All posts by krubin723

What a Discovery! Skiing Oak Mountain in New York’s Adirondacks

Oak Mountain ski area in New York State’s Adirondacks has been delighting skiers since 1948 © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Dave E. Leiberman and Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s 2:30 pm when we leave The Lorca, our lodge just up the road from Oak Mountain. By 3 pm we’re on Einstein’s Express, the quad chairlift that takes us up this delightful ski area, likely overshadowed by nearby major Adirondacks ski destinations, Gore Mountain and Whiteface. Looking behind us, the snowy Adirondack lake vista of Speculator bears a beauty that reminds us of the scene when you ski down Heavenly Mountain and come upon that sweeping view of Lake Tahoe. 

Our first run down is Sacandaga, a lovely green cruiser with gorgeous views, some nice bends, and exquisitely groomed snow. Our Weather app says it’s 9 degrees, but in the sun we don’t notice it. Perfect warm-up run.

Oak Mountain ski area in New York State’s Adirondacks has been delighting skiers since 1948 © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We check out Upper Ryan’s Run (a black) and Lower Ryan’s Run (a blue). For a small, very family-friendly mountain that is so close to Lake Pleasant, Indian Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, and other popular Adirondack lake towns, Oak Mountain surprises us with its variety of trails to explore. Nova, Alternate, Skidway, and the other trails on that side of Einstein’s Express aren’t open, but we enjoy an hour of runs down Oak Mt. Run, Fifth Ave, and the trails surrounding Sacandaga. 

It’s fun (and educational!) to see the local high school ski team practice as we ride the chairlift. It inspires us to work on our weight-shifting and carving for the remainder of our spontaneous Friday afternoon ski outing. 

We hear great things about Acorn Pub and Eatery down at the base where there is often live music. We’ll need to check it out next time for après ski. 

This quaint ski area – popular with families since 1948 though a new discovery for us – offers 22 trails (snowmaking on 40%), a 650-foot vertical from base (1,750 feet) to summit (2,400 feet), and four lifts (quad, two T-bars and a surface lift). The longest run is 7,920 feet.

In addition to downhill skiing and snowboarding, Oak features four lanes of snow tubing and miles of snowshoeing trails that take you through a majestic forest.

Lift tickets to Oak Mountain are very reasonable. Full-day tickets are $44, four-hour tickets are $37, and two-hour tickets are only $30. We highly recommend starting or ending the day with even just an hour of skiing at Oak Mountain.

(Capacity is limited, and lift tickets, rentals and lessons must be booked in advance online.)

Oak Mountain is a three-season resort in the Southern Adirondacks, an easy drive from Albany, Utica or Lake George.

Oak Mountain, 141 Novosel Way Speculator, NY 12164 518-548-3606, www.oakmountainski.com 

Oak Mountain’s website lists nearby accommodations and “Play and Stay” packages.

Among them is Lorca ADK, our lodge which we recently renovated from a historic motel, to accommodate stays year-round.

Lorca ADK is a classic drive-in lodge, reimagined as a self-check property for the contemporary traveler (c) Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lorca ADK is a classic drive-in lodge, reimagined as a self-check property for the contemporary traveler. It’s surrounded by forests, across the road from Indian Lake with gorgeous islands. The eight units provide coffee, tea, mini-fridges, s’mores and firewood. The property offers grills, fire pits, lawn games, a seasonal pool with weekend hours, and a nature walk. Lorca ADK is about 20 minutes from Oak Mountain, and about 30 minutes from Gore Mountain Resort.

Lorca ADK, Sabael, NY, 518-300-3916, hello@thelorca.com, thelorca.com/adk

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© 2022 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

Travelers Navigate a Tricky Landscape in 2022

One of the historic Maine Windjammers, the Victory Chimes, is enveloped in fog. Big cruiseships may be a dubious proposition, but small ships – riverboats, barges – and even a self-piloted canalboat will be desirable ways to keep sailing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Where to go in 2022 is as much a question of “how to go” and “why to go”.

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We can see just how important travel is in our lives – to our wellbeing, our growth, our connections to family and friends, and as literal ambassadors of peace, understanding and shared innovation.We know this from the huge surge that occurred during 2021, after the COVID-19 vaccine opened floodgates to travelers, by making it safe(r) to be out and about. Even during the worst of the pandemic, before a vaccine, people found a way to continue to embrace experiences, drawing upon the infinite possibilities to tailor something that felt right.

It may well be that the Omicron variant, by virtue of just how transmissible but less dangerous (at least for those who are vaccinated and use precautions like masking, social distancing) will help bring about the end of the global coronavirus pandemic, as more people develop immunity. Or not. It may well be that new variants will arise – perhaps progressively less dangerous. Or not. And it is more likely that some form of virus will be endemic and dealing with it will be part of the “new normal” of everyday life. And people will find a way to go on with their lives and have this in mind: life is precious and our time is finite, make the best of every day. And that includes sharing experiences with the ones you hold dear. And top of the list to achieve that is travel.

Where to go in 2022 is as much a question of “how to go” and “why to go”.

I’m thinking that many of the same trends of 2021 will hold in 2022 – a focus on outdoors activities, low-density destinations, open-spaces (national and state parks), bike trips, driveable destinations, RVs and camping.

Parks & Trails NY’s Cycle the Erie eight-day, 400-mile biking/camping trip will be back at full strength, 650 riders, July 10-17 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even if the Omicron variant of COVID-19 abates, as is expected, and is less dangerous than Delta, and travelers are much more likely (even required) to be vaccinated and show a negative test, people will be concerned about whether there is yet another variant around the corner that can break through, whether destinations will impose new restrictions, from mandated quarantines to capacity controls to shutting borders altogether (airlines, tour operators, hotels and the like must continue flexible cancellation policies if they want to stay in business at all). There likely will be the continued need for advance purchase of ticketing, and possibly a return to capacity controls, as well as requirements for masking and social distancing. This will define the new “normal” because the protocols won’t be going away any time soon – certainly not until there are months that go by without a coronavirus outbreak before anyone feels safe enough.

Taking a flight from Mexico just before the Christmas holiday rush and the onset of Omicron. There is increasing resolution that some form of COVID-19 will become endemic and become part of a “new normal” for travelers © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But because there is now widespread vaccinations, masking, and testing will be much more available (and free), people will continue to travel and live their lives. COVID will be “endemic” – embedded in how we live.

And the lure of travel – for all the benefits travel affords in terms of personal growth, renewal, bonding, discovery – will be very strong, even stronger. And where there is a will, there will be a way.

People will opt for travel that does not require a lot of connections (if taking air) or complicated itineraries, will many will seize opportunities to travel last minute because of the changeability of the situation. They will look for flexibility (and ability to cancel or change), and travel styles that give them more control.

Travel companies have already adapted: like G Adventures (gadventures.com), with a new “Travel with Confidence” policy; Moab Adventure Center (www.moabadventurecenter.com) and its parent, Western River Expeditions, which organize customized small-group trips.

Attractions like the Skunk Train railbike in Fort Bragg, California, will likely continue with COVID-19 protocols © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The innovations and adaptations – on airlines, at hotels and resorts, attractions, restaurants –  that have already been put into place will be continued, improved, enhanced. Many have actually been very popular improvements.

Indoor attractions may well continue capacity limits, advance purchase and online/touchless ticketing.

A concern for health and wellness will likely overhang travel planning. People should be monitoring CDC and WTO health reports and State department – not just on infection rates, but what destinations, travel suppliers, hotels, restaurants are doing to take COVID-19 health protocols seriously. Use your own protocols – the more protective N95 masks, hand-sanitizing. (New: Fend Wellness Sanitizing Hand Wipe Mitts are wearable hand mitt wipes that provide a protective liner between you and all surfaces that come in contact with your hands, available on Amazon and online, fendwellness.com).

For complicated, long-distance and expensive itineraries, use a travel advisor (www.travelsense.org, www.virtuoso.com, ustoa.com, and the new Reco from Tripadvisor (helloreco.com). Try to make plans with flexible cancellations or change policies; use respected and well established tour operators and travel companies which can adapt quickly on the ground and revise itineraries as necessary and even extract you if conditions warrant. If traveling abroad, purchase travel insurance that incorporates health coverage (your domestic health insurance does not provide much coverage; my go-to travel insurance company is worldnomads.com)

Check with State Department (travel.state.gov) and CDC.gov as to conditions. Make sure vaccinations (and cards) are in order (many countries are much more restrictive than the United States). Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP, Step.state.gov), which shares your contact information with the nearest U.S. embassy and sends travel alert notifications. The STEP app is worth downloading prior to traveling.

So high on our list for travel in 2022:

Letchworth State Park, New York, considered the “Grand Canyon of the East.” 2022 will still be a year of discovering fantastic attractions within driving distance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Road Trip!: Continue to discover destinations, experiences within driveable distance, or, for long-distance holidays, revert to the old-school “road trip” and string together destinations in an itinerary that make a loop. An excellent way to do that is to go to historichotels.org because each of these 300 member properties from 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, are destinations in their own right. Hotels and resorts are being scrupulous about cleaning and sanitizing and have installed procedures and technology. You can also create your own itineraries using hotels.com (which offers extremely flexible cancellation policy), booking.com, airbnb.com.

Major ski destinations, like Gore Mountain, in New York’s Adirondacks, are within driving distance of major metropolitan areas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ski/snowboarding/mountain resorts holidays – More people taking up skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, uphilling which are ideal outdoor activities during winter. Fortunately, there are many major ski areas within driving distance. Ski passes like Vail Resorts’ EpicPass and Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass, which provide access to dozens of destinations, let you really explore. And to help, Alterra just introduced the Ikon Pass Travel, a trip planning service (ikonpass.com/travel).

Renting a camper van, like this one from Moterra, to explore will continue to be a trend in 2022 © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Renting RVs/camper vans will continue – last year was a boom for camper van rental companies like Moterra (307-200-7220, gomoterra.com); Blacksford, offering an all-inclusive RV pricing with unlimited miles, 24-hour roadside assistance and a free annual pass to national parks (www.blacksford.com); and Tracks & Trails markets packaged national park RV vacations, 800-247-0970, www.tracks-trails.com). Another idea: pilot your own canalboat – like an RV on the water – on the Erie Canal (eriecanaladventures.com, 315-986-3011).

Pilot your own canalboat on the Erie Canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And while big cruiseships may be a dubious proposition, small ships like Blount (blountsmallshipadventures.com, 800-556-7450) and riverboats like CroisiEurope (croisieurope.com, 800-768-7232), and historic sailboats like the Maine Windjammers (800-807-WIND,  www.sailmainecoast.com) will be desirable ways to keep sailing.

State parks like Watkins Glen in New York’s Finger Lakes will be a big draw in 2022 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Camping/glamping –Check out New York State campgrounds in state parks like Watkins Glen and Letchworth State Park; book at 800-456-CAMP,  newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com). Last year, New York expanded glamping/camping opportunities along its picturesque canals through Tentrr (tentrr.com/nysp). To find private campgrounds, visit Campground Owners of New York, 585-586-4360, campnewyork.com, and Kampgrounds of America (our favorite: Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, Herkimer, NY (315-891-7355, www.herkimerdiamond.com). If California is your destination, visit www.camp-california.com.

Our campsite at Watkins Glen State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And nationally: Kampgrounds of America (koa.com); Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resorts with 75 locations  throughout North America (pools, water slides, splashgrounds, activities, www.jellystonepark.com); and, internationally, Glamping Hub, with 22,000 locations around the world, from safari tents, yurts, treehouses, to cabins (glampinghub.com); and Pitchup, which has 5344 campgrounds, glamping sites throughout the Americas, Europe (www.pitchup.com)

Bike tours, like Discovery Bicycle’s Maine Coast trip, afford the opportunity to get off the bike and enjoy the sights © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bike tours are among our favorite modes of travel – a perfect pace and immersion into surroundings with scenic and important heritage routes, that are offered as inn-to-inn, bike/boat tours, or as bike/camping trips, and as guided tours or self-guided. Among our favorite bike tour companies: Bike Tours (biketours.com), Wilderness Voyageurs (855-550-7705, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com), Discovery Bicycle Tours, which has a new Vermont Gravel biking/camping trip (800-257-2226, discoverybicycletours.com). Also, Parks & Trails NY is back with its 24th Cycle the Erie Canal,  eight-day, 400-mile biking/camping trip, from Buffalo to Albany, (July 10-17); registration has just opened (https://www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/annual-bike-tour)

The Grand Prismatic, one of the most dramatic –and surreal – sights in Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visits to national and state parks will again be popular this year.  There are tour operators that have organized tours, and you can do what we did last year, go to AirBnB, hotels.com and booking.com to get availability, but there are two companies that dominate in-park lodging: Xanterra (xanterra.com) and Delaware North (delawarenorth.com)

Our own cabin at the Elkhorn Inn, West Jackson, just outside the entrance to Yellowstone Park, booked on hotels.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Delaware North last year implemented its Rest Assured Commitment to Care comprehensive health and safety program at the lodging properties it operates, including re-engineered operating procedures to minimize contact risk and bolstered hygiene protocols aligned with guidelines of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Delaware North Parks and Resorts operates lodging in and near many iconic national and state parks, including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Shenandoah, Sequoia & Kings Canyon and Olympic National Parks and Niagara Falls State Park, as well as at cultural attractions such as Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (www.delawarenorth.com/divisions/parks). 

Book early if you want to visit the Grand Canyon National Park this year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Known for its “Legendary Hospitality with a Softer Footprint,” Xanterra Travel Collection 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 and Walking Vacations, and Country Walkers.

The historic Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wellness travel – There will be more interest in visiting resorts that cater to wellness (not the same thing as medical tourism), like Canyon Ranch or like the The Inn at Leola Village, Leola, PA, touting its Paid Time Off Wellness Package (theinnatleolavillage.com). The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness tourism as “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing…an opportunity to maintain and improve our holistic health.” A helpful source is spafinders.com.

Wellness and glamping combine at Picocanoa Rodavento, an eco-lodge in Veracruz, Mexico where thrill seekers can explore the surrounding jungle-clad hills by whitewater rafting, mountain biking, rock climbing and even zipping across the canyon and colorful treetops. The glamping site offers traditional wellness treatments, including a traditional Mayan temazcal prehispanico steam bath, as well as an outdoor pool and bar surrounded by lush greenery, a campfire for enjoying traditional batucada drum parties and safari tents and cabins that travelers can book for $98/night on outdoor accommodation website.

Beachfront resort, Nayarit, Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Beach and golf resorts that afford lots of space, uncrowded, perhaps with own villas and beachfront will be in high demand. Many Caribbean and Mexican resorts, for example, are emphasizing their COVID-19 protocols and healthful ambiance. Club Med, a pioneer of the all-inclusive concept, for example, is touting its spacious low-density resorts surrounded by nature, spread across 50 acres, operating at a limited capacity, its enhanced safety and hygiene protocols, free onsite antigen testing, and free cancellation policy, as well as unlimited culinary options, and inclusive activities from skiing and snowboarding to standup paddle boarding and snorkeling and family activity programs (www.clubmed.us, 800-Club-Med)

A villa vacation in Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Villa-style vacations, where you have a base to stay and go out from there, offer the advantage of being stand-alone. Many resorts offer villa accommodations, like Banyan Tree Mayakoba, an all-villa five-star eco resort on Mexico’s Riviera Maya (banyantree.com); also the Altamer Resort, Anguilla (altamer.com). Sources include villasofdistinction.com, thetopvillas.com, vrbo.com, airbnb.com/villas, exclusiveresorts.com.

