Category Archives: Hotels & Resorts

Gift of Travel: Take Advantage of Black Friday, CyberMonday, Holiday Specials to Give the Gift that Keeps Giving

Xanterra is putting its Grand Canyon hotels on sale for the holidays. Scores of travel companies have special Black Friday, CyberMonday and holiday deals underway, for a great opportunity to give the Gift of Travel, the gift that keeps giving. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Travel destinations and providers get into the holiday spirit with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and special deals and make it easy to package The Gift of Travel.

Hotels in national parks are in such high demand they rarely offer discounts…but they do during Black Friday and Cyber Monday! Xanterra Travel Collection’s annual Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale features up to 40 percent off hotels in Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Zion and Yellowstone. Also on sale: tickets on the historic Grand Canyon Railway, luxury hotels (The Broadmoor and Sea Island), Windstar Cruises, VBT Bicycling Vacations and Country Walkers. Details: www.xanterra.com/Thankful.

Whole countries are on sale: Ireland is promoting special offers of its partners including Great Value Vacations, The Irish Tourism Group, Brendan Vacations, CIE Tours, Railtours IIreland, Tenon Tours, Authentic Vacations and Insight.

More than 20 hotels, resorts and villas in Saint Lucia are offering significant Cyber Monday booking specials (up to 60% off!) on luxury resorts, family-friendly accommodations, private villas, hotels overlooking the iconic Piton mountains, beachfront accommodations, and more. Most of these limited-time specials are available for booking starting on Cyber Monday and several are offering these deals to “early birds” who wish to book before then. (www.stlucia.org/specials/cyber-monday-specials for details)

Taking in the view at sunset of the Piton Mountains from the Passion Flower terrace. Anse Chastanet and its sister resort, Jade Mountain, on St. Lucia have been recertified by Travelife, the sustainable tourism certification system. More than 20 hotels, resorts and villas in Saint Lucia are offering significant Cyber Monday booking specials. © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Perillo Tours and resorts like Woodstock Inn & Resort in Vermont, as well as chains like Hilton all have special timely offers.

Even themeparks like LegoLand California Resort is discounting its various pass offerings starting at 12 a.m. Friday, Nov. 29 through 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 2, exclusively through its website.

Basically, anything that you have been thinking about, fantasizing about, anything on your bucket list, check out the company’s website to see whether there are holiday specials.

Okemo Mountain Resort, Vermont. Gift idea: season pass or lift tickets © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many tour operators, including Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold and other sister companies of The Travel Corporation (ttc.com) are offering enticing discounts for early bookings and many travel entities – hotels and resorts, cruiselines, tour companies, spas (Spafinder), ski resorts (think about gifting ski passes like EpicPass, Ikon Pass or Liftopia) and cruiselines (cruisecompete.com is a good source) –  have gift card programs and are offering special discounts for the holidays.. Some have gift registries where multiple gift-givers can contribute.

Liftopia’s annual Cyber Monday sale begins Nov. 26 at 5 pm PT through Dec. 3 at 9 pm PT. Give the gift of ski this holiday, or simply use this opportunity to snag the best deals of the season by purchasing lift tickets online and in advance. Purchase a Liftopia Gift Card and get a bonus credit up to 25% (spend $100-$199, get a $15 bonus gift card; spend $200-$299, get a $40 bonus gift card; spend $300 or more, get a $75 bonus gift card). Purchase at www.liftopia.com.

The 1926 Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray, Florida, one of the members of the Historic Hotels of America, each one a spectacular venue for vacation or special event and holiday destination. Check out gift cards and holiday specials © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many of the grandest Historic Hotels of America members, each one distinct with deep connections to place, 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.

Sebasco, a fabulous resort on the mid-Maine coast that manages to be rustic and luxurious at the same time is offering a deal where if you purchase a $150 Sebasco Gift Card by December 13, you get a $25 gift card for free or for a $500 gift card, a $100 bonus gift card free (sebasco.com, 877-636-0085).

A glamping stay in Montana for a wedding © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here’s a really interesting one: Glamping Hub (glampinghub.com) is offering its second annual Black Friday-Cyber Monday sale – an interesting way to experience this online booking platform for 35,000 unique outdoor accommodations in over 27 different categories (safari tents, tree houses, cabins, tipis, villas, domes) in over 120 countries. For every gift card purchasedon Glamping Hub’s Gift Card Portal, 20% will be added to the gift card. This deal will be live on the website from 11/28-12/4,and gift cards have a one-year validity, Travel Deals Black Friday 2019 / Cyber Monday Deals (https://glampinghub.com/special/black-friday-cyber-monday-travel-deals/).

These are just examples. 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 expiration dates and how the gift card can be used.

Trips That Make a Difference 

Often, just showing up is a way of sustaining, revitalizing communities with tourism supplanting obsolete extractive and exploitative economic pursuits. Many travel programs and tour companies are now designed to sustain the environment and heritage of local communities, hire locally, donate a portion of the tour costs to benefit local communities (building schools, creating water projects) and even are organized around opportunities for travelers to participate in local life or projects.

Brett Tollman, chief executive officer of The Travel Corporation, commits the company and its 42 brands, and the TreadRight Foundation to “Make Travel Matter” for the planet, people and wildlife © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Travel Corporation’s 42 different brands (Including TrafalgarUniworldInsight Vacations, Luxury GoldContikiAfrican Travel, Inc.Lion World Travel, Brendan Vacations and Red Carnation Hotels)  are designed this way and also support the Treadright Foundation. TTL’s philanthropy,  dedicated to preserving and protecting the planet, people and wildlife, supports 55 projects in 280 communities in 26 countries (www.ttc.com). In addition, some of the tour programs work in conjunction with We.org, which builds schools, promotes sustainable agriculture, brings pure water to communities – to offer programs in which travelers can immerse themselves into that community. (www.TreadRight.org/trips/)

Pure Adventures (pure-adventures.com), a boutique biking and hiking tour operator  offering private, custom, independent and guided travel in Europe, Asia, South and North America,  as a member of the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund, contributes a portion of the trip fee to support conservation efforts around the world. (Check out this year’s projects)

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).

Off Season Adventures organizes trips in such a way as to help local communities.

Off Season Adventures (offseasonadventures.com, 619-971-0823), a Hoboken-NJ based tour company which is specifically organized to support local communities.

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.  Many are represented by Center for Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.org), Global Sustainable Tourism Council (gstcouncil.org), Earthcheck (earthcheck.org), the Rainforest Alliance (www.rainforest-alliance.org) and Sustainable Travel International (sustainabletravel.org).

Voluntourism

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)

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),

Earthwatch Expeditions in the Amazon.

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). (https://content.sierraclub.org/outings/volunteer-vacations)

Adventure Life 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).

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/, 800-487-1074); 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.

On the other hand, during the holiday season, many of the operators offer substantial discounts for early bookings.

For example, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic has a new Alaska Family Offer, where with discounts for up to two children 22 and under traveling with two full paying adults on select 2020 Alaska departures: save 50% departing in May and August and save 25% departing in June and July. Also, there is Free Air for Adults from Seattle to Alaska for booking select 2020 Alaska departures by Dec. 31, 2019.  .

Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic has announced a new Alaska Family Offer that makes traveling next summer a lot more economical for families.

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 a few examples.

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 (www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions). Traveling with National Geographic helps further the work of its scientists, explorers, and educators around the world (natgeo.com/giveback).

Indulge a fantasy: in addition to photography safaris, there are travel programs to indulge all sorts of fantasy: become a Broadway star at Broadway Fantasy Camp (www.braodwayfancamp); a rock-and-roll star at Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas (www.rockcamp.com); or Baseball Fantasy Camp (Twenty four major league baseball teams offer annual fantasy camps, see: http://www.lineupforms.com/choosing-the-right-fantasy-baseball-camp.html)

Gifts for the Traveler

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, scuba diving or safariing is involved.

You can purchase some needed gear while also supporting the cause. For example, go to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s trail shop for  all-new Great American Rail-Trail jerseys, gift memberships and trail guidebooks and help realize the dream of an a nation connected by rail trails (railstotrails.org).

Rails-to-Trails Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail. Purchase a Rails-to-Trails jersey for your biking enthusiast and help the conservancy build a bike-trail spanning the entire nation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Going traditional among our favorite suppliers: 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 love my Olympia USA 22 in. Green 8-Pocket Rolling Duffel for $25 purchased through homedepot.com of all places which I used on an around-the-world trip; another great site is 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, mirrorless cameras have as much functionality as the larger digital SLR and use interchangeable lenses but tend to be fairly costly (in the $1000 range).  What I look for when purchasing a camera for travel: decent digital zoom, ISO range, image stabilization, video capability, battery life, how fast the camera focuses and shoots and WiFi capability.

For something like a safari, you would need a good DSLR with great lenses to cover the various focal lengths, but for, say, a biking or hiking trip, 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. I have found the Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS70 to be ideal for this kind of travel (offered at $100 off, $298, at B&H), Panasonic Lumix DMC AZ100 (now on sale at B&H; B&H consistently has best inventory, prices, and holiday specials, plus excellent customer service, delivery and return policies, www.bhphotovideo.com, 800.606.6969, 212.444.6615).

The experts at this year’s PhotoPlus Expo also recommended: Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III (24.2 megapixel; 3x zoom, 24-072mm, ISO 100-25600); Canon PowerShot G5 X  Mark II (20.1 megapixel, 5x zoom, 24-120mm f 1.8 lens, Canon PowerShot G1X Mark III (24.2 megapixel, 3x zoom, 24-72 mm);  Nikon Z 50,s Nikon’s first DX-format mirrorless camera. 20.9 megapixels, ISO 100-51200, which uses interchangeable lenses; Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III features dustproof, splashproof, freezeproof construction in a compact and lightweight body.

Drones and GoPro-style cameras are also great gifts, as well as new accessories (like attachable lenses) that enhance the excellent photo capability of smartphones to give them more of the functionality of a camera.

Consider getting your traveler a waterproof camera for those adventures into the rainforest, snorkeling, whitewater rafting and such.

