Category Archives: Best in Travel

NYT Travel Show: ‘1000 Places to See Before You Die’ Author Shares 20 Favorites for 2019

Iceland, Land of the Midnight Sun, offers other-worldly scenery and is on “1000 Places” Author Patricia Schultz list of recommended places for 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Patricia Schultz, author of the New York Times best-seller, “1000 Places to See Before You Die” offered up some 20 of her favorites to consider for 2019 in her talk, “Global Travel Experiences” at the New York Times Travel Show.

In writing her book, though, she said, “I started off with 100 drop-dead places” but was encouraged to increase the number to 1000. It took 8 years to write the book.

 “I did all the homework. Are these your favorite 1000? Probably not. You may ask, ‘How will I ever see all 1000?’ But it’s not about seeing all 1000, it’s having those places that resonate, talk to you, realize that this is place you’ve always heard about, or never knew existed.”

Despite skepticism of how the book would be received, within days of publication, the book shot up to #1 on the New York Times best seller list. “And to prove I am still alive, I gave myself the gift of travel. I don’t need a special occasion.” But she notes that it was a landmark birthday, “so with a friend I went to Machu Picchu.”

Machu Picchu – You fly from Lima to Cuzco to see the Lost City, 11,000 ft above sea level. The risk here is altitude sickness. “I was cocky. All that mata de coca stuff in the lobby didn’t work. So I’m sitting with an oxygen mask in the lobby, and  engaged in conversation with a woman from Newark celebrating her 90th birthday with her first passport stamp. She spoke of having dropped out of school at age 11 during the Great Depression, put four children through university as a washerwoman – one became an attorney, another a gynecologist. As a gift for her 90th she told me, ‘Perhaps you heard of it, 1000 Places.’ They gave me a magic marker to highlight any place and they would send me.’”  Edith with her husband of 70 years gave me two wonderful quotes: ‘Your knees have expiration dates’ (and she was on her second set of replacements, titanium); and ‘You need to do the difficult places first.’”

Scotland: Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides Islands– brooding, romantic, often misty, green (it rains a lot). Of the islands off Scotland’s west coast, one is connected by bridge. Skye is only 50 miles north to south – incredible to hike. There’s a whisky trail (The Scots love whisky); a castle trail. Edinburgh. Take the train from London– wild, unexpectedly beautiful. Edinburgh has one of best performing arts festivals in world, Edinburgh Arts Festival. Part of it is the Military Tattoo –tickets are hard to come by – there are drummers, bagpipers from all over the Commonwealth around the world, who perform at night in front of Edinburgh Castle.

Iceland’s main city, Reykjavik, is quirky, the smallest capital city in Europe with just 125,000 people but that’s still about half the entire country’s population © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Iceland is only about 5 hours flight (about as long as it takes to drive out to the Hamptons on Long Island’s eastern shore from New York City- Icelandic Air has discounted fares – often you can stay days or a week in Iceland enroute to/from 20 cities in Europe.  The main city, Reykjavik, is quirky, the smallest capital city in Europe, just 125,000 people but the entire country has a population of just 300,000, and most live in the southwest corner. Icelanders are unusual people, highly literate, cultured, well traveled, speak English. The scenery is other-worldly.

Iceland is probably best known for Northern Lights, a celestial spectacle, sublime and surreal. Vikings, Iceland’s indigenous people, always had an explanation for the spectacular display of lights that can last 5 minutes or 5 hours – green, blue – if you haven’t seen it, you have to. You can take Northern Lights packages – but stay at least 4 nights because they don’t happen all the time, you can’t guarantee.  In summer, you don’t see the Northern Lights; instead, you have the Midnight Sun.

(Hurtigruten offers a Northern Lights cruise through Norway – if you don’t see the Northern Lights, they reimburse you.)

St. Petersburg, Russia. Commissioned by the czars of Russia, St. Petersburg big port of call on Baltic cruises – second most popular European cruise (after Mediterranean and you don’t need to be 90) – visit Scandinavian cities, northern European – Taillin, Estonia, Gdansk in northern Poland – we sailed out of Copenhagen, capital of Denmark, sailed east then north up to St. Petersburg – so much to see, you get 5-8 hrs in ports, but in St. Petersburg, you overnight up to 3 days. The Winter Palace is grand – best known as the home of the Hermitage Art Collection (one of the three top art museums in the world, with Le Louvre in Paris and Metropolitan Museum in New York). The Heritage Museum, Russia’s Louvre, is one of world’s richest repositories of art. It holds the Guinness Book of Records for most paintings of any museum – most are stored in the basement . The crowds are crazy.

Bruges, Belgium is Brussels in miniature. Everyone goes to London, Paris, Berlin, fly into capital cities and sometimes that’s all you see – which gives you a distorted idea of a country. Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a beautiful city but less than one hour by high-speed train (travel throughout Europe by train, makes Amtrak look medieval, embarrassing) from Brussels is Bruges. People go for a few hours, for lunch, the museums. It’s very picturesque.  Bruges was the seat of the Dukes of Burgundy in 15th century – the Venice of the north, a little Amsterdam also built on canals. Bruges is less than 2 hours from Amsterdam. Everything you experience in big cities like Brussels experience here.

Amsterdam: The canals in Amsterdam are 400 years old, a UNESCO World Heritage site. People think of cafes, marijuana, red light district. Amsterdam is so much more. I visited on an AMA Waterways river cruise that starts in Amsterdam, cruises on the Amstel River that connects with Rhine. The Christmas market season is magical. A walking tour of the Red Light District is fascinating; the district has changed generation to generation; there is much to be learned. 

Venice” taking advantage of nighttime hours to visit the Doge Palace in San Marco Square, you feel you have this extraordinary art, this spectacular space to yourself. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Venice, Italy – I took one of my first trips to Europe for ancestral purposes, to discover my roots – that’s a real thing, to explore your background, heritage, the reasons, traditions you grew up with. My mother was not from Venice, but from Puglia (on the heel of boot; Venice in northeast corner of ‘boot’ on a Peninsula). Venice was the seat of government; the Doge ruled this maritime republic that reached to Asia. San Marco was where the Doge lived and ruled; he built a cathedral to house St Mark’s bones, “borrowed” during the Crusades from the Holy Land. The Basilica of St. Mark was built over 1000 years ago – it’s not the oldest church in Italy but one of the most magnificent. It looks Byzantine, Arabesque because it was fashioned after Sophia in Constantinople. 

Istanbul, Turkey – rising above the chaos, where East meets West. There are other bi-continental countries (Russia), but Istanbul is the only city in the world that is bi-continental with one foot in Asia and one in Europe. Istanbul was a prime, super important hub on the Silk Road for millennia –merchants came with goods from China on their way to the Mediterranean and Venice – then loaded up European treasures to bring back. Over time, this commerce between East and West also resulted in an exchange of religion, ideology, DNA, cuisine, language, culture, everything imaginable. Built in the 6th century to spread Christianity (what was America was doing then?), Hagia Sophia was the inspiration for the Basilica St Marks in Venice. Today, it is no longer a cathedral or basilica; Ottomans stripped it of its Christian-ness and converted it into a mosque. The Muslims plastered the Christian frescoes over but did not destroy them, so some have been restored, so today, you can still see the fresco of Virgin Mary. Ataturk (who founded Turkey) made it into a museum, but it is still imbued with a spirituality; Muslims and Christians still pray here. Turkey has an incredible food scene, both traditional and contemporary. 

In Morocco, ride a camel at sunset into the Sahara desert where you overnight in a tented camp © David Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Marrakesh, Morocco is an everyday carnival at the heart of the Medina – Morocco is so much fun, offering Islamic welcome and history. Most Americans believe Morocco is in the Middle East, but in fact is in North Africa. One of the best food markets, Jenna el Fna Square, happens in the evening in Marrakesh (overly loved by tourists); from 5-6 pm, they set up the stalls – a lot of vendors sell the same secret ingredient specialty, 6 generations. You can smell bbq, couscous for miles. Atlas Mountains and Sahara – you travel like Bedouins by camels and can spend the night in a tented camp. One night is fine in the desert under the stars. 

Lalibela, Ethiopia –Ethiopia is known for coffee, who knew Ethiopia was Christian? St George, one of the most photographed and best known, is one of 11 medieval churches in Lalibela, named for King Lalibela, built underground. You go down 3 flights of stairs to the entrance –columns, vaulted ceilings, each column different, all one piece of stone, dating from the 11-12th century. How were they built? They say it was built by a legion of angels. This is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ethiopia. You will also find some of nicest people. Coffee regions are lush – beautiful countryside – thought would be dusty scenes – but large parts lush. Very mountainous – Simien Mountains are among the highest in Africa; Simien National Park in Northern Ethiopia is a World Heritage Center site (simienpark.org)

Most go to Africa for the safari experience (“safari” is the Swahili word for “journey” ) – the big 5 Safari Countries: Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia.

In the Botswana’s Okavango Delta, you can go safari by mocoro canoe © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Okavango Delta, Botswana –is an incomparable wildlife oasis, one of the best places for safari– irresistible for many reasons, especially wildlife – Okavango Delta is the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage site – people danced in the streets when it was designated 3-4 yrs ago. You go into the Delta – a territory the size of Switzerland –in  dugout canoes the locals make. This is the only place in Africa where you can go safari by canoe or walking with armed guard and trackers (most places go by open top jeep). If you see 10% of what sees you, it’s a good day.

Mountain Gorillas of Uganda – It’s not cheap, just to get there to see the mountain gorillas of Uganda. Daily permits cost $600. There are three neighborhing countries (Uganda, Rwanda and Congo) where gorillas – who don’t know national borders – wander through, but pretty much stay put. The three countries together understand gorilla tourism is a big thing – accommodations are modest, fine – but it is about experience. For $600, you get a million dollar experience. The gorillas are not easy to find, but that’s what trackers do early in the morning, and report by walkie talkie or cellphone that they have found family x. The gorilla families are habituated to homo sapiens.  When they find a family is habituated enough, they allow you to sit with them for one hour. You sit and eat in the company of our closest relative (we share 98% of the same DNA). A Silverback can grow to be 500-600 pounds, they can be up to 6 ft tall. Males communicate with grunts and groans (but not us, lest we give the wrong signal or message). Uganda is spectacularly beautiful – Winston Churchill called it the  ‘Pearl of Africa’ and Ugandans even among Africans are known to be the friendliest.

The world’s three monotheistic faiths converge in Jerusalem © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Old Jerusalem, Israel – transcending time, place and faith. So many have been to Israel but if I had a dime for every time people ask, Isn’t it dangerous? We live in America – if you’ve looked at statistics of gun violence, worse off here than in Israel – all kinds of statistics that more likely to encounter risk in your bathroom – I just say go. World is big, wide, possibilities are endless, wonders are countless, and you won’t have the same experience if you just sit and watch beautiful documentaries. Get up, get out and do and visit the Holy Land. Regardless of your religion or inclination, the history is amazing –this is the only piece of real estate equally revered by three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. One of the most photographed sites in Israel is the Wailing Wall. Also the Church of Sepulcher, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified; the Golden Dome revered by Muslims. Israel is quite small (size of New Jersey); there is a new high speed train from Tel Aviv (like South Beach on the Mediterranean) to Jerusalem.

Petra, Jordan – the Pink City is half as old as time. Just across the border from Israel is another holy city, more and more visited in the last 10 years. Petra hit its stride during the Arab Spring, then tourism came to a standstill. Petra is mentioned in the Old Testament 2000 years ago. It was on the trade caravan route – and had water – so caravans laden with incense, frankincense, myrrh – spices found almost exclusively on the Arabian Peninsula, sold throughout Europe and worth its weight in gold – would stop in Petra and be taxed heavily by Nabataeans who were fabulously wealthy. Petra is actually 100 sq miles – you hike, go by mule (it’s 110 degrees), follow a mile-long sikh (natural alleyway) from 3-4 story high cliffs, that open up to reveal the Treasury. Most people visit for 2-3 hours and go back to Amman or Wadi Rum – like our Red Rock Country – and down to Aqaba (Lawrence of Arabia Country, center of Arab revolt). But if you stay overnight, you can go back in the evening, the place lit by votive candles, and hear Bedouin musicians perform.

Samarkabnd, Uzbekistan –another timeless caravan stop along the fabled Silk Road. Of the 5 “stans,” Uzbekistan is the best. Tashkent, the capital, is actually very modern in a Dubai way – crazy architecture, lots of money – but there are corners of the capital that are locked in time. Cities like Samarkand which were stops along the Silk Road, are some of the oldest inhabited cities – the tiles you see are remarkable – but what knocked us over was the hospitality of the people. They have been welcoming foreigners –  wide eyed and fascinated – for thousands of years. It’s an exciting time to visit and not just for all the architecture, but for the food and the exchange of culinary traditions over millennia.

Mongolia – across the Steppes in the path of Genghis Khan. There is one asphalt road. The people live in white tented gers (yurt), which they roll up to follow the herd to the next place. The nomadic herdsman culture goes back to Genghis Khan – they say one out of three Mongolians has Genghis Khan’s DNA (Genghis Khan now rock star reputation). Mongolia has eternal blue sky – Montana on steroids – countryside is open, untrammeled – people have very hard scrabble life – winters are harsh – snow, horrific sub-zero weather but still live in yurts.

Kerala India – backwater lagoons with highland plantations – India has 39 states –a big country with a population of 1 billion –  but most tourists confine their visit to Rajasthan (the Taj Mahal in Agra, Jaipur). But this time, I went to Kerala in the south – you have to go. Kerala has the highest rate of literacy in India – this corner of India is very cultured – feels different – very hot, humid, and looks like Sri Lanka (which is nearby) – the highest population of Christianity but predominantly Hindu – also has one of the oldest Jewish communities in Asia, in Cochin (the traditional account is that traders of Judea arrived in Cochin in 562 BCE and more came as exiles after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE). This place is what Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus were looking for when they were searching for a maritime route to India, what Henry Hudson was looking for when he wound up in Albany (de Gama found the route to India on his 1497-1499 voyage). Everything is wild here. The highlands have some of the largest tea and coffee plantations, and spices from here (black pepper was gold) made their way into the cuisine. They say there are 100 kinds of curries from coconut here. The backwaters offer hundreds of miles of lagoon labyrinth. You fly into Fort Cochin – we arrived in Tamil Nadu – on the triangular tip of southeast Asia.

Kyoto, Japan –It is surprisingly easy to get around Japan independently, but if you are concerned about language, go with a group.  But the independent experience is such a different thing. Especially in Japan, which is so safe.  We think New York City is big but it’s a village compared to Tokyo, with 33 million people, but one of safest, friendliest – if you like big cities you will love, Tokyo. But you get on the Bullet train to Kyoto, small by comparison – just 1 million people. Kyoto is a city of ancient temples and gardens amidst a modern cityscape – among the most important, Fushimi Inari Shrine. Everyone comes for shrines, temples (2000) – Inari, Shinto Shrine to saki, rice, business (mushed together) – magical – Kyoto also home to thriving geisha community, remarkable cuisine.

Sa Pa Vietnam – On the northernmost border with China – Yunan – over 30 ethnic hill tribes live in a concentration you don’t find in China.  

Ubud, Indonesia – of the 17,000 islands of Indonesia, Bali is the most visited– Australians go to Bali like we go to the Jersey Shore – package deals, spring breaks, bachelor parties. But leave Bali behind and go to the interior, to Ubud – predominantly Hindu – beyond the beaches on the island of the gods.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York Times Travel Show: Pauline Frommer Offers Sage Advice to Satisfy Wanderlust

“Don’t forget hostels” Pauline Frommer tells the New York Times Travel Show. Staying at the Green Tortoise hostel not only provided a lower-cost alternative to commercial hotels in San Francisco, but is an experience in itself © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Times Travel Show is the largest consumer travel show in North America and this year hit record attendance – a good indication of the eagerness and ability of people to pursue their dreams to explore, discover, engage, rejuvenate.

Each year, one of the best of the programs offered at the travel show is the presentation by Pauline Frommer, travel expert extraordinaire and scion of the legendary Arthur Frommer, whose famous book, “Europe on $5 a Day” was a bible for a generation of Boomer backpackers, including me.

Each year, her tips (best travel sites, best time to book, best ways to save money, best ways to have an enriching, immersive experience), trends in travel that will shape your next vacation, and suggestions of where to go (this year, a focus on alternatives to places despoiled by overtourism) are spot on, delivered with sincerity and sheer joy of travel. 

But this year, she starts off with why it is so important to travel, especially now.

On the one hand, she observes (as did Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column, “Why 2018 Was the Best Year in Human History!”), that despite the anxiety-provoking headlines, humanity has never been better off than now – certainly there is no better time to be a woman than now; the percentage of population in extreme poverty has fallen from 90% in the 1820s to 15% today (despite the fact that three Americans have as much wealth as the bottom 160 million); the life expectancy of Europeans and Americans in the 1700s was 35; by the 1950s, 60, and today, 75-80 (60 in the Developing World).

