All posts by krubin723

A Stone’s Throw From Daytona Beach, Finding ‘Florida as it Used to Be’

Snack Jack’s along A1A just north of Ormond Beach, retains the vibe of “Florida as it used to be.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

To be candid, I would not have traveled to Florida except for a special occasion presenting an opportunity to visit with family I haven’t seen in quite some time. Luckily, this is a mere week before Omnicron hit with such fury or is even a thing, but I still don’t feel Florida particularly appealing for a long list of reasons.

My destination is the immensely popular Daytona Beach area. So even though Omnicron has yet to hit and though I am triple vaxxed, because of Florida’s contempt for preventive public health measures, I remain extremely vigilant in using a mask, staying outdoors as much as possible and avoiding crowds – even the wedding I attend is a small, intimate affair held outside.

Fortunately, the Ormond Beach area, a mere few miles north of Daytona Beach, and north along the famed Highway A1A, where, my cousin – a native Floridian – takes me, is the fabled “Real Florida,” and provides the perfect setting.

Lotus Inn, a delightful boutique hotel on Ormond Beach, with its pool stunningly lit at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I stay in a delightful boutique hotel, the Lotus Inn, refurbished with chic touches (stunning pool, fire pit, landscaping), right on the beach, so that each morning, I can grab a cup of coffee from the lounge and walk out onto the beach before the sun rises, when the colors begin to burst in the sky.

I do this each of the four mornings of my visit, and each day, the experience is very different and dramatic in its own way – the colors most vibrant on the first day, a tad less so on the second but the experience enhanced when I discover Jeffrey Dunne, who has come out every morning to photograph the sunrise for something like 10 years, posting them and drawing his own following, as well as taking photos for visitors. There are other regulars I get to meet as well, which includes a flock of seabirds who are drawn to this one spot because of a woman who comes each day with crackers (sharing with visitors who delight in the experience). The colors are different on the third day, but now I focus on the activity – the regulars who come, like the group of swimmers in their wetsuits, who come no matter the season. My fourth morning, there isn’t a sunrise at all, but I get to see the beach in its moody blue-grey colors.

Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jeffrey Dunne, who has come out every morning to photograph the sunrise on Ormond Beach, while his friend feeds the sea birds © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even though you can see Daytona Beach from Ormond Beach, the atmosphere here is completely different. Here there are mostly low-rise, low-density hotels like mine, the Lotus Inn.

My first night in Ormond Beach, I drive my rental car the four miles down A1A to Daytona Beach and walk the charming boardwalk, really enjoying discovering the 1930s-era Bandstand, coming upon the boardwalk games, and then the long pier itself, alight in neon announcing Joe’s at the end, with a stunning view back at the shoreline. I also get a glimpse of the heart pounding, adrenaline pumping thrill rides at Screamer’s Park.

The Bandshell on Daytona Beach boardwalk © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Eat at Joe’s on the Daytona Beach pier © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Daytona Beach boardwalk © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Daytona Beach boardwalk © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Now of course, Daytona Beach is famous for auto racing and the Daytona 500 – that began on the beach (cars are still allowed in specific lanes, and plenty of people bike on the flat, hard sand, which became the International Speedway. I would venture that most who come are car people, and touring the speedway and visiting the Racing Hall of Fame are musts. The Daytona International Speedway has just undergone a $400 million “reimagining” and transformed into a state-of-the-art motorsports facility. You can even get behind the wheel of an actual race car with NASCAR Racing Experience and take laps around the world famous 2.5-mile Speedway. (“Speedway Tours” run multiple times  each day; tour tickets are sold on a first come first serve basis, and include the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, https://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/tours/).

Daytona International Speedway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I stop by for a look at the gi-normous stadium, how it is banked at a 30-degree angle so the cars don’t just fly off at the turns, but spend my time discovering what my cousin, Ray Weiss, a former journalist, calls “Florida as it used to be.”

Ray drives me up the famous A1A, to Ormond by the Sea up to Flagler Beach, which cannot be more un-touristy. Here, he stresses, you can still park your car alongside the two-lane road (they call it a highway), on a patch of sand bordered with sea grass, and walk right onto the beach – such a contrast to Daytona Beach, which seems to be competing to have as many high rises and parking meters as Miami Beach. (My cousin describes Daytona Beach perfectly: “a bit of an Atlantic City feel with a redneck flair.”)

“Florida as it used to be,” along A1A between Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This stretch between Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach, though, is exactly as he has described it and what he cherishes – there are the colorful, weatherworn, funky beach places, miles of undeveloped open beach (vacant of people) and thousands of acres of pristine land called the Loop – woods, water and marshland. “It’s like stepping back in time to what the rest of Florida once looked like when the Seminoles were here,” he says. He should know because my first memory as a child was visiting his family in old Miami and seeing Seminole Indians wrestling alligators.

