Travel

Nashville: "Adventures by Disney" Takes on Country Music’s Capital

So how does Happy Ending Central handle the land of broken trucks, lost girlfriends and dead dogs?


It’s happened to anyone with kids – the Ooo, I wish we had planned that better moment, when, for all your meticulous vacation planning, your kids get an eye- or earful of something you would rather explain ... never.

So when Adventures by Disney approached me, I was curious. It’s got the family-friendly cred to be sure, but it is one thing to come to Disneyland or Disneyworld, where everything is choreographed to within an inch of its life, and another entirely to take the show on the road to places outside Walt’s four-fingered white-gloved reach — and some places are damn proud of it, thankyouverymuch.

Where would I go? Someplace only sorta “Disney,” like Tampa or San Diego? Nope. Nashville, they said.

For anyone even remotely into Garth Brooks or Dolly Parton, this is for you.

Doing It Disney

And Disney starts right away with the gobsmacking. Because when I walked into the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, I thought I had landed in Vegas. This. Hotel. Is. Huge.

So huge, in fact, they give you maps and there is a multi-acre indoor arboretum-cum-village complete with boat rides the whole Jolie-Pitt posse could take with room to spare. Not bad for a first day. The breakfast serenade by a local talent the next day also went over well. Well played, Disney, well played.

Simply put, do not underestimate the omnipotence of that mouse. An after-hours visit to the Ryman Auditorium, sacred birthplace of modern country music? Sure! A tour of the legendary RCA Studio B? You betcha! A stop by the Bluebird Cafe, pretty much a holy site to anybody into country music, complete with a sing-along? No problemo!

The Bluebird Cafe; Leslie Satcher and Walker Hayes; Poster of Melissa Etheridge

Where Dreams Come True

But first things first: Nothing set off a stampede of good publicity like the TV show about the ups, downs, backstabs, and closet cases of country music set in the city that is the veritable cauldron of the industry. So it goes without saying we got a Nashville Nashville tour, complete with the actual homes and businesses used as backdrops, including the drugstore where Hayden Panettiere infamously stole the nail polish.

Then we got serious. You could be excused for thinking the Ryman is a particularly large church; its born-again founder, Thomas Ryman, made it to be just that, but when a money crunch in the 1920s threatened, the quick-thinking Lula C. Naff stepped in. The Don King of her generation, Naff snagged Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin, Katharine Hepburn, the Zeigfield Follies, Minnie Pearl, and even Theodore Roosevelt, turning the Ryman into one of the must-do stages of the nation. In a dazzling display of prescience, in 1943 she signed a local live musical review/radio show with a funny name, the Grand Ole Opry. It would stay there for the next 31 years, and virtually single-handedly introduced the world to country music.

To go to Nashville and not hear/see/feel/taste/touch country is like not seeing snow in Antarctica. It literally plays on street corners from little speakers on the lampposts. True country, I learned, is banjo-based, but any good art form adjusts to the time: The “Nashville Sound,” the studio-sculpted 1950s take on the genre, got the moniker thanks to the jangly nerves of some swivel-hipped country boy named Elvis Presley (in top photo) who got the vapors at the idea of flying and insisted on a Nashville-based studio.

RCA Studio B became the epicenter of the city’s growing musical presence; it was here that Presley recorded Are You Lonesome Tonight in one go. However, because the King was also highly sensitive to light, he demanded every bulb be turned off. He then sang magic ... until he headbutted the mic, which went off like a thunderclap in the equally darkened sound room. The mistake was fixed (a razor and some tape went a long way back then), but the studio recording of the song contains a faint “clickity-clack” in the last six seconds. It’s the remnant of the headbutt.

RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley recorded many of his songs. (Note the "X" on the floor.)

But do not think that Disney is content with trivia and a wander-through – au contraire! Near a small blue “X” on the floor where Elvis made music history, we all recorded our own song. Even got a CD of it.