Or more spectacularly, what about a photo safari or a trip led by a master photographer, such as offered by Photo Safaris (www.photosafaris.com/Destinations/Find-a-Trip‎); National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com); ‎Photo Workshop Adventures (www.photoworkshopadventures.com); and Nomad Photo Expeditions (www.nomadphotoexpeditions.com).

Lindblad Travel has photography tours with National Geographic photographers and with the B&H Photo Locker on many of its ships, you can even test-drive the latest gear. (expeditions.com/why-us/expedition-photography)

Give a Gift, Support the Institution

Gift giving can support important institutions at the same time. 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 (check out holiday specials): 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 and New-York Historical Society usually have special items oriented around major exhibitions  (www.nyhistory.org),  to list just a few.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has exquisite items for sale in its many gift shops, many oriented around special exhibitions, which support the institution. Can’t visit? Check out the catalog. Museums typically offer holiday specials © 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. You might also consider gifting special experiences, like Zookeeper for a Day or an Overnight Campout at a Museum.

Another gift idea is to purchase family memberships in these entities, which gives a sense of “ownership” and encourages multiple or multi-day visits as well as giving access to benefits. Just call or go online to your favorite museum, zoo, aquarium, preserve, historic site or attraction. Often the memberships give you broad access like the Smithsonian Institution, Sierra Club (they produce a catalog of trips), National Trust for Historic Preservation (savingplaces.org)and its sister organization Historic Hotels of America (www.historichotels.org), Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Parks & Trail NY, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

National Trust for Historic Preservation  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).   

Stocking Stuffers

Darn Tough: Made in America socks for just about every purpose, that comes with a lifetime guarantee and the benefits of Marino wool (no odor; when hot, it wicks away moisture, when cold, it keeps you warm). Socks tailored to hiking, running, endurance, skiing, biking, hunting, work and lifestyle. Founded by Ric Cabot in 2004, a third-generation sock maker, the company operates out of Cabot Hosiery Mills, in the Sock Capital of the World, Northfield, Vermont. Colorful, a great stocking stuffer. (www.darntough.com).

Lowa Boots (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lowa Boots, a Connecticut based company that is in partnership with a German company founded in 1923, is famous for four-season specialized outdoor footwear for hiking, backpacking, mountaineering and walking, as well as everyday use. Available at Paragon, REI, Zappos and 450 independent specialty stores as well as online (www.lowaboots.com).

Ecco Outdoors creates ergonomic footwear that have their own version of natural motion, unique to each foot. The shoes are produced in factories in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and Portugal and sold in 90 countries from over 2,200 ECCO shops and more than 14,000 sales points. (www.eccousa.com).

For the hardcore adventurer, consider the Bivystick, a recently launched two-way satellite communication device that works with your smartphone with a flexible data plan, and offers the benefits of a GPS unit and satellite two-way communicator to send messages, track/share location information, access GPS maps, get updated forecasts an d notify EMS in the event of an emergency when otherwise off the grid. The company also produces Bivy, a software application that identifies the details, location and full path of tens of thousands of trails, waterways and climbing routes. (www.bivy.com).

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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

Grand Residences Riviera Maya: A Luxury All-Inclusive Done Right

At the five-star Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, no detail is overlooked © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Sarah Falter & Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the five-star Grand Residences Riviera Cancun (30 minutes south of Cancun), no detail is overlooked. In fact, the 144-all-suite resort takes advantage of every opportunity and touchpoint with guests to elevate the experience, be it with a wide-variety of activities, gourmet cuisine or comfortable lounge areas that make the already picturesque scene that much more serene.

This is notable because the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is an all-inclusive resort, a category which can be associated with mass-market travel experience.

But from the moment you step out of the airport you’re greeted with a smiling representative from the hotel who takes your bags, gives you a cold eucalyptus towel and an ice cold bottle of water. The transportation from the airport was premium (luxury SUV) and complimentary. When we arrived, we were presented a beautifully crafted welcome cocktail, gently wrapped local jewelry at reception, and a personal tour of the resort as we made our way to the room.

The impeccable service didn’t stop there. There were handmade crafts on our pillow with turn-down service every night, personal concierge service throughout our stay, and even a hydrating Evian facial spray with towels every time we arrived at the pool. We were particularly struck by the kindness and generosity of the staff. Everyone we interacted with during our stay somehow managed to be warm, present and helpful, without ever feeling overbearing or intrusive.

The beach at the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, a luxury all-inclusive resort © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Outside of the service, the facilities were also top-tier. The rooms were spacious and comfortable. The grounds of the resort were colorful and beautifully manicured (the resort is located between the world’s second largest barrier reef and a tranquil nature preserve). The beach was clean and expansive. We very much enjoyed exploring the property and surrounding areas in the early morning and walking the beach at sunset. One evening we rented yoga mats and did self-guided sunset yoga on the beach.

Some beach resorts may make you feel trapped or constrained, but what we loved most about our experience was the freedom to really make our stay whatever we wanted or felt like doing at the time. When we wanted to be active, there was a tennis court, lap pool, gym and miles of beach/trails for running. But when we wanted to do nothing, there were so many comfortable nooks to relax and fully enjoy the exquisite luxury of doing nothing at all. And when we wanted to eat, the options were endless.

The food was truly delicious (which is saying something for two foodies) and the options for dining were plentiful. On the property, there are three restaurants: El Faro Grille, Flor De Canela and Heaven Beach Bar & Grille. While the last option is only open for lunch, the first two offer elaborate and varied options to satisfy every possible appetite. El Faro Grille is the international option, with a rotating menu every evening. Flor De Canela is more traditional Mexican cuisine (definitely our favorite).

We ate so much delectable food at these restaurants throughout our stay: Lobster tails in fettuccine pasta, green curry mussels, short rib mole, the list goes on and on and on. And for those looking to lay low, the resort offers 24-hour room service, the menu for which is more limited than the restaurants, but still with tons of options.

All of this is included in the all-inclusive package (anywhere from $400-500 per night, depending on the time of year).

There is a long list of what we could take advantage of: Tea Time Experience; yoga; zumba dance lessons; tennis lessons; Kids Club (mask design, sand art, face painting, Mexican lottery, air hockey, Xbox, etc.); bicycle tour to Puerto Morelos Town; cooking classes; personal concierge; 24 Hours fitness center; complimentary WiFi; butler service; mixology lessons and 5 minute sunscreen massage at pool/beach and the complimentary airport transfer.

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is in the Riviera Maya of Mexico, rich in natural sites, including Cenote Multun-Ha © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun sits in the heart of the Riviera Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula which boasts a vast wealth of natural wonders and interesting remains of the ancient Mayan civilization.

The resort is relatively close to some vibrant, historical and culturally interesting towns. During our week-long trip, we spent some time in Playa del Carmen (45 minutes) & Tulum (90 minutes), as well as visited nearby cenotes and caves. For us, these destinations offered a textured and authentic compliment to the tranquil resort life. If you’re like us and value a balance of adventure and relaxation in your vacations, we highly recommend checking out these nearby destinations.

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is in the Riviera Maya of Mexico, rich in archeological sites like Coba © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is worth noting that Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is a great wedding destination (planners on staff) and honeymoon place.

If you’re looking for a great balance of luxurious family resort (children under 12 stay free) and a relaxed adult atmosphere, Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World,  is a perfect destination for your next vacation. It is secluded and private, but very accessible, making it especially easy to swing for a long weekend. 

Visit the website for special deals.

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, (US) 855-381-4340, https://grandresidencesrivieracancun.com/.

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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

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

 

A Mother-Daughter Spa Retreat in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains

The Adler Dolomiti Spa & Sport Resort nestles into Italy’s Tyrolean Alps (Photo by Geri Bain)

By Geri Bain

“Those snow-capped mountains are Austria,” says our guide as my 23-year daughter Jenny and I pose beside our e-bikes. The effort-boosting electric bikes had make it possible for a non-marathoner to pedal up amazingly steep slopes to Alpe di Siusi (a.k.a. Seiser Alm), a 2,000-meter high alpine meadow. This is just one of many guided hiking and e-biking options offered for varying fitness levels at no charge to Adler Dolomiti Spa and Sport Resort guests. In winter, these include ski and snowshoe safaris. Alpine skiers can tap into Dolomiti Superski, among the world’s biggest interconnected ski areas. Here, a single ski pass provides access to 14 kilometers of interconnecting trails and lifts, including Saslong, host to two annual FIS World Cup ski races.

About a 1.5 hour’s drive from Innsbruck and roughly three hours from either Munich or Venice, the resort is set in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. Part of the Tyrolean Alps, the region feels as much Austrian as Italian, and for good reason. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I. German and Italian are two of the official languages in the region. The third is Ladin, whose roots go back to days when this land was part of the Roman Empire; it is still spoken in a number of formerly-isolated valleys.

E-bikes make it possible to pedal up the steep Alpine slopes of the Dolomites (Photo by Geri Bain)

This a region of wild beauty, with 18 peaks over 3,000 meters and expansive high meadows. Nestled along its deep river valleys are small villages with flower-box adorned chalets and ancient churches. No wonder this region was named a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 2009. It offers nature at its most accessible thanks to a system of interconnecting lifts and bus routes, with free tickets provided by local hotels, and well-laid out, sign-posted routes for hiking, e-biking, skiing and other outdoor activities.

The Dialogue Walk is punctuated by contemplative quotes (Photo by Geri Bain)

In addition to the resort’s guided expeditions, we go off on several of our own hikes—armed with maps and directions from the hotel staff. One day we take the “Dialogue Walk” up the mountain behind our resort. The walk features quotes from Mother Teresa, a Cherokee, and others, carved into paving stones and rocks along the way, designed to prompt meditation (and for us, the first step is to translate them into English).

Another day, we follow the Val Gardena Railway trail, which has tri-lingual explanations of the region’s history. It runs the length of the valley, past small towns, pastures and pretty pocket playgrounds, and through steep stretches of forest. Our steepest climb is up the pilgrimage trail to St. Jacob’s Church, which surprises us with gaily painted story boards along the way and rewards us with awesome views.

