See America: Cruise the Erie Canal across New York State by Self-Skippered Canalboat

Erie Canal Adventures rents Lockmaster canalboats that let you cruise fancy free on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

By Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you want to see how America came to be, travel along the Erie Canal. A marvel of engineering when it was opened in 1825, the canal, which spans 353-miles from Albany to Buffalo, creating a water highway for commerce from the Midwest through New York City to the rest of the world, remains a dazzling achievement. But it was also the artery and an engine for invention, innovation, economic development, and ultimately social and political movements. Bike along the Erie Canalway (now virtually uninterrupted and part of the 750-mile Empire State Trail; there are several bike tour companies that offer inn-to-inn bike trips), but to really get the sense of it, float along the canal, tying up at the small towns and major cities that the canal birthed, and see unfold before you all the major social and economic movements that made America: immigration, labor, abolition and civil rights, women’s rights.

A few years ago, I had that opportunity, and in this time when people are shunning cruising because of the coronavirus pandemic but embracing RVs, renting your own self-skippered, specially-designed Lockmaster canal boat offers the best of those worlds. Founded decades ago as Mid-Lakes Navigation by Peter Wiles who designed the Lockmaster canalboats and was a significant force in repurposing the Erie Canal from commercial to recreational use, the company, Erie Canal Adventures, is now in the hands of Brian Kennan, and . And even though you are still in New York State, the sights and experiences are as interesting and exciting as sailing the canals of Europe.

The company has made accommodations for COVID-19 – sanitizing the compartments so that there is a tape over them until the passengers arrive; instead of cooking utensils and “hard goods” being kept on the boat, they are taken off after each trip, sanitized and provided to guests in a sanitized tote when they arrive.

The orientation is still done on the water – the guide wears mask and gloves – to take you through one of the canal locks (thrilling), but the orientation that would have been done in the cabin is now offered by video.

Bikes are still provided but they are taken off the boat after each cruise, sanitized and replaced for each trip.

This part of New York State is already in Phase 4 – meaning that there is indoor and outdoor dining (with social distancing), many of the museums and attractions have reopened like the George Eastman Museum and the Strong Museum (with limits on capacity). In the various canal towns, you won’t have any trouble finding groceries or restaurants. And New York State has been successful containing the spread of illness and turning from the worst infection rate to the lowest in the country, because New Yorkers have scrupulously adhered to using masks and social distancing. (Now, to prevent any reemergence, the state is imposing a 14-day quarantine on visitors from states where COVID-19 rates are surging.)

Cruising the Erie Canal in a Lockmaster canal boat, as cyclists ride the towpath (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

I am at the helm of a 41-foot canal boat, a boat so enchanting and lovely, it turns heads and evokes waves, smiles, and snapped photos as it chugs pleasantly along at a top speed of 6 mph.

From this vantage point, I can appreciate this marvel of engineering, of grit and ingenuity the Erie Canal was, the vital role it played in the United States’ emergence as an Industrial giant in the 19th century and a dominant economic power in the 20th century.

There is no place in the United States like the Erie Canal, and no experience like having your own self-skippered canal boat – our floating home for the week – and a bicycle with which to explore the towns that were literally birthed by the canal. And to a New York City kid, seeing this bucolic countryside is a revelation. (“This is New Yawk!”)

It is extraordinary and thrilling to travel on the 363-mile long Erie Canal that slices through New York State and played such a vital part in the nation’s history, especially as we go through locks that are filled for us, and under bridges that must be lifted for us to pass.

Most of all, it lets us explore and appreciate the extraordinary innovation and ingenuity that developed because of the Erie Canal, the villages and towns, the factories and businesses that developed, and how the canal turned New York City into a global financial capital, and united the East with the West, how it funneled thousands of immigrants who populated the Midwest.

This is a true adventure. One where there are new discoveries, new insights, new perspectives formed with every new encounter. The Erie Canal birthed these places and now we see how they are being reborn, revitalized.

Going through one of the locks on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Setting off on our first morning, I have rarely felt that exhilarating sense of being so fancy free – to not have a set itinerary or schedule or even know where I am going or what I will see, but to have the power and ability just go where your curiosity leads. It is a marvelous.

We had trepidation about navigating the boat – a 41-foot long houseboat, like a floating RV – docking and most intriguingly going through the locks along the canal. But when we arrive, we get a two-hour orientation – every aspect about operating the boat, plugging in to electricity and water; how to turn on the engine, the stove, the shower, flush the toilet; how to recharge the batteries by running the engine in neutral; how to operate the radio and the correct protocol when contacting bridge and lock operators to “request passage”.

We are taken on a “shake-down” cruise that includes going back and forth through a lock. We are provided with a chart book and a handy sheet that lets you approximate how many hours between ports (important to keep track of the hours the lift operator is available).

Key advice: “Don’t approach anything faster than you would care to hit it.” The steel-hulled boat is powered by a 50 horsepower diesel engine; its top speed is 6 mph, and it weighs 11 tons “so you can’t get into trouble,” we are told.

The canal boat is outfitted with just about everything you might need – from ponchos to potholders to paper towels. There is even a grill and BBQ tools and canisters of propane. There are safety devices, a tool kit, even a sewing kit.

Our boat, the Canadice, is 41 feet long and can sleep 4 people (one double bed and two bunk beds in the galley; a well designed galley kitchen with small refrigerator and freezer; a shower; a table and sitting area in the bow), suitable for a family; the largest Lockmaster can accommodate 6 adults.

Within moments, the thrill of what this is all about floods over me: This is a real adventure, where have to do everything yourself, not have it done for you, make decisions.

Going through a lock on the Erie Canal: the lock tenders are extremely helpful (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we sail along, I reflect on how lovely this boat is: the gorgeous knotty pine wood detailing; the varnished wood seats and a railing that makes for a back rest as you hold the tiller, brass and varnished wood. The cabin is beautiful knotty pine. It has a canvas canopy over the helm and even on a hot day, the breezes as we travel are delightful. The bow has screens with plastic and canvas that zip and snap easily so we can close everything up in the event of rain and a table that can even be moved inside.

The design for the Lockmaster came from Peter Wiles, Sr., who was a key architect of the transition of the Erie Canal from commercial to recreational use. He had a small tour boat business on Skaneateles Lake and went to England to see the self-skippered canal boats that operated on the Thames, and brought back the concept for boats that he would design and build here.

Wiles took the charm and the traditional design but adapted the boat to the Erie Canal, with a wider (roomier) beam, mostly flat bottomed and do not have a keel (the Erie Canal is only about 12-feet deep and is actually filled and drained each season). He founded the MidLakes Navigation company which, when we visit, is run by his children, Sarah and Peter Wiles (the company has since been acquired and renamed Erie Canal Adventures).

Fairport

We soon get the hang of piloting the boat, and after a couple of hours sailing, we come to Fairport, a most charming town, with shops and restaurants right along the canal. It is a picture-perfect model of revitalization.

Fairport did not exist before construction of the Erie Canal dried up a swamp and produced a “fair port” for travelers. “Commerce thrived as entrepreneurs turned ideas into products,” says one of the best guides to this portion of the canal, “100 Must See Miles”

Henry Deland’s mansion is now the Green Lantern Inn, Fairport, one of the canaltowns on the Erie Canal (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.ccm

One of these entrepreneurs was Henry Deland who had the idea to produce baking soda from wood ash. The building right on the canal and next to the bridge where there is now a delightful Towpath Cafe was where Deland manufactured his baking soda which was transported by canal to international markets.

Just up Main Street, on the south side of the canal, I find the Deland Mansion, built in 1876. After Deland made his fortune in Fairport, he bought land and founded Deland, Florida in 1876, which he thought to build into a citrus, agricultural and tourism center. He sold his northern business and hired people to clear land, lay out streets, erect buildings and recruit settlers, most from upstate New York; he lost his fortune in an orange freeze in 1885.

The mansion is magnificent: Second Empire style with tower, porches, fireplaces, it was one of the grandest private residences in western New York. After several private owners, including the Clark Family, the Deland Mansion opened as the Green Lantern Inn sometime after 1928, and served as a restaurant, speakeasy, rooming house, banquet hall.

The mansion is across from the First Baptist Church, which was built at same time as Deland built his mansion.

Each of the canal towns we visit has done a superb job of using historical markers and photos to illustrate the “then and now.” As we follow them, it is like a story that unfolds.

At Fairport, there is a marker that shows how Old South Main Street “yields to urban renewal: Commercial block changes from necessities to niceties.”

The beauty of the canal boat is that you can organize the day around what you want to do – whether it is to just hang out in a town – perhaps visit a museum. Our main purpose is to position us to bike the towpath. And so we tie up the Canadice at Fairport, take down our bikes from the roof, and head out about 7 miles to the next major town, Pittsford, along the canal bikeway. It is one of the prettier rides, with lovely homes on the canal.

The Great Embankment, Erie Canal, New York (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just before Pittsford, we cross over a mile-long section called “The Great Embankment.” This is the highest canal embankment, actually built over the Irondequoit Creek which rushes through a tunnel under the canal.

In the earliest days of the Erie Canal, the embankment thrilled both onlookers and passengers as boats seemed to travel in midair over the mile-wide valley created by the Irondequoit Creek. The canal has been rebuilt three times since it originally opened in 1823. The original canal was a mere four-feet deep and 40-feet wide; three times it was enlarged, made deeper (first 7 feet deep and 70-feet wide, then 12-feet deep and 120-feet wide), and in many cases, moved entirely to make a better route as boats became motorized.

This is our first introduction to the engineering of the Erie Canal. I really hadn’t even thought of the canal as having a false bottom, that the canal is actually drained (around November 1), and refilled (around May 1) each season.

The Great Embankment is a revelation, but we will find even more dramatic examples of engineering, as we explore by bike and boat.

We return to Fairport, and prepare to get underway again – actually boating back to Pittsford.

It’s just passed 6 pm when we leave Fairport.

But to leave Fairport, you have to go under a lift bridge, and Fairport’s is very distinctive: it is constructed with no right angles.

Bridge at Fairport (no right angles) lifts for us to sail under, on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Kaaen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are 16 lift bridges on the Erie Canal, all of them in the west, and the eastern-most one is here at Fairport. The bridges are delights to look at – they have ornate towers and it is wonderful to watch how they work.

We have been instructed on the etiquette of using the radio to ask the lock tender to lift a bridge or open a lock. Some are covered by operators handling multiple bridges, so you might be told to standby and wait for the operator to get back to the bridge. (take note of the hours of operation – westward from Macedon toward Buffalo, the locks are open 7 am to 10 pm; eastward to Lake Oneida in Syracuse (the boats do not go all the way to Albany), the lifts operate 7 am to 7 pm).

Pittsford

We tie up for the night at Port of Pittsford Park, right below the Main Street Bridge (there is no charge but some of the ports along the canal charge up to $15 to overnight).

We stroll the charming streets (and there are some gorgeous residential streets as well), and see what an affluent community Pittsford is. Old money and new money poured in over the last 15 years to revitalize the downtown area.

Pittsford was settled in 1789 by Revolutionary War veterans, but it was the Erie Canal that first brought prosperity to the town, because it facilitated transport to market of tons of heavy gravel from the nearby hills.

We see stunning Victorian-era buildings – the Phoenix Hotel, built in 1812 in the Federalist style, 1812 to serve the Erie Canal and Turnpike trade, restored 1967 as an office building across from the Town Hall, dated 1890. There is also the Canal Lamp Inn, a stunning Victorian, right beside the canal bridge. (Self-guided walk through Pittsford, villageofpittsford.org).

Just minutes after we finish our picnic dinner of pizza and get inside our boat and close the hatches, it starts to pour. We are cozy inside. We hear the patter of rain as we watch a DVD on our computer.

Cruising in a canalboat on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The star attraction – and the major character – in this travel epic is the Erie Canal, itself. The historic markers we come upon are like chapters in the story, and as our trip unfolds, our appreciation of what the canal was, what it represented, and the impact it had, grows.

All 11 Lockmasters in Erie Canal Adventures’ fleet sail from Macedon, near Rochester, NY, and with enough time, you can cruise some 200 miles from Buffalo to Lake Oneida in Syracuse along the canal. Besides sailing along the Erie Canal (as far as , you can also sail on other waterways, taking spurs south to the Finger Lakes, or north up the Oswego canal to Lake Ontario.

Erie Canal Adventures, 315-986-3011, www.eriecanaladventures.com.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York State Parks, Campgrounds, Beaches Reopen Just in Time to Save Summer

Hiking the Escarpment Trail in the North-South Lake Campground park in the Catskills Preserve affording spectacular views of the Hudson River Valley. New York State has officially reopened state parks and is taking reservations for campsites © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visiting New York State’s parks has been such a respite, a source of revitalization and renewal during this unprecedented public health crisis. Thankfully, they have been officially reopened as New York proceeds with its NY Forward phased plan, as New York has gone (miraculously) from having the highest-rate of COVID-19 infection in the nation to the lowest in just 100 days. That has been managed by methodical, scrupulous implementation of protocols, a “new normal,” that include reducing capacity in parking lots and cleaning restrooms, and requiring people to wear face masks when they cannot keep six-feet apart, even when hiking on a trail.

This weekend, I biked at Jones Beach State Park, where the bike path has been extended 3 miles along Ocean Parkway, then biked along the boardwalk which was surprisingly uncrowded and people were observing healthy practices (and there were plenty of monitors, as well as hand-sanitizing stations, and scrupulously cleaned restrooms), then continued the trail along Wantagh Parkway 5 miles to Cedar Creek Park and return – a 20-mile ride that is absolutely exhilarating.

Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, NY (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Another weekend, I biked the sensational Bethpage State Park trail. The 6.8-mile trail, which is remarkably treed and natural-looking despite going through a narrow corridor between highway and residential neighborhoods has been nearly doubled in length, to 12.5 miles, from Woodbury Road, into and through Bethpage State Park and Massapequa Park (https://www.dot.ny.gov/bethpagebikeway).

Biking the Bethpage State Park trail into Massapequa Park, Long Island (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

I can’t wait to bike the newly opened 3.6 mile bike/walking path along the Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge (former Tappan Zee), which affords views of New York City to the South, Hudson Valley to the north (mariomcuomobridge.ny.gov). Already, the Walkway over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie has become one of the most popular attractions in the state (walkway.org), and this new path is expected to be a boon for local tourism as well.

See: New 3.6 Mile Biking/Walking Path Opens on Mario Cuomo Bridge over Hudson River

New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the opening of the 3.6-mile shared bicycle and pedestrian path on the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (the rebuilt Tappan Zee Bridge), providing an environmentally friendly new connection for families, runners, cyclists, walkers and commuters to travel between Westchester and Rockland counties over the Hudson River. The path opened with safety protocols in place to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

I also discovered how easy it is to hike in the Catskills – within 2 ½ hours drive, to be amid sensational scenes immortalized in the Hudson River Art School paintings (and now on the Hudson River School Art Trail), making it a day trip (the rest stops along the New York Thruway are open and observing COVID-19 protocols). (hudsonriverschool.org)

A centerpiece of the art trail is the North-South Lake Campground, 2 ½ hour drive (but you can now book a campsite), where there are a number of hiking trails that bring you to the scenes depicted in paintings by Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church. My favorite is the Escarpment Trail, which goes along the edge for breathtaking views over the Hudson including Artist’s Rock, Sunset Rock, Newman’s Ledge, Boulder Rock and North Point, through wilderness with dramatic rock formations, and down Mary’s Glen trail, passed the beautiful Ashley Falls. (https://cnyhiking.com/North-SouthLakeCampground.htm)

Coming upon Ashley Falls on the Mary’s Glen trail in North-South Lake Campground state park in New York’s Catskills (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Make it into a real adventure, in order to enjoy all the outdoor amenities of North-South Lake Campground, and make it a camping trip. North-South Lake Campground is the largest state campground in the Catskills, with more than 200 campsites.

NYS Parks Campgrounds Reopen

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) has begun accepting new camping reservations for all available sites – including tents, trailers, RVs, cabins, yurts and cottages – for camping stays beginning on June 22. Reservations are expected to fill quickly. Reservations can be made in advance by calling 800-456-CAMP or http://newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com. Online reservations are encouraged.

State Park Police and operations staff are patrolling campgrounds to ensure compliance with social distancing and crowd control measures. Anyone who does not adhere to this guidance will be requested to leave the facility, and will not receive a refund.

Upon check-in, campers will be asked a series of screening questions to determine if they may have been in contact with anyone suffering from Covid-19, or if they have any potential symptoms of Covid-19, including fever or respiratory illness. People who may be at risk will not be permitted to camp.

Campground density reduction and social distancing measures will be in effect, including:

  • No walk-up reservations will be allowed.
  • Each congregate restroom facility will be opened and cleaned per DOH protocols.
  • Rest rooms and shower buildings may have reduced capacity and may be closed periodically for cleaning.
  • Campground gatherings will be limited to immediate household members only.
  • All campground events and programs are suspended.
  • Park Social Distancing Ambassadors will monitor campgrounds, picnic areas, beachfronts, lawns, boardwalks and other areas to ensure park guidelines are being met.
  • COVID related signage has been installed throughout the park system.