Driving The Loop © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Driving The Loop © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
“Florida as it used to be,” along A1A between Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
“Florida as it used to be,” along A1A between Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Flagler Beach is a Florida town that is seems stuck in the 1950s. No high-rises here, only modest houses on the beach. (My thoughts alternate between thinking that the property they sit on would be $1-2 million in Long Island, and thinking that sea level rise caused by the climate change Florida’s governor denies makes them worthless.)  Ray points out several old style restaurants, stopping at Snack Jack’s right on the beach – his favorite and I can see why.

Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back in Ormond Beach, we stop to visit The Casements, John D. Rockefeller’s 1890s winter home, so beautifully set on the river.

The Casements, John D. Rockefeller’s 1890s winter home, Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On my own, I also discover some of the attractions that make actually living here wonderful – starting with the Museum of Arts and Science (MOAS).

When I arrive, I ask the receptionist what is special, what should I definitely look out for. She replies, “Well, we have the biggest collection of Coca Cola bottles, and a skeleton of a giant sloth.”

Root Family Museum of what is probably the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia, at the Museum of Arts and Science, Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Root Family Museum of what is probably the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia, at the Museum of Arts and Science, Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walking into the Coca-Cola collection, you can’t help but let out an actual “Wow,” It turns out that the guy who invented and manufactured that classic glass Coke bottle in Indiana, Chapman J. Root (he got 5c royalty on every bottle sold), also had interests in Coca-Cola bottling plants in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Illinois and Florida, and when he retired, his grandson Chapman S. Root took over the company and moved it, in 1951, to Daytona Beach. Over a 50-year period, Chapman S. Root and his wife Susan Root Fieblman, collected some 100,000 objects that make up the $5 million Root Family Museum collection – probably the largest of Coca-Cola memorabilia – housed within MOAS. We see not only a timeline of all the bottles and bottling equipment, but the delivery trucks, the different vending machines, all with the trademark Coca Cola red color. It is pure Americana – both for the Coca-Cola cultural iconography and the story of an entrepreneur and innovator making good. (See: For Coke Fans, Collection is ‘The Real Thing’, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-2001-10-14-0110120609-story.html)

The Giant Sloth at MOAS, discovered just 2 ½ miles away © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then I walk into the “Natural Florida” exhibit and there it is. When you think of “sloth” you might think of Sid in the “Ice Age” movies. Now imagine The Hulk but probably three or four times the size. The skeleton of the Eremotherium – the largest sloth to have ever existed – that we see assembled in its fearsome pose was collected just 2 ½ miles away. It would have weighed up to five tons and stood 15 feet tall – only the Wooly Mammoth was larger in the Western Hemisphere. Phenomenal.

A fantastic collection of African tribal masks, on view at MOAS © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Warehouse at MOAS, Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The rest of the museum has some fabulous, unexpected and eclectic collections: African tribal artifacts including incredible masks, Chinese art, and the American decorative arts collection of Anderson Child Bouchelle (a fifth generation Floridian, his father was Florida’s first cardiologist, brought to the state by Henry Flagler). I especially love “The Warehouse” where you can peek at treasures that otherwise would be stored away. (352 South Nova Road, Daytona Beach, Florida 32114, 386-255-0285, www.moas.org/visit/index)

Walk the nature trail outside MOAS © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Before leaving, I follow the Nature Trail that starts just outside the museum that takes you on a boardwalk into the jungle (note the sign that warns of such creatures as snakes and alligators).

Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next day, after my ritual beach walk to revel in the daily miracle of the sunrise, I go off to two other signature attractions, both very close together at the southern tip of the barrier island.

Marine Science Center, Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Marine Science Center, Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The modest but intimate Marine Science Center, is mainly an aquarium but also is where you can see its medical facilities where sea turtles are being restored to health (you can even watch operations through a glass) and a sanctuary for rescued birds. The small area is packed with fun things to look at, interact with and learn about Volusia County’s rich marine life – like how they are re-growing (not just restoring) coral so crucial to the survival of ecosystems. This is a delight for families with children (100 Lighthouse Drive, Ponce Inlet, Fl 32127, 386-304-5545, www.marinesciencecenter.com)

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Walk up the 203 steps to the top of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nearby, The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, constructed in 1887, is a treasure. At 175 feet tall, the lighthouse is the highest in Florida and second highest in the country. You can walk up all 203 steps winding around and around, and step out for a 360-degree view. Most interesting are the other structures and buildings – all original – that you can visit and the exhibits that show the life and times of the lighthouse keepers, and wonderful videos showing the history. In the modern Ayres Davies Lens Exhibit Building, you can see a world-class Fresnel lens collection. There is also an exhibit of Cuban Rafts that carried refugees trying to make their way to freedom on these fragile homemade boats and rafts. There is really a lot to see and explore, including nature trails and you can walk out to a very long break-water. (4931 S. Peninsula Drive, Ponce Inlet, FL 32127, 386-761-1821, ponceinlet.org)

Ayres Davies Lens Exhibit Building at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse has a world-class Fresnel lens collection. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more historic sites, you can trace the footsteps of educator and civil rights activist Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune on a tour of her former home, and visit the historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark (where in 1946, a year before he broke the major league racial color barrier in Brooklyn, Robinson broke the color barrier with the Montreal Expos, the triple A minor league affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers, after being rejected from other Florida cities, Ray relates).

Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next day, I visit the extraordinary Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, which is on the same campus as MOAS. This is the most astonishing find of all. Since 1997, the Browns made it their mission to collect art representing Florida. After being a traveling exhibit for some time, what is the largest collection of Florida art is now housed in this stunning, brand new two-level structure. The museum features a rotating collection of 2,600 Florida-themed oil and watercolor paintings. The Museum’s grand central gallery and mezzanine showcase the collection’s signature pieces, while six smaller galleries feature beautiful changing exhibitions with Florida themes. Most impressive are the way the paintings are selected, framed, how they are hung together, and the absolutely fascinating notes that accompany each and every one – not only a biography of the artist, but the context for the painting, something of history, and then really fascinating notes that are like a painting tutorial. (https://www.moas.org/explore/cici-and-hyatt-brown-museum-of-art/index)

Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jeffrey Dunne, who has come out every morning to photograph the sunrise on Ormond Beach, while his friend feeds the sea birds © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jeffrey Dunne delights in taking photos for beachgoers on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While not my focus on this trip, I would be remiss not to include some of the immensely popular and new attractions in Daytona Beach:

Speedway Indoor Karting (SIK), which opened in late 2020, offers state-of-the-art electric powered karts and gives guests of all ages and skill levels a full racing experience on a 16- turn road course featuring multiple elevation changes and a slick tri-oval.

Daytona Lagoon Premier Waterpark and Family Entertainment Center, just north of the pier area and steps from the beach, added a wave maker Treasure Lagoon Wave Pool, arcade games, and two water slides: Kraken’s Revenge, a 54-foot-high, four-lane mat racer slide; and Shaka Halfpipe, a thrilling inner-tube experience that shoots riders backwards over a 50-foot drop. These new features, along with mini golf, go-karts, the MEGA arcade, and Sky Maze indoor ropes course make this a favorite year-round family spot.

More my speed: a new Riverfront Esplanade. The park that runs the length of historic downtown Daytona Beach is being transformed. When complete in 2022, the Riverfront Esplanade will extend a mile along the Halifax River and include a promenade along the water’s edge, running and walking trails, and landscaping designed to encourage relaxation and reflection including water features, shade trees and raised botanical gardens.

Interactive maps for themed trails are available on DaytonaBeach.com including the new Cars, Craft and Culture trail, Share The Heritage Trail, Monuments & Statues Trail, an Iconic Trail and a Motorsports Trail to add to its popular Hiking & Biking Trails and the Ale Trail.

For more information, Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau,126 E. Orange Avenue, Daytona Beach, FL 32114, 386-255-0415, DaytonaBeach.com.

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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

Wilmington/Brandywine Mansions & Gardens Welcome Mobility-Challenged Visitors

The Sunken Garden at the Nemours Estate, Wilmington, DE © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We’ve heard for years about the beautiful DuPont family mansions and gardens in the Wilmington, Delaware and Brandywine Valley region. With Marty now mobility-challenged, we set out on a long weekend to visit these fine architectural examples of Gilded, Industrial Age homes and gardens, to check out first-hand how the DuPont historic sites accommodate visitors with accessibility issues:

Winterthur Mansion and Gardens

The Winterthur grounds are expansive, with walking trails running through 1,000 acres of woods, meadowlands and farmland. Natural and groomed paths are also found throughout the 60-acre gardens surrounding the childhood home and country estate of Henry Francis DuPont (1880-1969). The Mansion complex includes the family home, botanical labs, Library and Museum galleries revolving exhibits.

A Dupont Family Home – Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library© Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Winterthur offers a number of accessibility options to tour the garden area and the mansion complex:  a) Companion-guided wheelchairs and strollers are available at no cost at the Visitor Center where you pick up your tickets, as well as at the Galleries Reception Atrium. b)  Shuttles and trams for touring the gardens and reaching the mansion and galleries have wheelchair lifts and ramps, and designated wheelchair spots that allow a wheelchair to be securely locked in place.  There is a sharp incline leading up to the mansion’s main entrance from the tram stop, which will require some effort to push a wheelchair up the hill; but once inside, it is easy to navigate around the main floor of the house with an accessibility device.

