Category Archives: Family Travel

Christmas in Baltimore: Dazzling, Joyful, even Miraculous

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

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase tickets online, marylandzoo.org.

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

Hampden’s Miracle on 34th St

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the essence of the holiday spirit.

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

Christmas Village and the Holiday District

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

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

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

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Holiday Classics, Festivities, Happenings Return to New York City

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

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

FESTIVE PERFORMANCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINTER EXHIBITIONS AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LIGHT FESTIVALS AND DISPLAYS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICE SKATING RINKS

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

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

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

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

FLAGSHIP SHOPPING OFFERS

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

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

Holidays in New York

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

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

Holiday Lights in New York

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

SHOP LOCAL BUSINESSES AND POP-UPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOLIDAYS ON THE WATER

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

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

HOTEL HAPPENINGS

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUTDOOR IGLOOS AND CABINS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Holiday Lights Re-Kindle Holiday Cheer This Season

Magic of Lights

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Early Bird Pricing for Magic of Lights at Jones Beach

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

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

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

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

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

Magic of Lights at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island

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

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

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

Bronx Zoo’s Holiday Lights Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoo Lights Returns to the Maryland Zoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palm Beach Zoo’s “Zoo Lights”

Palm Beach Zoo Lights

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

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

Finger Lakes Festival of Lights

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

Finger Lakes Festival of Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holidays at the Newport Mansions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Mill Falls Emerges as Destination Resort on New Hampshire’s Famed Lake Winnipesaukee

Mill Falls’ rustic elegance invites guests to immerse in the gracious tranquil ambiance of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lake Winnipesaukee, “The Smile of the Great Spirit,” gets its name from a charming and romantic legend of the Abenaki Native American tribe who lived in this New Hampshire Lakes region for 11,000 years. The tranquil setting here indeed, immediately brings smiles to generations of visitors.

And Mill Falls at the Lake, in Meredith, proves a fabulous base for immersing yourself in the pleasures of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.

With a most picturesque setting on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire’s largest lake, Mill Falls is a most unusual sort of lakeside resort complex, with four distinct inns – Bay Point and Church Landing on the water, connected by a lakefront boardwalk, and The Inn at Mill Falls and Chase House across a busy boulevard. Mill Falls also offers a full-service Cascade Spa, EKAL Activity Center, five restaurants, 12 shops in a four-story Marketplace housed in the historic mill with a 40-foot waterfall, and a vibrant Main Street community to complete the experience.

Mill Falls invites guests to immerse in the gracious tranquil ambiance of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mill Falls’ name pays homage to its heritage – the story told in historic photographs that grace the walls. Meredith started as a mill town powered by the flow of water.

In 1983 Meredith Bay Corporation bought the mill property, raising most of the buildings, but reconstructing the historic old mill into a four-story “Marketplace” shopping experience. Most of the original hand-hewn beams and wide barn boards remain; a half-ton copper cupola acquired from the North Woodstock church tower was hoisted to a new perch on the mill roof. A shopping plaza with three new retail buildings was created and the lovely 54 room Inn with swimming pool was added. The area was beautifully landscaped, incorporating the waterfall.

The opening of the Inn at Mill Falls and the Mill Falls Marketplace was the end of the industrial chapter for Meredith, but the beginning of a new era for the town.

In 1993, the company acquired an office building on the lake, which was reconstructed into the Inn at Bay Point.

Chase Landing at Mill Falls on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, in 2003, after St. Charles parish moved, HHH acquired their old church and waterfront property – a spectacular promontory that juts into Meredith Bay. Rather than raze the church, HHH incorporated the structure into its stunning design in the style of the great shingled camps of the 1880s. Church Landing opened in May 2004.

The Boathouse at Chase Landing is set right on Lake Winnipesaukee shore © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition to a spectacular new inn, Church Landing added 1,000 feet of boardwalk to create a three-quarter mile contiguous public walkway along Lake Winnipesaukee’s waterfront, connecting Church Landing with The Town Docks Restaurant, The Christmas Loft, two public parks, and the existing walkway system that extends past The Inn at Bay Point. It also includes two 60-foot docks and a public gazebo and pier, which are attached to the existing town docks system. The final and crowning touch to Church Landing is the full-service Cascade Spa.

Three-quarter mile of connected boardwalk and walkways lead from Chase Landing to the Town Dock restaurant to the Inn at Bay Point and beyond © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yet another incarnation has taken place with the acquisition of Mill Falls at the Lake in 2019 by Procaccianti Companies, a New England-based, second generation privately-held real estate investment and hospitality services organization. The property is managed by its hospitality management affiliate, TPG Hotels & Resorts.

The new owners acquired the activities center, EKAL (lake spelled backwards), so has control and access to the rental bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, aquacycles, canoes that are now incorporated into a new daily schedule of programs, including both free activities as well as fee-based ones.

The EKAL Activities Center is central to Mill Falls’ new activities program © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The new General Manager Nick Squire and new activities director, Sharon Wells, are turning this lakeside gem into a full-fledged destination resort, and even a wellness retreat.

“Everything I do is sharing wellness,” the aptly named Sharon Wells (her motto, ‘Sharing wellness”) tells me during the ice cream social she is hosting on the Boathouse patio on a Saturday afternoon.

Sharon, who has spent her entire career in wellness, came to Mill Falls in April to create an activities program. Her idea is to expand it with creative and clever ideas.

She organizes a schedule of daily activities that are provided at no extra charge to guests – like pilates, yoga, cardio kick boxing, or meditation on the boathouse lawn; paddleboard yoga, a fun ice cream social on the boathouse patio, jump rope, water balloon toss on the boathouse lawn, Art at the Lake (paint in plein air), a campfire or a fire spinning demonstration. She invites the Coast Guard to give a talk on reading navigation charts, local fisherman to talk about their life, an herbalist to do a plant walk, wild animal demonstrations by the Squam Lake Science Center, a presentation by the Loon Center (there are 26 loon pairs on the lake).

Fire-spinning demonstration, one of the nighttime activities in Mill Falls’ program © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A score of activities are available to guests at extra fee – guided hikes, guided bike rides, guided kayaking trips, a sunset cruise on the Mill Falls’ pontoon boat (also available for charter) and in winter, skiing at nearby Gunstock Mountain – that take in the spectacular nearby preserves, mountains and lakes.

Sharon is developing weekend programs organized around wellness, hiking, leaf-peeping and the like, and plans to add Winter Wonderland activities, ice skating for when the lake freezes, snow shoeing, micro-spiking, Nordic skiing, winter hiking (check the website for dates). A group can request customized programs.

“My background is wellness, fitness, health. I came here in a time of need to be healthy. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental illness, obesity, drug addiction, alcoholism – these are top killers in US. The only way to become healthy is to be educated – get outdoors, eat better, meditate, work body-mind-spirit.”

A small beach for swimming in Lake Winnipesaukee at Chase Landing at Mill Falls © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She adds, “’Winnipesaukee’ means Smile of the Great Spirit – it’s about experience, memory, enjoying one’s family, exploring and discovering lakes region. True experience is gained through exploration – nature, beauty. I want people to appreciate the larger world beyond you. Let people feel calm, serenity, peace of wilderness. This place offers Yesteryear Simplicity – a place to de-stress, refresh, eat well, live well. We teach how to live a healthy lifestyle,” as she offers returning kayakers her cucumber, ginger and mint smoothie.

After leaving the ice cream social, following Sharon’s suggested route, I take my bike for a 10-mile ride following the lakeshore to get a taste of these neighborhoods.

Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire–25 miles long, 15 miles wide at its widest point, it has 72 square miles of surface, 182 miles to circumvent the lake, and contains some 244 islands, some as small as a quarter acre. (Neighboring Shaum Lake was where “On Golden Pond” was filmed).

Lake Winnipesaukee is 45,000 acres – about as big as Lake Tahoe, but because it is not deep (as Lake Tahoe is) and as little as a few feet deep near the shore, the water is in 70s, comfortable for swimming, and there are beaches.

Mill Falls invites guests to immerse in the gracious tranquil ambiance of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The setting is incomparable: crystal clear waters of the spring-fed Lake Winnipesaukee at the foothills of the White Mountains, surrounded by three mountain ranges and a the wooded shoreline.

It’s a haven for boaters – and if you don’t have your own, there are many places to rent any manner of boat or watercraft. There are ports all around the lake where you can just tie up and go ashore to enjoy restaurants, go to shops, buy ice cream.