Equally revered is the Bluebird, and if there was ever a place belonging in the “You Can’t Make This Up” column, this is it. A low-to-mid-range eatery stuffed into a strip mall, the floor space is cramped, its stage for the occasional live music tiny, and its ability to pump out hit-makers unprecedented from the moment Kathy Mattea and Garth Brooks got their feet in the door because – yes, this happens – a studio exec was lunching there at the time when they were the entertainment. Today, it is the place to play, people are lined up at the door, and you would have an easier time trying to get a table at Spago’s. Thanks to that mouse in the red shorts, we had the place to ourselves.

Along with the singers. As we munched on down-home mac-‘n’-cheese with bacon (humina-humina), Leslie Satcher and Walker Hayes brought out their guitars and showed what real talent sounds like. Satcher is traditional country, Hayes more GenX-y; Satcher has a voice so clear and strong the thought of her shouting strikes terror, and while I’m sure Mr. Hayes wants to be known for his music, I could not help but marvel at his arms, which are so thick I thought he would slice through the guitar strings.

Disney is also mindful of the history to be had; Nashville was long on the map before country music was. In the Appalachian hills outside the city, the Hermitage, the estate of native son and president Andrew Jackson, engages the local youth through its Junior Docents, who, in costumes of the era, act as guides for each part of the mansion and surrounding gardens. They are helped in part by Andrew Jackson himself, who shuttled us off to dinner and a traditional reel (a folk dance popular in the 1800s). But no “Song of the South” whitewash this; for all its stately presence, the Hermitage was at its core a plantation dependent on slave labor, a fact everyone involved acknowledges and, refreshingly, explores.

The Country Music Hall of Fame

Please Don’t Stop The Music

As far-reaching as Adventures by Disney is, I still had free time. I checked out the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum — can’t miss it, it looks like a piano — and it for anyone interested in country’s backstories, it is Ground Zero of Nashville (the “gold record walls” are selfie-city). A fun tangent for kids is Hatch Show Print, a latter-day woodblock printing press in the museum building where kids (and big kids) can make their own posters.

Hatch Show Print

After all the history, I was itching for something “now.” For that, I hit Broadway and its domino line of honky-tonks blaring out music from every window, door, and chimney. Like the Bluebird, icons like Tootsies and Honky Tonk Central are native habitat for country music’s newest acts.

Now for the catch: It is married to the over-21 crowd. Broadway is basically two rows of bars separated by a stretch of asphalt that is a madhouse by 5:30 p.m. A few G-rated sights are to be had – the Johnny Cash Museum and Goo-Goo Cluster candy factory – and with a little creativity, fun abounds. Can’t get into a bar? No problem; just hang out on the sidewalk and check out the local talent playing on the street corner (nab cone from the famous Mike’s Ice Cream to keep everybody happy). Kids and teens are more than welcome at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, but even here, the later it gets, the rowdier it gets.

Broadway

And this is where the Grand Ole Opry comes in. It’s five minutes from the Gaylord Opryland, a typical show is two hours, and it’s as pure as Donny Osmond. In 1969, it was clear the Ryman Auditorium was falling apart; in 1974, everyone, Opry included, had to move out. But even before the Ryman got its much-needed nip/tuck, the Grand Ole Opry House was already under construction; in 1974, without skipping a beat or missing a broadcast, the Opry show moved into the Opry House, and has gone strong ever since. Mindful of tradition, a disk of the Ryman stage was inset into that of the Opry House, symbolic of country music’s unbroken lineage.

Nashville

Of course it is on the Disney itinerary. Along with dinner. And a back stage tour. And a show. I was impressed.

M-I-C-K-E-Y…

And that is what it is like to see a city that has nothing to do with Disney through the Magic Kingdom lens. And best of all, at no point did an oversized rodent swoop in for a hug. I’ve got my limits.

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Travel

5 Fabulous Tips From Gay Dads for Vacationing with Kids

A family vacation with young kids is harder a vacation at all... unless you head this advice from our seasoned gay dads travelers!

It's the summer holidays, and that means family vacation! Now, vacations with kids under 8 might make you break out in a cold sweat, but we've got some tips for you from fellow gay dads to help make family trips easier. From road travel to flying, to helpful planning hints while away, these dads have got you covered.

