To build a truly transformative company, it takes a unique and dedicated team willing to rewrite the playbook rather than simply follow the rules. Each V Team member is fascinated by culture, history, and cuisine, with travel bucket lists that are driven by curiosity, hope for a better tomorrow, and the belief we can all can come to a deeper understanding of a place and its people.
The talented tribe of individuals who breathe life into VACAYA daily with their creativity, artistry, and know-how include our vacation planners, creative team, production team, finance team, and leadership team. Their collective efforts truly reflect VACAYA’s vision of diversity, inclusion, and fun.
In addition, each VACAYA trip is supported by a group of paid “camp counselors,” there to ensure every moment of your vacation exceeds expectations. We’ll introduce your trip-specific V Team members online shortly before we depart – giving you a chance to connect with them in advance. You’ll then meet them face-to-face on the first day of your trip.
The V Team will be ever present throughout your journey with us – ready to lend a hand in a moment of need, sensing and responding to everything going on around you, and adding to the general merriment that is VACAYA as they connect us all together, open our minds, and unify our rhythm.
To get a deeper sense of our team’s values and perspectives, we encourage you to visit our Blog page.
For Marketing, Sponsorship, Press, or Philanthropic Partnership opportunities, please reach out to VACAYA CMO Patrick Gunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Entertainment Submissions, please submit all relevant materials to VACAYA Production Associate David Plunkett at email@example.com.
For general Guest Service requests, you can reach our Vacation Planners at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, let’s meet THE V TEAM…
Aaron Kuehnert – Event Team Member
Meet Aaron, or as we like to call him, Daddy Delta. Between his time in the Disney College program and sashaying down the runway with Delta airlines, Aaron is an experienced sailor of the gay seas and can’t wait to expand his LGBT+ horizons! With years of bringing fun under the sun, Aaron is super excited to be able to deliver some of that first class service as a V Team member. If you don’t know Aaron, then you don’t yet know that if it’s fun and flirty, it MUST have his name on it… kind of like that husband of his, Kevin (also on The V Team)! It’s always a good time when The Kuehnerts are around. From competitive axe throwing to playing with elephants in Thailand, these boys are always up to something. Aaron is more than ready to ditch the apron, dust off the ol’ speedo, and bring you a vacation experience like you’ve never had before! Follow Aaron on Insta @ akuehnert.
Alex Bermea – Event Team Member
When a classically trained music teacher by day and a premier drag queen of San Antonio, TX by night has too much sense of adventure to be confined, what’s a guy to do? For Alex, the decision was easy: drop everything, move to South Beach, Miami, and devour the world as a flight attendant for American Airlines! Ever since 2016, Alex has shared 100’s of experiences with friends in over 40 countries – and he’s not stopping anytime soon! This crown holding drag queen, known as Penelope Devereaux, has got her sights set on the world and will lead the way to unforgettable adventures. Follow Alex on Insta @ pdevtravels.
Alysse Dalessandro – Diversity and Inclusion Specialist & Event Team Member
Alysse Dalessandro is a queer plus size fashion and travel blogger and influencer for the brand, Ready to Stare. Alysse has loved travel since her parents strapped her in for her first cross-country road trip as a baby. From summer beach destinations to historic tours, Alysse grew up traveling all over the US. As a college junior, Alysse crossed the pond for the first time to study abroad in Rome where she used her time wisely to visit 15 new cities and 9 countries. She has since accomplished her first big travel goal of visiting the eight hometowns of her great-grandparents across Italy and Sicily. Next up, she wants to visit every state in the US before she hits 40. At 40 states visited, she’s only got ten more to go! Though her work as a blogger and influencer started with a focus on fashion, Alysse realized the need for more plus-size queer female voices in travel and she began writing about her experience traveling at the crossroads of those identities. She’s happy to bring that passion for making travel more inclusive to The V Team. And don’t worry – Alysse still LOVES fashion and you can catch her giving the boys a run for their money on any costume night. You can reach out to Alysse through her website www.readytostare.com or find her on Insta @ ReadyToStare.
Annette Lewis – Event Team Member
For Annette, travel is all about connections and relationships. She loves to get to know everyone around her and help them connect to new people and new experiences. It’s a running joke with her lesbian friends that Annette’s first travel experiences were camping with her female High School PE teachers! This began a lifetime search for inclusive environments where everyone feels welcome to come as their true selves and explore exciting adventures and relationships. Annette and her husband Evan are both recently retired teachers and administrators at the Interlochen Arts Camp in northern Michigan. At Interlochen they served a diverse population of over 3,000 fine arts students and 200 camp counselors. Annette looks forward to bringing her experience as both an organizational master and Director of Fun to the VACAYA Team!
Chase McCall – Event Team Member
Chase is so excited to be part of VACAYA! He’s fortunate enough to have chosen a career that has allowed him to travel quite extensively all over the world. A current New York resident, he just finished the 20th Anniversary International Touring Production of RENT. Last summer the show took him to the Far East where he got to to spend ample amounts of time in China, Tokyo, and Thailand. The best week of his life was a week-long volunteer program at an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. Chase also worked a couple years on cruise ships as a singer doing Caribbean, Mediterranean, New England, and Alaska itineraries. Chase is so ready to make new friends and create memories that’ll last a lifetime with VACAYA! Follow Chase on Insta @ chase.mccall.
