When I moved to Florida last year, I had no idea how much the state had to offer in LGBT-friendly getaway destinations. Most people think of Key West, Ft. Lauderdale, St. Petersburg, and Orlando as the top LGBTQ destinations of choice. But Collier County’s Marco Island is another location that’s worth putting on your getaway list!

Although not as packed with gays and lesbians as St. Petersburg and not featuring nightly drag shows like Key West, Marco Island offers a romantic and relaxing vacation for all couples, including those who identify under the LGBTQ umbrella.

Last month, a friend and I stayed at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort during Collier County’s 15th Annual Tourism Star Awards. The Marriott hotels have long been known for their LGBTQ and diversity training and the JW Marriott was no exception.

From the moment we arrived, the service was top notch. The bellboys, front desk staff, and concierge were all friendly, welcoming, and helpful.

After checking into the hotel and unpacking our things in our stunningly spacious gulf-view balcony room, we were ushered to the beach to join other guests for a private Catamaran Adventure. We hopped into the Marriott van, which drove us to the dock for our departure.

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Beach view from our hotel room balcony looking over the Gulf of Mexico. (Image by Rachel Stevenson)

The large sailing vessel toured us along the Gulf of Mexico, then through the local canals, to a secluded sand bar packed to the brim with seashells. We walked along the shore, filling our pockets with sand dollars and mini conch shells, then boarded the catamaran for our journey back to the hotel.

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Private catamaran tours are available at the Marco Island JW Marriott Hotel (Image by Rachel Stevenson)

Following the 2.5 hour excursion, we had worked up an appetite, so we headed to the hotel’s Kane Tiki Bar & Grill for a light lunch. Kane’s sits right on the beach and offers panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico and delicious Indonesian street food. Per the bartender’s suggestion, I ordered the strawberry-ginger margarita and honey siracha-glazed crispy chicken wings.  Mid-food moan, the bartender suggested we return later that evening for their rum and cigar experience. I agreed.

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Tiki Bar and Grill. (Image provided by Marriott)

After lunch, we splashed around in the Tiki Pool, one of the hotel’s two large pools. The Tiki pool was abustle with children enjoying the pool’s waterslide and fountains. Looking for a more adult experience? Then check out Quinn’s pool for added relaxation.

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The Tiki Pool caters to kids and families while Quinn’s Pool caters to a more adult audience. (Image by Rachel Stevenson)

For dinner, we met friends at Quinn’s on the Beach. The sunset view was sensational and the food was fabulous! I ate the shrimp tacos and shared guacamole and chips with the table. As happens every night during sunset, at 6:00 PM, a fire dancer entertained restaurant patrons and hotel guests. He danced along the sand,  fire stick in hand, as audience members stared in amazement.

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A fire dancer entertains hotel patrons at Quinn’s on the Beach (Image by Rachel Stevenson)

As promised, after dinner, we made our way back to the Tiki Bar for rum and cigars. I’m no rum connoisseur, but the rum we enjoyed that evening was, by far, the best rum I had ever tasted. According to the bartender, the rum is exclusive to five locations in the world and the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort is one of them. So if you visit the Tiki Bar during your stay, make sure to take part in this unique experience.

Back in our room, we sat on the balcony to take in the evening views and then we each curled up in our beds for much-needed sleep. We were grateful that the beds felt as comfortable as they looked.

In the morning, prior to attending the 15th Annual Tourism Star Awards, I strolled along the beach with my camera to capture the beauty of the morning coastline. Instead of a sit-down breakfast, we opted for coffee and pastries at Cafe San Marco. The adorable Cafe offers an intimate coffee house setting with several on-the-go options.

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The beautiful Marco Island coastline. (Image by Rachel Stevenson)

The award banquet room was impressive, too.  We collected our name tags in the lobby before proceeding to our tables for lunch. The room was filled with dozens of round tables and plenty of space. A large stage was set up in the front of the room for the afternoon presentations and a special performance by Sheena Brook, a lesbian country singer-songwriter who previously appeared on the Voice.

We headed back to St Petersburg after lunch, but were sad to leave. Our visit to Marco Island was short, but magical. In fact, I haven’t stopped talking to friends about the island since I left. The best part about staying at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort is that you can venture out to explore the island, or you can enjoy a weekend visit without going anywhere, because everything you need is right on property.

In general, the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau (also known as “Florida’s Paradise Coast”) is taking great strides to make Collier County more inviting to LGBTQ travelers by updating their website with pictures of authentic LGBTQ couples, promoting regional LGBT events, and supporting area LGBT-owned businesses, especially those catering to the travel industry.

In 2017, Naples (only 30 minutes from Marco Island), hosted its first ever Pride Festival. This year the festival returns on June 2nd.