There is much to explore on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee by boat or by car. Meredith is a restored mill village, where you can browse through antique, art and craft galleries. Weirs Beach has arcades and boardwalks, waterslides, a public beach and an activity center. Wolfeboro is a picture perfect village, right down to its historic Main Street. Center Harbor, Moultonborough, Tuftonboro, Alton, Gilford and Laconia all have their own special flavor. All communities have public parks and docks, and feature varied activities such as fireworks displays and band concerts throughout the year.

Mount Washington Cruises, a New Hampshire tradition since 1872, offers scenic and sunset dinner dance cruises on the 230-ft. M/S Mount Washington and two smaller vessels, the US mail boat, Sophie C., and M/V Doris E.

You can cruise along on the M/V Sophie C – the oldest and one of only two floating United States Postal Service post offices still operating – as it makes its deliveries to eight of Lake Winnipesaukee islands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a special experience to cruise along on the M/V Sophie C – the oldest and one of only two floating United States Postal Service post offices still operating – as it makes its deliveries to eight of the lake’s islands.

Floating post office service was started on Lake Winnipesaukee in 1892. The Sophie C. was built by Boston General Ship & Engine Works in 1945 to temporarily replace the Mount Washington, when the Navy commandeered its engines and boilers during World War II and took over the mail route from the Uncle Sam II in 1969. Sophie C. delivers mail Monday-Saturday, June to September, sells postage, and collects and postmarks outgoing mail. Sophie C. also operates as a sightseeing boat, carrying up to 125 people on her two cruises a day as she delivers mail, and sells ice cream and snacks to residents of the islands she serves.

Gazebo on Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are any number of places nearby for hiking, biking, mountain biking: Belknap Mountain, Mt. Major, Chamberlain-Reynolds Memorial Forest, West Rattlesnake Mountain, Red Hill, Gunstock Recreation Area, Abenaki Tower, Cotton Valley Trail and Russell C. Chase Bridge Falls Path.

Wakefield, which prides itself on being a bicycle-friendly community, offers six loops ranging from 11 to 52 miles long.

(More information from the New Hampshire Lakes Region Tourism Association including Lake WinnipesaukeeSquam LakeOssipee Lake, Lake Opechee, Mirror Lake, Newfound LakeLake Winnisquam and the White Mountains, 603-286-8008, lakesregion.org.)

Gunstock Mountain, 15 minutes away from Mill Falls, offers hiking trails, treetop adventures, mountaintop yoga classes, and electric biking; ski lifts, which in winter, access217 acres of skiable mountains, are open year-round.

Hermit Woods Winery offers wine tastings and tours (Food & Wine Magazine included it in its 2017 “500 Best Wineries in America”).

The 18-hole Waukewan Golf Club course,designed and opened by Dr. Melvyn Hale in 1958, is a few minutes away from Mill Falls.

Funspot, founded in 1952 by Bob Lawton  offers 600 games including 300 classic arcade games, a 20-lane ten-pin and candlepin bowling center, indoor mini-golf, restaurant and tavern (it was named the largest arcade in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2008). Lawton, who reportedly still works at Funspot, is a former representative to the New Hampshire legislature and revived the Weirs Times in 1992.

The timeless all-seasons resort on Lake Winnipesaukee, Mill Falls offers 171 rooms across all four inns, each with its own special ambiance – Church Landing, Bay Point, Chase House, and The Inn at Mill Falls – with all the elements for a family gatherings, destination wedding, corporate event or wellness retreat.

Indoor/outdoor pool at the Boathouse at Chase Landing at Mill Falls © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Church Landing (which includes the Boathouse where I stay) is a luxurious lakefront lodge with 70 rooms and is the best choice for a family or resort stay. It has two indoor/outdoor pools, the full-service Cascade Spa and Salon, stunning grounds and landscaping that just invite you to sit with a book or just gaze out to the lake, a small beach from which you can swim to a dock. You wander through Chase Landing, through lovely libraries and sitting areas, the walls covered with bookcases, stone fireplaces, a stunning mural depicting the lakefront, pool room, a patio with a stunning stone fireplace, wicker furniture, old wood beams. There is also the Lakehouse Grill which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has a lovely bar/lounge, with a lovely Adirondack feel and stunning views to the lake. The atmosphere is just wonderful.

My room, a spacious king suite with a balcony overlooking the lake, in the Boathouse, is a charming stone building with gorgeous wood rafters, and an old timey Adirondack-style rustic elegance  that instills tranquility.

Bay Point is a 24-room inn perched at the end of Meredith Bay with gorgeous views; completely renovated in 2018, it has a nautical ambiance.  

Bay Point at Mill Falls on Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The original Inn at Mill Falls, with 54 rooms and an indoor pool, is set within a restored 19th-century linen mill with a tumbling 40-foot waterfall.  It is adjacent to the Marketplace shops, restaurants and main street activities.  (Pet friendly rooms are available.)

The newly renovated Chase House, across the street from Meredith Bay, offers 21 guest rooms and the Camp Restaurant with a cabin-style atmosphere, servers embodying camp counselors, and specializes in comfort food. (There is no actual children’s activity camp at Mill Falls)

Town Docks on Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are delightful restaurants in each of the lodging buildings – Camp, Lago, Lakehouse Grill, Waterfall Café, Giuseppe’s Pizzeria and Ristorante – are run by The Common Man company.  I thoroughly enjoy breakfast in the charming Lakehouse Grill, in Chase Landing, with a wonderful Adirondack ambiance and views of the lake. There is also the Town Docks restaurant in the midst of the complex– a bustling place each evening, with outdoor lakefront seating.

Mill Falls tent is popular for summertime weddings © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mill Falls on the Lake is exceptionally well set up for wedding, meetings and conferences with several ballrooms (and now, in summer, a permanent tent on the lawn) and meeting rooms.

Mill Falls is very much a four-seasons resort – I see how marvelous it is in summer, I can only imagine how magnificent fall foliage is here, when the colors turn to crimson and gold, then winter white with the lake frozen enough to skate, and then, the pastel colors of spring’s renewal.

Mill Falls at the Lake, 312 Daniel Webster Highway, Meredith, NH 03253, 800-622-6455, 844-745-2931, info@millfalls.com, www.millfalls.com.

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Wyoming’s Red Reflet Ranch Provides Unmatched Experience for Families

Trail ride on the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming. The horse riding program at is the one of the best anywhere. Red Reflet Ranch owners Laurence and Bob Kaplan invite their guests to live a contemporary Wyoming ranch life – in high style © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman, David Leiberman & Laini Miranda

All the things that brought such delight when you were a kid – what theme parks and adventure parks try to emulate –are right outside our doorstep. But the real thing. This is the Red Reflet Guest Ranch, in Ten Sleep, Wyoming.

And what a doorstep! Our chalet is nestled amid red rock bluffs, overlooking a pond and green pasture and designed with windows to bring the breathtaking outside scenery inside. Every luxury and convenience to make you feel comfortable. At home. Even the breakfast fixings of fresh eggs from the chicken coop, pancake mix, tastiest bacon ever, freshly baked bread.

Enjoying breakfast on our porch at The Ponds chalet amid the red rocks of Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Red Reflet Ranch is the perfect antidote for families separated over the past year, a perfect place to come together, play together, share new experiences, as our family did, coming from opposite coasts.

Red Reflet is most certainly not a “dude” ranch, which connotes some rustic cowboy fantasy. When Bob and Laurence Kaplan bought the 28,000-acre cattle ranch 20 years ago and decided to welcome guests into their home five years later, Bob deliberately set it up so that every guest would feel personally invited, and have the opportunity to merge into their ranch life. It’s a Western-version of being invited to someone’s country estate.

The Ponds chalet just below the lodge at Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With only four guest chalets available, for a maximum of some 28 guests at one time, the main purpose of the ranch, I suspect, was to provide a constant stream of new people to entertain, share life stories with.

“It was a personal decision, never a business decision, to open the guest ranch,” Bob says. “If it was, we would have 50 guests. I never visited a guest ranch – I knew what I wanted.”

What Bob wanted was for guests never to be nickled-and-dimed, but for all the amenities and activities of the ranch (the list goes on and on, and when you book they send you the list so they can be prepared to offer you the activities you select) to be included. This includes horseback riding (best riding program I have ever experienced on any guest ranch) – even riding clinics for those who might want to learn roping or barrel racing – plus activities you would never expect, like each of us having an ATV to drive around the ranch for the length of our stay as well as the use of mountain e-bikes to explore 100 miles of trails, and zip-lining.