Dude Ranches check off all the items on our list for being outside, inclusive and pure fun. New York State has a surprising number of these delightful venues. Among our favorites: Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (866-600-0859, www.pineridgeduderanch.com); Ridin’ Hy (518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com); and the ever-popular Rocking Horse Ranch (877-605-6062, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

The Red Reflet Ranch, in Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Dude and guest ranches are ideal venues for 2022 family vacations © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Want the real West? Dude Ranch Association, with 100 members across the western United States and Canada, each entirely different from one another, can help you choose where to go (307-587-2339 duderanch.org); another source is the Colorado Dude Ranch Association (866-942-3472, coloradoranch.org).

More focus on experiential and purposeful travel – those bucketlist experiences that resonate at a fundamental level with one’s being, the experiences that are important enough to risk going outside one’s comfort zone. It could be anything: hiking/camping trip to Machu Picchu (alpacaexpeditions.com); wildlife safari in Kenya (EF Go Ahead experts navigate travel and health and safety guidelines and plan fully refundable trips with no change fees, 800, 590-1161, www.goaheadtours.com); a voyage to Antarctica (atlasoceanvoyages.com, 844-44-ATLAS) or a cooking class in Paris (cooknwithclass.com).

A wildlife safari in Kahna Tiger Preserve, India. Travelers will choose destinations and experiences with more intention and not put off what’s on their bucket-list © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A corollary of this is more focus on sustainable, responsible tourism and ecotourism. Even if much of society has become entrenched in “me-me-me” view, people who are travelers tend to have a more open, one-world sensibility, and are sensitive to the need to protect and appreciate environment, heritage, ecology. There is a lot more interest in seeking out travel experiences that immerse you in local cultures and use tourism to bolster local economies in order to sustain local communities and culture, and do as much good in the world as for oneself.

TRIPS by Culture Trip, is touting its “ extremely flexible and generous cancellation plan in place should Covid restrictions change your plans, including rebooking for free up to 48 hours before departure and if TRIPS by Culture Trip cannot change your booking dates, they will refund the booking (culturetrip.com/trips, 678-967-4965).

Even though you may want to hold out to survey the situation, you are best advised to book early because dates will fill, and take advantage of flexible cancellation or rebooking policies. National Plan for Vacation Day is January 25th.

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© 2022 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

Old Westbury Gardens’ New ‘Shimmering Solstice’ is a Magical Experience on Long Island’s Gold Coast

Old Westbury Gardens, the stunning Gilded Age mansion and formal gardens of John S. Phipps and his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps, which was opened to the public in 1959 by their daughter, Peggie, has debuted “Shimmering Solstice,” a walk-through light experience © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The timing of Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” debut could not be more perfect, as people craving holiday cheer in winter’s darkness are looking for outdoor experiences to share. Old Westbury Gardens’ first-ever light show walk, presented by Catholic Health, opened November 20 and runs through January 9, 2022.

Old Westbury Gardens’ first-ever “Shimmering Solstice” is enchanting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Words like “magical” and “enchanting” are in oversupply during the holiday season, but are most apt in this case. Indeed, the effect is to feel a little like Alice discovering Wonderland, a dreamscape of beauty – there are even giant dandelions of light.

Old Westbury Gardens’ first-ever “Shimmering Solstice” is enchanting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The walk-through, immersive experience was developed out of a desire to creatively adapt the land and gardens around Westbury House into a visitor location that can be enjoyed during the fall and winter holiday season and that would remain consistent with the mission of Old Westbury Gardens, on the famed Gold Coast of Long Island, New York.

Lightswitch has created giant dandelions of light for Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” which make you feel like Alice discovering Wonderland © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In fact, the historic site – the stunning Gilded Age mansion and formal gardens of John S. Phipps and his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps, which was opened to the public in 1959 by their daughter, Peggie – has been looking to offer just such a winter experience for 10 years. Over that time, the technology has advanced – LED lights, computer-synchronization – to create the experience they wanted: one that enhances and celebrates the gardens and architecture, giving visitors a new way to appreciate them.

“Planted” lights change colors in the Rose Garden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“This is a celebration of our space,” said Maura McGoldrick-Brush, Director of Horticulture at Old Westbury Gardens. “Instead of flowers, the gardens will be blooming with light. This is truly an enchanting combination of the beauty of the gardens and the magic of the season.”

A labyrinth of lights at Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Old Westbury Gardens worked with Lightswitch, a collective of internationally recognized lighting, media, and visual designers to create a show that would celebrate and cherish the Gardens’ history and environment during the fall and winter seasons. 

Lightswitch’s assignment for Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” was to “truly embrace the gardens” and use the gardens and water features and architectural elements to stunning effect © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Shimmering Solstice” is a completely custom-built show that has been specifically designed to highlight the features of Old Westbury Gardens. Lightswitch’s assignment was to “truly embrace the gardens” and use the gardens and water features and architectural elements to stunning effect. It took a year and a half to plan “Shimmering Solstice.”

Interactive features include “Simon” where you can push buttons to manipulate the colors of “Shimmering Solstice” at Old Westbury Gardens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The formal Rose Garden and Walled Garden bloom with beautiful light and twinkle in lively rhythmic patterns, beautiful paths lead you through to the South Lawn and Allée.  Giant dandelions line the edge of the pond and a  Christmas tree made entirely of lit globes decorates the front of Westbury House.

Lightswitch’s assignment for Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” was to “truly embrace the gardens” and use the gardens and water features and architectural elements to stunning effect © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are interactive features as well, such as a “Simon” set up where you push buttons to alter the color patterns, a labyrinth and a maze of lights, and immersive features, where you walk amid the lights, even a “Ghost Walk”.

Old Westbury Gardens’ first-ever “Shimmering Solstice” is enchanting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The grand finale is a sound and light show celebrating the seasons and holidays, in which the mansion itself is the canvas with musical accompaniment including Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and classical holiday music.

A field of lights like tall grass leading to Westbury House, the Phipps mansion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is beautifully spaced and there are paths geared for strollers and wheelchairs. In all, you walk about a mile and visit at your own pace (typically 60-75 minutes to really enjoy).

The grand finale to Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” is a sound-and-light show using the mansion as a canvas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“We are excited to offer this brand-new experience for our visitors to enjoy,” said Nancy Costopulos, President and CEO of Old Westbury Gardens. “This walk-through lightshow has been designed specifically for Old Westbury Gardens and offers a one-of-a-kind experience that we intend to become a new annual holiday tradition. We are also thrilled to have Catholic Health as our presenting sponsor for this inaugural event. Their commitment to the communities they serve mirrors our own, and we welcome their support as we bring this spectacular event to Long Island.”

A selection of hot foods, hot and cold beverages and snacks is available in a tent.

The grand finale to Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” is a sound-and-light show using the mansion as a canvas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is the first season, but there are already plans to expand in future years, said Paul Hunchak, Director of Visitor Services, Programs and Services. “We were looking for things to do in this season. We always wanted outdoor light show.”

The grand finale to Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” is a sound-and-light show using the mansion as a canvas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The event is organized to be COVID19-safe – tickets must be purchased in advance online and they space admissions.

The grand finale to Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” is a sound-and-light show using the mansion as a canvas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tickets for Shimmering Soltice must be purchased online in advance; priced by peak and off peak, from $29.95-32.95/adult, $16.95-17.95/child. Senior Discounts on Off-Peak Mondays (ages 62+) $24.95; an Any time/Any Day Experience is $75. (closed Dec. 24-25, Jan. 4); Entry times are every 15 minutes, from 5:30-9:30 pm. (last entry is at 9:30 pm – great for a date!). Purchase at https://shimmeringsolstice.com/.

Lightswitch’s assignment for Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” was to “truly embrace the gardens” and use the gardens and water features and architectural elements to stunning effect © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Old Westbury Gardens, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the former home of John S. Phipps, his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps and their four children. Completed in 1906 by the English artist and designer, George A. Crawley, the magnificent Charles II-style mansion is nestled amid 200 acres of formal gardens, landscaped grounds, woodlands, ponds and lakes. Westbury House is furnished with fine English antiques and decorative arts from the more than 50 years of the family’s residence.

John S. Phipps was the son of Henry Phipps, Jr., an American entrepreneur and a partner with Andrew Carnegie (a childhood friend of Henry’s) in the Carnegie Steel Company. Henry was also a successful real estate investor (he invested heavily in Cape Cod and Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida; his mansion in Lake Success has become the Great Neck Public Schools administration building and the grounds the South schools campus). After selling his stock in Carnegie Steel, Henry devoted time and money to philanthropic works.

After her parents, Margarita and John S. Phipps, passed away, their daughter Peggie inherited the Old Westbury estate and, in 1959, formed a nonprofit charity to open the grounds to the public to honor the memory of her mother and share the beauty of the 216 acres of gardens, fields and woodlands.

Visitors today experience the grounds and gardens, which remain largely untouched from the Phipps era, with many English-style perennials and biennials preserved. There are rare plant species—including foxgloves, delphiniums – not usually found in public gardens. These plants have been well-maintained for decades by the dedicated horticulture staff, which grow many of the herbaceous plant material right on-site in the private greenhouse, preserving the original vision of John S. Phipps’ and George Crawley.

You can take virtual tours of the mansion (www.oldwestburygardens.org/tourthehouse) and the gardens (www.oldwestburygardens.org/tourthegardens).

Old Westbury Gardens, 71 Old Westbury Road, Old Westbury, NY, 11568, oldwestburygardens.org.

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© 2021 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

Christmas in Baltimore: Dazzling, Joyful, even Miraculous

Nothing brings families together at the holidays than sharing festive events like Maryland Zoo Lights © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nothing brings a family together like sharing in the thrill, the delight, the joy of enjoying holiday attractions. It is especially fun activity for families coming together from different places for the holidays, feeling and seeing the joy and their delight through their eyes. We had this experience in Baltimore, where we enjoyed two very special holiday events, Zoo Lights at the Maryland Zoo, and “Miracle on 34th Street” in Hampden.

Maryland Zoo Lights features 80 lighting displays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zoo Lights, presented by Chase at the Baltimore, Maryland Zoo, is back this year with an entertaining twist: you get special glasses that bring out gingerbread men that dance before your eyes as you look at the light displays. There are 80 different light displays, collectively made of 150,000 environmentally friendly LED lights that form favorite zoo animals, some even made to simulate motion, that transform the nighttime zoo into a glimmering winter wonderland.

Seeing dancing gingerbread men in the Maryland Zoo Lights through glasses © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are other delightful surprises: my favorite is the carousel that brings out the kid in anyone, and coming upon donkeys and llamas in the farm yard and Great White Pelicans and penguins in the Penguin Encounter section at the end of our mile-long walk (there is also a drive option on Wednesdays and Thursdays).

Riding the carousel at Maryland Zoo Lights © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zoo Lights is a seasonal spectacle after-hours event offered five nights a week, Wednesday-Sunday, from 5 to 8 pm, through January 2.

Maryland Zoo Lights features 80 lighting displays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, you experience Zoo Lights on foot, walking along a beautifully lit path past dazzling displays including some favorite animals reimagined as light sculptures. The walk begins at the Main Gate, heads down Buffalo Yard Road into Zoo Central and the Farmyard where there are carousel rides, hot cocoa and maybe even a glimpse of Santa!

The gorgeous carousel, a highlight of Maryland Zoo Lights © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, you can experience Zoo Lights from the comfort of your vehicle beginning at Eagle Gate and proceeding down Buffalo Yard Road. This option is ideal for those who would prefer to stay socially separated or aren’t comfortable walking long distances.

Some of the Maryland Zoo animals stay up late to greet visitors © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tickets are $33 per vehicle for the drive-thru experience and $28 per person for the walk-thru experience; advanced purchase is required. (Closed on Christmas, and the event may be modified due to inclement weather). Book tickets at https://www.marylandzoo.org/special_events/zoo-lights/

Some of the Maryland Zoo animals stay up late to greet visitors © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The event is a major fundraiser that supports the Zoo’s conservation and education activities year-round. Be sure to return in daytime to visit the animals. During winter, admission is $15 thru Feb. 28. There are loads of animals that can be visited outdoors (though weather dependent) including chimps, colobus monkeys and lemurs, prairie dogs, crowned cranes, leopards, cheetahs, zebras and flamingos to list just a few, while giraffes can be visited indoors. (See full list, https://www.marylandzoo.org/news-and-updates/2021/11/colder-weather-2021/)

Making holiday memories at Maryland Zoo Lights © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Animal experiences also are available throughout the winter, including Penguin TrainingRhino Training, and Otter Training.

Purchase tickets online, marylandzoo.org.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, One Safari Place, Baltimore, MD 21217, info@marylandzoo.org or call 443.992.4585, marylandzoo.org.

Hampden’s Miracle on 34th St

34th Street in Hampden, Baltimore, has become known as Christmas Street © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

They call it “Christmas Street”. It’s 34th Street in the Baltimore neighborhood of Hampden, where for the 73rd year, this small block of modest attached homes goes all out with holiday lighting. It’s not just joyous, festive – dare I say spectacular – as a whole dazzling scene, but the fun is to really look closely at the detail at each house to appreciate the art, the creativity and the message.

The house that started it all, decorating for Christmas since 1942 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The street “captain” (for lack of a better word), has a lighted display that says this family has put up the Christmas decorations since 1942. Its display is the most traditional, the most all-out Christmas-y, jammed crammed with every major symbol of Christmas, “Seasons Greetings” in lights, even with a model train running laps (I’m told they start setting up in October).

The house that started it all, decorating for Christmas since 1942 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As you go down the block, you see displays with themes of Black Lives Matter, Gay Pride, even a Hanukkah house, and messages of peace and love and joy, helping animals. There are messages like “Have a magical Christmas” and of course, “Miracle on 34th Street” (especially appropriate for the Hanukkah display).

34th Street in Hampden, Baltimore, has become known as Christmas Street © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Some are so imaginative and artful: one home uses doors to represent the Nativity scene. Another is famous for its Christmas tree constructed of hubcaps and its bike rim snowmen and another for its Big Red Lighted Crab (appropriate for Baltimore).

A nativity scene fashioned of doors © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

How did this get started? Well, the website (christmasstreet.com) provides “Greetings from Bob and Dar”:

“I could live on a dead-end street in the desert and still do this.” says Bob Hosier the ‘guy who started this all’. It started back with his humble beginnings when he was a teenager and lived in Northeast Baltimore. He placed a string of lights on a tree in the family yard and the rest was history. Darlene Hughes’s family also decorated her home on 34th street so it only seemed fitting that these two would meet, get married (over 25 years) and start the tradition that is what everyone now refers to as the ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, which by the way happens to be Darlene’s favorite movie along with ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.”

