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Do WE Belong? Experience is Always Personal

Written by Jon Drachenberg

My husband Jason and I recently took a short trip to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, a favorite childhood destination of mine, just to unwind after several chaotic weeks of packing and moving across the city. We were seriously beat, and looking for something much more low-key than our usual trip to a theme park.

LGBT Travel Experience

We just wanted to blend in and melt away!

Being a same-sex couple, planning a getaway often requires a little extra research. I tend to search LGBT travel sites like Purple Roofs so I know we’re headed someplace we will not have trouble with locals or receive subpar service. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where businesses will gladly take our money while making us feel like intruders. (True stories for later?)

Our challenge when searching for LGBT friendly vacation spots is that the places we find are those that specifically seek to be listed as LGBT friendly, so they often tend to either be flouncy, overly effeminate bed and breakfasts, wild and crazy gay-specific resorts, or over the top with amenities (aka too expensive!) “Clothing optional pool area!?” No thanks, not for us! Claw-foot soaking tubs, lace doilies… breakfast and wine-tasting with strangers? Again, not really our speed. 

LGBT travel + rustic + not a “cruising” area =??

This seems to be an equation that does not compute in the LGBT travel industry! We just wanted a quiet cottage where we could keep to ourselves in a peaceful, rustic setting that doesn’t look like it was decorated by our grandmothers, and we had a really hard time finding the right fit for us.

After an intensive search, we were lucky to find a helpful review of Cliff Dwellers resort on TripAdvisor. The reviewer mentioned that they felt very welcome as a same-sex couple.

This was just one person’s opinion,  and though an email response from owner Layla assured me “everyone is welcome” I was not totally convinced, as that can also mean “If your money is green…” But we really liked what we saw on the website, and the price was right.

Guest Experience
We booked 2 nights in this cozy, well-appointed “Aspen” cottage.

But are we REALLY welcome?

Upon arrival at the rental office, we were greeted by Layla, who gave us a quick orientation and showed us a map of areas around town and in the resort such as where to find the complimentary boats and bikes, the spa, the downtown area, the local parks, grocery stores, etc. She also let us know we’d find our own copy of this map folded into a card inside the cottage.

Still feeling a little exposed and apprehensive about acceptance, we walked up the beautifully landscaped flagstone pathway to our little Aspen cottage, and sitting on the table was the map Layla had mentioned.

LGBT Travel Experience

micromoment of the Month!

This adorable card is something they probably have printed out for every guest. And what a wonderful thing! They know their guests might need help finding their way around, not just in the resort, but around town.

But the folks at Cliff Dwellers had taken the time to write our names on the card- a microintraction many people would not pay any attention to… but seeing our names together, handwritten as an extra personal touch, immediately put our minds at ease. If they were not comfortable with our “lifestyle” as some people would put it, they could have skipped that part and we would not have known the difference. We were genuinely welcome. Yippee!

LGBT Guest Experience
Had they chosen this colorful mat just for us? I wouldn’t be surprised!


So, no longer being unsure about our decision to stay at Cliff Dwellers, we fully enjoyed 3 days and 2 nights of hiking, gorgeous sunrises, grilling, warming our toes in front of the fireplace, and an adventurous but unexpected detour on one of their rowboats, without a real care in the world. EXACTLY what we needed.

I mentioned adventure…

Jason and I decided to take one of the rowboats onto the bay. We got a little ambitious and decided to head for some bluffs way off in the distance. But realizing those bluffs were much farther away than they appeared, and that the water was becoming increasingly choppy, we decided to turn around and head back. Shortly after turning around, one of the oars snapped!

LGBT Travel Experience

After walking the boat 2 miles along shore on the wrong side of the bay, it started to rain and we heard thunder. I broke down and called the resort to ask for help. Layla responded like a superstar and sent her partner Paul, who I had a delightful conversation with the day before, to rescue us with his truck. He was there in minutes, with fresh towels for us, too!

Glad to be who we are, where we are.

On the drive back, we engaged in some light conversation with Paul, who was very friendly and seemed very interested in hearing about us. He also gave us an unofficial tour of Sturgeon Bay on our route, giving us a little history about the nearby shipyard and the local culture as we drove past points of interest.

Many would say being “marooned” ruined their vacation, but it was actually fun in its own way. I would not change it! We saw a lot of beautiful things along the way, and our adventure and “tour” with Paul were special little bonuses I would not trade for an uneventful trip back to shore.

Travel Experience

After returning home to Chicago, I received a friendly and personal follow-up email from Paul, letting us know he hopes we enjoyed our stay and would consider returning. But the part that really stood out to me was this:

I hope you are getting settled now into your new place. We were delighted to meet you and keep us in mind the next time you want to go yachting, haha.

Paul remembered why we booked our getaway from that brief exchange we had, and it wasn’t even a huge deal like a honeymoon or something.

That. Is. Awesome.

We will DEFINITELY be returning, and recommending Cliff Dwellers to our friends (and readers!)

What does it MEAN to your customer?

What a difference it can make when we’re reminded there’s another human- one who appreciates our business and cares about us as humans- on the other end.

Layla and Paul went far beyond the scope of “what can we help you with?” They actually listened to and remembered us as we are in real life, beyond the need for fresh towels and a clean bathroom. They remembered and acknowledged what the whole trip actually meant to us. And in our case, since we often don’t know for sure if we’re welcome someplace until we actually get there, it made a HUGE difference.

Experience is ALWAYS personal.

We have fears, concerns, expectations, and emotional connections to everything we do, no matter what. A business that’s mindful of those connections is what great experiences are made of.

Thanks again to Paul and Layla (and anyone else working behind the scenes) for making us feel welcome, allowing us to put the issue of acceptance aside right away, and giving us an experience we will always remember and cherish.

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