For a listing of campgrounds operated by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, visit https://parks.ny.gov/camping/. Campgrounds in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks overseen by the Department of Environmental Conservation operate on a different schedule.

If you are closed out, you can look to some of the private campgrounds, such as Kampgrounds of America (koa.com).

Beaches and day-use areas

In alignment with NY Forward, State Park beaches, day-use areas and historic sites are charging the normal entrance fee of $6-$10 as regions reach phase 2 of reopening. For information, visit: https://forward.ny.gov/.

The 2020 Season Empire Pass for unlimited day-use entry costing $80, is a wallet-sized card that can be shared within a household and not assigned to a specific vehicle ( https://parks.ny.gov/admission/empire-passport/default.aspx)

For guidance on visiting New York State Parks during the Covid-19 public health crisis, visit: https://parks.ny.gov/covid19/

NY Parks 2020 Plan

New York is spending $2.9 million to improve new or existing trails and playgrounds in state parks across the state in the next phase of the NY Parks 2020 Plan. The plan is a multi-year commitment to leverage a broad range of private and public funding to invest approximately $900 million in State Park improvements. Under the initiative, Governor Andrew Cuomo has set a goal of modernizing 100 playgrounds, replacing outdated equipment with modern, code-compliant facilities, improving access for people with disabilities, and creating specific areas for older and younger age groups.

“We are continuing to invest in every corner of the state to ensure that New Yorkers have access to nearby family-friendly, top-notch facilities, with modern playgrounds and expanded or improved opportunities for hiking and outdoor recreation,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “Our State Parks serve as community anchors as well as economic engines for families and business across New York, and this is why we have made their enhancement a top priority.”    

New York State has invested millions to refurbish the Art Deco structures in Jones Beach State Park as well as add amenities © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Projects funded include:

Capital Region

  • Saratoga Spa State Park ($50,000) – Rehabilitation of stone dust paths.
  • Moreau Lake State Park ($20,000) – Design work started for a new gravel parking area at the Sherman Island boat launch.
  • Materials purchased ($5,000) for creation of new trail signs at the regional sign shop for all parks in the region.

Central New York

  • Fillmore Glen State Park ($60,000) – Completion of a new 80-foot bridge, rehabilitation of box steps and stone steps, and regrading of a mile of the North Rim Trail.
  • Chittenango Falls State Park (69,000) – Renovation of existing playground.

Finger Lakes

  • Chimney Bluffs State Park ($50,000) – Construction starting on a new 400-foot boardwalk and trail relocation, with completion expected in spring 2020.
  • Genesee Valley Greenway State Park ($50,000) – New drainage culverts are being added to improve the 90-mile former canal towpath and railway bed in Monroe, Livingston, Wyoming, Allegany and Cattaraugus counties. In September, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced $6.4 million in grants from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, in addition to $4 million in state funding, to support ongoing improvements to the Genesee Valley Greenway State Park and the Niagara Shoreline Trail in Western New York.

Long Island

  • Hallock State Park Preserve ($17,000) – A new .75-mile birding trail loop added from the upper parking lot through Harbor Hill moraine and rare clay hoodoos (a type of rock tower formation) along the north shore of Long Island Sound.

Mid-Hudson Region

  • Taconic State Park ($158,000) – Expansion of playground to include equipment for younger children and a bear theme.
  • Lake Taghkanic ($245,000) – Expansion of West Beach playground to include new fish theme, along with increased shade structures and an ADA-compliant pedestrian trail to the beach.
  • Mills Norrie State Park ($405,000) – Bids opened for new woodland-themed playground, with construction to start next spring for summer completion.
  • Fahnestock State Park ($325,000) – Design work started for a new bird-themed playground at Canopus Lake, with completion estimated in 2020 or 2021.
  • Trail signage replacement ($75,000) throughout region, with work expected to be done by spring 2020.
  • Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve – New interpretive panels will be added to the Constitution Marsh Bird Conservation Area, with work expected to be done by spring 2020.

North Country

  • Wellesley Island State Park ($10,000) – Construction of new boardwalks at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center.
  • Robert G. Wehle State Park ($50,000) – Construction of a new playground shaped like a dog’s paw, to underscore Wehle’s history as a breeder of champion bird hunting dogs.
  • Higley Flow State Park ($50,000) – Construction of a second playground closer to the campgrounds.

New York City

  • Clay Pit Ponds Park Preserve ($15,000) – Trails have been improved at the 265-acre nature preserve at the southwest shore of Staten Island.

Southern Tier

  • Buttermilk Falls State Park ($30,000) – Work begun on new 56-foot bridge at Scott’s Dam connecting the main parking lot to the Bear Trail, with completion expected in spring 2020.
  • Taughhannock Falls State Park ($10,000) – Construction completed of new box steps and stone steps on the South Rim Trail.
  • Chenango Valley State Park ($282,000) – Playground near beach area improved with upgraded equipment. Clearing work has started on the Chenango Lake Trail, with planning begun for a new ADA-compliant parking area near the trailhead, a new Oak Island bridge and a mountain bikes skills course.
  • Oquaga Creek State Park ($75,500) – Construction of new play area.

Western New York

  • Allegany State Park ($130,000) – Rehabilitation complete on the 25-mile Art Roscoe Cross-Country Ski and Mountain Bike Area, with work expected to be complete by October. Work is complete on refurbishing the Lonkto Hollow Trail and culvert replacement. Replace culverts, with work expected to be done by October 2019. Refurbish the Stoney Trail and replace culverts, with work expected to be done in summer 2020.
  • Midway State Park ($300,000) – Construction this winter for a new train-themed playground reflecting the park’s origination as a 19th century “trolley park,” with work expected to be done for the 2020 operating season.
  • Letchworth State Park ($300,000) – Design work underway for new Nature Center playground, with construction start anticipated for April 2020.

Statewide

  • Backcountry Trails Program ($170,000) – Sterling Forest State Park: Repairs to existing trails, and construction of new Doris Duke Trail and seven-mile Red Back multi-use loop; Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve: Restoration and surfacing improvements to highly-used trails.

State Parks oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which were visited by a record 74 million people last year. For more information on any of these recreation areas, call 518-474-0456 or visit www.parks.ny.gov.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

NYS’s Newest Attraction: 3.6 Mile Biking/Walking Path Opens on Mario Cuomo Bridge over Hudson River

New York State’s newest attraction is the 3.6-mile shared bicycle and pedestrian path on the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (the rebuilt Tappan Zee Bridge), providing an environmentally friendly new connection for families, runners, cyclists, walkers and commuters to travel between Westchester and Rockland counties over the Hudson River. The path opened with safety protocols in place to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On only the second weekend since New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo cut the ribbon to open the 3.6-mile  shared bicycle and pedestrian path on the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (the rebuilt Tappan Zee Bridge, named for his father, a three-term governor), it was bustling – even hard to get a parking space at Westchester Landing. There is a perennial festive atmosphere  – a sense of delight – that starts at the gorgeous, welcoming visitor center (bathrooms, water fountain), the snack trucks (beer, ice cream, other delights), and even a bike rental stall. The path opened with safety protocols in place to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 – everyone is required to wear masks, there is a monitored stand where you can get one as well as hand sanitizer, and monitors along the path at these gorgeous viewing platforms, each one artfully designed.

Biking the newly opened 3.6 mile path over the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The path provides an environmentally friendly new connection for families, runners, cyclists, walkers and commuters to travel between Westchester and Rockland counties. Even better, it sets what should be every municipality’s focus on providing opportunities for health and wellness (and happiness) –by walking or biking, but in any case, moving.

It takes approximately 80 minutes to walk the length of the path and approximately 20 minutes to bike across the path, so take that into account (especially with the four-hour limit on parking).

Magnificent viewing areas from the newly opened 3.6 mile path over the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The bridge itself is magnificent (Golden Gate, eat your heart out), and the views absolutely gorgeous. But cyclists and hikers will love the fact that once you get over to the Rockland side, you can continue the ride or hike north on the Raymond G. Esposito Memorial Trail for just a mile (not that interesting), but really marvelous is to go south on the Old Erie Path, a three-mile gravel path along an old rail line that follows the ridge and opens to magnificent views of the bridge and Hudson River, and ends at an old train station at Piermont.

The Old Erie Path, a three-mile gravel path along an old rail line that follows the ridge and opens to magnificent views of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and Hudson River © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge is an iconic gateway to the Hudson Valley and a statewide landmark that celebrates the spirit of New York,” Governor Cuomo said. ”The addition of this state-of-the-art bike and pedestrian path will provide New Yorkers and tourists alike with more ways to cross the river, as well as updated amenities and a unique, interactive experience to enjoy while taking in the scenic views of the Hudson River Valley.”

Magnificent, artful viewing areas from the newly opened 3.6 mile path over the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With its signature blue overlay, the 12-foot wide shared use path extends from its Westchester Landing in the Village of Tarrytown, across one of the widest points of the Hudson River, to its Rockland Landing in the Village of South Nyack. Located on the northern side of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge’s westbound span, the path features six scenic overlooks, digital kiosks, interpretive signage and public art. Visitor parking, restrooms, bicycle repair stations and other amenities, along with connectivity to local bicycle and pedestrian networks, are available at both landings. 

The shared use path is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The path may temporarily close due to inclement weather, maintenance operations or security concerns. Updates and path information will be available at the bridge’s new website, mariomcuomobridge.ny.gov, and on its new Twitter account, @GMMCB.

The shared use path was part of the Thruway Authority’s $3.9 billion project to build the new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, which replaced the Tappan Zee Bridge in 2017. The cable-stayed crossing has been built to serve the Hudson Valley without major maintenance for at least a century. Approximately 50 million vehicles cross the bridge annually. 

“The opening of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge bicycle and pedestrian path is the culmination of a transformative public infrastructure project, one of the largest in the United States,” Project Director Jamey Barbas said. “Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, the hundreds of laborers and engineers who have worked on this project have been committed from the start to providing transportation improvements, from wider lanes and emergency shoulders to dedicated space for buses and now a 3.6-mile shared use path. The path is not only functional, it is beautiful, and we thank all our community partners who made this bridge a reality.”

A lovely mural greets you as you enter the path over the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge from the Rockland side © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As magnificent as the views up the Hudson River are, the art and design along the way add to the aesthetic experience. You encounter five sculptures, a 4,000-square-foot mural at the entrance in Rockland and a custom-designed bike rack referencing the Palisades and New York City skyline. Three of the sculptures incorporate remnant steel salvaged from the decommissioned Tappan Zee Bridge. Three more bicycle racks allude to the historic importance of the Hudson River as a commercial transportation artery. The viewing areas are works of art, themselves, and the people taking in the scenery almost become part of the canvas.

The Thruway Authority partnered with ArtsWestchester and the Arts Council of Rockland on the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge Public Art Program. The 10 commissions were awarded to eight New York State artists. (Details about each art commission is available on the bridge website.)

“A spectacular group of monumental works of art have been installed at each terminus of the new bridge, transforming this twin crossing into a compelling destination for travelers to engage with the arts,” ArtsWestchester CEO Janet T. Langsam said. “We at ArtsWestchester were thrilled to collaborate with the New York State Thruway Authority on this landmark creative placemaking project. With the expansion of COVID19 outdoor recreation guidelines, the new bridge over the mighty Hudson is a visionary place for people to enjoy public art on their way to and from the Hudson Valley. The artwork is free, its public, and available to all New Yorkers.“

Magnificent, artful viewing areas from the newly opened 3.6 mile path over the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are also free audio tours specially designed for walkers and cyclists available for download. The mobile tours include stories that cover a wide range of topics from information about bridge construction to local history, from the Hudson Valley’s connection to art to the Hudson River and its surroundings. Travelers can safely access the stories hands-free on their mobile devices while walking or cycling the path.

The New York State Thruway Authority partnered with Historic Hudson River Towns (HHRT), a non-profit consortium of riverfront municipalities, and TravelStorys to develop the audio tours. The New NY Bridge Community Benefits Program awarded Historic Hudson River Towns a grant for the project. In addition to the path tours, HHRT offers a new driving tour includes featuring its 16 member communities in Westchester and Rockland, as well as on both the new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and the Bear Mountain Bridge.

Other upcoming HHRT tours on the TravelStorys app include walking tours of Irvington, Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow and Nyack, and artist Edward Hopper’s Nyack. Download the TravelStorys app for free to listen to the self-guided path tours.

Masks and sanitizer at the entrance to the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge path show #NewYorkTough (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hudson Link, the enhanced bus service sponsored by the New York State Department of Transportation serving the Interstate 87/287 corridor, provides free shuttle service from large commuter parking lots in Rockland and Westchester to stop near the path’s landings in Tarrytown and South Nyack. The Hudson Link path shuttle regular weekend summer schedule operates from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

There is a four-hour time limit in the parking lots at the path, and visitors are strongly encouraged to take shuttles and other mass transit to the path. The state-of-the-art path shuttles will leave every 20 minutes from Palisades Center. A map, schedule and details are available on Hudson Link’s website.

Safety features along the path over the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge from the Rockland side © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As part of its COVID-19 response, Hudson Link has taken the following precautions:

  • Maximum occupancy per bus is 25 customers.
  • All passengers are required to wear face masks.
  • All passengers are asked to sit six feet away from each other while on the bus.
  • Hand sanitizing units are installed on all Hudson Link buses.
  • All operators wear face masks, gloves and use hand sanitizer.
  • CDC approved industrial sanitizers are used nightly to clean each bus.

To ensure the safety of all using the new shared use path, visitors should keep six feet apart from others. When social distancing cannot be maintained, visitors are asked to wear a face covering on the path and in the restrooms. Physical and digital signs have been posted to remind visitors of their shared responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New York State Police Troop T is the law enforcement entity responsible for patrolling the path while a dedicated security team will actively monitor it and the entire bridge 24 hours/day, 365 days/year.

New York State’s newest attraction is the 3.6-mile shared bicycle and pedestrian path on the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (the rebuilt Tappan Zee Bridge), providing an environmentally friendly new connection for families, runners, cyclists, walkers and commuters to travel between Westchester and Rockland counties over the Hudson River. The path opened with safety protocols in place to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The path features designated lanes for pedestrians and cyclists traveling in both directions to ensure safety. There is a 15-mph speed limit for all cyclists. Per a new state law, Class 1 and Class 2 bicycles with electric assist (e-bikes) may be used on the path by those 16 years of age and older. All cyclists must yield to pedestrians.

When visiting the path, keep the following in mind:

  • It takes approximately 80 minutes to walk the length of the path; factor in your return trip.
  • It takes approximately 20 minutes to bike across the path.
  • Wind, rain, sun, temperatures all feel more intense out over the water; dress accordingly.
  • Restrooms are in the Welcome Centers at both landings.
  • Water fountains are available at both landings, not on the path itself.
  • You may feel the bridge vibrate; this is normal.
  • If you need assistance, use the blue light phones along the path.

As part of a Thruway Authority pilot program, local merchants offer food and services at both landings.

One of the food trucks at Westchester Landing on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge path © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Three food trucks – Anthi’s Greek Specialties, Westchester Burger Company and Graziella’s Italian Kitchen – serve both the Westchester and Rockland landings on a rotating basis, seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

At the Westchester Landing, Double Barrel Roasters serve hot and cold coffee, specialty drinks and scooped ices daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Blue Pig, which sells locally sourced ice cream, operates from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday to Sunday, while Sleek E-Bikes offers electric bike rentals from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer.

At the Rockland Landing, Teagevity offers organic tea and cold-brewed coffee from 9 a.m. to dusk, Thursdays to Sundays.

The Old Erie Path, a three-mile gravel path along an old rail line that follows the ridge and opens to magnificent views of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and Hudson River © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

The Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge was the most ambitious infrastructure project undertaken in the United States in a decade, and Governor Andrew Cuomo equated the accomplishment to the state’s success in tackling the coronavirus pandemic which turned New York State into the global epicenter. But in 100 days, the state that had had the highest infection rate, has become the state with the lowest infection rate.

“The Mario Cuomo Bridge – nearly two years ago we celebrated the opening,” Cuomo said at the ribbon cutting for the new bike path. “The largest infrastructure project in the United States in the past 10 years. Think about that. Nowhere else in the nation did they even attempt a project this big, why? Because it’s intimidating. It’s intimidating. You’re going to build a new bridge across the Hudson River? Government? Government can’t put two bricks together; you think you’re going to build a bridge? Yes. Yes, we can do it. We can do it. That’s what we said with this bridge today.

“We’re going to open the 3.6-mile-long path for cyclists and pedestrians. You can come across the Hudson River which is spectacular in and of itself. From this bridge you look south you can see New York City; you look north you- one of the most beautiful river valleys on the globe. 3.6 miles and you’re over one of the most beautiful bridges in the United States of America…The bridge speaks to a sense of possibility, a sense of capacity— when people are wondering, ‘can we do this? Can we rise to the challenge? Are we capable of it? Can we do these big things?’

“And the bridge said, ‘yes we can,’ after 20 years of people questioning and doubting and being afraid. The bridge took on the challenge and defeated the challenge. It showed what we were capable of.”