“We’re on a good path, but we don’t realize this.” This is largely because of media and how we consume it.

“So if we see nothing on the news but plane crashes and murders – even though air travel is statistically the safest way to travel and the murder rate is on the way down – fear today is making us make bad public decisions, and not just in the United States.” (And some have seized on this power to shape perceptions.)

She notes that these countries have something in common: UAE, Ireland, Germany, Canada, Bahamas, France, New Zealand, UK. What do they have in common? All of them have travel warnings against coming to the United States because of gun violence.

But, she says, “When we go out in the world, we have such a great opportunity to explore and see what’s going right, what’s working, what isn’t working in terms of social issues in Europe, Asia, Africa. We come back and tell our neighbors, Mexicans are not rapists and there is no such thing as shithole countries.

“Travel is a fun thing, a relaxing thing, but today, it is also important. We are witnesses and we need to be good ambassadors of United States.”

Indeed, she offers a quote from Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on These accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Notably, Mark Twain was also a pioneering travel writer.

Renowned travel expert Pauline Frommer shares her sage travel advice at the New York Times Travel Show © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

So what are the trends and tips for travel in 2019?

New distribution capability (NDC): Airlines (who pioneered e-commerce, Customer Relationship Marketing – Loyalty programs – and yield management) are working on incorporating artificial intelligence to track all your buying decisions and bundle air fares to what they “assume” you want (or rather, what they assume you will buy). “But say you are traveling on your boss’ dime, so you checked a bag and paid for priority boarding, but when you travel on your own, you don’t want to pay for that. In coming months, the program they are rolling out, if it works as planned, when you search for an airline ticket, you won’t be shown tickets without luggage or priority boarding, they will already be bundled into the quoted fare, because they think they know what you want. It will make air fare searches even more opaque than in the past.”

Frommer’s advice: “You need to be anonymous – clear cookies, use a different computer. It will be less convenient, but it’s the only way to get true fares.”

She recommends two sites as best for airfares, based on a survey of 10,000 searches, beating out Googleflights, Expedia, Orbitz and the rest.

Momondo.com

Skyscanner.net

“They consistently came up with lower prices.”

She adds, “Timing is everything in booking airfares.”

Based on analysis by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), the middle man between airlines and travel agents and OTAs (online travel agents):

Booking on Sunday can mean a 17% savings (“possibly because corporate travel agents don’t work on weekends, the airlines know you are leisure traveler, and therefore more cost-conscious, so will get better deal)

Don’t book on Friday, prices are up 12%

February is the least expensive for international flights; December is most expensive month; September the cheapest for domestic flights, June the most expensive.

Artificial intelligence will affect hotel stays – they are tracking you there as well.”I was at a travel writers’ conference and met a woman who supports her writing (most freelance journalists living under poverty line) by renting out her apartment through AirBnB when she travels. She asked a friend to look at her listing. But her friend couldn’t find the listing because her friend usually spent more than she charged, so AirBnB didn’t deliver it – even on the last page she couldn’t see it. This is another case where you need to be anonymous as you can.”

Hotels booking sites are working on the back-end to make it ‘more convenient’ for you to find them.

Here are where you can find the best prices for booking hotels:                      “

Bookingcom (has best rates– beat the big ones everywhere but Asia)

Agoda.com – best for booking hotels in Asia

There are also sites that give you the best hotel rates for booking “blind:”

Priceline.com

Hotwire.com 

BiddingTraveler.com

TheBiddingTraveler.com

“BiddingTraveler and the TheBiddingTraveler.com are manned by travelers who say what was bid and what they got -prices can be extraordinarily low.”

But alternative lodgings – hostels, apartment-sharing, home exchange – not only can save money over commercial hotels, but afford a special experience.

“Don’t forget hostels –they’re not just for young people, not just dorm meals – some offer private rooms, are lovely places to stay. There is no more fun than going into the lobby of hostel and speaking to people from all over the world.”

“Sharing” Accommodations Sites:

AirBnB.com

Homeaway.com

Zonder.com

Flipkey.com

VRBO.com

The ‘sharing’ sites are starting to affect commercial hotel pricing, [but they also are] adding more and more fees. ”A lot of individual owners are getting smarter about charging high cleaning fees – so be careful and go all the way to the end [of the listings] before you book. When you book are these sites, you aren’t booking with an agency but with an individual owner –who may have one or 20 homes, but not the heft of a hotel. That that can make cancelling a reservation very costly.

Taking “sharing” a step further is home exchange.

“Home exchanges are a great way to travel and have an authentic experience,” Frommer says, but emphatically advises, “Not Craigslist.”

Frommer recommends:

HomeExchange.com

GuesttoGuest.com

Through Friends

“A friend who was tracing her geneology and did home exchange, had a knock at the door, and a neighbor invited her to tea; another came and invited her to a ramble; another to tour the local factory. This kept happening and she finally realized she was the single most exciting thing to happen to this small town in Wales. On the last day, a group of neighbors presented her with a framed painting of town square, and they are still in touch.  With home exchange, you will meet locals – everybody sends over their friends to check you’re not busting up the place.”

As for safety, she says, “It takes so long to set up a home exchange – so many details – Do you exchange cars? Leave the cribs? – it wouldn’t behoove a criminal to take part –there is  not enough payoff. It’s a very safe activity.”

For car rental she recommends:

AutoSlash.com is best. “When you go to the site, it asks, ‘Are you a member of Costco, AAA, AARP? It applies all the discount codes to your rental and any other discount that could be on the market. So they start off with lower price, then track rental, so if the price drops, rebook at lower rate.”

Frommer relates that she used the site two years ago for a trip to New Zealand, and because of all the price drops and discounts, saved $400 on a rental in northern New Zealand and another $400 on a rental in southern New Zealand.

A barge hotel cruise on canals through Burgundy, with bikes on board, has appeal for younger travelers. The rivers and canals were the arteries that connected towns and communities; you step off the boat right into a cobbled town square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

River Cruises – Europe, Vietnam, United States, Amazon rainforest – these rivers were the arteries that connected communities. You wander off the boat directly onto a cobbled town square, the great cathedral you came to see – this is how people traveled for eons.

“But river cruises are not for everybody. My father turns 90 this year and 10 years ago he took a river cruise and raved – and claimed he was the youngest on board. River cruising attracts a certain demographic.” (Probably because they tend to be very expensive.)

“Certain boats get younger travelers, like UbyUniworld

Over the top river cruises: Uniworld, Tauck, Scenic

Luxurious: AMA Waterways (have bikes onboard, so get more active travelers); Viking Cruises, Avalon Waterways

Budget: Emerald Waterways; CroisieEurope; Grand Circle; U by UniWorld; Vantage

Family friendly: Ama Waterways; Tauck

Best rivers: Danube, Mississippi, Mekong

“The dirty little secret about river cruising is that while everything is included (more than on ocean cruises) – all the alcohol, daytrips for initial price – but with the exception of UniWorld and Grand Circle, all the companies share the same pool of guides on shore – they take whatever guide is available. So you could be paying $550/night on Uniworld and get the same land experience as on Emerald paying $200/day. 

The best rivers for cruising, according to Frommers guidebook editors Michelle Baron and Fran Golden, are the Danube, the Mississippi and the Mekong because they have the best variety of things to see and do.

“On many river cruises, Day 1 has the most gorgeous cathedral, Day 2, Day 3 the same. But on the Danube, Day 1 is a winery, Day 2 a castle, Day 3 a cathedral, Day 4 an art deco spa. There is more variety.”

How to find the right tour for you? Frommer recommends:

Stridetravel.com

Tourradar.com

Evaneos.net

Viator.com – does short/long term tours. “You put in where you want to go, dates, and get something like this: a list of 8/day trips to Masai Mara (the cheaper one stays in same camps with almost same itinerary)

Frommer, who notes she had just met the TourRadar CEO, says, “When you buy a tour through them, they hold the money until after departure, so they do the best they can to vet the tour operators. They want to bring in Mom-and-Pop and local companies – so you often get greater value, more authentic, closer-to-ground experience. They hold the money until after departure and if necessary, book another tour for you.”

For big-ticket items for rentals, cruises, safaris, tours, Frommer recommends buying travel insurance:

SquareMouth.com

InsureMyTrip.com

Travel Insurance.com

(My favorite is WorldNomads.com)

The most expensive policies usually don’t cover everything, Frommer advises, but never buy insurance from the travel provider you are traveling with – if the company goes out of business, you’ve lost insurance as well as money for the trip, and they get commission (kickback) from insurance. You can get more coverage by going direct (to the insurance company).

Foodies who appreciate the lusciousness of truffles should make a beeline to Portoroz in Slovenia and Rizi Bizi restaurant for a gourmet experience. Culinary experience is increasingly steering travel choices © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Next big thing in travel:

Foodism – culinary travel is shaping the travel experience. “Thanks largely to the late great Anthony Bourdain, travelers know food is an extraordinary window into different cultures, and are demanding more and more authentic food experiences. On tours, like Country Walkers (a glamorous high end walking company), you end the day with a 5-course meal with the chef or going to a farmhouse for dinner.

“There are foodie-experiences on every tour, but you don’t have to take tours to have unusual food experiences – there are a slew of new websites that help you find them yourself”.

Eatwith.com

Travelingspoon.com (you eat in people’s homes around the world, like the best Italian grandma/chef in Palermo, where you go into her kitchen. They guarantee all hosts speak English)

Foodietrip.com

Airbnb.com/experiences – for example, an ex-tv producer became an Airbnb experiences guide, who takes travelers to dining experience

BonAppatour.com

Another unusual way to have authentic, immersive travel experiences: short term work

Frommer offers the example of her daughter, a college freshman, who took a gap year last year and went to Japan with Workaway.com. This is a website where would-be employers post job listings, employees know they will work 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for full board –you  just pay airfare. “She worked at a ski resort (got lift tickets), a farm selling sweets (learned Japanese to give a spiel on candy), a traditional inn (we have a photo of her cleaning a toilet with a big grin on her face). She met people from all over the world, all ages doing this.”

Some of the sites:

Workaway.com

WWOOF.org

WWOOF.org (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) – Sweden, Netherlands – free vacation but do some work

Vaughan Systems (https://grupovaughan.com/teaching-english-spain/), which offers a series of English language programs in Spain. “They want volunteers who speak different kinds of English. They don’t expect you to have any experience teaching, they just want you to talk. They give wine at every meal so it is easy to talk and talk. They are doing this at a campus in Salamanca, a medieval university town, another in Pyrenees, and in Madrid. People who have done it said was a life-changing experience. They made dear friends among those teaching English.”

Digital nomad careers – for people who want to hit road and don’t want to come back – skills to work remotely – who don’t have to be in same timeszone as post – whole cultures are growing up around digital nomadism

Jobatical.com

Remotey.com (remote year – finds places to live and work with WiFi – different jobs; people live together, work in the same space and socialize together and every month, the whole group moves to a different city; there are 4 and 12-month programs)

Jobspresso.com

RemoteOk.lo

The Frommers host a regular radio show, publish their famous travel guidebooks and produce an outstanding travel site, Frommers.com.

Next: Pauline Frommer’s Picks for Best Places to Go in 2019 – and They’re Not the Most Famous

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© 2019 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

HSMAI 2018 Adrian Awards Honor State-of-Art Travel Marketing Techniques that Get Back to People-to-People Basics

‘Best of Show’ winners of the HSMAI 2018 Adrian Awards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The HSMAI Adrians are the CLIO awards of the hospitality, travel and tourism industry – the nation’s third largest industry which people don’t readily recognize as being so integral to everyday life, so fundamental to local economies and communities. But these are the advertising, public relations and digital marketing campaigns that excite, engage, inform and ultimately spur millions of us to venture out and experience new places, people and activities. Travel bolsters local, state and national economies, creates an economic underpinning for communities that sustains heritage, culture and the environment, while travelers are themselves enriched, often with life-enhancing, life-changing experiences; travelers become ambassadors, opening lines of communication and understanding between people that break down the barriers that promote conflict, in effect, winning the battle for “hearts and minds.”. And going back to the age of Marco Polo, travelers help the free exchange and spread of ideas and innovations that foster progress.

Brand USA, the public-private destination marketing organization for the United States, won an Adrian Platinum Award for public relations for its “Travel Transcends Politics” campaign to reset the narrative around travel to USA from abroad: (“Brand USA Faces Extinction Under Trump’s Proposed Budget; The USA Would Never Be the Same” “The Trump Slump: German tourists avoid US as travel destination”). “Welcome to the USA” generated 2 billion media impressions and $276 million in earned media. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) hosted its 62nd  annual Adrian Awards Dinner Reception and Gala at the New York Marriott Marquis, celebrating innovators in hospitality advertising, digital marketing, and public relations before more than 850 industry professionals.

It’s so interesting at these annual Adrian Awards galas to see how far and how fast hospitality, travel and tourism marketing has come. But it is important to note that the travel industry essentially birthed e-commerce – only then it was called “e-ticketing” and started with giving travelers the ability to book their own airline tickets online.

So much has happened in the past 30 years that few remember how not that long ago, an air traveler book and pick up a physical ticket at a travel agency or airline city ticket office. Since then, the travel and tourism industry has been on the leading age of yield management, CRM (Customer Relationship Marketing) that gave us the loyalty programs, which gave us the data mining and micro-targeting and dynamic pricing.

Now the challenge is to get through all the clutter, to inform, inspire, captivate, and finally transform a consumer into a traveler, a guest, a passenger, a visitor.

Now, as Gopi Kallayil, Google’s Chief Evangelist of Brand Marketing, told the HSMAI Digital Marketing Conference the next day, the ability to search real-time databases of all sorts of travel components, putting all this power, knowledge in desktops, on smartphones literally in one’s hand. has created new expectations. The goal, he said, isn’t even three seconds to load a site and six clicks to book, but zero clicks by a program that virtually reads your mind.

Each year, the creativity and the technology leaps forward. (Imagine writing emails on your shower stall (Marriott International’s “Splash of Brilliance”). But what is so interesting now, is how it is all in the service of getting back to the basics of what travel and hospitality is all about: face-to-face encounters, personal experience. The award-winning advertising, public relations, digital marketing and sales campaigns are those that are “authentic”, “personal,” that forge “connections”. Winning campaigns this year celebrated the Golden Rule of kindness and respect, “unplugging” and “connecting”, “upcycling” discarded bedsheets into pajamas for needy children.

Fran Brasseux, Executive VP, HSMAI and Executive Director of HSMAI Foundation, and Agnelo Fernandes, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive VP Revenue of Terranea Resort present the first Adrian Corporate Social Responsibility Awards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, one of the new categories introduced to the HSMAI Adrian Awards this year was for Corporate Social Responsibility – in essence modeling values for travel and tourism at a time when overtourism (spurred in part by social media) is an emerging concern and there is much more consciousness raised about both the benefits of tourism to preserve and protect ecology and heritage, as well as the risks that overuse can destroy the very thing people come to experience. Here again, the hospitality and travel industry can model techniques and solutions that individuals can bring back to their own homes and communities.

The first Leader in Corporate Social Responsibility Awards were presented to four recipients: 

Aqua-Aston Hospitality: “Reef Safe” Campaign that turned the tide against coral bleaching in Hawaii caused by a chemical in many sunscreens with both a consumer awareness campaign (including giving out 70,000 samples of appropriate sunscreen) and achieving a state ban on the use of sunscreens with the damaging chemical

Hersha Hospitality: EarthView Program, which partnered with Clean the World and Cornell School of Hospitality, to institute environmental and conservation initiatives system wide, the first REIT and management program to establish institutional sustainability program

Hilton Hotels and Resorts: “Travel with Purpose – Where Responsibility and Hospitality Meet” Campaign – a campaign to reduce carbon emissions system wide.

Micato Safari: “AmericaShare” Campaign, where a portion of guest fees goes to subsidize a child’s education,  and promoting wildlife conservation

The second new Award, Facebook Mobile Video Award, also reflected the changing media landscape, and was presented by Colleen Coulter, Industry Manager, Travel for Facebook  to Sheraton for its Halo campaign.

More than 850 industry professionals gathered at the New York Marriott Marquis to celebrate the standout campaigns of the past year and the creative individuals behind them.

“We received a lot of impressive entries this year, but tonight’s winners are truly the crème de la crème,” said Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHA, president and CEO of HSMAI. “Adrian Award-winning campaigns incorporate strong elements of originality, embrace technology, and also generate real measurable results for their brands.”