Woodcarvings of all styles and sizes are sold in picturesque souvenir shops (Photo by Geri Bain)

Our home base, the Alder Dolomiti Spa Hotel & Resort, is in the center of the picturesque, pedestrian-only center of Ortisei, a picturesque village in the Val Gardena (Garden Valley). Here, the region’s three cultures are evident. The Alpine art of woodcarving is displayed in traditional and modern forms in shops, adorning homes and churches and in the Museum Gherdeina, which showcases Ladin culture. Restaurants, both at the resort and around town, feature local cheeses, German-style sausages and regional varieties of mushrooms in creative Italian pasta dishes.

The Adler Dolomit Spa & Sport Resort (photo courtesy of Adler Dolomiti)

The Adler Dolomiti has been a family-run property since its opening in 1810, when the area first became known as a center for mountaineering and skiing. It has its own tiny museum with artifacts from the early days of the hotel and the region. We chose to stay here based on a stay at its sister property in Tuscany (Hotel Adler Thermae),where we had enjoyed its combination of complimentary guided outings, thermal pools, themed saunas and farm-to-table dining, and it is a great choice here as well. While each resort’s architecture, activities and cuisine reflect its region, the basic style of stay is similar.

Adler Dolomiti is ideally situated to provide stunning mountain views from every angle (Photo by Geri Bain)

At the Dolomites resort, cozy fireplaces and lodge-style decor combine with excellent free Wi-Fi and huge window walls to create a welcome blend of the traditional and modern. Our standard room feels like a suite, with a separate seating area and patio and spacious modern bathroom. The half-board plan we are on includes a daily expansive daily breakfast buffet and multi-course dinner as well as a teatime buffet and guided excursions including equipment. There’s even a complimentary kid’s program. During our stay, we set out after breakfast each day either on one of the hotel’s tours or one of their suggested self-guided hikes for which they provide maps, suggestions on places to eat, and a packed picnic lunch, if desired. Each day we return to a welcoming teatime spread of cheeses, meats, breads and other goodies.

The Adler Dolomiti Spa & Sport Resort’s pools, hot tubs and saunas are a world unto themselves (Photo by Geri Bain)

Before dinner each day, we make sure to allow time to enjoy the resort’s Water & Wellness World,” a park-like expanse of relaxation rooms, hot tubs, and indoor and outdoor hot tubs and pools with tucked away waterfalls and massaging jets and themed saunas and steam baths, each infused with distinctive scents such as organic hay, floral blossoms and lavender and lime—all available at no charge. We are surprised to learn while bathing suits are worn in pools and hot tubs, for health reasons, in the saunas, towels, but no swimsuits are permitted, and except in for a women-only spa area, all are co-ed.

The underground salt grotto offers a tranquil retreat. (Photo courtesy of Adler Dolomiti)

We especially love the outdoor hot tub, where we enjoy meeting fellow guests as we take in the mountain views, and find the underground salt pool and grotto magical, and worth the nominal entry fee. There are also free yoga, Pilates and other classes and a fitness center with cardio and strength training equipment at the gym; with more time, we might sample them, but we do carve out time to indulge in several of the spa’s excellent and reasonably priced massages, wraps, facials and other treatments, many featuring local ingredients.

Bounteous buffets offer diverse choices at every meal (Photo by Geri Bain)

Local ingredients also take center stage in the dining room. We love the expansive buffets, always complemented by waiter-service menus. The diverse cultures and local bounty are reflected in everything from fresh-baked dark and light breads to apple strudel. Each evening brings a new set of delectable surprises, with the chance to try regional dishes such as venison with lingonberries, spaetzli, dumplings with a local smoked ham called speck, and creative pasta dishes.

The resort shares facilities with an adjoining, 30-room adults-only sister property, Adler Balance, a medical/holistic health center focused on preventive medicine and anti-aging. There’s also a small sister lodge tucked into the Alpe di Suissa, for those looking for a total escape into nature.

Relaxation is the order of the day at Adler Dolomiti (Photo courtesy of Adler Dolomiti)

With all its pools, saunas and other facilities and its landscaped gardens, we are surprised to learn that Adler Dolomiti only has 130 rooms. Perhaps that’s why it never feels crowded and the service is personal. It’s also nice that fellow guests quickly begin to look familiar. We are told that the resort caters to families with children’s programs and some family-friendly accommodations, yet we are here during a school holiday and only see about a dozen kids.

E-biking up the Alpe di Suissa was one of the many activities travel writer Geri Bain and daughter Jenny enjoyed during their stay at Adler Dolomiti.

Speaking with fellow guests, we meet people from as far away as Australia, along with England, the U.S. and France. Understandably, most come from Italy and Germany, and we speak with a number of couples and families who come here several times a year. We agree that if this were within driving distance of our home, we would too! 

Daily breakfast, multi-course dinner, teatime buffet, spa juices and snacks, and guided excursions on foot and e-bikes (and in winter, on skis and snowshoes) were all included in our half-board plan. And for families, a kid’s program is also included in the rates. For more information, visit www.adler-dolomiti.com/en.   

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

 

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

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the award winners:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertising Platinum Winners:

Company; Agency

Space Florida; Paradise Advertising and Marketing

VisitBritain; Expedia Media Solutions

Maine Office of Tourism; BVK

                                                                                                                          NewFoundland and Labrador Tourism; TargetMarriott International; GREY New York


Digital Marketing Platinum Winners:

Company; Agency

Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown; Connelly Partners

Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Ideas Collide

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism; Target

Amelia Island; Paradise Advertising and Marketing

Orlando Magic; Net Conversion

Aruba Tourism Authority; Concept Farm


Public Relations Platinum Winners

Company; Agency

Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau; Finn Partners

Singita; Imagine Communications

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

Hilton

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

Marriott Hotels; Catalyst PR

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Finger Lakes Tourism Promotion Agency; Quinn

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

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

Mexico City Tourism Board; Weber Shandwick

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

Visit Salt Lake


Integrated Marketing Platinum Winner

Company; Agency

Hilton Hotels + Resorts

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

At Sonesta Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square, Art is More than a Theme, but a Mission

Sonesta Philadelphia’s LiquidArt served in its artful ArtBar (photo courtesy Sonesta)

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Philadelphia is like hopping from time-capsule to time-capsule because you go from one authentic site where events happened, where the Founders and builders of this nation actually stood, to another. Come, time-travel with me. And the best way to appreciate it – and be wonderfully surprised at ever twist and turn– is to walk. That’s how you come upon things you never considered – the historic markers which point out where Wanamaker’s Department Store was, the Ricketts Circus, the American Philosophical Society (founded by Ben Franklin). I practically fall over what closer inspection tells me is the very townhouse where Thomas Jefferson stayed when he wrote the Declaration of Independence (called “Declaration House”), a short walk from Independence Hall.

But I soon appreciate something more: an arts tradition that is infused throughout: the breathtaking majesty of City Hall built in the Second Empire Style; an Art Deco “Automat” sign; the stunning Art Deco architecture of a building, gorgeous giant murals that pop up out of nowhere, indeed the streetscape.

Walking about Philadelphia, you come across surprises like this Art Deco building © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is why it is so terrific that my hotel, the Sonesta Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square, in downtown Philadelphia, is so well located: because it’s only by walking to places that you can really enjoy these visual surprises.

It’s the afternoon when I arrive at the Sonesta (a parking garage is adjacent for added convenience) and after checking in, I have just enough time to explore one attraction on my list.

I set out down Market Street, walking through the magnificent City Hall, designed by John McArthur Jr and constructed between 1871 to 1901 within Penn Square (you can stand on a pedestal placed there to take photos of yourself as a monumental statue) and head down toward the historic district that surrounds Independence Hall. You appreciate the changes in style as traveling through époques.

This becomes my route over the course of my three days in this city, each time setting out on foot and delighting in discovering architecture, historic sites, colorful murals painted across entire building facades. And each evening, I find myself drawn to Rittenhouse Square, a few blocks away, which is hopping with activity and color, with quaint restaurants, taverns and shops alongside the charming urban park.

Sonesta Philadephia is a short walk to Rittenhouse Square where there are pleasant restaurants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Sonesta Hotel’s location makes all of this possible.

The Sonesta has everything you would want in a city-center hotel (there is even a rooftop swimming pool, in season), an ArtBar where you can have cocktails, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse for dining, a gallery that showcases local artists. It is ideal as a base for business travelers as well as for those coming for a convention (the state convention center is walking distance) or meetings (it has 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 16 conference rooms), like the conference of literary writers who are in attendance during my visit (I wished I could have hung out more with them). But I am visiting for a family occasion, and looking around at the other guests holding flowers and centerpieces and guest-bags, there are many of us who are similarly celebrating, as well as scores of visitors from around the world who appreciate having such a comfortable hub for our expeditions.

The parking garage, which is independently owned and operated,  is attached to the hotel and is valet only, which is really convenient (you can check out and store your bags with the bellman and keep the car there until you are ready to pick it up; some packages include parking or discounts on parking; other options including a municipal lot, are also in the area).


The Sonesta Philadelphia’s rooftop pool, open in season (photo courtesy Sonesta)

The rooms are spacious, stylishly appointed in what I refer to as “retro modern,” and very comfortable with plush bedding and bathroom amenities (my stay was hosted by Sonesta). All the rooms have been redesigned and include: flat-screen LCD televisions, complimentary wireless internet service, in-room safe, iHome docking station for iPhone 4, coffee maker, and mini-refrigerator. (Feather and fragrance-free rooms are available upon request.)

Club Level Guest Rooms also feature Keurig coffee machine, bottled water, plus access to the Sonesta’s club lounge where you are provided continental breakfast daily (with one hot upgraded item), snacks throughout the day; hot and cold hors d’oeuvres; two adult beverages in the evening.

My room at the Sonesta Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All the rooms have beautiful views of the city; the Junior One-Bedroom Suites feature a stunning view of City Hall, and has a chic living room with contemporary décor flowing into a separate modern bedroom, Queen sleeper sofa, refrigerator, wet bar, oversized bathroom with dressing area, large work station, bathrobes in addition to the other amenities.