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

10 Uncommon Attractions in Southeast Florida to Explore

Bonnet House Courtyard © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Before sheltering-at-home took hold in NJ, we travelled to Southeastern Florida to visit family. This time, we didn’t just sit around the house and go out to restaurants to eat. We found attractions and activities that were fun and most often free or accepted donations. Others were well worth the entrance fee to enjoy a very uncommon day! 

Manatees in Manatee Lagoon © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Manatee Lagoon, Riviera Beach, FL – the center’s main, unique attraction, is being able to catch a view of the wild manatees as they enjoy the warm, shallow water surrounding the discovery center that is released by the Florida Power & Light Company’s Next Generation Clean Energy Center. The window for this experience is rather small – usually a few days during late January, when the temperature of the deeper, manatee home waters off of Southern Florida coastline becomes cool enough for the manatees to venture into the Intracoastal shore with the Clean Energy hydroelectric plant’s effluence.  This eco-discovery center is usually open weekly from Tuesday – Sunday, 9AM – 4PM, and offers free admission and free parking. The main floor has a small discovery center about the local environment and manatees.

Check the web site (https://www.visitmanateelagoon.com/) for when the Center will be reopened. Manatee Lagoon is located at 6000 N Flagler Dr, West Palm Beach, FL 33407.

Rehabilitated Turtle at Loggerhead Marinelife Center © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Juno Beach, FL – this center rehabilitates three types of sea turtles common to the Florida nesting areas: Loggerhead, Green, and Leatherback. The Center has small, outdoor recovery tanks for the turtles who are recovering primarily from dehydration and malnourishment, as well as from injuries resulting from encounters with small boats. Before hanging out with the turtles, learn about them from the indoor exhibit. 

The Loggerhead Marinelife Center and the Juno Beach Pier reopened to visitors the week of May 18, 2020. The Center (14200 U.S. Hwy 1,Juno Beach, FL) is open to the public daily from 9am – 5pm; a donation of $10/person is suggested. Face coverings are required for all guests 2-years and older to enter. For more information, call 561-627-8280, or send email to info@marinelife.org.  

Tips to Protect Sea Turtle Hatchlings along Florida’s coastline:

In sea turtle nesting areas, reduce lighting or use lighting that concentrates it down and not out.

Always walk over nesting areas, and stay out of any flagged off area.

If you spot a turtle hatchling crawling away from the water, it can be redirected  to the water, but allow the hatchling to continue on its own.

If you encounter a lethargic or stranded turtle, call Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s 24-hour Sea Turtle Rescue line at: (561) 603-0211 or call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) immediately at: 1-888-404-3922) or dial *FWC or #FWC on your mobile phone.

Blowing Rocks Preserve, Jupiter Island – rocky trails through forests of sea grape trees lead from the narrow parking lots to this natural beach reserve. The preserve gets its name for the Anastasia limestone rocks along the shoreline — when the ocean breaks against the rocks, the force sends plumes of saltwater as high as 50 ft. through the limestone holes.  The protected, low-light sandy beach is a favorite destination for nesting sea turtles, including loggerhead, green and leatherback breeds. Residents and tourists enjoy swimming, snorkeling, and even scuba diving off of the beach.

As of writing this article, the Preserve remains closed to the public. Check the Nature Conservancy’s website for more information about the geology of the beach area, the visiting turtles and the conservancy’s activities to rehabilitating the turtles, as well as directions, and especially, notice when this beautiful, natural preserve will be reopened: https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/blowing-rocks-preserve/

Gumbo Limbo Hatchling Research Center © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Boca Raton –  for a recommended $5/person donation, the center offers visitors outdoor aquariums, a research center for turtle hatchlings, and raised boardwalk trails, which thread out from the Center and lead to the Intracoastal Waterway through groves of Gumbo Limbo and mangroves trees with butterflies and mangrove crabs hanging from trunks and branches. The boardwalk trails are open until dusk, even when the center is closed. The Center (1801 North Ocean Blvd. Boca Raton, FL 33432) also maintains a butterfly garden with a path that leads to the Intracoastal. Plan your visit by learning when they will reopen the Center and the trails, at https://www.gumbolimbo.org.

Monkey Jungle Rainforest Adventure © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Monkey Jungle, Miami – King, a 51-year old Western Lowlands gorilla, is one of the main attractions at Monkey Jungle, where he has called home for the past 41 years.  At his special show, we saw how the trainers interact with King, and learned that they provide him with a full day of companionship and interaction. To get to King, who is at the half-way mark of a one-mile loop, we visited other monkeys and birds housed along the mulched paths which run through a beautiful, tropical rainforest.  As we left King’s show area, we found that we walked into a caged-in path with metal cups hanging from chains at the top of the caging. We realized that we were within the large monkey habitat. The monkeys run freely around the caged tunnel, and pull up the cups with raisins or dried cranberries we were given when we paid admission.  The 30-acre park (14805 SW 216 St, Miami, FL 33170) is open daily from 9:30am – 5pm. Admission is $29.95/adult, $23.95/child (3 – 9), $27.95/senior (65+),  including shows that occur at least three times each day; parking is free.

Monkey Jungle also offers an immersive walk through 4 acres of the natural habitat: during the “Rainforest Adventure Tour,” we encountered many of the 150 very friendly squirrel monkeys and the 5 capuchin  monkeys. They came right up to our hands to gently accept the nuts and dried fruit we were holding out to them; some of them even sat on a shoulder or hat. The Tour runs three times each day at 10am, 12:15 pm, and 2:30pm. The “Rainforest Adventure Tour” is $129.95/person, which includes general admission and the special monkey food. 

Check Monkey Jungle website (https://www.monkeyjungle.com/) and their social media pages for updates when they will reopen. Book the Rainforest Adventure Tour in advance of your visit, by calling 305-235-1611.

Little Havana, Miami – many Cubans came into the US in the 1990s and stayed in Miami. Little Havana district continues to offer the warm, welcoming Cuban experience, especially as we strolled along Calle Ocho: walk through Domino Park, where square tables are filled with Seniors playing dominos and chess; pop into the many cigar shops on the street and watch Cuban-trained men hand roll fresh cigars; grab some authentic Cuban food and listen to live music at one of the historic bars; end the LIttle Havana experience with artisanal gourmet ice cream or sorbets in Cuban and tropical flavors at Azucar Ice Cream Company.

We received a tour of Mister Cigars (mycigarroller.com), the newest of the cigar shops in Little Havana (742 SW 16th Ave, Miami). Since the store opened in the Fall of 2019, they hand-roll around 7000 cigars each month from 3,000 lbs of fresh leaves they receive from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru, and Mexico. Mister Cigars’ rollers have a combined experience of over 30 years, were trained at Havana’s Cuban Cigar Manufacturing School, and worked at the famous Partagas cigar factory in Havana.

Little Havana is slowly reopening public services. Mister Cigars, along with other stores, reopened the week of May 18, 2020. In addition to the store reopening,  Mister Cigars will be bringing back the “Cuban Experience” evening: a limo will pick up your party from your hotel, and take you on a tour of a cigar factory in Miami, spend an evening of delicious Cuban food and live show, and return in the limo with a generous gift package including hand-rolled cigars, humidor, and cigar preparation tools. Contact Mister Cigars’ Fernando Morales at 786-493-9042 for more information, pricing, and to schedule the “Cuban Experience.”  Tell Fernando that Laurie Millman sent you!)

For more current and historic information about Little Havana, visit: https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/neighborhoods/little-havana.

Wynward District, Miami – explore by car or foot, the many colorful, hand-painted murals on the sides of warehouses in this Miami district; each designed and painted by local, Miami street artists. Over the last few years, some of the warehouses have been converted to  eclectic, indoor art galleries, chic bars, bistros, and craft breweries. Go to https://wynwoodmiami.com/ to check out when venues will be reopening. For a virtual tour of the murals, go to https://wynwoodmiami.com/explore/street-art-grid-view/.

The Bonnet House © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Bonnet House Museum and Gardens, Fort Lauderdale – the estate home of post-impressionist American artists, Frederic and Helen Bartlett, continues to look as it did in the 1930s and 1940s, with the bright yellow walls, the house/museum is filled with their original furnishings, as well as the artwork by the artists. The estate is located on a barrier island bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east side and the Intracoastal Waterway on the west side. The tour around the beautifully landscaped grounds transports you to a tropical paradise with a natural barrier island environment, including banyan and palm trees, tropical flowering trees, and ocean breezes – no wonder this is a popular wedding venue.

Bonnet House reopened the  week of May 19, 2020 for grounds tours only, between 10am and 4pm. Tour tickets are $5 for nonmembers.; free for members.  Schedule the tour online at https://www.bonnethouse.org/.

For a virtual, historic tour of the house, check out: https://www.bonnethouse.org/a-virtual-and-vintage-tour-of-bonnet-house/.

Snorkel around the small, artificial reefs near West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach that make up what is called the Palm Beach Snorkeling Trail. These little islands are home to a variety of colorful tropical fish which rival many snorkeling areas around the world, especially those destinations where the humans and boating have depleted the corals and fish.  As I was there in late January, we were lucky to meet a few manatees who were curious about us and hung out with us while we were snorkeling. Some of the island parks require a boat shuttle for a small charge to take a round-trip between RIviera Beach and the slightly, off-shore islands.  Rent or bring your own snorkel gear, and remember to bring and use only sunscreen that is reef-safe. You can also purchase the appropriate sunscreens on the boat shuttle.

Laurie Millman kayaking in the Intracoastal © Roberta Millman-Ide/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Kayak through the warm, shallow waters of the Intracoastal between Lake Worth South Beach and West Palm Beach.  As you travel between the shore and the small islands, look for birds of prey, water birds, and the large green iguana colonies. If you do this activity in late January, you may also catch a glimpse of a manatee swimming alongside your kayak. 

NOTE: Many Palm Beach parks are now open sunrise to sunset for one-way walking, running, biking, equestrian riding, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking, while practicing social distancing.  

For more information on boat shuttles, openings, restrictions, and CDC rules, visit http://discover.pbcgov.org/parks/Lists.

Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society Reopens

Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society has reopened to visitors. It’s particularly exciting time to visit since in May, Api, a Malayan tiger, gave birth to three healthy cubs. The impact of a visit to Palm Beach Zoo extends beyond the gates, inspiring people to take action and save wildlife in wild places.

Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society has reopened to for visits seven days per week from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (last ticket sale is at 4:15 p.m.) and will be operating normally with a few notable exceptions:

  • Capacity will be limited and carefully monitored to allow for physical distancing.
  • All visitors are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance at palmbeachzoo.org.
  • A one-way path will be designated throughout the Zoo in the Florida Wetlands, Tropics of the Americas and The Islands.
  • Certain exhibits will be closed or roped off including the carousel, train, observatory, cafe, aviary, butterfly garden and bronze statues.
  • Food service is available at the concessions window and kiosks in Fountain Plaza.
  • Hand-sanitizer stations will be available throughout the Zoo.
  • Animal talks and animal experiences will not take place at this time.
  • Strollers and wheelchair rentals are not available and guests are encouraged to bring their own.
  • Guests to the Zoo are asked to refrain from visiting if they are in a high-risk category for COVID-19 complications, are not feeling well or have a fever. Guests are also highly encouraged to wear masks, utilize hand-sanitizing stations, and maintain a six-foot distance from other groups.

It’s particularly exciting because in May, Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society announced that beloved Malayan tiger Api gave birth to three healthy cubs. Api and her mate Kadar, are part of the Association of Zoo and Aquarium’s (AZA’s) Malayan Tiger Species Survival Plan® (SSP). The SSP® is a cooperative reproduction program that serves as an important backup population for critically endangered Malayan tigers in the wild.

For more than 50 years, Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society has provided visitors with up-close and personal animal encounters that connect people to wildlife. Palm Beach Zoo guests explore a WILD ecosystem thriving on 23 lush, tropical acres while discovering hundreds of exotic animals. Visitors enjoy interactive animal experiences, nature and water play, and a lakeside cafe. Palm Beach Zoo participates in AZA Species Survival Plan® programs, ensuring healthy animal populations for rare and endangered species. The impact of a visit to Palm Beach Zoo extends beyond the gates, inspiring people to take action and save wildlife in wild places. For more information, visit www.palmbeachzoo.org.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

National Parks: This Summer’s Go-To Vacation Happy Place

Grand Canyon National Park. Visiting national parks this summer could be just what the doctor ordered to revitalize © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

In a weirdly awful bad news/good news way, this year is probably the best ever to visit one of America’s iconic national parks and the national parks have never been more important to revitalize our national and personal spirit. But if ever you wanted to get some sense of how it was back-in-the-day, this is it, precisely because capacity in accommodations are limited and the millions of international visitors who come each year are not coming. The National Park Service received more than 327.5 million visit in 2019, and there will be a clamoring for Americans with a renewed vigor to See America and leave the cities for the great outdoors, which means getting a place to stay will be problematic.

“The benefits of getting into nature for a few days are just what the doctor ordered – especially now,” said Cort Wright, Manager of the Moab Adventure Center, which operates programs into Arches National Park, Utah, and on the Colorado River. “As depression and anxiety diminish, our renewed vitality gains a foothold and positive attitudes surface. It will be a joy for us this summer and fall to see our guests transformed by the activities we provide.”
 
According to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota, “being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.” (For the full report see: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing.)

Here are some vacation ideas:

Hike & Bike North Rim of the Grand Canyon: Providing gently rolling terrain of lung-expanding dimensions, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon has been long-held as sacred ground to hikers and cyclists. Escape Adventures offers an amazing 5-day tour of the North Rim that includes mountain biking, trekking and camping. Trails brimming with wildflowers lead guests to exhilarating hikes along the rim. Crossing over to the west side of the plateau, guests camp alongside one of the most scenic mountain bike paths in the world, the Rainbow Rim Trail. (https://escapeadventures.com/tour/grand-canyon-north-rim-mountain-bike-tour/)

Remote Dude Ranch Getaway: Red Reflet Ranch is a 28,000-acre luxury resort and working ranch on the west slope of the Bighorn Mountains, just minutes from the Bighorn National Forest. It is a scenic three hour drive from Yellowstone National Park. The closest sign of civilization is Ten Sleep, Wyoming, with a population of about 260. Guests stay in their own private chalets, and family-friendly activities include horseback riding, ATVing, ziplining, swimming, fishing, shooting, and indulging in gourmet farm-to-table cuisine. The ranch is open for business now. (https://red-reflet-ranch.net/)

Red Reflet Ranch is a 28,000-acre luxury resort and working ranch on the west slope of the Bighorn Mountains, just minutes from the Bighorn National Forest.

Grand Teton Tiny House Retreat:  Just minutes from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Fireside Resort capitalizes on the tiny house craze and the classic appeal of rustic cottages by offering 25 pint-size, luxuriously outfitted tiny house rental units designed by Wheelhaus. The resort is located a stone’s throw from Grand Teton National Park and the Jackson Hole ski slopes. It is a great place to post up for a ski trip or a summer getaway.  (https://www.firesidejacksonhole.com/)

Big Sky Base Camp: If outdoor adventures like hiking, mountain biking, and fly fishing are your style, look to visit Big Sky, Montana and stay at The Wilson Hotel. Located on the edge of Yellowstone National Park, the town is home to Big Sky Resort and its 5,850 acres of ski terrain, as well as shaded forests, wildflower-filled meadows, rocky mountaintops and clear, cool rivers and streams. (bigskyresort.com)

Bryce & Zion by MTB: Soaring red stone spires and ancient citadels of rich Navajo sandstone give way to haunting hoodoos and curving arches of rock  a geologist’s dream and a mountain biker’s paradise. The rides on this 6-day Escape Adventures tour offer swift lines that wind and wend through deep Alpine meadows and Aspen forests only to spill out onto yawning mesas and buttes. The world-famous trails of Red Canyon’s Thunder Mountain, Cassidy, and Casto Canyon, are but a few of this tour’s many highlights. (https://escapeadventures.com/tour/bryce-and-zion-mountain-bike-tour/)

Great Parks North: Join the Adventure Cycling Association on its Great Parks North Route. This tour follows the Rocky Mountains from Missoula, Montana, to Jasper, Alberta, exploring some the most spectacular national parks the U.S. and Canada has to offer. Great Parks North will highlight Glacier NP, Waterton NP, Banff NP, and Jasper NP. (https://www.adventurecycling.org/guided-tours/self-contained-tours/2020-great-parks-north/)

Xanterra Travel Collection Outlines Re-Opening Plan for Lodging, Dining, Services in Yellowstone National Park

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK (MONTANA & WYOMING) – Xanterra Travel Collection today announced that operations in Yellowstone National Park including lodges, campgrounds, dining and tours will begin a phased re-opening on a limited basis starting June 1.

The decision to re-open was made after closely monitoring the guidance and recommendations of public health agencies such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) as well as federal, state and local governments.

The current schedule for Xanterra operations in Yellowstone National Park has cabins with private baths, campgrounds, take-out food service, gift shops and select tours and activities available as part of a  phased approach to opening beginning on June 8. Opening and closing dates are subject to change based on future conditions and public health guidance as well as the ability to maintain a safe environment for visitors, employees and NPS staff. 