“Flock Party on 34th Street © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Over the years, many visitors from around the world have visited the lights on 34th street and left many messages in the books that the Hosier’s leave on their porch for people to sign and share. The street has been nationally recognized by Nightline, The Travel Channel, the Maryland Lottery, and Home and Garden to name a few.

A Hanukkah house celebrates the “Miracle on 34th Street” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The longevity of the tradition is notable – in fact, the miracle.

Apparently, this year a new member of the city council tried to end the lights (how would that happen, actually?), but the mayor stepped in “and told us to ‘LIGHT THE STREET’ !!. Special thanks to Scott Davis Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods for Baltimore City for keeping the Tradition alive. We will be lighting the street Saturday after Thanksgiving at 6PM. Merry Christmas.”

“We Believe …” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In fact, that is exactly when we arrived, totally bowled over. When I was informed by our Baltimore relatives about the 34th Street display, I assumed I would see decorated storefronts, like in Manhattan. This was so much better.

One of the 34th Street houses is famous for its Christmas tree constructed of hubcaps and its bike rim snowmen © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The residents keep it totally noncommercial, vendor free (you are told not to give money to street musicians who might show up).

What’s most remarkable, really, is that it takes the entire community on this street to participate, to make this considerable effort, to join together, even with their own individuality and (clearly) differences and also the likely turnover over the years of residents all needing to buy in. One can only imagine the expense, along with the considerable effort and dedication.

It is the essence of the holiday spirit.

34th Street is located in the Hampden section of Baltimore City. Follow directions to 726 West 34th Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21211, christmasstreet.com.

Christmas Village and the Holiday District

Christmas Village will sail back into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in 2021. After being cancelled due to the pandemic last year, Charm City’s beloved holiday tradition is ready to transform West Shore Park (501 Light Street) into a traditional indoor and outdoor German Christmas Market, from Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 25 through Christmas Eve, Friday, December 24, 2021.

Enjoy holiday vibes with the return of the 30 foot tall stunning Christmas Pyramid from the Ore Mountains, the 65 foot tall illuminated ferris wheel and the addition of a brand-new Christmas Village Carousel with horses and festive reindeer. Famous German ornament vendor Käthe Wohlfahrt returns to the heated festival tent along with 50+ local small businesses, makers, and international vendors. Other highlights include thousands of twinkling lights, the signature wooden huts, a large selection of Glühwein (mulled wine), the warm glow of the open-air Bratwurst Grill, an extended outdoor seating area, a new outdoor Hofbrau beer booth, photos with Santa Claus, appearances by Gingy the Gingerbread Man, and theme weekends with live entertainment. Foodies will find raclette cheese sandwiches, bacon on a stick, wine and beer tastings, all-new spirits tastings, and much more.

Christmas Village is partnering with local organizations to create the Holiday District in Inner Harbor, featuring the Village Christmas Tree at the Inner Harbor Ice Rink, nearby attractions, shopping destinations and museums including the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center. (Located in West Shore Park, between the Maryland Science Center and the former Baltimore Visitor Center, 501 Light Street, Baltimore, MD 21230,   www.baltimore-christmas.com

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© 2021 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

Holiday Classics, Festivities, Happenings Return to New York City

Santa’s arrival to end the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade heralds in the holiday season in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City is again the Polar Express, the Grand Central, the Times Square of holiday happenings and festivities. Locals and visitors from across the country and around the globe will enjoy holiday traditions and cultural experiences across New York City’s five boroughs, many returning for in-person participation for the first time in two years. There is endless enjoyment including iconic classics such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes and NYC Ballet’s Nutcracker, festive shopping at NYC’s famous department stores, ice-skating rinks, lighting displays, cultural performances, and special holiday exhibitions such as the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden. But to get the most enjoyment of indoor activities, proof of vaccination will be required.

Even the world-famous New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop returns December 31 to Times Square, Manhattan. The Waterford Crystal Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball will sparkle in Times Square all season, but its descent on New Year’s Eve is a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime way to ring in the New Year. Vaccinated spectators are welcomed back in-person. Guests can also stop by the New Year’s Eve Confetti Wishing Wall from December 1 on to submit (in person and online) a wish for the New Year on a piece of official NYE confetti that will be dropped at midnight as the ball drops.

The iconic, must-do-it-once-in-your-lifetime experience of New Year’s Eve in Times Square is back for in-person thrill for vaccinated participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here’s a roundup from NYC & Company, the city’s tourism promotion agency:

FESTIVE PERFORMANCES

Radio City Rockettes performing their iconic Toy Soldiers routine in the Christmas Spectacular © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes, through January 5, Midtown Manhattan: The beloved holiday tradition returns to Radio City Music Hall this year with incredible costumes, festive songs, synchronized high kicks, and new acts.

Live Broadway Performances at Hudson Yards, November 15-December 13, Hudson Yards, Manhattan: Enjoy a weekly series of free, live performances from Broadway’s biggest hit shows at Hudson Yards every Monday. Cast members will sing songs from productions including AladdinDear Evan HansenThe Lion KingMoulin Rouge!Chicago.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker Presented by New York City Ballet, November 26–January 2, Manhattan at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center:  exquisite costumes, magnificent sets, and Tchaikovsky’s iconic score that transports audiences to a land of twirling snowflakes, leaping candy canes, waltzing flowers (https://www.nycballet.com/the-nutcracker/tickets, 212-496-0600)

A Christmas Carol at the Merchant’s House Charles Dickens in New York, 1867, December 1–31, Greenwich Village, Manhattan: An actor portraying Charles Dickens will tell this timeless Christmas tale in the elegant intact Greek revival double parlor of the landmark 1832 Merchant’s House Museum.

“‘Twas the Night Before…,” Cirque du Soleil’s exhilarating spin on the beloved Christmas tale, marks its first-ever Christmas show (photo by Kyle Flubacker)

“‘Twas the Night Before…” by Cirque du Soleil  is returning to Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, for 28 performances from December 9 through December 27, 2021. The exhilarating spin on the beloved Christmas tale is about the wonders of sharing and friendship. The production marks Cirque du Soleil’s first-ever Christmas show and is a flurry of Christmas cheer – rip-roaring fun with hugely lovable characters that will introduce audiences to the magic of Cirque du Soleil and help families create new holiday traditions (purchase tickets online at www.msg.com/cirque).

The Christmas Show at St. George’s Theatre, December 10–12, St. George, Staten Island:The famous theater presents its annual Christmas Show, a two-hour production filled with high energy and a rhinestone-studded series of songs and dances.

The Magic Flute Holiday Presentation at The Met Opera, December 10–January 5, Upper East Side, Manhattan: The Met’s abridged, English-language version of Mozart’s magical fairy tale is a classic holiday treat for audiences of all ages, bringing the charming story and enchanting music to life.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at The Joyce Theatre, December 14–January 2 | Chelsea, Manhattan: The beloved all-male drag ballet troupe returns for an uproarious holiday season, taking the stage for three weeks of nonstop skilled pointe work and hilarious parodying of classical holiday-themed ballet inspired by Jerome Robbins’ In the Night.

New York Philharmonic’s Handel’s Messiah at The Riverside Church, December 14–18, Manhattan: Grammy Award-winning Baroque specialist Jeannette Sorrell conducts the Philharmonic on this holiday piece including dazzling vocal solos, instrumentals and coral writing, in the neo-Gothic glory of Riverside Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents Big Band Holidays, December 15–19, Manhattan: With soulful big band arrangements of songs both sacred and secular, the Big Band Holidays series at the Rose Theater is an uplifting tradition enjoyed by audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

WINTER EXHIBITIONS AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Times Square Holiday Show Globes, through December 26, Times Square, Manhattan: See large snow globe displays inspired by the designs of hit Broadway shows including WickedAin’t Too ProudThe Lion King and Dear Evan Hansen.

Fifth Avenue Holiday Installation at the Pulitzer Fountain, November 17–January 7, Midtown Manhattan: Fifth Avenue welcomes the holiday season with 32 handcrafted-in-Brooklyn animal sculptures across from the Plaza Hotel, 5,000 feet of lighting, an ice-skating rink and 24 handmade icebergs surrounding the Pulitzer Fountain, with orchestrated music from composer Paul Brill.

Pinkmas at Museum of Ice Cream New York City, November 18–January 9, Soho, Manhattan: Museum of Ice Cream’s annual holiday celebration, Pinkmas, will transform its 13 multisensory installations into a pink winter wonderland bursting with snowflakes, candy canes and pink trees. Guests are encouraged to bring a new toy – to be donated to Toys for Tots—in exchange for one scoop of ice cream at the museum café.

Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden, November 20–January 23, Fordham, the Bronx: The City’s beloved holiday tradition returns for its 30th year with a miniature wonderland in the warmth of the Haupt Conservatory. Marvel at model trains as they zip through an enchanting display of more than 175 famous New York landmarks, all re-created from natural materials such as pine cones, acorns and seeds.

Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche at the Met, November 23–January 9, Upper East Side, Manhattan: A NYC tradition, the Met’s Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche exhibition—an adorned tree with a nativity scene around its base—comes from a collection of 18th-century Neapolitan figures donated by American artist and collector Loretta Hines Howard in 1964.

The Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History, November 24 through holiday season, Upper West Side, Manhattan: The delightfully decorated 13-foot Origami Holiday Tree, celebrating its 50th anniversary, will have a Gems of the Museum theme, featuring 50 specially created gold-colored models for the “golden anniversary.”

Seaport District NYC Celebrations, Throughout the holiday season, Seaport District NYC, Manhattan: Historic cobblestone streets of the Seaport District and Pier 17 turn into the ultimate destination for holiday celebrations.

Historic Richmond Town Candlelight Tours, December 11-12, 18-19, Staten Island: Experience the tastes and scents of centuries past at Historic Richmond Town, illuminated by candles and oil lamps.

LIGHT FESTIVALS AND DISPLAYS

Rockefeller Center and the world’s most famous Christmas Tree © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shine Bright at Hudson Yards: Throughout the holiday season, Hudson Yards, Manhattan: Two million twinkling lights, 725 evergreen trees, 16-foot-tall hot-air balloons arranged throughout the Public Square and Gardens, and a 32-foot-tall hot-air balloon centerpiece suspended in The Great Room of The Shops.

NYC Winter Lantern Festival: Escape, through January 9, North Shore, Staten Island: Back at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden for its third year, enjoy over eight acres of luminescence—an immersive world of light—live DJ, projection mapping, food vendors.

Lightscape at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, November 19–January 9, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn: Explore the Garden after dark at the illuminated Lightscape which will celebrate the beauty of nature with an enchanting one-mile trail through BBG’s 52-acre landscape. Enjoy the Winter Cathedral tunnel, Fire Garden and Sea of Light, as well as new site-specific light works by local artists, accompanied by a curated soundtrack.

Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo, November 19–January 9, Fordham, the Bronx: Immersive light displays, custom-designed animal lanterns and animated light shows sparkle across the zoo. The celebration is complete with festive entertainment, seasonal treats and classic holiday music.

NYBG GLOW, 25 select nights; November 24–January 22, Bronx Park, the Bronx: Discover the beauty of New York Botanical Garden through GLOW, which will illuminate the garden’s landmark landscape and historic buildings after dark with a newly expanded 1.5-mile colorful experience.

NYC Winter Lantern Festival: Illuminate the Farm, November 25–January 9,  Queens County Farm Museum, Queens: For this first time, the NYC Winter Lantern Festival will transform Queens County Farm into an immersive and radiant oasis with festive lights and handmade lanterns in the shape of flowers, tractors, farm animals and more.

Christmas Lights Tour of Dyker Heights, December 1–31, Dyker Heights, Brooklyn: Experience the extravagant Christmas light displays known as “Dyker Lights.” This guided bus tour, departing from Manhattan, offers visitors a special experience to view the uniquely decorated homes, learn about the history and stories of the neighborhood tradition.

ICE SKATING RINKS

The Rink at Rockefeller Center, throughout the holiday season, Rockefeller Center, Manhattan. World-famous ice-skating rink now open for visitors to skate under the iconic Christmas tree, a quintessential NYC experience. Santa joins on the ice from December 4-24.

Skate for free at Bryant Park, amid a European-style market village © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Rink at Bryant Park, through March 6, Bryant Park, Manhattan: Enjoy the City’s free 17,000-square-foot outdoor ice-skating rink at Bryant Park’s Winter Village. Visitors can also enjoy the Holiday Shops, free shows, events, activities, and eats and drinks at The Lodge.

Wollman Rink NYC, throughout the holiday season, Central Park, Manhattan.

FLAGSHIP SHOPPING OFFERS

In partnership with NYC & Company, the following flagship department stores are offering special “It’s Time for Shopping” gifts with $100+ purchases, to celebrate the return of in-person shopping, beginning on Black Friday, November 26, through Boxing Day, December 26.

Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show, Midtown Manhattan: Saks Fifth Avenue’s classic Holiday Window and Light Show begins November 23. The flagship is home to a holiday market this year inspired by European open-air markers, offering special gifts, holiday décor, food, and more. Open daily, the market comes to life each Saturday, with an array of activities including street-side activations, artisans, interactive happenings, and more. Shoppers can redeem a travel pouch by providing proof of a $100+ purchase from the Holiday Market at the International Lounge on the lower level and mentioning “NYCGO.”

Holidays in New York

Bloomingdales, Upper East Side, Manhattan: “Give Happy” this season with special offerings including holiday windows; a Ralph Lauren immersive ski chalet experience featuring exclusive products; a “Happy Together Again” pop-up offering a Nespresso bar with complimentary beverages to fuel holiday shopping; and Santaland. Shoppers can redeem a limited-edition gift by providing proof of a $100+ purchase at the Visitors Center on 1 Level Balcony and mentioning “NYCGO.” A complimentary hotel delivery is also available for purchases of $250+.

Macy’s Herald Square, Midtown Manhattan: Visit the iconic store to explore a curated assortment of the best in fashion, fragrance, toys through a new partnership with Toys R Us, and more; enjoy a meet and greet with Santa; and marvel at Macy’s iconic Broadway windows—this year’s theme features the story of Tiptoe, a bright-eyed reindeer pursuing the ultimate dream, joining Santa’s sleigh team and delivering magic around the world on Christmas Eve. Shoppers can redeem a gift by providing proof of a $100+ purchase to the Macy’s Visitor Center on the mezzanine level and mentioning “NYCGO.”

Holiday Lights in New York

Nordstrom NYC, Midtown Manhattan:  “Make Merry” with three festive pop-up shops, including the Holiday Gift Shop, Pop-In@Nordstrom, and new Concepts@Nordstrom, Concept 015: Make It Bazaar. Free gift wrapping, Santa snacks, in-store pick-up, the “Santa Snow Show,” lighting, holiday décor. Shoppers can redeem a bag of beauty items by providing proof of any $100+ beauty purchase at the Beauty Concierge in the Beauty Hall, as well as a 15% discount on beauty and wellness services at Beauty Haven when mentioning “NYCGO.”