There are also two-room King Suites and a Presidential Suite.

Guests in Executive Club Floor rooms enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast and evening refreshments in a private lounge with their accommodations on weekdays; on weekends, Club Level room guests receive two complimentary drink tickets for beer or wine at the Art Bar and a $10 breakfast voucher in the Art Bar.

Embracing & Promoting Philadelphia’s Arts Tradition

Philadelphia is a city whose appreciation for the arts is legendary, and the Sonesta is helping to promote that tradition, in its architecture, interior design, food presentation, and in its collaborations with the local art community and city.

I soon realize why its lounge is the ArtBar and why the visual arts provide a vibe for the re-designed and art-inspired hotel: it’s more than a theme, it’s a mission. The Sonesta Hotel Philadelphia embraces and fosters the creation of art in the hotel and the community by partnering with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists. Its in-house art gallery located in the lobby, showcases paintings by local artists which are available for purchase; the gallery rotates every 6 months.

It is also promoting the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, with a record-breaking mural, 22-stories high, alongside its façade. The mural was completed in just two weeks time.

“We’re so committed to Art, we tattooed it on our face.”

Philadelphia is a city whose appreciation for the arts is legendary, and the Sonesta Philadelphia has partnered with Open Source on their citywide exhibition that is bringing 14 international artists to Philadelphia. These artists’ practices vary widely, from sculpture to community muralism to street art. They are working with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program to create a new series of public artworks that explore and illuminate Philadelphia’s diverse urban identity. The Sonesta Hotel Philadelphia is a central Open Source venue and a hub for talks, tours, visual documentation, and direct engagement with staff, artists, and curator Pedro Alonzo.

The artist who is executing the mural on the hotel’s  25-story facade is “Momo” from New Orleans, who is regarded as a standard-bearer for abstraction in street art. “Momo” has since transitioned into creating large-scale murals in countries all over the world, including as a perennial participant in Italy’s legendary FAME Festival. (For more information on Open Source Mural Arts, visit http://opensource.muralarts.org/)

One of the magnificent murals that grace Philadelphia’s streetscape © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program Is the nation’s largest public art program, “dedicated to the belief that art ignites change. For 30 years, Mural Arts has united artists and communities through a collaborative process, rooted in the traditions of mural-making, to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives.” Mural Arts engages communities in 50–100 public art projects each year, and maintains its growing collection through a restoration initiative. Each year, 12,000 residents and visitors tour Mural Arts’ outdoor art gallery (including docent-led trolley and walking tours between sites, as well as audio guides and maps for self-guided visitors, which has become part of the city’s civic landscape and a source of pride and inspiration, earning Philadelphia international recognition as the “City of Murals.”

I come upon some of these impressive murals as I walk to the historic district.

Philadelphia’s impressive City Hall © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I used the opening of the brand new Museum of the American Revolution as the theme for my three-day visit to Philadelphia – a really deep dive probe of the Revolutionary War era, a return to understanding the founding of the nation through, as it were, original documents, materials and artifacts, at a time when we need to be reminded. During this all-too-brief time, I also visited the National Museum of American Jewish History, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, Betsy Ross House and the National Constitution Center. But I can’t wait to return and delve into the city’s rich arts tradition.

Sonesta Philadelphia Hotel Deals Year Round

The Sonesta Philadelphia is located close to the Convention Center, Financial District and Rittenhouse Square, and a pleasant walk to the Historic District. There are numerous special rates and packages geared to business travelers, AAA members, government employees and visiting college students as well as property specific seasonal offers and deals tied to special events

Package deals, which can be found at the website, are available, including Art of Romance Valentine’s Day Package (champagne, breakfast in bed and 2 pm late check out); VisitPhilly Overnight Winter Package, includes valet parking and winter attraction tickets; Bed and Breakfast package; Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse Package includes $100 gift card to the steakhouse (located in the hotel) and free parking. There is also a “best available rate” option. A Winter sale going on now offers 20% off.

Sonesta Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square, 1800 Market Street, Philadelphia PA 19103, 215-561-7500, www.sonesta.com/us/pennsylvania/philadelphia/sonesta-philadelphia-rittenhouse-square.

Visit Philadelphia provides excellent trip planning tools, including hotel packages, itineraries, events listings: 30 S 17th Street, Philadelphia PA 19103, 215-599-0776, visitphilly.com.

 

See also:

National Museum of American Jewish History is Unexpected Revelation in Philadelphia 

Philadelphia’s New Museum Immerses You into Drama of America’s Revolutionary War

72 Hours in Philadelphia: Ben Franklin, America’s Revolutionary ‘Elder Statesman,’ Would Have been Quite at Home in 21st Century 

72 Hours in Philadelphia: Meet Betsy Ross: A Thoroughly Modern Woman

72 Hours in Philadelphia: A Visit to the National Constitution Center Exposes Contradictions in ‘We the People’

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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

Historic Inn at Saratoga Captures Sense of Place, Gracious Victorian Style

The Inn at Saratoga, Saratoga Springs’ oldest continuously operating hotel, dating from 1843, offers Victorian gracious style and a sense of place © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Saratoga Springs, one of America’s first tourist towns, has been drawing visitors since the 14th century when Native Americans discovered the mineral springs which still draw visitors today. But it is also where formal horse racing began, and over the years, has also developed an amazingly rich cultural menu of offerings, especially in summer, when its Performing Arts Center is home to the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. It is fitting that among its key attractions are the National Museum of Dance (who knew there was such a thing?) as well as the National Racing Museum (fascinating), historic racetrack, lively live-music venues, stunning boutiques (you know a top-notch town by its olive oil shop and haberdashery).

It doesn’t take long, as you walk among the giant painted horses and ballet shoes to recognize this unbelievably charming town is a combination of Louisville, Kentucky and Lenox, Massachusetts, with a touch of a spa-wellness destination thrown in. And totally enchanting.

But walking around and taking in the breathtaking Victorian architecture, you also realize that Saratoga Springs has had its ups-and-downs. Indeed, the celebrated historic Racetrack even closed down in 1896 because of financial hardship, and historic markers on Broadway point to whole historic streets that were torn down in the 1960s until a preservation movement took root.

This makes you appreciate all the more the work underway ($30 million worth) on the historic Adelphi Hotel, where the colorful Irish-born prize-fighter, horse-racing impresario, gambling entrepreneur , New York State Senator and Tammany Hall enforcer John Morrissey, a regular of the hotel, died in 1878.

You get to live Saratoga Springs’ history at the Inn at Saratoga, which has basically “seen” it all. Built around 1843, it is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Saratoga Springs, and its own history mirrors that of the village.

The Inn at Saratoga, which dates from 1843, puts you into the city’s story © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Anyone who appreciates as I do how a historic hotel is like a direct line to a place – putting you on the inside track rather than being an outsider merely passing through – seeks out historic hotels wherever possible. They have presence, and give you a sense of place.

These historic hotels immerse you into the collective memory and heritage of a place – like being inserted into the scene of the village as it might have been 150 years ago. They are so much more than brick and mortar – they have personality, character, even soul (not for nothing that many also harbor a ghost or two).

It is also about providing the gracious hospitality we associate with times past – the personal attention, the tranquil pace, a quiet calm.

So, coming to Saratoga Springs, I do what I always do when I plan a trip: seek out Historic Hotels of America website (historichotels.org, 800-678-8946), a membership program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation with nearly 290 historic hotels that have faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place and architectural integrity. I discover the Inn at Saratoga, which turns out to be the oldest continuously operating inn in Saratoga Springs, dating back to 1843.

Over the years, the inn’s fortunes have had its ups and downs along with the city (now decidedly up in its fortunes)  and, like the city and hospitality industry, has gone through many incarnations – a physician tapped Saratoga Springs’ legendary mineral waters for his patients and operated the inn as an early version of a spa hotel; a Cuban owner had a travel pipeline for visitors from Cuba; a rabbi catered to Jewish vacationers escaping New York City’s oppressive summers.

Fortunately, it is now in the loving hands of the Israel family, who acquired the inn in 2003, and who bring a deep appreciation for historic preservation and their role as stewards.

Indeed, when you experience such places, you cannot take their existence for granted – rather, they are to be celebrated as survivors against long odds – surviving wrecking balls, economic and natural disasters, and new owners’ predilections to go “modern.”

Owners of these historic properties take on their stewardship with a sense of obligation and humility, recognizing they are links in a chain, without which, these places will simply cease to exist.

The Israel family, who are active in Preservation Society for Saratoga Springs, has spent considerable resources removing the “modern” that previous owners had installed, and restoring the hotel’s period features and charm, while providing the amenities that guests crave today, including spacious bathrooms, in-room coffee maker, flat-screen TV, voicemail, dataports, complimentary wired and wireless high-speed Internet access and such.  As they say it is “the perfect marriage of past and present.”

Painting along three sides of the inn’s elevator depicts Saratoga Springs of 150 years ago © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I joke about the hotel having an elevator (which has an exquisite pastel painting of Saratoga Springs as it might have been 150 years ago that spreads across three sides) and the receptionist says, this place didn’t even have running water in 1843. But to install the elevator, Liz Israel, who has the role of General Manager, tells me, the previous owners removed a formal staircase.

The inn once had around 100 rooms, more than twice the number, 42 rooms and suites, as today – because traditional hostelries had tiny rooms with a washbasin and guests shared a bathroom.

Best of the past and present: four-poster bed and period furnishings create the atmosphere in the guest room at the Inn at Saratoga; modern amenities including spacious bathroom, TV and WiFi heighten the guest experience © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Big band music plays in the hallway as I make my way to my room (you can’t hear it when you are in the room) but you use a modern key-card to enter. It is pure pleasure to sink into a four-poster bed so high you need a step ladder, and of course a spacious modern bathroom. Each room is different and appointed with period furnishings.