To learn more about Xanterra’s sanitization measures and ongoing efforts to keep employees and guests safe including physical distancing, ongoing cleaning, employee training, personal protective equipment and more, visit https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/health-and-safety/.

Visitors should come prepared and follow all CDC and local health guidance including practicing good hygiene and social distancing, wearing facial coverings in public spaces, and staying home and not visiting the park while sick.

Yellowstone National Park © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

LODGING: At this time, only cabins with private baths are scheduled to open at these locations: Old Faithful Inn, Grant Village and Roosevelt Lodge are currently closed but may reopen in 2020 if conditions allow.

Old Faithful Lodge (June 8-Oct. 4)

Old Faithful Snow Lodge (June 8-Oct. 25)

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (June 1-Nov. 1)

Lake Yellowstone Hotel (June 17-Oct. 4)

Lake Lodge (June 17-Sept. 2)

Canyon Lodge (June 19-Oct. 12)

CAMPGROUNDS:  Xanterra campgrounds are currently scheduled to open on this schedule:

Madison (June 15-Oct. 18)

Bridge Bay (June 17-Sept. 7)

Grant Village (June 17-Sept. 13)

Canyon (June 19-Sept. 20)

Fishing Bridge RV Park will remain closed through fall of 2021

DINING:  Select dining outlets will be open with “take out” options only. Based on current public health guidelines, dining room seating and dinner reservations are not available.

Mammoth Hot Springs Area: Terrace Grill (June 1-Oct. 12)

Old Faithful Area: Geyser Grill at Snow Lodge (May 22-Oct. 25); Old Faithful Lodge Bake Shop (June 8-Oct. 4); Old Faithful Lodge Cafeteria (June 8-Oct. 3)

Canyon Area: The Eatery at Canyon Lodge (June 19-Oct. 12)

Yellowstone Lake Area: Wiley’s Canteen at Lake Lodge (June 17-Oct. 4); Lake Lodge Lobby Bar (June 17-Oct. 3)

Grant Village Area:  Grant Village Dining Room (June 17-Sept. 13)

LIMITED GUIDED ACTIVITIES AND TOURS: Tours and activities will be limited to guide boats, boat rentals, backcountry shuttle, and dock slips at the marina, horseback rides at Canyon Lodge Corral, and bike rentals at Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Road-based tours, Scenicruise tours, Stagecoach rides, or the Old West Cookout will not be offered. Pricing and other details can be found online (https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/adventures/)

Bike Rentals at Old Faithful Snow Lodge (June 8-Sept. 7 or as weather permits, reservations not accepted)                                                        

Bridge Bay Marina/Dock Slips (June 17-Sept. 13)

Boat Rentals (June 17-Sept. 6, first come, first served, reservations not accepted)

Guided Fishing/Sightseeing Boats (June 17-Sept 13)

Backcountry Shuttle Boat (June 17-Sept. 13)

Canyon Lodge Corrals, Horseback Rides (June 18-Sept. 7)

Private Tours: Yellowstone Forever is the official nonprofit educational and fund-raising partner of Yellowstone National Park. Information about their private tours can be found here or by calling 406-848-2400. 

SHOPPING:  Select Xanterra gift stores will be open, but with controlled access to comply with distancing standards:

Mammoth Hotel (June 1-Oct. 12)

Old Faithful Snow Lodge (May 22-Nov. 1)

Old Faithful Lodge (June 8-Oct. 4)

Lake Yellowstone Hotel (June 17-Oct. 4)

Canyon Lodge (June 19- Oct. 12)

Lake Lodge (June 17-Oct. 4)

Madison Campground (June 15-Oct. 18)

For updates on the opening of Xanterra operations in Yellowstone National Park, visit https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/health-and-safety/. For reservations, visit https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/, or call 307-344-7311. For updates on the three-phased plan for re-opening Yellowstone National Park as well as the latest information on NPS operations in Yellowstone, visit www.nps.gov/yell.

With nine unique lodging options, including the renowned historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Yellowstone National Park Lodges allows you to have the ultimate park experience. Staying in the park is the best way for visitors to experience all it has to offer, including the exciting wildlife watching. Once the day-visitors leave, Yellowstone remains for the in-park overnight guests alone. Yellowstone National Park Lodges offer tours and activities guided by Certified Interpretive Guides that help create memorable experiences. For more information on lodging, tours, and vacation packages visit, yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307-344-7311.

Known for its “Legendary Hospitality with a Softer Footprint,” Xanterra Travel Collection provides unforgettable experiences through its operations in national parks, including lodges, restaurants, tours, and activities, as well as through its ownership of resorts, a cruise line, a railway, and tour companies. Xanterra has operations in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Xanterra Travel Collection also owns and operates the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel in Williams, Ariz., The Grand Hotel in Tusayan, Ariz., The Oasis at Death Valley in Death Valley Calif., Windstar Cruises, Holiday Vacations, VBT Bicycling Vacations, and Country Walkers.  Xanterra is also affiliated with two Forbes Five-Star Resorts, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO and Sea Island on the coast of Georgia.

With Reopening of Arches National Park, Moab Adventure Center Counts on Nature to Restore the Pandemic Weary

MOAB, UT– Arches National Park in the world’s favorite red rock playground of Moab, Utah, has reopened to visitors. Guided tours of this iconic park have resumed, along with a variety of half-day, full-day and overnight river rafting programs along the Colorado River.

Arches National Park, Utah has reopened.


Moab Adventure Center, a full-service resource for the adventure-minded, suggests three guided park tours to nudge the housebound into the outdoors. The company is also armed with newly instituted COVID-19 mitigation and operations protocols (see: https://www.moabadventurecenter.com/covid-19
 
Guided Tours of Arches National Park: Daily morning and sunset tours of Arches National Park help interpret the 150 million years of geology and nature that have created this masterpiece of more than 2,000 arches – the highest concentration on the planet. Tour rates are $89 for adults and $79 for ages 5 to 12. See: https://www.moabadventurecenter.com/arches-national-park-tours

Moab Adventure Center offers tours into Arches National Park, Utah.


A third tour offers a breathtaking aerial tour of the park. Departing mid-morning, the half-hour flyover views formations such as Courthouse Towers, North and South Window Arches, Delicate Arch, Devil’s Garden, the Colorado River, Fisher Towers, and Castle Valley. Youth two and under fly free on a parent’s lap. Tour rates are $109 for adults and $55 for youth 3 to 12. For details see: https://www.moabadventurecenter.com/arches-national-park-air-tours
 
Colorado River Tours: Full and half-day rafting adventures on the Colorado River along the southern border of Arches National Park can also be arranged through the Moab Adventure Center. A half-day morning tour showcases the mild to moderate rapids under a background of red rock cliffs, spires and buttes. Rates are $74 for adults and $64 for ages 5 to 12. Another half-day option comes with a BBQ lunch. Rates are $89 for adults and $79 ages 5 to 12. A full day on the river, with lunch, is a memorable seven-hour excursion. Rates are $109 for adults and $79 for age 5 to 12. (For details see: https://www.moabadventurecenter.com/moab-river-tours.)
 
As of May 1, 2020, the Southeast Utah Health Department authorized a phased reopening of businesses in and around Moab. Lodging, commercial campgrounds, restaurants and activities are now available and operating within recommended guidelines. The town is seeing quite an influx of visitors as so many now are choosing an outdoor vacation as the best escape with loved ones.
 
Moab Adventure Center is offering most of its regularly scheduled activities along with new private tours (www.moabadventurecenter.com/private-tours). These include exclusive Hummer Safari outings for up to nine people; private canyoneering adventures; exclusive Arches National Park morning tours; private stand-up paddle boarding lessons for up to six people; and private Moab rock climbing outings for up to four people.
 
Moab Adventure Center is a division of Western River Expeditions (http://www.westernriver.com/) an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, with operations and offices in Moab and Fredonia, AZ. The company is the largest single tour provider in Moab, Utah. The Moab Adventure Center is located at 225 South Main St., Moab, UT 84532. For information and reservations call (435) 259-7019 or (866) 904-1163. The center also has a 2,000-square-foot retail space selling adventure related gear, clothing, maps and souvenirs.

Moterra Luxury Camper Vans

You’ve probably now heard of glamping – luxury camping. Now there is a novel way to experience the national parks and wilderness by luxury camper van.

With all the luxury of a 50-foot long RV, but, at 19-foot long, the size of an SUV, without the cumbersome size that makes it difficult to drive and park, and even the need to plug into electricity (the vans are powered with rooftop solar panels) or water (they hold 24-gallons of fresh water), their own sink, cooking facility, refrigerator and even their own bathroom facilities (a couple actually have its own shower and toilet, but others have port-o-potty), these camper vans give a new level of mobility. The vans can be used in tent camping spots in National Parks, so you can stay away from the noisy RV parks.

Founded by Gabe Aufderheide and Trevor James who were formerly with Backroads, the company offers these are specially outfitted Mercedes Benz Sprinters, built out by Sportsmobile, in Yellowstone, Wyoming; the Grand Tetons; Utah; Glacier National Park (Montana); and California.

These camper vans come with bluetooth audio, cruise-control and touch-screen navigation. A backup camera, blind spot sensors and lane assist technology make maneuvering a breeze. You don’t have to stay in an RV park, but can go wherever tents are allowed.

The vans come equipped with absolutely everything you need for camping, from sleeping stuff (memory foam pillow!), to cooking (marshmallow skewers) and dining, cleaning supplies, amenities like chairs and table, inflatable solar lights, even bear spray.

Moterra luxury camper van.

There are two models to choose from: The High Roof is perfect for couples- it includes a queen sized bed in the back, as well as a kitchen, sink, indoor shower and portable toilet. The Pop Top, which sleeps four, is perfect for families- it has both a double bed down below, and a double bed up top  in the Pop Top! While the Pop Top does not have an Indoor Shower, it offers a solar shower that can be used outside, and it also includes a sink and stove. Both models are rented for $319 a night.

Add-ons available include hammocks & bike racks, services such as pre-bought groceries and airport pick-ups, and packaged and customized tour itineraries.

All-inclusive packages consist of:

  • Moterra Campervan Rental and cleaning fee
  • Day-by-day personalized Itinerary with directions and destination info.
  • Pre-booked campsites, handpicked and booked in advance where possible, or GPS locations for off-the-grid dispersed camping spots.
  • Scenic Routes that take you to the heart of the action while minimizing road traffic.
  • Individualized suggestions depending on your preferences for hiking, scenic attractions, restaurants and activities.
  • A wide range of activities to make the trip your own, like white-water rafting, wildlife safaris, road biking, horseback-riding, kayaking and scenic floats.

For example, a 10-day/9-night Mighty 5: Utah’s Desert National Parks is priced from $5499, providing two-days each in Zion National Park, Bryce National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park.

A six-night/seven-day package offers the highlights of Yellowstone National Park and The Grand Tetons National Park (from $3699).

Moterra operates out of Jackson, WY, Whitefish, MT, Salt Lake City, UT and San Francisco, CA.

Moterra Camper Vans, 2950 West Big Trail Drive, Jackson, Wyoming, 307-200-7220,
info@gomoterra.com, gomoterra.com.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Where to Go to Reclaim Summer Vacation from COVID’s Grip

Discovery Bicycle Tours, operating out of Woodstock, Vermont, is promoting private and small-group tours through uncrowded rural areas, within driving distance of Northeast’s major metros this summer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Memorial Day typically is the start of the summer vacation season. But this Memorial Day and this summer season is anything but typical. Still, because of the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and explore uncrowded areas, summer may be the best time over the next many months to escape neighborhood boundaries and travel. Face it, some destinations, some travel experiences are better suited than others in this time of coronavirus pandemic, and travelers need to have confidence that travel providers, authorities and communities have taken all precautions to provide a safe, healthy environment where they are traveling.

Travelers, too, bear responsibility to not become infected or inadvertently carry infection to other places: wearing masks, washing hands frequently with soap, socially distancing, and self-quarantining when not feeling well. Some localities even have 14-day quarantine periods imposed on any visitor (check), and some communities may be less than welcoming to tourists from areas known to have had high infection rates. New Yorkers, for example, may be welcomed with less than open arms, but the good news is that New York has made it exceptionally easy to get tested, so travelers can move about with a sense of confidence (recognizing that a test only reflects that moment in time).

Indeed, instead of shutting down tourism altogether – punishing local economies that depend on tourism – places that impose a 14-day quarantine might instead take a result of a test that either affirms the traveler is not carrying COVID-19 infection or has the antibodies to indicate they have already had the infection; some might even set up their own testing stations at the “border” – the toll booths on the highway or the airports – where a tourist can immediately be tested and stay over a night, rather than 14 days, for the result – much as nations require proof of vaccines. Such measures would also inspire confidence in other travelers that they won’t become exposed.

Very possibly, the most difficult part of organizing a summer vacation will be access in light of limits on capacity. For this reason, going through an experienced, well-respected tour company which can provide services with the heightened attention to wellness, has permits and accommodations, will be key.

Here are some suggestions for your summer vacation:

Austin Adventures Responds to Renewed Interest With Custom, Small-Group Programs

Austin Adventures is seeing an uptick in requests as national parks reopen.

Austin Adventures is “definitely seeing an uptick in domestic travel requests as the national parks of the west express their opening plans,” says Dan Austin, founder and CEO of the travel company. “Many want exclusive departures. We have a new program to accommodate these requests. We are using private cabins and estates and providing full service guided adventures using these properties as a base camp.

“Guides will pick up guests at the airport and provide full services by day, tucking the guests into their private retreats by night. All vans and equipment are sanitized daily per CDC guidelines and following the lead set by airline carriers. Strict social distancing guidelines will be followed in all public areas. Guest will enjoy getting out on the trails and into the backcountry away from crowds. Activities like rafting and horseback riding will all be done in a private group setting.” 

Austin is setting up scheduled small group departures, adding an extra vehicle – two vans for 12 guests – to keep group size small even while transporting guests.

Planning is made a bit more complicated because the various national parks are opening with different timelines and new regulations, each set by the individual park superintendent all based on what’s best for their park and guests, Austin says.

Austin Adventures is designing private and small-group tours ideal for families.

“Yellowstone is our top seller and while there will be limited accommodations in the park opening and lots of new COVID rules, we will be back running tours June 14.” A key advantage is that Austin is fully permitted and capable of following the strict COVID-19 guidelines.

The company also expects to operate in the Grand Tetons, Wyoming, and Bryce and Zion in Utah, as well as Alaska.

“All starting a bit later but running in some capacity   A couple of casualties of COVID is our Canadian Rockies adventure – because of strict quarantine rules [still not allowing nonessential travel from the United States across its border] and our Glacier National Park trip because of the uncertainty as to when and how it will open. Hotel openings are key and often alternates must be found outside the parks.”

Austin Adventures, Billings, Montana, 800-575-1540, 405-655-4591, www.austinadventures.com.

Western River Expeditions Draws on 60 Years Experience to Devise Protocols to Keep Families Adventuring this Summer

Where in the world – and how – will families vacation this summer?

“Given months of pandemic-driven lock-down orders, what will be attractive will be vacations that embrace fresh air and the healing powers of nature that can work wonders on family spirits and recovery,” says Western River Expeditions.
 
The company is drawing on its nearly 60 years operating top-quality river rafting vacations for individuals, families and friends to address pandemic-related challenges. Here are some of many steps the company is taking to counter COVID-19 fears. 

  • Screening Employees: Every day before work, each employee must pass both a temperature and pulse oximeter screen, and then answer a detailed questionnaire.
  • Screening Guests at Check-in: Guests exhibiting temperatures of 100.4 or higher will not be allowed to travel with Western River Expeditions at the time they planned; instead, they will receive an “Adventure Credit” which allows the guest and any members of the group who were currently living at the same physical address during any of the 7 days prior to the trip to use the full paid value of their trip as a credit for a future trip at a later date.
  • Screening while on Multi-Day Trips: All trip participants and guides will have a daily temperature and pulse oximeter checks and fill out a daily review of symptoms questionnaire. 

New protocols have been put in place should someone experience COVID-19 symptoms during a trip. In such case, steps will be taken to protect other guests from exposure during the remainder of that trip. There also will be protocols for toilet facilities, hand washing stations and social distancing (when feasible) as well as reduced number of guests per raft.
 
The company will also implement specific guidelines that address everything from life-jacket use and sanitation, to meal prep and service, use of shuttle vans, number of people per shuttle vehicle, sanitation of rafts, dry bags, cots, sleeping bags and all associated equipment. For more details on Western River Expeditions’ specific protocols see www.westernriver.com/covid-19
 

Western River Expeditions plans to offer its famed rafting adventures this summer with special protocols.

