Category Archives: Holiday Travel

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine Ushers in New Year with Inspirational Concert for Peace

The traditional candlelighting that is so inspirational concludes the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine as people sing, “This Little Light of Mine.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my favorite ways to bid adieu to the year and begin anew is the annual Concert for Peace at the magnificent Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, now in its 34th year. This is a signature New Year’s Eve event that was founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984 with the idea of bringing together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music. It is an event that rings in the new year with inspiration and resolve.

Led by Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music, this year’s concert featured soloist Sidney Outlaw joining the choir for Robert Convery’s powerful setting of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I have a dream during the 50th anniversary year of King’s assassination and the 20th anniversary of his composition.

Cathedral choir and orchestra conductor Kent Tritle with baritone Sidney Outlaw and composer Robert Convery after performing “I have a dream” honoring Martin Luther King Jr. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The choir performed make peace by David Lang and presented the New York premiere of Wayne Oquin’s Alleluia. Jason Robert Brown performed his stirring composition, “Singing You Home” with vocalists Kate Baldwin and Ashley Perez Flanagan, a newly written spiritual performed with Spanish and English lyrics expressly for the separated migrant families.


Jason Robert Brown, Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist, performed “Singing You Home,” which he wrote for the separated migrant families with vocalists Kate Baldwin and Ashley Perez Flanagan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Paul Winter performed on soprano sax his composition, “Sun Singer, written with Paul Hatley.


Paul Winter on soprano sax performs “Sun Singer which he composed with Paul Halley © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The concert also included music by included William Boyce’s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat;  Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 in A Major, J.S. Bach’s Dona nobis pacem from his Mass in B minor.

The Cathedral Choir’s Jamet Pittman leads the audience in This little light of mine © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Choir’s own Jamet Pittman led the audience inThis little light of mine as the entire congregation lit candles and basked in the glow to welcome the new year with hope, joy, and affirmation.

Here are more highlights:

The Cassidy Family from Toronto © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral itself is a marvel. Originally designed in 1888, with construction beginning in 1892, the cathedral has undergone radical stylistic changes and the interruption of the two World Wars. It started out in Byzantine Revival-Romanesque Revival style, but the plan was changed to  Gothic Revival in 1909. A major fire on December 18, 2001 caused the cathedral to be closed for repairs until 2008. It remains unfinished with construction and restoration a continuing process – which inside, only adds to the mystique of the place. It boasts being the largest Gothic cathedral, and may be the world’s largest Anglican cathedral and church; it is also the fourth largest Christian church in the world.

Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music, leads the Cathedral Orchestra at the New Years Eve Peace Concert ©  Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine is a stunning venue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The traditional candlelighting that is so inspirational concludes the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine as people sing, “This Little Light of Mine.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Cassidy Family from Toronto at the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The cathedral houses one of the nation’s premier textile conservation laboratories to conserve the cathedral’s textiles, including the Barberini tapestries. The laboratory also conserves tapestries, needlepoint, upholstery, costumes, and other textiles for clients.

There are concerts by the Cathedral Choir and other artists and events throughout the year. Check the website for details.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue (at 112th Street), New York 10025, 212-316-7540, info@stjohndivine.orgwww.stjohndivine.org.

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

Candlelight Evening in Old Bethpage Village Restoration Warms the Heart, Soothes the Soul

Carolers sing holiday favorites at the bonfire in the middle of Old Bethpage Village © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Music abounds throughout Old Bethpage Village Restoration, the evening warmed by the orange-red glow of candlelight, fireplace embers, a bonfire.   The annual Candlelight Evenings at Old Bethpage Restoration, a living history museum on Long Island, is one of my favorite holiday events.

The most wonderful thing about the candlelight evenings at Old Bethpage Village Restoration on Long Island, is yes, the sense of stepping back into time, into an idyllic peacefulness that makes you feel as if you have just fallen into a Christmas card. But what I love best are the serendipitous moments when you engage the reenactors in conversation- the questions that arise just because you are immersed in that experience.

Each year, I add to the stories, my understanding of history and our community’s heritage.

Just leaving the visitors center is an experience. Just before you exit the center, inside, a group of Santas in modern dress are singing but as you walk down the ramp into the darkness, leaving pavement and electric lights behind, carolers are singing in a shadow. I meet up with them again in the village.

The village is actually a created place, assembled from historic homes from across Nassau County (it was Queens County when they were built), except for the Powell Farm, which is the only original homestead here and dates from 1855. Many of the homes were built by people whose names are well known to Long Islanders: Hewlett, Searing, Schenck, Cooper (built in 1815 for the famous inventor, Peter Cooper, in Hempstead). Most were built in the 1800s, but the Schenck House, the oldest, was built around 1765 for a Dutch landowner, Minne Schenck, who had 300 acres in Manhasset (manpower was provided by African slaves and servants).

Walking along the pebbled path, lighted only with flames, I come upon a brass band outside the Conklin House, built in 1853 by Joseph H. Conklin, a bayman, in the Village of the Branch.

Santa is making lists and checking twice, here in his workshop at the Layton House and General Store  during Candlelight Evening at Old Bethpage Village Restoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The centerpiece of the Village is the Layton General Store and House, built by John M. Layton, a storekeeper, around 1866 in East Norwich. Though the house seems very fine – with large rooms and tall ceilings, I am told that he was middle class. Here, in the parlor, I meet Santa Claus who seems to be making out his list and checking it twice. In the next room is the Layton General Store – the Walmart of its day – where you can purchase candy and dolls that are made by one of the interpreters.

Max Rowland plays banjo at the Noon Inn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next important house is the Noon Inn is appropriately just across from the general store, where when you climb the stairs, you find Max L. Rowland regaling an audience with his banjo, reconstructed to its period of the early 19th century (no frets, gut strings, deeper tone), and a concertina. If you ask, he will tell you about the instruments: in the mid-1800s, the concertina was the most popular instrument around – because it was relatively inexpensive (costing less than a violin), and compact, easy to carry and capable of such rich sound and complexity.  It was extremely popular with sailors, who could tuck it away in their gear. Rowland can testify to it: this particular concertina has crossed the sea three times with Rowland, who lives on a boat.

Carolers at the Noon Inn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Downstairs at the Noon Inn, which dates from 1850 and was owned John H. Noon, innkeeper, in East Meadow, you can get hot mulled cider and cookies, while outside, there are carolers singing beneath a lamplight. I catch up with them again later singing at the bonfire. It is magical.

At Queens District No. 6 School House, which dates from c. 1845 in Manhasset, there is traditional fiddle music, played on a period instrument, a 150-year old violin that had been made in Prague, that has no chin rest or frets. We learn about the Manhasset School house – children attended the one-room school house six days a week – attendance wasn’t compulsory and kids came sporadically. Music would have been widespread but there were no real professional musicians in Long Island. The school house would have been the venue for music, entertainment (like the Magic Lantern shows, the movies of their day), and various gatherings in the evening. He tells me that all of Nassau County used to be part of Queens County, until the residents wanted to separate from New York City. One of the songs he plays is the Fireman’s Quick Step, written in 1822 by Francis Frank Johnson, an African American composer, for the Philadelphia Fireman’s Cotillion fundraiser.

At Queens District No. 6 School House, which dates from c. 1845 in Manhasset, there is traditional music played on a 150-year old violin, such as the Fireman’s Quickstep, written in 1822 by Francis Frank Johnson, an African American composer, for the Philadelphia Fireman’s Cotillion fundraiser  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Music was so important to the people of the mid-19th century, the period which Old Bethpage reconstructs. When you think about it, people could only appreciate music live, in the moment.

At the Hewlett House, a grand home high on the hill, built by the founder for which the town of Hewlett is named, a fellow plays a series of flutes and a violin, while popcorn is popping in the kitchen fireplace in the next room (samples provided).

Traditional music and popcorn at the Hewlett House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the beautiful Manetto Hill Church, 1857, a Methodist church that originally was located in Plainview, there is singing and storytelling – the origin of holly (representing male), ivy (representing female), so the two entwined are a symbol of marriage; mistletoe (which, rather than a romantic prompt for kissing, was used to make peace between quarreling individuals) and poinsettias. We sing carols and learn that “Jingle Bells” was written by a Sunday School teacher for a Thanksgiving  pageant(New Englanders didn’t celebrate Christmas), and Silent Night was a poem written in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria by  Father Joseph Mohr in 1818 (his organist Franz Xaver Gruber wrote the music), desperate for Christmas music when the church organ broke.

Singing holiday songs, learning about holiday traditions at the Manetto Hill Church © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Luyster Store, which dates from c. 1840 and was built by John B. Luyster, a storekeeper in East Norwich, you see the rare craft of broom making (and can purchase the brooms that are made here). Tim works on a machine from 1840 which was in the museum’s collection, and you can see how much physical effort goes into it. He says he and his brother, Chris, are two of only three broommakers left on Long Island (the third is their mentor). He explains that a home would have had 2 brooms per room, or 18-20 per household, so not to transfer dirt from one room to the next. Brooms were actually expensive: an ordinary broom might have cost 24 cents – but that was equivalent to half-day’s wages in the 1840s, when the Great Recession was worse than even the Great Depression and the average man took home 48 cents a day; that means a broom would cost about $50 today (so his price of $20 for a fancy broom decorated for the holidays with fancy ribbons, holly and weaving, is a bargain).

Tim, the Broommaker at Luyster Store, one of only three broommakers left on Long Island, who demonstrate the craft © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This was an enterprise that farmers would do in winter to make extra money, and they would allocate an acre of land to cultivate the special wheat sorghum (called “corn” but not corn) for that purpose. A father would teach his child the craft. An interesting artifact in the store is the massive safe. The building itself was once a hardware store that was the only one within 10 miles of Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill, so it may well be that Roosevelt would have stopped by. There is also an interesting Harrison for Reform banner, referring to William Henry Harrison, the shortest-lived president (he died of pneumonia after one month in office).

Traditional holiday music at Benjamin House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Benjamin House, dating from 1829, was built for William Benjamin, a minister and farmer in Northville, where there a husband and wife play holiday melodies that would have been popular at the time on a gigantic bass fiddle (it seems to fill the room) and a violin, like “Deck the Halls,” which was a Welsh melody dating back to the 1600s. We discuss Christmas traditions of the time (gift-giving wasn’t yet a tradition, but Queen Victoria had popularized table-top Christmas trees as a loving gesture to Prince Albert).

I stop into the Conklin House, a house that dates from 1853 and was built by Joseph H. Conklin, a bayman in the village of Branch. Last year, there was a demonstration of spinning being done in front of the fireplace, but this year, two ladies relax over a cup of tea after demonstrating how they bake ginger snaps.

Ladies relax over a cup of tea after a busy evening baking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tiny Searing House (this is the first time that I can remember it being open for Candlelight Evening), was Dr. James Searing’s office, a Hempstead physician, built in 1815 – where the doctor would have prepared his medicines  before going out by buggy to visit patients – and here, we are treated to freshly roasted chestnuts.