Established in 1956, the Adrian Awards recognize marketing achievements in hospitality across multiple segments of the industry. Award winners are selected by senior industry and media experts from nearly 1,200 entries, for entry divisions: advertising, digital marketing, public relations, and integrated marketing. Gold Award winners across these categories were recognized during the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception, which was co-sponsored by HSMAI, Google, and TravelClick. Platinum winners were selected from outstanding Gold Award winners.

Best of Show Awards, the pinnacle of the evening, were presented to Platinum Award winners from three divisions—digital marketing, public relations, and advertising:

Digital Marketing “Best of Show” – AccorHotels: Seeker Campaign

Public Relations “Best of Show” – Westin Hotels & Resorts and its agency, MFA, a Finn Partners Company: Westin Launches CSR Program to Upcycle Hotel Bed Linens, Transforming Them into Children’s Pajamas

(Tie) Advertising “Best of Show” Marriott International and its agency, mcgarrybowen: Golden Rule Campaign (Courtyard, Fairfield, Four Points & SpringHill Suites)

(Tie) Advertising “Best of Show” – Explore St. Louis: Sterling K. Brown Advertising Series

(Tie) Advertising “Best of Show” – Marriott International: Marriott Hotels and HK7s Innovation in Advertising Campaign

Digital Marketing Platinum Winners: 
Company; Agency

AccorHotels for the Seeker Campaign, Le Club AccorHotels (“Discover Where Your Heart Wants to Go Next,” using biometrics; the campaign generated 100 million media impressions and 125:1 ROI)

Bermuda Tourism Authority; Miles for Bermuda Google Streetview (generated 3.5 million street views; expanded street view coverage of the island four times)

Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Ideas Collide for Best Western’s YouTube Director Mix Campaign (No need to throw a Hail Mary, plan your summer trip today! Two-step your way out of town for a trip; the campaign generated 29 million impressions)

Curio Collection by Hilton; I.D.E.A. for “The Curiosity Gene Campaign” (Do you have the curiosity gene? It received 6.9 million impressions, 1 million engagements, 320% increase in Instagram engagements)

Margaritaville Resort Orlando; Concept Farm for The Integrated Consumer Digital Campaign (generated 12,000 ownership leads, 225 closed contracts, 20,000 rental leads).

Marriott Rewards for Dynamic Ads for Moments (“Blast off at Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL)

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism; Target for “The IcebergFinder.com Campaign” (The campaign drew 33K Facebook engagements, 466K website interactions, 5K referrals)

VISIT PHILADELPHIA and the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority for Retargeting Marketing (generated 1,265 overnight hotel stays)

Public Relations Platinum Winners:
Company; Agency

Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons Hotel; C&R, for “Urban Glamping at the Beverly Wilshire” story

Brand USA for “Travel Transcends Politics” to reset the narrative around travel to USA from abroad: (“Brand USA Faces Extinction Under Trump’s Proposed Budget; The USA Would Never Be the Same” “the Trump Slump: German tourists avoid US as travel destination”) “Welcome to the USA” generated 2 billion media impressions; $276 million in earned media

Major Food Group; NJF, an MMGY Global Company, for CBS This Morning segment

Marriott International for “Splash of Brilliance”

Marriott International for “W Hotels’ Experience At Coachella” (Marriott X Coachella: Elevating the Festival Experience)

Murphy Arts District; NJF, an MMGY Global Company for a campaign to create a new destination, “El Dorado, Arkansas, the Comeback Kid of the South, Murphy Arts District”

The Plaza, a Fairmont Managed Hotel, for “Home Alone 2: 25th Anniversary”

Royal Caribbean International; Weber Shandwick for “A Perfect Night to Introduce a Perfect Day”

Westin Hotels & Resorts; MFA, a Finn Partners Company for “Westin Launches CSR Program to Upcycle Hotel Bed Linens, Transforming Them into Children’s Pajamas” (223 million media impressions)

Advertising Platinum Winners: 
Company; Agency 

Rob Torres, Managing Director, Travel, Google, and Michelle Woodley, President Preferred Hotels and Resorts, present an unprecedented three-way tie for “Best of Show” for Advertising.
© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Aruba Tourism Authority; Concept Farm for “The Authentic Aruba Local Stories Campaign” (which resulted in 13% increase in US visits, 10 M social media impressions, 1M video views)

Explore St. Louis for “The Sterling K. Brown Advertising Series” (which generated 200K visits, 4.5 million impressions, 140K Youtube views)

Hilton Garden Inn; GSD&M for “Simply on Another Level Video” (which generated 30% increase in campaign recognition, and 3.85 billion media impressions).

Marriott International; mcgarrybowen for “The Golden Rule Campaign

Marriott International for Marriott Hotels and HK7’s Innovation in Advertising (1.4 million views on facebook, )

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts for “Reconnected: A Wyndham Grand Family Experience” (which generated 2.9 million social media impressions, and reached 1.8 billion viewers)

Integrated Marketing Campaign Platinum Winner:
Company; Agency

Tourism Australia for its Dundee Tourism Campaign for Australia, “There’s Nothing Like Australia” (14,000 PR mentions, 102 million video views, 305,000 campaign leads; 50% lift in destination desirability)

Gold Award winners’ submissions – selected from close to 1,200 entries – were showcased on digital displays at the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception and featured during the Gala stage presentations. The largest group of winners in the Award’s history, they included 104 awards in Public Relations, 25 in Integrated Marketing, 89 in Digital Marketing and 48 in Advertising. They were selected by some 200 judges who are prominent members of the travel industry and subject-matter experts in advertising, digital marketing, media, and public relations.( View the complete list of Gold Award winners on the Adrian Awards website).

“The Adrian Awards winners raise the bar for the travel industry as a whole to be a place of creativity and innovation,” said Fran Brasseux, HSMAI Executive Vice President.  “The Adrian Awards are a rare opportunity to recognize the exceptional work being done in travel marketing. But just as importantly, we are also putting a well-deserved spotlight on the exceptional people behind that outstanding work.”

HSMAI Top 25 Extraordinary Minds

Selected by a panel of senior industry executives, The HSMAI Top 25: Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, Revenue Optimization for 2018 were honored by HSMAI in a reception and also recognized on stage during the Gala.

Jennifer Andre, Senior Director, North America and Latin America, Expedia Group Media Solutions

Dustin Bomar, Head of Industry – Travel, Google

Ronald Castro, Chief Strategist, Roca Marketing

Christopher Crenshaw, CRME, Vice President, Digital Data Solutions, STR

Fred Dixon, President & CEO, NYC & Company

David Downing, President & CEO, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Erica Doyne, Vice President, Marketing, AMResorts

Gino Engels, Co-Founder & Chief Commercial Officer, OTA Insight

George Galinsky, Senior Vice President Marketing Communications, Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment

Darren Green, Senior Vice President, Sales, Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board

Chad Hallert, CRME, CHDM, Vice President of Performance Marketing, Noble Studios

Allison Handy, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Prism Hotels & Resorts

Adam Hayashi, CRME, Vice President of Revenue Management, AccorHotels

Carolyn Hosna, CHDM, Senior Director, Corporate Marketing, White Lodging

Jay Hubbs, CHDM, Senior Vice President of E-Commerce and Digital Marketing, Remington Hotels

Jodi Kern, Senior Director, Digital Merchandising, Marriott International

Gil Langley, President & CEO, Amelia Island CVB

Dave Lorenz, Vice President, Travel Michigan, Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Sarah Murov, Vice President, Public Relations & Communications, Loews Hotels & Co

Leticia Proctor, Senior Vice President, Sales, Revenue Management and Digital Strategies, PM Hotel Group

Julie Scott, President, Colwen Hotels

Jim Struna, CRME, Regional Director of Revenue, Rosewood Hotel Group

Matt Teixeira, CHBA, Director of Sales, Best Western Hotels and Resorts

Theresa van Greunen, Senior Director Corporate Communications, Aqua-Aston Hospitality

Cherilyn Williams, Director, Global Portfolio Marketing, Marriott International

Lifetime Achievement Awards

Additionally, the distinguished careers of three industry leaders were celebrated with HSMAI Lifetime Achievement awards.

Steve Bartolin, Chairman of The Broadmoor, was honored with the 2018 Winthrop W. Grice Award for Public Relations.

Stephen Powell, most recently SVP Worldwide Sales for IHG prior to retirement, was the recipient of the inaugural HSMAI Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Sales.

Harris Rosen, President and CEO, Rosen Hotels & Resorts, was celebrated with the Albert E. Koehl Award for Hospitality Marketing. 

For more information about the Adrian Awards, visit www.adrianawards.com.

Founded in 1927, HSMAI is a membership organization comprising more than 5,000 members worldwide, with 40 chapters in the Americas Region. Connect with HSMAI at https://www.hsmai.orgwww.facebook.com/hsmaiwww.twitter.com/hsmai, and www.youtube.com/hsmai1.

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© 2019 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

Favorite Places to Travel to Spend the Christmas Holidays

An urban resort stay:Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide kept frozen at 9 degrees © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have so many fond memories of Christmases past, spent in charming, festive places that capture the magic and spirit of the season, and most importantly, bring our family together with experiences we share.

My criteria for great destination places to spend the winter holidays starts with charm, offers plenty to do indoors as well as outdoors that interests everyone in the family, is walkable to get around or at least offers great public transportation, perhaps even a cutesy trolley or something that is fun. Has great decorations, has a festive feel, and most important, doesn’t shut down and close up for the holidays. 

Christmas in the Capital

Washington DC certainly fits this bill – you can spend all your time just on the National Mall, visiting iconic museums like the National Air & Space Museum (a major favorite for families, great café also)), the relatively new Museum of the American Indian, the even newer Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, National Archives, and just across the avenue is the gorgeous National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden ice skating rink and charming café (also skating at The Wharf, Georgetown, and Capitol Riverfront). Go further afield to the Spy Museum and if the weather permits, the National Zoo (easy access by Metro).

Ice skating on the Sculpture Garden rink across from the National Archives. Washington DC is one of the best destinations for family travel over the Christmas holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Best way to take in the Capital city’s holiday lights is with these free offerings: Tour America’s historic train stations in miniature at Seasons Greenings: All Aboard! at the U.S. Botanic Gardens (thru Jan. 2); Smithsonian National Zoo dazzles with more than 500,000 LED lights, snowless tubing and more at ZooLights, 5-9 pm thru Jan.1, (closed Dec. 24, 25, 31); take in National Christmas tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse is attended by 56 decorated state and territory trees and Santa’s Workshop and enjoy nightly musical performances thru Dec. 31.

Also memorable: George Washington’s Mount Vernon celebrates the season with Colonial dancing, chocolate-making and caroling, Nov. 23-Dec. 31; candlelit tours run Nov. 23, 24, 30; Dec. 1, 7, 8, 16.There are Holiday in the Park thrills at Six Flags America with lights, rides and s’mores: Nov. 23-25, Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 21-23, 26-31. Among the holiday performances underway: National Symphony Orchestra’s Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 20-23); at Warner Theatre, the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker recasts the classic in the Lincoln White House (Nov. 29-Dec. 28); and Richly Dressed, A Christmas Carol (Nov. 15-Dec. 30) at Ford’s Theatre.

Find inspiration for memorable getaways on Destination DC’s holiday landing page on washington.org, and its Instagram and Facebook channels, including festive hotel packages, menus, holiday lights, ice skating rinks, gift markets, can’t-miss exhibitions and events across the city’s welcoming neighborhoods. Help with planning is available from a DC travel expert weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm, 800-422-8644.

To really get into the spirit, stay at the elegant and historic Willard InterContinental  (it’s a stone’s throw from the White House and was where Abraham Lincoln stayed before his inauguration) which transforms into a holiday-inspired wonderland, a beloved tradition that both locals and visitors have come to anticipate each year, with its display of yuletide trimmings, musical fanfare and epicurean delights thru January 1. The centerpiece is the treasured Christmas tree, boasting decades of sentiment on each carefully curated branch. The Willard is the only hotel in Washington  to feature the White House Ornament Collection, an initiative founded by the White House Historical Association in 1981: each ornament honors a different U.S. President or special White House event. This year honors Harry S. Truman, 33rd president, and the three significant changes made during his administration – one to the Presidential Seal and two to the White House itself. Another iconic facet of the hotel’s décor is their picturesque gingerbread display in the lobby that pays tribute to an iconic landmark in and around D.C.  This year’s display pays homage to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and with a magnificent replica that will include all terminals, lighted runways, a control tower and even parts of the Washington Metro.  

Turn your visit into a complete resort stay at the Gaylord National Resort which has its Christmas on the Potomac festival that is not to be missed (whether or not you stay), that includes ICE! where you walk through a winter wonderland carved from over 2 million pounds of ice, this year telling the holiday tale of A Charlie Brown Christmas www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com. (https://www.marriott.com/gaylord-hotels/gaylord-national-harbor-christmas-on-the-potomac.mi)

Christmas in Newport

Newport, Rhode Island is always enchanting, but never more so than at the winter holidays, when, it seems, the entire town is one big festival. There’s a palpable elation throughout the City-by-the Sea during Christmas in Newport, a month-long celebration toasting simple traditions of the holiday season. For nearly 50 years, this event has made for an extraordinary holiday respite in a quaint New England coastal town. White lights illuminate homes, shops, restaurants and the bustling wharves in a ritual meant to represent candlelight from days gone by, when families would wait for their loved ones to return home from their seafaring adventures. Holiday events are tailored to entertain every age, including tree lightings, Polar Express train rides, historical tours, shopping strolls, concerts and dances like the Newport Nutcracker, Island Moving Company’s rendition of the classic holiday ballet, Victorian-era Christmas festivities, culinary fêtes, arts and cultural celebrations and more. (Where else but Newport can you gaze at a 16-foot working gingerbread lighthouse?) (See discovernewport.org, 800-326-6030, for trip planning help.)

The Great Hall of The Breakers, decked out for the holidays, part of Christmas at the Newport Mansions and festivities that take over the City-by-the-Sea, Newport, RI.

Christmas at the Newport Mansions returns to The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House with newly imagined holiday decor thru Jan. 1. The three houses offer a total of 25 large decorated Christmas trees, plus additional smaller potted trees and topiaries. Windows in each mansion are lit with individual white candles. New this year, professional event designers will create contemporary holiday tablescapes in the dining rooms at Marble House and The Elms, and in the Breakfast Room of The Breakers, to provide inspiration and ideas to visitors for ways they can decorate their own holiday tables.

Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions recreate the ambiance of an evening soirée during the Gilded Age: at The Breakers are Saturdays, December 1, 8, 22 and 29, 6-8 p.m; On December 15, guests can visit both The Elms and Marble House for the price of one, 6-9 p.m. ($35 in advance, $45 day-of the event. Children 6-17 are admitted for $10 in advance, $15 day-of. Children under the age of 6 free. More information and tickets are available online or call (401) 847-1000.

The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House open daily for tours, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, through Jan. 1. Rosecliff will also be open in December, with a new exhibition, Bill Cunningham: Facades, featuring photographs by the late New York Times photographer. A Winter Passport ticket providing daytime admission to up to 4 houses can be purchased for $30 for adults, $10 for children 6-17. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free. Individual house tickets are also available. Tickets can be purchased online or at each property. (Program information at newportmansions.org.)

A chanteuse entertains at The Vanderbilt, a Grace hotel, that was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are any number of marvelous hotels and inns to accommodate. We loved our holiday stay at The Vanderbilt, a historic boutique hotel a short walk (and what a rooftop view) to Newport’s delightful waterfront, which makes you feel like a Vanderbilt. In fact, it was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania. The 1909 mansion has been restored to its former glory and is one of the few private homes of the era to operate for guests as a fully functioning luxury hotel in Rhode Island. The Vanderbilt offers 33 rooms and luxury suites, a lavish spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and a signature restaurant, The Vanderbilt Grill. A Grace Hotel, it is now part of the Auberge Resort Collection (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt/).

More Favorite Places for the Winter Holidays 

Manchester, Vermont, a delightful New England village, hosts six weeks of holiday merriment, across the Manchester and the Mountains Region (a whole village of outlet shops, too!). There are tours of decorated inns, pub crawls with local restaurants offering special pairings, a Lighted Tractor Parade, and the Elf Express Train ride. A highlight of any visit to Manchester is a tour Hildene, Robert Todd Lincoln’s estate, festooned in Victorian finery, just as it might have been when they stayed for the holidays so many years ago. Take the self-guided tour; throughout December, talented musicians play Mary Lincoln’s Steinway and the vintage Aeolian organ (www.hildene.org). (Trip planning help at visitmanchestervt.com/merriment).

One of our favorite places to stay for the holidays in Manchester is the historic Equinox, where Mary Todd Lincoln would spend summers. The Equinox has since become a four-season luxury resort with every imaginable amenity including world-class spa, indoor pool, Orvis fly fishing school, a falconry school, Range Rover driving school. Besides outlet shopping and historic sites such as  Hildene, the Equinox is also a short drive to superb downhill skiing at Stratton, Bromley and Magic Mountain (www.equinoxresort.com, 800-362-4747).