SHOP LOCAL BUSINESSES AND POP-UPS

Brooklyn Flea Holiday Market, Sundays, through December 19, Dumbo, Brooklyn: local holiday shopping featuring vintage and antique items, crafts and gourmet food stands.

Tiffany & Co. West Village Pop-Up, through January 8, West Village, Manhattan: The iconic jewelry store pop-up is located in the heart of the West Village, offering shoppers a series of holiday-themed activities such as hand-painting Tiffany gift boxes and holiday cards, calligraphy, poetry readings, and more.

The Bank of America winter village at Bryant Park, featuring the city’s only free-admission skating rink, holiday market and delicious food offerings, has returned for its 20th season.

Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, through January 2, Bryant Park, Manhattan: This year, the European-style Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park opened earlier than ever to commence the festive season, with must-buy gifts, sweets, drinks and winter activities.

Union Square Holiday Market, November 18–December 24, Union Square, Manhattan: Urbanspace’s longest running holiday market will return this year with over 150 vendors and a partnership with NYC’s unofficial talent scout, Nick “New York Nico” Heller, to curate a special booth of rotating budding entrepreneurs for one week.

Columbus Circle Holiday Market, November 29–December 24, Columbus Circle, Manhattan: Art, jewelry, home goods and delicious eats from local artisans and designers, all while roaming through NYC’s iconic Central Park.

A horse-drawn carriage rides down Fifth Avenue, decorated for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

FAD Holiday Market, December 4–5, 11–12, 18–19, Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill, Brooklyn: Two holiday market locations in Brooklyn’s BoCoCa (Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens): The Invisible Dog Art Center on Bergen Street in Boerum Hill and St. Paul’s Church on Court Street in Cobble Hill.

Shop at Grand Central Terminal, Saturdays, December 4–24, Midtown Manhattan: Up to five gifts purchased at the shops wrapped free of charge in a choice of Grand Central–themed wrapping paper, which includes the terminal’s iconic constellation ceiling, and placed in a complimentary, exclusive and reusable Grand Central Terminal tote bag.

HOLIDAYS ON THE WATER

Classic Harbor Line Holiday Themed Cruises, throughout holiday season, Manhattan: Enjoy four-course holiday brunch cruises, a cocoa and carols cruise, and more holiday themes, while sailing across the East and Hudson Rivers with views of the NYC skyline and Lady Liberty.

City Cruises Holiday Themed Cruises, throughout holiday season, Manhattan: Enjoy a NYC Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or New Year’s dining cruise, among others, featuring festive décor, meals, and stunning views of the City while sailing across the East and Hudson Rivers from the glass-enclosed deck.

HOTEL HAPPENINGS

Home for the Holidays at the Loews Regency New York Hotel, through December 30, Upper East Side, Manhattan: Enjoy accommodations on Manhattan’s famed Upper East Side, steps from the City’s coveted holiday attractions, with this offer including a food and beverage credit that can be used at The Regency Bar & Grill, gift card to neighboring Bloomingdale’s and a festive welcome amenity.

Holidays at The Plaza, November 25–January 9, Midtown Manhattan: Enjoy afternoon tea at The Palm Court at The Plaza, an iconic destination for holiday festivities, as well as Santa Clause visits, the Home Alone 2 experience and one-of-a-kind gifts at the Eloise Pop-Up. 

Holiday decorations outside the Plaza Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A Very Vintage Christmas at The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue, December 1-31, Midtown Manhattan” Junior Suite decked with a decorated Christmas tree (with option to ship personal ornaments and stockings beforehand) and custom Christmas treats, plus four tickets to the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes and transportation in a vintage taxi, a horse and carriage ride around Central Park, and more (minimum two-night stay). The hotel will donate 10% of the proceeds to the Food Bank of New York City.

Create Custom Fragrances at Conrad New York Midtown, December 2, 9, 16, 23, Midtown Manhattan: Create a custom scent to gift to loved ones this season in the Conrad New York Midtown’s cozy library room, with an Olfactory NYC pop-up offering a selection of six core fragrances and dozens of accords to design a custom scent. Guests staying at the property will receive 20% off. 

Intercontinental New York Barclay Holiday Choirs, December 13, 14, 15, 16, Midtown East: The hotel is hosting live choral music in the lobby this season, beginning on Monday, December 13 with PS 150 Queens, followed by Long Island Gay Men’s Chorus on December 14, Canticum Novum Singers on December 15, and Village Light Opera on December 16.

OUTDOOR IGLOOS AND CABINS

Rockefeller Center and the world’s most famous Christmas Tree © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

City Winery at Rockefeller Center, throughout the holiday season, Rockefeller Center, Manhattan: views of the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, open daily (reservations through Resy).

The Greens Rooftop at Pier 17, throughout the holiday season, Seaport District NYC, Manhattan: The Rooftop at Pier 17 debuts the newest rendition of The Greens winter cabins, open seven days a week.

Igloo Bar at 230 Fifth, through April 15, Rockefeller Center, Manhattan: a winter oasis at 17 igloos with close-up views of the Empire State Building (advanced bookings recommended).

Cozy Igloos by Prime Video are heated, clear structures decorated with seasonal decor that provide an intimate setting to enjoy festive food and drinks in a private space with some of the best views of the iconic Bryant Park skating rink and Bank of America Winter Village (Photo Credit: Angelito Jusay for Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park)

New York City’s Key to NYC program requires people ages 12 and older to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19 for most indoor activities, including at restaurants, event spaces, venues, museums, attractions and more. Individuals must have received at least one dose of an FDA- or WHO-authorized vaccine to patronize these establishments. More information can be found in the City’s FAQ.

For additional holiday celebrations and itineraries, visit nycgo.com/holidays.

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© 2021 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

Looking Good at 95, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Returns to NYC to Usher in the Holiday Season

The 2021 holiday season is heralded in by Santa riding his sleigh to wind up the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, bringing cheer and joy to the crowds that lined the 2.5 mile parade route from Central Park West to Herald Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is looking pretty good for 95. The joyful spectacle returned to the streets of New York City this Thanksgiving after 2020’s hiatus to usher in the start of the holiday season with its signature mix of giant character helium balloons, fantastic floats, stirring marching bands, jubilant performance groups, whimsical clowns, music stars. The climax, of course, is Santa Claus, whose jubilant ride in his stocked sleigh brings such joy to adults and children alike, it’s like watching a wave flow through the hundreds of thousands who turned out to line the 2.5 mile parade route from 77th Street and Central Park West, to Central Park South, and down Avenue of the Americas to and 34th Street and the final turn to end at Macy’s Herald Square.

As is tradition, the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was lead by the Thanksgiving turkey © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“For more than nine decades, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has served to bring joy to millions, who gather with friends and family to experience this one-of-a-kind holiday celebration along the streets of New York City and in homes nationwide,” said Will Coss, Executive Producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “For our 95th celebration, Macy’s has created a spectacle to remember featuring a dazzling array of high-flying balloons, animated floats and incredible performers. We can’t wait to help New York City and the nation kick-off the holiday season with the return of this cherished tradition.”

Back after last year’s hiatus, crowds lined the 2.5 mile the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 95th annual Macy’s Parade featured 15 giant character balloons, 28 floats, 36 novelty and heritage inflatables, more than 800 clowns, 10 marching bands and 9 performance groups, a host of musical stars, and, of course, the one-and-only Santa Claus.

Ada TwistScientist by Netflix was one of the giant inflatables in its debut flight at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To safely produce the annual Thanksgiving Day event, Macy’s once again partnered closely with the City and State of New York to create a production plan that would ensure health and safety practices aligned with CDC guidelines, as well as current local and state government protocols.

Stars on Parade

Jon Batiste at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Macy’s Parade is always the holiday’s biggest stage for entertainment and this year was no different. Joining the festivities were aespa, Jimmie Allen, Jon Batiste, Blue’s Clues & You! host Josh Dela Cruz and the former hosts of Blue’s Clues Steve Burns and Donovan Patton, Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss, Jordan Fisher, Foreigner, the cast of Peacock’s Girls5eva (Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Paula Pell, Busy Philipps), Andy Grammer, Mickey Guyton, Chris Lane, Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier, the cast and Muppets of Sesame Street®, Nelly, Kim Petras, Kelly Rowland, Rob Thomas, Carrie Underwood, Tai Verdes, Zoe Wees, and Tauren Wells.

Jimmie Allen at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Inflatable Icons

Since 1927 the world’s most popular characters have been transformed into high-flying art in the sky. Inspired by marionettes, the Parade’s balloons first debuted as upside down puppets filled with air and carried on sticks, before taking flight with the addition of helium. Over time the inflatables morphed to encompass balloonheads, hybrid inflatables with vehicles inside (balloonicles) and tandem tricycles (trycaloons).

A Funko Pop! inspired Grogu (a.k.a. Baby Yoda in pop culture) from the Star Wars seriesmakes his debut at the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New giants joining the line-up this year include Ada TwistScientist by Netflix; a Funko Pop! inspired Grogu (a.k.a. Baby Yoda in pop culture) from the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian,” Ronald McDonald® by McDonald’s® and Pikachu & Eevee by The Pokémon International Company.

Pikachu & Eevee have their first flight the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Making return appearances to the skies above New York City are giant balloon favorites including Astronaut Snoopy by Peanuts Worldwide; The Boss Baby by DreamWorks Animation and Universal Pictures; Diary of A Wimpy Kid® by Abrams Books; Sinclair’s DINO® by Sinclair Oil Corporation; Goku by Toei Animations, Inc.; Chase from PAW Patrol® by Nickelodeon; Pillsbury Doughboy by PillsburyRed Titan from “Ryan’s World” by Sunlight Entertainment and pocket.watch; Papa Smurf from The Smurfs by Nickelodeon; Sonic the Hedgehog by SEGA; and SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary by Nickelodeon.

Astronaut Snoopy takes flight at the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The inflatable lineup also includes Sinclair’s Baby DINOs and the Go Bowling balloonicles; Smokey Bear by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service; and Macy’s very own special reindeer Tiptoe and Toni the Bandleader Bear.

Red Titan at the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Floats of Fantasy

From its inception, the Parade’s floats have transported spectators to magical worlds. These initial whimsical creations focused on nursery rhyme stories. Today the floats are multi-level animated wonders that dazzle with their artistry. Conceived and crafted by the incredible artisans of Macy’s Parade Studio – a design and production facility that includes carpenters, engineers, electricians, painters, animators, balloon technicians, sculptors, metal fabricators, scenic and costume designers – this year’s line-up of floats showcased the best of theatrical design.

The 1-2-3 Sesame Street® by Sesame Workshop float carries the cast and Muppets of Sesame Street © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While they are built for entertainment, they are also a showcase of creative design, engineering, and skillful construction. To spectators they seem to float down the route, even though many are three stories tall and several lanes of traffic wide stages. However, if you dig a little deeper, the magic is revealed as each of these amazing floats are built to collapse to no more than 12 ½-feet tall and 8-feet wide to travel safely from the New Jersey home of the Parade Studio to the Manhattan starting line via the Lincoln Tunnel for the annual celebration.

The cast of Girlsseva ride the Peacock float at the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year six new floats will debut including Birds of a Feather Stream Together by Peacock® (cast of Peacock’s Girls5eva); Celebration Gator by Louisiana Office of Tourism (Jon Batiste); Colossal Wave of Wonder by Kalahari Resorts and Conventions (Nelly); Gravy Pirates by HEINZ; Magic Meets the Sea by Disney Cruise Line (Jordan Fisher and special guests); and Tiptoe’s North Pole.

Zoe Wees is aboard The Brick-changer by The LEGO Group at the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The returning float roster and its scheduled performers included 1-2-3 Sesame Street® by Sesame Workshop (The cast and Muppets of Sesame Street); Big City Cheer by Spirit of America Productions (Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier); Big Turkey Spectacular by Jennie-O (Tai Verdes); Blue’s Clues & You! by Nickelodeon (Josh Dela Cruz, Steve Burns and Donovan Patton); The Brick-changer by The LEGO Group (Zoe Wees); Christmas in Town Square by Lifetime® (Kelly Rowland); Deck the Halls by Balsam Hill® (Kristin Chenoweth); Elf Pets® by The Lumistella Company; Everyone’s Favorite Bake Shop by Entenmann’s® (Andy Grammer); Fantasy Chocolate Factory by Kinder (Darren Criss); Harvest in the Valley by Green Giant® (Jimmie Allen); Heartwarming Holiday Countdown by Hallmark Channel (Rob Thomas); Her Future is STEM-Sational by Olay (aespa); Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (Tauren Wells); Macy’s Singing Christmas Tree (Macy’s Choir); Mount Rushmore’s American Pride by South Dakota Department of Tourism (Chris Lane); Rexy in the City by COACH® (Kim Petras); Santa Express and Starflakes by Universal Orlando Resort; Santa’s Sleigh (Santa Claus); Tom TurkeyToy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life (Foreigner) and Winning Winter Together by MassMutual and NHL® (Mickey Guyton).

Tai Verdes rides the Big Turkey Spectacular by Jennie-O float in the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, Geoffrey, the beloved mascot of Toys”R”Us, made a special appearance down the route.

The Beat and the Pageantry

Virginia’s Hampton University “The Marching Force” at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The nation’s best marching bands brought the beat to the holiday revelry. Joining the line-up were The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders (Austin, TX), Brownsburg High School (Brownsburg, IN), Centerville High School (Centerville, OH), Hampton University (Hampton, VA), Lincoln-Way High School (Frankfort, IL), Macy’s Great American Marching Band (United States), NYPD Marching Band (New York, NY), Trabuco Hills High School (Mission Viejo, CA), Union High School (Tulsa, Oklahoma), and University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL).

The Great American Marching Band at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Taking entertainment to the next level were the Parade’s beloved performance groups who bring joy to spectators along the route and viewers watching from home. The 95th Parade featured the dazzling dancers of Ballet Hispánico’s School of Dance, the harmonious voices of the Broadway Education Alliance Youth Choir, the fancy footwork of the Fred Astaire Dance Studios, the special tributaries of Indigenous Direction, the out of the world skills of J.U.M.P. (Jumpers United for Macy’s Parade), the razzle dazzle of the St. John’s Dance Team, the energetic Spirit of America Cheer and Spirit of America Dance Stars, and the moving voices of the Young People’s Chorus of NYC.