ATVs are your transportation around the 28,000-acre Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I never imagined myself driving an ATV (I got on the back to ride with Eric on the nail biting trails up to the cliff ridge); Laini had her first experience zip-lining and David and Eric had their first experience riding e-bikes up mountain trails. We all found new self-confidence and satisfaction in being able to take that “leap of faith” to try new things and conquer other challenges, and in the process, had these extraordinary experiences to share and enjoy together.

Bob shows us to his substantial wine collection, explaining his coding system (all the wines he buys are rated 90 or higher by Wine Spectator) – just help yourself. Beer is kept in a cooler and served in frosted mugs.

A portion of Bob Kaplan’s wine collection, available to Red Reflet Ranch guests © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The invigorating feeling is about place to be sure – the red-rocks and green pastures dotted with horses or cattle, not to mention 5,000-feet altitude, are breathtaking – but even more, it is about experience – the things you do and share. The Red Reflet Ranch is about creating opportunities to engage, immerse.

And not just with each other, but learning about the lives of the other guests and, of course, the ranch’s staff, like Nate Smith, the executive chef, a fifth-generation Wyomingite, born near Yellowstone Park who grew up hunting, fishing, working on the farm, and eating off the land by necessity, whose father is a butcher who runs a roadhouse, bar and restaurant called Cassie’s in their hometown of Cody; Penny Ready, the general manager who oversees the horses and riding program and relates how her great grandfather homesteaded here; and Bryley, who works with the horses and just graduated high school and bought her first horse.

Laurence Kaplan welcomes us to the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s a guest ranch – emphasis on guest –with an extraordinary level of luxury and hospitality, of warmth and welcome. Everything from the design, accommodations and amenities in these magnificent chalets, to the exquisite dining and stellar culinary creations. But while everything is topnotch, sophisticated quality, there is no pretention, the atmosphere is completely relaxed.

After dinner conversation, games and music around the fireplace at Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The style reflects owners Laurence and Bob Kaplan’s zest for life. Both are jet pilots (they fly their Cessna 500 from the Ranch’s airport, WY00), have traveled the world, speak multiple languages, and are philanthropists. After successful careers in business, they made the ranch their full-time home opening a new chapter in their lives and a place to welcome the world.

We feel it as soon as we arrive – welcomed in the lodge commanding the most spectacular view through a wall of windows, to have cocktails together before an elegant dinner (not your cliched ranch fare) served family style, with Bob and Laurence at the table in the magnificent dining room in a lodge perched with the best view of the red-rock canyon.

Executive Chef Nate Singer introduces each course and its clever combination of ingredients. “We don’t have same meal all summer,” Bob Kaplan says © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Executive Chef Nate Singer presents each course, each prepared with farm-to-table ingredients and delectable flavor pairings – as much as possible sourced from the ranch or locally, but also flown in from friends’ farms and other places.

It’s early in the season for Laurence to harvest what she grows on the ranch, so tonight’s asparagus was flown in from Bob’s friend in Michigan, the lettuce homegrown in Ohio. The watercress, though, was foraged from the creek bottom.

“We’ve never had this meal served tonight before,” Bob tells us, admiring Nate’s creativity. “We don’t have same meal all summer.”

During the course of our all-too-brief stay, we have elk (seared, sauted, tenderized) served with shitake mushrooms (Bob explains how he bow-hunts elk in September); rabbit ragout, marinated in red wine and served with homemade egg-yolk pasta, which Nate says is an old-world Italian recipe from one of the chefs he studied with, and the most delectable rib eye ever.  

The desserts, prepared by pastry chef Deth Dijon Kaiaphonr, feature a scrumptious chocolate mousse concoction, Deth by Chocolate; a Yuzu tart with Chantilly cream; a Basque cheesecake with white chocolate and black cherry compote, all presented with exquisite flare.

Pastry chef Deth Dijon Kaiaphonr prepares “Deth by Chocolate” dessert © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lunches are light yet so satisfying. Executive Sous Chef David Oulette prepares a chicken with wild mushroom soup, salad with walnuts, black grapes, balsamic vinegrette.

After dinner, Bob shows us to our chalet, The Ponds, pointing out our breakfast fixings (and how to prepare the grocery list) and all the aspects of this exquisite vacation home.

Our first morning, we are scheduled for a 10 am horseback ride – horseback riding is a stellar feature of the ranch. It’s been literally decades since any of us have ridden. Penny Ready, who manages the riding program as well as serves as general manager of the ranch, shows us the indoor riding arena (great in winter) and fits us for cowboy boots that we get to keep with us for our stay, then matches us to horses (they have 40) that will give us the best riding experience based on their personality and our experience.

Penny Ready gives David horseriding pointers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We get familiar with our horse in the corral and get tips on holding the reins properly, the correct way to have our feet in the stirrups, and how to control the horse. David, who hasn’t ridden in years and years, looks like he was born on a ranch, and soon is trotting, cantering, loping around the ring, with Penny fine-tuning his technique. We go out for our first trail ride, swooning amid the scenery of the red rocks and grey-green sagebrush.

Red Reflet Ranch has 40 horses available for guests; in addition to trail rides, guests can take clinics and even help wrangle cattle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our next ride is even more sensational and more extensive – the absolute prettiest trail and most fun ride ever – that takes us much further onto the ranch amid the cattle (probably the most contented Angus anywhere).

Penny Ready leads us on the most fun, scenic trail ride ever at the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Penny Ready leads us on the most fun, scenic trail ride ever at the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Penny Ready leads us on the most fun, scenic trail ride ever at the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you are inclined, when there is cow work to be done, you can “cowboy” the herd – ride with the wranglers to look over the herd, moving them as needed. From cattle drives to branding and gathering, they offer opportunities to experience what real ranching is about. In spring this might include branding, checking newborns and giving inoculations, sorting and pairing cattle.

After our first ride, we walk over to pick up our own ATV to use to get around the ranch and explore their trails into the hills (100 miles of trails for ATVs, mountain biking, hiking on property; guided tours are available). There have a fleet ATV’s and Side-by-Sides (SBS’s), even two kiddy ATVs. 

Red Reflet Ranch has 100 miles of trails for ATVs, mountain biking, hiking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our second morning, Laurence has organized zip-lining for all of us – which requires the assistance of several staff. She shows us in how to use the system, sets us up, then flies down herself showing off masterful techniques with a twinkle in her eye and a mischievous smile (like flipping upside down). There are four ziplines in the course which the ranch installed a few years ago and is ideal for team-building and family bond-building – and also affords the most amazing views of the ranch.

What a way to see Red Reflet Ranch! Laini has her first zip-lining experience © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Laurence Kaplan shows off her upside down flip on the zip-line © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ranch affords any number of opportunities for simple relaxation. Our favorite is the natural “Cowboy Waterpark”– a great swimming hole fed by a 3,000-foot deep Artesian well, which constantly refreshes the water at a natural 76-degrees temperature. There is a suspension bridge to a small island (we dubbed “Peter Pan island”), giant rope swings, zip line into the water, paddle boards, kayaks, a water slide and canoe and a sand beach and beach chairs – as ideal for team building as for giggling sibling bonding.

David and Eric enjoying the Cowboy Waterpark © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
David and Eric enjoying the Cowboy Waterpark © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We make time to swim in the gorgeous pool with the most spectacular view and the tennis court (rackets and balls are available) and check out the well-equipped fitness center,  climbing wall, playground  and basketball hoop – all atop this stunning bluff. You can also do riflery on the shooting range and archery.

Bob invites me to accompany him to the far reaches of the ranch where he built a Mountain Cabin, as he collects memory cards from motion-operated cameras that photograph when a black bear comes by (!), elk and other animals.

Bob Kaplan collects his memory cards from his motion-operated cameras that capture images of wildlife, including a black bear, in the far reaches of the 28,000-acre Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And I get to learn more about ranching – the intricacies of growing alfalfa, irrigation, water rights, and what’s involved in leasing pasture for cattle. It brings me back to my most meaningful college course, Ecological Anthropology (I wrote my final paper on how raising rabbits could solve poverty in Appalachia and at the ranch I get my first taste of cooked rabbit).