Western River Expeditions is expecting to operate late spring and summer 2020 trips, subject to the easing of government-mandated closures. Three trips in particular are ideal for families:

  • Desolation Canyon, a five-day trip through breathtaking Desolation Canyon and Gray Canyon on the Green River in central Utah. Trips are scheduled to depart June 7 through Aug. 12 with a minimum age of five years old (see www.westernriver.com/desolation-canyon
  • Southwest Sampler, a four-day adventure that includes an off-road Hummer Safari, Arches National Park tour and overnight rafting trip as well as a stay at Moab’s Marriott SpringHill Suites. Departures are scheduled May 26 through Aug. 26. If National Park closures affect the operation of the Arches National Park tour, guests will explore another stunning location in Moab (see  https://www.westernriver.com/moab-utah-vacation-sampler)
  • Grand Canyon, the three-day option still has some limited space on certain dates from June 21st through September. Conveniently departing and returning to Las Vegas, NV, this 100-mile journey is suitable for families with kids as young as nine (see https://www.westernriver.com/grand-canyon-river-trip
Western River Expeditions is recommending three family tours this summer.

Other adventures from Western River Expeditions include:

Utah’s Cataract Canyon Classic 4 Day: These should operate June 2 through August 25. This spectacular 4-Day Colorado River trip runs 100 miles from Moab to Lake Powell through Canyonlands National Park. A flight returns guests to Moab over Canyonlands.

Cataract Canyon Express 2 Day: This faster-paced 2-Day Colorado River trip runs 100 miles from Moab to Lake Powell through Canyonlands National Park. Large whitewater rapids are a big part of this adventure!

Upper Grand Canyon 6 or 7 Day: Trips starting June 14 and later are currently scheduled to operate. Select trips June through September have limited availability. The upper 188 miles of the Grand Canyon offer some of the largest whitewater rapids in North America and a plethora of side canyon attractions. 

Lower Grand Canyon 4 Day with Bar Ten Ranch: All 4 day departures from June 21sthrough September are expected to operate; limited space is available on select departures in 2020.

Western River Expeditions is an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, with operations and offices in Moab, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona. From March through October, the company guides more people down rivers in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company. It is the one of largest licensed outfitters in the Grand Canyon and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, through its Moab Adventure Center division (http://www.moabadventurecenter.com/).
 
Western River Expeditions, Salt Lake City, UT,  866-904-1160, 801-942-6669, www.westernriver.com.

Luxury Active Vacations from Butterfield & Robinson

Butterfield & Robinson Experience Designers have been diligently researching, collaborating with long-trusted partners to offer programs with increased safety measures, mindful activities and more flexible booking policies.

The result is a curated selection of experiences in remote locations—from rustic-chic cabins to island-perched hotels—that, when combined with wide-open spaces, create the perfect setting to start exploring again.

The luxury active vacations company is focusing on private groups of family and friends who are looking for exclusive experiences at remote high end properties or luxury camping. The price point is around $700-1000 per person, per day. The options range from guided biking and walking experiences to lodge- based single stay experiences. For example:

Venture to the Wild West for private cabin stays or full takeovers of luxury ranches like Wyoming’s Brush Creek and The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana. Or head to Colorado and settle into a cottage at Dunton Hot Springs, where you can gallop on horseback through the San Juan Mountains and let your stress melt away in a natural outdoor pool.

Butterfield and Robinson makes it possible to venture to the Wild West for private cabin stays or full takeovers of luxury ranches this summer.

In California’s wine country, innovative winemaking techniques fuse with fresh, farm-to-table food. Pair with properties like the sophisticated SingleThread or the dreamy Auberge du Soleil.

In the rust-colored desert expanses of Utah, choose how you interact with the landscape, whether it’s a stay at the sleek and restorative Amangiri resort or a private houseboat charter (complete with a private chef!) on Lake Powell. Elevate the experience with luxury camping on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for a secluded moment in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Say aloha to paradisiacal beaches, active volcanoes and sky-high waterfalls for some adventure further afield in Hawaii. Check in at the Mauna Lani on the Kohala coast and fill your days with water sports, epic hikes or a round of golf before kicking back in the evening with Mai Tais.

Butterfield & Robinson, Toronto, Ontario, 866-551-9090, http://butterfield.com/

Discovery Bicycle Tours: Yes You Can Bike This Summer

Discovery Bicycle Tours, operating from Woodstock, Vermont, is resuming operations in destinations that have reopened for outdoor adventures, with important new health precautions in place. The company is also highlighting its small-group active vacations and can customize private tours (https://discoverybicycletours.com/private-tours)

The trips are organized to bike through rural places where you can leave the crowds behind and bike freely, and with fewer inn transfers.

“Our small tours are carefully crafted to provide personal choices for your comfort. You have options to dine with a small group, outside or in your own room. Each inn and restaurant on tour has new protocols to comply with local health rules,” writes Chief Customer Officer Thistle Cone, who recently bought the bike tour company with Scott Cone.

“Our leaders are adding extra cleanings of vans and bikes and will provide more social distancing for van transfers. Bring a comfy mask — and we will have extras.”

Idyllic country scenes greet Discovery Bicycle Tours cyclists just outside Woodstock, Vermont (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the July and August six-day tour offerings now booking:

Crater Lake & Scenic Bikeways: July 26-31, Aug. 9-14
Lake Champlain Islands: Aug. 16-21, Aug. 30-Sept. 4
Coast of Maine: July 19-24, Aug. 16-21, Aug. 23-28
Idaho Trails: July 5-10, Aug. 22-27
Great Allegheny Passage: Aug. 30-Sept. 4

“Looking for an East Coast getaway that’s a short drive from the major metro areas? Stay tuned to our website for more Vermont tours to be added soon … most in August through October.” 

Discovery Bicycle Tours, Woodstock, Vermont, 800-257-2226, info@discoverybicycletours.com, discoverybicycletours.com.

New Jersey’s Beach Mecca The Wildwoods Reopens

The Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement & Development Authority (GWTIDA) has been tirelessly working with the Greater Wildwood Hotel and Motel Association, Wildwood Business Improvement District (WBID), the Wildwood Special Improvement District (WSID), the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce and area businesses to set up initiatives such as enhanced sanitizing protocols, as well as expanding seating in restaurants out onto the sidewalks and adjacent parking lots for al fresco dining, enhanced sanitizing and spacing on amusement rides and all surfaces, social distancing procedures in ride queue lines, sanitizing of rental bikes, boats, jet skis, kayaks and of course promoting the wide spacious beaches where visitors can stretch out and relax with plenty of room to practice social distancing. 

“We are pleased to report that the Wildwoods are open for business for the 2020 summer season,” said Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority (GWTIDA) Executive Director/CFO John Siciliano. “Health and safety is a top priority for the Wildwoods, and every precaution is being taken to assure that all who visit feel safe and comfortable,” he added.

The famous beaches of The Wildwoods, New Jersey are reopened this summer.

North Wildwood and Wildwood beaches and boardwalk has reopened to limited activity; the cities’ parks and bike paths are reopened and Wildwood Crest beaches, parks, bike paths, and sport courts for non-group play are open. In addition, hotels, motels and short-term rental properties are scheduled to begin reopening in Wildwood and North Wildwood on May 26 and Wildwood Crest properties will reopen on June 1.

Short-term rental properties, like all aspects of reopening the Wildwoods for the summer, will take measures to meet social distancing guidelines by initially opening at 60 percent capacity. Increased sanitizing and cleaning protocols, especially in high-touch areas, will be encouraged to ensure an optimal visitor experience. Additional measures may include having later check-in times to allow additional time for guest room preparation and enhanced sanitizing.

The Wildwoods offer 11,000 room accommodations – including 8,000 hotel and motel rooms, and 3,000 vacation rentals. The mid-century themed hotels/motels throughout the five-mile island developed during the era of burgeoning automotive travel of the 1950s – which is making a comeback in this New Normal.

 “The designs and architectural features pay tribute to the post-war pop culture. Their architecture continues to memorialize the bold spirit of a newly restless society, while motel names conjure up tropical paradises and other exotic destinations.”

Visitors must adhere to the social distancing guidelines set forth by Governor Phil Murphy; all activities are subject to the orders of the Governor.

Walking, running, fishing and sunbathing are welcomed on the beaches. Physical activities such as biking, walking and running may take place on the boardwalk. Boardwalk establishments offering takeout-only food, will also be open for business. Municipal parks and playgrounds will be open; however, playground equipment will remain closed. Everyone is encouraged to use best practices for social distancing, including wearing masks while enjoying the beach and boardwalk. Sitting and gathering in groups is prohibited.

The Wildwoods’ five-miles of free white-sand beaches serve as the ideal location for visitors to clear their minds and enjoy the calming benefits of ‘Beach Therapy’. The beaches offer an award-winning and spacious stretch of sand to relax, recharge, and reunite with friends and family. In addition to being the perfect place for relaxation, the beach gives visitors a wonderful opportunity to exercise freely and spend quality time with family.

Another way to recharge, get physical exercise and enjoy the beautiful summer air – all while keeping a safe distance from fellow visitors – is taking part in the Wildwoods’ ‘bikeability’. Take in the breathtaking views of the Wildwoods, starting at the far southern end of the island along the Dunes Bike Path in Wildwood Crest, up onto the Wildwoods’ 2.5-mile Boardwalk, and through North Wildwood’s Muhlbury Bike Path to the North Wildwood Sea Wall – a scenic, leisurely 12-mile round trip route. You can also ride bikes-only lanes through downtowns and around the entire island.  

Golf courses can be found all across Cape May County – from Cape May National to the south to Shore Gate Golf Club to the north – and offer a variety of playing levels from beginner to scratch golfer.

Known as the ‘two miles of smiles,’ the iconic Wildwoods Boardwalk is pure sensory overload with three amusement piers with 100 rides and attractions, carnival-style games, flashing arcades, shops and irresistible food. The Wildwoods food & beverage establishments are doing their part in abiding to safe distancing guidelines by offering curbside pick-up, delivery, and al fresco dining options.

For additional information about The Wildwoods, New Jersey, call 800-992-9732 or visit www.WildwoodsNJ.com

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Putting a Toe in the Water: Cruising in a Time of Pandemic

Rent your own Lockmaster canal boat from Erie Canal Adventures, and float where whimsy takes you on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It may not feel right to cruise on a mega-ship just yet, but there are wonderful alternatives, well adaptable to the “new normal” of travel at a time of concern for COVID-19. But for those who appreciate the lure of sailing: Expeditionary-style cruises, small-ship cruises, riverboats, barge hotels, canal boats (you can even self-skipper your own), and for the real talented, skippering your own yacht can meet the bill. And if you want to stay domestic and avoid an airplane ride or immigration, there are loads of alternatives here, including Blount Cruises (we took a delightful small-ship cruise among the New England Islands), Erie Canal Adventures which rents the sweetest self-skippered canal boats on the Erie Canal in upstate New York, and Maine Windjammer Association historic vessels that let you sail in the waters of the Penobscot Bay, as just a few examples.

The entire cruise industry has instituted stringent procedures to sanitize vessels and keep passengers and crew healthy; many are adapting itineraries and even shore excursions. UniWorld, for example, is conducting health screenings, new cleaning protocols, removing items like magazines from public use, having disinfectant wipes available throughout the ship, contactless payment, assigned seating in the restaurant. American Queen Steamboat Company is doing pre-boarding screenings and temperature checks, deploying ionizer systems to purify cabins, thermal imaging to scan temperatures as passengers come on and off the boat, limiting the number of guests dining or watching shows at one time, and hand-washing stations.

Avalon Waterways, looking to a September re-start to river cruising, plans to implement screenings, touch-free temperature checks, luggage disinfection, electrostatic cleaning and UV disinfecting systems, and supply guests and crew with masks. There will also be social distancing measures, including reducing ship capacity and providing alternative dining venues, and buffets and self-serve stations will no longer be offered. Cabins and ship will undergo deep-cleaning and disinfection during each turnover; plus dining areas and shared items (bicycles, umbrellas) will be disinfected after each use. (See their policy, https://www.avalonwaterways.com/peace-of-mind/; avalonwaterways.com)

These cruise operators are also being extremely flexible, and even generous, about cancellations, refunds and changes, and offering enticing discounts. Windstar, for example, is allowing cancellations within 48 hours of sailing and you can either get 100% of your money back or a credit worth 125%. (windstarcruises.com)

“Most of the major cruiselines are making it worth your while to reschedule by giving additional percentage of value of the voyage, if they have to cancel the voyage. Cruiselines are making it worth your while to book.” says a spokesperson for CruiseCompete.com, a kind of LendingTree for booking cruises where cruise agents bid for your business.

If you are not comfortable to get on an airplane, there are scores of ships and variety of sailings from some 30 North American ports within driving distance of the vast majority.

But the biggest trend will be in the segment of small-ships cruising and expeditionary ships. Not only are these ships smaller, with fewer passengers and crew, but they ply less trafficked waters, visit uncrowded ports, and, in the case of “expeditionary” cruises, voyage to remote wilderness places and exotic corners of the globe.

And some of the “small ships” are so small, they are actually available for charter by a family or a group, like AdventureSmith Exploration’s 12-passenger SeaWolf, which operates in Alaska’s Glacier Bay. “This is a growth area for us,” said AdventureSmith’s founder and CEO Todd Smith. (See: https://www.adventuresmithexplorations.com/cruises/charter/yacht-private-cruise-cost/)

AdventureSmith’s SeaWolf is so small, it can be chartered by a family.

Destinations that are popular for expeditions, like Alaska (which had imposed a requirement for a 14-day quarantine for any visitor) and the Galapagos are loosening their restrictions so that cruising can begin again, possibly by late June or early July. And Smith is already getting calls from intrepid travelers, hoping to take advantage of deep discounts.

These small-ship, expeditionary vessels, hotel barges, riverboats, canal boats and the like afford all the advantages of a cruise vacation – packing/unpacking just once, camaraderie, great food, interesting/exciting destinations to explore, not being cramped in a car driving place to place – and avoid the chief risks to contracting infection because of crowds and density.

People need to have confidence, though, that not only can they travel safely, but that the other passengers and crew they are sailing with are healthy – something that is even more important for a ship than a hotel or restaurant. Perhaps one of the changes the industry could institute is requiring passengers to show they have been tested for COVID-19, or have the antibodies. This would eliminate the need for the draconian policy instituted, for example, by Maine and Alaska, which are requiring any out-of-state visitor to quarantine in the state for 14-days before they can go anywhere, like on one of the historic sailing vessels of the Maine Windjammer fleet (sailmainecoast.org). 

The state could even set up stations at the toll booths into the state and at the airports that ask visitors to show the document, and if not, to go to a mobile testing station. It seems staying overnight in a hotel to await the result is a better alternative to being quarantined for 14 days.

AdventureSmith Explorations, Alaska.

“We can provide a safe environment,” commented Todd Smith, president and founder of AdventureSmith Explorations. “Small ships, expeditionary ships are lower risk inherently – with only 12 to 80 guests – so the risk is already reduced. And expedition cruises – river cruises also – passengers are spending more time off the boat in wilderness settings, where the risk is low.

“But the industry still has some questions needs to address – I’m not sure we are there yet: How do you social distance on a small ship, do you stagger meal times, paint spots on deck, so people are consciously standing apart? What is the protocol for crew helping passengers get in and out of zodiacs which requires physical contact? Operators are working hard to do that. But when all is said and done, small ships, expeditionary cruising will be very appealing.”

Also, if passengers show that they have a test result to begin with, and the cruise company takes temperatures each day, that should also relieve a lot of the risk of sailing.

“Testing will be a part of the solution,” he agreed.”Whether the passenger takes a test at home before coming, or you can test on arrival the night before sailing and you have a test that gives result in a matter of hours, that would be the best solution. Testing means that travelers will feel confident. The traveler wants to know everybody else on the ship is healthy.”

One source of good news is that expeditionary cruise-goers tend to be  adventurers, who see the opportunity to explore as a reward worth a mitigated risk.

“Our customer base is small and motivated. We’re getting calls now for intrepid travelers saying willing to go now and looking for deals. That’s encouraging.

“It is the draw of nature, wanting to spend time in a place that brings people close to nature, to rejuvenate.  I believe there will be a lot of pent-up demand, but only if people feel comfortable.”

“North America offers 9.54 million square miles of diversity, and its northernmost territories showcase some of the most remote and pristine landscapes on Earth,” Smith said. “We pride ourselves in introducing our passengers to regions along the Pacific and Arctic oceans. Our fleet of small ships and wilderness lodges access hard-to-reach and often remote regions where guests can step back millennia into a natural world.” (AdventureSmith Explorations, 800-728-2875, www.adventuresmithexplorations.com).

Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endurance.

A global leader in responsible tourism, Lindblad Expeditions has become the first self-disinfecting fleet in the cruise industry.  In keeping with their legacy of sustainability and protecting the places they explore, they have announced that they are now implementing Premium Purity fleetwide, a unique cleaning system which creates a cleaner, healthier ship while drastically reducing the impact on the environment.

The new system, ACT CleanCoat™, is a photocatalytic process that works when illuminated, breaking down unwanted microbes such as bacteria, viruses, mold, and airborne allergens. It can be applied to all surfaces which become self-disinfecting after application. Created by ACT.Global A/S, a Copenhagen-based company, the antibacterial spray is transparent, odorless, and activated by light, and protects a room like an invisible insulation – plus purifies and deodorizes the air for up to one year. 

