the Winter Park chain of lakes, the upper Wekiva River or Crystal River. If you’re an experienced paddleboarder, you can paddle through mangroves, gawk at million-dollar homes or maybe even see monkeys on one of the group’s intermediate/experienced tours. (Drive time: 35+ minutes)
- Popcorn Flicks in the Park (Winter Park) — BYO blanket and snacks and enjoy a free movie under the stars in Central Park. The next flick is Close Encounters of the Third Kind on June 8 at 8 p.m. (Drive time: 45 minutes)
- SAK Comedy Lab (Downtown Orlando)— If you’re a fan of Whose Line Is It Anyway? get ready to laugh your ass off during an evening of improv at SAK Comedy Lab, where Wayne Brady is an alumnus. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even take a free improv class and give it a shot yourself. (Drive time: 20 to 25 minutes)
- Tasty Tuesdays (Orlando) — Stuff your face at this weekly food truck rally in Orlando’s Milk District. You can choose from at least 12 food trucks and check out some of the local businesses, such as The Sandwich Bar and Etoile Boutique, which are open during the event. (Drive time: 25 minutes)
- Wild Florida (Kenansville) — Experience a piece of the real Florida. Climb aboard an airboat for an exhilarating ride, see alligators and other wildlife, take a ranch buggy tour through an old cattle operation, and have up-close encounters with sloths, porcupines and lemurs. (Drive time: 45 minutes)
- WinterClub Indoor Ski & Snowboard (Winter Park) — Escape the heat and hit the slopes – indoors. Swoosh down a snow-white mountain on one of two ski slopes or try out the panoramic ski simulator at WinterClub. Post-ski hot tub and roaring fire not included. (Drive time: 40 minutes)
- Zip Orlando (Kissimmee) — Skip the lines and experience real adventure in the treetops at Zip Orlando Canopy Tours, where you can travel through more than 4,500 feet of zip lines and more than 350 feet of aerial bridges. (Drive time: 25 to 30 minutes)
For the full schedule of Gay Days events, visit GayDays.com.
We Are Orlando
To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shootings, the City Beautiful has designated June 12, 2017 as Orlando United Day – A Day of Love and Kindness. The special tribute honors the memory of the 49 lives taken that fateful night, supports survivors and recognizes the love and compassion shown by the Central Florida community after the tragedy.
Community events and activities are scheduled throughout the day and include:
- Public Gallery Display
Orange County History Center, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Images of individual items collected at the Pulse memorial sites, plus curated pieces from the One Orlando Collection that feature community artwork and international support that was received following the tragedy.
- Unveiling of the Sea-to-Sea Flag
Orange County Administration Center, 10:30 a.m. Globally recognized symbol of the LGBTQ movement the flag symbolizes acceptance, understanding, education, solidarity and inclusion.
- Reflections and Remembrance
Pulse Nightclub, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Various community speakers, reflective prayers, a reading of the 49 names, a display of 49 wreaths and music.
- Orlando Love: Remembering Our Angels
Lake Eola Amphitheater, 7 p.m. Remarks by community leaders, musical performances and a memorial reading of the 49 names.
- Moments of Hope and Healing
Pulse Nightclub, 10 p.m.-midnight A final community gathering that includes prayers, live music, inspirational dance and reflection.
For the full schedule of Orlando United Day events, visit OrlandoUnitedDay.com.
Written by Christine Van Dyk