Guide and therapy dogs are allowed on the shuttle and tram, as well as in the buildings. Assistive listening systems are available for guided tours and special presentations. With at least one week’s notice, a sign-language interpreter can be hired for your visit. The grounds have restrooms with ADA bars and are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or mobile scooter.

Winterthur is open to the public from late February through mid-November.   Tour tickets are currently available by calling 800-448-3883, or on-site in the Visitor Center. Reserve a wheelchair when you make a tour reservation, to ensure availability when you arrive. To learn more about accessibility options at Winterthur, explore this link: https://www.winterthur.org/visit/plan-your-visit/transportation-and-special-needs-access/. For a virtual tour of Winterthur, go to https://tour.winterthur.org/.

Winterthur Mansion and Gardens, 800-448-3883, 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE 197350, www.winterthur.org.

Nemours Estate

The early 20th century home and grounds of Alfred I. DuPont was designed in a late 18th-century French style. Nemours offers self-guided tours of the mansion. You will have to bring your own mobility devices, as the Estate does not rent wheelchairs, electric scooters or strollers, nor does it offer a shuttle or tram to tour around the 200 acres of grounds and gardens.

A fine example of a Gilded Age Home at the Nemours Estate, Wilmington, DE © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nemours mansion and gardens is a hike from the parking lot. For those walking the grounds, wear comfortable walking shoes.   Although the roads and paths leading to the mansion are flat, paved, and accessible by wheelchair, scooter, and stroller, the garden paths are not paved nor handicap accessible.  However, between the beautifully manicured sunken gardens, reflection pools and Art-Nouveau statues, there is a wide overlook for picturesque views, which can be reached by a mobility device.

When arriving at the Nemours mansion, the staff is very accommodating for visitors traveling with mobile devices (strollers are not allowed inside): they put out small ramps to get our wheelchair over a few steps leading into the mansion’s main floor. Once inside, visitors take a self-guided tour of the two accessible floors. Nemours has a huge, grand spiraling staircase leading up to the bedrooms on the second floor. Alternatively, for assistance to go up to the second floor, a first floor mansion attendant will contact a member of the staff on the second floor and direct you to an elevator that opens to a mezzanine level. The second floor attendant will be waiting to assist with a stair lift to the second floor.

The Estate is open to visitors from April through December, with self-guided tours of the mansion and chauffeur’s garage. ADA bathrooms are located a short walk from the parking lot and in the mansion. Food and water are not available onsite, but visitors are encouraged to bring food and water, even to bring a blanket to picnic on the grounds.  Service animals are allowed on the grounds and in the mansion.

Nemours Estate, 600 Rockland Road, Wilmington, DE, 302-651-6912, http://nemoursestate.org

Hagley Museum and Library

The Hagley complex offers a hands-on learning experience for all ages about early American commerce and life. The 235 acres of the Hagley grounds, founded by E. I. DuPont in 1802 for manufacturing gunpowder, rise above the Brandywine River.  Open daily, Hagley currently offers small-group tours of the ancestral DuPont family home and garden. Interpretive docents and demonstrations are also found at the restored mill, the artisans building, and the Workers Hill Community, where the gunpowder works employees lived.

Pick up tickets for your timed tour at the Hagley Visitor Center and Gift Shop. A bus with a wheelchair lift leaves from the Visitor Center parking area.  Some areas of Hagley are not easily navigable in a mobility device – ask the staff in the Visitor Center to highlight those areas on a grounds map. To reserve a group tour or a lunch and learn tour, go to https://www.hagley.org/plan-your-visit/hours-admission, call 302-658-2400, or email tickets@hagley.org. Call or email to confirm wheelchair availability.

Hagley Museum and Library, 200 Hagley Creek Rd, Wilmington, DE, 302-658-2400, www.hagley.org.

Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens was developed initially in the early 20th century by Pierre DuPont to be enjoyed by family and friends. To perpetuate and expand his vision, after DuPont died in the mid-1950s, the mission of the Gardens was to continue for public enjoyment and education.  This is one of our favorite gardens in the country and one of the largest in the world. With 1,100 acres of outdoor gardens, Longwood is open year-round for visitors (even Christmas Day!) to enjoy the ever-changing seasonal displays of outdoor natural beauty, along with “dancing” fountains scattered throughout the grounds and beautiful, indoor glass conservatories (one of them a massive 4.5 acres).

Conservatory at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Over the past few years, the Main Fountain Garden area has been the location of beautiful fountain, light and fire shows with synchronized music. Fountain performances will resume on May 5, 2022. 