David Plunkett – Events & Guest Experience Production Associate
David traces his love of travel to the big blue station wagon his family (mother, father, three older brothers, one younger sister) used to road-trip to Chicago every summer. Although he prefers other modes of transportation these days, he still loves to travel to places whose names he can’t pronounce. (Hey, he was seven!) David is grateful to his longtime friend Randle for fanning the flames of travel desire by inviting him to join the teams at Atlantis, RSVP, and now VACAYA. David is an occasional actor and former professional dancer, and you may have seen him in a small role in the film The Best of Enemies, starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. When not traveling with VACAYA, David enjoys good food and wine with friends, attending theater, reading and listening to books, and traveling with his husband, Michael. Follow David on Insta @ DBillyP (a nickname from college, which you are welcome to call him!)
Evan Lewis – Event Team Member
Evan is a musician from who loves to connect with the LGBTQIA+ community and is super excited to travel with VACAYA. Evan recently retired from his teaching career, where he was the first public school teacher in Michigan to openly gender transition on the job. He and his wife Annette are dedicated to serving the trans and gender non-conformiing community and creating inclusive environments for everyone. Evan is often called on to speak to organizations, groups, and individual families about the unique issues that are faced by this community. He’s also a member of his church pastoral/parish relations team and was the leader of the Open and Affirming Team. He has a passion for supporting life enriching experiences for others through travel, music, and community. Evan and his wife Annette have raised five amazing children together and are excited to soon be new grandparents!
Evan Stenger – Event Team Member
Hailing from sunny Austin, Texas, Evan keeps most of his days busy with baking, gardening, gay dodgeball leagues, hiking, paddle boarding, and getting lost in various art projects. He also loves traveling and visiting new places. His thirst for travel began after college when he spent a summer in Barcelona, Spain as an au pair to a wonderful family, who he still keeps in contact to this day. Some of Evan’s most memorable experiences include backpacking around the Mediterranean on a poor college student budget, spending a weekend at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, and having a food war on a train in Vietnam! When Evan’s not flying around the world, he likes to relax at home with his fur babies: two dogs named Pudgers and Talia, a cat named Rocky, and a fennec fox named Milo! Follow Evan on Insta @ lakeside_fox.
Gabriel Goldberg – Photographer
Gabriel is a freelance photographer based in Los Angeles. He shoots advertising, editorial, and celebrities and constantly says to his subjects “Just one more!” before shooting at least ten more images. Before he took up photography, Gabriel was the founding Editor in Chief of Instinct magazine (remember magazines?!), but he will only correct your grammar if you ask nicely. Shooting for VACAYA is a dream because it mixes his love of travel with meeting fantastic new people from all over the world, and the camera gives him an excuse to meet and interact with each and every guest onboard the ship or at the resort. He loves the inclusivity of community VACAYA stands for and can’t wait to shove his lens in your face on the next trip. If you’d like to see his work, visit his website at www.GabrielGoldberg.com or follow him on Insta at @ g2fotog (family friendly) or @ hollywood_bruisers (the stuff you probably wanna look at).
Gabrielle Dorsey – Event Team Member
Known by both Gabrielle Dorsey and “Mercury Rising-Cox,” Gabby’s pronouns are she/they. She is a sober trans-woman of many talents: a flight attendant, an avid softball player, and FIERCE drag entertainer. Working for an airline has given Gabby the amazing opportunity to visit many places around the world. Her favorite international destination is Ireland, and her favorite place in the US is Portland. Gabby started playing softball when she was 22 and her team recently played in the Gay Softball World Series in Dallas, TX! Softball and drag keep her active and in shape. She’s a weekly cast member of The Stilettos Show at The Pub on the Drive in Wilton Manors. She started drag over a decade ago and was recently in Florida’s Imperial Sun Court, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that raises money for various charities/non-profits in the LGBTQIA community. Follow Gabby’s Instas @ mercuryrisingcox and enby_queer.
Ian Alejandro – Event Team Member
Ian is originally from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, but grew up in small-town Texas – Boricua with a cowboy twist! Only a short time after his move to The States, Ian was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. But despite living the day-to-day challenges of chronic illness, Ian has never let it stop him from pursuing his passions and dreams. He’d tell you it just makes him appreciate every moment more deeply. It was the first flight he took as an unaccompanied minor that opened his eyes to travel. He realized how vast the world was outside of his beloved island and even the larger-than-life Texas. This moment would lead to his decision to become a flight attendant nearly 24 years later. Ian regularly flies across the globe. With DFW as his hub, he’s seen much of the world. He lives to hear people’s stories and finds fulfillment in offering small acts of kindness to his passengers along the way. Ian has a loving partner, Phillip, who’s a realtor in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Phillip is his best friend and traveling “side-kick.” They love food – especially sweets (with the appropriate dose of insulin!). Phillip and Ian have a Chaweenie, Dragon, and a Conure parrot, Wizard. Ian’s life motto has always been “You get one life. Live it in a way that inspires others.” Ian loves to share laughs and memorable experiences with the friends he meets on each and every voyage! Follow Ian on Insta @ iamlamj.