Driving from the lodge, we see the stunning changes in topography – from the rolling red hills to rolling grey-green sage hills, to a landscape dotted with Aspens (best for wildlife, the leaves are highly nutritious, Bob explains) and Lodge Pole Pine. It’s wildflower season and the hills explode with color of Spring Beauty, Lupines, Buckwheat, Yellow Bell, Columbines, Alpine Wallflowers, Balsam Roots, Black-eyed Susans, Larkspur, Showy Fleabane and Blanket Flower. Bob says he has to wait for the Larkspur, a brilliant purple flower, to wilt before cattle can be brought here because the flower is poisonous.

Idyllic scene just outside The Ponds chalet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrive at the mountain cabin, at some 3,000-feet altitude higher than the ranch, which is lovely, and powered by solar panels and a propane-fueled generator. It is used as a ‘rest stop’ for hikes, horseback rides, and ATV adventures by Ranch guests.

We switch to the side-by-side vehicle to travel around this pristine wilderness. I see what remains of the devastation of a tornado with 130 mph force that felled 5,000 trees. I get a glimpse of a 10-day old antelope running after its mother.

While Eric and David do mountain biking, Laini paints the stunning scene at the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Meanwhile, David and Eric have taken mountain e-bikes to explore trails while Laini paints. We come together to swim and play tennis before dinner.

Relaxing in the Red Reflet Ranch pool © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the night, I get up to do another of the ranch’s signature activities: star gazing. I just have to walk out onto the porch and see stars so striking, you feel you can pluck them with your hand. The Milky Way is laid out before your eyes. Serious star-gazers, can use the Meade Telescope set up in the lodge.

On our last day, after the most magnificent horseback ride, we take our ATVs back onto the trail that goes along the red rock rim. I am terrified to drive myself so I ride with Eric to have this amazing adventure.

On the back of Eric’s ATV as he drives  the rim ridge trail at the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is so much to do on the ranch that we don’t get to take advantage of some marvelous attractions nearby (in Wyoming terms), so I have on my list for when we return:

This is an area that dinosaurs roamed  – in fact, a nearby ranch was the site of a dozen complete dinosaurs that were excavated, and there is paleontology ongoing in the area (the ranch hosted paleontologists from the American Museum of Natural History). One ongoing excavation is at Dana Quarry, part of the Morrison Formation near Ten Sleep, where, weather and scheduling provided, you can view a live dinosaur dig where paleontologists are unearthing bones that date back 150 million years.  

Castle Gardens which has an outcropping of sandstone which the wind has eroded into fanciful shapes – hoodoos – resembling the turrets and towers of castle. This unusual formation has been luring visitors for thousands of years, and many of them left their mark in the soft sandstone–the area holds a treasure of Native American rock art, or petroglyphs. The site is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (Castle Gardens Petroglyph Site, Wyoming – Recreation.gov)

The Nature Conservancy Preserve of Ten Sleep, an 8,500-acre sanctuary for protected wildlife (open Thursday-Sunday, it was formerly owned by a Pepsi bottler and used for a Girl Scout camp) abuts the ranch.

There are scenic wonders – mountain ranges, canyons, pure mountain streams and lakes – all around the ranch, including the 1,115,000-acre Big Horn National Forest and 200,000-acre Cloud Peak Wilderness.

Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming has 100 miles of trails for ATVs, mountain biking and hiking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are also reminded that this land was once the home Indian tribes. The name of the town, Ten Sleep, refers to the number of “sleeps” to travel between two Indian camps on their trade route. The area is loaded with history, as I learn. Local museums include:

Ten Sleep Pioneer Museum has exhibits that show everyday life of pioneer families, tools,  clothing used to carve out a life in the rugged Old West. A special exhibit recreates the Spring Creek Raid that took place on the Red Reflet Ranch which marked a turning point in the rivalry between sheepmen and cattlemen.

Washakie Museum, Worland, tells how early settlers came to Wyoming and created lives for themselves with little knowledge of what to expect; it offers a major historical photograph collection, exhibits made for children to ‘touch’, art exhibits and learning programs focused on the geology, paleontology and archaeology of the region.

Also, The Buffalo Bill Historical Center , in Cody.

The chalets are luxuriously outfitted and decorated. Bob designed each to bring the stunning views inside with big picture windows. The amenities don’t stop: a steam shower in the master bedroom, fireplace, full kitchen, laundry facilities, TV, even walkie-talkies (some parts of the ranch don’t get telephone reception), the refrigerator stocked with all the breakfast fittings anyone could want – farm fresh eggs from their own chicken coup, pancake mix, bacon (best ever), fresh marmalade, snacks, freshly baked bread (and they send us home from dinner with fresh pastries).

Morning light outside The Ponds chalet at Red Reflet Ranch Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Penny Ready’s dogs help round up the horses at Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Ponds Chalet, where we stay, is located at the entrance of the red rim canyon. It is 1,620 square feet with 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms and accommodates up to six guests.

The Ponds chalet, Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bob Kaplan designed the Red Reflet Ranch chalets to bring the outside in © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
The Panorama and The Couples chalets command the highest perch at the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Panorama Chalet sleeps 6 and is 1,856 square feet, commands the most amazing views of sunrise and sunset, canyon vistas and views of the Big Horn, Jim Bridger, Owl Creek, and Absoroka Mountain Ranges.

On the same perch as the Panorama Chalet, the Couple’s Chalet, a 1,400 square feet and sleeps up to 4, is designed around a Great Room with large windows from which to regale the red rock canyon.

The Ranch House sleeps up to 14 and is ideal for large families or groups. It has a large yard, a pond and a tree house in the yard, and is near the greenhouse, garden and chicken coop, a favorite place for young guests who want to help gather fresh eggs.

The ranch is open year-round – I can imagine how magical it is in winter, when activities like tobogganing, sledding, snowmobiling are available as well as horseback riding and snowshoeing.

Red Reflet Ranch is a ideal for a family gathering, reunion, multi-generational getaway, destination wedding (!), corporate retreat, team-building, incentive travel program. It has the best combination of authentic, genuine experience and, yes, luxurious comfort.

The rate puts Red Reflet Ranch into the luxury category, but it is the sort of special vacation experience that is worth saving for.

Red Reflet Ranch, 10 Lodge Road, Ten Sleep WY 82442, 307-366-2340,  866-766-2340, www.red-reflet-ranch.net.

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From Glamping to Biking to Hiking, New York State Makes it Easy to Get Out There!

After a year’s hiatus, registration for the 2021 Cycle the Erie 8-day, 400-mile biking adventure from Buffalo to Albany is now open for a limited 350 riders. The 350-mile long Erie Canalway is now part of the state’s 750-mile long Empire State Trail Network © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, when so much was locked down and out of reach, New York State parks and outdoors were a godsend, providing needed respite. Indeed, the state’s parks received a record number of visitors, even as measures were in place to control capacity. And throughout the year, the state consistently made improvements and found ways to be available to more people.

The improvements are part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NY Parks 100 initiative, which renews the historic commitment to investing and expanding the State Park system by committing at least $440 million over the next four years.

“This critical period of revitalization will culminate in the 2024 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the State Park Act, which first created our nation-leading State Park system in 1924 under Governor Al Smith. NY Parks 100 will continue crucial investments in park infrastructure while enhancing opportunities to reach the full range of New York State’s recreational and cultural offerings, including local parks and trails, regional flagship parks and historic sites, and vast wilderness parks. The initiative will focus on creating places to recreate locally, relieving overcrowded parks, welcoming new visitors, and protecting New York State’s environmental and historic legacy. This new plan will ensure people from all communities and across all ages and abilities can fully experience our outdoors, our culture, and our heritage,” the state said.

Here are some of the improvements that will welcome visitors this year:

New York State has formed a new public-private partnership for a new tent camping service with 45 sites at four State Parks in the Hudson Valley. Tentrr’s fully outfitted campsites are available to reserve at the Sebago and Silver Mine areas of Harriman State Park in Orange and Rockland Counties; Taconic State Park and Lake Taghkanic State Park in Columbia County; and Mills-Norrie State Park in Dutchess County.

The service provides tents, sleeping accommodations and an array of equipment needed for camping at each site. All items are set up and ready to use upon arrival for added convenience and sites are maintained by Tentrr staff.

All locations include a 10-foot by 12-foot, canvas-walled tent atop a raised platform. Each site is outfitted with a queen-sized bed and memory foam mattress, a propane heating source, a solar-powered “sun” shower, a camp toilet, water container, Adirondack chairs, a fire pit, grill, and a picnic table with storage and benches.  

Tentrr camping site at the Sebago area of Harriman State Park, New York. The tenting service has a partnership with New York State to provide 45 glamping sites at four state parks in the Hudson Valley.