Chemical free, the product uses the ACT ECA water system created by electrolysis of salt and water, to clean the rooms, which is completely harmless to guests, staff and the environment.

“As the oldest and most experienced expedition travel company in the world, we go to some of the most pristine places on the planet. We are very conscious of the waste we produce, and how the cleanliness of our ship and protection of our guests onboard is vital to a healthy environment,” said Bruce Tschampel, Vice President, Hotel Operations for Lindblad Expeditions.

“Premium Purity is unlike anything we have seen out there.  Our ships are truly pristine and healthy, and we already have measurable results to prove it from our initial pilot program on one ship.  We reduced guest reported illness by 50%; eliminated over 1,000 plastic bottles of cleaning products; and dramatically reduced water usage by 1.1 million gallons per year.  The crew is raving about how much healthier the ship is and how effective it is to use this solution,” he stated.   

The fleetwide rollout is another step in Lindblad’s commitment toward defining travel industry standards for sustainability and environmentally responsible operations.  In 2019 they become a carbon neutral company, offsetting 100% of emissions from their ships, all land-based operations, employee travel, offices in New York and Seattle, and other contributors. They successfully eliminated guest-facing single-use plastics fleet-wide in 2018 and have operated a sustainable seafood program aboard the fleet for many years. Other related sustainability initiatives include building new ships that reduce emissions while increasing efficiency; mandating supply chain solutions to eliminate plastic; sourcing and serving local, organic produce; and making crew uniforms from recycled plastic.

Lindblad Explorations’ family program in Alaska.

Lindblad’s ships, including the National Geographic Venture, National Geographic Explorer, National Geographic Orion, National Geographic Endeavor II, National Geographic  Islander, National Geographic Sea Bird, Sea Cloud, National Geographic Quest, Delphin, Jahan,  Lord of the Glens,  and Oberoi Philae operate around the globe, in Arctic, Antarctic, Galapagos, Baja, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia, South Pacific, Russian Arctic, Alaska, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Amazon, Vietnam and Cambodia and Scotland, Caribbean and Mediterranean and Egypt.

Lindblad Expeditions was set to launch the National Geographic Endurance on voyages in the Arctic and beyond, but has delayed the grand entrance of the 126-passenger polar expeditionary vessel.

“While we are all social distancing at home, the team on board National Geographic Endurance have been prepping and polishing every inch of the ship’s gleaming new surfaces so when guests can finally explore on her this remarkable ship will exceed their every expectation. From the bridge and the observation lounge to cabins and suites, to new features like the glass-walled yoga studio, infinity Jacuzzis and the first igloos at sea, she’s an extraordinary ship for next-generation exploring,” the company stated.

“Our cruise ship fleet consists of nimble, intimately-scaled expedition ships, able to safely venture where larger cruise ships cannot,” Lindblad Expeditions CEO Sven Lindblad wrote. “This allows us to offer authentic, up-close experiences in the planet’s wild, remote places and capitals of culture. More than comfortable as your base for exploring, our National Geographic luxury cruise ships are outfitted with cool tools that enable a genuine connection with the places we visit and offer inviting private accommodations, and gracious public spaces for our expedition community to gather.”

To ease travelers’ concerns, Lindblad offers flexible options, allowing passengers to cancel a 2020 expedition up to 24 hours before departure to receive 100% future travel credit through 2021. (Lindblad Expeditions, 800-Expedition, www.expeditions.com).

Small-Ship Cruises

Blount Small Ship Adventures checks off all the boxes for me. Its two, specially designed ships carry just 84 guests, and are designed so they can sail into ports that are uncrowded and into waters that are less traveled.

Blount Small Ship Adventures’ Grande Caribe, calling at Nantucket. Small ships, especially ones that can be reached by car, are being sought out by travelers who love cruising but want to minimize any health risk. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Blount’s specially designed small ships make it possible to visit islands that would not be accessible by bigger ships. Their ships are nimble, even have a patented bow ramp (ideal in places like Belize and Guatemala) and a retractable pilot house (so they can go under bridges on the Erie Canal), both inventions of Luther Blount, who founded the company and was one of the innovators of “small ship cruising” more than 50 years ago, and can come close to shore. The cruises are enhanced with local historians, culinary experts, naturalists and entertainers who provide their expertise.

Blount is offering major discounts on select 2020 cruises, for example, a 14-day cruise that sails from New York City up the Hudson, onto the Erie Canal, to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, to Quebec City and Montreal. We experienced Blount’s New England islands cruise (888-368-2240, www.blountadventure.com).

Historic Sailing Ships

The Maine Windjammer Association fleet hopes to be sailing again this summer (Maine has imposed a 14-day quarantine on visitors to the state), and are small enough and nimble enough to provide a safe environment for passengers.

Sailing aboard the Maine Windjammers in the Great Schooner Race (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Maine Windjammer experience celebrates the pristine coast of Maine and the rare exhilaration of wind-powered freedom. Our itineraries are determined by the wind, tide and the wisdom of the captains. We call ourselves the “un-cruise” because of our small groups, our sustainable philosophy and eco-travel ethos combined with freshly prepared and sourced meals, picturesque destinations and wind-in-your hair freedom. By day, we explore the seas, islands and villages. By night, dramatic sunsets and star-filled skies.  These are the makings of exactly the vacation you’ll need when the pandemic passes. Let your shelter be aboard our sturdy ships on Penobscot Bay.”

In response to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, the Maine Windjammer Association fleet is taking the following actions:

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and continue to adhere to all federal, state and local directives.

Monitoring the Coast Guard’s notices to mariners and taking additional steps to meet and exceed any further guidelines for the safety of guests and crew.

Maine Windjammer cruise aboard ‘Victory Chimes’ (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Each one of our vessels already follows strict guidelines for sanitation and cleanliness; we’re reviewing all those procedures and will implement increased cleaning protocols as advised by the CDC and Coast Guard. It is worth noting here that the vessels of the Maine Windjammer Association have an excellent safety record.”

“We trust that most guests share our optimism for the cruise season to commence as planned, as we have received very few requests to change or cancel bookings. These requests are being handled on a case-by-case basis by each boat individually.  Should you need to make a change to an already reserved trip, contact the boat you’re planning to sail on directly.”

Some of the ships are small enough they can be taken over by a single family or group.

Each of the ships that belong to the Maine Windjammer Association and three that belong to Maine Windjammer Cruises has its own character and personality, and each also reflects their captain/owner, but there are some universals about the experience – a sense of freedom and peacefulness. Many of the departures have special themes or are oriented to some special interest.

“The ships of the Maine Windjammer Association, whether Schooner, Ketch, Historic Landmark, or purposely built for passenger service, are individually owned and operated, each as different as those of us who sail them, all with essence unique to their design.”

American Eagle, one of the historic Maine Windjammer Association fleet (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ships include:

Schooner Stephen Taber (800-999-7352)

Schooner Victory Chimes (800-745-5651)

Schooner American Eagle (800-648-4544)

Schooner Heritage (800-648-4544)

Schooner Mary Day (800-992-2218)

Windjammer Angelique (800-282-9989)

Schooner Lewis R. French (800-469-4635)

Schooner Ladona (formerly the Nathaniel Bowditch, 800-999-7352)

Maine Windjammers Great Schooner Race (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition, there are three ships in the Maine Windjammer Cruises fleet, the Grace Bailey, the Mercantile (which carry 29 passengers), and the Mistress (the smallest, it accommodates just six people so is ideal for one family unit). (P.O. Box 617, Camden, ME 04843 , 207-236-2938, 800-736-7981, www.mainewindjammercruises.com)  

River Cruising & Barge Hotels

When river cruising was a privilege for the wealthy, CroisiEurope developed an affordable cruising concept offering the best value in river cruises at great prices, and appealing to every traveler. The company operates 50 company-owned ships and five chartered vessels, on the Rhine and its tributaries, the Danube,  the Seine, the Rhône, of course, as well as the Tisza in Hungary, the Guadalquivir in Spain, the Douro in Portugal, the Dordogne and the Garonne in Bordeaux and more exotic destinations including the Mekong in Vietnam and the lake Kariba in Southern Africa.

The French company launched a river cruise on the Loire in 2016 with a new, revolutionary boat equipped with a paddle wheel to carry passengers into the interior. In 2014, the company also launched the MS Lafayette  class of intimate vessels with only 82 guests.

CroisiEurope plies the the French canals in Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne, Provence, and Paris with a fleet of new, modern and comfortable hotel barges, with just 12 cabins. In someplaces, you go through locks that are just inches higher or wider than the barge, making for exciting experiences. The barges have bikes, so you can get out and bike along the canal, handing the bike back and jumping back onto the barge. (CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, https://www.croisieuroperivercruises.com/)

Barge hotels – literally barges that have been reconfigured for passengers – are so small, one family or group could book up the entire vessel. CroisiEurope, which has a fleet of river cruising vessels, also has a fleet of European barges, which have a maximum passenger capacity of just 22 passengers, offering itineraries in Alsace, Champagne, Ile-de–France, Burgundy, Provence and Loiret. (www.croisieuroperivercruises.com/destination/european-barge-cruises).

France Cruises’ barge hotel canal cruise through Burgundy (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Another company that offers barge hotels (in addition to river cruises) and boat-and-bike tours is France Cruises. It was on their barge cruise through the canals of Burgundy – each day featuring marvelous excursions and sensational meals – that I first saw canal boats that you could rent. (866-498-3920, www.francecruises.com).

Canal Boats

You can rent your own canal boat to ply the canals of Europe, but you don’t have to go so far: discover the charming villages and towns and see unfold before you the making of America as you sail your own Lockmaster canal boat on the Erie Canal, stretching from Buffalo to Albany. It is thrilling to have the lock master’s open the locks or raise bridges for you. The experience is made possible by Erie Canal Adventures (formerly Mid-Lakes Navigation, whose founder specially designed these charming canal boats). You can rent a boat suitable for a couple, up to a family. You get to float (the boats go a maximum of 3 mph), tying up pretty much where you like, to these charming small and uncrowded canal towns, take a bike to ride the Canalway. The boars are pretty self-sufficient, with galley, fuel, water, even a bbq, but there are plenty of picturesque outdoor cafes if you prefer. The company has an intense COVID-19 safety plan, describing its enhanced cleaning/disinfecting procedures. (Erie Canal Adventures,  315-986-3011, www.eriecanaladventures.com.).

Erie Canal Adventures lets you self-skipper your own Lockmaster on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And as the cruise industry attempts to recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, another change might be for these small-ship, expeditionary, and historic sailing vessel operators to extend their season like the mega-ships do, and sail to another cruise destination for part of the year, offering “repositioning cruises” in between, so they are not so dependent upon a three or six-month season.

Size Matters

According to CruiseCompete, “Extra Small Ships” (201-499 passengers) offer a private, exclusive ambiance, along with personalized service and the advantage of being able to port almost anywhere. Passengers get a feel for the water and experience destinations in a very close-up, personal way.

Some benefits of XS ships:

  • The most important benefit of small ship cruising is an immersive experience in the destination. Very small ships allow an in-depth exploration of nature, culture, history and learning not possible on larger ships.
  • Passengers tend to be a well-traveled, worldly crowd who enjoy the pursuit of education and exploration of the destinations they visit
  • Very personal attention from the crew; with luxury cruises this translates to personal attendants who see to your every need
  • More solitude and the opportunity to relax and pursue your own interests
  • Seating is usually open, with no set tables
Seven Seas Navigator

Example XS ships:

  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises:  Seven Seas Navigator
  • Silversea Cruises:  Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper, Silver Spirit
  • Seabourn: Seabourn Legend, Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Sojourn, Seabourn Spirit,
  • Windstar Cruises: Wind Surf, Star Pride, Star Breeze, Star Legend
  • Paul Gauguin Cruises:  MS Paul Gauguin
  • Voyages to Antiquity Cruises: MV Aegean Odyssey
  • Star Clippers: Royal Clipper

“Extra-Extra Small Ships” (fewer than 200 passengers) include:

  • Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Flora-100 Celebrity Xpedition, Celebrity Xperience, Celebrity Xploration         
  • SeaDream Yacht Club:  Sea Dream I, SeaDream II
  • Silversea Cruises: Silver Discoverer, Silver Explorer, Silver Galapagos
  • Windstar Cruises:  Wind Spirit, Wind Star, Wind Spirit,
  • Star Clippers: Star Clipper,Star Flyer

CruiseCompete.com, an online cruise marketplace, is an excellent source for all sorts of cruising. You can find specials and discounts, cruise and ship reviews, shore excursions, and search for cruises based on ship size, cruise length, destination, type of cruise like river cruises or adventure cruises,  weddings at sea, and a score of other parameters. Then, member cruise agents bid for your business. (Visit CruiseCompete.com and try the Virtual Cruise Advisor.)
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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Memorable Meals in World’s Best Restaurants Remind How Restaurants are Mainstay of Community, Magnet for Travelers, a Doorway to Appreciating Culture, Heritage

Master sushi chef, Okane, Japanese gastropub, in San Francisco’s SoMa district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

with Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda, Eric Leiberman, Sarah Falter

Restaurants are not just a mainstay, a staple, for a community, they also are a magnet for travelers – experiencing food has become a top priority for travelers who plan destinations and itineraries around it. Restaurants are vital to a local economy.

But at this point in time, they are among the most endangered of species as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Local, independent restaurants are the backbone of our communities, tourism, and redevelopment in every corner of the U.S.,” writes the newly formed Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC), formed to lobby Congress for the interests of the more than 500,000 independent restaurants across the country. (https://www.saverestaurants.com/)

“We directly employ over 11 million people across the country, and indirectly employ hundreds of millions of workers up and down the food supply and delivery chain — from growers, packers, fisherman, linen services, delivery people and more — who depend on the continued revenue of restaurants to stay in business.

“We contribute $1 trillion to our economy, and represent 4% of our GDP. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are closed for business. As of today, up to seven million people have been laid off, and millions of our suppliers will have their bills go unpaid, creating an unprecedented trickle down effect of economic damage to local restaurants and the small businesses that rely on them. We are the lifeblood of our economy and our communities, and we need help.”

The restaurant industry is also an industry that is singularly dependent upon human resources, with products and services that are perishable and cannot be stored on the shelf for a half-price sale months from now, vulnerable to the ebb and flow of cash flow.

“Independent restaurants are small businesses. But, unlike many other small businesses, our cash flow is completely dependent on current business. The bills from 45 days ago are paid with revenue earned today. If there is no revenue, those bills go unpaid. Independent restaurants estimate that there needs to be a minimum of $150 billion cash flow just to pay our current bills, rent, and taxes — and that’s before we pay our employees, who are the front line of service in this hospitality industry and the backbone to the local economies our businesses sustain.”

A Doorway to Savoring Heritage, Culture

Travelers especially appreciate food as a doorway to appreciate heritage, society, the ecosystem that forges a culture. The foods, the ingredients, the seasonings, the preparations, and the ambiance of restaurants – these forge sensory memories. Indeed, “food” has become one of the top factors for travelers when they choose a destination. Food is the front door into a culture, a community, a neighborhood – in fact, one of the tips travel experts offer is to find the best restaurant by simply asking a local, perhaps the Uber driver, for their favorite restaurant.

Remembering some of my most memorable dining experiences brings me back:

Shaving truffles onto rissotto at Restaurant RiziBizi, Portoroz, Slovenia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Restaurant RiziBizi, with Eric in Portoroz, Slovenia, capping our eight-day Venice-Croatia self-guided bike tour, specializes in truffles and serves one of the sensational meals that you remember forever. The restaurant has a tasting menu (from 50 to 60 E). We opt for a la carte: tuna tartar with zucchini, wasabi-reduced plum; truffle soup, the chef sends over pate, served on sticks in a plant; risotto with Adriatic scampi and truffles (the waiter brings a dish of black truffles to table and shaves them onto the dish); duck breast with wine sauce. All the selections are based on locally sourced produce. I can imagine the most devoted foodies getting on planes and coming to Rizi Bizi just for the truffles. And they should. This is a world-class restaurant and the dining experience has been truly memorable, with selections that uniquely reflect the local produce, exquisitely presented. The restaurant is exemplary in every way – we dine on a patio with a view overlooking the hillsides down to the sea; the service is impeccable. (Restaurant RiziBizi, Villanova ulica 10, 6320 Portoroz, Slovenia www.rizibizi.si).

I’ll never forget the meal we shared on the last night of our bike trip on the Danube Bike Trail, in Vienna. David and Eric found one of Vienna’s most famous restaurants on yelp: Figlmueller has been a popular restaurant since 1905 – so popular there are two locations on the same street and both are full. We go to Wollzeile, right behind St. Stephen’s Cathedral, inside a small alleyway. David manages to talk his way in – on the wall is a New York Times review with a photo of then-Senator Al D’Amato of New York on the page. The flagship restaurant is often referred to as the “Home of the Schnitzel”.