I usually save the Schenck House for last because each year, because it is here that I come upon the most unexpected encounters and find it the most illuminating. Instead of interpreting the holiday traditions of the mid 1800s, the Huntington Militia re-create a Colonial Christmas in the 18th century. The Schenck House dates from 1765, owned by a Dutch farmer. Here, our presenters speak in the style of the time, and celebrate Christmas of 1775, just two months after Martin Schenck, who inherited the house from his father,  had been one of the leaders of the committee of Patriots that decided to break from Loyalist Hempstead, and form North Hempstead. I learn that the south shore of Long Island was a occupied by the British from 1776-1783, the entire duration of the Revolutionary War, while the north shore was a stronghold for Patriots, many of them the Dutch families who had no great affinity for the British monarch. The Schencks came to the New World when New Amsterdam was a Dutch colony; the British took it over in 1754.

Schenck House, oldest in Old Bethpage Village, dating from 1765, where the Huntington Militia enacts a Christmas gathering in 1775 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am swept into its history. I am transfixed talking with “Ambrose Everyman,” a fellow from 1775, an American of English descent really troubled by North Hempstead’s succession from the Town of Hempstead over the issue of rebellion against the King and Crown. His loyalties are clear. He raises the question over how the colonists are made so dissatisfied with the King – and questions the veracity of the crimes and accusations designed to foment rebellion. He notes that since the first Continental Congress, the Massachusetts faction of the Patriots have banned women from going to the tavern, banned theatrical entertainment – in effect, installed the Puritan societal structure on the colonies. And because of the “attack against one of the colonies is an attack against us all,” he questions whether the attacks in Lexington and Concord, portrayed as a British massacre, really happened that way.  “How do we really know?” he tells me (the original “fake news”?).  Mr. Everyman was upset with the upstarts in Massachusetts who caused so much trouble, who dared to pretend to be Indians and toss tea into the sea. He called them cowards for hiding behind their disguise. He said he knew war – had fought in the French and Indian War – but was too old to fight again. If there was a break with England, he says, his business of building and repairing houses, would be destroyed.

Schenck House, oldest in Old Bethpage Village, dating from 1765, where the Huntington Militia enacts a Christmas gathering in 1775 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But, he says, he cannot express his feelings: the local Committee is strictly enforcing its ban on English tea and though it had no force of law, someone who broke faith would be shamed in the Gazetteer as “an Enemy of American Liberty,” would no longer get business, and ultimately be forced out of the community. So he keeps his views to himself. Taxes? What difference does it make to pay taxes to England or taxes to the Congress, he says. And doesn’t England deserve to get repayment for the expense of fighting for the colonies? How would those who would break from England confront the greatest army on earth? Would they get aid from foreign powers like France, when France would want to take over the colonies for itself?

He gives me the sense of what a difficult dilemma this was – the prospect of confronting the most powerful nation the world had never known, the superpower of its time – and how while there had never been consensus (New York patriots fled to Philadelphia), the forcefulness with which the revolutionaries pressed their cause, the violence, a literal civil war within communities.

He goes on to show the group of Candlelight visitors that has gathered how the owner of the House, Martin Schenck, would have celebrated St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), when the children put out wooden shoes, filled with a carrot to draw the horse that St. Nicholas rides through the sky on, and leaves them treats – an orange that would have been an expensive treat having been imported from Jamaica, and  skates for the young girl, a pull-toy for the baby.

The Noon Inn, built around 1850 in East Meadow by John H. Noon, innkeeper, is the centerpiece of Old Bethpage Village Restoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, at The Barn on the Long Island Fairgrounds- a reconstruction of the Queens county Agricultural Society Fairgrounds that was built in Mineola, 1866-1884, there is the model train show, crafts fair, contra dancing, a brass ensemble and a delightful performance of “Scrooge’s Dream” (a condensed version of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol”).

This year, the Old Bethpage Candlelight Evenings are only five nights, Dec. 22, 23, 27, 28 and 29, 5-9:30 pm. Old Bethpage Village Restoration, 1303 Round Swamp Road (Exit 48 of the Long Island Expressway), 516-572-8401; Adults/$10, children 5-12/$7 (under 5 are free); and $7 for seniors and volunteer firefighters.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Favorite Family Winter Holiday Places, Where Life-Long Memories are Made

Horse-drawn sleigh ride across a field at the Mountain Top Inn& Resort in the Vermont countryside is like a Currier & Ives painting come to life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are lodgings you choose to hang your hat after skiing, and then there are lodgings you choose because they are absolutely enchanting, especially for the winter holidays, which have the added delight of providing proximity to great skiing – ideal for families when not everyone’s cup of tea is skiing. Here are some of our favorite places to spend the winter holidays:

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, where we had the most delightful Christmas last year, is breathtakingly enchanting, complete with rides on a horse-drawn sleigh gliding across its expansive fields, a Currier & Ives landscape come to life. The setting, on 350 acres with a 740-acre lake, and ringed  by the Green Mountain National Forest, offers its own 60 km cross-country ski trail network; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s that sits on a private 70-acre island on Lake George, is a sensational self-contained resort in one of America’s oldest tourism destinations. It is just 45 minutes from Gore Mountain, one of the best ski destinations in the East, certainly in New York State (a shuttle is provided); also nearby is West Mountain (downhill skiing, tubing, night skiing) and Crandall Park (cross country skiing, night skiing). The full-service resort offers ice skating, snowshoeing, indoor pool and spa, special holiday activities, (www.thesagamore.com866.384.1944)

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s, is set on a private 70-acre island on Lake George © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House has been enchanting guests for more than 100 years. Founded by the Smiley Family in 1869, the Victorian castle resort, a National Historic Landmark, is set on cliffs overlooking a lake, nestled in the Hudson Valley surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forest, only 90 miles north of New York City. Mohonk offers a world-class 30,000 sq. ft. “eco-friendly” spa, indoor pool, a spectacular skating pavilion, rock climbing, 85 miles of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. New winter “wellness” programming is designed to help guests combat the “winter blues” and embrace the beauty of the season, with new mindfulness offerings that include fireside meditation, winter forest bathing and mindfulness lectures. If you can pull yourself away from its warm embrace, downhill skiing in the Catskills (Hunter Mountain, Belleayre, Windham) is an hour away. (844-207-8372, www.mohonk.com)

Now an Omni Hotels resort, the elegant Mount Washington Hotel, “a favorite New England retreat of presidents, poets and celebrities,” is just across the road from New Hampshire’s largest ski area, Bretton Woods (yes, that famous mountain hotel where world leaders signed the 1944 Treaty of Bretton Woods ending the gold standard in, fittingly, the Gold Room), with numerous trails and glades and three terrain parks. The grand resort has its own cross-country skiing on the golf course; one of the longest zip line tours in New England (year-round); a full-service 25,000 sq. ft. spa; two 4-diamond dining rooms (one is a former speakeasy) and sleigh rides. (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

Stockbridge, Massachusetts is another utterly picturesque New England village which is like a Norman Rockwell painting of Americana – in fact, its Main Street is immortalized in Rockwell’s “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” that includes the Red Lion Inn, where we stayed one Christmas – so much character!  The Red Lion has been welcoming travelers to the Berkshires since 1773, one of New England’s few inns that has been operated continuously since before 1800. It is beyond charming – with early American furnishings, much of which has been in place for a century. It has hosted five presidents and other notables including Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  And much to do in Stockbridge, including the not-to-be-missed visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum, as well as Arrowhead Museum, the home of Herman Melville, in Pittsfield. (www.redlioninn.com).

We were able to combine our delightful holiday stay at the Red Lion with downhill skiing and snowboarding at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the largest ski and snowboard resort in southern New England (37 Corey Road, Hancock MA 01237, www.jiminypeak.com, 413-738-5500).

A great source for fascinating places is Historic Hotels of America, www.historichotels.org and www.historichotelsworldwide.com, where you can find the perfect destination hotel or resort, intimately connected to the heritage, the people, the personality of the place, wherever you are headed.  

Skiing, a Great Way to Spend the Holidays

Skiing (and snowboarding) is the great equalizer for families, something that is adventurous and gets the adrenalin rushing, where you feel a satisfied sense of accomplishment, and where kids can show up their parents. The resorts, especially the self-contained ones built around a small village with cute cafes and boutiques, all do a superb job of being festive. And there’s nothing better after a vigorous, bracing day on the slopes, than coming back and getting cozy in the condo with hot chocolate, or smore’s over a firepit, or a steamy Jacuzzi, or setting out for the skating rink or hopping a gondola to a mountaintop restaurant.

Park City’s historic Main Street. The Hyatt Centric provides a free shuttle into the town each evening © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Park City, Utah, goes all out for the holidays and the town itself is utterly charming with sensational restaurants, boutiques, and you can fly out in the morning to Salt Lake City and be on the slopes, just 35 minutes away, by 1 pm. Park City Mountain celebrates the holiday season with Snowfest: a 16-day winter festival, Dec. 22-Jan. 6, featuring après ski events, musical acts, village entertainers, and activities including ice sculptures, s’mores roasting, meet-and-greets with the avalanche dogs and more. Activities will be presented at both the Park City Mountain Village and Canyons Village each day. On Monday, Dec. 24, Park City’s 56th annual Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade takes place, a tradition as old as the resort itself, when 100 Park City instructors ski down with lit torches creating a beautiful scene on the Mountain, joined by Santa Claus. The resort, the largest in the US with 7300 acres of terrain, two distinct base areas, nine hotels, two dozen restaurants and a new eight-passenger gondola, does an excellent job of interconnecting with Park City itself, a most charming Western town. Book 7 days in advance online for discounts on lift tickets; check out holiday packages, events and lodging and updates on terrain and weather reports at ParkCityMountain.com. (Also visit snow.com for info on all the Vail Resorts.)

The intoxicating view at Park City Mountain, Utah, which after being combined with The Canyons, is now the biggest ski area in the US © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hyatt Centric at the Canyons base, which has been a superb lodging for our stay and has its  own lift for ski in/out convenience, and is just a five-minute walk to the shops and restaurants, let us use the outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, sauna and lockers after we were checked out. Our two-bedroom condo (the hotel has 27 two-bedroom suites, which can be turned into 3 bedroom suites, and 15 one-bedroom suites) is unbelievably spacious, outfitted with every possible amenity including a full-kitchen, a dining table that seats eight, three TVs, a Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom, four balconies, windows everywhere there open up to the gorgeous outdoors, and washer/dryer (so convenient when you ski).The hotel also offers a free nighttime shuttle into historic Park City (parkcity.centric.hyatt.com).

Similarly, Lake Placid is a charming village that is the hub for Whiteface in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Plenty to do, from the Olympic ice skating oval and museum downtown, to Olympic venues (you can even do bobsled, skeleton, biathalon, go up the Ski Jump towers, cross-country – even if there is someone in the family who doesn’t ski, or even if do, there is so much to enrich a trip. (Try to also fit in a hike through Ausable Chasm, incredible in winter).  It’s not for nothing SKI Magazine named Lake Placid #1 ski town for Off-Hill activities.

The Bobsled Experience: Lake Placid is the only area in the Northeast where you can experience bobsled, luge and skeleton. You get to “slide” with a professional driver and pusher © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We loved our festive holiday stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which offers a shuttle bus up to Whiteface, but also is a hub for all that Lake Placid offers: walking distance to the Olympic Oval ice skating rink and museum or ice skate on Mirror Lake just outside the resort; lovely shops and restaurants, and the local “toboggan roller coaster.” Also dog-sledding across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and guided snowshoeing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. (www.golden-arrow.com, 844-209-8080)

Other favorite New York State ski destinations: Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks (North Creek is a delightful village to stay), Belleayre, Windham, Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. (See Ski New York, www.iskiny.com, for more ideas.)