Guests have the option of single, double, and triple sites. Singles sleep up to six (two occupants in the main tent and four occupants in a provided pop-up tent). Double sites – or buddy sites – sleep up to 12 (two occupants in each of the two main tents and four occupants in each of the two provided pop-up tents) and triples can accommodate group camping. 

Sites are $135 per night, with a portion going toward the maintenance and stewardship of New York State Parks.

While Tentrr’s sites are naturally socially distanced, Tentrr adheres to state guidelines for maintaining and sanitizing the sites. Tentrr will continue to keep sites clean and wiped down with high-grade sanitizers and encourages guests to follow recommended COVID requirements and protocols. For more details on Tentrr’s COVID-19 protocols, visit here

To make a reservation, visit tentrr.com/nysp. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance.

Camp Rockaway

Through the Reimagine the Canals initiative, Camp Rockaway, a New York State based outdoor excursion company, is managing the site at Lock C-5 on the Champlain Canal in Schuylerville between Memorial Day weekend and September 8, with possible extension through early October. The glamping site will offer vacationing New Yorkers an opportunity to experience the vast history and bucolic landscapes of one of New York’s oldest canalside communities by enjoying luxury camping on the banks of the Canal.

Through the Reimagine the Canals initiative,  Camp Rockaway, a New York State based outdoor excursion company, will manage the site at Lock C-5 on the Champlain Canal in Schuylerville between Memorial Day weekend and September 8, with possible extension through early October.

Reservations are now being accepted for a glamping experience on the Champlain Canal that will attract visitors to the State’s historic upper Hudson Valley and boost the local economy that is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This new glamping experience is the latest innovation from Governor Cuomo’s $300 million Reimagine the Canals initiative that is revitalizing the Canal corridor as a tourism and recreation destination while simultaneously boosting economic development and the resiliency of canalside communities.

Visit https://camprockaway.com/schuylerville/.

Biking, Cycling the Eric Canal

Parks & Trails NY is offering its sensational eight-day, 400-mile biking adventure along the Erie Canalway for a 23rd year in 2021, after a hiatus in 2020. Riders will leave Buffalo July 11 and reach Albany on July 18. Registration is open for spots, limited this year to 350.

The route follows the legendary Erie Canal passing locks and aqueducts and winding through historic villages and rural farmlands. Over the course of the eight days, cyclists enjoy stunning pastoral scenes, fascinating history extending 400 years in which the story of how America came to be unfolds, and some of the best cycling in the United States. Covering between 40 and 60 miles per day, cyclists travel along the Erie Canalway Trail, which is now more than 85 percent complete and the east-west axis of the statewide 750-mile Empire State Trail.

You can’t help but become immersed in history on Parks & Trails NY’s annual Cycle the Erie ride, 400-miles from Buffalo to Albany and 400 years of history © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Designed as a supported camping trip, accommodations are provided with showers, toilet facilities, some with pools or lakes for swimming; eight breakfasts and six dinners; two daily refreshment stops along the route; evening entertainment including music and historical presentations; guided tours of the Canal, historic sites, museums and other attractions including the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, Erie Canal Museum and Village, Fort Stanwix National Monument and a boat tour through the Lockport locks; kick-off reception and end-of-tour celebration; Cycle the Erie Canal t-shirt; baggage transport; SAG wagon and mobile mechanical support; daily maps and cue sheets; painted and arrowed routes; pre-departure info packet including training tips. Other amenities available (at additional fee) include fresh daily towels, gourmet morning coffee, tent and air mattress rental and set up (for those who don’t want to pitch their own tent).

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the safety of riders, volunteers, staff, vendors, and local community members is at the forefront of planning. With this in mind, the tour is limited to 350 participants and volunteers; all registrations will be for the full eight-day option; and to keep everyone safe and meet state and local COVID-19 regulations, registration fees have increased this year.

The price up until June 7 is $1200/adult, $650 youth (6-17); $290 child (5 and under); shuttle is $100.

The PTNY coordinators are following the guidance from New York State, and will be prepared to follow all regulations in place in July. Registrants will be notified of any updates or changes. Visit New York State’s COVID-19 Travel Advisory to stay abreast of restrictions that might impact your travel plans.

Find answers to questions riders may have on the Cycle the Erie Canal FAQ page. If there are questions that aren’t covered, email  eriecanaltour@ptny.org.

Can’t do the Parks & Trails NY’s Cycle the Erie ride? Among the bike tour companies offering the trip, Wilderness Voyageurs offers a self-guided inn-to-inn tour (https://wilderness-voyageurs.com) and Classic Adventures (https://classicadventures.com/) and Womantours (www.womantours.com) offer guided itineraries.

Cyclists ride the Erie Canalway as Erie Canal Adventures’ Lockmaster sails by © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another way to enjoy the Erie Canal is by boat – and bring a bike along. Erie Canal Adventures’ fleet of 11 custom-designed Lockmasters sail from Macedon, near Rochester, NY, and with enough time, you can cruise some 200 miles from Buffalo to Lake Oneida in Syracuse along the canal. Besides sailing along the Erie Canal (as far as , you can also sail on other waterways, taking spurs south to the Finger Lakes, or north up the Oswego canal to Lake Ontario. Erie Canal Adventures, 315-986-3011, www.eriecanaladventures.com.

With all these marvelous ways to enjoy the Canalway, the trail system was more popular in 2020 than any prior year, according to the 2020 Who’s on the Trail report from PTNY and the NYS Canal Corporation. The system saw a record 4.2 million visits in 2020, with 3.97 million visits made to the 360-mile Erie Canalway Trail between Albany and Buffalo and 288,000 visits to the 90-mile Champlain Canalway Trail between Waterford and Whitehall.

And now, the 353-mile long Erie Canalway, from Buffalo to Albany is linked and part of the state’s Empire Trail Network – 750 miles of interconnected off-road and on-road biking and recreational trails and lanes from the tip of Manhattan to the Canadian border.

Empire State Trail Open

New York’s ambitious Empire State Trail, now the nation’s longest multi-use state trail, is now fully opened. The trail network spans 750-miles total, 75 percent of which is off-road trails ideal for cyclists, hikers, runners, cross-country skiers and snow-shoers. The new recreational trail means you can go from New York City north-south through the Hudson and Champlain Valley to Canada, and east-west from Albany to Buffalo along the Erie Canal on a safe and incredibly scenic pathway, discovering fascinating historic and cultural sites along the way.

Biking over the Rosendale Trestle, 150 feet above the Rondout Creek, on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, part of the New York Empire State Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Empire State Trail website provides quick and easy access to trail information including segment descriptions, access points, trail distances, parking areas, restrooms, and nearby amenities and attractions. The website’s responsive and user-friendly design allows users to access interactive maps from mobile devices, zoom in to specific location of interest, and download/print maps of trail segments. Cyclists can print “cue sheets” with highly detailed directions for following a selected trail segment. The site also features information about the variety of activities and destinations on or near the trail such as campgrounds, parks, historic sites, and popular stops among the local communities. (empiretrail.ny.gov/)

To promote the opening of the Empire State Trail, the state has formed a partnership with the nationally-known Boilermaker race to create the “Empire State Trail Challenge” virtual race where participants can register and log their miles to reach milestones tied to virtual progress along the Empire State Trail, through July 31.  

Participants can register now and begin logging their miles walking, running or cycling. Participants would complete the mileage of at least one leg of the Empire State Trail: either the Hudson Valley Trail: 210 miles (New York City to Albany); the Erie Canalway Trail: 350 miles (Albany to Buffalo); or the Champlain Valley: 190 miles (Albany to Canada Border at Rouses Point). Participants can sign up as teams or individuals. For more information or to register, visit the website.

Although people are encouraged to the explore the actual Empire State Trail, participants can run, walk, or ride anywhere geographically, on local trails and running/bicycling routes near where they live to log and complete the challenge.

Each entrant receives a t-shirt with their $25 entrance fee for a single leg of the trail. If interested, participants can register for additional legs at the time of registration or any time during the race period at $5 per leg. Challenge participants will enter their mileage on an online platform over the duration of the race window, reaching milestones tied to virtual progress along the Empire State Trail, and have the ability to share their experiences on social media.

State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “The Empire State Trail Challenge is one of the ways we are building back better at our state parks and trails. Our parks and trails have been safe and healthy outlets for everyone during the pandemic. Whether enjoying a fun nature break with friends and family, or truly testing their limits, the Empire State Trail Challenge offers participants of all ages and abilities a rewarding and socially distanced opportunity to enjoy New York’s outdoors.”