Woodstock, Vermont is the quintessential New England village, oozing charm and its centerpiece is the historic Woodstock Inn. An AAA Four Diamond resort, it is decked out in holiday finery and activities galore (Tubbs Snowshoe Adventure Center, cross-country skiing, luxurious spa and indoor recreation center with tennis, visits to the fascinating Billings Farm & Museum, downhill skiing at the resort’s own Suicide Six ski hill, with Killington just 25 minutes away and Okemo 40 minutes away. Founded by the Rockefellers, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is owned and operated by The Woodstock Foundation, Inc.  Proceeds from Resort operations support The Woodstock Foundation and Billings Farm & Museum education and conservation programs. Find vacation packages and specials at www.woodstockinn.com.

Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my most memorable Christmases was spent in Wilmington, Delaware, the hub for nearby historic Newcastle and the whole Brandywine Valley Region. There are scores of holiday attractions and activities –Longworth Gardens, famous for its holiday decorations and enchanting Dancing Fountains (open even on Christmas Day), “Yuletide at Winterthur” Museum, Gardens and Library with its sensational holiday performances; the fascinating Hagley Museum and DuPont Mansion; the Brandywine River Museum of Art with its unparalleled collection of  Wyeth family art and nearby historic towns of Old New Castle and Odessa (http://thebrandywine.com/attractions/index.html). See schedule at https://www.visitwilmingtonde.com/events/holiday/

Staying at the historic Hotel DuPont, makes it all the more special; that Christmas Eve we walked across the street to participate in the evening church services. (www.hoteldupont.com)

Christmas in Victorian Cape May, NJ

Victorian Cape May at Christmas offers six weeks of festive tours and events sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) through Jan. 1.Take a guided, daytime, living history tour of the magnificent 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours, presented from the viewpoint of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) through Jan. 1,; hours vary. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. There are historic district trolley tours (many themed, like Ghosts of Christmas Past), house tours, Lamplighter Christmas Tours which are self-guided evening tours of Cape May’s inns and private homes, specially decorated for the holidays. Here, the perfect place to stay is in one of the historic inns (www.capemay.com/stay). For more information. Contact Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

Go back even further in time at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, a living-history museum, fill out the visit with Busch Gardens Williamsburg and other attractions including the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, where you will experience  Christmastide in Virginia. (Dec. 20-31), offering a glimpse of 17th and 18th century holiday traditions including daily appearances by the Lord of Misrule at Jamestown Settlement and period musical entertainment at both museums. At Busch Gardens, enjoy Christmas Town (select dates through January 5) offers one of the largest light displays in North America with more than 10 million lights. New this year, Busch Gardens Railway turns into the Christmas Town Express, with caroling, 2 million lights, holiday-themed vignets along the 1.5 mile route around the theme park; plus 25 rides are open including InvadR and Verbolten roller coasters. (Planning help at www.visitwilliamsburg.com). Complete the magical experience with a stay at the grand, historic Williamsburg Inn, a full-service luxury (five Diamond) resort (www.colonialwilliamsburghotels.com).

Christmas at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

St Petersburg, Florida affords the unparalleled opportunity to combine arts, culture, heritage with a glamorous, historic and grand beach resort, the DonCesar Resort, known as “the Pink Lady” (www.doncesar.com). St. Petersburg/Clearwater offers  scores of special activities – lighted boat parades that take place at various times in small villages; outdoor carolers at the holiday market. The very special Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of the Dolphin’s Tale stories) transforms into Winter’s Wonderland through Jan. 6; watch special Santa dive presentations at Mavis’s Rescue Hideaway (CMA holiday fun). The annual Holiday Lights in the Gardens has a million LED lights shining throughout the Botanical Gardens (from 5:30 p.m.; $5 suggested donation) through Dec. 30.Head to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens for some great thrill rides and to see the park transform into a holiday wonderland of Christmastime entertainment, holiday shopping and a million twinkling lights!  (through Dec. 31). (www.visitstpeteclearwater.com)

Trade pine trees for palm trees for the winter holidays at Loews Don CeSar (the “Pink Lady”), on St. Pete Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

San Francisco has so many amazing attractions and charms (I can’t get enough of the trolley cars or the trolley museum), but really gets decked out for the holidays when the entire city becomes a Gallery of Light Art.  Now in its sixth year, “Illuminate SF Festival of Light” celebrates 37 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations located throughout San Francisco. Located in 17 different neighborhoods, the works, by 30 local and world-renowned light artists, are accessible by public transport and many are free for all to view, thru New Year’s Day. The works come to life at dusk throughout the city with a luminescence that will turn any evening into an illuminating adventure, especially when combined with exploring San Francisco’s world-class museums performing arts and restaurants. The light art can be found in neighborhoods in the Embarcadero along the waterfront, in North Beach, Civic Center, Central Market, the Inner Sunset, South of Market (SoMa), Potrero, Mission Bay, Bayview, Golden Gate Park, Hayes Valley, South Beach, the Castro, the Mission District and even flying in or out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). (The San Francisco Travel Association offers a guide to all of the installations and artists at www.illuminatesf.com; plan your visit at www.sftravel.com.)

One of the light art installations that decorate San Francisco for the holidays, “Photosynthesis Love for all Seasons” by Ralsy Sabater.

Combine city and country with a stay at The Tenaya Lodge at the doorstep to Yosemite National Park.  Families are delighted by the festive décor and special holiday activities, including gingerbread house and ornament decoraiting workshops, live lobby music, a  Christmas Eve reading with Mrs. Claus, and Dinner with Santa. The resort has its own ice skating rink, sleds, horse-drawn sleigh rides, showshoes.  And this holiday season, the resort is helping California wildfire victims by donating $25 toward  CalFund’s Wildfire Relief Fund on stays booked with this offer where you also save 15% on holiday stays, Dec. 21 to Jan. 6, two-night minimum stay, promo: HOLIDAYS (www.tenayalodge.com).

Chattanooga, Tennessee offers a surprising array of extraordinary experiences: walk through a secret underground ice cave  and see Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, explore a nocturnal fantasyland with more than one million twinkling lights high atop Lookout Mountain; hop on board a train for a North Pole adventure; sing Christmas carols and dance with Santa on a river cruise; meet coral reef Santa divers; build creative gingerbread houses; watch animals open their own Christmas presents when you visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium. Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter. 

Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the legendary railroad station, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access), and the station serves as the hotel lobby (you can also tour some of the historic trains and meet the engineer). A free electric shuttle from the bus terminal next door takes you downtown.  I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and interesting stay. (Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529, www.choochoo.com.)

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© 2018 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

HSMAI’s 61st Annual Adrian Awards Honor Luminaries in Travel Marketing

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

They are the CLIO awards of the hospitality, travel and tourism industry – a gigantic segment of the US economy and culture which people don’t readily recognize as being so integral to everyday life, so fundamental to local economies and communities. But these are the advertising, public relations and digital marketing campaigns that excite, engage, inform and ultimately spur millions of us to venture out and experience new places, people and activities. Travel bolster local, state and national economies, creates an economic underpinning that sustains heritage, culture and the environment, while travelers are themselves enriched, often with life-enhancing, life-changing experiences; they become ambassadors, opening lines of communication and understanding between people that break down the barriers that promote conflict. And going back to the age of Marco Polo, travelers help the free exchange and spread of ideas and innovations.

The Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) hosted its 61st annual Adrian Awards Dinner Reception and Gala at the New York Marriott Marquis, celebrating innovators in hospitality advertising, digital marketing, and public relations before more than 800 industry professionals. A highlight was a look back at the organization’s 90 year-history in promoting standards for hospitality and innovations in marketing campaigns that inspire travel.

“HSMAI applauds this evening’s winners for their ingenuity and hard work,” said Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHA, president and CEO of HSMAI. He added, “Adrian Awards winners spark innovation throughout the entire hospitality industry.”

HSMAI Adrian Platinum Award winners for Public Relations © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Established in 1956, the Adrian Awards recognize marketing achievements in hospitality across multiple segments of the industry. Award winners are selected from more than 1,200 entries by senior industry and media experts, for four main entry divisions: advertising, digital marketing, public relations, and—newly added—integrated marketing. Gold Award winners across these categories were recognized during the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception, which was co-sponsored by HSMAI, Google, and TravelClick. Platinum winners were selected from exceptional Gold Award winners.

Rob Torres, Managing Director-Travle for google and Marina MacDonald, Chief Marketing Officer, Red Roof Inn, presenters at the 61st Annual HSMAI Adrian Awards © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The judges speak of authenticity, engagement, blurring of lines among media, emotionality, innovation and creativity, visual beauty, quality of content, storytelling, and most significantly measureable results in distinguishing the winners.

The stakes are huge: these advertising, marketing and public relations campaigns are a key part of the travel and tourism industry that generates $2.3 trillion in economic output (2.7% of the nation’s GDP) from domestic and international visitors. Travel expenditures support 15.3 million American jobs (8 million directly); account for $221.7 billion in wages, and generate $141.5 billion in tax revenues to federal, state and local governments, levels that increased significantly over the past decade, and have been a significant factor lifting  the nation out of the Great Recession to “full” employment. International visitors to the United States in 2016 generated $212.3 billion, 9.5% of exports, but were forecast to fall by  0.6% in 2017, largely due to the political climate, travel ban, and concern over gun violence (which has accounted for several countries posting travel warnings). These are the kind of issues that the travel marketers address.

Travel and tourism is vital globally: Travel & Tourism generated $7.6 trillion (10.2% of global GDP) and 292 million jobs in 2016, equivalent to 1 in 10 jobs in the global economy. The sector accounted for 6.6% of total global exports and almost 30% of total global service exports. Travel and tourism doesn’t just improve lives, but is critical to livelihoods.

The United Nations has designated 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. “As one of the world’s largest economic sectors, Travel & Tourism creates jobs, drives exports, and generates prosperity across the world. The International Year provides an enormous opportunity to further showcase the tremendous economic, social, cultural, environmental, and heritage value that the sector can bring.”

The winner of the eighth annual Leader in Sustainable Tourism Award, presented by HSMAI and National Geographic Traveler, was Terranea Resort.

Terranea Resort won the 8th annual Leader in Sustainable Tourism Award presented by HSMAI and National Geographic Traveler © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are the award winners:

Best of Show Awards, the pinnacle of the evening, were presented to Platinum Award winners from three divisions—advertising, digital marketing, and public relations—as follows:

(Tie) Advertising “Best of Show” – Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism and its agency, Target: “Off the Beaten Path” Geo-Targeted Campaign

(Tie) Advertising “Best of Show” – Marriott International and its agency, GREY New York: “You Are Here” Campaign

Marriott International and its agency, GREY New York wins Best of Show in Advertising for “You Are Here” Campaign © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Digital Marketing “Best of Show” – Amelia Island and its agency, Paradise Advertising and Marketing: “Destination Dysfunction” Video

Amelia Island and its agency, Paradise Advertising and Marketing won Digital Marketing Best of Show for “Destination Dysfunction” Video © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Public Relations “Best of Show” – Mexico City Tourism Board and its agency, Weber Shandwick: “From Humble to Haute: Changing Perceptions of Mexico City”

Mexico City Tourism Board and its agency, Weber Shandwick wins Best of Show for Public Relations for “From Humble to Haute: Changing Perceptions of Mexico City” © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Platinum Award winners in the advertising, digital marketing, public relations, and integrated marketing divisions are:

Advertising Platinum Winners:

Company; Agency

Space Florida; Paradise Advertising and Marketing

VisitBritain; Expedia Media Solutions

Maine Office of Tourism; BVK

                                                                                                                          NewFoundland and Labrador Tourism; TargetMarriott International; GREY New York


Digital Marketing Platinum Winners:

Company; Agency

Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown; Connelly Partners

Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Ideas Collide

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism; Target

Amelia Island; Paradise Advertising and Marketing

Orlando Magic; Net Conversion

Aruba Tourism Authority; Concept Farm


Public Relations Platinum Winners

Company; Agency

Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau; Finn Partners

Singita; Imagine Communications

Singita and agency Imagine Communications, a Platinum winner for Public Relations © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hilton

Hilton, a Platinum winner for Public Relations © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Marriott Hotels; Catalyst PR

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Finger Lakes Tourism Promotion Agency; Quinn

Finger Lakes Tourism Promotion Agency and its agency Quinn, won Platinum for Public Relations © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xanterra Parks & Resorts/Grand Canyon National Park Lodges; Percepture

Mexico City Tourism Board; Weber Shandwick

Mexico City Tourism Board and its agency Weber Shandwick won Platinum and Best of Show for Public Relations © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visit Salt Lake


Integrated Marketing Platinum Winner

Company; Agency

Hilton Hotels + Resorts

Gold Award winners’ submissions were showcased on digital displays at the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception and featured during the Gala stage presentations. “Right in line with this year’s theme, ‘be a travel marketing superhero,’ the Adrian Award-winning campaigns demonstrated boldness, resolve, and charisma,” said Fran Brasseux, HSMAI Executive Vice President.

Selected by a panel of senior industry executives, The HSMAI Top 25: Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, Revenue Optimization for 2017 were honored by HSMAI in a reception co-hosted by Questex Hospitality + Travel and also recognized on stage during the Gala.

The HSMAI Top 25: Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, Revenue Optimization for 2017 © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Additionally, the distinguished careers of two industry leaders were celebrated with HSMAI Lifetime Achievement awards. Edwin “Ed” Fuller, president, Laguna Strategic Advisors, was honored with the 2017 Albert E. Koehl Award and Terence “Terry” Gallagher, president, Lou Hammond Group, New York, was honored with the 2017 Winthrop W. Grice Award for Public Relations.

 

“I’d like to thank HSMAI for giving me an honor that I wouldn’t have imagined possible more than 30 years ago when I began my own professional career,” said Gallagher, at the awards ceremony. “I’ve been blessed to be in what I feel is the greatest industry and it’s because of some wonderful people who taught me so much along the way.”

Terence “Terry” Gallagher, president, Lou Hammond Group, New York, was presented with the 2017 Winthrop W. Grice Award for Public Relations Lifetime Achievement by last year’s honoree, Melanie Brandman, founder & CEO of The Brandman Agency © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

After expressing gratitude for his award, Koehl Award recipient Ed Fuller shared some advice to his industry colleagues in attendance, “Remember to work on developing your people and investing in the people you are growing.”

Edwin “Ed” Fuller, president, Laguna Strategic Advisors, was honored with the 2017 Albert E. Koehl Award for Lifetime Achievement by last year’s honoree, Randy Smith, chairman and co-founder of STR © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Pioneer in Visual Storytelling Award, presented by HSMAI and Libris by PhotoShelter, went to Aruba Tourism Authority and its agency, Concept Farm.

The Pioneer in Visual Storytelling Award, presented by HSMAI and Libris by PhotoShelter, went to Aruba Tourism Authority and its agency, Concept Farm © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Selected as one of the Top 100 Events in New York by BizBash, this year’s superhero-themed Adrian Awards incorporated eye-catching, comic book-inspired imagery and numerous other superhero references, which set an upbeat, playful tone for the evening.

For more information about the Adrian Awards visit www.adrianawards.com.

The Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) is committed to growing business for hotels and their partners, and is the industry’s leading advocate for intelligent, sustainable hotel revenue growth. The association provides hotel professionals and their partners with tools, insights, and expertise to fuel sales, inspire marketing, and optimize revenue through programs such as HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy ConferenceAdrian Awards, and Revenue Optimization Conference. Founded in 1927 and celebrating 90 years in 2017, HSMAI is a membership organization comprising more than 5,000 members worldwide, with 40 chapters in the Americas Region.

Connect with HSMAI at www.hsmai.org,www.facebook.com/hsmaiwww.twitter.com/hsmai and www.youtube.com/hsmai1.

 

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© 2018 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

 

 

Mountain Top Inn & Resort: The Perfect Vermont 4-Season Family Retreat

A horse-drawn sleigh ride, a signature experience at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort, Chittenden, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

There are subtle things. Little surprises. Like shortly after our arrival at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort, I peek outside to see the horse-drawn sleigh gliding across the field. It is a signature experience at the inn, a class Vermont scene, but when you see it, you are overwhelmed.

It’s a place that organically brings people together. The low ceilings, the cozy sitting areas (I estimate probably one for each family grouping can be found), fire places, the fire pit with a supply of s’mores.

Even getting there along the narrow winding Vermont country roads to Chittenden, brings you through a Currier & Ives landscape.

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, Chittenden, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mountain Top Inn & Resort has all the charm, the warmth, the cozy, intimate hospitality of a country inn, and all the luxury, amenities, activities and quality dining of a resort. It is both small and big in the ways you want.