Longwood does not offer a shuttle or tram to tour around the large park, but the hilly garden paths are primarily paved and mobility device accessible, as well as most buildings. Visitors to Longwood Gardens are strongly recommended to bring their own mobility devices (strollers, wheelchairs and scooters with 3 or more wheels).  Through our experience, electric-powered mobility scooters will handle the steeper paths better than companion-pushed wheelchairs.  The Visitor’s Center offers a limited supply of electric scooters on a first-come, first-served basis, with a “pay as you wish” rental fee policy for the entirety of your visit – more of a donation than a fixed price. A limited number of free wheelchairs and strollers are also available at the Visitor’s Center. The Gardens provides many water fountains and bathrooms that are mobility device accessible. Service dogs are permitted on the grounds and in the buildings. With at least two week’s notice, a sign-language interpreter will be available for a private, guided group walking tour; amplified listening devices are also available for use on the private tours.

At this writing, the Gardens is selling timed tickets. Check out availability and ticket prices at https://longwoodgardens.org/visit.

Longwood Gardens, 1001 Longwood Rd, Kennett Square, PA 19348, 610-388-1000, https://longwoodgardens.org.

As our experience shows, there is no reason not to continue to explore and experience attractions and destinations, just prepare in advance.

April is National Garden Month

April is National Garden Month. As the colors of spring begin to appear across Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley, enjoy the warmer weather and change of seasons with a weekend tour of the region’s numerous botanical gardens, all within a short distance of one another.

Jennifer Boes, Director of Marketing Communications and Media Relations for Greater Williamsburg prepared this driving itinerary:

Start at Rockwood Park, just off I-95 in north Wilmington. Though not as well known as some of the area’s other gardens, the grounds surrounding the rural Gothic-style Rockwood Mansion are sublime. Explore the 72 acres of parkland including a six-acre formal garden. Unique features include a monkey puzzle tree (an unusual-looking evergreen native to Chile); a ha-ha (a sunken wall used to keep livestock away); and a stone from the Giant’s Causeway, a distinctive hexagonal rock formation along Ireland’s coast. An apothecary garden, filled with medicinal plants, was added in fall 2019.

Hagley Museum & Library’s gardens are as much about function as they are about form.  It has two very different restored gardens that date back to the 1800s: one that fed the du Pont family and another that fed company workers. A pollinator garden, new in 2020, attracts a variety of butterflies and bees.

Nemours Estate’s French-style gardens, inspired by Versailles, are among the finest and largest of their kind in the U.S. There’s a formal boxwood garden and a maze dominated by a sculpture gilded in 23-karat gold leaf. The Baroque-style Russian gate was acquired from a palace built by Catherine the Great. The English gate was once used at Wimbledon Manor. In addition to the formal gardens, there are family-friendly woodland walking trails to explore.

The Sunken Garden at the Nemours Estate, Wilmington, DE © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Winterthur Museum & Gardens features 1,000 acres of rolling hills, streams, meadows and forests. A favorite of the young and young at heart is the fairytale-like Enchanted Woods with its Faerie Cottage and Tulip treehouse. From April into May, the Azalea Woods, with thousands of Kurume azaleas and wildflowers that weave through the forest, is a must see.

Winterthur Enchanted Woods – Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Wilmington, DE © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The nationally renowned Longwood Gardens is home to 11,000 varieties of plants spread across 1,100 acres of meadows, woodlands, and elaborate horticultural displays. In the four-acre conservatory, don’t miss the Wood’s Cycad. Called Longwood’s “King of the Conservatory,” this palm tree-like plant is extinct in nature and one of the rarest plants in the world.

Dancing Fountains at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The final stop on the garden tour is Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware. Opened for general admission to the public in 2013, it is home to more than 1,000 native plants, many of which are threatened by extinction. On the gently rolling hills of the Delaware Piedmont, part of the Appalachian Mountain system, it consists of 630 acres of historic pastures, fields, ponds, native forests, a woodland wildflower garden, and formal landscapes. One notable feature is the trillium garden, containing every trillium species native to the eastern U.S.

The Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau is an excellent source of information to preplan your visit to the Wilmington-Brandywine region: 800-489-6664, www.visitwilmingtonde.com.

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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

Experience Sonoma Like a Local

A late afternoon stroll in our Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

You know the refrain: “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” Rare is the place that is equally precious to visit and reside. Fortunately, our family has decided to reside in such a place, and I get to visit: Sonoma, California.

Just 43 miles northeast of San Francisco, Sonoma has long been a retreat for urban dwellers, offering a “healthier” climate.  

Sonoma is the perfect combination of man and nature, as the vineyards attest, and residents today are obsessive about preserving that balance. In fact, the Sonoma County Tourism, as part of its continued commitment to encourage responsible stewardship from visitors and residents, has just joined the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

The historic plaza is the centerpiece of Sonoma © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is my second visit to Sonoma and while my family works, I get to explore like a local, hopping on a bike to ride the delightful paved recreation trail that goes right into the exquisitely quaint, historic village center and out to the vineyards. On my first trip, we biked, visited wineries, and hiked the spectacular Pacific coast. This trip, I focus on Sonoma’s history, heritage and the fascinating people who shaped it. What is more surprising is how contemporary the history feels – truly, history repeats.

Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma’s historic village plaza © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It starts at the village plaza – utterly charming today with lovely restaurants, wine tasting rooms and boutiques – but dotted with really important historic sites that are part of Sonoma State Historic Park, a collection of six sites located throughout the community.

Sonoma’s City Hall © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I start at the Barracks, a military post of Mexican soldiers established in 1834 to serve as a buffer to Russian expansion from Fort Ross (!!!). The Russians had come in 1812 to produce crops and trap furs to supply their Alaskan settlement. (The Russians ultimately moved out, ironically, just before gold was discovered.) You can see a room furnished as if the soldiers were still there. It is interesting to learn that they had to supply their own uniforms, horse and supplies, and basically buy them back from the Commandante. The barracks turns out to be the best place to start my journey because it offers an excellent video that encapsulates the history of this place, and puts everything into context.

The Barracks in Sonoma’s historic plaza © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From 1834-1846, it was the headquarters for General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, the Commandant of the Frontera del Norte – the northern Mexico provincial frontier – who built it, as well as the Plaza. More than 100 military expeditions set out from Sonoma to subdue rebellious Wappo and Cainameros or Satisyomis native tribes trying to overthrow Mexican domination. For ten years, until 1844, the Presidial company of Sonoma was considered the most powerful military force in California. During the short-lived California Republic, the barracks housed Republic followers until July 9, 1846, when the Stars and Stripes flag was first raised at Sonoma. It then served as an army post.  In 1860, Vallejo remodeled the barracks to serve as a winery. (Vallejo’s story, I learn, underpins just about everything in Sonoma.)

Mission San Francisco Solano was founded in 1823 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Across the street from the Barracks is Mission San Francisco Solano – the last of 21 missions established in California. It was founded in 1823 to convert Native Americans to Christianity – often forcibly. Indians would come to the mission first out of hunger –since the colonists introduced disease, technology and livestock which depleted the corn that was their mainstay. The Indians’ had their own culture, religion, lifestyle which “was contrary to the colonists” and so, had to be eradicated. Under the mission system, families were split up, children taken for indoctrination. Indians revolted and tried to escape the mission and the soldiers would hunt the “fugitives” down and bring them back. I learn in the video in the Barracks. (There is a display, “Collision of Cultures,” which acknowledges the tribes’ experience.)

“The Sonoma mission’s sphere of influence reached its peak around 1832, with nearly 1,000 Native California Indians in residence and 10,000 acres of land used to raise crops and livestock.” In 1834, the Mexican government secularized all the missions into parish churches – which was General Vallejo’s task.

The dining room at Mission San Francisco Solano now exhibits watercolors created between1903-5 by Chris Jorgensen depicting the 21 missions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Dining room today houses a marvelous exhibit of watercolors created between 1903-5 by Chris Jorgensen depicting the 21 missions that remained. His watercolors helped generate interest in preserving the missions. It is most interesting to see his watercolor of this mission as it stood.

Mission San Francisco Solano, as captured by Chris Jorgensen © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The small adobe chapel on the west side of the Padres’ Quarters, built and furnished by General Vallejo in 1840, replaced the original mission church.

The small adobe chapel on the west side of the Padres’ Quarters, built and furnished by General Vallejo in 1840, replaced the original mission church © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is here in the mission that I meet Ranger April Farnham. When I ask if she is a native Californian, she tells me of her great great great aunt, Eliza Farnham, born in Rensselaerville, NY in 1815, who came to northern California in 1849 with her two sons (her husband, Thomas Farnham, was apparently a rogue). What a character! Wikipedia describes Farnham as a novelist, feminist, abolitionist and activist for prison reform (she worked as the matron of Sing Sing prison’s women’s ward). She returned to New York in 1856 and  in 1859, organized a society to assist destitute women find homes in the West. She returned to California, but died in New York City, at the age of 49, of consumption.

(I’m so intrigued about her, I look up her publications: Life in the Prairie Land, 1846 – An account of life on the Illinois prairie near Pekin between 1836 and 1840; California, In-doors and Out, 1856 – A chronicle of her experiences and observations on California; My Early Days, 1859 – An autobiographical novel; Woman and Her Era, 1864 – “Organic, religious, esthetic, and historical” arguments for woman’s inherent superiority’ and The Ideal Attained, 1865 – The heroine molds the hero into a worthy mate.)