Robert Israel, a tax attorney who first came to Saratoga Springs in the 1960s when it was in decline (and property was cheap) bought the hotel in 2003, has meticulously gone about acquiring period furnishings at auction – a stunning bookcase that adorns the dining room; wood paneling that as a young man in his 20s, he salvaged from a hotel in Newburgh that he kept for 40 years before finding just the right place, in the inn’s lobby; the side board we take our coffee cup from for breakfast came from the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel. The walls are graced with stunning oil paintings (purchased at auction) as well as prints that Israel collected from the Grand Union Hall, which when it was built, was the largest in the world (it burned down). He acquired a shuttered railway ticket cottage which he reassembled and repurposed in the inn’s garden to serve as a bar for special events. The ballroom has an intricately “carved” fireplace which came  from a movie set. And the dining room has a specially made red velvet banquette that captures the Victorian ambiance perfectly.

Inn at Saratoga is justifiably proud of the full breakfast served buffet style in the tradition of a bed-and-breakfast inn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One feature of the Inn at Saratoga is the complimentary full buffet breakfast that is included – a lavish affair that reminds you more of a bed-and-breakfast inn where the host seeks to really out do themselves with memorable meals. One breakfast consisted of delectable scrambled eggs seasoned with herbs, served on a fresh croissant, along with bacon, potatoes, selections of fresh fruit, cereals, bagels, pastries and muffins, perfectly delectable coffee, served on beautiful china.

Liz Israel was 18 years old when her father bought the property. She grew up waiting tables, handling the reception desk, and went on to get a degree in hospitality management in Ireland, where she worked at the Shelburne Hotel in Dublin before returning to the Inn at Saratoga with her Irish husband.

Liz takes me on a walking tour of the hotel, recognizing how much I appreciate the restoration.

Once an open porch, The Tavern bar has big picture windows that overlook the street bustle on Broadway, Saratoga Springs’ main street, and where there is live music five nights a week, Wednesday through Saturday.

The inn’s original lobby is repurposed for a dining and lounge space; the couch is an Israel family heirloom © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Primo’s Restaurant, where you enjoy breakfast and which serves dinner, is a Victorian confection. Liz says that they lifted up the carpet and removed a cement layer to expose the original hardwood floors.

There is a beautiful ballroom that opens to a garden where a tent has been erected for a wedding reception; there is also an old railroad ticket cottage that Israel acquired and repurposed for a bar.

The inn has a few vintage Roadmaster bikes available for guests’ use (two hours at a time). Guests also enjoy complimentary access to Victoria Swimming Pool located in Saratoga Spa State Park and the nearby YMCA. Complimentary parking in its on-site lot is a significant amenity as well. (The inn offers a spa package with the historic Roosevelt Baths & Spa in the park.)

The Inn at Saratoga offers a gracious setting © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition to the hotel, there is a separate Brownell Cottage (which was purchased along with the hotel) which features four luxurious suites, accommodating up to four people depending on the suite. Beautifully appointed, the cottage offers an array of modern amenities: whirlpool tub, heated bathroom floors, steam shower with multi-head massage shower, authentic Franklin Stove fireplaces, cable TV, coffee/tea maker, speaker phones with data port, voice mail and in-room safes and free high-speed wireless Internet.

The Inn at Saratoga is an ideal venue for wedding or family function or meeting because of its scale, the charming ambiance, and facilities.

Inn Follows Fortunes of Saratoga Springs

I love the back story to the inn: it was built as a large boarding house in 1843 by Isaac Hall, a carpenter from New Hampshire, 11 years after the railroad provided easy access to Saratoga’s spa for tourists.

In 1846, Hall sold the property to Thomas Smith of Virginia, who turned over the management to Dr. Richard L. Allen, who, like other physicians of the time, operated boarding houses to treat “chronic cases” – an early version of a health spa. That lasted until 1853, when the property was sold to Hervey P. Hall (Dr. Allen remained in Saratoga Springs and published a popular guide for health seekers in Saratoga).

The hotel passed through three other owners until 1865 when it was acquired by Benjamin V. Frasier, brother-in-law of Thomas Marvin, the proprietor of the huge United States Hotel (largest hotel at the time). “The wealth created by the Civil War and the pent-up demand for pleasure created the greatest boom Saratoga had ever seen.”

It isn’t a coincidence that organized horse racing, brought by casino operator and future congressman, the prize-fighter John Morrissey, had begun in Saratoga Springs.

Frasier significantly expanded the hotel, building the three-story wing in 1866 and added a brick veneer, and re-named the hotel Everett House.

The historic Inn at Saratoga pays tribute to Saratoga Springs’ horse-racing tradition with one of the painted horses © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Frasier gave up the hotel in 1875 (the same year as the first Kentucky Derby was run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky) and it was sold to Nathaniel Waterbury, a prominent Saratogan, who made improvements but quickly  went into foreclosure. The US was in the midst of a major economic Depression. The property was purchased at an 1878 sheriff’s sale by Thomas Marvin’s daughters, Mary Louise Sackett and Virginia Perry. By 1882, they had leased it to Primo M. Suarez, who catered to Cuban vacationers for 35 years; he rebuilt the front of the hotel in 1887 in the High Victorian style that was fashionable at the time.

After World War I, Saratoga’s old clientele was slipping away; and instead of two-week sojourns, auto touring was the newest fad. But there was a growing audience of Jewish New Yorkers who sought to escape the city’s summer heat and could afford a country retreat. In 1919, Nathaniel Heller took over Everett House and by the 1924 season, renamed it Hotel Brenner, operated by Rabbi Charles Brenner and his extended family. That continued until 1973 when the hotel was purchased by Dom Nardelli of Saratoga Springs who “updated” the facility and renamed it the Coachman Motor Inn.

That was a fairly dark time for Saratoga Springs, when many of its historic buildings were taken down. A historic preservation movement took hold in the 1980s, and when Nardelli put the hotel on the market in 1987, it was sold to four businessmen who sought to recreate the graciousness of a Victorian hotel.

In 2003, the hotel was acquired by the current owners, Robert Israel of Franklin Square Associates, a historic preservation professional who has sought to restore the hotel’s historic quality and enhance the guest experience.

Liz tells me her father uses the inn as an excuse to shadow auctions and indulge his passion for antiques.

The Inn at Saratoga offers several package options, including:

GirlFriends Getaway Package, featuring dinner, wine, mineral baths and massage treatments at the historic Roosevelt Baths & Spa in Saratoga Spring State Park.

(The Roosevelt Baths & Spa Saratoga Springs opened in 1935 largely because at the impetus of President Franklin Roosevelt who wanted to develop the mineral baths at Saratoga Springs as well as Warm Springs, Virginia. Today, the Roosevelt Baths & Spa offers 42 original treatment rooms and a complete menu of services, including mineral baths, massages, facials, scrubs and body wraps, and a full-service salon.)

The inn’s Victorian Romance Package features a deluxe guest room or suite accommodations, a rose, chilled bottle of Champagne delivered to the room, plus morning buffet breakfast and gourmet 3 course dinner for two at The Inn at Saratoga’s Restaurant. Upgrade to a suite for the ultimate experience, most Brownell Cottage suites have a whirlpool tub, heated bathroom floors, steam showers and a Franklin stove fireplace.

The Israel family also owns another boutique hotel, in St. Thomas in the Caribbean.

The Inn at Saratoga is near most of Saratoga Springs’ attractions, such as the National Museum of Dance and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center is summer home to the New York City Ballet © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Centrally located, The Inn at Saratoga is conveniently near center of the village and its attractions including Congress Park, Skidmore College, Saratoga Performing Arts Center (summer home of the New York City Ballet), the famous Saratoga Thorough-bred Racetrack, the Saratoga Harness Track, the Saratoga National Museum of Dance, the National Museum of Racing, and the Saratoga Spa State Park.

On the Friday night that I am in town, I can choose from seeing the New York City Ballet, see a polo match or a live folk performance at Café Lina, among many other options.

Besides the nearby attractions of Saratoga Springs (see story), The Inn at Saratoga is well situated to year-round attractions, including Lake George (half hour); Gore Mountain (hour), and the Revolutionary War-era Saratoga National Historical Park (20 minutes).

The Inn at Saratoga, 231 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, 518-583-1890, 800-274-3573, theinnatsaratoga.com. 

See next: Exploring Saratoga Springs 

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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

Mansions on Fifth Historic Boutique Hotel in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside Sends You Back to Gilded Age

The jaw-dropping grand Mansion on Fifth, in Pittsburgh’s tony Shadyside neighborhood, home to Carnegie, Frick and other celebrated industrialists and bankers, now a boutique hotel where you get to feel as if you were transported back to the Gilded Age © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

I return to Pittsburgh when I come back to do my second Rails-to-Trails Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage, a fantastic rail-trail that stretches across Western Pennsylvania, from Cumberland, Md. to Pittsburgh, this time a longer trip, 150 miles, that finishes on the Montour Trail (see stories).

I had been dazzled by Pittsburgh on my first visit a year ago, and the same is true this time. It is no wonder that this city, built on steel and coal, rejuvenated, revitalized, has been named one of America’s most liveable cities. What is best about it is how it retained the best of old and new.

This time, as luck would have it, I choose a historic hotel, Mansions on Fifth, that is in the Shadyside neighborhood, a short walk away from the Carnegie Museums and the Cathedral of Learning, so that my all-too-brief time in this glorious city is spent immersed in the city’s leading cultural attractions that I had not been able to visit a year ago.

Mansions on Fifth in Pittsburgh’s tony Shadyside neighborhood is the sort of place that when you pull up, your jaw drops. And for the brief time that you are here, you feel what it must have been like to be part of Pittsburgh’s upper-crust, the society of industrial titans. You know how historic places being “living history” places because of people? That’s what you feel like when you stay and inhabit these rooms, continuing the life and spirit of these structures that seem to have a life of their own and stories to tell. People come and go, after all, but these structures remain, albeit in the care of stewards who take on the responsibility. (Whenever I travel, I first check out Historic Hotels of America’s site, historichotels.org, to see if there is a member property because the experience is always extraordinary; for my last visit, I stayed at the Omni William Penn Hotel, an iconic property right downtown. Mansions on Fifth used to be an HHA member, prior to being acquired in 2016 by Priory Hospitality Group, Pittsburgh’s premier owner, operator and developer of independent hotels and event spaces. Among its other holdings, Priory Hospitality Group owns and operates the Priory Hotel and Grand Hall at the Priory on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.)