It’s the sort of place that you instantly feel at home, exquisitely at peace. You don’t want to leave. Even the memory of having been there, fills you with longing to return.

The setting is breathtaking – 350 acres surrounded by open fields, a 740-acre lake and mountains beyond, and the Green Mountain National Forest. Indeed, Mountain Top’s name comes from the fact that at nearly 1,800 ft in altitude, the inn may well be the highest non-alpine resort in Vermont.

It is no wonder Mountain Top is so popular for weddings (elopements too!) – it exudes romance (two weddings were scheduled during the holidays). But any family gathering is special here.

I take note of the many, many cozy sitting areas – almost as many as there might have been families staying. The low ceilings and soft lighting, the fire in the fireplace, much more of a living room than a lobby, more of a den than a lounge.

Sit in front of the fireplace in the lobby at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are here at the holidays and the inn has decorated Christmas trees and lights, fires going in the fireplaces; there is hot coffee, tea and hot chocolate set up in the afternoon.

Mountain Top Inn offers 32 rooms in the main lodge (classic, luxury and luxury suite), four king-bedroom cabins and more than 20 guest houses, each individually decorated, affording stunning views of the Vermont Countryside.

Our Lago Vista Suite is breathtaking – a kind of Colonial Spanish feel with a gas-operated double-sided fireplace separating the sleeping area from a living room area with plush easy chairs, a flat-screen TV, kitchenette. A stunning bathroom done with decorative terra cotta tile. All incredibly warm, like a big blanket enveloping you. And the view! Windows all across the wall out to the open field and the reservoir and mountains beyond. The bedding is so plush, it is a struggle to get out of bed in the morning.

The views from the Main Lodge rooms and suites at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other suites are notable: The High Meadow Suite, popular as a bridal suite, has 8 windows with views to the lake and mountains, a luxurious bathroom, double-sided fireplace visible from the living room and bedroom, a large kitchenette.

Of these, Ike’s View, on the southern corner of the second floor, is particularly noteworthy.  Rich in history, it is named for President Dwight Eisenhower who stayed at the inn during a fly fishing expedition in 1955. Ike’s View can be combined with the adjoining suite, Mamie’s Retreat, to create an expansive two-bedroom/two bath wing with living room, kitchenette and fireplace. Presidential, indeed.

During the holidays, the guests are provided their own s’mores kit (and each evening, a tray of s’mores fixings are left by the fire pit).

The resort also features four newly built luxuriously appointed cabins, which are open-plan, king accommodation living space -inviting and cozy,  a perfect mountain retreat for two. Each with its own unique design, and within easy access to all resort amenities. The cabins are located across a quiet country road from the Main Lodge and adjacent Event Barn.

Accommodations also include hearty Vermont buffet breakfast – complete with eggs, bacon, sausage, yogurts and cereals, breads and pastries, fresh juices and coffee.

The Main Lodge rooms and suites are not pet-friendly, but some of the inn’s luxury cabins and guest houses are (and some of the snowshoeing trails also are pet-friendly).

Dining Inn

The inn on this winter day we arrive after a five-hour drive is fairly isolated and we are content to enjoy dinner in its traditional mountain lodge atmosphere. We opt to dine in the nicely appointed Tavern at a table right in front of the fireplace (there is also a dining room, and you can order from either menu).  In warmer seasons, you can also dine on the outdoor terrace. In or out, you still have gorgeous views of the mountains, lake and meadow.

The Tavern at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The menu and preparations are superb – artfully crafted selections featuring locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. The tavern has an extensive selection of locally crafted Vermont brews on tap. (Reservations are recommended, especially during the holidays, 802-483-2311).

The inn also can prepare picnic lunches – which would be really a good idea for a day cross-country skiing or snowshoeing or hiking.

The Baked Brie, featuring  12 Blythedale Farms Brie in a puff pastry, orange marmalade, blackberry jam, and grilled baguette, was out of this world.

The truffle fries, prepared with Parmesan cheese and truffle aioli was superb.

The Grilled Caesar was prepared with grilled Romaine hearts, capers, croutons, Parmigiano-Reggiano, roasted garlic and house-made Caesar dressing.

The French Onion soup, with Spanish onion, red onion shallots, croutons and baked Swiss cheese, was perfect.

We also enjoyed perfectly prepared burger and short ribs.

The restaurant did a fantastic job of accommodating our gluten free requests and promptly provided delicious gluten free rolls for both dinner and breakfast. The restaurant will also accommodate special dietary needs, including vegetarian, with advance notice.

The dining room serves breakfast and dinner; a children’s menu is available.

During the holidays, there is live music playing.

Staying in one of the guest houses? Special arrangements can be made for one of the chefs to prepare a private dinner in the home. (Advance notice required, pricing based on items chosen.)

So Much to Do!

Inn guests have access to daily afternoon refreshments in the Main Lodge lobby, use of the hot tub, sauna and fitness room, free WiFi, as well as access to seasonal activities. In winter, these include a access to the inn’s 60 km cross-country ski trail network (rentals, lessons available), snowshoe trails, ice skating rink (a small, cleared area on the meadow that is flooded; skate rentals available, $10). Warm weather activities include heated outdoor pool, tennis court, lake-front beach where there are kayks, canoes, paddleboards for guests, disc golf.

We get to enjoy the hot tub on evening – you can see the stars from the outdoor hot tub. When the mist would dissipate, it would open up to a view if the sky.  It’s a 15-second walk from the hotel Tavern (wear shoes).  It takes a minute to adjust to the temperature of the hot tub (very hot! then it’s perfect). You can call ahead and request that they fire up the tub for you.

The firepit beckons with s’mores © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

With 350 private acres perched at the top of a quiet mountain road, a 740 acre lake, miles of trails, expansive meadows, the Green Mountain National Forest and a full host of activities, there is no shortage of things to do right at the resort.

Nordic Skiing at Mountain Top has been a favorite past-time since 1964, with 60 km of trails plus the meadows, offering varied terrain and sweeping views.  Through over 50 years of continuous operation, Olympic Athletes, Vermonters and XC Skiers from all over the country have come to Mountain Top. You can get Nordic ski lesson; learn to ski package; rent equipment.  Trails are open 8 am to 4 pm.

Snowshoeing: Whether you’ve been doing it for years, or this is your first try, snowshoeing (one of the easiest new sports to acquire, you just walk) is a wonderful way to explore the woods and meadows and get that cardio going! The team at the Activities Center will provide a trail map and the inn’s chefs can pack you a lunch.  There are pet-friendly trails. There are twilight group snowshoeing tours (lamps provided).

Horse drawn sleigh rides, the quintessential Vermont thing to do, are offered mid-December through March (weather permitting); reservations are required for the 30-minute tours; private rides and packages are available (maximum 9 adults & children per ride; $40 adult/ $20/child call 802-483-6089).  A Sleigh Ride & Dinner Package (includes sleigh ride, 3-course dinner for two & taxes , can be scheduled ( $150, gratuity & alcohol not included).

Snowmobiling: Hit the VAST trails or tour Mountain Top’s property. You can take a guided 30 minute Snowmobile Tour through the meadows and along some of the trails at the Mountain Top Resort, or stop by for a bite to eat (or overnight stay) as you journey along the VAST Trail System –the Inn is  located right on the trail ($60 pp as a driver; $15 as passenger for 30 minutes).

Spa & Salon: Mountain Top’s spa is located on the ground level of The Mountain Top Barn adjacent to the pool and hot tub. With features such as barn board wall paneling, hammered copper pedicure basins, a spacious cedar sauna, custom soapstone sinks, rich leather and wood furniture and views to the mountains and lake –  the spa & salon is a perfect example of ‘rustic luxe’ design in a wholly relaxing space.  The Spa offers several signature treatments; services include a wide variety of massages, scrubs and wraps, facials, manicures, pedicures and professional hair and make-up for wedding parties. The spa & salon operates seasonal hours – please contact us for a current schedule (Available for special events upon request). (For reservations, call 802.483.2311 ext 404 or spa@Mountain Topinn.com).

The fitness center  is equipped with state-of-the-art treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bicycles and a cable weight system and take a dip in the hot tub, or relax in our sauna, after your workout. (Guests under 18 yrs must be accompanied by an adult; open 7:30am – 9pm).

A White Christmas: The Barn was built for events; it can accommodate 250 guests © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Warm weather activities include:

Activities available for guests at no charge include tennis (you can borrow a racket; the court is available on first-come, first-serve basis); Disc Golf on the inn’s newly designed 9-hole disc golf course which takes advantage of the open meadow space, adjacent woods, spectacular views and finishes just a few steps from the Mountain Top Tavern and terrace (discs can be borrowed from the front desk, and discs and greens fees are included in your stay);  heated outdoor swimming pool open (weather permitting) from June into September; the  pool-side hot tub is open year-round; 40 miles of hiking trails; sand volleyball.

Private Beach: Less than ¾ mile walk down a private lane from the main lodge, Mountain Top’s exclusive beach is situated on a quiet cove within a 740 acre lake. Available spring through late fall, you can enjoy boating, swim or simply relax on lounge chairs. Kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are available (no charge for guests; lifejackets provided). A beach towel is available from the front desk. You can arrange to take a picnic lunch. (Available spring through late fall.

Guided hour-long pontoon boat rides touring the entire lake are offered daily (weather permitting, through October; reservations are required).

Also available:

Equestrian Center: Mountain Top Inn is the only Vermont resort, and one of only a handful of properties in New England, to offer a full equestrian program, accommodating neophytes and experienced riders. The Equestrian Center is open May through October.

Mountain Top Inn is one of the few places in Vermont with a full equestrian center © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Children’s Adventure Camp is open July through August 14, for children 6-13 years old; the program is offered 9:30 to 3 pm weekdays (minimum 3 children). (802-483-6089).

Fishing: Go fishing for Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Yellow Perch and Sunfish on the 740 acre lake: you can rent a small fishing boat with electric trolling motor, seating up to four people.

Clay Bird Shooting: Lessons are offered daily by our experienced staff from spring through fall (weather permitting). For safety reasons, we have a maximum allotment of six people per time slot.  The minimum age to participate is 15 years old and reservations are required. ($40 per person for 20 shots with instruction).

Golf:  Mountain Top Inn & Resort, has several challenging yet fun courses near-by (including Rutland Country Club, Green Mountain National Golf Course, Killington Golf Course and Neshobe Golf Club – all of which are accessible to the public).  

Destination Weddings, Elopements, Retreats

For all the reasons – the setting, ambiance, facilities and activities, it is easy to see why Mountain Top is a favorite wedding destination.

Mountain Top Inn can accommodate up to 250 guests in the events Barn and the majority do tend to stay on property –it makes for less travel for guests and everything being pretty much within walking distance and gives family and friends that much more opportunity to be together and share experiences.

Intimate sitting areas abound at the Mountain Top Inn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The inn also has more intimate spaces on property such as the beach pavilion for rehearsal dinners and events of fewer  than 100 guests (where the barn can feel a bit large) and for even more intimate events (an elopement, or corporate dinner) the larger guest houses are ideal.

The houses make for a great option for the weddings because family groups can stay together in one house and have common living space to share amongst themselves.  As well as bridal parties or just groups of friends who want to stay together and not have to head back to separate accommodations at night. They can hang out in their pj’s! (With the spa, the inn is also ideal for bachelorette getaways.)

The popular wedding ceremony site in the spring, summer, fall is the knoll up above the lodge (an amazing view). And in winter it’s the terrace outside the tavern (with a similar, but not as high altitude) view. For both, the ‘weather’ ceremony location is the loft in the barn which has lovely floor to ceiling windows that still provide that view.  In the warmer months, weddings are also held at the houses and on the beach.

A White Christmas at the Mountain Top Inn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Overcome with the romantic ambiance and want to elope?

The Mountain Top Inn & Resort is the ideal setting for an elopement or intimate wedding. The inn has a dedicated staff of wedding coordinators. And because some elopements are planned with limited lead-time, or are truly a surprise, the inn has a special package which includes many of the elements the couple will need, or can be customized.

The Mountain Top Elopement Package includes two nights lodging; three course candlelit dinner for two; full breakfast each morning; scenic pontoon boat ride (summer) or horse-drawn sleigh ride (winter); one hour massage for both; Champagne and Truffles; bouquet and boutonniere; petite wedding cake ($1550 in classic lodge room; $1775 in luxury lodge room; $1975 for a suite; $200 more for peak dates and holidays).

The Inn is also ideal for corporate retreats, functions and events – having a place that brings people together in a close setting, plus has many activities to engage, dining and meeting venues. Mid-week November through April is when availability is the best. Various venues are used for meeting space including the yoga studio, the barn loft, the beach pavilion (in summer), living areas in larger guest houses for smaller meetings. The barn can seat upwards of 250 for larger conferences and functions.

Hometown Connection: A Distinguished History

The Mountain Top Inn has a marvelous history, and as it turns out, a connection to our Long Island home town.

As we were driving up the country lanes that lead to the Mountain Top Inn, I spotted a library named for Frederic Duclos Barstow, and recognized the name from our Great Neck, Long Island community: he was the son of William S. Barstow (1866-1942) and Frangoise Duclos Barslow (1876-1958) – he was the first mayor of Kings Point and his mansion is now the Merchant Marine Museum on the grounds of the US Merchant Marine Academy. Barstow, who was an important electrical engineer and a partner of Thomas Edison, made a fortune establishing utility companies (including the one in Chittenden) and even electrifying the Brooklyn Bridge. Their only child, Frederic Duclos Barstow, born in 1895, was exposed to poison gas during War War I, and suffered lung damage and from shell shock. He moved to Chittenden, Vermont, believing the clean air would be more healthful to him, but died in 1931, at the age of 35. The Barstows built the Barstow Memorial School in his memory.

Classic country scenes in Chittenden, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

William Barstow purchased a farmhouse in Chittenden on his son’s property to serve as a hunting camp (what is now Fox Creek Inn on Dam Road). Here he entertained such notable figures as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone.

In 1939, Francoise Barstow bought the Henry Long Turnip farm, dating from the 1870s, which overlooked the Chittenden Reservoir, renovating the barn as an additional place to entertain her many friends – this is the property that became Mountain Top Inn.

Throughout the ensuing years, improvements and additions to the original barn building were made to accommodate the growing number of visiting friends and family – eventually evolving into a full service Inn & Tavern.  While Barstow, an associate of Thomas Edison, was a forward thinker, the couple maintained the integrity of property’s Yankee origins and protected the beauty and ecology of its natural surroundings. Barstow died in 1942.

In 1945, William and Margery Wolfe purchased the Mountain Top Inn. They continued improvements to the property and in 1955 put the Inn on the map when they hosted President Eisenhower and his entourage during a fishing expedition. Photos of the expedition are still displayed in the Main Lodge Lobby.  Ike’s View, a luxury room in the Main Lodge in which the President stayed, is named for him and the adjoining room is named for his wife, Mamie’s Retreat.

In 1964, realizing the natural terrain was ideal for winter sports, the Wolfes began to develop a cross country ski center and trail system. Today, one of the oldest in the country, the resort boasts 60 kilometers of trails.

Mountain Top Inn & Resort is the perfect synthesis of old and new © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A fire in 1977 destroyed most of the original Inn’s structure. Undeterred, the Wolfes rebuilt the Inn using traditional post and beam construction.  Large Douglas fir beams span the lobby and lend warmth and charm to the Main Lodge.  Rows of windows and a signature glass “silo” staircase offers the perfect vantage point for stunning views.

This is what accounts for the feeling you get of the Mountain Top Inn, that is both old and new – it is the faithful preservation of the traditional inn, with the modern amenities and materials.

With an appreciation and love for the property and its history, in the early 2000s a small group of investors purchased the Mountain Top Inn & Resort and have carefully nurtured its evolution from small country inn to a premier Mountain Lodge and destination resort.

Winter Family Wonderland package is available for non-holiday periods, and includes three nights accommodation;  Vermont country breakfast each morning;  horse-drawn sleigh ride for your group; one hour “family” cross country ski lesson with rentals (must be 6 years of age or older to take this lesson; one parent must participate); trail passes; use of resort facilities; tax and resort charge ($1260 for quad occupancy in classic lodge room, $1620 for luxury room; two-bedroom guest houses also available at $1670).

The website is really complete and easy to use to get information, but you need to call 802-483-2311 to book the packages (https://MountainTopInn.com/specials-packages/winter-spring-packages/)

Mountain Top Inn & Resort is also located a short distance (about 20-30 minutes drive) to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing; the inn provides shuttle transportation (8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm); reserve in advance.

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.