Isaac Kleinsmith – Event Team Member
Isaac was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota even though his family lived in North Dakota. Thus the story of his complicated life began. After his father graduated from Trinity Bible College, he moved the family around a bit working as a pastor (yes, Isaac is a pastor’s kid) with churches in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Growing up, Isaac always found opportunities to engage with his communities. He took Mandarin Chinese the first year it was offered in school and he became known as “a club starter” in high school and college. Isaac received an award for being the most active freshman on campus, and even the Residence Life Director thought he lived on campus, when in fact he commuted to school. No matter where Isaac finds himself, he becomes the unofficial tour guide – from taking his family on a bar crawl the first night of a cruise to leading people around Provincetown the first time he visited the Cape. After traveling with VACAYA on multiple trips and engaging with the Team and Entertainers, Isaac decided to he wanted to become an official member of our paid event staff. So he applied, was hired, and the rest is history!
Isaac splits his time between Allentown, Pennsylvania and Fort Lauderdale, Florida and travels the world with his two partners, Robert and Rick. Isaac works for Robert’s McDonald’s franchise as the company’s Human Resources and Training Supervisor and is very proud of his work with the McDonald’s brand. He even had the opportunity to lead the company in 2022’s Chicago Pride Parade, holding the McDonald’s banner proudly. Would you like fries with that?
James Compton – Vice President, Guest Experience
From an early age, James was intrigued and inspired by the performing arts and “getting out to see things.” With over 30 years of studying, performing, and producing entertainment, James has led a gypsy life leading him to see a lot of the world. From his childhood in southern Indiana, to his days in New York as a young performer, to Wall Street and the Executive Search industries that formed his professional career, to creating a performing arts education company in St. Louis, and then producing events and live entertainment traveling the world with Atlantis Events & RSVP Vacations, James certainly isn’t afraid to learn something new or explore new places. Travel and Entertainment have fueled his life beyond measure. He is thrilled to bring that collective experience and zest to see more to VACAYA to create terrific events for our guests. James can’t wait to see YOU on one of our trips sometime soon! Follow James on Insta @ jamzcomp.
Jeff Drewno – Guest Services & Sales Specialist
Jeff is a recently retired elementary school teacher and principal of over 33 years and calls Michigan home. It’s Jeff’s passion for travel that brought him to VACAYA. He is READY for the new adventures ahead! Some of his favorite destinations include Palm Springs, Toronto, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Sedona, Las Vegas, and Puerto Vallarta. As a singer, he’s performed in cabaret and stage productions in Michigan, Chicago, and New York and is known to belt a Broadway show tune at the drop of a hat! Jeff is an avid runner and loves his time at the gym and with the gay men’s volleyball league in Michigan. Travel, singing, and volleyball are great, of course, but nothing beats his love for his fur baby Murphy! Follow Jeff on Facebook at @ jeffreydrewno.
Jennifer Eaglin – Guest Services
Jennifer is thrilled to be a member of The V Team. Born in Detroit, Michigan, as a young girl Jennifer moved around the state many times with her family. It was living in northern Michigan that provided unlimited outdoor experiences. Her summers were spent on Torch Lake swimming or tubing behind the family pontoon boat, climbing the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and hiking in the woods. During the long winters, she spent time downhill skiing, snowmobiling, and sitting fireside with friends. At the age of 18, she experienced her first Caribbean cruise, and it was this trip that inspired her to create a travel bucket list.
Jennifer graduated from Michigan State University, earned her master’s degree, and has been an educator for 25+ years. She is passionate about learning and challenging herself to experience all life has to offer. Although the school calendar dictates when vacations can occur, she and her wife, Johanna, an elementary school principal, are determined to find time to travel somewhere new every year. They have cruised to Alaska three times, the Caribbean, Mexico, and have wonderful memories of their time spent on the beaches in the Dominican Republic, dancing in the streets of New Orleans and Puerto Vallarta, visiting the pubs in Dublin, relaxing on the patio of their houseboat in Amsterdam, touring the castles in London, and most recently hiking the mountains in glorious Palm Springs, CA. She and Jo are preparing to explore a new continent soon, as they plan their trip to Taiwan and Thailand this November.
This flirty, fun, spontaneous Gemini is looking forward to meeting you and hopefully dancing with you to the wee hours of the morning! She’s ready to step away from her teaching role and provide you with a VACAYA trip of a lifetime! Follow Jennifer on Facebook @ jennifereaglin.
Joey Yawn – Event Team Member
Full of life and a passion for fun, Joey is both humbled and ecstatic to be joining the VACAYA team. Growing up in a small town in Florida where most of its residents are content with a slow-paced lifestyle, Joey’s desire to explore the world was always at the forefront of his mind. He eventually settled into a career in Retail Management, which he loved, but it didn’t allow him the time to mark off many of the destinations on his bucket list. Currently working as a real estate agent, Joey is now able to focus on his passion for travel. His favorite locations range from NYC to Vegas, Boston to Savannah, and Ptown to any cruise ship bound for exotic destinations. Joey brings his dynamic personality and love of life to each and every VACAYA guest; his gentle way and Southern Charm will always leave you with a smile on your face and laughter on your lips. Follow Joey on Insta @ jyawn76.