Indeed, Mansions on Fifth puts you right back into Pittsburgh’s history and its story:

“The late 1890’s and early 1900’s were in many ways Pittsburgh’s golden age, measured by prosperity and economic might, if not by a clean environment. Pittsburgh was a financial and industrial powerhouse as well as a center of river and rail transportation. In 1900, Pittsburgh produced more than half of the crucible steel in the nation, and by 1910, it was the eighth most populous city in the country.

“It was also a time where giants of the business world traversed Shadyside’s Fifth Avenue – ‘Millionaire’s Row’ – on a daily basis. Names such as Carnegie, Mellon, Frick, Westinghouse and Heinz were among the leading citizens of the day.”

This 20,000 sq. ft. mansion was built in the early 1900s by Willis F. McCook, a prosperous attorney and legal counsel to steel and coke magnate Henry Clay Frick for himself, his wife Mary and their 10 children.

The main house of Mansions on Fifth, built in the early 1900s by Willis F. McCook, a prosperous attorney and legal counsel to steel and coke magnate Henry Clay Frick © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

McCook was most famous for having represented Frick, but he was highly accomplished in his own right, the notes show.”A groundbreaker in modern day corporate law, McCook studied law at Columbia University following his graduation from Yale in 1873. He was also a pioneering athlete, serving as captain of Yale’s first football team and playing in the first intercollegiate football game in the nation. Later in life, he served as president and director of the Pittsburgh Steel Company, and was a partner in the law firm McCook & Jarrett. He died in 1923 at the age of 72.”

Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, which was also home to many of the city’s leading industrialists, innovators and bankers of the city, including George Westinghouse, Frick, Andrew Mellon, Andrew Carnegie and the rest of Pittsburgh’s exceptionally wealthy families of the era.

Here among the leafy green trees on a hilltop, it is easy to imagine how clean and cool the air in comparison to the choking atmosphere of the steel mills that shrouded the city below.

The Amberson House, built for McCook’s daughter, Bessie McCook Reed, next door to the main mansion. She lived in the home from the time of her marriage until her passing in 1966. It is now part of the Mansions on Fifth historic hotel © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As his mansion was being built, McCook’s daughter Bessie became engaged, so he contracted to build a more modest (but still spacious at 8,000 square feet) home adjacent to his own. The smaller mansion (now the Mansions on Fifth Hotel’s Amberson House) was completed first, and the main house (now called the Fifth Avenue House), was finished in 1906.

The two mansions were designed in the Elizabethan Revivalist and Tudor styles by the architectural firm Carpenter & Crocker, of Pittsburgh’s East End. Many of the firm’s other projects, which range from Florida to Washington state, exist today, including the iconic Trinity Cathedral Parish House in downtown Pittsburgh. The contractor on the McCook estate was Thomas Reilly, who also built the massive and magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral just down Fifth Avenue from the estate. Reilly also worked with Carpenter & Crocker on the Parish House at Trinity Cathedral.

“McCook and his designers and builders spared no expense, using some of the finest craftsmen of the era, including master ironworker Cyril Colnik (fixtures and decorative items), Rudy Brothers Art Glass (leaded and stained glass installations), and Rookwood Ceramic Tile (for the decorative tile around the fireplaces in the houses). The stunning carved wood in the Grand Hall of the Fifth Avenue House was produced by Woolaeger Manufacturing of Milwaukee. The total cost of the project was $300,000 in 1906 ($7.6 million in today’s dollars).

Light streams in to a wood-paneled lobby from stained glass windows on the staircase of the Mansion on Fifth to one of the cozy sitting areas in front of a fireplace © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After McCook died in, 1923, the family continued to live in the main mansion through the 1930’s. But the Great Depression took its toll and the family was unable to keep current with their property taxes. Seized for sheriff’s sale by the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department, the mansion was purchased in 1949 by Emil Bonavita, Sr. and his wife Margaret for $28,000. The Bonavitas moved into the mansion with their two children, Emil, Jr. and Charles.

As a way to pay for upkeep for the massive building, the Bonavitas rented out rooms on the upper floors to students at nearby Carnegie Mellon University. Students were thoroughly screened, and many of those attracted to the historic property were studying at CMU’s prominent arts and theater schools. According to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette architecture writer Patricia Lowry, tenants included Albert Brooks, Andy Warhol, Shirley Jones and George Peppard. Margaret, who acted as a house mother to the many students who resided at the home over the years, resided in the McCook mansion until her much mourned death in 2003.

Bessie McCook Reed, for whom the Amberson House was built in 1905, lived in the home from the time of her marriage until her passing in 1966. Three years later, Emil Bonavita, Jr. and his wife Marie acquired the Amberson House and moved in to raise their family of four children. Emil and Marie also assisted in the boarding operations at the larger Fifth Avenue House.

In 2004, the Fifth Avenue House, the main mansion, sustained a horrific fire which caused extensive damage to the upper floors. The building became uninhabitable, and its tenure as a home for students ended. Emil and Marie looked to sell the damaged mansion to a purchaser who would restore it.

Pittsburgh preservationists, husband and wife Mary Del Brady and Richard Pearson, acquired both houses of the former McCook estate from the Bonavitas for $1.5 million. Their idea was to redevelop the property into a boutique hotel and event center. Restoration and repair work, which was extensive given the fire damage, began in January 2010. The Fifth Avenue House, the primary mansion, was completed in early 2011 and opened to the public in March of that year with 13 guest rooms and suites, the grand hall event space, a library, the Oak Room pub, and two private dining rooms. The adjacent Amberson House, with 9 guest rooms and suites, opened in November 2012. Total cost of the project exceeded $8,000,000.

The properties were recognized as an historic landmark by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2012.

New Era for Mansions on Fifth

In late September 2016, Pittsburgh-based boutique hotel owner/operator Priory Hospitality Group acquired the operating assets of the Mansions on Fifth Hotel and assumed operations of the Shadyside property. Owned and operated by the Graf family since 1986, the Priory Hospitality Group’s properties include the award winning Priory Hotel (a Tripadvisor Hall of Fame member), Grand Hall at the Priory event facility (Best Wedding Venue – City Paper 2016; Best of the Knot 2006-2016; Pittsburgh Magazine Best Restaurant 2012 & 13), and Priory Fine Pastries commercial and retail bakery (Runner Up – Pittsburgh Magazine Best Bakery 2012 & 13).

Priory Hospitality Group invested considerably to upgrade the properties and amenities.

The Mansions on Fifth today offers 22 elegant guest rooms (each one different; you feel more like a family guest than an out-of-towner) in the two distinct historic buildings – the main 20,000 sq. ft. Fifth Avenue House and the adjacent 8,000 sq. ft. Amberson House. The Fifth Avenue House also has the hotel’s reception desk, dining room, Oak Room pub, chapel, library and wine cellar.

The Front Desk is staffed 24 hours a day to provide help with directions, restaurant recommendations, check in, , while butlers are available from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day to assist.

My room is in the Amberson House, which for your all-too-brief stay makes you feel like you are really at home in a mansion. The Amberson House offers its own cozy and comfortable first floor common areas in addition to guest rooms. It would be perfect for a family or group to take over (indeed, during my stay, there is a large wedding party.)

One of the cozy sitting areas in front of a fireplace at Mansions on Fifth, a Gilded Age mansion converted to a boutique hotel © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can appreciate the renovations: each of the elegant guest rooms and suites features a spacious bathroom with glass and ceramic shower enclosures, Gilchrist and Soames organic bath and shower amenities, and soft, thick towels woven with bamboo fibers.

Some guest rooms and suites also feature fireplaces and jetted tubs. The spacious Presidential Suite has two separate bedrooms and baths and nearly 1,000 square feet of living space.

My room at Amberson House makes you feel more like a weekend guest of the McCook family rather than an out-of-towner © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition, the Mansions on Fifth Hotel offers a wide variety of amenities and services, including:  complimentary continental breakfast (with a more hearty ala carte breakfast available at an additional cost); complimentary newly upgraded Wireless Internet service; complimentary on premise parking (not a small matter in Pittsburgh); guest computer with WiFi access and printer; Fitness Center and The Oak Room pub, open 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily, featuring craft cocktails, fine wines, and a variety of microbrew beers.

The Oak Room pub also is the venue for a variety of weekly events, from wine flights, to whiskey tastings, to live music.

Mansions on Fifth is a delightful venue for weddings (there is one that had just finished when I arrive), family reunions and special events. You can basically take over the two mansion homes.

(I am also intrigued to visit the Priory Group’s historic, 42-room boutique hotel that was once a Benedictine monastery, built in 1888, meticulously restored to modern standards and featuring all the amenities of a large downtown property with the intimacy of a small European hotel, located in Deutschtown on the North Shore, a near walk to the Andy Warhol Museum and downtown Pittsburgh. The Priory Group spent $2.7 million to upgrade the property, adding a new, larger front desk and a cozy pub — the Monks’ Bar – in the original building, a Fitness Center and Business Center, as well as state of the art meeting space in a new wing.)

Mansions on Fifth, 5105 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232, 412-381-5105, 800-465-9550, http://mansionsonfifth.com/.

For more information, contact Visit Pittsburgh, 412-281-7711, 800-359-0758, 877-LOVE PGH (568-3744), info@visitpittsburgh.comwww.visitpittsburgh.com.