Figlmueller boasts Vienna’s best schnitzel, which comes as an enormous round, bigger-than-the-plate, breaded pork pancake pounded impossibly thin. It is delectable with a light, delicate, tender texture. The waiter tells us that four men do nothing but pound schnitzel all day long – 1,600 schnitzels each day. The secret to the delectable taste is using only the best light vegetable oil for frying. Only a few schnitzels are fried in the pan at a time. Then the vegetable oil is changed which means that each month several thousand liters of oil make their way in and out of the kitchen at Figlmüller; they are processed into biofuels. “To ensure that each schnitzel turns out tender and crispy we do not take any chances with the frying temperature of the vegetable oil. It takes 3 different pans to make the perfect schnitzel.” It is a memorable dining experience in every way, and a perfect way to celebrate the end of a perfect trip. (figlmueller.at)

Another memorable meal was a highlight of my around-the-world in 23 days Global Scavenger Hunt: at the Riad el Yacout where we stayed in Fes, Morocco, I savored a fantastic dinner  of chicken tagine and chicken couscous – the food and the atmosphere – amid the stunning tiles, fountains, patterned textiles, sheer perfection. Riad el Yacout was built in 1347 for Professor Laharchi, philosophy who taught at the famous Al Qaraouvine university and the house stayed in the family until 2000, when it was converted to a 33-room guesthouse (www.riadelyacoutfes.com/en/)

A memorable dinner at Riad el Yacout in Fes, Morocco of chicken tagine and chicken couscous © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another unforgettable dining experience was a dinner at the Castello di Verrazzano (the explorer’s actual family home, 1,500 years old), a vineyard and winery making fine Chianti wines, where you it can dine at its Farm restaurant, offering meals produced with raw ingredients from the farm and locality, including the wild board they raise here. The Castle became the property of the Verrazzano family in the VII century. Giovanni da Verrazzano, the navigator and discoverer of the bay of New York (the bridge was named for him in 1964) was born here in 1485. (They also recently opened “Foresteria Casanova, lodging, right in the midst of the vineyard).( Hosteria della Cantina, Via Citille, 32A Località Greti 50022 – Greve in Chianti (FI), Tel: +39 055 854243, https://www.verrazzano.com/en/the-place/)

Sea urchin, a specialty of Okane, a SoMa neighborhood izakaya (Japanese gastropub), flown in specially from Tokyo’s famous fish market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As astonishing find in San Francisco was Okane, the hip, casual sister restaurant to the more upscale, sophisticated Michelin-starred Omakase restaurant literally next door. Okane, which opened in 2015, by 2017 had been rated a Michelin Bib Gourmand. Okane is a SoMa neighborhood izakaya – a Japanese gastropub – serving traditional and refined Japanese “comfort” food and contemporary sushi.  Many of the selections would be common in Japan but are rarer to find in a Japanese restaurant in America. We dined on items that had been freshly purchased at Tokyo’s famous fish market and flown in that day. (Okane, 669 Townsend Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 415-865-9788, www.okanesf.com).

I can still taste the revelation of the sweetest, most succulent lobster, prepared over open fires on a secluded beach on Maine’s Penobscot Bay, a feature on every Maine Windjammer cruise on historic sailing ships (sailmainecoast.com).

Steaming fresh lobsters on a secluded beach, a highlight of a Maine Windjammer cruise aboard a historic sailing ship in the Penobscot Bay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Our globe-trotting correspondents Dave E. Leiberman and Laini Miranda offered their international favorites:

O Camilo, Estr. da Ponta da Piedade, 8600-544 Lagos, Portugal, +351 282 763 845, https://goo.gl/maps/n1CKYth49Tk27Rt8A

Tiger shrimp at O Camilo, Lagos, Portugal © Dave E. Leiberman

Punta Corcho, Avenida Rafael Melgar SM 01 MZ 6 Lote 01-01, 77580 Puerto Morelos, Q.R., Mexico, +52 998 206 9105, https://goo.gl/maps/vsfzyDJUxgZVW4X16

Punta Corcho, Puerto Morelos, Q.R. Mexico © Dave E. Leiberman

Les Bacchanales, 247 Avenue de Provence, 06140 Vence, France, +33 4 93 24 19 19, https://goo.gl/maps/nFgeymrduQB41BLU6

Les Bacchanales, Vence, France © Dave E. Leiberman

Pou Kitchen and Café, 136 Steung Thmei, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia, +855 70 716 969, https://goo.gl/maps/nxTtoojW1mks4z6M7

Club culinario toscano da Osvaldo, Piazza dei Peruzzi, 3/r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy, +39 055 217919 https://goo.gl/maps/6mGpSW9sZey5JJAt7

Moran’s Oyster Cottage, The Weir, Roymore, Kilcolgan, Co. Galway, Ireland, +353 91 796 113, https://goo.gl/maps/uynTUXjNR8g2tSN97

Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits, 600 Poland Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117, 504-948-9111, https://goo.gl/maps/6i2vAFghD6WXVx2i8

Hell’s Backbone Grill, 20 UT-12, Boulder, UT 84716, 435-335-7464, https://goo.gl/maps/UihaCLLbafLnkY1f7

Pappy & Harriet’s, 53688 Pioneertown Rd, Pioneertown, CA 92268, 760-365-5956, https://goo.gl/maps/FAGatwLWgqMEvpta6

Peck’s Arcade, 217 Broadway, Troy, NY 12180, 518-326-3450, https://goo.gl/maps/MSZvH1j81tDindC57

In the tradition of omakase, Doma Sushi, San Francisco, gives the chef creative freedom and the customer a memorable dining experience. You watch him create his masterpiece right in front of you © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

World traveling gourmands Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter shared these “top of mind” favorites:

Verjus, 52 Rue de Richelieu, 75001 Paris, France, +33 1 42 97 54 40, https://goo.gl/maps/c9SeBBtg9Yw6pKMLA

Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka, +94 77 258 3450, https://goo.gl/maps/x7D4j2xvnVxBZYW89

Kyuyam-tei Shimokita-sou, Japan, 〒155-0032 Tokyo, Setagaya City, Daizawa, 5 Chome−29−9 ナイスビル, +81 3-6450-8986, https://goo.gl/maps/Sqsuuecx93s5AYgm9

Miznon, 22 Rue des Ecouffes, 75004 Paris, France, +33 9 71 34 53 84, https://goo.gl/maps/QzSo4Bpu8SvLSWpG7

Hungarikum Bisztró, Budapest, Steindl Imre u. 13, 1051 Hungary, +36 30 661 6244, https://goo.gl/maps/PfKwQEsFLsLEVUFV9

Memedof Balık Restaurant, Yalıkavak, Gerişaltı mevkii Çökertme cad. No:42, 48400 Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey, +90 252 385 46 46, https://goo.gl/maps/gAYc9eY1cSTn635w9

LİMON GÜMÜŞLÜK RESTAURANT, Gümüşlük, 10. Yıl Sk., 48970 Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey, +90 554 740 62 60, https://goo.gl/maps/vBFYD6N5zsq6ui4D6

Apoala, 97000 Calle 60 #471 x 55 Local 2 Portales de Santa Lucía, Centro, 97000 Centro, Mexico, +52 999 923 1979, https://goo.gl/maps/1DtAJhDXvgjsGEgA8

Doma Sushi, 433 Precita Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110, 415-648-4417, https://goo.gl/maps/3fS86STAujFqd8WP6

Doma Sushi, San Francisco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Restaurants can transport you, and bring the world to you, as well. Here in New York, we have a United Nations of culinary experiences, so you can travel the world without even getting on a plane.

On one wonderful evening, I found myself in Peru for the first time in Greenwich Village at Llamita, the sister restaurant  (80 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014, 646-590-2771, llamitanyc.com). (It is the sister restaurant to the popular Llama Inn, 50 Withers St., Brooklyn, NY 11211, 7183873434.

Shalom Japan, “authentically inauthentic Jewish and Japanese food in South Williamsburg” marries two cultures, just as the chefs Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi are also married. Aaron hails from Great Neck, Long Island (a 2000 graduate of Great Neck North High School), and Sawako is from Hiroshima Japan. Not just a gimmick. Aaron’s flavor combinations are astonishing, a sensory surprise. (310 South Fourth St. Brooklyn NY, 11211, 718-388-4012, info@ShalomJapanNYC.com, ShalomJapanNYC.com).

At Shalom Japan, Brooklyn, which marries “authentically inauthentic Jewish and Japanese food), a Jewish blintz has artistic Japanese flair © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is likely that New York City and surrounding suburbs will be among the last to be able to reopen, and even then, will only be able to reopen with reduced capacity, social distancing, and such. But here are suggestions how they can stay economically viable.

In the first place, restaurants can play a vital role in staving off the epidemic of hunger that is accompanying the collapse of the economy. Depending upon circumstances, restaurants could be contracted by government or nonprofits to supply meals to shut-ins – better to spend the money that way than on unemployment – and needy families, as well as supply food pantries and kitchens.

In this current phase, as one of the IRC founders, “Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio, told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross on NPR, turn restaurants into community food centers, “Restaurants turned into community meal service. That would keep the ecosystem of the restaurant – employees, suppliers – intact, and feed a lot of hungry people.”

Restaurants might also create pop-up market in the morning and midday non-mealtime hours.  You can support them by ordering take-out, pick-up, and also pre-purchasing gift cards.

When restaurants can reopen, for the foreseeable future (that is until there is a treatment or better, a vaccine), they will have to provide greater distancing (versus arbitrarily reducing capacity by 25-50 percent), test employees, and even give customers a temperature check upon entering. How to stay economically viable, when restaurants already operate on very thin profit margins?

They might consider 1) taking reservations and giving people specific times to arrive; 2) charging premium prices for eat-in dining with a more limited, even pre-ordered menu (to avoid waste) and 3) offering curbside pick up and delivery for menu items at reduced (that is, present) rates in order to keep up volume.

As the rules become a bit relaxed, allow restaurants to set up tables for social distancing (not arbitrarily cut capacity 25-50%), allow dining outside (close off streets in “restaurant zones” to parking, traffic; have seating by timed reservation and pre-selected menu (to avoid waste and unnecessary overhead) with premium pricing, continue take-out and delivery options at regular pricing.

If landlords are smart, they will help support the restaurants, as well – perhaps lowering the rent, or even taking rent as a portion of sales until the rent is paid off. 

The federal government should treat restaurants in a separate category, not lump together with small businesses, and take into account the specific issues related to restaurants (high overhead, labor-intensive, perishable products and services). And state and local governments can do their best to lower overhead – perhaps with tax rebates or tax holiday, refinancing credit and loans at the ridiculously low interest rates that banks are getting.

Support the restaurant industry’s lobbying efforts. The industry is asking for $120 billion in funding and business-friendly rules. Sign the petition at https://www.saverestaurants.com/

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travel in Time of Pandemic: Hotels Offer Risk-Free Reservations

St Kitts Marriott Resort. More than 1,000 luxury hotels are participating in the Carefree Booking program, including Fairmont, Belmond, Crowne Plaza, Disney, Four Seasons, Hard Rock, Hyatt, InterContinental, Kimpton, Loews, Marriott, Meridien, Peninsula, Ritz Carlton, Rosewood, St Regis, and Westin Hotels and Resorts. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotels and lodgings, perhaps the industry most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, mindful of the uncertainty and changeability of conditions, have introduced flexible policies for changing or canceling bookings, offered hefty discounts on rates and gift cards, and, through the American Hotel & Lodging Association, introduced Safe Stay, an industry-wide, enhanced standard of health and safety protocols designed to prepare America’s hotels to safely welcome back guests and employees as the economy reopens. 

Overseas Leisure Group Introduces ‘Carefree Bookings’

It’s okay to dream about travel again and plan it, says Overseas Leisure Group, a luxury travel company operating in 34 countries across the globe. The company is announcing its Carefree Bookings initiative, offering a risk-free method of booking across an attractive portfolio of more than 1,000 destinations and experiences around the world. The newly launched industry-wide program has been designed to allow travelers plan their next trip despite the uncertainty of future restrictions enforced due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It features no deposit, no cancellation fees; automatic cancellation 7 days prior (if not paid by then), for travel between June 1 and October 31 at select top tier destinations and properties. 

The Carefree Bookings campaign follows the nationwide survey by the Miami-based travel group recently conducted among 2,000 travel enthusiasts in the U.S., revealing that 72 percent are already making plans for their next vacation; 53 percent are planning to travel this summer or fall, and 42 percent are ready to make a reservation now if it there was no constraint or penalty. With millions of travel and hospitality jobs on the line, it was deemed essential to obtain vital insight from travelers themselves.

Carefree Bookings offers a convenient method of making a reservation with some of today’s leading destinations and experiences around the world, without the need for a deposit and with no cancellation fee if travel plans change. Furthermore, the cancellation policy is truly carefree, whereby if payment isn’t made 7 days prior to the arrival date (to guarantee the reservation) the booking is automatically cancelled with no penalty whatsoever. These no-strings-attached terms for the Carefree Bookings initiative apply to travel between June 1st and October 31st, 2020.

More than 1,000 hotels, resorts and experiential providers are participating in the Carefree Booking program, including: COMO Hotels and Resorts, 1 Hotel, Auberge, Belmond, Crowne Plaza, Disney, Fairmont, Four Seasons, Hard Rock, Hyatt, InterContinental, Kimpton, Loews, Marriott, Meridien, Peninsula, Ritz Carlton, Rosewood, St Regis, and Westin Hotels and Resorts.

San Francisco’s famous Fairmont Hotel. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

In addition to the vast array of participating hotels and resorts, Carefree Bookings offers hundreds of experiences, such as surf lessons in Malibu with actor John Philbin (Point Break), and private helicopter rides with Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, among others. A full list of participating properties (with opening dates) and experiences can be found by visiting the Overseas Leisure Group website (https://www.overseasleisuregroup.com/CareFreeBookings.php).

“After weeks of confinement, there is a growing need for freedom and new horizons,” says Felix Brambilla, CEO of Overseas Leisure Group. “We heard the same comments time after time: “I am ready to make plans but I cannot commit if there is a risk of getting penalized.” Working with our hotel partners, we came up with the Carefree Bookings concept. More than a thousand properties already accepted to amend their usual T&Cs. We are very proud to be launching this initiative at a much-needed time!”

“In these extraordinary times, we believe strong partnership is fundamental to our business acumen, therefore we are thrilled to partner with Overseas Travel new initiative “Carefree Booking,” says Michele Bondanelli, Global Sales Director – Luxury, Lifestyle & Leisure for Hyatt.  “A large number of Hyatt hotels are participating in the program across all brands and we look forward to welcoming their guests in the days, months and years ahead.”

“What a great way to address the current global situation and the effect it is having on travel,” says Kidist Grznar, Vice President of Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters.  “A ‘Carefree Experience’ is an amazing way to give people the opportunity to keep dreaming and move forward with their travel plans ‘worry free.’ I am excited that Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters is participating.”

According to Statista, domestic and international travelers spent nearly $1.1 trillion U.S. dollars ($1,127 billion) in 2019 alone. When this sum is split by type of traveler, domestic travelers spent $972 billion, while international travelers spent $155 billion. Total travel expenditure in the U.S. is forecasted to reach $1.26 trillion by 2022.

Loews Portofino in Universal Orlando themepark © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Overseas Leisure Group is a growing global network dedicated to providing travel professionals with insider expertise for all luxury travel needs. The company is represented in 34 countries through 41 offices and continues to expand every year. Through its brands, Overseas Leisure Group provides unique luxury programs for individuals, groups and high net worth individuals. 

Complete results from the recent survey conducted by Overseas Leisure Group can be viewed here. For further information on Carefree Bookings, visit the website.  For further information on Overseas Leisure Group, visit www.overseasleisuregroup.com

Major Hotel Groups Ease Restrictions

Major hotel groups and chains including Marriott, IHG and Hyatt have introduced flexible policies. But as a rule of thumb, double-check the specific cancellation, refund and change policies of whatever hotel, resort or lodging you book – for example, Marriott is excluding cancellation policies during peak travel periods.

The advantage of booking early is that lodgings are hungry to lock-in bookings and may be offering excellent rates, opportunities to upgrade, bonuses on gift cards, and alleviate the concern by offering very flexible and liberal change, cancellation and refund policies. You also get to lock in those favorable rates and the reservation because there is the possibility that when restrictions are lifted, there will be a great release of pent-up demand – weddings and honeymoons that had been put off, anniversary and bucket-list travel that have new significance and urgency.

Marriott International Hotel Brands

For all Marriott International hotels world-wide:

Guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates that are typically more restrictive, are allowed full changes or cancellation without a charge up to 24 hours prior to arrival, as long as the change or cancellation is made by June 30,2020. Any changes to existing reservations will be subject to availability and any rate differences.

For guests making new reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates, between today and June 30, 2020, reservations can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival date. Changes to the reservation will be subject to availability and any rate differences.

Gaylord National Resort, Washington DC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Marriott brands include The Ritz-Carlton, W  Hotels Worldwide, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, JW Marriott, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, Sheraton, Marriott, Marriott Vacation Club,  Delta Hotels,  Westin Hotels & Resorts, Le Meridien,  Renaissance, Autograph collection Hotels, Tribute Portfolio, Design Hotels, Gaylord Hotels, Courtyard By Marriott, Springhill Suites by Marriott, Four Points by Sheraton, Fairfield by Marriott, Protea Hotels, AC Hotels, Aloft, Moxy Hotels, Residence Inn, Towneplace Suites, Marriott Executive Apartments, Element by Westin. (Design Hotels and Homes & Villas by Marriott International (HVMI) are excluded. Periods with special event restrictions or peak demand weeks may also be excluded; refer to the property’s Rate Details for applicable terms or exceptions, if any, when booking or changing reservations.