Other favorites for the holiday vibe as well as great skiing: Smugglers Notch (a complete, self-contained mountain destination that is tops for families), Mount Snow, Stratton (now part of Ikon Pass) and Okemo (now part of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass) in the Northeast (see SkiVermont.com);  Heavenly and Northstar around Lake Tahoe, California; Vail, Breckenridge (a historic town), Keystone Resort (sensational for families, easy to reach from Denver International Airport) in Colorado. Great source for ski holidays, Ski.com, a ski-specializing travel agency.

Warmer-Weather Winter Favorites 

St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, lying midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. The islands are a popular resort playground, offering a mix of natural beauty, rich history and quaint charm, coupled with the allure of inviting year-round weather (winter temps are in the low 60s). Visitors are enchanted by the natural canopy of moss-draped live oaks and the memorable Tree Spirits, hand-carved images of weathered faces that immortalize the area’s sailors who lost their lives at sea. The King and Prince, a member of Historic Hotels of America, offers a complete resort experience, including oceanfront dining, beachfront activities to horseback riding, tennis, biking and fishing. A variety of tours are available that provide samplings of the area’s history and culture, whether by foot, bike, trolley or boat.There are five oceanfront pools including a heated pool; enjoy golf at its famous The King and Prince Golf Course, and tennis. What I especially love is the opportunity to explore St. Simons – especially by bike. There are also dolphin cruises, shrimp boat excursion, kayaking, historic trolley tours of the island. Take time to explore Fort Frederica National Monument (which was an entire settlement, dating from 1736), Christ Church, and St. Simons Lighthouse & Museum. (www.kingandprince.com, 800-342-0212; member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is an intimate ocean retreat, luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent, situated on seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is a very special place. An intimate ocean retreat, it is both luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent. Situated on the sweeping back drop of Florida’s Gold Coast with seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools,  it is one of only two Forbes Five-Star resorts in Palm Beach and eight in Florida. The award-winning Eau Spa is not to be missed. The resort offers an imaginative array of activities, from stand-up paddleboarding, to snorkeling in aquamarine waters, to surfing lessons, tennis. Borrow a complimentary cruiser bike to explore Palm Beach on a fabulous recreational trail. Palm Beach also offers many wonderful museums and historic attractions also, like the Flagler Museum; try to fit in a visit to the Palm Beach Zoo if you can pull yourself from the beach and the stunning pools. (www.eaupalmbeach.com, 800-328-0170).

One of our favorite places is the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida – if  Cole Porter were a hotel, it would be this one, and just steps away from Delray Beach (I think one of the nicest, most scenic beaches on the Florida’s Atlantic coast); the hotel even has its own private beachfront country club. Delray Beach is a sumptuous confection of art and culture, once voted “America’s Most Fun Small Town.”  Among the features are complimentary breakfast buffet; wifi at hotel & club; fitness room; weekend live entertainment; walk to beach and access to private beach club with a saltwater pool).  (www.thecolonyhotel.com, 561-276-4123, 800-552-2363; a member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another way to get into the spirit of “America’s Most Fun Small Town” is a stay at the  Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, which puts you right in the middle of all the activity Delray Beach offers, including a short walk to the beach, and yet makes you feel so far away, in some tranquil, private tropical retreat. It’s whimsical and fun. A fabulous buffet breakfast is served under the thatch roof of the tiki bar. (cranesbeachhouse.com, 561-278-1700, 866-372-7263).

Leave time to explore Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Wakodahatchee (best birding anywhere), Loxahatchee (kayak or canoe in the Everglades, look for alligators!) and Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens.

The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs is wrapping up its centennial celebrations with the recent unveiling of its largest, grandest holiday gingerbread display ever, a 13 ½-foot-tall, 11×11-120-square-foot gingerbread replica of the original 1918 Broadmoor resort. Situated at the gateway to the Colorado Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor and its Wilderness Experience properties of The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp encompass 5,000 acres. The resort campus has 784 rooms, suites and cottages. It includes championship golf courses, a Forbes Five-Star spa and fitness center, indoor pool, nationally recognized tennis staff and program, 24 retail boutiques and 10 restaurants and 10 additional cafes and lounges, including Colorado’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant Penrose Room. Other activities include falconry, guided mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing tours, fly-fishing, paintball and more. The Broadmoor owns and manages attractions that include Seven Falls and The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zip-line courses. During the winter season, Broadmoor guests may choose from a wide selection of complimentary weekend activities and classes designed to enlighten, excite, educate—or simply enjoy, including cooking classes, wine and spirits demos, fly casting instruction, golf instruction, dance classes, fitness classes. Holiday activities include Christmas dining events, face painting, carnival games, laser tag, and story time. Nearby activities include: Bear Creek Nature Center, Cave of the Winds, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Children’s Museum, Florissant Fossil Beds, Hiking in North Cheyenne Canyon, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Royal Gorge Bridge, World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, Western Museum of Mining, and World Ice Skating Arena. (www.broadmoor.com, 855-634-7711)

More Holiday Travel Ideas

Cruising is a great way for families to be together for the holidays. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises do a superb job for families, with spectacular entertainment, waterparks and other mind-blowing activities on board and age-appropriate children’s activity programs and dining options. These floating resorts bring families together around activities and interests, dining and entertainment, adding in the incalculable delight in exploring new places. Our family treasures our multi-generational reunion on a Carnival cruise during Christmas week that called at Key West and Cozumel (Mexico), both such colorful places. Your travel agent can best advise on choosing a ship, a cruiseline, an itinerary; also visit cruisecritic.com.

Visit Harry Potter at Hogwarts at Universal Studios Orlando © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Theme parks really deck the halls for the holidays, with parades, decorations, special activities. Our favorites include Universal Studios Orlando (loved our stay at the Loews Portofino), DisneyWorld (we had a really fun time at the Coco Key Hotel outside Disney, with its own waterpark and shuttle transport to the park), Busch Gardens Tampa (an outstanding zoo as much as it is a theme park) and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Close to home and an absolutely delightful theme park destination is Hershey Park (particularly great for families with younger kids): Its most festive seasonal event of the year, Hersheypark Christmas Candylane includes 4 million lights in a choreographed light show, 45 rides and coasters, entertainment, a visit with Santa. “Hersheypark Christmas Candylane Package,” available on select dates Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, includes one night accommodations at The Hotel Hershey (a grand, historic hotel) or Hershey Lodge resort and one day Hersheypark admission for the whole family, milk & cookie delivery, admission for 1 vehicle to Hershey Sweet Lights attraction. Also visit  ZooAmerica, an 11-acre zoo with 200 animals open year-round. (www.hersheypark.com, 717-534-3900).

Taking a trail ride at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dude ranches are a hoot; no matter your age, you wind up being a kid again. We had an entirely different holiday experience the Christmas we spent at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (formerly the Pinegrove Ranch, was acquired this year by the former barn manager and two long-time guests). It’s an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, archery, tubing, iceskating, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. Riding horses over snow-covered trails is really special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times (some families return each year). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, 845-626-7345, reservations@pineridgeduderanch.com, www.pineridgeduderanch.com.

Rocking Horse Ranch is a perennial family favorite. In the best tradition of Catskills resorts (all-inclusive) and dude ranch, it offers unlimited horseback riding, an indoor water park, live shows and entertainment, meals and tastings. Activities include bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall, mountain tubing, a spa and “exotic wildlife” exhibit (600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 800-647-2624, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Favorite Places to Travel to Spend the Christmas Holidays

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

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

Christmas in the Capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas in Newport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Favorite Places for the Winter Holidays 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas in Victorian Cape May, NJ

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

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

Christmas at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation Draws Thousands

Macy’s Balloon Inflation goers get a first look at Goku, the legendary hero of Dragon Ball who makes his Parade debut this year ahead of his starring role in the North American theatrical release of Dragon Ball Super: Broly this January © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Millions will line the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route despite record cold temperatures for the 92nd annual parade, but on the night before Thanksgiving, tens of thousands come out to take part in a pre-holiday festival, which has come to be known as the Macy’s Balloon Inflation.

After braving lines that funnel through 73rd and Columbus to Central Park West, snaking up to 77th Street, they get to see up close as 16 giant character helium balloons and 43 novelty/ornament balloons, balloonicles (a hybrid balloon and vehicle that Macy’s invented), balloonheads and trycaloons (a Macy’s hybrid tandem bicycle and balloon concoction) being readied for their Thanksgiving Day flights. The new class of balloons includes the anime star Goku from “Dragon Ball Super, Broly”; Fleck, Bjorn, Jojo and Hugg the elf stars of Netflix’s “The Christmas Chronicles,” Little Cloud by Friends With You; the newest entry into the Parade’s Blue Sky Gallery series of balloons by renowned contemporary artists, the Go Bowling pins and bowling ball balloonicles; Sinclair’s Baby Dino balloonicles and the astronaut star of Macy’s Christmas celebrations, Sunny the Snowpal.

Hundreds of volunteers take part in the event, many who will be proudly marching with their balloons the next day. Among them, Douglas Malnati, who has been one of the balloon volunteers for 15 years, starting right out of college. He’s otherwise an IT guy.

Douglas Malnati, who has been one of the balloon volunteers for 15 years, starting right out of college. He’s otherwise an IT guy. He will be handling one of the balloons in the 92nd Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here’s who to look for in the parade

CHARLIE BROWN PEANUTS WORLDWIDE

Everyone’s favorite blockhead, PEANUTS’ Charlie Brown once again flies through New York City with his trusty kite. This November, Charlie Brown will practice his flight moves ahead of next year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of man- and beagle-kind landing on the moon! The celebration kicked off in July with the signing of a Space Agreement with NASA to bring the joy of space exploration to a new generation. Despite getting tangled with his kite’s tail, Charlie Brown is sure to arrive just in time to 34th Street for his big moment in the spotlight. Balloon Dimensions: 53-feet long, 31-feet wide, 46-feet tall Fun Fact: Charlie Brown’s famous kite measures 26-feet wide and nearly 30-feet tall and its tail is more than 80-feet long.

Charlie Brown gets inflated ahead of next year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of man- and beagle-kind landing on the moon © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID® ABRAMS CHILDREN’S BOOKS

The mega-popular star of the internationally best-selling book series, Greg Heffley will fly in the Parade for the ninth time this Thanksgiving. The second edition of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid balloon takes its third trip down the Parade route celebrating the release of the 13th book in the series, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown.” As always, Greg will delight millions of fans as he seemingly slips on ice during his Parade march down the streets of New York City. Balloon Dimensions: 62-feet long, 32-feet wide, 62-feet tall Fun Fact: 2018 marks the ninth Parade appearance for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the third flight of the latest version of the main character Greg Heffley as a balloon giant.

SINCLAIR’S DINO® SINCLAIR OIL CORPORATION

America’s most famous Apatosaurus, Sinclair’s DINO (pronounced DYE-NO), returns to New York City after traveling across the country visiting stations and meeting fans. DINO is a classic Parade balloon, first appearing in the 1963 Macy’s march. Balloon Dimensions: 72-feet long, 24-feet wide, 36-feet tall Fun Fact: The original DINO balloon was inducted as an honorary member of the Museum of Natural History in 1975, and the balloon returned to the Macy’s Parade in 2015, after nearly 40 years.