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Travel

The Golden Age of Vacationing With Kids

WARNING: BUCKLE UP, YOU'RE ABOUT TO READ WAY TOO MANY GOLDEN GIRLS REFERENCES.

Ever feel like you need a vacation from your family vacation? For years, we did too. But I'm happy to report that we don't anymore. So what caused the big shift? I'll get to that. First, a little background.

For years, taking our son Max on road trips had its fair share of, shall I say, challenges. From New York City to London to San Francisco to Vegas… we traveled down the road and back again. And while we made wonderful memories along the way… these trips weren't entirely wonderful. Whether it was Max's inflexible sleep schedule, his limited food palate, potty training, his disinterest in walking or his inability to fully express himself, it never quite felt like a real vacation because we never got to actually relax. But now that Max is almost nine years old, we decided to give it another go… and so we booked a much-needed respite in Florida with one goal in mind — cheesecake — okay, two goals: we wanted to catch our breath!

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A Disney vacation is, for many, a once or twice in a lifetime experience. There's a gazillion articles full of Disneyland tips out there but our fresh take comes off of our first trip to Disneyland as a family of four. And gosh did we learn a lot.

Where to stay at Disneyland

The biggest cost for a family when visiting Disneyland what is of course either the transportation to Southern California or the actual Park tickets depending on how many days you are going. Lodging at Disneyland is also expensive, but there are ways to make sure that you are spending your money wisely.

I'm sure this is obvious to most people booking a Disneyland trip but staying in one of the three Disney properties is going to run you the highest hotel bill. There are lots of Good Neighbor Hotels very close to the park from which you can either walk or take the Anaheim Resort Transit. Book a good neighbor hotel and it doesn't even have to be one of the nicest ones, because seriously, how much time are you actually going to spend in your hotel? You are there to be either in Disneyland or California Adventure so just be sure that you pick a property that has great ratings for cleanliness and is close enough for how your family will spend their days.

When to go to Disneyland

One of the most common Disneyland tips we see is when to go to Anaheim with your family. There are a few different ways to determine what is going to be the right time when the parks aren't too crowded. Here are three tips to help you pick your dates for a Disneyland family trip.

Here in the United States we don't have a lot of holiday weeks. But we do have common periods when schools let out for mid-year breaks. This is the prime time for many families to make the journey to Disneyland. This is also when you will find the largest crowds and longest wait times for your favorite rides. If you're cool with pulling your kids out of school, pick a time when most schools, particularly in Southern California, hour in session. This might not coincide with your own kids' spring or winter break, but it'll be a great opportunity to have smaller crowds and win loads of awesome parent points for pulling your kids out of school.

Annual pass blackout days

If you are not familiar with Disneyland and its annual pass situations this might sound strange. There are different types of passes that Southern California residents and Beyond can purchase. Each pass has a different set of blackout dates during which they cannot use their passes for the parks. If you research the dates when the most number of passes are blacked out you may hit the jackpot for being at the park with a smaller crowd than usual.

True, blackout dates exist because that's when more people want to be at Disneyland or Disney's California Adventure, but keeping in mind vacationers philosophies about missing crowds and knowing it's busy paired with restrictions on passes and you will find the perfect balance of small crowds and swift lines.

Seasonal transitions

One of our favorite times to be in Disneyland is during holiday time. This is that special moment between Halloween and New Year's (or slightly after) that the park is decked out in lights, wreaths, and trees. Not only is it more festive than you can imagine but also plays off of the first tip we gave: a lot of kids are in school so not a lot of families traveling to Disneyland.

Saving money in the parks

You'd be surprised at all the different ways you'll spend money when you visit Disneyland. It's a lot more than just Park admission and accommodations. From dining in the Parks and random souvenirs, to necessities you didn't plan on that you have to purchase once inside, you can save.

Saving on dining

If you read a lot of family travel articles you'll find people praising and criticizing the families who always have their own snacks with them. Well, this is a necessary step to take both for saving money in Disneyland and for making sure the kids are happy. I don't know about you but our kids get hangry in a heartbeat. There's nothing quite like a hungry, angry child to ruin your magical memories. Be prepared with snacks in your pack at all times. It saves money and heartache.