Next:

Mansions on Fifth Historic Hotel is Steps Away from Pittsburgh’s Top Cultural Attractions

See also:

One Day, Two Nights in Pittsburgh: From Grey to Green, A Proud City Revitalized

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Point State Park Proves Highlight of Walking Tour

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Andy Warhol Museum is at Center of Revitalized City

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Strip District Exemplifies City’s Past, Future

Two Nights, One Day in Pittsburgh: Historic Omni William Penn Hotel Connects to City’s Proud Heritage

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s BikeTour on Great Allegheny Passage Highlights Benefits of RailTrails

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn Biketour on Great Allegheny Passage Showcases Forgotten Towns

‘World’s Largest’ Glass Sculpture with Trump Connection is Boon for Dunbar, Pennsylvania

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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

On the River Inn Meets Challenge of Woodstock, Vermont’s ‘Quintessential New England’ Reputation

Discovery Bicycle Tours group gathers in On the River Inn’s restaurant/lounge after the Saturday ride © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Imagine the pressure on innkeepers wanting to build new in the historic village universally known as “Quintessential New England” with its amazing array of stunning architecture from the 1800s, including the classic Woodstock Inn that graces the village center just across from the green; with its covered wood bridges, classic New England white steepled churches and homes that proudly display dates from the 1800s.

Family owned and operated, the On the River Inn succeeds in stellar fashion, seamlessly integrating the charm of a traditional Vermont inn with lovely vintage and traditional touches while embracing the best of modern design and amenities – large open floor plan, high ceilings, full-length windows from which natural light streams in.

An open floor plan links the bar/lounge and restaurant at the On the River Inn, Woodstock, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, it was deservedly named by Conde Nast Traveler in 2015 as one of the Top Hotels to Open and “the place to visit”. The inn is conveniently located two miles from the picture book village of Woodstock on six acres fronting the Ottauquechee River, so you have easy access to lovely shops, galleries, restaurants without the bustle.

The Inn on the River is selected as our hub for the Discovery Bicycle Tours weekend biking trip (see story). This caps an exceptionally designed program – I mean, you’re in Vermont – in Woodstock, no less – but that is not enough to make a fantastic bike trip. I really appreciate this as I take note of how they have structured the itinerary – the choice of roads (this is a shared-road,, not a bike trail experience) and routes that has to be within the realm of do-ability, as well as stunningly scenic (what you imagine Vermont to be), with decent road conditions (I am amazed at the roads that are unpaved dirt and gravel. But the choice of accommodations is what really caps off the whole Vermont experience. (800-257-2226. 802-457-3553, discoverybicycletours.com)

The low-rise inn is laid out so that each room has view of expansive lawn that stretches to the Ottauquechee River; a balcony (or patio) with rocking chairs, firepits and gazebo (just waiting for a wedding).

The low-rise inn sprawls out horizontally yet is intimate. It may well be feng shui but there is such a sense of peacefulness when you walk in, which also reflects the very welcoming staff.

The indoor pool at On the River Inn, Woodstock, Vermont is refreshing after a day of cycling © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It offers a stunning lap-size indoor pool with gorgeous blue and white tiles, kept to a perfect temperature for swimming, with adjacent hot tub, and dry sauna and fitness center. There is also an expansive library; games and entertainment lounge and toddler play room.

Quirky antiques and vintage items create a feeling of whimsy feel at On the River Inn, Woodstock, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Quirky Vermont antiques and vintage pieces make you smile with their whimsy when you come upon them in the hallways– an old TV, a telephone, Henke ski boots, US Post Office metal mail box door serve as room #s. The hallways are bathed in natural light that streams through full-length windows – a modern touch –  which also contributes to the feeling of well-being.

The restaurant, bar and spacious lounge with fireplace is laid out in an open-floor plan though the room doesn’t feel large because of intimate sitting areas with plush leather chairs and sofas, that make it feel cozy.

The 506 Bistro serves a seasonal menu emphasizing Vermont specialties like Yankee Pot Roast, a organic burger (outstanding) sourced from a nearby farm, fresh strawberry shortcake with Vermont berries. The menu for our group is very varied so there are fish selections (grilled salmon), pasta, meet selections, vegetarian options (ratatouille) and Caesar salad with ahi tuna.

The antique bar and the furnishings of the “kitchen,” where each morning we help ourselves to a buffet breakfast, just add to the pleasant ambiance.

The inn serves a complimentary country breakfast, has coffee/tea out all day (as well as coffee maker, microwave and refrigerator in the room), free WiFi and parking.

Construction is top quality; the furnishings in neutral brown, beige and white. The bedroom is spacious with a king-sized bed, pull out sofa, lounge chair, flat-screen TV; the bathroom is marble with a warming rack.

On the River Inn’s expansive lawn extends to the river © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the River Inn, which is very much a four-season retreat (Killington, Pico, Suicide Six are nearby for winter skiing), is one of several inns owned and operated by a couple  with Vermont roots: Aaren Macksoud is originally from Woodstock; his family owns and operates a maple syrup farm and a Vermont country store). They also own hotels in East Africa (where they live now): Palacina Berlin, Palacina Hotel Nairobi, Baraza Resort and Spa Zanzibar, Breezes Beach Club and Spa Zanzibar, The Palms Zanzibar and Zawadi Hotel Zanzibar. They also own and operate Tour Africa Safaris, a tour company that specialized in safaris to East Africa and Palacina Interiors one of East Africa’s most prestigious and internationally recognized Interior Design Studios and Retail Stores specializing in Hospitality and Restaurant Design. (Now I understand where the lovely design comes from.)

“We work with a set of principles which we firmly believe customers recognize and appreciate: Maintain international hotel standards, incorporate a beautiful design which reflects the destination, create a feeling of home and ensure that the clients understand from the moment they arrive that the property is family owned. The attention to detail, the emphasis on creating a home away from home, warm hospitality and personalized service have always been our guiding principles.”

Besides being so near Woodstock, nearby attractions include the Billings Farm and Museum, Killington, the Longtail Brewery, King Arthurs Flour.

(On the River Inn, 1653 Rt4 West Woodstock Rd., Woodstock Vt., 802-457-5000, reservations@ontheriverwoodstock.com, generalmanager@ontheriverwoodstock.com, www.ontheriverwoodstock.com.)

See also:

Discovery Bicycle Tours’ On the River Weekend in Woodstock, Vermont, Shows How Personalized a Group Tour Can Be

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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

 

Tenaya Lodge Provides Luxury Lodging Resort Experience at Gateway to Yosemite National Park

Kids wearing neon-glowing necklaces (as much to keep track of them, along with periodic coyote yells) examine a small seed by flashlight on the nightly walking tour in the forest around Tenaya Lodge © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman & Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The description of the Tenaya Lodge nightly Flashlight Hike sounded very tame. A mile-loop in the woods surrounding the resort. Indeed, it is designed for families. But shortly after starting out from the Lodge, flashlights in hand, as the dusk turned to darkness and any light that would have come from the lodge faded as we walked deeper into the forest, we realize this is really an adventure!

Amanda, our guide, introduces herself as a wilderness kid – she grew up in Yosemite National Park, literally next door to the Tenaya Lodge (the Yosemite South Gate is just 2 miles down the road), where her parents both worked, and she has guided horseback riding trips and skiing. Her commentary is absolutely fascinating.

“Trees are like people,” Amanda, the Tenaya Lodge guide leading the Flashlight Tour, tells us, adding a warning about “widow-makers.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the start, she introduces us to ”widow makers” (no joke: the branches that can break off these tall trees and kill), with the moral to the lesson, “Be aware of your surroundings.”

We also learn that trees are like people; that the trees in the forest (Tenaya Lodge is nestled between Yosemite and the Sierra National Forest) have a 600-year life expectancy; that the famous giant sequoias can live 1000 years and as large as they are, they come from a seed the size of a splinter inside a golfball-sized cone that only opens once it has been exposed to fire. The wood is mostly fire resistant and insect repellant and lumbering companies would have cut them down but for pioneering conservationist John Muir who convinced President Theodore Roosevelt to protect Yosemite and turn it into the nation’s first national park.

Native peoples used acorns as a source of food, and turned pine needles into a medicinal tea. She shows us a log that has been “damaged” by a bear pulling out insects (it eats 10,000 insects, or about 5 lbs worth).

We shine our flashlights onto a white thorn bush, where, she says, mule deer hide their young to protect from mountain lion; the babies stay until they hear their mother.

Using flashlights to find our way on the trail, over obstacles, through the forest © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By the light of our flashlights, we cross over a plank over a tiny stream, climb over a fallen tree trunk. At one point Amanda points to a pile of dead wood and warns, “Don’t go into it- rattlesnakes like to play there.” Rattlesnakes, I think to myself??? She shows us where trees have been destroyed by Bark beetle – the tree stops making sap, dries out, and has no protection. “These are ‘one match trees’ – very flammable.”

And she tells us something that we find very helpful when we are out on our own hiking, “moss only grows on the north side of tree.” We feel like we are true outdoorspeople.

Examining tree rings by flashlight for clues as to the history of a tree’s life and the environment, © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Towards the end of the hike, we come to a place where the trees, lifting up to the sky, open up, giving us an expansive view of a billion stars. A boy exclaims, “I’ve never seen the sky like this.”

Amanda says that when we see the stars, we are seeing deep into the past – it takes 1000 years for light to come to earth; sunlight is 8 minutes behind. “The Indians felt that sky was blanket over earth, raven poked holes to see sun… Anytime I am feeling bothered,  I just look up.”

This is just one of the activities available at Tenaya Lodge, and I would say it is a must – book in advance because it fills up; in winter, they offer a Snowshoe Flashlight Tour which must be sensational.

A lovely hike from Tenaya Lodge to the waterfall © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Actually, this was our second hike of the day, since arriving in the afternoon at Tenaya Lodge, which is located in Fish Camp, California, a 3 ½ hour drive (200 miles) from San Francisco.

Shortly after our arrival, we quickly drop off our luggage in our room, get directions from the concierge, and set out for a hike that starts from the resort’s entrance, up a logging road, about 2 ½ miles to a waterfall. The hike is perfect to acclimate ourselves to the 5,200 ft. elevation. We immediately fill our lungs with rejuvenating pure air, and recharge with the rhythm of a rushing creek.