THE ELF ON THE SHELF® The holiday season would not be the same without Santa’s trusted Scout Elves. The arrival of the Elf on the Shelf® balloon marks the kickoff of the holiday season for families across the country as they prepare to welcome back their Scout Elves during Scout Elf Return Week™. Balloon Dimensions: 46-feet tall, 28-feet wide, 64-feet long Fun Fact: The Elf on the Shelf balloon is one of the biggest balloons in the Parade by height, width and length.

DRAGON BALL SUPER: BROLY’S GOKU FUNIMATION® The legendary hero of Dragon Ball takes to the streets of Manhattan for his Parade debut this year ahead of his starring role in the North American theatrical release of Dragon Ball Super: Broly this January. Goku, the star of the iconic Japanese animation franchise Dragon Ball, is a Saiyan warrior who was sent to destroy Earth as a child. When a brain injury changed Goku’s programming, he became peaceful, good-natured, loving and honest – many adjectives that describe the celebration of Thanksgiving! Balloon Dimensions: 70-feet long, 36-feet wide, 56-feet tall Fun Fact: The Goku balloon is depicted in his new Super Saiyan Blue form, which represents a new era of the Dragon Ball franchise.

ILLUMINATION PRESENTS DR. SEUSS’ THE GRINCH ILLUMINATION ENTERTAINMENT Everyone’s favorite Christmas curmudgeon returns this Thanksgiving as The Grinch, along with his loyal dog Max, return to the Parade route trying to steal more than just Santa’s thunder. With a sack full of toys the duo celebrates their second Parade this year and the release of the new comedy Illumination Presents Dr. Seuss’ THE GRINCH Balloon Dimensions: 49-feet long, 24-feet wide, 37-feet tall Fun Fact: The Grinch and Max are only the fourth-ever giant balloons to take flight as a duo in the Parade’s history.

Watching the Macy’s Balloon Inflation has become an iconic New York City event along with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, now in its 92nd year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

JETT BY SUPER WINGS™ ALPHA GROUP Jett, the fun-loving transforming plane from the animated preschool series Super Wings on both Netflix and Universal Kids, is used to adventure as he travels the world delivering packages to children and solving problems along the way. This November he will be fueled and ready for takeoff on his second flight through the streets of New York City Thanksgiving morning. Balloon Dimensions: 47-feet long, 39-feet wide, 31-feet tall Fun Fact: Jett made his debut in 2017 and is the widest balloon in the Parade — his wingspan is equal to the size of an actual Learjet.

OLAF WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS Olaf, the beloved snowman from Disney’s Frozen, returns to the Macy’s Parade with his usual cheerful disposition on full display. Taking a break from his starring role in the hit Broadway Musical Disney’s Frozen, Olaf will spread dazzling smiles down the route, warming the hearts of millions of spectators this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 58-feet long, 32-feet wide, 60-feet tall Fun Fact: Olaf is the first-ever Macy’s balloon to glisten, mimicking real snow. This required perfecting the right mixture of white shades of paint and glitter that truly make Olaf standout as he takes flight down the Parade route.

PAW PATROL® SPIN MASTER LTD. & NICKELODEON Showing the citizens of New York that “no job is too big, no pup is too small” Chase the Police pup from the popular preschool series, PAW Patrol, is ready to protect all as he flies down the 2.5-mile route this November. Balloon Dimensions: 60-feet long, 36-feet wide, 43-feet tall Fun Fact: Chase’s hat could cover an actual police squad car and his paws are larger than two full-grown German shepherd dogs.

Macy’s volunteers inflate Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

PIKACHU™ THE POKÉMON COMPANY INTERNATIONAL The much-loved Pokémon Pikachu returns to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the 18th consecutive year – just in time for the launch of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee, the newest video games from the popular entertainment franchise. This year, Pikachu is bundled up in a warm scarf for the chilly New York weather, ready to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season with fans. Balloon Dimensions: 36-feet long, 29-feet wide, 53-feet tall Fun Fact: While the Parade’s third version of Pikachu is of giant proportions, Pikachu in reality officially measures just 1-foot, 4-inches tall.

PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY™ PILLSBURY™ Inspiring Thanksgiving bakers across the country, the classic Pillsbury Doughboy celebrates the fall spectacular at Macy’s alongside millions of Americans as they enjoy both his cheerful giggle and home baked holiday treats. Balloon Dimensions: 54-feet long, 34-feet wide, 46-feet tall Fun Fact: It would take more than four million Pillsbury Crescent Rolls to create a “dough-sized” version of the balloon.

Macy’s Balloon Inflation © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

RED MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGER HASBRO The 92nd Parade marks The Power Rangers’ historic 25th anniversary. It remains one of the longest running live action children’s series in television history. The iconic Red Mighty Morphin Power Ranger balloon will remind millions of Parade spectators that it’s Morphin Time! this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 77-feet long, 26-feet wide, 56-feet tall Fun Fact: The larger than life Red Mighty Morphin Power Ranger is the longest balloon in the Parade; one of his arms is the length of a standard school bus at 45-feet.

RONALD McDONALD® McDONALD’S® Ronald McDonald, the world’s most famous clown and McDonald’s Chief Happiness Officer, gives his signature “thumbs up!” to the season of thanks as he joins millions in celebrating the start of the holiday season. Ronald says; “see a smile, share a smile” and he is sure to delight spectators and prompt millions of smiles across the country. Balloon Dimensions: 61-feet long, 29-feet wide, 67-feet tall Fun Fact: The iconic “Big Red Shoes” Ronald is wearing are 6-feet long!

Ronald McDonald, 61-feet long, 29-feet wide, 67-feet tall, at Macy’s Balloon Inflation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS NICKELODEON The nation’s favorite pineapple-dwelling sea sponge, will celebrate his 14th Parade this Thanksgiving. Next year, Nickelodeon invites fans to join a celebration of 20 years of SpongeBob – one of the most beloved animated characters in TV history – with a new season of episodes, events and more. Balloon Dimensions: 41-feet long, 34-feet wide, 44-feet tall Fun Fact: SpongeBob SquarePants defied gravity as the first-ever square Parade balloon and is pulled into his signature shape by more than 800 internal tie-lines.

TOOTHLESS DREAMWORKS ANIMATION’S HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD The world’s most heroic dragon, Toothless will return this fall for a new flight down the Parade route. The famed Night Fury will fly above the streets of Manhattan, before he and his Viking friend Hiccup are seen in DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ,which opens in theaters nationwide this winter. Balloon Dimensions: 72-feet long, 36-feet wide, 48-feet tall Fun Fact: This midnight-colored dragon used a special paint to get his signature color. It collects heat in order to properly conserve his helium filled structure.

Macy’s volunteers inflate Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon. This midnight-colored dragon used a special paint to get his signature color. It collects heat in order to properly conserve his helium filled structure © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

TROLLS© DREAMWORKS ANIMATION AND UNIVERSAL PICTURES TROLLS stars Poppy, Branch and Guy Diamond will once again fly and swing down the Parade route on their Caterbus. Officially kicking off the holiday season, the Trolls will spread color, joy and cheer to a nationwide audience on both the route and in DreamWorks’ Trolls Holiday this fall. Balloon Dimensions: 57-feet long, 38-feet wide, 38-feet tall Fun Fact: Each of the Troll’s iconic hair is more than 12-feet tall.

TROLLS stars Poppy, Branch and Guy Diamond get ready to fly and swing down the Parade route © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

NOVELTY BALLOONS FLECK, BJORN, JOJO AND HUGG NETFLIX’S “THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES” Meet Fleck, Bjorn, Jojo and Hugg. These charming elves will help Santa save Christmas in the new Netflix film “The Christmas Chronicles.” You can often find tiny Fleck carrying Santa’s bag tracker and Bjorn in a candy cane-fueled toy-making frenzy, while troublemaker Jojo delivers letters to Santa and Hugg is hard at work making toys with his chainsaw. Balloon Dimensions: 16, 20-feet wide, 30-feet tall Fun Fact: The Christmas Chronicles elves are the first Netflix balloons to be featured in the Parade.

Fleck, Bjorn, Jojo and Hugg the elf stars of Netflix’s “The Christmas Chronicles,” are new for the 92nd Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

LITTLE CLOUD FRIENDSWITHYOU™ Little Cloud, the iconic emblem of art collaborative FriendsWithYou, takes to the sky on Thanksgiving as part Macy’s Blue Sky Gallery series, which invites contemporary artists to recreate their work as Parade balloons. Artists Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III will join Little Cloud and two raindrops in this year’s Parade, creating an artistic expression of joy and love fitting for the iconic Macy’s Parade route. Balloon Dimensions: 22-feet tall, 30-feet wide Fun Fact: Little Cloud represents the seventh balloon in Macy’s Blue Sky Gallery art balloon series.

THE NUTCRACKER UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT™ This classic Christmas decoration appears in the form of a super-sized balloon to help kick off the holiday season! The Nutcracker balloon made its debut in the 2017 “Universal Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s” at Universal Studios Orlando, and marched its way up to New York to join the Parade this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 45 feet tall, 18.5 feet wide, 16-feet long Fun Fact: The Nutcracker balloon is 24 times the size of the traditional holiday decoration.

SUNNY THE SNOWPAL One of the many holiday heroes in this year’s Parade is Macy’s very own Snowpal, Sunny! This cool cosmonaut comes to the rescue with her friend Fox when Santa’s sleigh breaks down on Christmas Eve. Blasting off in her rocket ship, Sunny works her magic to repair the sleigh and save the day, showing us all that there are so many reasons to believe in the wonder of giving! Balloon Dimensions: 26-feet tall, 19-feet wide, 16-feet long Fun Fact: Sunny is an original character created for Macy’s 2018 holiday campaign.

BALLOONICLES (A Macy’s Parade innovation, hybrid cold air balloon and self-propelled vehicle) BABY DINOS SINCLAIR OIL CORPORATION The three newborn Baby DINOS from Sinclair Oil Corporation are anything but prehistoric! The adorable Apatosaurus trio came straight from the nest to join the Sinclair DINO balloon in this year’s Parade. Fun Fact: Like the Sinclair DINO balloon, the Baby DINO balloonicles appear in life-size form. GO BOWLING There will be turkeys at Thanksgiving meals and on the Parade route this year with the new Go Bowling™ balloonicles. Two bowling shoes and six bowling pins will be chased by a determined bowling ball down the route. Fun Fact: With 16-foot-tall bowling pins and a 12-foot diameter bowling ball, this Balloonicle is sure to score! 5 THE AFLAC DUCK AFLAC, INC. The world’s most famous “spokesduck,” the Aflac Duck has returned for his eighth Parade, having smartly prepared all year long so he would not miss this quintessential NYC holiday experience. Balloonicle Dimensions: 30-feet tall, 15-feet wide Fun Fact: The Aflac Duck’s glowing heart is encased by his heart shaped-wings. His inner tube base to “slide” down the Parade route is larger than the size of an in-ground home swimming pool.