The Empire State Trail website provides quick and easy access to trail information along the 750-mile route including segment descriptions and an on-line map identifying off-road trails connecting on-road sections, trail distances, designated parking areas, restrooms, and nearby amenities and attractions. (https://empiretrail.ny.gov/)

Discovery Bicycle Tour on Empire State Trail

Here is what well may be the first bike touring company to come out with a guided, inn-to-inn trip along the recently completed north-south section of the Empire State Trail in New York State:  Discovery Bicycle Tours’ has introduced a six-day itinerary that rides from the very tip of Manhattan, to Albany.

The six-day trip rides 200 miles of the newly completed Empire State Trail, which actually extends 750 miles from Manhattan to Canada and from Buffalo to Albany.

Discovery Bicycle Tours’ six-day Empire State Trail trip starts on the Hudson River bikeway at the tip of Manhattan and rides up 200 miles on newly connected trails to Albany © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.

The Discovery Bicycle Tour goes through a wide variety of landscapes in New York State. Cycle passed the Freedom Tower and Manhattan skyscrapers, through forests, along lakes and rivers, with a triumphant finish in Albany, the state capital. You can be one of the first to enjoy this full section of the newly finished Empire State Trail, which allows cyclists to traverse the state almost entirely on dedicated hike/bike paths and routes.

Many miles are on dedicated rail-trail. And the riding is fairly flat with gentle hills. Look for vistas of the Catskill and Shawangunk mountains as you follow the gorgeous Hudson River Valley — favorite subject of Hudson River School landscape painters in the mid-1800s. As a bonus, you cycle across the Walkway Over the Hudson, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, and the iconic Rosendale Trestle.

Rated Level 1 (easier), daily cycling mileage ranges from 28 to 47 miles.

Accommodations are in casual and historic inns and a stylish boutique bed-and-breakfast.

The tour includes: 5 nights’ lodging, 5 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 4 dinners (you are on your own for 1 dinner in Rhinebeck), cycling routes with detailed maps and/or app-based navigation for those interested, plus bicycle, helmet, tour guides and van support, free week-long parking for guest cars in Hawthorne, NY. Free transfer on final day to either the Rensselaer Train Station (Albany) or take the van transit back to Hawthorne.

The trip is scheduled June 6-11, July 25-30, Aug. 1-6, Aug. 29-Sept. and Oct. 3-8, and is priced at $2,495; https://discoverybicycletours.com/empire-state-trail-bike-tour.

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

Adirondacks Preserve Gets Larger

Meanwhile, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state has acquired 1,263 acres of land in the Warren County town of Johnsburg in the southern Adirondacks. The parcel includes Huckleberry Mountain, an elongated peak that tops 2,400 feet, with spectacular cliffs on the ridge’s south and southwest face.

“Through the Environmental Protection Fund, New York State continues to invest in land acquisitions that conserve open space and preserve the natural beauty of this great state for future generations to visit and enjoy,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said.  “Preservation of the spectacular Huckleberry Mountain lands will benefit the region for generations to come, providing new opportunities for visitors to explore the outdoors.”

Hiking in New York’s Adirondack Preserve. The state just acquired 1,263 acres of land in the Warren County town of Johnsburg in the southern Adirondacks. The parcel includes Huckleberry Mountain, an elongated peak that tops 2,400 feet, with spectacular cliffs on the ridge’s south and southwest face. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation purchased this property from the Open Space Institute for $770,000 using resources from the State’s Environmental Protection Fund. Permanent conservation of this land will enhance recreational access in the region and offers opportunities to connect New Yorkers with nature, protect crucial watersheds, and improve important wildlife habitat in this part of the Adirondack Park. The newly protected land adjoins Wilcox Lake Wild Forest, which includes Crane Mountain, a popular, publicly accessible mountain peak that also provides access to exceptional cliffs for climbers. The Huckleberry Mountain parcel contains a wide range of wildlife habitats, including a high quality cold-water stream—Crystal Brook—that is excellent for brook trout, cliff faces that are a preferred nesting place for the endangered peregrine falcon, and a wetland complex home to an active heron rookery.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which were visited by a record 78 million in 2020. To book a spot in a New York State campground, go to https://newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com/. For more information, call 518-474-0456 or visit www.parks.ny.gov.

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York’s Adirondacks: Driveable Winter Olympic Playground

Skiing Whiteface, Lake Placid, NY and feeling like an Olympian © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Three of the best ski areas in New York are actually owned by New York State and operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority – Whiteface and Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks and Belleayre in the Catskills. (Among the improvements ORDA has made is  new RFID technology for direct-to-lift access and online purchasing so you can go directly from your car to the slopes; the ticket can be renewed online.)

Whiteface

Top of the list for ski areas with a world-class reputation is Whiteface, site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, where in addition to skiing, you can visit Olympic venues and even participate (biathalon, anyone? skate on the Olympic Oval, drive a coaster down the bobsled track).

Whiteface offers the greatest vertical, 3430 ft. from the summit at 4867 ft, of any lift-serviced mountain in the Northeast. This is a serious mountain – actually three mountains, Whiteface summit is a 4,867 ft.; Lookout Mountain tops at 4,000 ft.; Little Whiteface at 3,676 ft. – with more expert terrain, more long, rolling groomers (including the longest single intermediate run in the Northeast, the 2.1 mile-long Wilmington Trail) in the East. It offers 300 skiable acres: 89 runs (24% beginner, 44% intermediate, 33% advanced) and 53 acres of glades and 5 terrain parks, serviced by 13 lifts, including the gorgeous Cloudsplitter Gondola Ride that cuts an aerial path through the Adirondack Mountains on its way to the peak of Little Whiteface.

Skating on the Olympic Oval in Lake Placid © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Whiteface is my favorite ski destination in New York, largely because of Lake Placid, the ambiance and the extraordinary activities.

Experience the thrill of what it was like to be an Olympic Bobsledder during the 1980 Winter Games on the new Cliffside Mountain Coaster at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, which boasts being the longest year-round mountain coaster in the USA. You control the ride – you have the ability to go as slow or as fast as you’d like. Race your family & friends alongside the 1980 bobsled track to the bottom. During the scenic ride to the top of the Cliffside Coaster you learn about the inspiring Olympic history of the Lake Placid Sliding Center.

Other attractions and recent upgrades to the Olympic Sites include the new Sky Flyer Zipline at the Lake Placid Olympic Jumping Complex, the new SkyRide Experience, an 8-person gondola that brings guests from the Olympic Jumping Complex’s base lodge to the 90-meter and 120-meter ski jump towers, a new glass-enclosed elevator ride to the top of the ski jumps for a panoramic vista of the Adirondack High Peaks (and to experience what the jumpers see as they start to accelerate towards the end of the ramp!), new Nordic trails at Mt. Van Hovenberg (where you can try your hand at the biathalon).

In Lake Placid village, visit the Olympic Center, skate at the Herb Brooks Arena and on the Olympic oval, and visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.

Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, Lake Placid © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is no lodging on the mountain (it’s a wilderness area, after all), but many lovely inns, bnbs, hotels and resorts nearby, including the Whiteface Lodge Resort & Spa and Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa.  We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, conveniently located in Lake Placid village, walking distance to everything, and accessible to a convenient shuttle bus to the mountain (www.golden-arrow.com).

Also High Peaks Resort which offers three unique lodging experiences overlooking Mirror Lake and the Adirondacks: The Resort, a traditional hotel featuring 105 guest rooms and suites (newly renovated in March 2020); the modern retro-vibe Lake House with 44 guest rooms; and the private and serene Waterfront Collection, featuring 28 guest rooms including 10 suites on the shores of Mirror Lake. Amenities available to all guests include the Spa & Salon at High Peaks Resort, two indoor and two outdoor heated pools, an indoor Jacuzzi, an on-site fully-equipped fitness center, and a full-service restaurant, Dancing Bears, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests also enjoy private access to Mirror Lake with complimentary use of skates, along with admission to Lake Placid’s full-service Nordic Center, Cascade Ski Center, with more than 12 miles of groomed trails for cross country skiing and snowshoeing (complimentary use of showshoes).  Dogs are welcome, with special canine-friendly treats and amenities. (High Peaks Resort, 2384 Saranac Avenue, Lake Placid, NY 12946, 518-523-4411, 800-755-5598, www.highpeaksresort.com

The newest additions are The Lake Placid Inn (opened July 2020) and the Saranac Waterfront Lodge, an eco-luxe independent boutique hotel that opened Nov. 1, 2020.