J.U.M.P. (Jumpers United for Macy’s Parade) showed off their skills as they marched © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are more photo highlights:

Blue’s Clues & You! host Josh Dela Cruz and the former hosts of Blue’s Clues Steve Burns and Donovan Patton © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Spirit of America Cheer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier aboard the Big City Cheer by Spirit of America Productions float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Foreigner on the Toy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Boss Baby by DreamWorks Animation and Universal Pictures balloon with handlers in matching outfits © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Union High School marching band, Tulsa OK ©  Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chase from PAW Patrol® by Nickelodeon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Some 800 clowns bring smiles to the crowds along the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Kim Petras atop Rexy in the City by COACH® at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Goku makes a return appearance at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
aespa rides the Her Future is STEM-Sational by Olay float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The First Order from Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jordan Fisher on the Magic Meets the Sea by Disney Cruise Line float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Nelly rides the Colossal Wave of Wonder by Kalahari Resorts and Conventions float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Distinctly New York clowns bring smiles to the crowd at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chris Lane on the Mount Rushmore’s American Pride by South Dakota Department of Tourism float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Andy Grammer on the Everyone’s Favorite Bake Shop by Entenmann’s® float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Tauren Wells works the crowd on the Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Papa Smurf from The Smurfs by Nickelodeon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rob Thomas on the  Heartwarming Holiday Countdown by Hallmark Channel float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
One of the classic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons, Pillsbury Doughboy by Pillsbury © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Centerville High School, Ohio © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Centerville High School, Ohio Jazz Band © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Broadway Education Alliance Youth Choir on the Balsam Hill float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
At last, the one and only Santa Claus comes to town, ending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ushering in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Santa Claus riding his sleigh ends the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ushering in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Young and old alike show sheer joy at the sight of Santa Claus coming to town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Young and old alike show sheer joy at the sight of Santa Claus coming to town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Young and old alike show sheer joy at the sight of Santa Claus coming to town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Santa Claus riding his sleigh ends the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2021 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

Gift of Travel: Put a Bow Around Wanderlust

Gift of Travel: Give experiences, like a sunrise hot-air balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The gift of travel is the gift of life-enhancing even life-changing experience, lifelong memories, connection with family, friends and new friends. There are lots of ways to give the gift of travel:

Gift of Travel Experiences:

Gift experiences that come to mind include pre-arranging special experiences:

Arrange a cooking class for a couple going to Paris (cooknwithclass.com)

Arrange a cooking class in Paris (cooknwithclass.com) © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A hot-air balloon experience over Cappadocia, Turkey (see tripadvisor.com)

Visit to museum exhibit (some now require pre-purchased tickets), attractions, like the recently opened world premiere of Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru, on its first stop of a worldwide tour at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, through March 6, 2022 (A/$29.95 C/$19.95, VIP Access: $100 https://bocamuseum.org/art/machu-picchu-and-golden-empires-peru).

The world premiere of the traveling “Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru” exhibit is at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Florida, through March 6, 2022. Capacity is limited and  tickets need to be pre-purchased.
 

Organize a spa/wellness visit (SpaFinder.com has a compendium of resorts and day spas and offers gift certificates)

The Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, Manalapan on Palm Beach Island, Florida. You can book spa resorts and day-spas on SpaFinder.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Set up a walking tour (Context Travel provides private or small group immersive tours for travelers who love to learn, in 60 cities globally, contexttravel.com) or arrange for a local guide (https://www.toursbylocals.com/find_guide has access to 4,488 guides in 193 countries; also offers gift certificates)

Context Travel guide leads a private walking tour of Athens  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Book a rock climbing experience to get your special someone out of the gym and onto the real rocks (A day in the Gunks of the Mohonk Preserve, $350 for two for a full day program, 9 am to 4:30 pm, High Xposure Adventures, 800-777-CLIMB, high-xposure.com; Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School, acadiamountainguides.com, 888-232-9559)

Prearrange a food tour (Private Street Food Tour by motorbike with local students, Saigon Back Alley Tours, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam).

Schedule a sea kayak nature tour in Van Damme State Park, Mendocino, (www.kayakmendocino.com) or Bar Harbor, Maine ( National Park Sea Kayak Tours, https://acadiakayak.com) or Albania.

Sea kayaking excursion in Albania © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tripadvisor.com and viator.com are excellent sources for finding and booking visits to local attractions, sightseeing.

Arrange a bike ride (Visiting San Francisco? Blazing Saddles, blazingsaddles.com) or in Budapest.

Rent a bike to see Budapest © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Pre-arrange special zoo and theme park experiences like Wild Encounters at the Bronx Zoo and Animal Encounters at Busch Gardens Tampa including Keeper for a Day tours, Australia Insider Tour and Gorilla Insider Tour (https://buschgardens.com/tampa/tours/).  Book an animal interaction at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to “Winter” of “Dolphin Tale” fame: Dolphin Encounter (you work alongside a trainer during a training and feeding session), Trainer for a Day (where you shadow a trainer), Feed Rufus (the actual movie star!), and Shark Encounter (SeaWinter.com, 727-441-1790).

Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of “Winter” offers special dolphin encounters and behind-the-scenes experiences © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Get tickets to iconic holiday experiences like the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker (30 performances from Nov. 27-Dec. 26, washingtonballet.org); George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker by New York City Ballet, November 26–January 2 (www.nycballet.com/the-nutcracker/tickets, 212-496-0600; or the Philadelphia Ballet, at the Academy of Music Dec. 10-31, https://philadelphiaballet.org/2021-2022-season/nutcracker/0

Give the experience of special holiday events, such as the New York City Ballet’s “Nutcracker” at Lincoln Center  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Can’t get to the wine tastings in Sonoma and Napa? You can still join their wine clubs and ship wine selections, for example, Imagery Wine, which we visited recently (877-550-4278, www.imagerywinery.com/store) and its sister winery Benziger (benziger.com).  Find more on sonomawine.com and napavintners.com.

You can gift favorite wines enjoyed at a wine tasting, like Imagery in Sonoma, which makes it easy to ship © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Arrange for a private chef to prepare a special meal in your home in New York City (Chef Omakase, 646-612-7790, info@chefomakase.com, www.chefomakase.com).

Memberships Have Benefits

These days, with capacity restrictions and advance-purchase ticketing requirements at major museums, zoos, preserves, conservancies, sites, attractions, ski areas, and organizations think about gifting pre-purchased tickets or better yet, memberships or season passes – these have the advantage of not only making the recipient happy, provide discounts and special access to events and experiences (campout!), but also do good by supporting important and worthy organizations.

Membership gives a sense of “ownership” and engagement, and encourages multiple or multi-day visits as well as giving access to benefits including magazines and discounts on gear and experiences and members-only events and access to their catalogs.

Not able to visit? Many of the great museums and iconic institutions of the world offer some of the most interesting, innovative and creative items in their gift shops and you can support their mission by shopping online or through catalogs (check out holiday specials, discounts). For example:

The Smithsonian Institution (si.edu),which just introduced Galactic gifts from its new  FUTURES exhibition in the Arts & Industries Building, “for all your past, present, and future needs” (https://aib.si.edu/futures/ — Shop Now, Smithsonianstore.com).  

Also, Sierra Club (they produce a catalog of trips, sierraclub.org); Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (also check out the trail shop for gear like jerseys, trail guides and such, railstotrails.org), Parks & Trail NY (ptny.org), National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA.org); The Nature Conservancy (nature.org) National Trust for Historic Preservation (savingplaces.org) which offers  Great Experiences & Tours, (nationaltrusttours.com); and its sister organization Historic Hotels of America, with some of most interesting and iconic hotels (www.historichotels.org).

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy celebrates opening of the Jim Thorpe bridge, linking the Delaware-Lehigh Trail. Programs, memberships and purchases of cycle gear support the mission of organizations like Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which is working to repurpose obsolete rail trails into recreational trails, and ultimately connect 3,700 miles of trails to create the Great American Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Members of the American Museum of Natural History enjoy free admission, special access with limited-capacity Member hours, exclusive previews of new exhibitions and galleries, and more. Get $20 off when you use promo code MEM21. (www.amnh.orghttps://shop.amnh.org/featured/holiday-gift-ideas). 

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC. Members have benefits. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Membership at the iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art brings free entry for members and one to four guests, private access to exhibitions outside of public hours and discounts on dining and store purchases (www.metmuseum.org).

Membership has benefits at iconic institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, like after-hours visits © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wildlife Conservation Society members get free admission to Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and Prospect Park Zoo; other memberships add in the NY Aquarium, free parking and other special benefits like guest passes (https://bronxzoo.com/shop/catalogs/memberships; most popular is Family Zoos Plus Aquarium: $210 (2 adults, 4 children, 1 guest). You can also purchase gift certificates for Wild Encounters – in-person and virtual behind-the-scenes look at the Bronx Zoo and Bronx Zoo gift ticket vouchers ($39.95/adult, $29.95/child).

Zoos, aquariums and special attractions are fantastic to shop at, especially for kids: The Palm Beach Zoo (www.palmbeachzoo.org), for example, has eco-friendly items. There are also Adopt-an-Animal programs. The Bronx Zoo has similar programs and an online store (www.bronxzoostore.com). And you don’t have to visit the Kennedy Space Center, to get space-related items (www.thespaceshop.com), though visiting offers incomparable experiences.

Retail sales, memberships, special events sustain the mission of the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

National Wildlife Federation has a whole catalog of gifts you can buy (30% off with promo code 938800, but you can also make a donation to a particular cause that is symbolized by a stuffed animal or some other acknowledgement: Holiday Gift Guide (https://www.shopnwf.org/collections/shop-specialty-shops-holiday-gift-guide); Sustainable holiday gifts (https://www.shopnwf.org/collections/shop-cards-and-gifts-gifts-sustainable-products); Create a sustainable garden (www.shopnwf.org/collections/Shop-Home-and-Garden-Garden-for-Wildlife), You can give the “gift of nature” and sponsor a forest with Trees for Wildlife program, in which NWF partners with schools, local government and nonprofit organizations to plant trees (https://www.shopnwf.org/category/Shop-Cards-and-Gifts-Tree-Gifts-Trees-for-Wildlife).

Similarly, World Wildlife Federation has a great selection of gifts that support the organization’s conservation efforts: Gifts.worldwidlife.org/gift-center/gifts/.

Stocking Stuffers, Gift Cards, Travel Gear

Hotels, resorts, tour companies even cruise companies offer gift cards (great stocking stuffers) which can be used to pay toward stays or amenities and experiences (some, like Catania Hospitality give extra discounts during holiday sales and some give the giver a special gift as well), and can be purchased on line.

Xanterra Travel Collection, for the first time, is offering Xanterra Travel Collection Gift Cards redeemable across all its properties and brands for accommodations, tours, experiences, and retail purchases (Xanterra.com/GiftCard).

You can purchase gift certificates for Xanterra Travel Collection iconic lodgings in national parks such as Grand Canyon’s crown jewel, the El Tovar, and experiences such as the historic Grand Canyon Railway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can purchase actual tickets or gift certificates for Broadway theater at Broadway.com. Gift certificates can be redeemed for tickets to any Broadway or Off-Broadway show currently playing in New York City. (www.broadway.com/gift-certificates)

You can purchase actual tickets or gift certificates for Broadway theater at broadway.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

SpaFinder has gift certificates for resorts, hotels, wellness centers and day spas (www.spafinder.com/best-of/resorts-and-hotel-spas), as well as gift cards can be used to buy gift sets (spafinder.com).

Skiers, snowboarders will really appreciate lift tickets (get discounted rates at liftopia.com; also EpicPass.com, IKONPass.com, Ski New York’s Ski3 pass, iskiny.com) or pre-paid lessons and rentals. Or if you feel really ambitious, purchase the season pass.

Skiers, snowboarders will really appreciate lift tickets or a lesson or rental, or even a season pass. I Ski NY offers the Ski3 which includes Gore Mountain as well as Whiteface Mountain and Belleayre com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For stocking stuffers there’s no better than actual socks, so crucial for walking tours, hiking, biking, skiing, and packing, like Darn Tough (www.darntough.com) and Bombas (which come with a promise to donate a pair for every pair purchased, https://bombas.com/).

Darn Tough socks make great stocking stuffers and are really appreciated by travelers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then you get into clothes, jackets and specialized gear and equipment for every interest imaginable: camping, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, tennis, fishing, outdoor stuff. Among our favorites (especially when you catch sales and closeouts):

REI operates as a co-op, and members have access to really excellent sales and discounts, plus earn credit toward future purchases. REI products have excellent quality (we love our tents) and allow no-questions asked returns for a year. Excellent customer service. Free shipping on $50 (including skis and snowboards). Also, when you make a purchase with a REI Co-op World Elite Mastercard®, REI makes a donation to the REI Cooperative Action Fund, which directly supports organizations that promote justice, equity and belonging in the outdoors, this year, REI will donate up to $1 million (www.rei.com/s/gifts-for-travelers, 800-426-4840).

REI makes it really easy to outfit for a camping trip or any outdoors activity © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Patagonia also has excellent selections, free shipping over $75, and has “Patagonia Action Works” to facilitate donations to worthy causes, contributing 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. You can also buy used, trade-in and fix your gear through Worn Wear (WornWear.com), and can purchase gift cards. (Patagonia.com);

Also: Eastern Mountain Sports, 888-463-6367, ems.com;  LL Bean, 888-610-2326, llbean.com; Sun & Ski, 866-786-3869, sunandski.com; Tennis ExpressTennisExpress.com; Bass Pro Shopswww.basspro.com. And of course, luggage (ebags.comLuggageonline.com).

As for travel wardrobe, baggage fees have presented a challenge for travelers to confine all their packing to carry-on luggage, and people like me who have trouble finding pants to fit poses an additional challenge. Red Thread makes clothes to order that are comfortable, versatile, stylish, and pack well (pants, the essential black dress,  jackets etc) and are tailored specifically to your measurements using 3D technology from your phone, and delivered within two weeks, and have a lifetime guarantee if they need to be re-sized to fit. I loved the Red Thread resort pants–with a Saint Tropez stylish flare (redthreadcollection.com, hi@redthreadcollection.com 800-710-0835).

 Photography & Camera Gear

What trip doesn’t involve photos! Yes, everyone has their cell phones but they don’t do for safaris, kayaking, biking, wildlife (though there are lens kits for cell phones which would make great gifts).

Cameras and photography gear are big on the wish list for travelers, with size and functionality among the key criteria. Some of the new smaller, lighter mirrorless cameras have as much functionality as the larger, heavier digital SLRs and use interchangeable lenses but tend to be fairly costly (over $1000). Take advantage of sales to purchase slightly outdated models that have great reviews (I love my newest acquisition, full-frame mirrorless Nikon Z5 with 24-200 mm lens for $1696; Canon EOS M6 Mirrorless Digital with 18-150 mm lens for $449, light and compact enough to use for hiking and travel, and for wet or harsh conditions, Olympus Tough TG6, which is very small, rugged, water, shock, dust and crashproof, and has a sensational macro feature and good zoom range, 25-100mm (now $50 off at $399). B&H consistently has best inventory, prices, and holiday specials, plus excellent customer service, delivery and return policies, www.bhphotovideo.com, 800-606-6969212-444-6615).

Photos rank high on travelers’ list of essentials. Cell phones only take you so far. For special trips like wildlife safaris, bird-watching, kayaking, more ambitious camera equipment would be appreciated © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are endless opportunities to satisfy photographer’s wish list, from memory cards (great stocking stuffer) and external hard drives, to backpacks, lenses (you can even get lenses for cell phones), lighting, the list goes on and on.