One of the hundreds of volunteers out braving cold and wind cheerily inflating the 16 giant character balloons and 43 novelty balloons that will fly in the 92nd Annual Macy’s thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

HERITAGE BALLOON AND BALLOON

HEAD LINE-UPS

ARRTIE, THE PIRATE Arrtie the Pirate a recreation of the classic Pirate balloon of 1947 returns! Arrtie, the loveable pirate with map in hand is on a search for Holiday treasure this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 36-feet tall Fun Fact: A staple of the Parade in the late 1940s and 1950s, Arrtie was recreated as part of the Parade’s heritage balloon program that reinvents historic Macy’s characters for a new audience.

MACY’S STARS (BLUE & WHITE, RED & GOLD, YELLOW, GOLD STARFLAKES, BELIEVE) You’ll be seeing stars at the 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade– literally! See if you can spot them in blue and white, red and gold, with gold star flakes, in yellow and proclaiming “Believe” at various points in the parade lineup! Balloon Dimensions: 12-feet deep, 24-feet wide, 25-feet tall Fun Fact: The Macy’s Stars are representative of the Parade’s changing color scheme from autumnal colors to the bright and cheerful colors of the holiday season.

Watching the Macy’s Balloon Inflation has become an iconic New York City event along with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, now in its 92nd year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

PILGRIM MAN & WOMAN BALLOONHEADS MAMA, PAPA & BABY BALLOONHEADS The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade family would not be complete without Pilgrim Man & Woman and the Mama, Papa and Baby Balloonheads! Balloon Dimensions: 12-feet tall with costume, 4-feet wide Fun Fact: The balloonheads are based on classic Parade designs from the 1940s.

AMERICANA SPHERES Rounding out the 2018 lineup are the new Americana Spheres. These patriotic balloons bring the colors of the flag to new heights. Balloon Dimensions: 14-feet wide Fun Fact: Originally conceived by legendary Macy’s Designer Manfred Bass in the 1980s

TRYCALOONS (A Macy’s Parade innovation featuring a hybrid tandem tricycle and balloon) BULLDOG Beware of dog! The Bulldog Trycaloon’s bark is as big as his bike. TOUGH GUY There’s been a jailbreak on the Parade route, and the Tough Guy Trycaloon is one inflatable character you don’t want to mess with.

NUTCRACKER Clara joins the title character of Tchaikovsky’s famous holiday ballet on a high-speed Trycaloon chase alongside the Mouse King. MOUSE KING The villainous Mouse King from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet pedals down Manhattan accompanied by one of his furry-tailed soldiers.

Macy’s CEO Jeffrey Gennette with NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Police Commissioner Jim O’Neil, Congressman Jerry Nadler, NYS Senator Jose Serrano, and NYS Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal discuss preparations for the 92nd annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade during the Balloon Inflation Event © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Shops at Columbus Circle: Festive, Refined Shopping & Entertainment Destination Sparkles for the Holidays in New York

The cast of “Beautiful” performs at Broadway Under the Stars at the Shops at Columbus Circle, a holiday event © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

For a festive place to shop in New York, The Shops at Columbus Circle  is a destination within a destination that draws more than 16 million visitors per year to its 50 shops, renowned restaurants, bars and that priceless view (free) of Central Park (not to mention temperature-controlled and pet-friendly). And there are some spectacular happenings for the holidays:

Broadway Under the Stars is a five-week series of free public performances from today’s hottest Broadway musicals performing on the second floor mezzanine at The Shops at Columbus Circle. Participating shows include: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, Head Over Heels, Kinky Boots, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, Waitress and Wicked (check out theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for schedules). Performances, which began Monday, Nov. 12, take place for five consecutive Mondays through Dec. 10.

You get to see the actual cast performing in this extraordinarily intimate space – like your living room, except that it overlooks the massive stars that dip into the atrium. What is more, actor George Psomas (Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific) who hosts the event, elicits wonderful insights from the performers about their career and the shows in brief interviews.

The cast of “Head Over Heels” performs at Broadway Under the Stars at the Shops at Columbus Circle, a holiday event © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On Nov. 19, we got to see performances from Head Over Heels, Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show, The Band’s Visit, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Coming up:

Nov. 26: The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Waitress

Dec. 3: The Prom, Dear Evan Hansen

Dec. 10: Mean Girls, Wicked

The shows begin at 5 pm.  They are free and open to the public – no reservations or tickets are required but people line up at least an hour before to get a decent view.

Cast members of “The Band’s Visit” performs at Broadway Under the Stars at the Shops at Columbus Circle, a holiday event © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

On Monday, November 26, there is the 19th Annual Winter’s Eve Event in conjunction with the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District. Artists, up-and-coming musicians, dancers, street performers and more will be present to welcome the holiday season and light up the Upper West Side with an evening of music, food, dancing and fun for everyone. The Shops at Columbus Circle will host an evening of entertainment, shopping discounts and food samplings.

Holiday Under the Stars is The Shops at Columbus Circle’s holiday lights display, featuring 12 massive 14-foot stars which hang from the 100-foot-high ceilings. This is claimed to be the largest specialty crafted exhibit of illuminated color display in the world. There is a 5-minute daily musical light show every half hour from 5 pm to 9 pm, through the end of the year.

The stars are aligned at the Shops at Columbus Circle, in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, a festive shopping, dining and entertainment destination especially at the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Culinary Delights:  Among the restaurants are six Michelin Stars among two of its restaurants:Chef Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa is the only three-star Michelin Japanese/Sushi restaurant in the U.S., and the gastronomic jewel box that is Thomas Keller’s Per Se has the rest. The Bluebird London restaurant in London and Momofuku Noodle Bar are newly opened and join the Landmarc and Porter House restaurants.

The Bluebird London restaurant, imported from London, is one of the newest to open at the Shops at Columbus Circle, where two of the restaurants have six Michelin stars between them © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With its proximity nestled between Lincoln Center a short walk to the north, and Broadway theater a short walk to the south, the restaurants all offer pre-theater dinner and after-theater dining, and will get you out in time for curtain. The shopping and dining venue is also a short walk from Rockefeller Center. (Reservations accepted.)

Also, from the 150-foot-high panoramic windows, you can take in the breathtaking views of Central Park. It’s one of the few indoor places in Manhattan where you can enjoy this vantage point.

What is remarkable is the ambiance of refinement, of calm that you don’t ordinarily feel shopping for the holidays – it’s not so much as a mall (perish the thought!) as an urban oasis. The Shops at Columbus Circle is a real neighborhood place, where Upper Westsiders come to buy groceries at Whole Foods and work out at the Equinox gym. The architecture and décor is absolutely lovely.

Many of the shops offer special events throughout the year. Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for ever-changing list of events and happenings.

The Shops at Columbus Circle, located in Time Warner Center in the heart of Manhattan on Columbus Circle, has become one of New York’s iconic destinations to dine, shop, entertain, and be entertained. The soaring 2.8 million-square-foot landmark has transformed Columbus Circle into a cultural portal to Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Central Park.

Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com to learn more and get the full schedule of events and activities throughout the holiday season.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

This Holiday Season Give the Gift that Transcends Borders and Time: Travel

Venice, Italy. Take advantage of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday deals to give the gift of travel. Perillo Tours is offering $500 off per couple on all 2019 Italy escorted tours on Black Friday © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Many complain that the true spirit of the holidays have been corrupted by crass materialism. But there are ways to be less material and incorporate values – family values, social values, environmental values, global values – into your gift giving. Think travel.

The gift of travel is the gift of together, of time, of memory, of experience that is life-changing or life-enhancing, of new perspectives and new awareness – of self, of others, of our place in the world and time itself.

But it is also possible that we can use gift-giving to support or help sustain heritage, culture, environment.

Many of the great museums and institutions of the world offer some of the most interesting, innovative and creative items in their gift shops and you can support their endeavor by shopping online or through catalogs: the Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), the American Museum of Natural History (www.amnh.org), the Art Institute of Chicago (855-301-9612), Smithsonian (Smithsonianmag.com), the Nassau County Museum of Art, which usually have special items oriented around major exhibitions, and you wouldn’t believe the great Harry Potter items you can get at the New-York Historical Society, in conjunction with its “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” exhibit (www.nyhistory.org),  to list just a few.

The gift of travel can be invaluable to support important institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, through visitor fees, purchases at the store and online catalog, and purchasing memberships, some, like the Smithsonian Institution, even sponsor tours and magazines © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Another gift idea is to purchase family memberships in these entities, which gives a sense of “ownership” and encourages multiple visits as well as giving access to benefits.

Just call or go online to your favorite museum, zoo, aquarium, preserve, historic site or attraction and you will likely find a store or various ways to support the organization with your gift.

You can give a donation that preserves the planet and good social purpose, often getting something material in the bargain. In recent years, I have “purchased” an acre for preservation and sent a furry animal and booklet to my niece and nephew through the Nature Conservancy (nature.org/gifts and there is an actual catalog); became a member of the Smithsonian Institution  and received not only a subscription to the outstanding Smithsonian Magazine for myself, but a free subscription/membership to give as a gift, not to mention the incredible journeys offered through the Smithsonian (www.smithsonianmag.com); enrolled my loved one as a member of the National Parks Conservation Association so they received a fleece blanket plus the NPCA magazine; made donations on behalf of my loved ones to National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service which earned gifts as well as membership benefits.  A gift membership to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, for example, gives access to online guides to bike trails and often some giveaway like a hat (www.railstotrails.org).

Hiking the John Muir Trail in Yosemite National Park. You can gift a donation to National Parks Conservation Association and also receive a fleece blanket plus the NPCA magazine in support of national parks; national parks are also supported by the Subaru Share the Love Event © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can give a gift that supports important organizations which protect destinations, historic or cultural sites, or the mission of exploration, like  National Wildlife Federation (my nieces enjoy their holiday subscriptions to Ranger Rick magazines I’ve gifted them for years, nwf.org). Also on my holiday list: Audubon Society(www.audubon.org), the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org/store), the Wildlife Conservation Society (www.wcs.org); and World Wildlife Fund (wwfus.org).

The Rainforest Trust has a completely new twist to raise funds during this season: a public auction for the naming rights to one of 12 species recently uncovered in South America https://auctions.freemansauction.com/auction-catalog/1618B).

Many worthy organizations are also supported by purchases: the National Park Foundation, which supports national parks, gets support from Subaru of America through its annual Subaru Share the Love Event, now through January 2; over the past decade, the event has raised over $7 million for national parks. Earthwatch Institute, which offers “civilians” the opportunity to join real scientific research expeditions (earthwatch.org) is supported by purchases made through AmazonSmile (https://smile.amazon.com). When you buy travel insurance through World Nomads, you can make microdonations to support local communities (the site also steers people to responsible travel, https://www.worldnomads.com/make-a-difference/responsible-travel/).

Consider these organizations for support on Giving Tuesday.

Trips That Make a Difference 

The very act of traveling benefits communities by spurring an economy that sustains culture, heritage, the environment, community, and forges a mutual understanding that can translate into foreign policy.