See also:

Killington, ‘Beast of the East,’ is Roaring into 2018 With Powder Snow

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© 2017 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

 

Okane is San Francisco SoMa Neighborhood Gastropub Serving Extravagant Japanese Cuisine at Everyman Price

Uni, the edible part of the sea urchin, is presented with the spiky part still on the plate at Okane, a Japanese gastropub in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman, Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Well off San Francisco’s tourist track, an exquisite dining experience awaits at Okane, a delightful, intimate neighborhood izakaya in the style of a Japanese gastropub, tucked into SoMa (South of Market), once a warehouse and light industrial district that became popular work/living space for musicians and artists and clubs until the techies took over and now is loosely known as the Design district.

Okane, which opened in January 2015, is the hip, casual sister restaurant to the more upscale, sophisticated Michelin-starred Omakase restaurant literally next door. Okane has already been rated a Michelin Bib Gourmand for 2017.

The casual, comfortable atmosphere at Okane Japanese gastropub confutes the elegance of the cuisine © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But the casual appearance and really moderate pricing disguises the exquisite, opulent quality of the fish, much it that has been flown in directly from Tokyo’s world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market (when you arrive, the list of fish that have come in that day are on a board).

The presentations are breathtaking, but when you bring yourself to take a bite, every morsel brings an astonishment of succulent flavor, so that even the memory of the meal makes your mouth water.

The experience is the culinary equivalent of euphoria.

It’s also an education in Japanese cuisine.

Okane is a SoMa neighborhood izakaya – a Japanese gastropub – serving traditional and refined Japanese “comfort” food and contemporary sushi.  Many of the selections would be common in Japan but are rarer to find in a Japanese restaurant in America.

Albacore Aburi © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The menu at Okane, which is owned by Kash Feng and Jackson Yu who is also the Executive Chef,  features an array of shareable vegetable, fish and meat course (Ippin, or appetizers)s, rice and noodles, nigiri sushi and sushi rolls, and assorted specialties.

Highlights from the izakaya menu include the Salmon Aburi with avocado, served with ikura, shio-kombu and truffle; Wakadori Karaage (fried young chicken); Nebeyaki Udon with shrimp tempura, chicken, wakame, green onion and fish cake; and Oyako Donburi with chicken, egg and green onion.

We were treated to Uni, the edible part of the sea urchin (Mario, the manager, actually saved it for our arrival) presented with the spikey part still on the plate, which was so fresh that when you poked it, it would actually still move reflexively. The meat is sweet, creamy in texture and delectable.

Okane’s chef preparing his artful creations © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

This was followed by a sampling from the sushi menu, overseen by Chef Rico Li, who creates  a mix of traditional nigiri selections and contemporary rolls. Among the most popular (for good reason): the Ginza which features shrimp tempura (giving it a bit of a crunchy texture), avocado and cucumber, topped with torched Hamachi, jalapeño (a fusion tip of the hat to San Francisco), and spicy blue fin tuna, and Shibuya prepared with avocado, shiso, tobiko (flying fish roe), topped with salmon and a tiny lemon wedge and a Japanese mint leaf; and the Shinjuku, with snow crab and avocado, topped with A5 Wagyu beef.

Ginza Roll, one of the most popular selections at Okane Restaurant, in San Francisco’s SoMa district © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We were gobsmacked by a succession of offerings, each setting off flashes of euphoric delight with each bite:

From the Special Fish Ippin Ryori: Albacore Aburi prepared with Japanese mustard mayonnaise and truffle; and Salmon Aburi with avocado, served with ikura, shiokonbu, truffle.

Okane’s Shibuya Roll © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Agi Tataki, one of the chef’s seasonal sashimi offerings, is mackerel sashimi with ponzu (a citrus-based sauce), onions, ginger and momiji oroshi (grated daikon radish and red chili peppers).

From the sushi offerings, we savored barracuda, salmon belly, Hamachi (yellowtail that already comes sauced so you don’t dip it), Tai (sea bream), Kinmedai (golden eye snapper), prepared with sea salt, lemon and torched is also sensational.

Amberjack Nigiri © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The authentic Japanese cuisine is complimented with a comprehensive menu of sake, Japanese craft beer (Okane is one of the only San Francisco restaurants to offer Coedo Pilsner, IPA and Black Lager on tap), and wine.

Okane doesn’t do many desserts, but to finish the meal, we experienced black sesame ice cream that is the perfect combination of sweet/not sweet – a taste a little like peanut butter – that becomes addictive. (Save room!)

Black Sesame Ice Cream at Okane, a Japanese gastropub in San Francisco’s SoMa district © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can sit at the sushi counter and be treated to Chef’s Choice, where you are served one piece to savor at a time, ($80 pp, compared to $150 at Omikase).

Okane is also unusual in serving brunch (what a concept!).

Okane’s interior design, by Aya Jessani, a San Francisco-based interior designer who also helped create the intimate space for Omakase – there are just 46 seats – is utterly perfect to make you feel absolutely relaxed, focused on nothing more than to savor every morsel.

Okane is the sort of place you happily wait in line for.

Hours Lunch: Monday – Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Monday – Thursday, 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. Check Average Lunch: $15-$20 Dinner: $30-$40 Capacity 46 seats and a four-seat sushi bar Private Parties For private events, contact Jean Francisco at jean@omakasesf.com or call the restaurant at 415-865-9788

Okane, 669 Townsend Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 415-865-9788, www.okanesf.com. Social Media Instagram – @okane_sf Facebook – @okane-523346331167212.

For more help planning a visit to San Franciscocontact San Francisco Travel. 415-391‑2000, www.sftravel.com. 

See also:

San Francisco Throwing Year-Long 50th Anniversary Celebration of Summer of Love – Be Prepared to Be Blasted into the Past

San Francisco Goes All Out With Special Events, Exhibitions Marking 50th Anniversary of Summer of Love

Biking is Great Way to Tour San Francisco’s Must-See Attractions

A Day in San Francisco Revisiting the Past: Plucky Cable Car Epitomizes City’s Grit, Determination, Innovation

Beach Blanket Babylon is Rollicking Fun Musical Revue in San Francisco’s North Beach

Beats of North Beach, Rolling Museums, Urban Oasis: San Francisco’s Cultural Highlights Where You Least Expect 

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© 2017 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

HSMAI Honors Innovation at its 60th Annual Adrian Awards

Bermuda Tourism Authority and agency, TURNER, accept the Best of Show in Public Relations Award at HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala at the Marriott Marquis on February 21, 2017 in New York City © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

They are the CLIO awards of the hospitality and travel industry – a gigantic segment of the US economy and culture which people don’t readily recognize as being so integral to everyday life. But these are the campaigns that excite, engage, inform and ultimately spur millions of us to venture out and experience new places and people. At the same time, travelers bolster local, state and national economies, create an economic underpinning that sustains heritage, culture and the environment.

The Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) presented the 60th Annual Adrian Awards at the New York Marriott Marquis, recognizing excellence in travel advertising, digital marketing and public relations, and the leaders behind the work.

“It’s always wonderful to be able to celebrate the innovators of our industry. Their outstanding work challenges and inspires the rest of the profession,” said Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, president and CEO of HSMAI. He added, “Tonight was a special milestone—the Adrians have now been recognizing excellence in the hospitality industry for six decades.”

Dating back to 1956, the Adrian Awards applaud marketing achievements in hospitality across multiple segments of the industry. Award winners are selected by senior industry and media experts from more than 1,200 entries, for three main entry divisions: advertising, digital marketing and public relations. Gold Award winners across these three categories were recognized during the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception, which was co-sponsored by HSMAI and Google. Platinum winners were selected from the standout Gold Award winners. Winners were selected from 1000 entrees.

The judges speak of authenticity, engagement, blurring of lines among media, emotionality, innovation and creativity, visual beauty, quality of content, storytelling, and most significantly measureable results in distinguishing the winners.

The stakes are huge: these advertising, marketing and public relations campaigns are a key part of the travel and tourism industry that generates $2.1 trillion in economic output (2.7% of the nation’s GDP) from domestic and international visitors (includes $927.9 billion in direct travel expenditures that spurred an additional $1.2 trillion in other industries through a ripple effect). Travel expenditures support 15 million jobs (8 million directly); account for $221.7 billion in wages, and generate $141.5 billion in tax revenues to federal, state and local governments, levels that increased significantly over the past eight years, helping to lift the nation out of the Great Recession.

For example, Bermuda, which won “Best of Show” in Public Relations, undertook its campaign to reverse a decline in tourism that is such a large part of the country’s economy.

Best of Show Awards, the highest honor of the evening, were bestowed upon a Platinum Award winner from each of the three divisions—advertising, digital marketing, and public relations:

Advertising “Best of Show” – NFL Father’s Day Video – Courtyard by Marriott – IMG and Marriott Content Studio

Digital Marketing “Best of Show” – From Brake Lights to Rested Nights – Red Roof Inn and its agency, 360i

Public Relations “Best of Show” – Bermuda: Finding an Island’s Adventurous Side – Bermuda Tourism Authority and its agency, TURNER

Courtyard by Marriott win Best of Show in Advertising at HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala at the Marriott Marquis in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The following are Platinum Award winners in the advertising, digital marketing, and public relations divisions:

 

Advertising Platinum Winners:

Company; Agency

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism; Target

Brand USA

Visit Seattle; Publicis Seattle

Hilton; Fold 7

VisitGreenvilleSC

Courtyard by Marriott; IMG and Marriott Content Studio

 

Digital Marketing Platinum Winners:

Company; Agency

24 North Hotel; Travel Tripper

Visit Seattle; Publicis Seattle

Marriott International; Facebook & MEC

Aruba Tourism Authority; Concept Farm

Caribbean and Latin America Resorts Cluster; Marriott- Caribbean and Latin America

Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Ideas Collide & 11 Dollar Bill

Red Roof Inn; 360i

Red Roof Inn accepts the Best of Show in Digital Marketing Award at HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Public Relations Platinum Winners:

Company; Agency

South African Tourism; Sparkloft Media
Omni Hotels & Resorts; LDWWgroup

Hampton by Hilton; rbb Communications

Hilton

Cunard; MGA Media Group

Caneel Bay Resort

Marriott International; GREY New York

Aqua-Aston Hospitality; QUINN & Stryker Weiner Yokota

Bermuda Tourism Authority; TURNER

Gold Award winners’ submissions were shown on digital displays at the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception and featured during the Gala stage presentations. “The honorees in this year’s competition displayed innovation, creativity, and demonstrated measurable results and return on investment that were noted by this year’s judges as being exceptional,” said Fran Brasseux, HSMAI Executive Vice President.

Additionally, the distinguished careers of two industry leaders were celebrated with HSMAI Lifetime Achievement awards. Randy Smith, Chairman & Co-Founder, STR, was honored with the 2016 Albert E. Koehl Award and Melanie Brandman, Founder & CEO, The Brandman Agency, was honored with the 2016 Winthrop W. Grice Award for Public Relations.

“It is an honor to be a member of this illustrious group of industry leaders,” said Brandman, at the awards ceremony. “I would like to dedicate this award to my father and my mother, for raising me and my siblings to be global citizens, and instilling in us an unstoppable desire to experience the world and share whatever wisdom we pick up along the way.”

“It is truly an honor to accept this award,” stated Koehl Award recipient Randy Smith, who was unable to accept the award in person. “I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my career in the hospitality industry in working with smart and talented people.”

The winner of the seventh annual Leader in Sustainable Tourism Award, presented by HSMAI and National Geographic Traveler, was Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau for “Clean Beaches and Sea Turtles.”

“Presented in conjunction with National Geographic Traveler, the Leader in Sustainable Tourism award recognizes a person, company, or community for demonstrable leadership and innovation in preserving and communicating an authentic sense of place through a wisely managed tourism program. Nominees are judged by how their efforts preserved the environmental, cultural, and historic integrity of a destination, and how the program demonstrated leadership, innovation and accomplished its goals.”

Gil Langley and Ktimene Axetell of Amelia Island Convention and Visitor Bureau accept HSMAI & National Geographic Traveler Leader in Sustainable Tourism Platinum Award from Fran Brasseux, Executive of HSMAI and Deborah Friedman, VP, Independent and Specialty Travel, National Geographic at HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Pioneer in Visual Storytelling Award, presented by HSMAI and Libris by PhotoShelter, a new award presented for the first time at these Adrian Awards, went to Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism and their agency, Target.

“The Pioneer in Visual Storytelling Award celebrates a brand in the travel and tourism industry that has shown consistent commitment to using visual assets creatively in marketing and communication to tell its story. Nominees are evaluated based on high-quality production value of images and/or video, compelling storytelling across platforms, use of forward-thinking formats, innovative distribution and demonstrated impact on their audiences. Successful entries use visual assets to inspire an emotional response, motivate audiences to take action and help the brand meet strategic objectives.”

Randy Smith. Melanie Brandman Honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards

The Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association (HSMAI) presented its 2016 HSMAI Lifetime Achievement Awards to Randy Smith, Chairman & Co-Founder, STR, honored with the 2016 Albert E. Koehl Award. Melanie Brandman, Founder & CEO, The Brandman Agency, received the 2016 Winthrop W. Grice Award for Public Relations.

The HSMAI Lifetime Achievement Awards recognize individuals who have spent a major portion of their careers in the hospitality and travel profession and have contributed to the betterment of the industry in a significant and lasting way, over an extended period of time.

Melanie Brandman, Founder and CEO of The Brandman Agency, receives the 2016 Winthrop W. Grice Award for Lifetime Achievement in Public Relations at HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Melanie Brandman, honored with the Winthrop W. Grice Award for Public Relations, is the founder & CEO of The Brandman Agency. With offices in New York, Los Angeles, London and Sydney, Brandman is recognized as one of the most credible travel and communications experts in the business. She has ensured that The Brandman Agency has remained at the forefront of the industry by being an early adopter in the ever-evolving digital and influencer space. Prior to establishing The Brandman Agency, she served as Vice President, Corporate Affairs for InterContinental Hotels Group based in London. Brandman’s other successful ventures include Travel Curator, an online travel website, content development, and distribution platform targeted to an affluent, forward-thinking audience of global travelers. The site was voted one of the 10 Best Luxury Travel Blogs by readers of USA TODAY and 10Best. This past year, Brandman was named ‘Most Compelling Woman in Travel’ by Premier Traveler magazine.

The Winthrop W. Grice Award was named in honor of Winthrop W. “Bud” Grice, CHME, a long-time senior marketing executive with Marriott, who was the award’s first designate. Other winners include: Howard Feirertag, Mary Gendron, Vivian A. Deuschl, Laura Davidson, Yvonne Middleton, Peggy R. Bendel, René A. Mack, Lou Hammond, Bunny Grossinger, Herbert D. Kelleher, Steve Wynn, Richard Kahn, Gordon Lambourne, and Geoffrey Weill.

Randy Smith, the recipient of the Albert E. Koehl Award, co-founded STR in 1985. STR provides clients from multiple market sectors with premium, global data benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights. With just over 300 employees, STR maintains a presence in 16 countries around the world with a corporate North American headquarters in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and an international headquarters in London, England. Prior to starting STR, Smith was Director of Research for Laventhol & Horwath. He has been recognized by Business Travel News, Lodging Hospitality magazine, ALIS, Industry Real Estate Financing Advisory Council, Florida State University College, and the International Society of Hospitality Consultants.

The Albert E. Koehl Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Marketing recognizes individuals who have spent a major portion of their careers in the hospitality and travel profession and have contributed to the betterment of the industry in a significant and lasting way, over an extended period of time. The award is named in honor of Albert E. Koehl, a pioneer in hotel advertising. Past Koehl award recipients including: David Kong, Roger Dow, Eric A. Danziger, Sol Kerzner, Ian Schrager, Barbara Talbott, Barry S. Sternlicht, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, Horst H. Schulze, John J. Russell, CHME, Michael A. Leven, CHME, Richard Branson, Christopher J. Nassetta, and George Aguel.

Amanda Hite accepts the Albert E. Koehl Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of Randy Smith, Chairman & Co-Founder of STR during HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“HSMAI is proud to honor Melanie and Randy for their impressive careers marked by innovative contributions to the global hospitability industry,” said Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, president and CEO of HSMAI. 

Top 25 Extraordinary Minds

Selected by a panel of senior industry executives, The HSMAI Top 25: Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, Revenue Optimization for 2016 were honored by HSMAI in a reception co-hosted by Questex Hospitality + Travel and also recognized on stage during the Gala.