Johanna Pscodna – Guest Services & Sales Specialist
“Travel… be adventurous and experience it ALL!!” is Johanna’s mantra heading into her next phase of life as a retired elementary school principal. She grew up in Michigan with an athletic and adventurous family traveling around the United States to various tournaments, sporting events, and family vacations in their 32-foot Cruise Air motorhome. She’s travelled to 25 different countries and adding more each month. VACAYA trips to Antarctica and an African safari were trips that will be on her ALL TIME favorite trips list. Johanna especially enjoys traveling with family and friends and taking the lead as the unofficial “tour guide.” Now that she’s retired, they’re looking forward to traveling even more… whether by kayak, jetski, cruise ship, plane, or their future RV.
Jo thrives on entertaining others through her vivacious, charismatic, and fun-spirited personality. She often makes light of herself and has dreamed of being in the spotlight as a professional entertainer. However, lacking vocal talent makes that a challenge, but you’ll have to judge for yourself at our karaoke. Jo has a contagious smile that will draw you in and a personality that lights up every room. She will surely brighten your day! Follow Jo on Facebook @ johanna.pscodna.
John Finen – Co-founder
For as far back as he can remember, John has always had the travel bug. After moving from Nashville to NYC to pursue a career in the arts, he found his first professional gig touring around the US with the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble. Eleven thousand miles in a U-Haul truck that season was just the beginning. Combining his love of dance and travel, he spent 10 years on the road with the modern dance company MOMIX and many others. In the space of 5 years he’d visited and performed on 5 continents and over 100 countries. During his many years on the road, he was always able to find the most interesting places to eat and drink in any town. Dragging along fellow company members in his adventures earned him the nickname “Map Man” and he gained a trusted loyal following willing to share in his quests for adventure just off the beaten path. It was this international production experience and love of dance that ultimately led him to cruise ships and producing the largest LGBT parties on the seven seas. In fact, John has produced over 100 charter events with a diverse range of companies from Coachella and The Groove Cruise to Atlantis/RSVP. Follow John on Insta @ john_finen.
Joseph Love – Event Team Member
Since Joseph could walk, he was constantly dancing. And at 16, he finally went professional, which allowed him to travel and see the world. Through his work on stage, behind the camera, and recording music videos, he fell in love with the world, its many beauties, and the amazing people who fill it. Some of his all-time favorite destinations include New York, LA, Tokyo, Hawaii, Paris, Madrid, Thailand, Colombia, and The Netherlands. The pure surreal joy and bliss he experienced on his first trip with VACAYA was nothing like he’d imagined. “Euphoric” is the only word he can think of to describe his mind blowing and beautiful experience. And we’re thrilled to now have him with us regularly for our events. Joseph calls Dallas, Texas home and he’s a full-time Executive Chef there as well as a proud annual sponsor of the LGBTQ+ non-profit Legacy Cares. He also dabbles in interior design. Joseph was recently named Director of Operations for Unleashed, an LGBTQ event company whose mission is to bring the LGBT+ community together by featuring local Dallas talent, guest speakers, and artists at their events. In his spare time (what’s that?), he’s an up-and-coming shoe designer with his very own brand, Lux w/Luv. Follow Joseph on Insta @ the_josephlove.
Julie Croy – Event Team Member
Julie spent the majority of her adult life as an educator, coach, and mentor. Retiring only three short years ago, she continues to find herself teaching, coaching, and mentoring. Maybe it’s true that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. Julie brings energy and laughter to everything she does and loves to sprinkle joy everywhere she goes. When asked where her favorite vacation spot is, she says anywhere “on, in, or near water” (snow counts too!). As a lifetime Michigander, her heart belongs to the Great Lakes. Some of her favorite memories involve camping, hiking, skiing, boating, enjoying sunsets over Lake Michigan, and watching the Northern Lights on Lake Superior. While her world revolves around her four-leggeds, her wife, and her daughter, she will move heaven and earth to spend some quality time with her beloved Cher! You can be sure to find Julie wherever there is sun, water, good music, and good friends.
Justice Simmons – Event Team Member
Justice loves traveling the world. He’s been doing so since 5th grade. Born in Chicago, Illinois, he’s made his way through New Mexico, Arizona, and now resides in the Lone Star State of Texas! He currently works in the field of addiction treatment, and is the operations manager for an outpatient facility in San Antonio. He has an absolute passion for helping others and bringing smiles to faces everywhere he goes. Justice loves to make new friends and sharing his art of drag with the world. Follow Justice on Insta @ Justice.Simmons.507 or jazminediamondfillups.