Another idea is to gift a photo album (Milkbooks, based in New Zealand, does an excellent job of reproducing high-quality photo albums and books, has excellent customer service and frequent sales, milkbooks.com.) Or consider high-quality professional printing and framing a photo that is particularly meaningful and memorable from their travels (bayphoto.com).

Or more spectacularly, what about a photosafari or a trip led by a master photographer, such as offered by Photo Workshop Adventures (150 carefully curated small group photo tours in 150 countries with “The Art of Seeing” approach” (www.photoworkshopadventures.com); Photo Safaris (www.photosafaris.com‎); National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com); ‎Back Country Journeys (https://explore.backcountryjourneys.com/photography-tours-workshops-safaris/landscape-wildlife/gs-l1); Lindblad Expeditions (www.expeditions.com/plan/expedition-photography); and Nomad Photo Expeditions (www.nomadphotoexpeditions.com).

I couldn’t get this photo of tigers in India’s tiger preserve in Khana without long lenses (300 mm) and an SLR (Nikon D500) which could accommodate the long distance, fast exposure and low-light of dusk conditions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gifts to Inspire

Give gifts that last the year, bring the world and the planet into their world and inspire wanderlust. For example:

National Geographic Kids magazine for 6-9 year olds ( $20/yr for 10 issues) and or National Geographic Little Kids designed especially for children ages 3-6 ($20/yr for 6 bi-monthly issues).

National Wildlife Federation produces Ranger Rick (age 7+), Ranger Rick Jr., (407) Ranger Rick Cub (0-4); Zoo books (7+); Zootles (4-7), and Zoodinos (5+); for holiday promotion, any title $12 – 76% savings. (rangerrick.org/magazines/)

For adults: Smithsonian Magazine is a treasure and also provides membership benefits and access to gifts. Subscribe for $34 and get a free gift subscription to share with someone else (smithsonianmag.com).

Another great source: PBS, which supports public television, which offers gift catalog and gift certificates (I’m loving the Mona Lisa “Women’s Fine Art” socks, $8) (https://shop.pbs.org/gifts, 833-565-0292).

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© 2021 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 Industry Unwraps Holiday Sales Putting Bucket List Experiences Within Reach

Grand Canyon, hiking the South Kaibab Trail. Xanterra Travel Collection is among the travel companies offering holiday sales that put bucket list experiences within reach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Take advantage of the travel industry’s cyber holiday sales this season to put your bucket list experiences within reach.

“With supply chains being strained worldwide, why not bypass the mail system and stuff your loved one’s stocking with the gift of travel?” asks Ben Perlo, managing director for G Adventures in the US and Latin America, which is offering its biggest sale of the year, extending through Dec. 3. “Givers and recipients alike will feel good knowing that each G Adventures trip helps support local communities that rely on tourism.”

These travel sales provide an added incentive for travelers at a time when the conditions are just right for booking for holiday travel and beyond, to secure coveted dates, destinations and experiences.

Here is just a tip of the iceberg of offerings, but check in with your favorite tour company, cruise line, resort and destination to uncover gifts worthy of a Secret Santa. Many travel companies, such as Xanterra, offer gift cards:

G ADVENTURES OFFERS UP TO 30% SAVINGS

Tour the dunes from atop a camel for an authentic way to experience the Sahara, explore high-walled kasbahs and wander the labyrinthine alleys of Fès and Marrakech on G Adventures Morocco Kasbahs and Desert trip and get 20% off when booking during the holiday sale © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

G Adventures is offering up to 30 percent off on more than 500 tours departing before October 31, 2022 with its biggest sale of the year, from November 10 through December 3, 2021. With the launch of the Cyber Sale, the small group adventure operator and community tourism pioneer is rewarding travelers who are eager to get back out there with discounts on more than 500 itineraries across the company’s selection of Active, Classic, Active, Marine, Family, Local Living and 18-to-30-Somethings travel styles.

Tours that are on sale and depart before March 31, 2022 offer travelers up to 30 percent off; additional departures before October 31, 2022 feature savings of up to 20 percent off the original price. 

GAdventures’s flexible Book with Confidence policy allows travelers to cancel and rebook their tour with no added cost; it also offers Vaccinated-Only and Travel Ready tour options.

Sample itineraries in this year’s Cyber Sale include 30% off eight day Macchu Picchu Adventure; 30% off nine-day Colombia Express, 20% off Costa Rica Active Adventure and 20% off Morocco Kasbahs and Desert. For more information or to book, visit www.gadventures.com/cyber-sale/

EF GO AHEAD TOURS DISCOUNTS BUCKET LIST WORTHY TRIPS

Solo travelers get a holiday discount on EF Go Ahead Tours:  Get 16% off Portugal for Solo Travelers © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

EF Go Ahead Tours, a leading provider of immersive, small group travel, is running its Black Friday sale through Nov. 26 offering steep 2021 discounts on 2022 and 2023 “bucket list” itineraries, likely the lowest rates these future tours will ever be, with prices locked in and flexible payment plans available. Get up to $600 off per person /$1,200 off per couple – with many of the most in-demand itineraries discounted by 20% or more.

From Nov. 19-25: Bucket List Worthy to Iceland, Egypt Kenya, Costa Rica, Galapagos such as Egypt & the Nile 20% off / $600 off, discounted at $2,399; A Week in Egypt: Giza, Nile River Cruise & Cairo 19% off / $500 off, discounted at $2,159; Kenya Wildlife Safari 4/8/22 departure. 13% off / $600 off, discounted at $3,919.

On Black Friday, get “Special Lightning Deals!” on what is left,up to $600 off on worldwide tours plus a doorbuster on Black Friday day!

Traveling solo within group travel is discounted too. Get an extra $100 off for private rooms on top of the sales, which could equate to a free single room!  Just one of many examples of a bucket list solo trip: Portugal for Solo Travelers 16% off / $500 off, discounted at $2,539

EF Go Ahead experts navigate travel and health and safety guidelines and plan fully refundable trips with no change fees Only $99 down secures a spot when you enroll in AutoPay. Book before November 30th and if you have to change plans, receive a refund of all money paid for that tour, including the deposit, through February 1, 2022. Change tour date or destination without a rebooking fee up until the Final Payment Date. EF offers Covid Care Promise, a comprehensive offering that supports travelers, at no additional expense through unforeseen on-tour quarantines or hospitalizations. EF Go Ahead Tours, 800, 590-1161, www.goaheadtours.com.

GRAB A BOGO DEAL FROM TRIPS BY CULTURE TRIP

Vietnam is one of the destinations offered by Culture Trip © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

TRIPS by Culture Trip is offering a BOGO deal from Nov. 22-Dec. 3, 2021: book a spot on one of their trips and bring someone along for free to places like Scotland, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Italy, Nepal and 20 more destinations.

Travel must take place before May 31, 2022 (and the Iceland itinerary in Jan. 2022 is excluded).  All trips available are on a first booked, first served basis. Space is limited and certain conditions apply.

TRIPS by Culture Trip are unique small-group adventures that help people experience extraordinary destinations in unexpected ways, together with other culturally curious travelers. Curated by travel experts and led by Local Insiders, the multi-day adventures offer exciting itineraries that combine immersive activities, hyper-local experiences and unique places to stay. Thoughtfully planned with ample free time to unwind or explore, the itineraries offer the right balance of exploration, action, and relaxation.

TRIPS by Culture Trip offers over 30 itineraries in some of the world’s most captivating and off-the-grid places, with new itineraries added regularly. TRIPS range from four to 13 days, welcoming a maximum of up to 18 travelers aged 25 and over who can join solo or with friends. With a focus beyond mass-market offerings, the itineraries often put local people at the centre and avoid areas of over tourism as well as unethical activities or wildlife interactions that aren’t in the best interest of the animals.
 
TRIPS by Culture Trip offers its Ultimate Covid Booking Guarantee, so if Covid regulations change a customer’s plans, they can rebook for free (valid for bookings made by Nov. 30, 2021 for travel before Feb. 28, 2022). For bookings outside these dates, no change or cancellation fees are imposed and customers can get a full refund should they need to postpone or cancel a trip up to 30 days prior to departure. All trips have Covid safety measures in place.

Full terms and conditions can be found at:  https://theculturetrip.com/bookable/booking-terms-and-conditions/

To book a TRIPS by Culture Trip Black Friday deal visit culturetrip.com/trips or contact tripssupport@theculturetrip.com or +1 (678) 967-4965.

XANTERRA ‘BOOK YOUR BUCKET LIST SALE’ FOR NATIONAL PARKS, CRUISES, TOURS

Take advantage of Xanterra Travel Collection’s week-long annual sale to lock in 50% off roundtrip tickets on the historic Grand Canyon Railway and 20% off in-park lodging at the Grand Canyon’s crown jewel, the El Tovar on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xanterra Travel Collection, an award-winning globally diversified travel company offering unforgettable experiences in some of the most Beautiful Places on Earth®, announced its highly anticipated annual “Book Your Bucket List Sale” from Tuesday, Nov. 23 – Tuesday, Nov. 30. This year’s sale will last a full week beginning the Tuesday before Black Friday and running through Cyber Monday and Travel Tuesday. Xanterra owns or operates the lodges in Yellowstone, Zion, Glacier, Death Valley and Grand Canyon South Rim; Windstar Cruises, The Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel, The Oasis at Death Valley, Holiday Vacations, Country Walkers and VBT Bicycling Tours. The affiliated legendary Five-Star, Five-Diamond Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and the longest-running Five-Star award-winning Sea Island Resort in Georgia are also participating in the sale.

And now, for the first time, Xanterra is offering an unparalleled gift of discovery and wanderlust with Xanterra Travel Collection Gift Cards. Redeemable across all Xanterra Travel Collection properties and brands for accommodations, tours, experiences, and retail purchases, recipients can choose their adventure with this gift of A World of Unforgettable Experiences. All new and available starting Nov. 16 at Xanterra.com/GiftCard.

Preview and plan now. Then book during the Book Your Bucket List one-week sale (Tuesday, Nov. 23 through Tuesday, Nov. 30) at Xanterra.com/BucketListSale. Highlights include:

National Parks

The Oasis at Death Valley – 30% off hotel stays at the beautifully renovated historic AAA Four-Diamond Inn at Death Valley and newly revitalized, family-friendly Ranch at Death Valley. Valid for select overnight stays between Dec. 2021 and Feb. 2022.

Historic Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel – 50% off roundtrip train tickets on an entertaining journey to the Grand Canyon’s fabled South Rim when booking a two-night Getaway Package over select dates between Dec. 1, 2021 and March 10, 2022.

Grand Canyon South Rim – 20% off in-park lodging at Kachina Lodge, Bright Angel Lodge, Maswik Lodge, and the crown jewel, El Tovar, during select dates Dec. 1, 2021 to March 3, 2022.

The Grand Hotel – 30% off at the only AAA Three-Diamond hotel near the Grand Canyon in Tusayan (just one mile from the South Rim entrance) on select dates between Dec. 2021 and March 2022.

Zion Lodge – 30% off overnight stays inside the park at Zion National Park Lodge on select dates between Dec. 2021 and Feb. 2022.

Cedar Creek Lodge, at the gateway to Glacier National Park – 30% off room rates on select dates from Dec. 2021 through April 2022.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel – Save 25% off hotel stays at the charming and historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, located inside the park on select dates during May 2022.

​​Luxury Hotels

The Broadmoor – Rates as low as $249 per night for select dates, up to 25% off published suite rates, and 10% off the all-inclusive Wilderness Properties (The Ranch at Emerald Valley and Cloud Camp).

Sea Island – In honor of its Quarter Century Club (team members with at least 25 years of service to the resort), book a stay in December, January, or February and receive the third night for only $25. Plus, receive a $250 resort credit per stay at The Cloister and The Lodge. In addition, Sea Island will donate $25 per stay to the Sea Island Legacy Fund, which assists team members experiencing economic hardship.

Guided Travel/Tours

Bicycling Tours – Receive $200 off any spring VBT Bicycling Tours Guided Italy tour departing between April 1, 2022 and June 30, 2022.

Walking Adventures – Receive $200 off any spring Country Walkers Guided Italy tour departing between April 1, 2022 and June 30, 2022.

Holiday Vacations – Save $250 per person on the Holland in Bloom featuring the Floriade tour departing on April 15, 2022.

Cruising

Windstar Cruises – Save on 2022 yacht-style cruises with fewer than 350 guests. Enjoy a $100 onboard credit per guest to use on shore excursions, spa treatments, alcoholic beverages and more. Low fares start from $1,399 per guest.

For a complete list and to take advantage of Xanterra and its affiliates’ Book Your Bucket List offers, visit Xanterra.com/BucketListSale. For the newly available gift cards, visit Xanterra.com/GiftCard.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HOLIDAY DEALS TO LOCK IN LUXE ESCAPES

Take advantage of these Black Friday resort deals to lock in luxe escapes for 2022:

Cayo Espanto, Belize: Cayo Espanto, a barefoot luxe private island resort off the coast of Belize, is offering guests a free airfare credit (up to $750 per person) with the booking of a seven night stay this Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Travelers looking to take advantage of this offer must complete their booking online at aprivateisland.com between Friday, November 26 – Monday, November 29, 2021. Booking code is not required, all reservations made during this timeframe will receive airfare credit with confirmation.

Coco Collection, Maldives boutique island resorts, Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Palm Dhuni Kohlhu,  a discounted rate of 50% off on bookings made between Friday, November 26 – Monday, November 29 for stays taking place between May 1, 2022 to July 31, 2022. No minimum booking necessary, blackout dates apply. Use code BLACKFRIDAY when booking this special offer on www.cococollection.com.

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun all-suite resort located along a private beach in Puerto Morelos has extended the traditionally Black Friday through Cyber Monday travel offer to be available for bookings made now through December 6, 2021 © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Grand Residences, Puerto Morelos, Mexico: Through Dec. 6, save up to 25% off stays through Dec. 16, 2022. Complimentary airport transfer included on all bookings and children under the age of 12 stay free. Book online, grandresidencesrivieracancun.com, or call 1.855.381.4340, use promo code ZW-21–23

Saba Rock, North Sound, British Virgin Islands: Save up to 40% on a three-night stay or more stay for bookings made Nov. 26-29 for stays Nov. 30, 2021 through February 15, 2022 at the new  resort destination in the British Virgin Islands with onsite amenities like snuba, diving, kiteboarding, island tours, spa. Book at www.sabarock.com using promo code BLKFRI.

Ocean Club Resorts, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos: Travelers who book a seven night stay or more at Ocean Club (the East location) will receive 10% off the total stay for new bookings only made between Friday, Nov. 26 – Monday, Nov. 29, 2021 for stays March 5 – 31, 2022. The promotional offer must be booked online (www.oceanclubresorts.com), use promo code BFCM21.

Mount Cinnamon Resort – Grenada: Tucked away on the hillside atop Grand Anse Beach, Mount Cinnamon is an eco-luxe hideaway with an enclave of 37 luxury villas and suites, each with their own veranda with sweeping views. Book Nov. 26-29 to receive 20% savings on stays between April 1 and December 20, 2022 of 5 or more nights. Also included: one complimentary Cinnamon Signature Massage and a complimentary Grenada rum tasting session.  Book at  www.mountcinnamongrenadahotel.com using booking code MC-CYBER21.