Our hike is rewarded with stunning view of the waterfall, full after record winter snows, in the late afternoon light; Tenaya Lodge is promoting “Waterfall Season” this spring © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is so early in the season, there is still snow on sections of the trail, making the rushing creek and waterfall all the more dramatic. We are supposed to turn off at a green building, but actually overshoot (it turns out it isn’t a building, but rather a water management shed with solar panels on it). Retracing our steps, and calculating for the time until dusk, we (bravely) go through a fence, walk past a decaying wood cabin and come to where the trail narrows significantly, following along a canal on one side. There are spots where you can hear and see a rushing stream and distant sound of the waterfall. Following along, we come to a wonderful waterfall. By now, the late afternoon sun is like liquid gold spreading over everything. Magical.

We make our way back to the lodge with minutes to spare before joining the 8 pm Flashlight Hike.

The hike back to Tenaya Lodge from the waterfall © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Four Diamond Luxury Faithful to Rustic Environs

The Tenaya Lodge is a four-diamond luxury resort with every manner of amenity that nonetheless manages to be faithful to its rustic environs. It is named for Chief Tenaya, of the Miwok tribe of Indians who lived mostly along the foothills of the Sierras.

A rustic motif is faithful to its Yosemite National Park surroundings, but Tenaya Lodge offers four-diamond luxury © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Lodge is just two miles from the South Gate of Yosemite National Park, the most popular entrance (it provides year-round access to the park). The lodge makes every accommodation for the guests who will almost certainly find their way into Yosemite for hiking (they even have the moleskin package that is a lifesaver when you are getting a blister); the Deli, that is surprisingly well-stocked.

There is where you can pre-order lunch so you can grab it on your way out the door to hike (really a good idea so you don’t have to find your way to a restaurant in Yosemite).

Tenaya offers a few different dining options, accommodating late-night dining (which helps when you have been hiking in Yosemite all day).

The Sierra Restaurant where we enjoy fuel up on a lavish buffet breakfast before a day of hiking, is a casual restaurant serving breakfast and dinner, with convenient hours to accommodate guests.

Just next door (and providing overflow space at breakfast) is Jackalopes Bar & Grill serving lunch and dinner (conveniently, until very late)

Embers is an upscale, fine dining restaurant which covets a quiet atmosphere (no children), serving a leisurely two to three-hour meal, where they even make salads in front of you.

There is also a pizzeria in the cottages and in season, there is an appropriately named Summerdale restaurant, that is open seasonally off-site, that serves BBQ.

We settle into the cozy leather sofas in the expansive lobby, complete with stone fireplace and mounted deer head, like a true rustic lodge, and order items from Jackolopes for a very relaxing late-night snack. I love the Native American/western décor, and the exquisite photos of Yosemite Park that decorate the walls all through the hotel.

The four-diamond Tenaya Lodge is one of the most luxurious resort properties in proximity to Yosemite, and offers 297 guestrooms, suites and cottages.

Delaware North has spent $5 million renovating and upgrading the Tenaya Lodge since acquiring it in 2001 © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tenaya Lodge was originally built 1990; but acquired in 2001 by Delaware North, a vast global hospitality company which, among other things, manages lodgings and concessions in several national parks including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks and manages Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex. Delaware North invested $5 million in significant renovations which were completed last year.

New Scandinavian-styled rooms at Tenaya Lodge © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the innovations are stunning Garden Suites, designed by Piccini Group, SF with a prevailing white Scandinavian modern design, designed to be quiet (so you can understand why adults-only and no pets, though other rooms are pet-friendly).

Contemporary suites have a native ambiance and new “spa rooms” are lavish.

There are also several stand-alone cottages (that were acquired in 2008) that have up to three bedrooms (refrigerator, no kitchen). The lodge has plans to build two-bedroom cabins.

Relaxation room at Ascent Spa at Tenaya Lodge © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tenaya Lodge is a true resort with every manner of amenity. Delaware North opened Ascent Spa, 10,000 sq ft, with 12 treatment rooms, a relaxation room (you can order sushi, drinks), a mud bath, group relaxation room, and couples massage room.  (Spring spa specials: Receive a complimentary glass of champagne with any 60 or 90-minute spa treatment; a new spring Parafango Slimming Body Treatment “detoxifies and slims the body.”)

There is also a fitness center with sauna, Olympic-size lap swimming indoor pool, an outdoor pool, archery, rock climbing wall, arcade.

Indoor lap swimming pool at Tenaya Lodge © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a robust schedule of activities like the nighttime Flashlight Hike and Paint & Wine evenings  (Thur. & Sat. 7-9, $55 pp), plus special events and activities, like yoga on the patio overlooking the forest. (A resort fee covers fitness room, sauna, fitness room but everything else is a la carte, though there are package offerings.)

In winter, there is an enchanting 3,000-sq. ft. outdoor covered ice skating pavilion (skate rentals available), which in summer becomes suitable for weddings and events.

There is a fire pit (you can order drinks to come down); s’mores kits; a sledding hill and a kiddie slope.

Winter activities also include kids snowmobiling, horse-drawn sleigh rides, snowshoe nature hike, skiing at Badger Pass, California’s original ski resort.

Spring, summer and fall activities include mountain biking, guided hikes, guided rock-climbing excursion, fly-fishing excursion, fishing, Yosemite Valley tours, steam train rides, Summerdale BBQ, gold panning, Bass Lake water sports, golf, horseback riding, white-water rafting. They also offer supervised kids programs, like an adventure camp. (There’s a daily activity schedule.)

Tenaya Lodge lobby lounge is a popular gathering place © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tenaya Lodge is really family friendly (ideal for multi-generational getaways, family reunions, weddings and family events). When you check in, there is a special place for children to check in (a short staircase to the reception desk); and they go all out for holidays like Christmas and Easter (when we are there); on Easter Sunday, there was a petting zoo and pony rides.

It’s also delightful for all the seating areas where families can gather.

Extremely popular for weddings and functions, Tenaya Ledge has a ballroom that can accommodate up to 850 and 12 meeting rooms.

For the same reason it is so well suited for family gatherings, Tenaya Lodge is ideal for meetings and corporate outings (there is a whole list of special activities that can be built in for groups, from rock climbing classes and  whitewater rafting excursions, to culinary classes and competitions, guided fly-fishing trips and group geo-challenges).

Notably, Tenaya Lodge won LEED Silver building certification. (I note that there are 8 Tesla charging stations for electric cars outside). 

Nearby Activities 

Tenaya Lodge is right at the South Gate to Yosemite National Park; the lodge offers a mini-bus tour that takes in the highlights © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are any number of activities just beyond the Tenaya Lodge door, which the lodge can pre-arrange:

In winter, the lodge offer snowshoeing; in warm weather they offer mountain biking on its own forest trails, while a short drive away,  the Sierra National Forest offers some of the finest single-track riding anywhere, from easy to technical. (The concierge can provide detailed maps.). Half-day and full-day bike rentals available for adults and kids ready to explore the forest trails.

A short distance down the road is Miller’s Landing which has fishing; horseback riding is also nearby.

We came just a little too early in the season to experience the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. a one-hour, narrated excursion through the Sierra  National Forest on historic narrow gauge Shay locomotives over tracks once used for logging trains at the turn of the century.

The ride travels over four miles on the historic Madera Sugar Pine Railroad. There is a brief stopover in the Lewis Creek Canyon to see the locomotive up close, or explore the outdoors before your return trip to the station.  You travel along the historic right-of-way of the Madera Sugar Pine Railroad where mighty lumberjacks felled the timber and flumes carried the lumber to the town of Madera. The conductor tells of the history of the line, the trees, and the wildlife native to the area.

The line operates two historic geared steam locomotives called Shays. Both locomotives were from the Westside Lumber Company in Tuolumne, California. These two locomotives represent the original shays that worked this line from 1874 to 1931. The original Madera Sugar Pine Shay locomotives burned wood for fuel, while our two Westside Shay locomotives burn oil. Shay #10 was built in 1928 and weighs in at 84 tons, while Shay #15 was built in 1913 and weighs 59 tons. They also demonstrate how to pan for gold (you get to keep it!). And you can visit the Thornberry Museum which illustrates logging camp life at the turn of the century.

There is also a three-hour Moonlight Special, which starts with a BBQ dinner before boarding the logger steam train for a ride to the campfire sing-a-long program hosted by the Sugar Pine Singers. At the conclusion of the evening, you will re-board the train for a memorable trip up the mountain in the night.

Daily rides are available all summer. (The schedule varies seasonally and usually alternates with Jenny car rides. Reservations recommended.)

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, 56001 Hwy 41 Fish Camp, CA 93623, 559 683 7273, Ymsprr.com; (www.tenayalodge.com/things-to-do/resort/steam-train-rides.

We have come to Tenaya Lodge for the express purpose of hiking in Yosemite National Park, but for non-hikers, non-DIYers, Tenaya Lodge offers a Yosemite Tour Package, via mini-bus, that includes lunch and narration, and guarantees waterfalls and wildlife and seeing the most popular sights of Yosemite. (Offered May 1-Nov. 30; from $575 spring, $685 summer, $555 fall; call 888-514-2167 or Tenaya Reservations directly at 559-692-8916).

Other tours are available as well.

We were so fortunate to arrive as the winter snows were melting. Indeed, after almost five years of drought, the waterfalls are fuller than ever this year. Tenaya Lodge is offering special Waterfall Season Hot Dates, now through June 26. (Go to https://www.tenayalodge.com/packages/hot-date-deals for promo code to get the special rate).

Tenaya Lodge is promoting “Waterfall Season” this spring © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tenaya Lodge (like Yosemite) is very much a four-season resort (the South Gate, the most popular entrance to Yosemite, is open year-round), 55 miles north of Fresno Yosemite International Airport, 3 ½ hours drive from San Francisco Bay area and 4 ½ hours from the Greater Lost Angeles Area.

Tenaya Lodge, 1122 Highway 41, Fish Camp, CA 93623, 800-722-8584, tenayalodge.com.

Next:  Yosemite National Park: Best Valley Hikes for First Timers 

See also:

Muir Woods is San Francisco’s Cathedral to Mother Nature

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