For mealtime Disneyland tips, we'll tell you that the best options are the ones that are easy and a little out of the way. Does that not make sense? Basically, where the menus have simple options and ample seating you will find the swiftest and most cost-effective dining options. Example: The Hungry Bear Cafe in critter country keeps it simple with burgers or wraps. The menu is small and the cast members are efficient. There is a ton of seating and you can be in and out in a heartbeat for less than dining in one of the full service restaurants. Our favorite quick service dining option is Flo's V8 Cafe in Cars Land (Disney's California Adventure).

Saving on unplanned purchases

Does anybody ever plan to be stuck in Disneyland in the rain? No. But after one experience you'll know that you need to have an umbrella or a rain poncho at the ready. As silly as they are ponchos are the greatest invention ever for a rainy day in Disneyland. This is one of the Disneyland tips that we didn't listen to on our first trip there during a February long ago... and we were drenched.

Another way to save is by traveling with a backup battery/power bank to recharge your devices while you're in the Parks. Disneyland does have portable chargers that you can rent for a certain fee over the course of your visit, but do you want to spend $30 at a charging station when you could just bring your own power pack? No.

Souvenirs are their own thing. Of course there are loads of cute nick-nacks and t-shirts you could buy when you travel, to Disneyland or anywhere else, but do you need them? The best way to save money on souvenirs is to not go souvenir shopping. So simple. You could be doing many other fun things instead of browsing shelves of stuff. The exception to the souvenir thing is a good pair of Mickey Mouse ears. They're a must.

How to plan your days

Before we arrived in Disneyland with the kids we decided that there were a few key experiences we wanted them to have. We researched what times certain shows or parades were happening and then weighed that out against how much time we new they could last within the parks. For us the big-ticket experiences were:

Meeting certain characters

Download the Disneyland app to see where characters are in real time within the parks. There is also a paper guide that you can get when you enter either Park, but the app helped us land our two Disneyland unicorns: boom.

Experiencing Disney Entertainment

Again, the Disneyland app lets you know the times for everything as does the schedule. If you are going to be in the parks for several days don't stress about hitting three different parades in one day and also watching the fireworks. Plan on doing rides or dinner nearby a parade route so that when you are done with whatever you're doing you can just park yourself for a few minutes before the show starts.

Other experiences that might be high on your parent list of what you want your family to do in Disneyland could be different attractions or meeting every single character, so do what you have to do to make the experience as magical for everyone as possible. Don't add stress to it, use the tools that Disney has given you to make it easier.

Best way to capture memories

We wrote an article about tips for taking your best family travel photos, and I think the strongest suggestion we have from our list is to just be comfortable taking a family selfie. A family selfie means that everybody is in the photo so there's not one person missing from every single picture. A family selfie means that the kids will probably cooperate with you better than waiting for a stranger to take their picture. Family selfies bring you into the moment or into the action and you usually get some pretty hilarious faces.

Other ways to ensure you're getting great pictures in the Disney parks is to leverage character hosts (cast members who are hanging out with your favorite characters) and PhotoPass staff. The PhotoPass photographers that you find floating around the Disney parks won't just do their own pictures with the Disney cameras but they'll also help you with your own pics.

With a little planning and prep work, you'll no doubt have an awesome Disney vacation with your family. The biggest key to having fun once you're there is to keep a good attitude and don't get stressed. That's where the prep work comes in and believe me, keeping a relaxed state of mind throughout your whole Disney Experience is going to make it more fun and memorable for everybody.

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Politics

Utah Court Rules Gay Couples Can't Be Excluded From Surrogacy Contracts

The Utah Supreme Court found in favor of a gay couple attempting to enter into a surrogacy contract.

DRAKE BUSATH/ UTCOURTS.GOV

Earlier this month, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that a same-sex couples can't be excluded from entering into enforceable surrogacy contracts, and sent a case concerning a gay male couple back to trial court to approve their petition for a surrogacy arrangement.