Fairmont Mayakoba – Riveria Maya, Mexico is offering up to 30% off daily rates from November 22-29 for travel dates through March 31, 2022 (blackout dates may apply). Book at https://www.fairmont.com/mayakoba-riviera-maya/offers/blackfriday/

Royal Uno® All Inclusive Resort & Spa, Cancun, Mexico: One of the newest family-friendly resorts to open in Cancun 2022, the 540 all-suite Royal Uno® All Inclusive Resort & Spa is offering guests 30% off its all-inclusive accommodations and$500 in resort credit and airport transportation. Set to open in February 2022, the promotion is valid for any 4-night minimum stay from February 28, 2022 to January 06, 2023.  To book, visit https://royalunoresort.com/special-deals/black-friday-cyber-week. .

Casa Kimberly, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: one of Mexico’s premier hideaways and the former secret love nest of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, is offering 50% in savings on stays booked using code CYBERCK during the Black Friday through Cyber Monday sale for stays between December 1, 2021 to May 31, 2022.

The Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort – Riviera Pacifica, Panama: Guests who book the new Stay Longer, Save More offer save 30 percent on room rates, starting at $199/night (three-night minimum stay). The promotion includes 20 percent off 60-minute spa treatments, along with daily breakfast, and complimentary use of bicycles, stand up paddle boards, kayaks, tennis and volleyball courts; wireless internet and free parking.  The resort is home to a world-famous Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole championship golf course (the only course of its kind in Central America), an on-site conservationist’s zoo, seven dining options, ten pools, and a sports club. To book the special, visit https://hotel-deals.marriott.com/stay-longer-save-more/ .

Hawks Cay Resort, Duck Key, Florida Keys: From November 22 to 30, receive 30 percent off two nights or more in the hotel or three nights or more in a villa with promo code CYBERW  on stays from November 28, 2021, through October 31, 2022. Known for its family-friendly amenities and programming, the 60-acre Hawks Cay resort offers 177 guestrooms and 250 two- and three-bedroom villas, a full-service marina, six restaurants, saltwater lagoon, five swimming pools, kid and teen clubs, spa, Cliff Drysdale tennis program and the only resort-based Dolphin Connection program nationwide. To book, visit www.hawkscay.com

CLUB MED ‘SPLASH INTO WINTER’ SAVES ON ALL-INCLUSIVE ESCAPES

Club Med Quebec, Canada, a four-season, all-inclusive mountain resort, will be Club Med’s first in Canada, just an hour and a half away from Québec City in the Le Massif de Charlevoix region.

Club Med, a pioneer of the all-inclusive concept, invites travelers to take advantage of up to 45% off all-inclusive escapes plus perks at Club Med’s top resorts in Florida, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean, including Club Med Ixtapa Pacific (reopening December 11, 2021), offering a family-fun getaway under the sun, and Club Med Québec (opening December 3, 2021), offering an all-inclusive mountain escape. The Splash into Winter sale is open for bookings now through January 10, 2022, with travel dates through July 1, 2022; additional perks include a free room upgrade and free stays for kids under 4.. Enjoy unlimited culinary options, premium accommodations, and activities for all interests – from skiing and snowboarding to standup paddle boarding and snorkeling – and Club Med’s Family program.

Club Med’s spacious low-density resorts are surrounded by nature, spread across 50 acres, and operate at a limited capacity, enhanced safety and hygiene protocols, free onsite antigen testing, and free cancellation policy, for total peace of mind.

Participating Club Med resorts: Club Med Québec, Canada; Club Med Sandpiper Bay, Port St. Lucie, Florida; Club Med Cancún, Mexico; Club Med Caravelle, Guadeloupe, French Caribbean, Club Med Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda, Dominican RepublicClub Med Buccaneer’s Creek, Martinique, French Caribbean, Club Med Turkoise, Turks and Caicos, Club Med Ixtapa Pacific, Mexico, and Club Med Columbus, Bahamas.

Details on the Splash Into Winter Sale at https://www.clubmed.us/o/best-all-inclusive-vacation-deals. For more information, visit www.clubmed.us, call 1-800-Club-Med (1-800-258-2633).

ATLAS OCEAN VOYAGES INCLUDES AIRFARE, 20% SAVINGS FOR 2021 BLACK FRIDAY SALE

This Black Friday, travelers can enjoy more value and more savings when they book an all-inclusive luxe-adventure journey to some of the world’s most captivating and remote destinations aboard Atlas Ocean Voyages’ World Navigator and World Traveller.

From November 26 through 30, 2021, travelers will receive complimentary round-trip, intercontinental business-class air travel for all new deposited suite bookings or 20 percent savings for all new deposited stateroom bookings made aboard Atlas voyages departing from March 1 through September 30, 2022, based on availability. Travelers can choose among 29 voyages in Antarctica and the Arctic, South America, the Mediterranean, British Isles and Northern Europe, and Iceland and Greenland aboard newly launched World Navigator and World Traveller, launching in July 2022. Travelers must mention code BLKFRI21 at time of booking.

Travelers can choose among 20 World Navigator voyages, ranging from six to 16 nights, and nine inaugural season voyages aboard World Traveller, ranging from seven to 11 nights. All guests enjoy Atlas’ All Inclusive All The Way, which offers inclusions such as complimentary round-trip air travel from 16 major U.S. and Canada gateways, choice of a complimentary shore excursion at every port, unlimited premium wine and spirits, international beers and coffees, prepaid gratuities, polar parkas, regionally inspired gourmet cuisine, Atlas Assurance protection program, and L’OCCITANE bath amenities.

For more information about Atlas Ocean Voyages’ Black Friday offer, call Atlas Ocean Voyages at 1.844.44.ATLAS (28527).

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© 2021 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

Holiday Lights Re-Kindle Holiday Cheer This Season

Magic of Lights

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Holiday Lights festivals are back, rekindling holiday cheer. Here’s a taste of what this season offers, to help you plan especially since many require advance purchase tickets and have limited capacity.

Early Bird Pricing for Magic of Lights at Jones Beach

Early bird pricing has already opened for Magic of Lights, a family-friendly, drive-through holiday lights festival. The 2.5-mile drive-through experience of dazzling, sparkling, and twinkling series of magical light displays is taking place in two New York City-area locations: PNC Long Island’s Jones Beach State Park and Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ, from Friday, November 19 through Sunday, January 2.

Magic of Lights features themed light displays using the latest LED technology and digital animations. It is highlighted by the Illuminating Mega Trees consisting of 120-feet of dancing, lights synchronized to holiday music. Other dazzling festive light displays include Winter Wonderland, The Night Before Christmas, Candyland, Toyland, Sports Row, 12 Days of Christmas, and the notorious Enhancing Tunnel of Lights. In addition, new to this year’s exhibit are the Prehistoric Christmas and Snow Flurry Tunnel.

Magic of Lights is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. (dusk) until 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. (dusk) until 11 p.m. (Magic of Lights will be closed on Friday, December 31). For dates, times, and ticket availability, visit magicoflights.com.

Admission is $25 in advance or $35 at the gate on weekdays and $30 in advance or $40 at the gate on weekends through November. Price is based per car and will change in December. Special pricing is available for limousines and buses. Group ticket rates are available. Tickets are available through TicketMaster.com.

Visitors can save $3 on weekday admission when they bring at least two non-perishable food items benefiting Long Island and New Jersey food banks. Other charity nights will be announced in the coming weeks. Last year Magic of Lights’ philanthropy made a meaningful impact in local communities by donating more than $150,000 in cash to local organizations in addition to collecting non-perishable food items, toys, books, coats and more for those who need it most. At Jones Beach, A portion of every entry ticket will support Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Foundation for Long Island State Parks Inc.

Magic of Lights at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island

The Magic of Lights uses the latest CAD technology and is hand-crafted at the Magic of Lights warehouse in Medina, OH,. The displays combine for more than 10 miles of LED lighting across all presentations, in the trees, and on the buildings. There are 10 different colors of LED bulbs used. The highest scene is 32-feet tall, and the longest is several hundred feet long. The steel displays are designed, bent, cut, and welded into about 800 frames combined in different configurations to create each show’s giant winter holiday scenes.

The Magic of Lights is produced in partnership between Live Nation and FunGuys Events. In Long Island, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is a co-producer and the event is presented by New York Community Bank.

Jones Beach State Park, 895 Bay Parkway Jones Beach, NY.  To book, go to https://magicoflights.com/events/jonesbeach/

Bronx Zoo’s Holiday Lights Festival

The Bronx Zoo’s family holiday lights festival returns for select dates from Nov. 19-Jan. 9. During the evenings, the park comes to life with holiday cheer as immersive light displays, custom-designed animal lanterns and animated light shows sparkle across the zoo. The outdoor celebration is complete with festive entertainment, seasonal treats and classic holiday music.

The walk-through experience features more than 260 lanterns representing almost 70 animal and plant species; 79 new lanterns representing 30 new animal species will make their debut at this year’s Holiday Lights. The family-favorite Holiday Train returns for 2021 (Astor Court; $3, $2 Members).

Entertainment includes family-friendly puppet adventures and test your wits in an animal trivia challenge (Wildlife Theater, Dancing Crane Pavilion); animal-themed stilt walkers at Astor Court; costumed wildlife characters you can take a photo with Santa at the Somba village; see nightly ice carving demonstrations as expert artists create wildlife art from giant ice blocks at Grizzly Corner and  live Ice Carving Competitions on Fridays beginning Nov. 26 (except Dec. 31), when expert ice artists go head-to-head (Grizzly Corner).

Enjoy seasonal treats of hot cocoa, roasted marshmallows, ice cream, coffee, and gifts plus more s’mores than ever before, featuring creative toppings (throughout the Zoo).

Pre-purchased tickets are required: https://bronxzoo.com/holiday-lights

Bronx Zoo, 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460, 718-220-5100 https://bronxzoo.com/

Zoo Lights Returns to the Maryland Zoo

Zoo Lights, presented by Chase, returns to The Maryland Zoo. From Friday, November 19 through Sunday, January 2, this seven-week seasonal after-hours event features more than 80 light displays with 150,000 environmentally friendly LED lights to transform the Zoo into a sparkling winter wonderland. Zoo Lights runs five nights a week, Wednesday-Sunday, from 5 pm to 8 pm.

On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, guests will be on foot walking along a beautifully lit path past dazzling displays including some favorite animals reimagined as light sculptures beginning at the Main Gate, heading down Buffalo Yard Road into Zoo Central and the Farmyard for carousel rides, hot cocoa and maybe a glimpse of Santa.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, experience Zoo Lights from the comfort of your vehicle (ideal for those who would prefer to stay socially separated or aren’t comfortable walking long distances).

Tickets are $33 per vehicle for the drive-thru experience and $28 per person for the walk-thru experience; advanced purchase is required. Members receive a $5 discount on each ticket purchased. (Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the event may be modified due to inclement weather.)

 Information and reservations: www.marylandzoo.org/ZooLights.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, One Safari Place, Baltimore, MD 21217, 410-396-7102, marylandzoo.org.

Palm Beach Zoo’s “Zoo Lights”

Palm Beach Zoo Lights

While the animals slumber, Palm Beach Zoo is illuminated for the holidays with over one million eco-friendly lights. The “Zoo Lights “festival  takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 19-Jan. 2, 2022. Each evening from 6-9 pm, the Zoo will be aglow with themed displays throughout its 23 acres.  The festive holiday fun also features photos with Santa (until Dec. 23rd), a DJ holiday dance party, and seasonal treats. Nightly attendance is limited and timed tickets are required to be purchased in advance online.

Palm Beach Zoo, 1301 Summit Boulevard, West Palm Beach, Florida 33405, 561-547-9453 (WILD), https://www.palmbeachzoo.org/.

Finger Lakes Festival of Lights

Finger Lakes Festival of Lights, a new, world-class, attraction featuring thousands of dazzling lights is now open every evening through December. More than 1,000 illuminated silk, porcelain and steel larger-than-life Chinese lanterns draw visitors through a magical path of discovery with each turn providing beautiful and unexpected moments of excitement and awe.

Finger Lakes Festival of Lights

Seneca Lake was carefully selected for this incredible show because of its natural, outdoor setting known for its unparalleled vistas, crystal clear water and majestic trees and foliage.  The show brings this scenery to life after dark, creating an experience that celebrates and enhances the natural world at night through artistic fantasy and illumination.

Produced by American Lantern Festivals Inc., the Finger Lakes Festival of Lights illustrates the story of a brother and sister who visit their grandfather in the Finger Lakes. Grandpa spins tall tales and stories about Seneca Lake.

The Finger Lakes Festival of Lights is a one-mile, self-guided walk through the woods, on a highly manicured path that’s accessible for people of all ages and abilities. The Festival is located behind Grist Iron Brewing in Burdett. The experience is open seven days a week, opening at 7PM with last entry at 9:30PM. (Grist Iron Brewing Company, 4880 NYS Route 414, Burdett, NY 14818, 929-434-1342, http://gristironbrewing.com/)

All tickets are single use general admission and allow entrance to the festival anytime after opening date. Tickets start at $19.95 if purchased in advance online; the cost at the door is $30; children four and under enter free.  Information and tickets are online, https://fingerlakeslights.com/

Highlights of other holiday-themed events at New York State sites include a Gilded Age Christmas celebration at the decorated Staatsburgh State Historic Site in the Hudson Valley, a Black Friday hike through a rare Lake Erie sand dune environment at Woodlawn Beach State Park, a post-Thanksgiving “Turkey Trot” run at Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn, a visit by Santa Claus at the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, and the 47th annual Christmas Bird Count at Letchworth State Park in western New York.  For a complete listing of holiday events, visit the NYS Parks calendar of events here. The list will be updated as further events are added. Some events may require pre-registration or an admission fee. More information at www.parks.ny.gov, download the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call 518.474.0456. 

Winter Lights on Cape Ann: 150 Displays Nov. 26 – Jan. 2

The Second Annual 2021 Winter Lights on Cape Ann Display Celebration is beginning the day after Thanksgiving, November 26 and extending through January 2. More than 150 places are lit up throughout Cape Ann to celebrate the joys of the season. A custom-designed Google Drive Map has been produced and available at www.discovergloucester.com/winter-lights-cape-ann.- highlighting Rockport, Gloucester, Magnolia, Essex and Manchester’s participating locations.

Holidays at the Newport Mansions

There will be more lights, more trees and more festive outdoor decorations as Holidays at the Newport Mansions returns to The Breakers, Marble House and the Elms, starting November 20 in Newport, Rhode Island.

For the second year in a row, “Sparkling Lights at The Breakers: An Outdoor Magical Wonderland” will illuminate the historic landscape with thousands of lights in a variety of colors. But this outdoor attraction has been significantly expanded to include the southern portion of the property, allowing visitors to stroll along a winding path while enjoying holiday music and displays like the Peppermint Woods, Gnome Knoll, Snow People Corner and Glowing Grove, among others.