General Vallejo’s Home

“Lachryma Montis,” the “Yankee Home” of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, provides a window into Sonoma’s fascinating founder ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I get back on my bike to visit General Vallejo’s home, Lachryma Montis, a 20-acre site (out of his original 500 acres) just along the path about a mile from the mission. Here you appreciate what a visionary – even progressive – Vallejo was, and how instrumental he was to the founding and nurturing of Sonoma through its multiple transitions. By the time he was 40, he had lived under four flags – Spanish, Mexican, the Bear Revolution and then the United States.

Born in 1807 to an upper class Spanish family, his career paths were limited to the military, politics or church. He chose the military. At the age of 25, a lieutenant, he commanded Presidio de San Francisco, the “director of colonization.” In 1826, he was ordered to secularize the missions and transfer power from the church to civil authorities.

The Mexican government fell into chaos; there were frequent changes of governor in his district. Vallejo got no assistance from Mexico and had to pay his soldiers out of his own pocket. The settlers became Mexican citizens, learned Spanish but were different from the “Yankees” who began to come through.

After Mexican Governor Jose Castro proclaimed that the purchase or acquisition of land by foreigners who had not been naturalized as Mexicans “will be null and void, and they will be subject (if they do not retire involuntary from the country) to be expelled whenever the country might find it convenient.” 33 Yankees lead the Bear Flag Revolt against Mexican authorities. They attacked Sonoma, took Vallejo prisoner, imprisoning him at Sutter’s Fort for two months, where he contracted malaria and was a dath’s door before being released. “His imprisonment lasted longer than the Republic” (communication was slow). At the time of the Bear Flag Revolt, (June–July 1846), there were 500 Americans living in California, compared with between 8,000 and 12,000 Mexicans.

Despite the Treaty of Guadeloupe that ended the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) assuring the Mexicans their property ownership would be respected, the Yankees claimed the property belonged to them “by right of conquest”.  Mexicans, including Vallejo, had to fight in court to prove title and that often put them in debt. His holdings were reduced from 500 acres to 20 acres, but he kept his vineyards.

Vallejo family photos on view in a small museum in the visitors center of his home, part of the Sonoma State Historic Park, give insight into Sonoma’s founder and visionary ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, Vallejo also had a hand in developing wine-making in Sonoma. His two older daughters married sons of Count Agoston Haraszthy, who began the first vineyards (you can learn this part of the history at Haraszthy’s Buena Vista winery).

Ever adapting, Vallejo went on to be elected state senator for Sonoma, serving until 1853.

“Lachryma Montis,” the “Yankee Home” of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, provides a window into Sonoma’s fascinating founder ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is striking about Vallejo’s home is that it looks like it was deposited here from New England. Vallejo referred to his dwelling as the “Yankee Home” or “Boston House,” departing from traditional adobe style. That was deliberate on his part, to symbolize change (and acceptance) of becoming part of the United States.

You start your visit in the Chalet, a Tudor-style structure which originally was a storage house and granary, now a visitor center that houses a museum with family photos and personal artifacts of Vallejo and his family (he had 16 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood), as well as their magnificent carriage. The furnishings in the main house, too, are mainly from the family.

Seeing the home as if the Vallejo family still lived there ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You visit the parlor, which Vallejo furnished with items from around the world, the master bedroom, his daughter, Maria’s, bedroom, the nursery. You visit the bedroom of Luisa, his 15th child, who was born here, married here and, after being widowed, raised her three children in the house; she cared for her elderly parents and inherited the estate where she lived until her death in 1943 at 87. She sold the estate to the state of California in 1933 and served as its curator from 1933-1943.

The picturesque stone and masonry reservoir supplied the Vallejo home with water from natural artesian springs ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are several other interesting buildings and structures: the picturesque stone and masonry reservoir was constructed in the 1850s to collect water from natural artesian springs; a tiny cottage, the Hermitage, or “Napoleon’s Cottage” at the top of a winding stone staircase above the reservoir, where Vallejo’s youngest son, Napoleon, moved in 1865 at the age of 15, and kept 14 dogs, two monkeys, three cats and one parrot.  

A monument to the Bear Flag Rebellion, which briefly established the California Republic ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sonoma’s Plaza itself – the birthplace of the state’s Bear Flag – is picturesque. You can see a monument to where rebels raised their new, homemade flag and declare their own republic, June 14, 1846. (The Bear Flag Republic lasted just 24 days; then the United States took over).

There is also City Hall, a pavilion for outdoor events, and across the way, a lovely old-timey movie theater.

The Sonoma State Historic Park (363 Third Street W, Sonoma CA 95476, 707-938-1519). includes six sites – in addition to the Mission, the Barracks and Lachryma Montis, it also includes Casa Grande (Vallejo’s home on the plaza), the beautiful Blue Wing Inn (built to house soldiers it later accommodated such famous visitors as US Army officer Ulysses S. Grant); and Toscana Hotel. For a schedule of docent-led tours, visit www.parks.ca.gov or call 707-938-9560. (The $3 admission includes same-day visit to the Barracks and General Vallejo’s Home (363 3rd St. West) and Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park (3325 Adobe Road, Petaluma).