But for those who want to go even beyond to improve conditions for people, there is a category of travel, Voluntourism, that organizes travel to a destination to volunteer for good purpose – whether it is participating in scientific research, working to save a species from extinction or save the planet, or helping disadvantaged communities, or rebuilding after some disaster, as in Puerto Rico.

andBeyond has launched philanthropic-focused itineraries in TanzaniaKenya, and South Africa to give guests a first-hand look at its core ethos of caring for the land, wildlife, and people. The activities range from adopting an elephant at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Kenya to participating in local school conservation lessons in Tanzania to visiting the Grootbos Green Futures College in Cape Town, an organization that provides educational training to unemployed young adults in the city (www.andBeyond.com)

andBeyond has launched philanthropic-focused itineraries in Tanzania, Kenya, and South Africa to give guests a first-hand look at its core ethos of caring for the land, wildlife, and people.

Earthwatch Expeditions enable you to join scientists in the field as they research urgent environmental issues, in places that would otherwise be closed to visitors. Expeditions address wildlife and ecosystems, climate change, archaeology and culture, and ocean health, for example, researching lions and their prey in Kenya, rewilding the Scottish Highlands and studying orcas in Iceland. (800-776-0188, 978-461-0081, www.earthwatch.org),

Habitat for Humanity’s Habitat for Humanity Global Village offers opportunities to help in disaster recovery or build or improve housing, schools, clinics, and other essential structures in 40 countries (www.habitat.org)

Sierra Club arranges around 90 affordable volunteer trips each year through its Sierra Club Volunteer Vacations to engage in hands-on conservation work like building and maintaining trails, removing invasive plants and assisting on archaeological digs. For example: park maintenance in Hells Canyon, Idaho (with transportation by jet-boat up the Snake River Canyon), forestry service at the New York Botanical Garden (a 50-acre urban old-growth forest) and native-bird habitat restoration on the Big Island of Hawaii (with hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park).

Adventure Life, a tour operator, incorporates voluntourism into some of its trips. For example, on its trip to Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Volcano, travelers lend a hand with reforestation efforts, painting interpretive signs and performing trail maintenance; a trip to Costa Rica’s Pacuare Reserve for whitewater rafting also includes two nights with biologists for research at an important nesting ground for leatherback turtles; a cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula enables travelers to take part in citizen science projects aboard the ship (www.adventure-life.com).

Village Experience expanded upon its fair-trade retail shop (which supports local craftsmen) to create an ambitious program that brings travelers into their villages, creating another stream of revenue (www.experiencethevillage.com).

WorldVentures Foundation offers 42 VolunTours in 12 countries — professionally planned and guided trips where volunteers spend time beautifying communities, building infrastructure and brightening the lives of local children – reported that its 2017 programs impacted the lives of more than 50,000 children around the globe with over 50,000 volunteer hours (worldventures.com).

Other entities offering voluntourism opportunities: Biosphere Expeditions (800-407-5761, www.biosphere-expeditions.org), Globeaware (www.globeaware.org/volunteer-vacations); Global Volunteers (https://globalvolunteers.org/volunteer-worldwide/),  Volunteer Guide (volunteerguide.org), American Hiking Society (americanhiking.org/volunteer-vacations); Projects Abroad (www.projects-abroad.org).

But don’t expect that because you are volunteering your services the trips are cheap, sometimes you pay for the privilege of doing good and your fees help support the mission.

There is a whole category of experiential trips that not only enrich and inspire and make the world a better place, but support important institutions like National Geographic, the Smithsonian (which also offer student and family programs); Outward Bound, Road Scholar, Sierra Club (sierraclub.org), just as examples.

National Geographic is offering up to $1000 off each child under 18 who travels with you on its family-friendly National Geographic-Lindblad expeditions to Alaska and Galapagos (booked by Dec. 31). Through the National Geographic Global Explorers Program, kids and teens learn to develop the skills and curiosity of an explorer while working alongside our certified field instructors -observing the behavior of blue-footed boobies, painting watercolors using glacier ice, or filling a field journal with wildlife sketches of all kinds (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/). Traveling with National Geographic helps further the work of its scientists, explorers, and educators around the world (natgeo.com/giveback).

Also, National Trust for Historic Preservation (the organization is the umbrella for Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org), offers Great Experiences & Tours, (nationaltrusttours.com). The National Trust has just introduced a new program to make history fun for families: Distinctive Destinations. From grand homes to artists’ studios to working farms, these places across America can add memorable moments to your off-the-beaten-path road trip, create new opportunities for your next vacation, or even be your new favorite gift shop (https://savingplaces.org/distinctive-destinations). They even have created an online list of holiday experiences at its collection of historic holiday sites. (https://savingplaces.org/collections/distinctive-destinations-historic-holidays).

Often, just showing up is a way of sustaining, revitalizing communities with tourism supplanting obsolete extractive and exploitive economic pursuits. Also, some travel companies donate a portion of their guest fees to local community, in addition to doing their best to purchase locally, hire locals, and help sustain communities. For example:

Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which is part of Boston-based Grand Circle Corporation’s family of travel companies, supports the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation established in 1992 by owners Alan and Harriet Lewis to support communities in which Grand Circle works and travels, including some 300 humanitarian, cultural, and educational endeavors worldwide, among them, 100 schools in 50 countries.  The Foundation is an entity of the Lewis Family Foundation, which has pledged or donated more than $169 million since 1981 (www.oattravel.com).

Travelers who take Overseas Adventure Travel’s trips help its parent company’s Grand Circle Foundation support communities in which Grand Circle works and travels, including some 300 humanitarian, cultural, and educational endeavors worldwide.

World Bike Relief has partnered with tour operator Tourissimo to present a week-long mountain biking tour in the Apennine Mountains of Italy led by World Champion Rebecca Rusch. Funds raised through this trip will help empower students, healthcare workers, and entrepreneurs in rural Zambia and give them access to reliable transportation. Tourissimo is also donating two Buffalo bikes per rider. https://www.tourissimo.travel/appenninica2018.

There is a whole category of “sustainable travel” companies and projects that not only structure their travel programs with social responsibility in mind, but leverage the power of travel and tourism to improve the lives of people and their environment (see sustainabletravel.org).

Travel Gift Card, Registry Programs 

Black Friday, Cyber Monday kick off the holiday shopping season. But gifts don’t have to come in a box. You can also gift the experience of travel and all the life-enhancing, even life-changing benefits that travel affords, from creating the opportunities for family bonding, to enriched learning, to broadening perspectives and world-view, to laying the values for social consciousness by seeing other cultures and habitats.

Many travel entities – hotels and resorts, cruiselines, tour companies –  have gift card programs – spas (Spafinder.com), ski resorts, cruiselines. Some have registries.

Many of the grandest Historic Hotels of America members – each one distinct, and most often grand, historic and luxurious – offer gift cards – like Wentworth by the Sea, NH; Omni Grove Park Inn, Mission Inn & Spa (the list goes on and on) – just inquire. To see members, visit historichotels.org and its European counterpart, Historic Hotels of Europe,  www.historichotelsofeurope.com.

Great stocking stuffer: a gift card to a grand historic hotel, like famed Mohonk Mountain House in New York’s Hudson Valley © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The key here is that if there is a destination, a cruise, a resort you want to “gift” to your loved one, just ask if a program is available. Check on expiration dates and how the gift card can be used.

And how much better to let someone special know you care by gifting them the fulfillment of a fantasy? There are Fantasy Camps for just about every interest. For example: Broadway Fantasy Camp, geared to adults of all ages and levels of experience, immerses you in the world of performing and creating live theatre, working closely with theater pros – veteran stage directors, choreographers, and musical directors – who guide you through the process (www.broadwayfancamp.com, 212-713-0366). Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp, based in Las Vegas, offers a variety of music, as well as Songwriting Fantasy Camp and Vocalist camp (check their site for calendar and events, www.rockcamp.com, 888-762-2263).

And if you are struggling for that special gift for the hard-to-please teen, consider an Outward Bound expedition: Sailing on the rugged and beautiful Maine Coast; Sea kayaking through the Outer Banks; Dog sledding on the frozen Boundary Waters of Minnesota; Mountaineering in the Colorado Rockies, High Sierra or Pacific Northwest; and many more choices to fit students’ interests, schedules and locations. The company makes it easy to purchase a Gift Certificate (outwardbound.org, 866-828-1195).

The holidays are a great time to check off items from that bucket list.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday

The travel industry makes it easy: gift cards and certificates, some offer registries. Many have Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, holiday discounts and sales – just google sites to find them. This is the time to indulge that bucket list or fantasy.

Just a few to recommend:

For example, on Black FridayPerillo Tours, is offering $500 off per couple ($250 per person) on all 2019 Italy and Hawaii escorted tours.  The offer is valid on new bookings only for travel January 1 – December 31, 2019.  The 24-hour Black Friday sale is bookable online, via phone or email from 12:01am to 11:59 pm on November 23, 2018 (must use booking code: BlackFri18).

On Cyber Monday, November 26, the Divi & Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusives offering a discount of 50% off hotel stays between April 21 – December 22, 2019. Plus, one lucky winner who books the Cyber Monday deal will be selected to receive their stay free (www.diviaruba.com orwww.tamarijnaruba.com)

The historic Red Lion Hotel, famous for Norman Rockwell’s painting of Stockbridge, is one of the hotels, resorts and travel companies offering Cyber Monday specials © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Save up to 40% off bookings at the historic The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, MA. Rates for winter and spring travel start at $99 per night; summer dates start at $179 per night for bookings online on Monday, November 26 and can be booked online at: https://www.redlioninn.com/getaway-deals/.

At Porches Inn at MASS MoCA receive 25 percent off midweek stays (Sunday through Thursday) through Labor Day 2019. The offer is only available on Monday, November 26 and can be booked online at https://www.porches.com/berkshires-hotel-specials/

Glamping Hub, an online booking platform with 35,000 tree houses, tipis, yurts, safari tents, airstreams, cabins  – accommodations that are unique and secluded in nature – is participating in its first-ever Cyber Monday sale, adding 20% to each gift card purchased on Monday, Nov. 26. Visit https://glampinghub.com/.

Travel Related Gifts

Still wedded to the idea of a material gift? There are umptium possibilities for the travel-bound, especially where some special-interest or activity that requires special gear or equipment is involved like skiing, biking, hiking is involved.

Among our favorites: REI, www.rei.com/s/holiday-gifts-for-travelers, 800-426-4840); Eastern Mountain Sports, 888-463-6367, ems.com;  LL Bean, 888-610-2326, llbean.com; Sun & Ski, 866-786-3869, sunandski.com; Tennis Express, TennisExpress.com), Bass Pro Shops (www.basspro.com). And of course, luggage (I had a good experience with Luggageonline.com,  888-958-4424).

Cameras are big on the list for travelers, with size and functionality among the key criteria. Some of the new smaller cameras have almost as much functionality as the larger digital SLR, but are compact, light, easily carried and in most cases even have quality video. (For really important trips, good to have a DSLR as well as a smaller, versatile point-and-shoot.) Look for a wide-range digital zoom, ISO range, image stabilization, video capability, battery life, how fast the camera focuses and shoots and WiFi capability).

Criteria for a travel camera: small enough to wear around your neck, easy enough to shoot with one hand, sharp and fast enough to shoot while riding a bicycle, Venice to Istria. The Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS100 fits the bill © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

After consulting with experts at this year’s PhotoPlus Expo, I have a list of cameras for when I don’t want to pack my DSLR that fulfill my criteria – that is, what can I wear around my neck, shoot with one hand while riding a bicycle that gives excellent quality images, image stabilization, decent zoom lens, auto focus, is fast and responsive on/off/shoot, and is reasonably priced. Here’s my list Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS100 (which I use), Panasonic Lumix DMC AZ200, Canon G9X, Canon G7X, Sony RX100V.