Once again, the Children’s Cottage will be decorated and will include a selfie station. The northern portion of the winding path will feature a Tunnel of Light and other displays.  A 16-foot Christmas tree-shaped light display will be set up on the porte-cochère above the main entrance to The Breakers.

A total of 28 Christmas trees will glow in various places throughout The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms, featuring ornate, themed decorations that reflect the room where they are located. As always, the 15-foot poinsettia tree in The Great Hall of The Breakers – made up of 150 poinsettia plants – will provide a perfect holiday photo opportunity for visitors. And at Marble House, a 20-foot Christmas tree will be positioned outdoors directly in front of the main entrance.

Poinsettias, flowers, evergreens, wreaths and floral arrangements will decorate the fireplace mantels, tabletops and staircases of these historic mansions throughout the holiday season. Many of the plants and flowers used have been grown by the Preservation Society’s Gardens and Landscapes Department, including more than 500 poinsettias and 1,200 lilies.

Beginning November 20, The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms will be decorated and open daily for the holidays, except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. All properties will close at 3 p.m. on December 24.

The Breakers will open at 10 a.m. daily through January 9. Mondays through Wednesdays with the last admission at 4 p.m. with the house and grounds closing at 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, last admission at The Breakers will be 3 p.m. The house and grounds will close at 4 p.m. before reopening at 5 p.m. for “Sparkling Lights at The Breakers.”

A separate ticket is required for “Sparkling Lights at The Breakers,” scheduled for Thursdays through Sundays from 5-7 p.m. The house will also be open for tours during those times. On December 18, The Breakers will have last admission at 3 p.m., the house and grounds will close at 4 p.m. and there will be no “Sparkling Lights.”

The Elms and Marble House will open daily at 10 a.m. through January 2. Last tour admission will be 4 p.m. The houses and grounds close at 5 p.m. On December 18, The Elms and Marble House will stay open for evening hours, with last admission at 6 p.m. Houses and grounds will close at 7 p.m.

The houses are in the care of The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2020. It is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic architecture, landscapes, decorative arts and social history. Its 11 historic properties – seven of them National Historic Landmarks – span more than 250 years of American architectural and social development.

Preservation Society of Newport County, 401-847-1000, NewportMansions.org.

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© 2021 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

Weekend Getaway in Enchanting Mendocino

Mendocino, California in its values and culture, is more “Coastal Elite” than “49er.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman & Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

At first blush, Mendocino on California’s northern coast is reminiscent of Cape Cod’s coastal towns but with a definite Western twist, like the wooden water towers (we wondered if they are still used, considering Mendocino’s water crisis), some repurposed into shops, like one that houses a Spells shop. This is expressed also in the charming architecture, much of it Victorian and the natural setting – high cliffs than drop into the Pacific Ocean – dramatic and spectacular.

Indeed, Mendocino seems to epitomize today’s California in
values and culture – the northern part, at least. The boutique shops,
restaurants and markets are high end, high quality but not pretentious –  they are artful and earthy. There are any number of holistic, New Age-y, naturalist services and organic food markets.  Mendocino is more “Coastal Elite” than “49er.”

 

Headlands Coastal Trail. Menodocino is more “coastal elite” than “49er” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The town itself hugs the rocky coast, providing a stunning scene from the coastal cliff walk, Headlands Coastal Trail, that snakes around and turns on itself for two miles. There is constant drama as waves rise out of green, aquamarine ocean crash against rocks, rush through rock tunnels with a roar and then spit up through a rocky blowhole.

Despite COVID and despite a drought so severe the town has
to truck in water, Mendocino is charming, welcoming, and exudes tranquility (and resiliency) – all is right with the world in this slice of heaven.

Fog Eater Cafe, Mendocino © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After a pleasant, relaxing morning at Little River Inn, we head to a delightful Sunday brunch at Fog Eater Cafe. Indeed, we join a line
that has formed before the quaint restaurant with a 1940s/50s diner vibe for indoor dining and a gorgeous garden for outdoor dining, even opens. The hearty menu is a vegetarian fusion of Deep South/New Orleans and NorCal (if you can imagine that), big on comfort food, served on gorgeous, random antique China with silver utensils.  It’s a hoot, a feast for the eyes. You didn’t imagine Southern food could be vegan? The whole menu is vegan except for poached eggs and the preparations make you forget you’re not eating meat. 

Sunday brunch at Fog Eater Cafe, Mendocino: corn bread French toast © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I get the corn bread French toast with apple, soaked in syrup. There’s fried cauli+ waffles (fried cauliflower and green onion sorghum waffle with pepper jelly and spicy sorghum syrup); pimento cheese and
black-eyed pea sausage biscuit sandwich; savory oatmeal with local tempeh bacon, roasted carrots, braised greens with either poached egg or tofu. Fog Eater Café is open for Sunday brunch, happy hour, and dinner when menu items might include Cheesy Pumpkin Grits, Fried Blue Oyster Mushrooms, fried green tomato biscuit sliders and a Southern Plate featuring mac ‘n cheese. The beignets come with a rhubarb jam. Natural wine, local beer and wine-based cocktails are also served. (Outdoor dining available for all; indoor dining for fully vaccinated guests; also take out; no reservations, 45104 Main St., Mendocino, CA 95460).

“Come in for a spell” at Loot and Lore, Mendocino © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With great delight, we walk each street to explore the lovely shops and galleries in Mendocino (the village’s scale is perfect) – coming upon such special places as the Mendocino James & Preserves, Moore Used Books and Big River Trading Company on Main Street; the Artists Co-op of Mendocino, My Chic Farmhouse, and Icons on Albion Street; Mendocino Country Store on Ukiah; Mendocino Chocolate Company, Déjà Vu, on Lansing Street. Most intriguing is Loot and Lore, a wicca supplies shop on Albion, housed in a former water tower, where the sign that greets you is “Come in for a spell.” (We peek in through the window because it was closed when we visit.)

Water tower houses Loot and Lore, Mendocino © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We particularly loved Compass Rose (613 Albion Street), featuring American Crafts – the oldest family-run business in Mendocino, established 50 years ago; the father makes the leather items; there are also stunning objects in glass. Also, Rainsong offering exquisite contemporary clothing, accessories – you could imagine a millionaire coming to Mendocino for a weekend, buying a house and furnishing it and their wardrobe in one spot – the quality and designs are spectacular (10470 Lansing Street).

Compass Rose, Mendocino © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The galleries are marvelous – you never know what you will discover. I am enthralled coming upon the wildlife and nature photography of Jon Klein at the Lansing Street Gallery, which accurately describes itself as  “a hub for coastal and Bay Area artists, representing a diverse, vibrant and creative community” in the best fashion (lansingstreetgallery.com)

I especially love Mendocino’s rich heritage – mixed or repurposed but preserved – like the water towers that once supplied the homes (and may well again, considering the drought). Besides the historic Ford House that now serves as the Visitor Center for Mendocino Headlands state park, the Kelly House Museum serves as the town’s historical society and offers docent-led walking tours ($20 pp) as well as self-guided audio tours (707-937-5791, www.kelleyhousemuseum.org).

Historic Mendocino Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We loved wandering into the historic Mendocino Hotel, established 1878 – as you walk through the door with its etched glass into the Victorian lobby, you feel you have crossed through a time portal.

But what most transfixes me is the sculpture atop the Masonic Hall, dating from 1873, “Time and the Maiden,” which has become Mendocino’s iconic landmark.

 

“Time and the Maiden” atop the Masonic Hall has become Mendocino’s iconic landmark © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I later learn that this exquisite sculpture by Erick Albertson, “the first Worshipful Master” of the Masonic Hall, was hand-carved “out of a single virgin redwood trunk”, is over 10 feet high and wasn’t specifically commissioned for the hall. Albertson, who undertook construction of the hall in 1866, “created the statue as a personal exercise of craftsmanship” but the Masonic members wanted it for the hall, so had a cupola built to support it.

 

Also known as ‘Father Time and the Weeping Maiden,” the haunting scene depicts a weeping girl reading from a book that rests on a broken column, an hourglass at its base; she holds an urn in her left hand and a sprig of acacia in her right, as Father Time, depicted as an angel with wings and carrying a scythe, stands behind her, tenderly braiding her hair.

“Time and the Maiden” atop the Masonic Hall has become Mendocino’s iconic landmark © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to Wikipedia, the hour glass symbolizes the brevity of human life; the scythe and the urn foreshadow its end; the broken column symbolizes a life cut short prematurely, the weeping maiden represents those who mourn; the open book represents the enduring record of accomplishments. Acacia was the wood is specified in the Book of Exodus to use to build the Ark of the Covenant, and is also an evergreen known for its resistance to fire and decay, signifying the immortality of the human spirit. The symbols are drawn from history or mythology, and are used in Masonic rituals and rites. 

The masons have their own understanding of the symbols which boil down to “time, patience and perseverance will accomplish all things.” 

But to me, the girl symbolizes lives cut short – so common in Albertson’s day. Father Time is also the Angel of Death but his scythe remains in its sheath. He is taking his time, tenderly braiding her hair. Perhaps she is telling him she has not yet had the opportunity to fill the pages of that book. Perhaps we are witnessing a negotiation. Has the hour glass run out for her?

The Masonic Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and though sold to a savings bank in 1977 which operates on the first floor, the Masons continue to hold their meetings there on the second floor.

Mendocino cherishes its heritage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mendocino was the first of several north coast towns founded between 1851 and 1920 – the heyday of the lumber industry. German immigrant William Kasten was bound for gold country in 1850 when his ship ran aground off Mendocino coast; in 1851 he filed papers claiming the land. San Francisco engineer Harry Meiggs built a sawmill at Big River in 1852 and Little River was founded in 1854 as a mill town supplying the lumber that built San Francisco.

In 1854 Jerome B. Ford, superintendent of the first sawmill and founder of the town, built a home overlooking the Pacific. Today, the Ford House serves as the visitor center for Mendocino Headlands State Park and houses various exhibits.

Mendocino cherishes its heritage and what’s old can be new again © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many who found their fortune not in California’s gold but in lumber built these magnificent Victorian buildings. But over-logging resulted in depletion of the forests and led to businesses and the school being abandoned – until new enterprises, like the vineyards and tourism, repurposed and repopulated the area. (We stay at Little River Inn, opened by Ole Hervilla, a pioneer of Mendocino’s tourism, who converted his 1857 house into the inn in 1939).

We can’t leave Mendocino without returning for a brief walk on a favorite section of the Headlands trail, just before it starts to rain. Considering the drought, I expect to see people rushing out and dancing.

Headlands Coastal Trail, Mendocino © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During our all-too brief but oh so perfect weekend in Mendocino, every moment is filled with something special, and yet so unhurried and relaxed. We are able to enjoy the Skunk Train, Glass Beach, Noyo Harbor and Headlands Coastal Trail, as well as exploring Mendocino’s lovely shops, boutiques, markets and eateries. But there are scores of other places and experiences – so many with enchanting names and providence (Glass Beach, Pygmy Forest, Fairy Trail) – and we can’t wait to return.

On our list (with help of the Brewery Gulch Inn and Little River Inn):  

Beaches

Van Damme State Beach (the Little River Inn has its own trail down to the beach directly below). Among the activities, this is the launching point for sea cave tours by kayak (Kayak Mendocino, www.kayakmendocino.com, 707-813-7117)

Caspar Beach on Point Cabrillo Drive off Highway One. “Good rock and tide pooling during low tide”

Big River Beach just north of the bridge in Mendocino, where the redwoods meet the sea, is reached from the Presbyterian Church on Main Street to a staircase to the beach. “The most popular beach with lots of activity- surfers, volleyball, etc. Soft sand, river side is often warmer, currents can be dangerous”

Hikes:

The Haul Road at Big River – “Flat and straight, easy walk into the redwoods with a stroller”

Van Damme Pygmy Forest: Fern canyon and ecological staircase walk.“Wooden walkway has educational signage about the pygmy forest. Both walkway and trail are easy for shorter legs and strollers.”

The Fairy Trail – inside the Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg. “Discover fairy dwellings and other surprises. The Gardens are hilly, so bring stroller or prepare to carry little ones.”

Jug Handle State Preserve – just north of Caspar on Highway One, which is recommended by a couple we meet at the Fog Eater. “Best example of an Ecological Staircase in the Western Hemisphere.”Hike through six different ecological zones – a five million year old ecological staircase with ancient marine terraces – wander through tall pygmy forests along a creek canyon. “Great educational science hike for older kids. Be sure to pick up the guide in the parking lot that explains everything.”

Montgomery Woods – first-growth redwood groves (there is an uphill half-mile hike to the virgin redwood groves)

MacKerricher State Park – scenic boardwalk along the ocean to tide pools and seal observation points or walk around the lake.

Ten-Mile Beach – dunes and miles of deserted beach, just north of Fort Bragg past the railroad trestle. – good for walking and biking.

Activities/Attractions

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens – 47 acres overlooking the Pacific

The Point Cabrillo Light House – (Schedule of events at PointCabrillo.org)

Bryan Preserve – in Point Arena: Preserve and breeding of endangered African hoof animals (Weekends, by appointment only). “The 2-hour Jeep tour better for older children”

CV Starr Aquatic Center, Fort Bragg: Water park with lazy river, water slide (must be 48”), and fountains.

Driving 128 through the Navarro Redwoods Forest © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The drive back to Sonoma along Route 128 is gorgeous – taking you through the Navarro Redwoods Forest and Anderson Valley wine region where we stop off at Husch Winery for a wine tasting (we enjoyed the wine at both the Brewery Gulch Inn and Little River Inn). It is very picturesque setting for wine tasting amidst the 21-acre vineyard of Pinot Noir (the vineyard was the first to grow Pinot here), Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer grapes (they require a warmer climate). Husch, founded in 1968, was one of the pioneering vineyards in the Anderson Valley and has used sustainable farming techniques since the 1960s (owl boxes help with gopher control, no till farming, sheep as mowers, insectory, cover crops, fish friendly farm).  In 1971 Husch made history by becoming the first bonded winery in the Anderson Valley. H.A. Oswald (neighboring grape growers) purchased the winery from Tony and Gretchen Husch in 1979; today the Oswald grandchildren run the day-to-day. (Husch Vineyards, 4400 Highway 128, Philo, CA 95466, 800-554-8724, huschvineyards.com)

Husch Vineyards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We also stop at the PennyRoyal farm in Boonville, famous for its cheese and wine, happy to show off its 23 acres of vineyards, sustainable farming practices and traditional winemaking methods. The rain now coming down heavily (and you need a reservation for a tasting or tour), we stop just long enough to buy delectable cheese produced from their sheep and goats (www.pennyroyalfarm.com).

For excellent planning help: Visit Mendocino County, 866-466-3636, 707-964-9010, www.visitmendocino.com.

See also:

WEEKEND GETAWAY IN MENDOCINO: BREWERY GULCH INN

WEEKEND IN MENDOCINO: HISTORIC SKUNK TRAIN INTRODUCES A NOVEL RAILBIKE EXPERIENCE

WEEKEND GETAWAY IN MENDOCINO: LITTLE RIVER INN

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© 2021 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