Justin Derry – Event Team Member
Justin Derry is a performer, singer, and nurse from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He’s worked in the healthcare industry for over a decade, specializing in outpatient Hematology/Oncology Infusion. When it comes to serving his patients, Justin focuses on understanding their needs, empathizing with them, and bringing a smile to their faces at every opportunity. In his free time, Justin performs with a number of theater companies in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and is a resident troupe member at Music Mountain Theatre in Lambertville, New Jersey. He enjoys spending time in Walt Disney World every chance he gets, and he looks forward to continuing his travels with VACAYA after having been a guest on 4 resort trips. Justin’s goal is to travel the world, so that he can experience different cultures, taste different cuisines… and visit every Disney park! Follow Justin on Insta @ jd_rn.
Kevin Dekimpe – Videographer
Kevin is a performer, composer, and visual artist in various mediums. He likes to say he “picked up the VACAYA videography torch from Matt Palazzolo and hopes to do him proud on the VACAYA video team.” And that he has. Kevin loves working to showcase the Vacayans on these gorgeous getaways through video. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan and then ran to East Los Angeles (which he now considers home) to be immersed in the LA art scene. In California, he and his merry group of friends put on queer interactive art shows around Los Angeles. To learn more about Kevin, visit his website at www.kevindekimpe.com and follow him on Insta @ fatrubberducky.
Kevin Kuehnert – Event Team Member
Uh oh… here comes trouble! Meet Kevin, who’s SUPER excited to be a V Team member! And if having Kevin wasn’t enough, he’s joined by his devilishly handsome husband, Aaron. So don’t miss the opportunity to hang and party with this dynamic duo! When they aren’t out kayaking or cheering on the Orlando City Soccer Club, they’re crossing off yet another travel destination from their bucket list. Like Aaron, you can find Kevin at 39,000 feet attending the friendly skies, but don’t let those looks fool you… while Kevin is a Flight Attendant for JetBlue Airlines, he’s recently earned his Masters of Public Administration degree from the University of Central Florida (GO KNIGHTS!). Follow Kevin on Insta @ thekuehnerts.
Lauren Benson – Finance Team Member
With over two decades of experience in her field, Lauren is a seasoned financial professional. She currently operates a tax preparation and financial services firm in Warwick, Rhode Island and handles all things money with VACAYA. Travel, however, is her real passion. Owning her own business allows her to steal time for the many adventures she’s well known for among friends and family. Throughout the years, she’s ticked off 49 states (looking at you, Alaska!), and an impressive range of countries and destinations in all corners of the world. Lauren is excited to be a part of the VACAYA team and can’t wait to continue exploring and experiencing the world in years to come. Follow Lauren on Insta @ lpetrarca1.
Lester Brown – Event Team Member
Lester is a retired banker and private client relationship manager of 28 years. He considers himself fun, exciting, energetic, and full of life!! Giving back is a big part of who he is. Serving on many boards and engaging in many volunteer opportunities such as Memphis in May International Festival, World Championship Barbeque cooking contest, Playhouse on the Square-Memphis, The Arc Mid-South, Friends for Life, and local Chambers of Commerce, including the LGBTQ chamber. He also enjoys doing event decorating, and has an eye for fashion. Most of all, he accepts himself for who he is and looks forward to sharing his fabulous self with the entire VACAYA family.
Melvin Carraway-Avila – Event Team Member
Melvin, a native of Central America’s smallest country, El Salvador, is excited to be a member of The V Team. From the age of 15, he’s called Texas home. It’s in the Lone Star State where he’s spent his career in the aviation industry, which brought he and his husband together 14 years ago. Melvin and Derick are parents to Orville and Wilbur; named after the Wright brothers for their travel passion. Melvin has traveled all around the world, including Australia, Timor-Leste, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Romania, Greece, and on and on. When you run into Melvin on one of our trips, be sure to ask him about his favorite destinations! He is ready to get this party started and ready to help make your VACAYA vacation one to remember forever! You can follow Melvin on Insta @ Persolatinboi and on Facebook @ Mlvnpnd.
Michael Reilly – Director of Sales
Michael was first bit by the travel bug at 6-years-old during a family vacation to Walt Disney World, but it wasn’t until he went on a student camping safari in East Africa at the age of 17 when his passion for travel grew to the highest level. During this adventure of a lifetime, he challenged himself by stepping way out of his comfort zone and he gained an appreciation for and perspective on different cultures and lifestyles while living for a short time with a Masai tribe. For the next couple of decades, many of Michael’s travels were fueled by his obsession with thrill seeking sports. From skydiving in Arizona, bungee-jumping in New Zealand, diving with sharks in Costa Rica, and surfing in Hawaii, his travels took him across the globe in search of the next adrenaline rush. These days, you’re more likely to find him being pampered at a 5-star resort in Bali or photographing the northern lights in Iceland. Many of you may have already met Michael on land or out at sea during his 25+ years working in the LGBTQ+ travel business. You can follow Michael and check-out his travel photography on Insta @ gmichaelreilly.