The Buena Vista Winery. Count Agoston Haraszthy planted the first vineyards in Sonoma; Vallejo’s two daughters married his sons © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My biking takes me into the vineyards that completely ring the village. I return to the Buena Vista Winery, founded by Count Agoston Haraszthy, who came from Hungary initially in pursuit of gold but in 1857, decided instead to build a stone winery on the property. He introduced cuttings from Europe’s best vineyards to California and basically proved that California could produce wine. Buena Vista Winery, 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, CA 95476, 800-926-1266, tastingroom@buenavistawinery.com, www.buenavistawinery.com.

There are about 90 vineyards and wineries you can explore, see Sonoma.com.

I also come upon a wonderful local community garden, Sonoma Garden Park, which is a working farm, education center and “vibrant gathering place” where I encounter a gardener who comes up from San Francisco and learn about sustainable gardening in this drought-plagued place (Seventh St. East & MacArthur).

Jack London State Park

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another marvelous example of this merging of man and nature is the Jack London State Park in nearby Glen Ellen, where we go for a hike and discover a most intriguing history.  I was expecting to hike in the woods, but the historic and biographical features blew me away.

I always associated Jack London with San Francisco and Alaska. It was a complete surprise to learn that Glen Ellen was home to the writer/adventurer from 1905 until his untimely death in 1916, at age 40, of gastrointestinal uremic poisoning. London pioneered new agricultural techniques here at his 1,400-acre Beauty Ranch.

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“London was well ahead in the real estate game in 1905 when he began buying up what was then exhausted farmland around Glen Ellen,” writes Kenneth Brandt, The Short, Frantic, Rags-to-Riches Life of Jack London,” in Smithsonian (www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/short-heroic-rags-riches-life-jack-london-180961200). “His intention was to restore the land by using innovative farming methods such as terracing and organic fertilizers… ‘I see my farm,’ he declared, ‘in terms of the world and the world in terms of my farm.’ Today, docents lead tours showcasing London’s progressive ranching and sustainable agricultural practices.”

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We wander through the ruins of his old stone winery and see a stone barn. You can visit the magnificent ruins of London’s 15,000-square-foot Wolf House mansion, built out of native volcanic rock and unstrapped redwoods, that would have had 26 rooms and nine fireplaces, a library measuring 19 x 40 feet, a two-story high living room, a wine cellar and – befitting a forward looking innovator – electric lighting and built-in vacuum cleaning system. It cost $75,000 ($1.9 million today) to build, but burned to the ground a month before completion.

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Built out of native volcanic rock and unstripped redwoods, it was to be the rustic capstone of Beauty Ranch and architectural avatar Jack London himself. He was devastated over the fire but vowed to rebuild. He would never get the chance,” Brandt writes.

I learn how contemporary London actually was, his writings and outlook remarkably prescient (or else you realize things don’t actually change but only repeat) – he could have been writing today. “He also remained politically engaged,” Brandt writes, quoting London from a 1914 letter: “If, just by wishing I could change America and Americans in one way. I would change the economic organization of America so that true equality of opportunity would obtain; and service, instead of profits, would be the idea, the ideal and the ambition animating every citizen.”

We set out on our hike (there are 20 miles of trails) through lush forest, majestic redwood groves, and meadows (a scenic six-mile trail leads to the top of Sonoma Mountain; you also can explore by horseback or bike), passing by a gorgeous vineyard to get to the trail. (We note the sign warning about rattlesnakes as we enter.)

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I must return to visit the museum housed in “The House of Happy Walls” where there are displays of London’s books along with artifacts London and his second wife, Charmian, brought back from their 27-month sailing adventure among unexplored South Seas islands. (Volunteer pianists play on Charmian’s 1901 Steinway grand piano in the cottage where she lived from 1934 until she died in 1955.)

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The park is very popular with locals in the know about all there is to do here – including concerts, performances, lectures, piano recitals; year-round there are free docent-guided tours, docent-led Sunday morning hikes, and other park events. Download a park map.

(Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, 707-938-5216, jacklondonpark.com).

You can pick up picnic supplies, as we did, at the superb Glen Ellen Village Market or croissants, mini-sandwiches and other baked goods at Les Pascals bakery.

In the late afternoon, we take a walk in the “neighborhood”:

A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Moon rise during our late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

See also: WINE & ART: THE PERFECT PAIRING IN SONOMA, CALIFORNIA (https://goingplacesfarandnear.com/wine-art-the-perfect-pairing-in-sonoma-california/)

For excellent planning materials, visit Sonoma County Tourism, 800-576-6662, info@sonomacounty.comwww.sonomacounty.comwww.sonomacounty.com/things-to-do.                

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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

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