Whiteface, Lake Placid, 800-462-6236, 518-946-2223; Olympic Center, 518-523-1655; vacation planning assistance at  whitefacenewyork.comlakeplacid.com, whiteface.com.

Gore Mountain

As a perennial blue-trail/intermediate skier, Gore Mountain is one of my favorite places to ski. Nestled in the Adirondacks, it offers expansive views of a real wilderness. You actually feel as if you were in the Rockies.

Gore Mountain is New York State’s largest ski and ride resort with. 439 skiable acres, it spans four mountains, including Gore, Bear Mountain, Burnt Ridge Mountain and Little Gore Mountain, a vertical drop of 2,537 feet from the summit at 3,600 ft,  121 trails (10% beginner, 50% intermediate and 40% advanced), including 110 alpine trails (longest is 4.4 miles), with 28 glades, 8 freestyle areas and 11 cross-country and snowshoe trails, all serviced by 14 lifts.

Skiing Gore Mountain, in the Adirondacks © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This season, Gore is unveiling two new lifts: a new quad replaces the High Peaks chair to deliver skiers toGore’s true summit, opening up fresh access to all four peaks and the entire Straight Brook Valley; and the Sunway Chair has been upgraded to a quad. The Cutoff trail in the Northwoods Area has been lengthened and redesigned to become an easier-rated trail. “Pete’s Paradise” now is an additional beginner option. There is also a significant increase in snowmaking capacity.

There is no on-mountain lodging, but there is the delightful Copperfield Inn (www.copperfieldinn.com/) in nearby North Creek which we enjoyed one Christmas; for a grand, luxurious stay, The Sagamore, in Bolton Landing on Lake George is 45 minutes away (www.thesagamore.com).

Gore Mountain, 793 Peaceful Valley Road, North Creek, NY 12853, Snow Phone: 518-251-5026, info 518-251-2411, info@goremountain.com,  goremountain.com.

More Winter Adirondack Activities

In addition to skiing and snowboarding at Whiteface in Lake Placid and Gore Mountain in North Creek, there are plenty of other ways to embrace the cold in the Adirondacks: hiking (including five fire tower trails in Hamilton County that travelers can visit and climb even in the winter!), cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dogsledding, pond hockey, ice skating and ice fishing. 

Winter hike through Ausable Chasm, the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mirror Lake has plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy on the ice, including skating, cross country skiing, toboggan rides, dog sledding and skating on the Olympic Oval, just as the Olympians did. The Wild Center in Tupper Lake transforms into a winter playground once the snow hits – Winter Wild Walk, a learn-to ice-fish program, snowshoeing, and some other outdoor winter programming and activities. Oak Mountain (about 2 hours from Lake Placid) is a small family-friendly ski resort ideal for avoiding crowds and offers skiing, snowboarding and tubing along with disc golf and free snowshoeing. Ausable Chasm, the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks, offers winter tours of frozen waterfalls and spectacular sights, less than an hour from Lake Placid. And at the end of the day, Main Street Lake Placid has plenty of boutique shops and restaurants to welcome visitors in from the cold.

The Adirondack Wayfinder, a new virtual service that showcases the park through thematic road trip itineraries, takes the guesswork out of planning where to go by allowing users to search through a variety of curated itineraries that appeal to different interests, from outdoor recreation, wide-open spaces and family-friendly itineraries to dining, brewery tours, and more. (www.adirondackwayfinder.com)

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

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

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

Here are some vacation ideas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellowstone National Park © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Old Faithful Lodge (June 8-Oct. 4)

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

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

Lake Yellowstone Hotel (June 17-Oct. 4)

Lake Lodge (June 17-Sept. 2)

Canyon Lodge (June 19-Oct. 12)

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

Madison (June 15-Oct. 18)

Bridge Bay (June 17-Sept. 7)

Grant Village (June 17-Sept. 13)

Canyon (June 19-Sept. 20)

Fishing Bridge RV Park will remain closed through fall of 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backcountry Shuttle Boat (June 17-Sept. 13)

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

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

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

Mammoth Hotel (June 1-Oct. 12)

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

Old Faithful Lodge (June 8-Oct. 4)

Lake Yellowstone Hotel (June 17-Oct. 4)

Canyon Lodge (June 19- Oct. 12)

Lake Lodge (June 17-Oct. 4)

Madison Campground (June 15-Oct. 18)

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

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

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

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

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

Arches National Park, Utah has reopened.


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

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


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

Moterra Luxury Camper Vans

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

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

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

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

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

Moterra luxury camper van.

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

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

All-inclusive packages consist of:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

Here are some suggestions for your summer vacation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other adventures from Western River Expeditions include:

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

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

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

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

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

Luxury Active Vacations from Butterfield & Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discovery Bicycle Tours: Yes You Can Bike This Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Jersey’s Beach Mecca The Wildwoods Reopens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antidote for Cabin Fever: Road Trip to the Great Outdoors

Perfect antidote for cabin fever: Parks & Trails NY’s eight-day, 400-mile Cycle the Erie biking/camping trip from Buffalo to Albany, NY (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

This time last year I was getting set for an around-the-world Global Scavenger Hunt which took me to places that I had always hoped to see – Petra, Jordan; Myanmar; Vietnam; Morocco, just to list a few. The coronavirus pandemic has made that experience impossible this year. But it just goes to show: Don’t put off experiences, especially not a trip of a lifetime.

These are uncharted waters for the travel industry, and for travelers.

With the worst of the crisis appearing to be coming under control, state governments are looking to gradually reopen and lift their lockdowns. The same is true for people venturing out of doors. People are burning with cabin fever but may be cautious.

Here is the antidote to cabin fever: I’m thinking outdoors, great open vistas, clean air. This is a great time for a throwback to the 1950s family road trip to enjoy the Great Outdoors. Instead of a station wagon, pack up the SUV and set an itinerary that revolves around national and state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves. I’m thinking camping (koa.com) or glamping (glampinghub.com). I’m thinking hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking.

“It’s vital that people find ways to engage in physical activity during this time; the benefits to our immune systems and our mental health are significant. But it is critical that we do so in ways that will keep us safe and minimize the spread of the pandemic,” writes Ryan Chao, President, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Rails-to-Trails’ Conservancy has compiled resources, provides information on the latest on trails, walking and biking and the COVID-19 pandemic (Visit railstotrails.org/COVID19), and provides a trail-finder website and app, TrailLink.com, which is free for anyone to use to find particulars on more than 37,000 miles of multi-use trails nationwide, including trail maps, walking and biking directions to get to the trail, and contact information for local trail management organizations (visit railstotrails.org).

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn on the Delaware-Lehigh Trail (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are more ambitious ideas:

An ideal trip (and also one of my favorite bike tours ever) which hits all of these criteria (driving distance, biking, camping) is the Cycle the Erie, an eight-day 400-mile, fully supported biking/camping trip, from Buffalo to Albany, operated by Parks & Trails NY. At this writing, the 22nd Annual Cycle the Erie was still taking place July 12-19, 2020. (they expect to make a decision on May 12; they have eased the cancellation policy and would transfer the registration at this year’s fee next year if they have to cancel.) For information on Cycle the Erie Canal, call Parks & Trails New York, 518-434-1583, email eriecanaltour@ptny.org or visit www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal.

Hopefully, other supported biking/camping rides that also support nonprofit organizations will also run, such as the BikeMaine 2020: Katahdin Frontier – a seven-night ride 340 mile-loop (17,455 feet of climbing), from Old Town, September 12-19, 2020 (www.bikemaine.org)

The next best thing is an organized bike tour – self-guided trips obviously have the fewest people to interact with, and guided – that utilize inn-style accommodations are our favorites. We have enjoyed trips around the world – the Danube Bike Trail, Greek islands bike/boat trip, Venice-Croatia, Slovenia, and Albania (Biketours.com is a great source), and I’m still hoping to take my family on a self-guided bike trip of northern Portugal in late summer – but there are fabulous trips within driving distance that can be done on rail-trails with camping, inns and airbnb.com, such as the Delaware-Lehigh trail in Pennsylvania and the Great Allegheny Passage which can be linked with the C&O trail that can take you from Washington DC all the way to Pittsburgh, PA, and the Erie Canalway.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wilderness Voyageurs, a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor adventures throughout the US and even Cuba, offers many guided and self-guided bike itineraries built around rail trails like the Eric Canal in New York, Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania and Katy Trail in Missouri. Last year we thoroughly enjoyed the six-day “Badlands and Mickelson Trail” bike tour of South Dakota. Wilderness Voyageurs, 103 Garrett St., Ohiopyle, PA 15470, 800-272-4141, bike@Wilderness-Voyageurs.com, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com.