Drones and GoPro-style cameras are also popular, as well as new accessories that enhance the photo capability of smartphones.

Consider getting your traveler a waterproof camera for those adventures into the rainforest, snorkeling, whitewater rafting and such; for the astrophotographer, the astronomer, the birder, the survivalist, the underwater photographer, the adrenalin junky.

Take advantage of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday savings deals at major camera stores and online sellers like B&H, www.bandh.com, 212-465-4018, 877-865-9088 and Adorama, www.adorama.com, 800-223-2500.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Holidays in New York, Most Magical Time of the Year

 

The most stupendous float of all at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade carries Santa Claus with his elves and reindeer ushering in Christmas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The winter holiday season may well be New York City’s most magical time of the year and gets underway with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, continues with the iconic Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, and constantly delights with festivals, special events and attractions, and all the dazzle of holiday decorations right through New Year’s Day.

“The holiday season in New York City is a spectacle unlike any other,” said NYC & Company President and CEO Fred Dixon “It is a time when the vibrant energy that makes up the very fabric of our city is magnified through the joy of dozens of multicultural celebrations among New Yorkers and global visitors who make the five boroughs a centerpiece of their annual festivities.”

Highlights include landmark events and first-time New York–style holiday celebrations of a nearly endless variety for travelers to enjoy this winter. Visitors delight in historic and new shopping destinations, world-famous department store window displays (Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue), unrivaled outdoor ice-skating rinks and more scattered all throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The five-borough-wide season wraps up in a fashion as dazzling as ever with various New Year’s Eve celebrations.

As always, three iconic events bookend the introduction and conclusion of the holiday season in New York City:

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, performances by the casts of Broadway musicals, select marching bands from across the nation and celebrity appearances—kicks off the holiday season on November 22 at 9 am. A staple of the holiday season since 1924, the 92nd edition, the line-up will feature 16 giant character balloons; 43 novelty balloons, heritage balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats; 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; and 12 marching bands (macys.com/parade).

But the event has a pre-quel, The Great Balloon Inflation, that takes place the night before, when the streets around the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West are literally flooded with tens of thousands of people coming to delight in seeing the massive balloons being inflated by hundreds of volunteers.

Tens of thousands come out the night before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade to watch the Balloon Inflation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Manhattan, November 28, 2018: A lineup of live performers rivaled by few events all year will help light up New York City’s biggest and brightest home for Santa’s Christmas eve delivery again. The more than seven-story tree will spread holiday cheer to the millions of visitors it welcomes until the lights dim on January 7 (rockefellercenter.com).

New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop, Manhattan, December 31, 2018–January 1,2019: In 1904, the former New York Times owner convinced the City to rename Longacre Square in honor of the world-famous publication. In addition to the name change and the opening of NYC’s first subway line, that year marked the inaugural Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, and the “Crossroads of the World” has been the historic backdrop of the City’s New Year’s Eve celebration ever since. Approximately 1 million visitors are expected to gather to watch the ball drop in person again this year. This is something that should be on every bucket list to do at least once in a lifetime (timessquarenyc.org).

Angels light the way to the most famous holiday tree, at Rockefeller Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My favorite activity for the holidays is an evening stroll to see the holiday windows and decorations. My route typically goes from Macy’s (this year’s theme, “Believe in the Wonder of Giving”), up to Fifth Avenue to Saks Fifth Avenue which is directly across from Rockefeller Center (from which you can see the amazing light show that is projected onto Saks building) and across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stop in), up to Bergdorf Goodman. Separately, I will take in Bloomingdale’s (a “Grinch” theme this year, connecting with the new movie), and Barney’s downtown on Broadway.

Meanwhile, there are more than a dozen celebratory events to delight this holiday season in NYC.

23 Days of Flatiron Cheer, Manhattan, December 1–23, 2018: The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership welcomes visitors this December to enjoy contests, performances, free neighborhood walking tours, giveaways from local businesses and an interactive installation in the North Public Plaza. Other unparalleled offerings can be found in the historic 103-block neighborhood stretching from 23rd to 28th Street, bordered by Third and Sixth Avenues (flatirondistrict.nyc).

A Slice of Brooklyn Christmas Lights Tour, Brooklyn, December 1–30, 2018: Every holiday season, more than 100,000 visitors descend on Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood to view the most extravagant Christmas displays in the New York City area. This tour, operated by born and raised Brooklynites, stops by the most over-the-top exhibits of the season while telling patrons the story of how “Dyker Lights” came to be nearly 40 years ago (asliceofbrooklyn.com).

Enchanted by the holiday windows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another popular tour is the holiday edition of The Ride, “a 21st century sleigh ride” aboard patented $1.5 million travelling high-tech theaters with floor-to-ceiling gigantic glass windows featuring side-facing VIP seating making the streets of New York the stage. Original seasonal music, videos and hilarious hosts support the dazzling Holiday performances along the 4.2 mile journey through Midtown Manhattan (http://experiencetheride.com, 212-221-0853).

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Holiday Engagement at New York City Center, Manhattan, November 28–December 30, 2018: City Center’s 75th Anniversary Season will feature a wide range of performances including new productions, annual favorites, live music and Alvin Ailey’s feature performance Revelations. A special show on December 11 celebrates City Center’s opening performance in 1943 (alvinailey.org).

Saks Fifth Avenue becomes a canvas for a holiday lightshow © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

American Museum of Natural History’s Holiday Season, Manhattan, November 20, 2018–January 7, 2019: The museum’s cultural celebrations begin with the decoration of the Origami Holiday Tree—complete with more than 800 hand-folded paper models created by local artists—and continue through the New Year. On December 29, the AMNH will host its 40th annual Kwanzaa celebration. The festival of African-American heritage celebrates the seven core principles of Kwanzaa while exploring the rich history behind its traditions. Family-friendly activities, musical performances and an international marketplace are also included (amnh.org).

Apollo Theater Presents “Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night,” Manhattan, December 29, 2018: The legendary Harlem theater is celebrating Kwanzaa with visitors for the 12th consecutive year with a night of music and dance that honors the principles of Kwanzaa—family, community and culture (apollotheater.org).

Brooklyn Ballet’s Nutcracker, Brooklyn, December 14, 2018: The hip-hop and ballet infused replication of the holiday classic, reimagined in various Brooklyn neighborhoods, is hosted by the iconic Kings Theatre, in Flatbush, for the first time this year (brooklynballet.org).

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical: Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, December 13–30, 2018: Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic is sure to cause audiences hearts to grow at least three sizes when they watch the story of the true meaning of Christmas come to life in this limited engagement at the world’s most famous arena (msg.com/hulu-theater-at-msg).

Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science, Queens, November 10, 2018–January 21, 2019: Since 2013, the edible village at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, has set the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of gingerbread houses and structures with each new installment. The record is sure to be challenged again this year (nysci.org).

Grand Army Plaza, Largest Menorah Lighting, Brooklyn, December 2–10, 2018: With the help of local synagogues, the Grand Army Plaza, located in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has hosted the nightly lighting of the 32-foot menorah since 1984. Visitors are invited to celebrate the holiday with concerts and gifts for children through each day of the Jewish Festival of Lights (largestmenorah.com).

Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, The Bronx, December 8–9, 2018: At this holiday craft fair, in addition to creating the usual wreaths and treasure boxes, families are invited to work on the feature project: the hamsa, or hamesh, the multicultural symbol of an open hand. Guests explore the spiritual side of the holidays as they make the palm-shaped amulets (wavehill.org).

New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show, The Bronx, November 17, 2018–January 21, 2019: The annual exhibition of classical model trains moving through a hand crafted display of New York City’s built environment is back for the 27th year. More than 175 miniature iconic city structures such as Yankee Stadium, The Brooklyn Bridge and The Statue of Liberty are replicated entirely out of plant parts and will coincide with other holiday celebrations such as a cappella performances, Bar Car Nights and more at the New York Botanical Garden (nybg.org).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, November 23–December 30 at Lincoln Center (nycballet.com).

Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New-York Historical Society Presents “Harry Potter: A History of Magic”, Manhattan, through January 27: Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures, including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the collections of the British Library, the New-York Historical Society, and other museums, as well as never before seen material from Harry Potter publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives. The New York exhibition, showcasing a selection of objects not featured in the London presentation that are on view to the public for the very first time, is sponsored by Audible. There are also a slew of special events and family programming in conjunction with this not-to-be-missed exhibit, which vanishes, poof, after January 27, 2019. The tickets are timed; you can order online. Also visit The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, created for children  8-13, which presents 350 years of New York and American history through character-based pavilions, interactive exhibits and digital games. (New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org)

New York Philharmonic Presents “Home Alone in Concert, ” Manhattan, December 20–21,2018: The acclaimed New York Philharmonic will perform John Williams’ score live to the classic Christmas film Home Alone, for a 2018–19 holiday season special event—booby traps and lovable bandits not included (nyphil.org).

A carriage ride down Fifth Avenue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal Holiday Train Show, Manhattan, November 15, 2018–February 3, 2019: A staple of Grand Central Terminal during the holiday season since 2001, the train show features a 34-foot-long track where vintage trains from the museum’s collection travel through a miniature New York City and countryside scene all the way to the North Pole (grandcentralterminal.com).

Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, Manhattan, November 9, 2018–January 1, 2019: Everyone’s favorite high kickers dance their way from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve and champion the holiday spirit of New York City with their extravagant costumes and breathtaking state-of-the-art production (rockettes.com).

St. Thomas Church which is famous for the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, and its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 4, 6). Also this year, “A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten (Dec. 13). (Purchase tickets, www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/concerts); also take a tour of this magnificent edifice, built in 1913 in the French High Gothic style. (5th Avenue and 53rd Street, www.saintthomaschurch.org).

Visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue is also a highlight of the holidays and it is remarkable that you can just walk in and enjoy an inspirational service.

Cathedral of St John the Divine offers inspiring concerts throughout the holiday season, with a Concert for Peace on New Year’s Eve © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I personally love to close out the holiday season on New Year’s Eve at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine which presents the most magnificent annual Concert for Peace, founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984 with the idea of bringing together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music in a most magnificent setting. Indeed, the cathedral offers a rich calendar of concerts throughout the holiday season, as well as tours of this architectural jewel. Check the website for details.(The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, at 112th Street, New York, NY 10025, 212-316-7540, info@stjohndivine.org, www.stjohndivine.org)

Favorite Places to Catch the Holiday Spirit

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays. In addition to the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com), The Swedish Cottage is an enchanting place that is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park’s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939 (West Side at 79th Street). Currently playing is “Yet, Set, Snow!”, an original story and production from the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, with performances through the season until Feb. 24, 2019. (Purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre)

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, festive holiday markets, cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become one of the city’s iconic holiday places. Of course, there is skating right below the magnificent Christmas tree at the Rink at Rockefeller Center (therinkatrockcenter.com). There is also skating and The Rink at Brookfield Place opens November 1 (230 Vesey St., 860-209-3459, gpice.com).