Nomi Ahmed – Event Team Member
Nomi was born and raised in Saudi Arabia to a Pakistani family. On a family trip to the US when he was a child, he instantly knew he wanted to live in America. He moved to the US at 18 and lived in Chicago for 10 years, but now lives in Des Moines, Iowa with his husband. He loves to travel, meet new people, and experience their culture through food and drinks – especially the drinks! One of his favorite places is St. Maarten, where he honeymooned and fell in love with the beaches and fantastic French food. Nomi has a passion for design and has worked with his good friend in Chicago on many projects – and occasionally still consults. Since moving to Iowa, his passion for design has come in handy as he’s renovated and redesigned his condo. During the early part of the pandemic, he and his husband sold sold their condo and now Nomi is completing the redesign of their new home. He focuses on modern and contemporary design. With Nomi, there’s always a new project just around the corner! His favorite food is shawarma and in every city he travels to, he’ll search for the best shawarma – sometimes finding it in food trucks. Follow some of Nomi’s adventures on Insta @ Nomibomi.
Okechi Chigewe – Event Team Member
Okechi is very excited to be a part of the V Team! He grew up in five countries and speaks 5 languages. Okechi still cherishes travel and seeing the world. He also enjoys movies, music, and a whole lot of dancing! Okechi loves people and believes that though we come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, it is the diversity of our experiences that unifies us in the collective beauty of love. Follow Okechi on Insta @ okechichig.
Patrick Gunn – Co-founder & CMO
Patrick caught the travel bug while on a European tour in high school, which led to his interest in attending a college study abroad program called Semester at Sea. The semester consisted of a 100-day voyage by ship around the globe, stopping in 10 different countries along the way. Having his eyes opened during his first global circumnavigation, he volunteered to work on his second Semester at Sea a few years later. His job on the ship was to help the students plan their in-country travel. Patrick credits his travels with helping to find the courage to come out to his friends and family, a major step in any gay person’s life. Patrick has visited over 50 countries and grown from each experience. He now has a passion for traveling with his husband, Michael to places where being gay is less accepted. His hope is that living out and proud will lead to acceptance around the globe. Patrick holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from San Diego State University and an MBA from the University of San Francisco. Early in his career, he held various marketing leadership positions with Procter & Gamble, HP, EA, Disney, Yahoo!, and later with Atlantis Events and RSVP Vacations. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Patrick on Insta @ carpe_diem_47.
RANDLE ROPER – Co-founder & CEO
From his earliest days at Universal Studios to his years with Atlantis Events, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and later as President of RSVP Vacations, Randle has over 30 years of experience in entertainment, hospitality, and LGBT+ travel. However, he was actually a late bloomer in regard to his wanderlust passions. Growing up just outside New Orleans, his family’s idea of adventure was the occasional weekend trip to the Florida panhandle. While Pensacola and Panama City are certainly lovely, they didn’t exactly stoke his fire to see more of the world. All that changed at the age of 27 on a July day that would alter his life forever. It was hard to understand exactly what was happening in that life-changing moment, but the truth would quickly reveal itself: Randle was suffering a massive stroke. Laying in the intensive care unit of Burbank’s St. Joseph Medical Center, he couldn’t believe his travel experiences had been limited to Fort Walton Beach and one lucky trip to Walt Disney World oh so many years ago. So the life negotiations began! He made a promise to himself that if he recovered, he’d see the world. The thought of dying without ever having seen anything much beyond Florida and Southern California, where he currently lived, was just too much to bear. So he set two very specific goals that fateful day: to fully recover and then to visit 100 countries before turning 40. Ambitious? Absolutely. But the fire those goals set inside him burned brightly, powering him through the intense physical and speech therapy. After a year of recovery, his adventures began. He got his passport and set off for Turkey! That trip to mystical Istanbul was an eye-opener – so foreign, so completely new – and it started his life on its current wild and wonderful course. He’d beaten death. And now he’s become one of the most well-traveled people on the planet, having journeyed to all seven continents and 125 countries and counting. He’s now got his eyes set firmly on visiting EVERY country on the globe! To reach Randle, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Randle on Insta @ vacayarandle.
Richard Graham – Event Team Member
Meet Richard! He’s beyond excited to be a member of The V Team! Richard grew up in a rural farm town in upstate South Carolina at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. During his childhood, his family rarely ventured further than a couple hours from their hometown, but Richard knew he wanted to explore and see new places. As one of the first members of his family to attend college, he chose to relocate to a different, coastal environment. Living away from home for the first time, the passion for learning and experiencing different places, people, and cultures really took hold. Beginning with a school-related trip to California and visiting a friend in NYC, Richard began finding opportunities to travel throughout the U.S. and then eventually international. Today, he’s fortunate to live in San Francisco, gay cultural hub for the U.S., and an epicenter of domestic and international travel opportunities! Follow Richard on Insta @ instagraham_sfo.
Ronnie Jones Jr. – Event Team Member
Ronnie has traveled the world over as a flight attendant. And as a veteran of over 20 all-gay cruises, he’s thrilled to witness the evolution in inclusivity with VACAYA. Born and raised in Ohio, Ronnie entered the travel industry right out of college and set off exploring the world. His first trip abroad was to Berlin, Germany in 2004 to celebrate his 30th Birthday. That trip was definitely an eye opener to new experiences! Since then, Ronnie has traveled far and wide, including seeing the Opera House in Sydney, the Mayan Ruins in Chichen Itza, and has sailed through the Panama Canal… twice! Living in Fort Lauderdale (cruise ship central), Ronnie has countless opportunities to cruise as often as possible, exploring new places, meeting new people, and sailing on all the latest and greatest cruise ships in the industry. Considered a “founder” at JetBlue Airways (going on 20 years), Ronnie enjoys everything pertaining to the customer service experience and loves being around people. When at work, he always makes it his goal to connect with as many customers as possible, ensuring they have a fantastic travel experience.