The HSMAI Top 25 Extraordinary Minds for 2016 are:

Justin Barnette: Manager, Marketing & Communications USA, South African Tourism

DC Becker: Principal & Co-Owner, Titan Group of New York

Josh Belkin: VP & General Manager, North America, Hotels.com

Bree Brostko: Managing Director, Kindred Resorts & Hotels

Bonnie Buckhiester: President, Buckhiester Management Limited

Patrick Campbell: Director of Advertising, Best Western Hotels & Resorts

Lisa Checchio, VP, Brand Marketing and Insights, Wyndham Hotel Group

Britton Cordill: Director of Marketing & eCommerce, Marriott International

Santiago Corrada: President/CEO, Visit Tampa Bay

Chris Flatt, EVP of Hotel Sales & Marketing, Wynn Las Vegas

Isaac Gerstenzang, Assistant Vice President, Corporate E-Commerce, Two Roads Hospitality

Jennifer Hill: Regional Director, Revenue & Distribution, Highgate

Daniel Hostettler: President and Group Managing Director, Ocean House Management Collection

Danny Hughes: Senior Vice President & Commercial Director, Hilton Worldwide

Victoria Isley: Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Bermuda Tourism Authority

Cherry Kam: Director, Marketing Communications/Americas, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

Lynn Kaniper: Owner/President, Dana Communications

Leora Halpern Lanz: Lecturer, Boston University School of Hospitality Administration

Michael Lau: Regional Director of Revenue Management, Accor Hotels

Lisa Ross: President and Partner, rbb Communications

Ed Skapinok: Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Hostmark Hospitality Group

Edgar Tapan: Head of Industry, Travel, Google

Paolo Torchio: VP Digital & E-Commerce, Two Roads Hospitality

Vicki Varela: Managing Director, Utah Office of Tourism, Film & Global Branding

Daniel Wise: Founder & Chief Product Architect, revcaster – a Rainmaker company

“HSMAI is proud to recognize an outstanding group whose impressive achievements define success and inspire their peers in the hospitality industry,” said Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, president & CEO of HSMAI. “Their deep knowledge, nimble response to changing markets, and innovative solutions have driven their success and strengthened our industry.”

The HSMAI Top 25: Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, Revenue Optimization for 2016 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more information about the Adrian Awards visit www.adrianawards.com.

The Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) is committed to growing business for hotels and their partners, and is the industry’s leading advocate for intelligent, sustainable hotel revenue growth. The association provides hotel professionals and their partners with tools, insights, and expertise to fuel sales, inspire marketing, and optimize revenue through programs such as HSMAI ROCET, Adrian Awards, and Revenue Optimization Conference. HSMAI is an individual membership organization comprising more than 7,000 members worldwide, with 40 chapters in the Americas Region. Connect with HSMAI at www.hsmai.orgwww.facebook.com/hsmaiwww.twitter.com/hsmai and www.youtube.com/hsmai1.

Pauline Frommer at NYT Travel Show: How to Get Best Value for Your Travel Dollar in 2017

 

At the New York Times Travel Show, travelers showed tremendous enthusiasm for foreign destinations, such as these Indonesia, a destination that Pauline Frommer is recommending for 2017. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel expert Pauline Frommer, of the Frommer Guides and radio show, says that 2017 is probably the best year for Americans to travel abroad because of a surging dollar, competitive pressure on international airline fares, and an international climate where destinations are thrilled to have foreign visitors.

Travel expert Pauline Frommer urges travelers to be skeptical of online travel searches but says 2017 is a great year for Americans to travel abroad because of a strong dollar and low air fares. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

But she began her presentation to the 2017 New York Times Travel Show counseling travelers to be skeptical of technology that is transforming so much of how people travel and even where they travel – how online search engines can force you into purchasing more expensive hotels and airlines based on the profile that previous searches create, and, as a corollary, the intrusion into privacy.

“Often the answers you are going to get through an online search aren’t necessarily the answers you want.” This is especially true because of the way the search engines keep track – through cookies, for example – and will provide listings that seem to conform to previous searches.” The cookies might be in your computer after you did a search for a hotel or a business trip where the boss pays, so you book a $400/night hotel. “So when you try to find a hotel for a family holiday, in your search, all the expensive hotels come up first. It’s more difficult to find the least expensive.”

This is true for flight searches on popular sites (like expedia.com), where if you log off, then go back, you might find that the flight is $200 more. The way around it? You have to either clear your browser of cookies, or go online again on a different computer, or “even go to Starbucks and use their WiFi.”

Based on research that Frommer commissioned from a freelancer, Frommer recommends a couple of websites for airline searches:

Momondo.com (which doesn’t use cookies, so when you return, the price is same but you have to reenter information); and Skyscanner.net (which does use cookies)

She also counsels that the cheapest days of the week to book are Saturday, Tuesday & Wednesday flights.

And based on a study of 26 million airline transactions by the Airline Reporting Corporation, which acts as middleman between airlines and travel agencies (online and storefront), there are trends in fares (she warns won’t always be true and likely not for traveling on Christmas or SuperBowl weekend). Nonetheless, to get the best fares, she advises:

Book on a weekend, 19% savings

Book 57 days before travel for domestic tickets,10% savings

Book 176 days before travel to Europe, 11% savings

Book 77 days before travel to the Caribbean 5% savings

Book 160 days before travel to Asia/Pacific 13% savings

Book 144 days before travel to the Mideast, Africa, 24% savings

Book 90 days before travel to Central/South America, 10% savings

Book160 days to get the best air fare to Asia Pacific; new carriers are also holding international fares down© 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Frommer (as well as travel expert Peter Greenberg) warn buyers to beware of the new category of “basic economy fares” which American Airlines recently introduced, following on heels of United and Delta. Averaging $25 less than regular economy, the airlines have tended to offer them in markets where carriers have competition from low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit.

“But these are really, really ugly. You will never get to choose your seat, which means you are likely to wind up in a middle seat. This is a problem if you are travel with children – if there is a plane crash, how could you leave the plane if your kids are in different seats. I don’t think will be brought up soon with current administration.” On American and United, the austerity goes beyond (and is even parodied by comedians): you don’t get to use the overhead bin, you can only bring on board the plane what you can slip under your seat; if you need to check luggage, it costs $25. Another disadvantage: you don’t get any loyalty points when you buy a basic economy seat (though loyalty doesn’t mean much of anything, anymore, she adds).

Rethink loyalty. Loyalty has been devalued by the airlines now. In the last year, you would get points for how many miles you traveled; now it’s for how much money paid, that is multiplied by how high you are in their system. If you are a big-time business traveler, your money is multiplied by 5; if you only travel only twice a year, it is only multiplied by 2 – not greatest system. It will cause major fights at the gate.”  American, she says, is soon going to use its new Loyalty standard to determine where you get on a list to upgrade (it used to be, as an elite member, first-come, first serve, now the airline will look how much money you spent to get elite membership).

The only way to make the points game work in this climate, she advises, is to use credit cards.

Good news for travelers: airfares in the US have stayed stable, and airfares abroad are dropping dramatically because of new players like Norwegian Airlines (offering $499 fare each way to London), WOW airlines, XL Airlines (operating to Paris, www.xl.com/us/, which used to only concentrate on French travelers, but now Americans, too); Thomas Cook Airlines, Eurowings, AirAsia, Emirates, and soon, JetBlue, adding, “Any airline flying into the United States has to adhere to our gate standards.”

Emirates Airlines, which has been offering low fares, is not new but going to a lot more places in Europe for a lot less money. “Now Milan is the cheapest gateway in Europe because of Emirates.” And the international scene may get a new competitor, as JetBlue is looking to starting to fly to Europe.

Also, AirAsia has started flying to Asia, pushing fares down 25% from last year.

Context Travel specializes in small-group walking tours led by experts and focused on a theme, such as of Ancient Athens, Greece © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

How do you find great ways to sightsee besides using Frommer guide? All around the world, you can find local walking tours led by starving graduate students. “These are people who go to places like Venice, Rome, New York, Chicago to work on dissertations and to make a little extra money, often lead walking tours. They know they have to be really entertaining or they won’t get a tip (which is all they make). The best walking tour in Rome, Through Eternity, is led by a woman writing her dissertation on Michelangelo, who had been studying letters his assistants on scaffolding had been writing the Pope. From those, she learned that Michelangelo, who was from Florence, believed Rome’s water was poisoned and because of that, did not bathe for the 10 years he was in Rome. That’s what his assistants were writing about. This woman really knew and was passionate about what she was speaking about.” Such tours can also be a refreshing change from tour guides who, because of limitations on purchasing licenses, have been at it for decades, and “sometimes are so bored telling about Hadrian’s Gate for the 10,000th time.”

Atypical tour companies include:

G Adventures

Djoser

Intrepid Travel

Explore!

Context Travel

Road Scholar

G Adventures, Djoser, Intrepid Travel all are designed around small groups, never more than 12 people, use locally owned guest houses, local transportation to keep green [and provide a closer, more authentic experience], provide a lot of free time to explore on your own, and tend to be much cheaper than the competition. G Adventures is based in Canada, Djoser in Holland, and Intrepid is an Australian company so you are not just traveling with other Americans, but people from all over the world [which is also a special experience].

“I took an Intrepid family tour with my kids in Morocco. It was the most wonderful tour because of our group. We had a German family, 2 British families and a family who lived four blocks away from us in Manhattan. Explore!, an interesting British company, does hardcore tours of places that are otherwise difficult to get to on your own – the Stans, deep Africa, deep south Africa. Context Travel hires erudite guides – it is the most expensive on list, but they run really smart learning vacations to major cities. It started in Italy, now everywhere. Road Scholar (used to be Elderhostel) is for seniors, offering smart tours, hub and spoke so you stay in one place and take day trips; tours are often led by professors, educators.”

Under the category “Solo travel with a safety net,” Frommer cites Women Welcome Women (a UK-based international membership network started by a woman who was jealous of son being able to do exchange, http://www.womenwelcomewomen.uk/article/home.aspx; which is not a travel agency or travel company, but basically network women traveling to other cities).

Greeter Tours are free tours run by local who love showing their home town to people from around the world. (in NYC, Chicago, Houston, Paris, Lyon, Bangkok, Delhi, Cordoba, Grenada, Sydney, etc. (GlobalGreeetersNetwork.info)

For a very different perspective on a city, look for a greeters program, such as “This is My Athens” program offered through the city’s tourism bureau, which matches visitors with a local volunteer. Here, my Athens with a Native guide, Constantine E. Cavoulacos, with the owner of Panagiotis, a neighborhood eatery. © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Accommodations. There’s been a sea-change in accommodations – AirBnB now has more beds in its inventory than all the major hotel chains combined. “Last year, [hoteliers] were saying AirBnB wasn’t affecting prices because a different person uses AirBnB. But this year, they are saying it is affecting prices. It used to be hotel chains would know they could raise prices sky high for a major holiday; now they no longer have that kind of security [control].”

The best search sites for accommodations, she says, are HotelsCombined.com (#1 for prices 92% of the time, according to a study, but Hotelscombined doesn’t actually sell from inventory, it just Googles), followed by Trivago (which is owned by Expedia; expedia gets inventory from the major chains).

In terms of OTAs (online travel agents), booking.com wins (not just the big hotel chains), followed by Asia specialist Agoda.com (best prices for Asia).

The best Booking Blind sites are: Priceline.com, hotwire.com, and biddingtraveler.com.

For lodging rentals, she recommends:

AirBnB.com

Homeaway.com (owns Rentals.com, owned by Expedia, massive corporation)

Zonder.com

FlipKey.com

VRBO.com

Sea Changes in Cruising: The cruise industry is seeing a sea change in technology. Frommer is skeptical about where technology is leading, particularly the juncture of privacy and marketing.

Carnival Cruises, for example, is very excited about a new medallion that replaces a key card, credit card, and knows if you are scheduled for a yoga class or a show or have a restaurant reservation.

“Medallion or Horcrux?  They hook you up to an app. They know where every member of your party is, open your door, order a drink, and will sell you things. I find this disturbing – from the point of view of the lack of privacy –a large corporation is going to know everywhere you are. They will be able to up-sell you. You may be glancing at a list of shore excursions and somebody will appear at your side to tell you why you should take a shore excursion.”

But one good trend in cruising, she says, are the lines that have responded to complaints about getting into a port at 9 am and leaving at 2 pm. Some are changing itineraries to allow more time in port, and some make it a focus. Azamara Club Cruises (which pioneered overnight stays, even 2-3 nights in a port so you can really get to know a city, but the trade-off is fewer sea days to relax) and other lines where they give you more time in port, like Oceania, Celebrity Cruises, Costa, MSC, and Holland America, so you can experience nightlife in a place and you don’t have to rush back to ship).

Cruiselines also are introducing new ports to their itineraries such as in Ireland, Australia, Asia, Scandinavia).

Frommer has a bugaboo about how much shore excursions cost: “They scare guests to take them when they don’t need to. They say if you don’t, the ship can leave without you. I say, get a watch. In most cases, you can wander off the ship and see as much as the shore excursion.

But, you can purchase less expensive port excursions than the ones offered by the cruiseline through such agencies as CruisingExcursions.com, ShoreTrips.com, Viator. CruisingExcursions.com and ShoreTrips.com offer 12-person vans and usually charge 2/3 of cruise ship costs. Viator is more of a marketplace for city tours will give you guarantee that if you miss the boat they will pay to get you to next stop.

There are tremendous differences in cruiselines – aesthetics, what the experience is like. “When you take a cruise, the ship is your vacation, so get the best ship for you. Use a travel agent. This is one area where you are foolish not to use travel agents – those who specialize in cruises, get special discounts they can pass along, complimentary upgrades, shipboard credits, bottle of wine. They know their boats [and typically have toured the ship and have worked with the line]. Not all travel agents are equal. Ask questions. Make sure the travel agent represents all lines or, at least, the ones you are interested in. They can suggest the best cabin for the price you are willing to pay.

River Cruising has become extraordinarily popular, largely due to the success of Viking River Cruises. “For centuries, the rivers of Europe, Asia, America were the arteries that people used to get place to place, so you are in the middle of everything. You step off the boat and in front of you is the cathedral, the historic square.” (Frommers has a guidebook just on river cruising.)

The beauty of river cruising is that cities are right along the water. The Danube is one of the best rivers for cruising. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

But not all river cruises are alike, she notes.

In the category of Over the Top, most luxurious: Uniworld, Tauck, Scenic.  “Uniworld has a designer that Marie Antoinette would approve – crystal, silk wall paper; it’s over the top extravagance. Tauck is as luxurious but a little more contemporary in décor, well known for shore excursions. The dirty little secret of river cruises is that all the river cruises except Tauck and Gate 1 share the same guides on shore. Scenic gives all its guests headphones, so can hear commentary about what you are passing on shore; it is an Australian company so you are traveling mostly with Australians and blasts Olivia Newton-John at night; it offers fun trips (and also owns a budget river cruisline, Emerald Waterways).

Luxurious: AmaWaterways, Viking River Cruises, Avalon Waterways. Avalon and Ama are trying to attract younger crowd with more active experiences – kayaking on river; Ama carries bikes on board.

Budget Emerald Waterways, Grand Circle, Croisie Europe. “Croisie Europe is the second biggest river cruise company in the world after Viking, but you probably never heard of it because the line only marketed to Europeans until recently – so in Europe, you are surrounded by Europeans. Croisie tends to have very reasonable prices, but some Americans aren’t comfortable because of a language barrier. “Grand Circle, in contrast, only markets to Americans so you will be on ship with Americans, have burgers at every meal if you want, but in their defense, they do a lot on the educational side, bringing on educators, so the cruises are more erudite, but cheaper than the others.”

Family friendlyAmaWaterways has partnered with Disney to do tours for families. “These are wildly popular and very well done (not surprising, Disney). There are no characters onboard, but they have activities to keep kids busy on land and river. It’s great for multigenerational.” Tauck is another with family-friendly tours.

Best rivers (for first timers): Danube (variety – castle, spas, vineyards, interesting trip), Mississippi (variety, start or end in New Orleans, plantations, Civil War sites, Mark Twain sites); Mekong (because you go to many places you couldn’t otherwise get to except by river cruise).

Where to Go 

The US Dollar is strong pretty much everywhere, “whooping every other currency.”

Brexit tanked the British pound

Euro that cost $1.45 in 2012 costs $1.05 in 2017.

Japanese yen lost 1/3 of value against the dollar from 2012

“It’s never been a better time for Americans to travel abroad (at least from a strong-dollar point of view).

Imperial Palace, Tokyo. The dollar has more buying power in Japan because of a strengthening dollar against the Japanese yen. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

As for where to go, Frommer (and Peter Greenberg as well), also tell Americans not to be discouraged by terror attacks in places like Paris, which has lost 30% of its tourism, a vital economic component. “In certain rooms in the Louvre, I was  alone; I didn’t make advanced reservations at restaurants, some of most coveted in Europe; the hotel room, everything was cheaper,” Frommer, who visited Paris in June, says., “And Parisians are happy to see Americans. There’s never been a better time.”

But she points out that a lot of the discomfort for Americans, who see headlines and have little comprehension of geography, is perception:

“What do the UAE, Bahamas, France, New Zealand, United Kingdom have in common? They each issued travel warnings against coming to the United States because of gun violence. We are New Yorkers. We know what it is to bounce back [after a catastrophic event].”