As reported in Gay City News, the case concerns Utah's 2005 law on surrogacy, which was enacted prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state. As a result, the content of the law is gendered, saying that surrogacy contracts should only be enforceable if the "intended mother" is unable to bear a child. When a gay couple approached District Judge Jeffrey C. Wilcox to enter into a surrogacy arrangement, he denied them, arguing that the state's law only concerned opposite sex couples.

"This opinion is an important contribution to the growing body of cases adopting a broad construction of the precedent created by Obergefell v. Hodges and the Supreme Court's subsequent decision in Pavan v. Smith," according to GCN. "It's also worth noting that same-sex couples in Utah now enjoy a right denied them here in New York, where compensated gestational surrogacy contracts remain illegal for all couples."

Read the full article here.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Working:​ One Father's Plea for Gun Reform

One gay dad's plea to our leaders to enact sensible gun control

My articles on GaysWithKids aspire to be lighthearted, helpful and humorous. This one won't be any of those things. Because I'm feeling heavyhearted, helpless and sad. Last week I woke up to news of yet another mass shooting. This time at a family-friendly Garlic Festival in northern California. I don't know if it's because this one hit so close to home, or if it's because the headline included a picture of the innocent 6-year old who was among those killed, but I am overcome with emotion. But mostly I am angry. And I don't know what to do with my anger.

Then, just a few days later came two additional horrific mass shootings that stole the lives of at least 32 more innocent people, many of them children. And then there's the "everyday" gun violence that plagues American cities like Chicago, where guns injured another 46 people this past weekend alone… creating so much turmoil, a hospital had to briefly stop taking patients.

How does one verbalize the collective sadness felt around the world? One can't. And that's why I am asking everyone reading this article to commit to getting involved in some way, to help end this epidemic once and for all. Even though the solution is so obvious, we can't allow ourselves to become numb to mass shootings. Because becoming numb isn't going to save anyone.

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Politics

Gay Russian Dads Forced to Flee Moscow

Fearing the Russian government might take their adopted kids into custody because of their sexual orientation, Andrei Vaganov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev fled Moscow

A married couple in Russia, with two adopted children, were just forced the flee their home in Moscow for fear that the authorities would take their children away, according to German news site Deutsche Welle.

Trouble started last month after investigators in Russia opened a criminal inquiry into the proceedings that had allowed the gay couple, Andrei Vaganov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, to legally adopt the two boys —adoption by LGBTQ people in Russia has typically not been recognized. The government became aware of the adoption proceedings after the gay couple brought their 12-year-old son to the hospital, who was complaining of a stomachache. The boy was fine, but after he mentioned offhand that he was adopted and lived with two fathers, the doctor called the police.

Andrei and Yevgeny granted an interview with Deutsche Welle after escaping Moscow, but on the advice of their lawyers have yet to disclose where they are currently located. Here is a quick recap of that conversation:

"In connection with the 'propaganda of non-traditional values,' the state representatives are accused of having neglected their duty of supervision," Andrei said, when asked to explain on what basis the Russian government might take his children into custody. "This means that lesbian couples could even have their biological children taken away because, through their lifestyle choices, they propagate "certain values."

Yevgeny also explained the events that led to the couple's harrowing escape "I was alone in Moscow at that time. A week after Andrei and the children had left the country, there was a knock on my door, but nobody called 'police, open up.' After half an hour the violent knocking stopped. My parents' home was searched. They were looking for the children and our Danish marriage certificate because we got married in Denmark in 2016. My friends then got me out of the country."

Read the full interview here.

Gay Dad Family Stories

This Couple is Using 'Wheel of Fortune' Winnings to Help Fund Their Adoption

Need to raise money for your adoption fund? Why not try your luck on Wheel of Fortune like these guys!

Doug and Nick Roberts connected three and a half years ago via a dating app, and on their first date, the two immediately felt a connection. Doug, a psychologist, and Nick, a neuroscientist, were married 18 months later. Today the couple live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and they're ready to start their next exciting adventure together: fatherhood.

The husbands would like to have children, and Nick has always wanted to adopt. "We considered surrogacy, and may consider it in the future as we expand our family," said Doug, "but right now, it is cost-prohibitive. Adoption was easily the right choice for us as we begin to grow our family.

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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