Biking the Mickelson railtrail in South Dakota with Wilderness Voyageurs (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bicycle Adventures is offering 6-day bike tours of Oregon Columbia (riding and hiking); South Dakota’s Mickelson Trail; and Washington San Juan Islands. Bicycle Adventures, 18047 NE 68th St, Ste B140, Redmond, WA 9805 (425-250-5540, bicycleadventures.com).

Tour Operators to the Great Outdoors

Tour operators are in a position not only to have access to permits and accommodations in places that are likely to be overrun this year, but are better plugged in to what is happening on the ground,  can move passengers around, adapt itineraries. Wilderness adventure travel companies so far are still offering trips this summer.

Based in Billings, Montana, Austin Adventures has spent over 35 years building an international reputation as a top provider of luxury, small group, multisport tours for adults and families to the world’s most captivating destinations. Austin Adventures has perfected the art of creating itineraries featuring exceptional regional dining, distinctive accommodations, incredible guides and exhilarating activities, all while keeping all-inclusive rates and services the norm. In addition to scheduled group departures on all seven continents, Austin Adventures has developed a reputation as the leader in customized trip planning and execution, all backed by the industry’s best money-back satisfaction guarantee. For information on Austin Adventures’ trips, cruises and distinctive accommodations on seven continents:800-575-1540, info@austinadventures.com, www.austinadventures.com.

Western River Expeditions escorts more people down rivers on professionally guided rafting trips in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company and is the largest licensed outfitter in the Grand Canyon. (866-904-1160, 801-942-6669, www.westernriver.com).

Moab Adventure Center, a division of Western River Expeditions and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, is a one-stop resource for a myriad of outdoor adventures that take you to Arches National Park and Canyonlands and river rafting. (435-259-7019 or 866-904-1163, www.moabadventurecenter.com)

Moab Adventure Center, Utah, is a one-stop resource for a myriad of outdoor adventures that take you to Arches National Park and Canyonlands and river rafting.

Holiday River Expeditions hopes to be offering its river rafting trips from the end of June through the end of the season in October. The company, operating out of Green River Utah, offers trips on the Colorado, Green River, San Juan and out of Vernal, on the Yampa, in heart of Dinosaur National monument.

Holiday River has just put out The Complete Guide to Whitewater Rafting Trips in Utah, for do-it-yourselfers as well as people who are more than happy to use a commercial outfitter. This new resource for every kind of adventurer is offered free and online.

Here are the seven river trips chosen for inclusion in this new resource:

The Colorado River through Cataract Canyon 

The Colorado River through Westwater Canyon

The Green River through Desolation Canyon

The San Juan River in Utah

The Green River through Lodore Canyon

The Yampa River

Labyrinth Canyon

“Oar power is the most natural way to experience the river and the absence of motors makes high water trips as exciting as it gets. Rafters experience the rush of wind, a chatty raven or a churning rapid absent the drone and smell of a motorized raft,” said Tim Gaylord, Director of Operations and Holiday employee since 1978. (For information, availability, reservations or the catalog, 800-624-6323, Holiday@BikeRaft.com, www.bikeraft.com)

Rethink “Lodging”

A perfect corollary for any sojourn into the wilderness, instead of staying in a hotel, consider glamping – basically luxury camping that brings you into the most gorgeous and distinctive places, close to nature, in comfort but affording very distinctive experiences.

With the popularity of glamping surging, an array of glamping destinations have popped up around the world in recent years, offering everything from geodesic domes to Airstream RVs to tiny homes. For example:

Fireside Resort: By combining the amenities of a luxury boutique hotel with the atmosphere of a wooded campground, Fireside Resort offers Wyoming’s best glamping experience. The lodging options reflect the heritage of the valley’s original homesteader cabins, with cozy fireplaces, full kitchens, private furnished decks, and outdoor fire pits. Situated on wildlife-filled acres where moose, elk, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles and deer roam, Fireside Resort is just seven miles from Jackson’s bustling town square.

Fireside Resort offers Wyoming’s best glamping experience.

Kestrel Camp: The American Prairie Reserve in Montana is piecing together what will be the largest nature reserve in the lower 48 states, totaling 3.5 million acres, and restoring habitat and species in the process. APR’s Kestrel Camp offers five yurt-style luxury suites set around a central lounge and dining room serving chef-prepared meals, as well as a safari-style experience with special access to tour the reserve’s ecosystem with personal naturalists.

A great source to finding glamping accommodations is GlampingHub.com, an online booking platform for unique outdoor accommodations across the globe. With over 35,000 accommodations in over 120 countries, Glamping Hub’s mission is to connect travelers with nature in order to create authentic experiences in which travelers can stay in the great outdoors without having to sacrifice creature comforts—camping with added luxuries and five-star amenities. Guests can find over 27 different types of glamping accommodations to choose from on Glamping Hub from safari tents, tree houses, and cabins to tipis, villas, and domes. (glampinghub.com)

Or, think cottage on a beach (Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard are my favorites).

Rethink “resort”.

I’m thinking dude ranch: Duderanch.org lists 100 in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and such, but there are also dude ranches as close as the Catskills and Adirondacks in the wilds of New York State, like the Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson, NY 12446, pineridgeranch.com), Ridin’ Hy, year-round inclusive ranch resort in the Adirondacks Preserve near Lake George, Warrensburg, NY 12885, 518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com);  and the ever-popular Rocking Horse Ranch (reopening June 12, 600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 877-605-6062, 845-691-2927, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

And while many will choose to venture within driving distance – biking, hiking (check out the Hudson River School Art Trail in the Catskills and camping at the North-South Campground, for example) – I will pretty much bet that traveling by air will be absolutely safe because of the regimen that every airline has imposed (going as far as to leave middle seats empty; sanitizing surfaces and utilizing hospital-grade ventilation/air purification systems). I would bet that the most dicey part of an airline trip will be getting through airport security.

Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Air Travel

Airlines are doing their best to allay passengers’ concerns – both from the point of view of health as well as easing up cancellation, change and refund policies. This from Delta is fairly typical of the major carriers:

“In the current environment, it’s important for all of us to travel smarter and more consciously. That’s why I want to personally update you on the situation with COVID-19 (the coronavirus) and the steps we are taking to ensure your health and safety in your travels,” writes Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

“For more than a decade, Delta has been preparing for such a scenario. As a global airline, we have strong relationships in place with health experts including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local health authorities worldwide. We are in constant contact with them to make sure our policies and procedures meet or exceed their guidelines.

“Operations are our lifeblood. We’ve learned from past experience with outbreaks like H1N1 and Ebola, and have continually refined and improved our ability to protect our customers. That includes the way we circulate clean and fresh air in our aircraft with highly advanced HEPA filters, the new fogging procedures in our cleaning process, how we sanitize aircraft between flights and how we respond if a customer is displaying symptoms.

“A full report on the measures Delta is taking to help you have a healthy flying experience..outlines our expanded cleaning and disinfecting at our airports and on board our aircraft; distribution of hand sanitizer and amenity kits to help customers stay clean; and the technology on our aircraft to filter and replace cabin air.

“A command center in Atlanta has been stood up to guide our response, leading our global team of thousands of Delta professionals dedicated to this effort. That includes our reservations specialists handling thousands of incoming calls, our flight crews and Airport Customer Service (ACS) agents taking extra care of our customers, and our TechOps and operations coordination teams keeping the airline moving. This world-class group of airline employees has your back, and I have never been prouder of the women and men of Delta.

“To ensure you always have access to the latest information and guidance, we have a website on the COVID-19 situation that is continually being updated with cleaning policies and actions we’re implementing to keep you safe, ways you can stay healthy while flying, and changes to our flight schedules and waiver information. Transparency is one of our core values, and we are committed to keeping you fully informed as the situation evolves.

“While we’re committed to providing you with information you need to make informed decisions around your travel, we also understand the need for flexibility based on your individual circumstances. To make sure you can travel with confidence, we’re offering flexible waivers, and we’ve also adjusted our network in response to guidance from the State Department.

“We understand that in today’s world, travel is fundamental to our business and our lives, which is why it can’t – and shouldn’t – simply stop. I believe Delta’s mission of connecting the world and creating opportunities is never more important than at times like this.”

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