Skating at Bryant Park where there is also a holiday market © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

For a festive place to shop: The Shops at Columbus Circle, a destination within a destination that draws more than 16 million visitors per year to its 50 shops, renowned restaurants, bars and that free priceless view of Central Park (not to mention temperature-controlled and pet-friendly). But there are some spectacular happenings for the holidays:

Broadway Under the Stars is a five-week series of free public performances from today’s hottest Broadway musicals performing on the second floor mezzanine at The Shops at Columbus Circle. Participating shows include: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, Head Over Heels, Kinky Boots, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, Waitress and Wicked (check out theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for schedules). Performances begin Monday, Nov. 12 and take place for five consecutive Mondays through Dec. 10. Shows begin at 5 pm and last approximately 20 minutes.  (Free and open to the public, no reservations or tickets are required.)

The stars are aligned at the Shops at Columbus Circle, in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, a festive shopping, dining and entertainment destination especially at the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Holiday Under the Stars is The Shops at Columbus Circle’s holiday lights display, featuring 12 massive 14-foot stars which hang from the 100-foot-high ceilings. This is claimed to be the largest specialty crafted exhibit of illuminated color display in the world. There is a 5-minute daily musical light show every half hour from 5 pm to 9 pm, through the end of the year.

Culinary Delights:  Among the restaurants are six Michelin Stars: from Chef Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa, the only three-star Michelin Japanese/Sushi restaurant in the U.S., to the gastronomic jewel box that is Thomas Keller’s Per Se). The Bluebird London restaurant in London and Momofuku Noodle Bar are newly opened and join the Landmarc and Porter House restaurants.

Also, from the 150-foot-high panoramic windows,  visitors can take in the breathtaking views of Central Park. It’s one of the few indoor places in Manhattan where you can enjoy this vantage point.

(Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for ever-changing list of events and happenings.)

For more information regarding the most wonderful time of the year in the five boroughs, find NYC & Company’s official guide to the holidays in New York City at NYCgo.com/holiday.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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

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

by Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dining Inn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also enjoyed perfectly prepared burger and short ribs.

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

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

During the holidays, there is live music playing.

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

So Much to Do!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warm weather activities include:

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

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

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

Also available:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destination Weddings, Elopements, Retreats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcome with the romantic ambiance and want to elope?

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

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

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

Hometown Connection: A Distinguished History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Enchanting Candlelight Evening at Old Bethpage Village Restoration is Like Stepping into a Christmas Card

Santa Claus looks relaxed and casual in the parlor of the Layton Home at Old Bethpage Village Restoration during the Candlelight Evening, having finished his rounds delivering presents to children around the world © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Fire light. That is the common denominator – seeing life in the orange-red glow of candlelight, a fireplace, a bonfire. One of my favorite holiday events is the Old Bethpage Village Restoration Candlelight Evening, and even the bitter cold could not keep me away.

I arrive in time for the candlelight procession into the village, to the gazebo where an 1840s brass band is playing, despite the bone-chilling cold.

The brass band entertains despite bitter cold, at the Gazebo in Old Bethpage Village Restoration © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most wonderful thing about the candlelight evenings at Old Bethpage Village Restoration on Long Island, is yes, the sense of stepping back into time, into an idyllic peacefulness such as finding yourself in a Christmas card. But what I love best are the serendipitous moments when you engage the reenactors in conversation- the questions that arise just because you are immersed in that experience.

Performing traditional music on period instruments at the one-room schoolhouse from Manhasset © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the District No. 6 School House, which dates from c. 1845 in Manhasset, there is traditional fiddle music, played on a period instrument, a 150-year old violin that had been made in Prague, that has no chin rest or frets. We learn about the Manhasset School house – children attended the one-room school house six days a week. Music would have been widespread but there were no real professional musicians in Long Island. The school house would have been the venue for music, entertainment, and various gatherings in the evening. He tells me that all of Nassau County used to be part of Queens County, until the residents wanted to separate from New York City. He performs one of the most popular of his repertoire,“The Dancing Man,” to which his wife maneuvers a fascinating puppet-like toy to dance along.

Music was so important to the people of the mid-19th century, the period which Old Bethpage reconstructs. When you think about it, people could only appreciate music live, in the moment.

Max Rowland plays his concertina at the Hewlett House © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Hewlett House – a grand home high on the hill, which was built by the founder for which the town of Hewlett is named – Max L. Rowland regals on a banjo, reconstructed to its period, and a concertina and because I ask, he talks about the instruments . He says that in the mid-1800s, the concertina was the most popular instrument around – because it was relatively inexpensive (costing less than a violin), and compact, easy to carry and capable of such rich sound and complexity.  It was extremely popular with sailors, who could tuck it away in their gear. Rowland can testify to it: this particular concertina has crossed the sea three times with Rowland, who lives on a boat.

There is also popcorn being made in the kitchen fireplace.

Preparing popcorn in the Hewlett House by the fireplace © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the beautiful Manetto Hill Church, 1857, a Methodist church that originally was located in Plainview, there is singing and storytelling – the origin of holly (representing male), ivy (representing female), so the two entwined are a symbol of marriage; mistletoe and poinsettias.

The Noon Inn, which dates from 1850 and was owned John H. Noon, innkeeper, in East Meadow, is where you can get hot mulled cider and cookies, and climb the stairs to hear a string ensemble.

Broom-making at the Luyster Store, where you can buy the broom you watch being made © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Luyster Store, which dates from c. 1840 and was built by John B. Luyster, a storekeeper in East Norwich, you see the rare craft of broom making (and can purchase the brooms that are made here). The fellow works on a machine from 1840, and you can see how much physical effort goes into it. He explains that a home would have had 2 brooms per room, or 18 per household; an ordinary broom might have cost 24 cents – but that was equivalent to half-day’s wages, or about $50 today (so his price of $20 is a bargain). This also was an enterprise that farmers would do to make extra money, and they would raise the special wheat (called “corn”) for that purpose. An interesting artifact here is the massive safe.

The Layton Store was the Walmart of its day © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Layton House is also the General Store dates from c. 1866 and was built by John M. Layton, a storekeeper. It had originally stood in East Norwich. He was fabulously wealthy as you can see by the large rooms and tall ceilings. Here, in the parlor, I meet Santa Claus who seems relaxed after his trip around the world; later, when I come back, there is a choral group. In the next room is the Layton General Store – the Walmart of its day – where you can purchase candy.

Singing holiday songs in the Layton parlor © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Benjamin House, dating from 1829, was built for William Benjamin, a minister and farmer in Northville, where there is a bass and violin playing holiday melodies that would have been popular at the time – like Deck the Halls, which was a Welsh melody dating back to the 1600s. We discuss Christmas traditions of the time (gift-giving wasn’t yet a tradition, but Queen Victoria had popularized table-top Christmas trees as a loving gesture to Prince Albert).

Demonstrating how to spin yarn at the Conklin House © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I stop into the Conklin House last – this house dates from 1853 and was build by Joseph H. Conklin, a bayman in the village of Branch. It is small and I am surprised to see spinning being done in front of the fireplace where there is a roaring fire (so picturesque). She is so patient in explaining how it is done – how common it would have been for a farm woman to have spent some time in the evening spinning, but there were professional spinners (men) and spinsters (women) – spinning, was in fact, one of the ways a woman could have earned money. By the mid-1800s, though, people were importing finished textiles.

The Huntington Militia reenact Christmas in 1775 in the Schenck House © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I usually save the Schenck House for last because each year, because it is here that I come upon the most unexpected encounters and find it the most illuminating. Instead of interpreting the holiday traditions of the mid 1800s, the Huntington Militia re-create a Colonial Christmas in the 17th century. The Schenck House dates from 1765, owned by a Dutch farmer. Here, our presenters speak in the style of the time, and celebrate Christmas of 1775.

I am swept into its history. I am transfixed talking with “Ambrose Everyman,” a fellow from 1775, an American of English descent really troubled by North Hempstead’s succession from the Town of Hempstead over the issue of rebellion against the King and Crown. His loyalties are clear. He raises the question over how the colonists are made so dissatisfied with the King – and questions the veracity of the crimes and accusations designed to foment rebellion. He notes that since the first Continental Congress, the Massachusetts faction of the Patriots have banned women from going to the tavern, banned theatrical entertainment – in effect, installed the Puritan societal structure on the colonies.

And because of the “attack against one of the colonies is an attack against us all,” he questions whether the attacks in Lexington and Concord, portrayed as a British massacre, really happened that way.  “How do we really know?” he tells me (the original “fake news”?).  Mr. Everyman was upset with the upstarts in Massachusetts who caused so much trouble, who dared to pretend to be Indians and toss tea into the sea. He called them cowards for hiding behind their disguise. He said he knew war – had fought in the French and Indian War – but was too old to fight again. If there was a break with England, he says,, his business of building and repairing houses, would be destroyed.

The Town of North Hempstead had recently split from the Town of Hempstead over the issue of whether to support “The Cause” or stay loyal to Mother England. North Hempstead, which had a substantial Dutch population, wanted to break with England, while Hempstead, which was populated mainly by English colonists, wanted to stay.

But, he says, he cannot express his feelings: the local Committee is strictly enforcing its ban on English tea and though it had no force of law, someone who broke faith would be shamed in the Gazetteer as “an Enemy of American Liberty,” would no longer get business, and ultimately be forced out of the community. So he keeps his views to himself. Taxes? What difference does it make to pay taxes to England or taxes to the Congress, he said. And doesn’t England deserve to get repayment for the expense of fighting for the colonies. How would those who would break from England confront the greatest army on earth? Would they get aid from foreign powers like France, when France would want to take over the colonies for itself?

He gives me the sense of what a difficult dilemma this was – the prospect of confronting the most powerful nation the world had never known, the superpower of its time – and how while there had never been consensus (New York patriots fled to Philadelphia), the forcefulness with which the revolutionaries pressed their cause, the violence, a literal civil war within communities.

“Ambrose Everyman” describes how the Schencks would celebrate Christmas with Dutch traditions © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He goes on to show the group of Candlelight visitors that has gathered how the owner of the House, Martin Schenck, would have celebrated St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), when the children put out wooden shoes, filled with a carrot to draw the horse that St. Nicholas rides through the sky on, and leaves them treats – an orange that would have been an expensive treat having been imported from Jamaica, and  skates for the young girl, a pull-toy for the baby.

Members of the Huntington Militia fire the Christmas guns © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here at the Schenck House, the Huntington Militia – a group of reenactors – are dressed in the style of the militia of this Revolutionary War era. This year they fire Christmas guns – demonstrating the painstaking task of loading their muskets.

The Barn, decked out with holiday lights © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, at The Barn on the fairgrounds, there are a model train show, contra dancing, a brass ensemble and a delightful performance of “Scrooge’s Dream” – a condensation of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.”

A performance of “Scrooge’s Dream” during the Old Bethpage Village Restoration Candlelight Evenings © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year, the Old Bethpage Candlelight Evenings are only five nights, Dec. 26-30, 5-9:30 pm. Old Bethpage Village Restoration, 1303 Round Swamp Road (Exit 48 of the Long Island Expressway), 516-572-8401; Adults/$10, children 5-12/$7 (under 5 are free); and $7 for seniors and volunteer firefighters.

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