Ronnie is an accomplished musician, playing both violin and clarinet in the South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble, and singing with The Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida. In his spare time, Ronnie enjoys riding rollercoasters, skydiving, theater, music, trying his hand as an amateur DJ, and basking in the warm South Florida sun. Not a shy guy at all, Ronnie will always approach you with an open mind, a warm hug and a big smile, which comes naturally to him since he loves to make people laugh and enjoy themselves. Ronnie is VACAYA. Follow him on Insta @ TopDawgFLL.
Ryan Swisher – Event Team Member
Ryan was born and raised in a tiny town in West Virginia. From a very early age, he developed a love and passion for traveling and considers himself to be a diversity addict. He took his love for travel and put it toward a career in which he could truly connect. He currently works in the hotel industry as a front desk associate, assisting guests and helping create amazing experiences. With multiple cruises under his belt, Ryan is very excited to be a regular on The V Team. He’s determined to travel all over the world, experiencing all the beauty it has to offer. Ryan will tell you he’s much more extroverted than a normal human being and he looooooves to talk, meet new people, and isn’t shy about sharing his story. In October 2018 after graduating college with a bachelor’s in Business Management, Ryan made the biggest decision of his life so far, packing everything he owned in his car and leaving the only home he’d ever known to move to Orlando. Ryan is Orlando’s newest up-and-coming drag queen and can’t wait to bring his art form onboard and to eventually make a career out of it. We know you’ll fall head over heels for this rising star and he’s beyond excited to make lasting memories with each and every VACAYA guest. Follow Ryan on Insta @ ryan_e_s.
Steve Nardoni – Event Team Member
Before joining VACAYA, Steve was last on a cruise ship in the early 1980s. He remembers his excitement of leaving New York harbor, and then being at sea heading to Nassau in the Bahamas. Growing up in New Jersey, Steve was weaned on the Jersey Shore and has a special affinity for the ocean and its beaches. A seasoned sailor, Steve has owned two sailboats and has sailed in Long Island Sound with the Knickerbocker Sailing Association (a New York-based LGBTQ group) as well as chartered sailboats in Italy, Greece, Croatia, and the British Virgin Islands. He’s also traveled to Canada, Puerto Rico, England, and France and is now planning a trip to Sicily.
Steve has been in New York City for almost 40 years, and has had the joy of living in one of the greatest vacation destinations in the world. New York for Steve is the best living room ever, because right outside that front door, one can be in Times Square, Greenwich Village, Harlem, or Brooklyn in mere moments, tasting the flavor of a city that has so much to offer. Follow Steve on Facebook @ steve.nardoni.
Thomas Eng – Event Team Member
Thomas always dreamed of traveling and living somewhere more vibrant, diverse and exciting than the sleepy suburb of New Jersey, where he grew up. So far, he’s had the chance to live and work in many fantastic cities, both in the US (New York City, Chicago, and Boston), as well as abroad (Paris, London, and Berlin). Along the way, Thomas has pursued a love of singing – singing in the New York City and London Gay Men’s Choruses as well as with the Mélo’Men of Paris. When living abroad, Thomas worked on mastering the languages and embracing the cultures, and he cherishes the memories of every experience! Thomas currently commutes between Buffalo and New York City working in IT Project Management for a French bank and takes every opportunity to travel with his husband of 10 years, Barrett. They particularly love Europe and the Caribbean. Thomas and Barrett are big cruise aficionados and have taken dozens of trips with myriad cruise lines – on big ships, small ships, house boats, river boats, and canal boats. Thomas looks forward to visiting new places, meeting new people, and making new memories with friends at VACAYA!
Timothy Pappalardo – Event Team Member
Tim is INCREDIBLY EXCITED to be a V Team member! He hails from New York and grew up near the Port Jefferson Ferry, which takes passengers across the Long Island Sound to Bridgeport, CT. Tim credits those early ferry rides in fostering his love and excitement for travel and for being on the open seas. Before 2001, he never stepped foot off American soil, only ever really traveling to Green Valley, AZ and Pompano Beach, FL to visit his grandparents. But that all changed in 2005. Tim became the Event Manager for a non-profit called GLSEN (which works in safe-schools legislation and community engagement), managed 25 events a year, and began his career as a “Professional Traveler.” Since then, Tim has traveled across the US and visited 35 states, Canada, Mexico, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Peru, UK, Portugal, Madrid, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, China, and Taiwan! When not supporting VACAYA, Tim is the Founder of Located, a brand new hotel site selection and contracting services company, supporting a variety of clients and programs. He enjoys playing the piano and singing, and is proud to perform regularly with the Metropolitan Opera (The MET) in New York City! Follow Tim on Insta @ timothypappalardo
Toni Aldridge – Event Team Member
Toni is from Violet, Louisiana, about fifteen minutes from New Orleans. Her family didn’t travel much while she was growing up – trips to Mississippi, Colorado, Maryland, Georgia, Nevada, and Texas are among her favorite early travel memories. Despite not having seen much of the world, she’s always dreamed of exploring our planet. However, Toni didn’t even have the opportunity to board a plane for the first time until she was 22 years old. At 25, she finally realized a dream: to get her passport, which would allow her to travel outside of the United States! Who knew two years later when she boarded her first trip with VACAYA, where she was able to explore Curaçao and Aruba, that she’d one day be a part of the team?! Not only was VACAYA’s 2022 Caribbean Cruise her first cruise experience, but it was also her first time being a part of a predominately LGBT+ event. Her fabulous journey has really just begun!