But if you are looking for a city like Paris but has bagels? Montreal is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year. The home city of Cirque d Soleil will be the scene of the craziest, most surreal celebrations – 40 foot tall marionettes marching through streets, 3D projections on the river; you can download a free app of the historic district and as you go through, suddenly there is a Sound & Light show.

Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands; the people changed back the name to the original First Nations name) “has everything that Alaska has – fishing, wilderness areas, First Nation’s culture but without the crowds and 30% cheaper. I highly recommend visiting before it is better known.”

Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world. “Open the doors. Go there but not necessarily Bali – that is over-loved.” She recommends Sula Wessy – an island of incredible culture, architecture, bright green rice paddies, the smallest monkeys on planet, and fascinating cultural rituals. In

Bali, outsiders can go to weddings and funerals, where welcome; in Sula Wessey, funerals are so elaborate that when people die, they are mummified similar to Egyptians, and left in the house; the mummy lives with the family for years because it takes that long to raise money for the funeral. They have elaborate processions, feasts, dances, and water buffalo sacrifices, then finally the body is buried in rock caves. It is fascinating to visit and less touristic than Bali.

Northern Lights. This is the year to see the Northern Lights, a phenomenon caused by storms on the sun that shoot particles into the Earth’s atmosphere. It goes in a 10-year cycle and 2017 is the last year of the cycle. It will be spectacular this year and crumby for the next. There are inland places in Norway, next to Arctic Circle, where there are no worries of fog from the sea obscuring as well as dog sledding.

Pantanal, the largest inland wetland in the world – twice the size of Iceland, is straddles Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay (?). A decade ago, you couldn’t go in, because it was too difficult, but now river boats go in and for nature lovers it is spectacular because all the foliage is low to the ground so you can see more easily than Amazon – 500 species of birds, jaguars, tapirs, giant otters, fascinating wilderness. It is becoming more popular, so go now.

Nashville prides itself as being the “Athens of the South.” this year, “Music City” is celebrating the 120th anniversary of the Ryman and 50th anniversary of the Country Music Hall of Fame. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nashville – hot – wonderful city – 120th anniversary of Ryman, 50th of Country Music Hall of Fame – every kind of music – get off the plane, live musicians. Foodie scene. Parthenon-replica [Nashville considered itself the Athens of the South], – which sounds silly until you visit – it is the symbol for the city which has many universities, a major medical center, a whip smart population. You will meet great people.

Bermuda – will be home to the America’s Cup this year, undergone millions of dollars of infrastructure rejiggering. Martin Samuelson opening restaurant, great chefs opening. The Hamilton Princess has undergone a multi-million renovation. “More than fun in sun, Bermuda has interesting culture (British, high tea, Bermuda shorts without irony) –a really interesting place, historic sites.”

Not just “fun in the sun” on its famous pink beaches, Bermuda also offers a rich heritage, travel expert Pauline Frommer says © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

She adds as a “bonus place” to her list: Cuba. “President Trump has said he will shut the door there and he can with sign of pen. It was opened by President Obama by executive order so can be closed down just as quickly. But Cubans are smart, when Trump was elected, they fast-tracked port rights to Carnival and 5 other major lines, fast tracked hotel building permits to Marriott and Hyatt and are trying to get Corporate America on their side so Trump can’t undo relations. But go to Cuba while you can and before the changes that would inevitably come.

Connect with Pauline Frommer at Frommers.com, @frommers, on Facebook Frommers.

See also: 

NYT Travel Show: Greenberg Tells Intrepid Travelers to Exploit ‘Brave New World of Travel’

____________________

© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com 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

 

Favorite Places to Spend the Winter Holidays

Mrs. Shapiro talks about preparing for Hanukah at Strawbery Banke, the living history museum in Portsmouth NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mrs. Shapiro talks about preparing for Hanukah at Strawbery Banke, the living history museum in Portsmouth NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Our review of our favorite places for families to spend the winter holidays continues from Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel).

Portsmouth, NH: Strawbery Banke Museum, in the heart of historic downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is an authentic 10-acre outdoor history museum dedicated to bringing 300+ years of American history in the same waterfront neighborhood to life.

Candlelight Stroll, an annual holiday tradition at Strawbery Banke since 1979 showcases 350 years of seasonal and holiday traditions against the backdrop of the Museum’s furnished historic houses. On these weekend evenings, the Museum grounds glow with hundreds of lighted candle lanterns, the houses are adorned with thousands of hand-made decorations crafted from live greens and dried flowers and herbs collected from the Museum gardens, and the air is filled with the sound of holiday music and scent of woodsmoke from the bonfire. Its authenticity is the foundation for the claim that the Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth holiday celebration, echoed by Travel + Leisure magazine, makes Portsmouth ‘the Christmas capital of North America.’

Visitors stroll from house to historic house, greeted by costumed role players and performers who recreate the traditions of times past, rediscovering the joys of simpler times. Mrs. Shapiro prepares a Hanukah celebration her 1919 Russian Jewish kitchen. Mrs. Goodwin, her family and servants prepare a Victorian Christmas. Father Christmas, the night watchman, “Mayor Frank Jones” and other role-players make their rounds along the dirt lanes; and the Abbotts await news of their soldier fighting in Europe in the Second World War. Carolers, chestnuts and holiday crafts bring all the sounds, scents and moments for family ‘stopfulness’ to this event that is a cherished New Hampshire tradition.  Complimentary refreshments and hot apple cider are offered at the Cider Shed. Traditional hearth-cooking demonstrations, crafts demonstrations, and winter projects for kids provide interactive fun for multiple generations. (December 3, 4, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18; Saturdays, 5-9 pm. Sundays, 4-8 pm. Friday Dec 16, 5-9 pm). Purchase tickets in advance at the Strawbery Banke Visitors Center at 14 Hancock Street and online, www.strawberybanke.org.

There are also Guided Holiday House Tours, weekdays, Dec 26-31 of five decorated historic houses at Strawbery Banke Museum offered on the hour, 10 am to 2 pm. Adults $15, children 5-17 $10, children under 5 free.

For more information on Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth sactivities and participating hotels, visit www.VintageChristmasNH.org.

Wentworth By-the-Sea, a grand historic resort in Portsmouth, NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wentworth By-the-Sea, a grand historic resort in Portsmouth, NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Complete the experience with a stay at Wentworth by the Sea, an AAA Four-Diamond resort and member of Historic Hotels of America, delightfully set on an island just across from historic Portsmouth, NH. Ask just about anyone who grew up in New Hampshire and they wax nostalgic about spending holidays at this grand resort hotel that has graced the shore since 1888. Among its amenities: an 8,500 sq. ft. spa, magnificent indoor pool, Wentworth Dining Room with original hand-painted ceiling mural. Check the website for special packages including Romance, Golf, Dining, and Spa, and holiday programs. Wentworth By the Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle NH  03854, 603-422-7322, 888-252-6888, info@wentworth.com, www.wentworth.com.

Victorian Cape May Christmas 

Victorian Cape May at Christmas offers six weeks of festive tours and events sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), from Nov. 18 through Jan. 1, 2017.

The wonders of the season are on display at “An Old-Fashioned Christmas Exhibit: Holiday Traditions through the Years,” at the Carroll Gallery located in the Estate Carriage House, 1048 Washington St. Here you can experience an exhibit of holiday traditions complete with a giant Christmas tree, a Dept. 56 Dickens Village, model trains, nostalgic photos from Christmas past, toys and much more! Friday, Nov. 18-Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. The Gallery is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas); hours vary. Admission is free and free parking is available.

Take a guided, tour of the 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Take a guided, daytime, living history tour of the magnificent 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours, presented from the viewpoint of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) through Jan. 1, 2017; hours vary. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8.

During the Historic District Trolley Tour, you’ll get acquainted with Cape May on a trolley tour as knowledgeable guides present entertaining and educational stories about the nation’s oldest seashore resort. $12 for adults and $8 for children (ages 3-12). Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas); tour times vary.

Enjoy a guided trolley tour of Cape May’s Historic District, followed by a guided tour of Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., decorated in true Victorian style for Christmas and presented through the eyes of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s, during the Combination Trolley/Physick Family Christmas House Tours. $22 for adults, $14 for children (ages 3-12). Tours are offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas.) Hours vary.

Relive the memories of Christmas past on Lamplighter Christmas Tours, self-guided evening tours of Cape May’s inns or private homes specially decorated for the holidays. Hear a holiday presentation by the owner at each location. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit and enjoy warm beverages and holiday treats. Adults $20; children (3-12) $15. Offered 7 p.m.-9 p.m. on Fridays, Dec. 2-23; Saturday, Nov. 26 and Wednesday, Dec. 28, and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 31. 

Ghosts of Christmas Past Trolley Rides feature a member of the East Lynne Theater Company who will regale you with a Victorian holiday ghost tale as you ride through Cape May’s festively decorated Historic District. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. Tour begins and ends at Washington Street Mall at Ocean Street except for the Nov. 19 tour which leaves from the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington Street. Offered Fridays, Dec. 2-Dec. 23, Saturdays, Nov. 19-26; Sundays, Nov. 27-Dec. 18; and Monday, Dec. 26-Saturday, Dec. 31). Hours vary. Advance reservation strongly recommended.

Thousands of Christmas lights and holly transform Cape May during the holiday season. Take one of the many Holiday Lights Trolley Rides through Cape May’s Historic District to see cheerfully decorated inns and homes as guides talk about Victorian Christmas traditions, lead sing-alongs, and play Christmas music. Rides last about 30 minutes and admission is $12 Adults; $10 children (ages 3-12). Offered nightly, Nov. 25-Dec. 31. Hours vary. (No tours Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24 25) Trolley rides leave from the Washington Street Mall Information Booth, Washington Street at Ocean (except for Nov. 19 trolley rides, which leave from the Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St.)

Revel in the sparkly lights of Cape May’s beautiful Victorian homes decorated for Christmas on a trolley ride through town, then take a guided tour of the first floor rooms of the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, authentically decorated for a Victorian Christmas during the Evening Yuletide Tour. See how the Physick family would have entertained for the holidays. Afterwards, visit the Carriage House for holiday refreshments and a visit to “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Tour begins and ends at the Ocean Street trolley stop. Adults $22; children (3-12) $14. You can also take just the house tour portion, the Evening Physick Estate Tour, a 30-minute guided tour of Cape May’s 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., decorated in authentic style for a Victorian Christmas. Included is a visit the Carriage House for holiday refreshments and a visit to “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. Both tours offered every evening, Nov. 25 through Dec. 30, except Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24 and 25. Hours vary.

MAC also offers holiday-themed food and wine tours and events.

For more information. Contact Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

Chattanooga Choo Choo 

Chattanooga, Tennessee offers a surprising array of extraordinary experiences: walk through a secret underground ice cave  and see Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, explore a nocturnal fantasyland with more than one million star-bright twinkling lights high atop Lookout Mountain; hop on board a train for a North Pole adventure; sing Christmas carols and dance with Santa on a river cruise; meet coral reef Santa divers; build creative gingerbread houses; watch animals open their own Christmas presents, visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium. Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter.

Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chattanooga Choo Choo offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the historic railroad station, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access).

The train station offers marvelous dining places (including a saloon-style restaurant where the waiters take turns singing), and cute shops. You can climb aboard the historic locomotive, and dine in the dining car as well. The music of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” immediately rings in your ears (it plays fairly constantly).

The original motel, which is still used, offers an indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, gardens. There is even a historic train ride on a trolley. Also, a free electric shuttle from the bus terminal next door takes you downtown.  I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and interesting stay. Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529), www.choochoo.com.

Grand, Glorious & Historic Hotels

You can’t go wrong in choosing a Historic Hotels of America member hotel or resort for personality, character, connection to place, authenticity and overall aura that makes for a unique experience so perfectly fitting for your own family tradition. Here are just a few of our favorites for the holidays:

Mohonk Mountain House, New York © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mohonk Mountain House, New York © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House, located 90 miles north of New York City in the Catskills,- is the very definition of a getaway-from-it-all retreat. From festive décor and favorite traditions to cozy wood-burning fires and a wealth of outdoor recreation, the historic Mohonk Mountain House exemplifies a quintessential holiday getaway.

The atmosphere at Mohonk is exceptional any time of the year, but is absolutely breathtaking for the holidays: spectacular hand-made swags, Victorian decorations, and beautifully decorated Christmas trees on display throughout the House. Families who want to create a festive atmosphere in-room can inquire about holiday decorations, including an ornamented ‘eco-tree’ and stockings hung above their fireplace, filled with goodies. Cozy wood-burning fireplaces can also be found in 124 out of 259 guest rooms –more than any resort in the nation.

The spirit of the season fills Mohonk Mountain House, National Historic Landmark resort, throughout December with many cherished traditions, including the family Yule Log Hunt, a Trim-A-Tree Party, the nightly lighting of the Menorah, holiday craft-making and caroling. Workshops on wreath making, cookie decorating, seasonal tablescapes and more are also offered. Outdoor recreation options abound, including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snow tubing (weather permitting), along with ice-skating at the resort’s stunning open-air Pavilion.

Mohonk also offers an award-winning, eco-friendly Spa (it was named the Number One Resort Spa in the United States by CondéNast Traveler). Spa amenities include an outdoor heated mineral pool, an indoor heated swimming pool with underwater sound system, a yoga/motion studio, comprehensive fitness center and solarium. For reservations, call 855.274.4020 or visit Mohonk.com.

Other Historic Hotels of America favorites:

Cranwell Resort & Spa, in the Berkshires – like being on a grand estate – equipped with every luxurious amenity – world class spa, indoor pool, cross-country skiing, and about half-hour up the road, downhilling at Jiminy Peak (www.cranwell.com).

Omni Mount Washington at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire: A grand masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture, conceived by industrialist Joseph Stickney, this National Historic Landmark opened in 1902 and has been attracting generations of families ever since. It’s located literally across the street from Bretton Woods, a marvelous ski resort, and also offers a spa and cross-country skiing. It’s also close by to the outlet shopping town of North Conway, NH (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

The Sagamore, Bolton Landing: Situated in the unspoiled Adirondack Mountains on its own island on Lake George, the Sagamore opened in 1883 and was a social center for the wealthy visiting Lake George. It’s a magical place. Nearby, go sledding or cross-country skiing on The Sagamore’s golf course, or hop its shuttle bus to ski at Gore Mountain, about 45 minutes away.

The Jekyll Island Club, Georgia © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Jekyll Island Club, Georgia © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have scores of favorite Historic Hotels – there are 275 members in just about every state and territory. Those that offer a grand resort experience include The Hotel Hershey, in Hershey, Pennsylvania; Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia; Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida; The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, and the Don CeSar (www.loewshotels.com/don-cesar), both in St. Petersburg, Florida. Each offers exquisite atmosphere, service, amenities and each has its own personality, character, and special connection with the people and place. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org.

The Loews Don CeSar, on St. Petersburg Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Loews Don CeSar, on St. Petersburg Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hey Dude!

We had an entirely different holiday experience at the Pinegrove dude ranch, an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times. Check the site for specials on February Recess, Mothers Day, Fathers Day and school vacations. Pinegrove Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, Reservations: 800-346-4626, email info@pinegroveranch.com, www.pinegroveranch.com. 

Gift of Travel 

Norwegian Breakaway. Consider giving a gift card or travel certificate. Norwegian Cruise Lines, which operates the Breakaway from New York, lets you purchase a denomination that can be applied to the cruise or to onboard experiences © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Norwegian Breakaway. Consider giving a gift card or travel certificate. Norwegian Cruise Lines, which operates the Breakaway from New York, lets you purchase a denomination that can be applied to the cruise or to onboard experiences © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Consider giving a gift card or gift certificate for a travel or vacation experience. Many cruiselines (for example Norwegian Cruise Line’s gift cards can be used toward the cruise vacation or onboard experiences, like a massage or specialty dining), hotel companies (for example, Catania Hospitality Group which has the Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa in Sandwich on Cape Cod, the Cape Codder Resort & Spa, Cape Codder Water Park, John Carver Inn & Spa in Plymouth, the Hearth ‘n Kettle Restaurants, Grand Cru Wine Bar and WaterFire Tavern, as well as gift shops, not only has gift cards, but offers special bonuses, www.cataniahospitalitygroup.com), even tour operators (for example Globus, www.globusjourneys.com/Gift/, Apple Vacations, www.applevacations.com/gift-certificates/,  and Southwest Vacations, and offer gift cards where you can purchase a denomination that can be applied to the trip or upgrade or some special activity or experience. One of our favorites for gift cards is spafinders.com.  Check the terms and how the cards or certificates can be applied. Best to choose an entity that offers lots of choices.

See also:

Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel

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