The artful W Hotel, Amman, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

IHG ‘Book Now, Pay Later’

IHG has introduced “Book Now, Pay Later.” This new rate offers flexibility and savings. With no deposit required and cancellations possible up to 24 hours before your stay for direct bookings, travel planning is commitment free. Guests benefit from 5% or more off our Best Flexible Rate for bookings made up to September 3, 2020 for stays until December 30, 2020 (excluding Greater China).

  • Best Flexible Rate: This rate offers maximum flexibility to change or cancel your reservation. For direct bookings this rate can be fully changeable or refundable up to 6 pm (local hotel time) on the day of arrival (dependent on the hotels’ individual house policy).
  • IHG Rewards Club Members Rates: Additional savings are available for IHG Rewards Club members on these Book Now, Pay Later and Best Flexible rates.
  • IHG Rewards Club nights: You can change or cancel these bookings with no penalty prior to the time period set by the hotel.
  • We have removed our more restrictive (pre-paid/non-refundable) Advance Purchase rate from sale until later in the year (excluding Greater China)
  • These rates, and others, have their own terms and conditions. Please refer to specific rate information when booking for further details – including cancellation terms. Changing the date on any reservations may result in different pricing.
  • Exceptions apply at some Six Senses hotels – see the Six Senses website for details 

IHG brands include Kimpton, Regent, InterContinental, Hotel Indigo, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn Resort, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, Hualuxe Hotels, Voco, EVEN Hotels, avid hotels.

IHG is emphasizing its comprehensive health and safety procedures, including all local laws, and provides its hotels with best practices and guidelines. The company has supplemented these resources with additional COVID-19 cleanliness specific guidance, training and information, “consistent with our own high standards.” This includes: activation of response teams to provide around-the-clock assistance to hotels; hotels have increased the frequency of cleaning public areas (including lobbies, elevators, door handles, public bathrooms) and high-touch points in guest rooms; all hotels have been advised on cleaning products and protocols which are effective against viruses.

“We continue to review food and beverage service in accordance with current food safety recommendations.”

See more: https://www.ihg.com/content/gb/en/customer-care/travel-advisory

Find out more at https://www.ihg.com/content/gb/en/deals/hotel-offers/booknowpaylater; to book, visit ihg.com, 877-424-2449.

Hyatt Hotels COVID-19 Policies

Hyatt Hotels has issued new policies concerning its reservations:

All existing reservations (booked April 1 or before) for arrivals through June 30, 2020 can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival. This includes Advance Purchase Rate reservations.

Reservations for future travel: With some very limited exceptions, reservations made between April 2, 2020 and June 30, 2020 for any future arrival date can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival. This includes Advance Purchase Rate reservations. The only exceptions are reservations booked after April 1, 2020 at select Destination properties and Special Events Rate reservations booked after April 1, 2020. The cancellation policies for a Special Event Rate will be noted in the rate’s Rate Rules section when booking.

Special exceptions are in place for all Advance Purchase Rate non-refundable reservations made directly with Hyatt on or before March 8, 2020 for arrivals before June 30, 2020. Guests holding these fully prepaid reservations who have decided not to travel may still opt, at least 24 hours before their stay, to receive 10,000 World of Hyatt Bonus Points compensation in lieu of both their stay and the offer above (if eligible). World of Hyatt points may be used toward future travel at any of our 900+ hotels across 17 brands globally.

Reservations can be changed or cancelled up to 24 hours before a scheduled arrival on www.hyatt.com or via the World of Hyatt app (subject to the exceptions noted above). For full details or to opt for the 10,000 World of Hyatt Bonus Point offer, call a Global Contact Center or email worldofhyatt@hyatt.com.

Reservations booked through Hyatt with MGM Resorts International, Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), or Lindblad Expeditions are subject to their cancellation policies.

Booking Sites

Riad el Yacout, Fez, Morocco, booked on the fly on hotels.com. Hotels.com makes it easy to cancel or change reservations. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotels.com has always made it easy to get refunds when you book hotels that allow for cancellations without any fees, typically up to 24 hours of a stay, and now, is allowing cancellations for any booking. Because of the volume of cancellations due to COVID-19, the company is saying that refunds may take longer than usual to process – up to 30 days. If you paid with a gift card, hotels.com is sending a new gift card within 4 hours of processing the refund. (I had no trouble cancelling reservations in Prague and Budapest.)

Booking.com isn’t as straightforward about its refund policy, saying it depends on the policy of the country, the arrival date, reason for traveling, and individual reservation policies set by the property you’ve booked. See https://www.booking.com/covid-19.html.

Hotel Association Issues ‘Safe Stay’ Industry-Wide Cleaning Standards

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) has introduced Safe Stay, an industry-wide, enhanced standard of health and safety protocols designed to prepare America’s hotels to safely welcome back guests and employees as the economy reopens. Safe Stay represents the top priority for the industry, the health and safety of guests and employees, the association stated.

The standards of Safe Stay were developed under the guidance of an Advisory Council comprised of industry leaders representing all segments of the hotel industry, and in conjunction with public health experts to advance best practices for protecting against the coronavirus. This initiative represents a new level of focus and transparency for an industry that depends upon cleanliness. These enhanced guidelines are rooted in recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

“Safe Stay was developed specifically to ensure enhanced safety for hotels guests and employees. While hotels have always employed demanding cleaning standards, this new initiative will ensure greater transparency and confidence throughout the entire hotel experience,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA. “The industry’s enhanced hotel cleaning practices, social interactions, and workplace protocols will continue to evolve to meet the new health and safety challenges and expectations presented by COVID-19.” 

The “Safe Stay” guidelines will be revised as needed, based on the recommendations of public health authorities, in compliance with any federal, state and local laws. They include guidance on employee and guest health; employee responsibilities; cleaning products and protocols; and physical distancing. 

“The hotel industry maintains stringent standards for cleaning and safety, and the Safe Stay initiative helps to strengthen best practices to provide the healthy environments that travelers expect at hotels throughout the country,” said Ecolab. “Development of the Safe Stay initiative included guidance from Ecolab, a global leader in cleaning and disinfecting solutions and services that collaborates with the U.S. EPA, FDA, CDC, WHO and other organizations to help establish and promote best practice guidance, training and solutions.” For more than 90 years, Ecolab has partnered with the hotel industry to provide cleaner, safer and healthier environments for employees and guests. 

“While the hotel industry was one of the first affected by the pandemic, we have collectively stepped up to serve their communities during this public health crisis.  Thousands of hotels across the country, more than half of those small businesses, are working tirelessly during this uncertain time to support their employees, healthcare workers and first responders. When the time is right, hotels will be ready to safely and eagerly welcome back America’s traveling public,” Rogers stated. 

The Safe Stay Advisory Council enhanced guidelines can be found at www.ahla.com/SafeStay.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Hotel Industry, Most Hurt by Coronavirus Pandemic, Looks to Help with ‘Hospitality for Hope’

San Francisco, California hotels are among the 15,000 to sign up for American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) “Hospitality for Hope,” providing temporary housing for emergency and healthcare workers as the COVID-19 public health crisis grows. Over 1,300 California hotels have signed on. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hotel industry has been the most severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but is also an industry in position to be a crucial help to break the logjam between the public health emergency and the economic devastation. As the focus shifts to the dire need to test, trace and then isolate people who are positive for COVID-19, the empty hotels, facing bankruptcy, can be used to house both front line workers including health care workers who now have the daily anxiety of passing the virus to their loved ones, and the people who need to be separated from their own families.

The incidence of the disease has already shown to be disproportionate among communities of color, immigrant communities and low-income neighborhoods where people are likely to be crammed into close quarters, unable to be quarantined.

Similarly, the out-of-work restaurant and hotel workers could be hired as tracers; indeed, the call-centers used for hotel reservations companies hired to do the tracing.

The travel industry can also be put into a wartime footing to solve many of the other problems: farmers destroying their produce because they don’t have the commercial markets of hotels, restaurants and schools? Well, rather than throw bailout billions to farmers (already facing 8 percent bankruptcies because of Trump’s tariff wars), could sell their produce to the government, which could distribute to the very same hotels, restaurants and schools, to be hired to produce food for food pantries and shut-ins.

In fact, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is doing this – organizing dairy-products producers to purchase the excess milk and converting it into products that the state will purchase and supply to food pantries and needy people.

Meanwhile, places like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California that have been hardest hit and most restrictive, need to make accommodation for getting people out in the summer. You simply cannot confine people in tiny New York apartments with three kids when the summer temperatures (the last several years have been the hottest on record thanks to Global Warming) hit 100. Communities – especially urban ones – will need to reopen pools (probably mitigating the risk of reigniting infection rates by restricting admissions to two-hour segments), reopen beaches, state parks, hiking areas; fishing and marinas; kayaking and canoeing; even golf courses; and shut down some city streets for walking, biking, and while promoting grab-and-go style eateries and dining al fresco. If ever there was a time for summer concerts in the parks, it is now. People should be conditioned to maintaining social distance as a new cultural norm.

Cyclists take over Park Avenue, New York City (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When we visited Central Park we saw people carefully respecting the new safety precautions, very possibly out of fear that if they didn’t, the city would close Central Park. We saw people walking on Jones Beach boardwalk, and on the sand also doing their best to maintain precautions (a couple of the bathrooms were open but closed frequently for cleaning, which is the pattern that other parks and facilities should use).

Governor Cuomo, looking ahead to reopening businesses at least the regions of the state least affected by the coronavirus (with infection rates below 3%), was careful to warn against reopening “attractions” that could become “nuisances” in the sense of attracting people into the area from downstate or neighboring states (the very definition of “travel”). But Cuomo’s reopening/”reimagining” strategy involves individual businesses to come up with plans that take into account the need for properly distance and that should hold true for places that give people necessary respite. Certainly you don’t want areas overwhelmed, but there should be a way to properly allow for people to enjoy – perhaps because parking lots have limits; restaurants that reopen to reduce their capacity (and take reservations) or do grab-and-go eating with outdoor tables for picnicking. And we are hearing about a revival in drive-in movie theaters.

A culture of social distancing seems to be taking hold as New Yorkers are desperate to keep access to the outdoor venues like Central Park (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Hotels and attractions should also be part of that Reopening/Reimagining Strategy to submit business plans that address the needs to continue to control the spread of the infection. This would include changes to working conditions, use of masks and gloves, taking temperature of employees as well as guests, more intense and frequent cleaning, providing hand sanitizer, limiting occupancy in order to maintain adequate social distancing.

Maintaining social distancing on the boardwalk at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

The Crisis in Hospitality

Let’s be clear: many communities depend upon the very existence of hotels as a mainstay of their economy – quite literally putting their locality on a map. Local hotels not only bring business travelers in to do their deals and establish connections, but enable local businesses to sell their products; local hotels accommodate tourists who bring an infusion of spending – every $1 a tourist spends generates $4 for a local economy. Hotels provide the venues for family milestone events. Moreover, hotels are a mainstay of the economy, an economic engine that contributes nearly $660 billion to U.S. GDP and supports 8.3 million (1 in every 25) American jobs. All of this has shut down because of the coronavirus crisis.

As COVID-19 continues to devastate the hotel industry, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) released new data  showing that 70 percent of hotel employees have been laid off or furloughed as eight in 10 hotel rooms across the nation remain empty.

As this crisis progresses beyond what anyone could have projected, the impact to the travel industry is nine times worse than 9/11, with forecasted occupancy rates for 2020 hitting record lows worse than rates in 1933 during the Great Depression.

“With the impact to the travel industry nine times worse than September 11, the human toll of this public health crisis has been absolutely devastating for the hotel industry. For the hotel industry our priority is rehiring and retaining our hardworking employees who power our vibrant industry,” said Chip Rogers, President and CEO of AHLA. “Hotels were one of the first industries affected by the pandemic and will be one of the last to recover. The CARES Act was an important first step with a lot of supportive measures for the hotel industry, but we need Congress to make important changes to the program to reflect the current economic reality and help the employees in the industries that have been impacted the most.”

Clearwater Beach, Florida. America’s hotels, supporting one out of every 25 jobs, face catastrophe because of the coronavirus health crisis. Over 1,000 Florida hotels are participating in the “Hospitality for Hope” initiative, providing lodging for healthworkers and first responders. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Due to the dramatic downturn in travel, properties that remain open are operating with minimal staffing. On average, full-service hotels are using 14 employees, down from 50 before the crisis. Resort hotels, which often operate seasonally based on the area’s peak tourism months, averaged about 90 employees per location as recently as March 13, are down to an average of five employees per resort today.

The key findings of the report include:

  • Impact to travel industry 9x worse than 9/11. (Tourism Economics)
  • 50% revenue decline (projected) for entirety of 2020 (Oxford Economics)
  • Eight in 10 hotel rooms are empty. (STR)
  • 2020 is projected to be the worst year on record for hotel occupancy. (CBRE)
  • Forecasted occupancy rate for 2020 worse than 1933 during the Great Depression. (CBRE)
  • 70% of hotel employees laid off or furloughed. (Oxford Economics and Hotel Effectiveness)
  • $2.4 billion in weekly lost wages due to the crisis (Oxford Economics and Hotel Effectiveness)
  • Nearly 3.9 million total hotel-supported jobs lost since the crisis began (Oxford Economics)

As travel halted in late February, the hotel industry took immediate action to work with the White House and Congress to help hotel industry employees and small business operators, which represent 61 percent of hotel properties in the U.S.

“The hotel industry is at a critical juncture. We need more resources to survive this unprecedented time,” said Rogers. “Additional funding is vital for small business owners across America, including tens of thousands of small business hoteliers, to help them keep their doors open and rehire and retain millions of employees.”

Hotel Industry Supports COVID-19 Effort

Meanwhile, more than 15,000 hotels have signed up for a new initiative, “Hospitality for Hope,” which identifies hotel properties that have offered to provide temporary housing for emergency and healthcare workers as the COVID-19 public health crisis grows.  While the program primarily focuses on housing for the healthcare community, some hotels could potentially be used as “Alternative Care Sites” such as an emergency hospital or a place for those quarantined to stay if needed.

(New York City has contracted for some 11,000 hotel rooms for this purpose and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that the testing-tracing-isolating campaign would also involve using hotel rooms to quarantine people.)

AHLA’s “Hospitality for Hope Initiative” was created to boost collaboration between the hotel industry and local, state and federal governments to help employees, communities across the country, and the industry during this unprecedented health crisis. In the short time since the initiative was announced, participation has grown to more than 15,000 properties. Already, this initiative has identified a total combined 2.3 million rooms located in close proximity to established healthcare facilities.

To help match and streamline the process for willing hotel properties to connect with federal, state, and local governments, AHLA and its state association partners are working to create a national “Hospitality for Hope” database to assist the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local emergency management and public health agencies. AHLA has also provided a number of resources for members, which can be found here.

“It has been so impressive to see hotel after hotel join this important initiative as a way of giving back to the communities in which they operate,” Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO said. “As an industry of people taking care of people, the hotel industry is uniquely positioned to support our communities by caring for the first responders who are on the frontlines of this public health crisis. Hotels have always been an active member of our local communities, and this time is no different. We are proud to work to facilitate partnerships with federal, state and local governments to support the health community during this critical time.”

Local, state and federal government officials will be able to search willing properties based on geographic location. (Click here for a state by state breakdown of the number of hotels signed up).

Hotels partnering with local and state officials offering housing to doctors, nurses, homeless families and quarantined individual are being reported across the country including in Chicago, California, New York, Dallas, Portland and New Orleans.

“The number of hotels wanting to be part of the program is growing by the hour,” Michael Jacobson, CEO and president of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association said. “Our hotels are answering the call to action, and they want to be helpful to the city and the state.”

“‘Hospitality for Hope’ is just one of the many ways that our hotels are helping those in need in our communities during this time of crisis,” said Kim Sabow, President and CEO of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association. “We look forward to working with all interested parties, including local and state officials, and the federal government to find innovative solutions to make it through this critical time together.” 

Given the unprecedented public health and economic crisis, hotels and the industry as a whole are coming together to support the community and their furloughed employees, as well. 

In expanding “Hospitality for Hope Initiative”, the American Hotel & Lodging Foundation, AHLA’s charitable giving arm, rolled out free resources to help industry employees continue their education during this difficult time including free hospitality management online courses, professional development scholarships for AHLA certifications and continuing education online programs. (Learn more about additional training and education efforts through AHLA’s “Hospitality for Hope” by visiting  AHLA.com/ahlas-hospitality-hope-initiative)

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) represents all segments of the U.S. lodging industry which contributes nearly $660 billion to U.S. GDP and supports 8.3 million (1 in every 25) American jobs. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., AHLA focuses on strategic advocacy, communications support and workforce development programs to move the industry forward. Learn more at www.ahla.com.

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