Tracy Terrill – Co-founder
For 18 years, 3 months, and 20 days Tracy dreamed of a world bigger than the one he knew. Tracy grew up in Boron, California, a remote mining town in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Boron doesn’t have traffic lights, has a population of less than 1000 people, and is 35 miles from the nearest grocery store. Tracy’s mother would often highlight AAA travel guides with dream trips. After considerable saving, Tracy and his mother embarked on a life-changing three-week vacation around the United States to celebrate his 14th birthday. As a boy who always knew he was “different,” that vacation introduced Tracy to an entirely new world of possibilities. Life beyond Boron was full of complexity, diversity, and beauty. He returned from that vacation with a predisposition to ask, “why not?” and to reach further than he ever dreamed possible. Tracy particularly treasures two photos from that trip. The first is of himself and his mother in the heart of the French Quarter. The second is Tracy standing in front of the White House fence. 14-year-old Tracy could never have imagined that one day he would work on the other side of that fence, for the first African-American President of the United States, as an openly gay man.
Tracy holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Sonoma State University and an MBA from the University of Southern California. Early in his career, he held various marketing and technology leadership positions with Universal Music Group, Universal Studios, and Warner Brothers. Tracy spent nearly a decade as the Chief Technology Officer of LegalZoom and most recently served in the Obama Administration as the Chief Digital Officer of the Small Business Administration. Follow Tracy on Insta @ tracy.terrill.
Trevor Dow – Social Media Guru
As Trevor‘s mom would say, “he’s always had a zest for life.” And traveling is no exception! Although growing up in a low income single-parent household made it difficult for him to see the world, through various summer programs, his mom did an amazing job of making sure he was able to see many parts of the country in his formative years. A dual Canadian-American citizen, Trevor learned from a very early age that while traveling is extremely fun, it’s also educational and vital for one’s growth. This is one of the many reasons he’s so proud to be a part of the VACAYA family. Though Trevor has traveled for work both behind and in front of the camera on various movies/television shows, as well as modeled around the world, and even toured with his boyband, he’s never taken more pride in his work travels than those he’s had with his VACAYA family. Working on the media team allows him to learn about and see the world all while uplifting the queer voices and the communities in the places we visit on our travels together. Please say hello when you see Trevor parading around in his fabulous out-and-proud fashions while on your trip (he is an EMMY nominated costume designer after all) and if you need to borrow an outfit for a dance, don’t be shy! Just like us, these clothes don’t need to stay in the closet! Reach out to Trevor through his website TrevorDow.com or find him on social media @ trevordow or through his music @ lymbzmusic.
Yendor Reese – Event Team Member
When asked at the age of 8 what he wanted to do when he grew up. Yendor replied, “Live in New York!!” Well, he never moved to New York, but clearly wanted to travel before even understanding what a job or career would be. He currently lives in Los Angeles, but is from “Big D’,” Dallas, Texas. Yendor holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Texas Christian University (TCU) in Human Relations. He currently works as a musician and is a self-produced Chillhop artist with a few albums out on streaming platforms. He’s also working towards becoming a drug and alcohol counselor. Yendor thrives in a sea of strangers and is no stranger to travel. He had an amazing opportunity to travel to Europe before the pandemic and has lived in Dallas, Chicago, Boston and now LA. These various cultural experiences have deepened his ability to connect with different types of people and has expanded a true authentic love to know and understand everyone’s story. Everyone has a story. He believes, “We are all spiritual beings having a human experience.” Follow Yendor on Insta @ yendorreese.
In our earliest days, there was one individual who helped bring VACAYA roaring to vibrant and brilliant life. His name was Matt Palazzolo. Matt was an extraordinary light in a world which needs millions more like him. Kind. Gentle. Charismatic. Passionate. An advocate. An artist.
Matt died in January 2018 doing what he loved best – exploring this incredible planet of ours. He lived and breathed discovery. And he happily joined the VACAYA team because he could sense that same thirst for adventure within us.
Matt’s final life works were VACAYA’s brand video and the video supporting our ReachOUT program. When we first explained VACAYA’s mission to Matt, he immediately understood us. He saw the vision and completely comprehended the story we were attempting to tell. His works were vital to our early success and we miss him every day.
We make this promise to you, Matt… you will never be forgotten, and your spirit will live on within each of us as VACAYA strives to change the world one kindhearted act at a time. Meow.
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All Are Welcome
VACAYA’s “Solo Traveling with Ease Program” is perfect for single travelers looking to join in the fun.